Wednesday, February 22, 2012


A group of sex researchers (the chief is named Chapman, but think Kinsey) arrive in a California town to conduct anonymous interviews with women about their sex lives. That framework is the excuse to present in-depth stories of the sex lives of four of the women, told in bits and pieces throughout the film. The main plotline involves the widow of a war hero (Jane Fonda) who is working on editing the manuscript of the memoir he left behind. Her little secret is that she is frigid; she never consummated her relationship with her late husband. While being interviewed (by Efrem Zimbalist Jr., behind a screen to ensure privacy), she breaks down and leaves in tears, accidentally leaving her purse behind. Zimbalist, intrigued, ignores medical ethics and takes the purse to her house. At first, Fonda is angry, but she slowly warms up to him, and when the two begin dating, Zimbalist tries to get to the root of her problem. Is it because she's a prude? Or does it have to do with her domineering father?

The other stories: Claire Bloom plays a young divorcee who is a nymphomaniac; when her husband discovered her affairs, he broke down and cried, though Zimbalist theorizes that she really wanted to be punished. When she somewhat reluctantly hooks up with a sexy jazz musician (Corey Allen), she spirals further down into self-destructive degradation. Shelley Winters is a housewife who has an affair with a community theater director (Ray Danton, pictured at left with Winters); to her, he's worth leaving her husband for, but to him, she's just a fling. Finally, for comic relief, Glynis Johns, a flighty high society matron, is titillated by a young hunk (Ty Hardin) she sees horsing around with his pals on the beach. Her attempts at seduction go over his dumb-jock head until she talks him into posing naked for her. In the end, the heavy-handed message from the sexologists is "statistics don’t make morality" and the only cure for what ails you is love.

This was probably hot stuff in its day and though it's TV-tame now (you don't hear terms like "frigid" and "nymphomania" much these days, let alone get scandalized by them), there are still some nice frissons to be had for today's viewers. To their credit, the actors throw themselves into their roles, with mixed results. Bloom comes off best as a smoldering but depressed woman trapped by her feelings, and Johns is delightful in her light comic turn. Winters mostly underdoes her part (except when she doesn't) and the time we spend with her character seems interminable. Fonda fares the worst, going cringingly over the top every chance she gets—this may be the director’s fault; classic-era director George Cukor was at the helm, and though this style worked for comic performers like Rosalind Russell in THE WOMEN and Katherine Hepburn in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, it makes Fonda's character laughable. For me, the most interesting aspect of the movie is that men are made to be the object of the sexual gaze of the female, a rarity in films back then (and even fairly rare today), so we see hunky men like Hardin (above, shirtless throughout, with Johns), Danton and Allen sexualized to a degree that was rare back then. Zimbalist suffers a bit, playing a cross between a stuffed shirt and a knight in shining armor, and seeming a bit at sea. [TCM]

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