Sunday, August 11, 2013

Film Classics of the 20th Century

We've looked at Family Plot, House Sitter,  and Outrageous Fortune.   Film classics are the films that grab you, even on repeat viewings.

movie montage

Gene Saks has three Tonys for directing and four more nominations.  His work in film has been less celebrated which is too bad because, in the sixties, he directed three comedy classics: The Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park (starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford) and Cactus Flower which may be the best of the three.


The film, based on the play of the same name, kicks off on a late night with Toni (Goldie Hawn) mailing a suicide note to her married lover Julian who has failed to show.  She returns to her apartment, turns on the gas oven and prepares for the end.  However, neighbor Igor (Rick Lenz) smells the gas, breaks in and attempts CPR which turns into a kiss as she mistakes him for Julian.


Rick Lenz had an easy going charm onscreen throughout his career and it was utilized best in this film as evidenced by the ease with which he and Goldie are able to handle the transition from the suicide attempt to a bantering and teasing mood.  As she berates him for spoiling her attempt, he tells her she was doing it wrong.  "Well it's a second hand stove, there were no directions," she informs him.

But she no longer wants to take her life.  She wants to go to bed.  But there's the issue of the suicide note.  She needs Igor to call Julian tomorrow morning, first thing, and tell him that she's alive.

Yes, Cactus Flower exists in a movie magical world where you drop a letter in a mailbox at two in the morning and, by nine a.m., seven hours later, it will be delivered to the recipient.

The recipient?

Walter Matthau's Julian is a dentist, as he told Toni.  He is not a married man with three kids.  He explains to his buddy Harvey Greenfield (Jack Weston) that he came up with the lie when he was attempting to figure out how to get the women he sees to stop pressuring him to get married.  But the women have now become one woman, just Toni.

When he opens the letter he flees his practice leaving Stephanie, his assistant, to reschedule all of his appointments.  He's shocked (and disappointed?) to find Stephanie still alive.  It's only when Igor shows up, detailing the attempt, that Julian takes it seriously.  He announces he wants to marry her which leaves Toni confused since he already is married.  He'll divorce his wife, he'll divorce his kids, he tells her.

He wants to make out but she wants to do something they've never been able to do before: go out together in public during the day.


Toni wants to be sure that his ex-wife will be okay, she insists upon meeting her.

Which brings us back to Julian's assistant Stephanie.


In the original Broadway play, Lauren Bacall had played the role of Stephanie and won raves for her performance.  When the film instead cast Ingrid Bergman in the lead, there were a few people left surprised.  Bacall may have been too sleek and glamorous to play it onscreen, the reason given, and Bergman brings a delightful awkwardness to the role.  It's a lot easier (especially when she shows up at a club in a dress that's all wrong for her and an even worse hairstyle) to accept her as the Stephanie who spends weekends with her nephews and saves her week days for her boss.

Julian shocks her when he tells her he needs a wife.  Just for fifteen minutes.  He needs her to play his wife.  She is offended by the idea but does show up at Stereo Heaven, Toni's job.



In one of the film's many winning scenes, Stephanie convinces (or tries to) Toni that she's okay with the divorce, that she's ready to move on with her life and that she'll be just fine.

Toni:  Mrs. Winston, what about your future?  What's going to become of you?

Stephanie:  Oh, I'll just ride off into the sunset or something.

Toni:  Well it's just that I want to be sure  you're alright.

Stephanie:  Well I'll write you every day.

Toni:  Mrs. Winston, I want you to know I think you're a very gracious, charming and very brave woman.

Stephanie:  Oh.  Thank you, my dear.

Toni's concern means Julian and Stephanie need to come up with a 'happy ending' for Mrs. Winston -- a boyfriend.  But who?


Julian's sleazy friend Harvey.  They arrange for Toni to see the new boyfriend later that night.


But Toni catches Stephanie slipping money to Harvey and Harvey expected the fake date to end sooner
and arranged for his latest fling to meet him.  It all means Toni wants Julian to not only stand up to Harvey and to drive Stephanie home.


All the twists and turns, leaving Stephanie confused, "Let us get our stories straight.  As far as Toni is concerned are we supposed to have spent the night together?"

Nope.  Julian's going to tell her the truth, get her a big present and tell her the truth.


She's hoping for black leather slacks but it's a mink stole.

This convinces her that Julian slept with Stephanie ("You're not a stingy man, Julian, but you're not the last of the big time spenders.") and, later, over Igor's objections, she decides to send the mink to Stephanie with a card for Julian.

Stephanie is touched by the gesture and when dental patient Arturo Sanchez (Vito Scotti) again invites her out, Stephanie accepts, gets a new dress and her hair done.

They end up at the same club after -- where Julian, Toni and Igor (as well as Harvey and his date) are.




On the dance floor, all is fine until Igor finds Stephanie interesting.


That not only ticks off Stephanie, it also upsets Julian.


Julian:  Hey, did you see that? He just kissed her on the neck!

Toni:  Hmph! She sure likes a lot of action.

Julian:  Yes, she does, doesn't she?

Toni:   Right now, she's surrounded by her husband, her ex-boyfriend, her current boyfriend and maybe her future boyfriend.

Julian:   If somebody doesn't stop that guy, he's gonna make love to her right in the middle of the floor. 

The scenes are gorgeous. Charles Lang was the cinematographer on Some Like It Hot, Charade, Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice, The Magnificent Seven, The Rainmaker, Female On The Beach, Sudden Fear and Mae West's She Done Him Wrong.  He does an incredible job here.  He's aided by Edward G. Boyle (set design) and Moss Marby (costume design).




The cast is amazing, especially Goldie who won an Academy Award for her performance.  And the film is a classic, a French farce excellently translated to domestic shores.

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