Monday, January 30, 2017

Paris When it Fizzles

Sixties sex farces should be just my cup of tea, but I don't find many that I really like. Take A New Kind of Love (1963). It was directed by Melville Shavelson, who was responsible for a lot this kind of thing (Houseboat, Yours, Mine and Ours). It stars Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, so how bad could it be.

Woodward is a fashion designer specializing in ripping off couture designs for a mid-market department store run by George Tobias (with the help of Thelma Ritter). These three are going to Paris to buy or steal some schmatta.  Newman is a Norman-Mailer-esque newspaper columnist, who spends his time drinking, going to sporting matches, and womanizing, usually all at once. When he beds the wrong woman, he gets sent by his editor to Paris in exile.

They meet for the first time on the plane over. Woodward is a "semi-maiden" - tried love once and didn't like it. She dresses androgynously and wears her hair shaggy and studded with pencils. Frankly she looks awesome - very modern, a little Velvet Underground. But Newman calls her "mister" before he gets a good look at her, and they don't hit it off.

The movie spends a bit of time on their separate Paris adventures: Her at fashion runways, him at strip club runways. They are contrasted in split screen scenes is pretty cute. Also, the mid-century fashions are quite sweet, if you like Dior, Lanvin, etc, you'll enjoy those parts.

How Woodward and Newman meet is a bit complicated. Tobias starts running around with sexy Eva Gabor, and Thelma Ritter confides in Woodward that she always loved Tobias and was now in despair about her love life. (But she can't hate Gabor because she is so nice.) Woodward has a religious epiphany during the Feast of St. Catherine, patron saint of unmarried woman. So she decides to get a makeover - hairdo, dresses, all that. This is silly, but not an insult to the character.

She is out in a cafe all dolled when Newman mistakes her for a "fille de joie", who he decides to interview to get his column back on track. She recognizes him and plays along, at first for revenge, then because she kind of likes being an infamous woman of pleasure. I'm sure you will guess that this all leads to a put up/shut up sex panic, just like a Doris Day movie.

Some of you are probably thinking, Funny Face: unconventional, unfeminine woman needs a man to make her fashionable and pretty. Yes, but. Astaire was playing a David-Avedon-like photographer who saw the beauty in Hepburn right away (not so difficult). Newman is parodying a self-important, hyper-masculine writer (at least I hope it's a parody), who ignores or scorns a woman who isn't frilly - not really likable. I feel like it's closer to Paris When it Sizzles: supposed romance spoiled by a sour misogyny.

Woodward's character holds up fairly well, even if she is a bit retro. Newman's doesn't - especially in the fantasy sequences when Woodward imagines him as a growling, animalistic football player. He doesn't seem to be getting it. Maybe he's just not that retro.

Still, some fun fashions, and Thelma Ritter gets a much deeper role than usual. Also, I liked Marvin Kaplan as Newman's thick-glassed, shlubby Jewish buddy. I'm not ready to give up on Sixties sex farces.

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