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Friday, January 27, 2017

MISTER BUDDWING (1966)

Gimmicky amnesia tale has James Garner piecing his identity back together thru the kindness of (female) strangers. And everyone’s so gosh darn helpful! Are we really in big, ol’ impersonal NYC? (Truth be told, this was just as New York was starting its decline into urban blight, the ‘Fun City’ years, offering a fresh dramatic take all but ignored here.) A slatternly Angela Lansbury has the stranger in for coffee and even hands him a fiver on his way out. Jack Gilford chats him up at his kosher cafeteria then picks up the check. Katherine Ross, just leaving her college class, is the first of three women whom Garner (mis)recognizes as ‘Grace.’ She’s happy to hang out as director Delbert Mann jump-cuts in & out of incidents from Garner’s troubled past. Struggling actress Suzanne Pleshette and a swanky, soused Jean Simmons also go thru the same routine, unintentionally reactivating Garner’s memory. The dramatic trick is that each in turn also plays the role of the mysterious ‘Grace’ in the subliminal flashbacks. Dale Wasserman, who’d just written the B’way version of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, tries pathos, tries humor, tries suspense, but can’t get anything going. Farfetched is the best he can do. And Mann getting little charge out of the real NYC locations, attempts a bit of Nouvelle Vague stylistic action to liven things up. No go; the film’s a dud. And, after a decade of dully prestigious feature work, Mann largely returned to tv.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Gregory Peck, working off a cleverly structured Peter Stone script, had just done the amnesia shuffle to better effect in Edward Dmytryk’s MIRAGE/’65.

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