Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
USA, 1969. Athena Productions. Screenplay by Elia Kazan, based on his novel. Cinematography by Robert Surtees. Produced by Elia Kazan. Music by David Amram. Production Design by Gene Callahan. Costume Design by Theadora Van Runkle. Film Editing by Stefan Arnsten.
Kirk Douglas is a successful advertising executive with a giant house and a gorgeous wife (Deborah Kerr), but it is possible he’s not satisfied with his gains considering he begins this film by driving his convertible under a truck and trying to kill himself. He escapes with few injuries and, in recovery, is no longer able to hide the depression that has been brought on by the cessation of his relationship with his beautiful mistress (Faye Dunaway, who is stunning). When his gruff, carpet merchant father takes ill, Douglas travels to be at his side and it unleashes more of the demons that have led him to this point, complicating the matter by reuniting with Dunaway and refusing to play nice when Kerr shows up with a lawyer and psychiatrist in an effort to get him back on track. Director Elia Kazan, adapting his novel (that had more than a few shades of autobiographical overtones), embraces the new order of late sixties filmmaking with a fractured narrative that emphasizes jump-cut memory sequences and the brazen sexuality that was only beginning to open up for cinema in this period (Douglas looks fantastic for 53 but you might still find you see him naked more than you ever needed to). Kazan also gives the full panoply of characters their fair due without making the whole thing an excuse for his protagonists’ erratic behavior: Kerr’s character is unfairly painted as selfish by the film’s conclusion, but before that she does have to put up with quite a lot of unstable self-indulgence from her husband and gets to say so, while Dunaway exists from her own point of view even while becoming the cinema’s two most standard jobs for women, wife and mother. It’s a strangely compiled film that doesn’t add up to a classic, brilliantly acted and featuring strong direction, but not exactly compelling and cloaked in so much depression and misery that you won’t be glad you watched it. As an unjustly forgotten curiousity, however, it’s well worth trying.