Dyan Cannon hits every note she can think of trying to make sense of the upper-crust NYC society type she plays in this slightly desperate late work from Otto Preminger. First, her talented husband (author, magazine editor) goes off to hospital to have a mole removed; next day, he’s in a coma. Confronted with mortality, and far too many thoughtless visitors, Cannon starts questioning everything she thought she had going for her: love & marriage, financial stability, friends, medical advisers, kids, the domestic help, even if she wants him to recover. It’s MANHATTAN/’79 meets THE HOSPITAL/’71, but without the charm, wit, superior acting, pace, laughs or observational smarts.* (Plus, infinitely worse costume design. Yikes!) Scripter Elaine May, smelling a rat, and with her own debut (A NEW LEAF/’71) just out, pseudonym’d out as ‘Esther Dale’ and let Preminger take the rap. After all, brittle comedy was never Otto’s thing. But it’s still a bit of a shock to watch him humiliate his cast for a cheap laugh or two. Burgess Meredith & James Coco in the flesh! Ken Howard impotent in tight briefs. A Polaroid ‘centerfold’ shot for Cannon. (Is it her?) And why use brief fantasy hallucinations early in the film only to drop the whole idea later? Even Otto’s usual immaculate staging stratagems turn stiff under the unaccommodating lensing of Gayne Resher. Switching from his usual WideSceen format (2.35:1) to ‘flat’ (1.77:1), and then freezing his compositions as his cast hovers into frame. It’s not just the picture ratio that was shrinking for Otto.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: * As mentioned, THE HOSPITAL/’71, from an unusually disciplined Paddy Chayefsky script, and Woody Allen’s touchy romance, MANHATTAN/’79. Or try Stephen Sondheim’s landmark musical COMPANY, same era (1970)/same crowd. A recent semi-staged concert version with Neil Patrick Harris was unfortunate, but there’s a classic documentary (COMPANY: Original Cast Album/’70) that’s a rare treat.