Thursday, January 02, 2014


In a high-class suburban home, a successful advertising executive (Kirk Douglas) wakes up, showers, says goodbye to his wife (Deborah Kerr), and drives to work in heavy traffic, the whole time listening to a constant stream of news and ads on the radio, and switching stations to find ads for Zephyr cigarettes, a campaign he headed which touts them a "clean" cigarettes. While zooming through a tunnel between two large trucks, he suddenly takes a sharp turn toward one, winding up being dragged under the truck. He survives the suicide attempt but after a long hospital stay and recuperation time at home, he refuses to talk to anyone. Eventually, through a convoluted series of flashbacks that occur alongside the story of his slow recovery, we learn his backstory: the child of Greek immigrants, he has mommy issues (dramatized in an ANNIE HALL-type of scene in which Douglas watches a family incident from the past play out before him), daddy issues (his father, Richard Boone, is in the midst of a long, slow decline—physically, mentally and financially), and mistress issues (his lover, Faye Dunaway, an advertising consultant, is younger and still on her way up in the business).

This movie is based on a long novel by its director, Elia Kazan, and it really should have been longer, to cover the characters and situations in more depth, or shorter, and been trimmed of most of the flashbacks—though honestly, at two hours, it feels like three. Stylistically, it's a mess; Kazan was trying out all the 60s Hollywood quirks he could find, but there is no overriding feel or tone to the movie, and the characters are all adrift and mostly unsympathetic. The various narrative threads are disjointed and never cohere into an interesting (let alone coherent) whole. Dunaway and Boone are good, but Douglas is a little grating and over-the-top, and Kerr is able to do very little with her blank character. Much of the dialogue was looped in later, giving most of the movie a distracting distant quality. The first 20 minutes, including the opening sequence climaxing in the startling accident, are promising, but things spring out of control after that. Supposedly, the material was autobiographical, and the movie does feel like a stepping stone to what Bob Fosse did much more successfully in his lightly disguised life story, ALL THAT JAZZ. [TCM]

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