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Sunday, June 8, 2008

WHAT A WAY TO GO (1964)

Satiric black comedy stars Shirley MacLaine (near the start of her self-consciously kooky period) as a serial wife with a fatal Midas touch: one by one her husbands gain fabulous success only to meet sudden, not to say, grisly deaths. Hubbies #1 & #2 (Dick Van Dyke & Paul Newman) get the worst of the Betty Comden/Adolph Green material, but things improve considerably for #3/Robert Mitchum & #4/Gene Kelly. (#5/Dean Martin sort of bookends the film while Bob Cummings gets equal billing playing her shrink . . . Bob Cummings?) Adolph Green, a legendary movie buff, structures each episode as a parody of a specific genre, each amusingly underlined by underrated helmer J. Lee Thompson. But even with the better material held back for the latter half of the film, getting thru all those hubbies is a long haul. Your DVD player can help you elide the dead spots so you can at least watch Mitchum do his stuff. In addition to giving everyone (especially MacLaine & Newman) lessons on how to throw away broad comedy for maximum effect, Bob must be the only Howard Hughes imitator who intimately knew the guy.* And it shows. (Wonder if Leo Di Caprio watched this for pointers? . . . Nah.)

DOUBLE-BILL: *Hold that thought . . . Robert Ryan, who also knew the creepy bastard, played a Howard Hughes inspired character, to scarifying effect, in Max Ophuls' superb CAUGHT/'49.

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