Friday, April 23, 2010

Underrated Movie #62: Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice

Title: Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice
Year: 1969
Director: Paul Mazursky (Next Stop, Greenwich Village)
Writers: Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker
Stars: Natalie Wood, Robert Culp, Elliott Gould, Dyan Cannon

The Story: Bob and Carol are a laid-back middle class couple who attend a consciousness-raising seminar and then insist that everyone they know get in touch with their feelings. Their uptight friends Ted and Alice are initially repulsed, but then they begin if maybe they could use a little liberation too.

How it Came to be Underrated: It’s got a great title, but it’s too easy to dismiss this as just “that wife-swapping comedy” when there’s actually a lot more going on here. Retroactive “shockers” like The Ice Storm and “Swingtown” are already more dated than this perceptive and thoughtful satire.

Why It’s Great:

  1. Mazursky and Tucker had written I Love You Alice B. Toklas, which was turned into one of those condescending “Let’s fool around with the hippie generation and then condemn them” comedies that aging Hollywood directors churned out in the late sixties. Mazursky wasn’t happy with the result and decided to start directing his own work. The result was a movie that was the absolute opposite of those clunkers. The satire is wicked but the empathy for everyone and what they’re going through is enormous.
  2. Like Closer, this was an acting showcase that created what was probably the career-best performance for all four stars. The late Culp shows us so much more grit and depth here than he ever did on "I Spy". Cannon gets a rare chance to be much more than a bimbo. But it’s really Wood’s movie. Her vulnerability is intense.
  3. How cutting edge was this movie? It was the greatest satire of America in the 1970s even though it was made in 1969! Southern California has always been ahead of the country in terms of trends, and here they were giving the country a flashforward to the coming of EST and the hi-fi and gazpacho and Acapulco Gold.
  4. Mazursky wrote one of my favorite filmmaking memoirs, “Show Me the Magic”, where he tells a lot of great stories about the journey to make this movie and the rest of his career. He’s one of the few screenwriting memoirists who manages to make his own story just as compelling and funny as anything he put on screen.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Natalie Wood first showed her sexy-sophisticated side in Love With the Proper Stranger. Fun fact: co-writer Tucker played the creepy gun dealer in Blast of Silence.

How Available Is It?: It’s on DVD with commentary and a documentary.

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