What A Way To Go (1964)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5

USA, 1964. . Screenplay by , . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by , . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

is a delight throughout this silly but adequately entertaining concept comedy, which begins when she approaches the American treasury with the goal of giving over her entire $200+ million dollar fortune. They, of course, believe her to be insane and send her to a psychiatrist (), to whom she tells her tale of woe: she only ever wanted love and happiness, not money, but four dead husbands in a row could only provide the latter. In flashback she tells of each of her unions, using a different film convention as a gimmick in each one, beginning as a young woman who rejects the hand of the richest man in town () in order to marry humble store owner because he lives in a rickety shack and reads Thoreau. Their marriage plays out like a silent film, which allows Van Dyke to show off his prowess for physical comedy, but he gets ambitious and turns his hardware store into a multimillion dollar chain, which brings about his demise. This prompts her to go to Paris where she shacks up with starving (but perpetually eating) painter , at his most irresistible with his shirt open and sexy beard, with whom she lives a French arthouse movie, but when his paintings that he creates with his avant-gard machines make him millions, he loses his soul and eventually his life. Third is millionaire airline tycoon , their life together playing like a big budget Cinemascope movie (even more so than the movie you’re watching) before he tries to do things her way, opting for the simple life on a farm, but it doesn’t work, so she finishes with song and dance man before he becomes a huge movie star and with whom, of course, she performs a huge Hollywood musical number. It’s a fantastic showcase for MacLaine, she handles all the fantasy sequences like a pro and never lets her personality get lost in the multitudes of Oscar-nominated gowns by Edith Head, paired well with leading men who bring their own brand of sparkle to their roles without ever getting lost in the widescreen glory of the operation. Most films of this size made at the time feel bogged down by their excess but this one, despite being so hopelessly silly, manages to keep it light and enjoyable throughout. Adolph Green and Betty Comden’s script delivers its message with an ironic and wise winking eye, telling us that American ambition and the desire to create a controlled and increasingly materialistic life is too organically embedded to ever be changed, and that longing for life out of a book, even one as sincere as Walden, is just as materialistic a desire as wanting to live in a Park Avenue penthouse. Delivering this message through black comedy means that it never feels preachy, and the fact that its medium is a mammoth-budget Hollywood extravaganza whose ambition is also to be a big, soulless success, bursting with an endless array of splashy, giant sets, only adds to the irony.

Academy Award Nominations: Best Art Direction-Colour; Best Costume Design-Colour

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