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Cactus Flower
USA 1969
Directed by Gene Saks
Running time 104 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Rather remarkably, Goldie Hawn, making her big screen debut after coming to prominence in the hit TV sketch comedy show, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, won an Oscar for her performance as Toni Simmons, a Greenwich Village single in this Zeitgeist-tinged comedy.

It’s not that she stands out as an actress but rather that her trademark kooky character and Tweety-bird looks perfectly fitted the temper of the times and the story which sets her in a triangular relationship with a middle-aged dentist Dr. Julian Winston (Walter Matthau).and his prickly spinster secretary/nurse, Stephanie Dickinson (Ingrid Bergman), the cactus to which the title refers

Based on a script by Billy Wilder’s regular writer, I.A.L. Diamond who adapted a play by Abe Burrows which in turn was based on aFrench original, “Fleur De Cactus”, by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy, the central gag is that in order to keep their affair spicy Julian has told Toni that he is married when he is not. As his deception becomes more tangled he gets Stephanie to pretend to be his wife, oblivious to the fact that she is in love with him. When Toni starts to empathize with Stephanie’s fake wife, Julien invents a lover (Jack Weston) for her to make him look like the victim.

Needless to say you can see where it's all heading but there’s a lot of fun to be had along the way.  Comparing it to producer M.J. Frankovich’s other contemporary sexual mores comedy released later that year,  Bob & Carol & Ted  & Alice, this is the funnier of the two, not simply because it is so well-honed by its performance history but, one suspects, because the farcical elements of the original French text have been retained throughout its permutations (Francis Veber would become a master of this style of comedy though of course Diamond was writer of the “mistaken identity" classic, Some Like It Hot 1959).

A clever script is one thing but the performances too are strong with Bergman captivating as the long suffering handmaid who has to endure her boss’s womanizing and Matthau wonderfully obtuse as the grump whose well-organised world is coming apart at the scenes. In terms of production design, art direction and music the film has no idea about the 60s flower power culture which it is trying to appropriate, giving it a tackily ersatz look which, in hindsight at least, actually adds to the fun.  

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Available from: Shock Entertainment

 

 

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