Director George Cukor suffered more than his fair share of damaging post-production interference from second-guessing moguls. Half an hour bled from A STAR IS BORN/’54 after its initial release* and ‘clarifying’ voice-over narration & dumbed-down restructuring on BHOWANI JUNCTION/’56 being only the best known examples. And while much the same sort of distortion happens here, courtesy of producer Darryl F. Zanuck, it’s hard to mourn the loss. Anyway you slice it, and DFZ sliced with abandon, the film would still be a dud. With a stylish quartet of Malibu women to sample, we follow their personal crises with stops for participation in a Kinsey-esque sex survey they’ve volunteered for. Amazingly, they all seem shocked!, shocked! when their mystery interlocutor has the temerity to ask about . . . their sex lives! (Did they think it would be Coke?; Pepsi?; or Dr. Pepper?) Jane Fonda, still learning to read lines, is the frigid young widow; Shelley Winters is cheating on her all-too-solid hubby with a commitment-phobic two-timer; Claire Bloom’s the alcoholic-nympho who digs debasement; and Glynis Johns plays comic relief, scared at the brink of ravishment with a hunky beach boy. The script, nearly as desperate as the ladies, wants to be daring, modern, adult, but (again like the ladies) has trouble taking the gloves off. (Those dress gloves! Were they still omnipresent in Cali/’62?) And the big revealing sex interviews? Empty soliloquy workouts for the gals. (But offering a fresh ensemble at every session. Check out Fonda’s stupendous white hat! Just the thing for research.)
Halfway in you realize what Zanuck was up to, trying to sculpt a newfangled version of an old hit, A LETTER TO THREE WIVES/’49, now with psychological trimmings. All better handled by writer/director Joseph Mankiewicz in the earlier pic, and whose nephew, Don Mankiewicz, just happened to co-write this.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: As mentioned, LETTER TO THREE WIVES which actually had FOUR wives until DFZ took a blue pencil to Mank’s first draft.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Lovingly restored in 1983 to something near it’s original condition/length.