Sunday 18 August 2013

Dynamic Dyan… Such Good Friends (1971)

Dyan Cannon gives such a strong showing in this film that it’s hard to credit some of the negative critical reaction at the time. It’s all the more remarkable when you consider her famously roller-coaster relationship with Director Otto Preminger – they vowed never to work together after this film but it certainly bought out the best in this under-rated actress.

Based on the novel by Lois Gould and adapted by Elaine May under the pseudonym Esther Dale, the narrative does occasionally feel uneven lurching between the interior monologue of lead character Julie Messinger (Cannon) and exterior drama. But this lends a period charm and one that is underpinned by a cutting edge of cynicism and casual cruelty from the characters.

Dyan Cannon and Laurence Luckinbill
Remembering that this story is all supposed to be in Julie’s head, it’s easier to understand these fluctuations. After all, who hasn’t imagined Burgess Meredith dancing in the nude at a New York publisher’s party?

It’s still a film which challenges narrative assumptions and which isn’t quite as pleasant as you keep on expecting it to be: bad things are happening and no amount of New York sophistication can mask the cruelty of friends…

Brave, brave performance from Burgess Meredith...
Julie is the busy mom of two boys, she has a nanny and a domineering mother and seems rushed off her feet and yet unfulfilled. En route to a celebration of her Art Director husband Richard’s (Laurence Luckinbill) children’s novel, she decides to wear a daring see through top – and yet is shocked by his eye-bulging response. She smiles in the cab as she fantasises about a sexual encounter but is still concerned to be a supportive wife to Richard.

Day dreaming
Richard is cynical and he drinks too much, possibly bored by the celebration of his success. The next day he is due a routine operation to remove a mole on his neck. He can’t eat but watches his closest friends  enjoy themselves in the after party-party.

His photographer Cal (Ken Howard) is the cook here providing for Richard and Julie and their friends, Cal’s model girlfriend Miranda (the lovely Jennifer O'Neill) and Marian (Elaine Joyce) and her husband, Doctor Timmy Spector (James Coco) who is to oversee the operation.

All crack wise and make light and, the Messingers retire to bed with Richard joking about the outlandish possibility that he might not make it through the operation.

Just a routine procedure...
But…and there has to be a but, things don’t go well, Richard has an artery “nicked” during the procedure and the blood transfusion required causes a disastrous reaction in his kidney…

Timmy is calm, reassuring Julie that these things happen and that all will be well. Julie ignores the suggestion that she should sue, and goes about recruiting their friends to donate the 20 pints of blood to repay the blood bank for the withdrawals made to re-invigorate her husband.

The blood donors
Hope still dominates as Julie carries on her life but each hospital visit brings new complications and a brutal satire on medical arrogance.

Julie talks to Richard’s now comatose self and Miranda helps to comfort their children – she’s a natural… Julie has flashbacks of their early courtship and marriage: how did they get here?

Julie’s worries begin to dominate and Cannon really excels here as the world of the well recedes into the distance…

But life is not as uncomplicated as that and a visit from Cal reveals that Richard and Miranda had been two-timing them both for over a year. Julie is angry at Cal for revealing this but still goes to confront Miranda as she rehearses a pretentious open air Shakespeare…

Dyan Cannon and Jennifer O'Neill
Then she finds a notebook after a search for Richard’s insurance papers and the realisation dawns that Richard had been playing away more regularly and broadly than anyone had suspected… many of their female friends are listed in the diary along with nature of the act involved and its frequency. No wonder he was so tired all of the time.

The penny drops...
The extent of Richard’s betrayal is now so great we struggle to think that Julie can ever forgive him or any of his many “friends”. But she pulls back from revealing his double-dealings to Miranda – although Cal does the honours there – and resolves on her own future.

Cold blood
In the end, authenticity is the thing that counts and the trappings of civilised intellectualism are no guarantee of lasting marriage. Whether Richard lives or dies, Julie has her own choice to make just as she always has.

Dyan Cannon
Dusty verdict: a great performance form Dyan Cannon and an entertaining call to do your business when you are still able and with the right people.

Such Good Friends is available now on DVD after decades of semi-obscurity and I’d agree with Roger Ebert that it has integrity and packs a punch. Not quite Catch 22 but a clear message that there is no such thing when it comes to relationships…

The doctor's Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
Julie had had other options...
Julie sets herself free...

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