Thursday, October 8, 2009

Quote of the Day (“Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” on a Night of Entertainment)

Ted Henderson (played by Elliott Gould): “First, we'll have an orgy. Then we'll go see Tony Bennett.”—Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), written by Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker, directed by Mazursky

Its major plot element—wife-swapping—made it controversial in its time, as evidenced partly by the number of A-list actors who turned down roles in the film: Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, Steve McQueen, Jane Fonda and Faye Dunaway.

Nowadays, we can see that Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, which premiered on this date in New York 40 years ago, is, in fact, conservative, at least as far as mores, if not politics. You can almost see it even in this quote, with uptight Ted opting for a lame (by late 1960s standards, anyway) musical choice right after the out-there sexual option that he really doesn’t have his heart in (something demonstrated afterward, when he spends what seems like forever in the bathroom brushing his teeth before going out to participate halfheartedly in his foursome).

The quartet of friends, husbands, wives, and lovers (played to perfection by Robert Culp, Natalie Wood, Elliott Gould and Dyan Cannon) is satirized for its adherence to every Southern California fad—the therapies at “The Institute,” hinting not-so-subtly at EST and Gestalt; psychoanalysis (played by Mazursky’s own therapist!); and, of course, the seeming honesty about “open marriages” that is anything but.

The film remains hilarious, even though hairstyles and some other surface aspects seem dated, and it remains eternal in understanding the great difficulty in communication between husbands and wives—and the joylessness of uncommitted sex.

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