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Monday, December 29, 2014

THE GROUP (1966)

With its social commentary downplayed, characters coarsened and hit-or-miss period detail, Mary McCarthy’s (in)famous novel about the post-college journey of eight Seven Sisters grads is reduced to plot, plot, plot . . . entertainingly so. Sidney Buchman’s script structures it like some SuperSized version of one of those Three Best Gal Pals pics*, with eight Vassar virgins taking on life in mid-‘30s NYC. Love, marriage, kids, mortality; it’s Careers played for real. Sidney Lumet helms with broad strokes, square staging and hop-skip-and-jump pacing; not too subtle, but never boring. The acting though is very uneven, with half ‘the group’ seriously over-parted. You keep expecting them to break into The Telephone Number from BYE BYE BIRDIE/’63. (The men give better perfs, but only Richard Mulligan’s ‘lay ‘em & leave ‘em’ Lothario is more than a purpose-built cipher.) As a catty non-Group member, Carrie Nye shows them all how it should be done**, purring like a Mid-Atlantic pussycat with lethal claws.

DOUBLE-BILL: *Step back a year for a lower income bracket take in Warners' superior THREE ON A MATCH/’32 with Ann Dvorak, Joan Blondell & Bette Davis. (And see what the period really looked like, especially in make-up & hair styling.)

READ ALL ABOUT IT: One of Pauline Kael’s best long form pieces was ‘The Making of The Group,’ collected in KISS KISS BANG BANG. Great behind the scenes stuff, great ‘think piece’ stuff.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Lots of links in here. **Carrie Nye’s husband, Talk Show host Dick Cavett recently starred in a stage dramatization of the infamous feud/libel lawsuit between Lillian Hellman & McCarthy, initiated after an interview where McCarthy japed that ‘every word she (Hellman) writes is a lie, including “and” and “the”.’ Taped live for PBS as HELLMAN v. McCARTHY/’14, it’s lively stuff.

And since THE GROUP is often seen as a sort of 1930s SEX AND THE CITY, how fitting that the only nice guy in the whole pic is played by James Broderick, father of Matthew whose wife, Sarah Jessica Parker, might well think of producing a remake as a limited cable series.

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