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UK 1968
Directed by
Richard Lester
105 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars


Overburdened by period style, Richard Lester’s film is a virtual compendium of hip film-making techniques of the late 60s. In the case of his best known films Help! (1965) and A Hard Day's Night (1964) with the antics of the Fab Four as subject matter being groovy was enough but here the stab at serious dramatic content and satire gets buried beneath a collage of gimmicky photography (by an up-and-coming Nicolas Roeg), discontinuous editing, vibrant décor and costumes and a few shots of Janis Joplin and Big Brother & the Holding Company (and with the sounds they make no wonder she ditched them) as well as the Grateful Dead.

George C. Scott plays a successful but bored orthopaedic surgeon who gets involved with young kooky femme fatale, Petulia (Julie Christie), and out the window goes his savoir faire in what is a kind of Pandora’s Box (1929) for the Age of Aquarius. Scott however is not big on letting go of his tough guy persona whilst Christie, the era’s IT girl, who was cast in innumerable films because of her fine-boned looks and independent air, doesn't do much other than let the camera drool over her, which it does, Lester indulging in plenty of soft-focus close-ups. And that’s about it. Richard Chamberlain makes an appearance as her wealthy husband, as does screen veteran Joseph Cotton, but neither add anything of note, indeed Cotton’s contribution is a fairly discordant one.

One can see the bones of a compelling drama beneath the multi-coloured layers but Lester cuts his story up into little pieces and recombines it in ways that were then perceived as artistic (in its day it was widely regarded as a masterpiece) but which only serve to disengage both characters and even more so the audience. Petulia is dramatically inert, however, if you want to look back on the mores and style of the time, this will reward. 




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