Review: I Will, I Will … For Now / The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox

[Originally published in Movietone News 49, April 1976]

Norman Panama and Melvin Frank used to be partners. Since neither of their latest independent efforts is worth reviewing by itself, and since both represent hazards to public health, this joint quarantine report is offered. I Will, I Will … for Now finds Panama blatantly poaching on territory Frank found profitable—and made comparatively tolerable—in A Touch of Class a couple years ago. Frank’s scenario about a salably bittersweet affair between a married man and a plucky divorcee in an expense-account version of the Jet Set has been transmuted into a wishfully trendy bit of fluff concerning a once-married couple who opt for one more try, but this time under the modish umbrella of a cohabitation contract renewable or cancellable at the end of each year. It’s hard to tell from scene to scene whether they’re with-it or congenitally oldfashioned; while that might have made for a revealing approach to the problems of maintaining an honest commitment in these parlous times of sexual revisionism, in this case the confusion bespeaks filmmakers playing both ends against the middle rather than the comic pathos of well-meaning characters. Gould and Keaton—and Paul Sorvino as the family lawyer who’d been having an affair with the new divorcee—supply the enterprise with more gentle whimsy and emotional integrity than their cinematic context deserves. As for the movie side of things, even ace cameraman John (Chinatown) Alonzo performs as if he were lensing a TV sitcom.

Still, I Will, I Will … for Now looks like It Happened One Night alongside The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox, a film so ineptly conceived and executed that the Dirtwater Fox part of the title fails to make sense even after the Dirtwater Fox has explained it. It’s another would-be comedy, but in a Western setting. While Melvin Frank once directed an interesting western called The Jayhawkers (1959), the absence of any feeling for the genre here—even on a parodistic level—tends to confirm earlier suspicions that the phenomenally encyclopedic structure of that film owed more to the contributions of three or four different writers to the script than Frank’s directorial control. The level of wit is adequately indexed by Frank’s title shot, a freezeframe of two leotard-bursting tushies presented to the camera as Goldie Hawn and another saloongirl wrestle on the floor of a Barbary Coast dive. The dialogue rates boffs mainly by having Hawn and George Segal spew scatologies with all the spontaneity of a schoolchild trying the words out in his own mouth for the first time, and Frank requires five shots to spring gags that aren’t worth one. Like Paul Newman, Segal plays comedy terribly when he’s decided he’s George Segal Playing Comedy (he’s very winning when he doesn’t insist on his charm, e.g. in California Split), and both he and Hawn manage to be completely unappealing here. Frank flogs his tired cynicism for an hour and a half, and then has his floozy and con-man fall in love while humping madly in a boat borne down the rapids as a troubadour serenades offscreen; not only that, but he has the chutzpah to almost kill off one of the pair in the last scene and pretend as though it should matter. George Segal nicked in under the wire with The Black Bird in 1975 to cop the trophy for Worst Comedy of the Year. Taking no chances, he’s made an early bid for the 1976 prize. He should win in a walk.

RTJ

I WILL, I WILL … FOR NOW
Direction: Norman Panama. Screenplay: Norman Panama, Albert E. Lewin. Cinematography: John A. Alonzo. Music: John Cameron.
The players: Elliott Gould, Diane Keaton, Paul Sorvino, Victoria Principal, Warren Berlinger, Robert Aida, Madge Sinclair, Candy Clark.

THE DUCHESS AND THE DIRTWATER FOX
Direction: Melvin Frank. Screenplay: Melvin Frank, Barry Sandler and Jack Rose, after a story by Sandler. Cinematography: Joseph Biroc. Music: Charles Fox.
The players: George Segal, Goldie Hawn, Roy Jenson, Conrad Janis, Thayer David, Bob Hoy.

© 1976 Richard T. Jameson

A pdf of the original issue can be found here


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