Thursday, July 08, 2010

How Women Crashed "The Bachelor Party"

Directed by Delbert Mann
Starring: Don Murray, Patricia Smith, Jack Warden, E. G. Marshall, Philip Abbott, Carolyn Jones, Nancy Marchand, Larry Blyden
Grade: C+

Delbert Mann's "The Bachelor Party" began as a teleplay in 1953, written and adapted by Paddy Chayefsky, Mann's collaborator on Marty. The central role of Charlie began with Eddie Albert and is reprised in this 1957 picture by Don Murray, off the back of his Oscar-nominated squawking with Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop. "The Bachelor Party" begins with Charlie looking thoroughly miserable, listening to his wife elate about their new pregnancy to her mother. It quickly becomes clear that Charlie is disillusioned with life in his nine-to-five routine, wondering whether the prospect of marriage, children, and a mortgage is worth the strain.

There's something to be said for the film as one of the first of its kind to document the institutionalisation of life, especially considering that we see films that re-iterate this point even now. Revolutionary Road uses similar examples of people willing to rebel against an assumed path, grandstanding marriage to proclaim that there were Issues in the 1950's and people SHOUTED about them! "The Bachelor Party" throws its issues around but lets Don Murray whimper in the corner about things, occasionally making toiled speeches to colleagues who in turn get their chance to reveal how dented their own manhoods are. Legitimate concerns are proffered, but at the expense of real insight. We don't get to see these men in enough genuine situations that expose their concerns, and instead the "The Bachelor Party" is much too reliant upon a one-night-only, booze-fuelled trawl across tawdry terrain.

Don Murray isn't strong enough to carry the film's issues on his own, which is a shame because overall the ensemble is very canny. The women of the film, in slim supporting roles, represent the attempts to balance out the dominant sense of failure in the male. These take the form of Charlie's suffering wife Helen, his sister Nancy, and a lonely party girl nicknamed "The Existentialist".

Patricia Smith as Helen Samson

Smith, a prolific TV Actress, is someone I hadn't previously come across. As Charlie's wife Helen she doesn't have to delve fathoms to extricate sympathy for her pregnant character, continually given very little affection or information by her miserable husband. Still, Smith remains consistently wary, eager to please but completely sure that she wants the life that Charlie is doubting. She gives us an early sense that Helen is a limpet, dependent upon the corporate stakes of her spouse, but reveals more about her character through bursts of silent rage and dubious glances to demonstrate the woman that Charlie fell in love with. These emerge when talking to Julie, whose willingness to let go the misdemeanours of her own husband rile Helen to a surprising degree. There are more inklings of romantic history in her performance than in any other singular force in the film.

Nancy Marchand as Julie Samson

In a five-minute scene, Nancy Marchand's Julie reveals to Helen that she knows her husband is having an affair, and has had affairs in the past. This is a sure attempt by Chayefsky to normalise the masculine approach to crisis in looking further afield; and the 'boys will be boys' assessment feels at least accurate to me, if not an entirely rich analysis. Marchand approaches the subject as a quest for re-assurance, much like Norma Shearer did in The Women long before "The Bachelor Party" was even made. She lets us know that Julie is hurting, ceding her own veil of pride to allow a different perspective, even if it isn't what she wants to hear. This scene is designed to test the already-dwindling belief in Helen towards Charlie's loyalty towards her and their new arrival, but also helps to bring a different dimension to the film. It reminded me much of Bergman's Waiting Women, made shortly before this, which similarly addressed the female dilemna with regard to relationships. The passive option is not always the easy option.

Carolyn Jones as 'The Existentialist'

The intriguing moniker that the film gives her is akin to her role in the film, but reads as misleading given the depths of character Jones is able to impart from such a short amount of screentime, and limited room to breathe. She's given a lengthy monologue to spout which essentially amounts to piffle, and all but acts to distance her possibility as a romantic option for Charlie. Jones pretty much nails the inflection of her sporadic account, working so hard to achieve it that she's unable to give it the meaning it doesn't have, but when her and Charlie embrace she turns into an altogether different commodity. She alters perceptions of her character as a bit of an easy broad when she insists on Charlie telling her that he loves her, doing so with the right amalgamation of shame and hope, so as to lull him into a false sense of security. Is this woman worth it because she wants love, or is she more trouble?

"The Bachelor Party" frequently over-simplifies the male predicament, to the extent where the actions of the group of men become arduous and rather repetitive. Every man gets their turn at stating his insecurities, flailing Scotch glasses around and sweating like pigs, their concerns plainly evident, over-addressed, lacking real emotional intelligence. But there are little touches to their rapport that generate curiosity, and Charlie's relationship with Helen is an honest, worthwhile element, when it could have effectively acted as a token demonstration of misery. They say 'behind every good man is a good woman', and on this evidence, Delbert Mann's "The Bachelor Party" purports to this theory, succeeding in its depiction of interdependence more than it ever should.

1 comment:

Phoenix Edler said...

Reading your review makes me want to see the film myself. I'm also rather curious as to how their little tragedies parallel to that of our time's own bachelor parties.