Wednesday, September 19, 2018


Unfortunately, the groovy classic scenes in I Love You, Alice B. Toklas (1969)—the blocked car, the Hispanic family with whiplash, the brownie party with Mom and Dad (where everyone’s oblivious to the ingredients), the funeral—occur in the first hour. The movie fizzles out. Even so, the comedy is just about enough to carry the remainder of the picture; audiences are already on its side when the laughs start drying up.

Culture clash. Peter Sellers and Leigh Taylor-Young
The shtick fizzles when Peter Sellers (Harold) puts on hippie beads and a psychedelic bandana. Why turn Harold into a hippie, anyway? The point is that Harold is a boring establishment lawyer who rejects his idiot brother Herbie’s counter-culture life because that life is so stoned and vapid; Herbie (David Arkin) has no direction and no sense of urgency—he’s just a flower-loving bum in Venice Beach. Harold is his mother’s archetypal Jewish son—the successful lawyer—but Harold’s brother gives her tsuris. The first hour of the movie is a mishpucha comedy; it makes fun of Jewish parental expectations.

The last thirty minutes misfire repeatedly: inchoate scenes of Harold and his new girlfriend Nancy (Leigh Taylor-Young) making love in an automobile when the police show up and kick them out (the scene just crumbles before your eyes); the law-firm partner, an unfunny letch, propositioning Harold’s ex-fiancée; a middle-aged cross-dresser entering the dress shop where Nancy works and trying on a mini-skirt, and so on. Taylor-Young wears American Indian suede with fringe trim and beads and brings a Marilyn Monroe–like softness to her scenes; her erotic warmth is balanced by her sweetly vacuous line readings—it’s a charming performance. 

The Jewish jokes grow stale and humorless, and the gimmicks get careless. Why are there flowers at the Jewish butcher’s funeral, and why is his casket so ornate? Why is the Lohengrin march played at Harold’s wedding? Elmer Bernstein may as well have not even bothered, either. He repeats the theme song with practically no variation for two hours. Peter Sellers droops with the dearth of good gags, Mrs. Fine (the scene chewer Jo Van Fleet) turns sour, and the butcher’s widow wails hysterically. Were the writers smoking too much dope?

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