Monday, June 29, 2009

cinema obscura: Sidney Lumet's "The Group" (1966)

Candice Bergen, Shirley Knight, Joanna Pettet, Jessica Walter, Kathleen Widdows, Mary-Robin Redd, Elizabeth Hartman and Joan Hackett - Lumet's clique
Arguably Sidney Lumet's biggest, least representative and least remembered film is his 1966, 150-minute version of the Mary McCarthy novel about eight Vassar women who are alternately friends and rivals - or "frenemies," as Carrie Bradshaw would put it more than 30 years later.

Yes, "The Group" - which Turner Movie Classics is airing today at 3:30 p.m. (est) as part of its Lumet tribute - is one of those films indirectly responsible for "Sex and the City's" toxic reign of terror.

It represents a subgenre which includes Jean Negulesco's deliciously camp "The Best of Everything" (1959) and Wendy Wasserstein's intelligent "Uncommon Women and Others" (1979) - a subgenre that apparently has been dumbed-down over the past 40 years.

Hence, "Sex and the City's" insipid preoccupation with expensive shoes, obedient men and very little else.

The brightest star of Lumet's ensemble of young women is Shirley Knight, already a double-Oscar nominee by '66, although Candice Bergen received more attention for her arch, cringe-worthy debut as the token lesbian of the bunch. (She can barely walk and talk at the same time, as one of her ungenerous co-stars put it at the time.) Joan Hackett and Elizabeth Hartman, both now gone, and Joanna Pettet and Jessica Walter, would go on to bigger and better roles, although Pettet would soon fade away; Kathleen Widdows would move on to daytime dramas, becoming a favorite of soap fans, and Mary-Robin Redd, the most affecting actress of the group, would return to her roots, the Broadway stage.

The male characters in this difficult-to-see film, all singularly unappealing, are represented by Richard Mulligan, Larry Hagman, James Broderick and Hal Holbrook, none of whom would past muster on "Sex and the City."

Not enough musculature among them, see?

Anyway, Pauline Kael dismissed the film as "carelessly busy, energetic but likable."

And it is.


Sheila said...

This film is the definition of a guilty pleasure. I can't say I like it, but I do love it.

Saltwater said...

hi I was in the film as an extra at age 16 but have never seen it. In the graduation scene outdoors I was sitting to the left of Larry Hagman, who had on a straw hat of the type I think was called a "boater". Then there was a scene inside the gym and Elisabeth Hartman looked at me and smiled from across the room, which was a big thrill.
We were paid 10 dollars a day. I think I was there 2 days. (I went home in the evening of course, I lived only 5 miles away) We were provided box lunches in white boxes with sandwiches and chips as I remember.
Now I gotta go see the movie finally after 44 years to see if I am even in it! Thanks for the memory reminder.