Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Group

Mary McCarthy's novel THE GROUP was one of those best-sellers of the '60s, like John Updike's RABBIT RUN, which the intelligentsia just had to have on their bookshelves. In 1966 Sidney Lumet turned it into a movie, which I have finally caught up with and quite fascinating it is too. It is almost a costume drama really with all those '30s fashions, as we follow the girls from the Class of 1933 at Vassar through the highs and lows of the 1930s leaving them two and half hours later as war is declared and they are burying one of The Group.

It's 1933, and eight young women are friends and members of the upper-class group at a private girl's school, about to graduate and start their own lives. The film documents the years between their graduation and the beginning of the War in Europe, and shows, in a serialized style, their romances and marriages, their searches for careers or meaning in their lives, their highs and their lows.
Lumet (RIP label) assembled quite a collection of rising young actresses, its the best female line-up since THE WOMEN in 1939 or its 1956 remake THE OPPOSITE SEX (which was also a dizzying '50s fashion show with a great crowd of '50s gals, as per  my other posts on it here, but not the dire 2009 version - which ironically cast Candice Bergen as Meg Ryan's mother!) Then of course there was THE CHAPMAN REPORT (1962 label) and the enjoyable trash that is VALLEY OF THE DOLLS and items like STEEL MAGNOLIAS.

The girls soon discover that outside the protective bubble of college and "The Group", which their wealth, position and privilege have guaranteed them, real life presents considerable greater challenges. Touching on everything from politics, birth control, lesbianism, marriage, mental illness, marital abuse, adultery, childbirth, alcoholism and date-rape all tied up in two and half hours, as well as how one's ideals can take quite a beating when confronted by the disappointments and compromises of the real world.
The film focuses mainly on Kay (Joanna Pettet) and Polly (Shirley Knight) and we see lots of catty Libby (Jessica Walter, as mesmerising as she was in PLAY MISTY FOR ME), there's Elizabeth Hartman again as Priss (see YOU'RE A BIG BOY NOW, below).  Sapphic Lakey (Candice Bergen) is absent for most of the film but returns in some style from Europe with her Countess in tow, and has a nice pointed final scene with Kay's husband (Larry Hagman - even more obnoxious here than in DALLAS).  Kay and husband have a perfectly '30s apartment (below) but their marriage soon unravels .... Polly has problems with men and her father who may be mentally ill ... Priss has childbirth and baby problems, as Libby becomes a prime bitch. The actresses are fascinating here, early in their careers. Some fared better than others, and others like Hartman and Joan Hackett sadly died far too young. The men though here are an unappetising bunch: Hagman, Richard Mulligan, Hal Holbrook .... surely the girls deserved better. Good to see the ever-dependable Shirley Knight and Joanna Pettet too, one of those '60s girls who seemed to have disappeared. Candice is as slinky as ever here ....
Watching THE GROUP is like enjoying a satisfying novel with well-developed characters and sub-plots and situations and that perfect period detail, one of Lumet's better films then, and a superior soap opera too which puts recent 'chick flicks' to shame. Pauline Kael did a lengthy piece on the making of the film for "The New Yorker" which is included in her collection "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang".


  1. Joanna Pettet had started to make a name for herself on Broadway when she was cast in THE GROUP; as with many of the other actresses, this would be her first movie. After a few more big roles in movies (such as her "Mata Bond" in CASINO ROYALE), she would marry Alex Cord; at that time, she began to do less work, because she was concentrating on her marriage. With the birth of their son, she continued with television appearances, but the time spent away made her an also-ran.

    The marriage with Cord disintegrated, and she began to do some stage work (prior to THE GROUP she had done Broadway but also appeared in London; she is actually Canadian). Just before being cast in THE GROUP, she had appeared in POOR RICHARD, both in London and on Broadway, where her co-star was Alan Bates. They maintained a friendship over the years.

    Her son, unfortunately, became a drug addict; she went through a great deal of suffering, trying to get him into rehab. He eventually died of a drug overdose. And Alan Bates also endured a great deal of tragedy, including the deaths of his son and his wife.

    Eventually, Pettet moved to London to be with Bates; she took care of him during the last years of his life.

  2. Yes, thats a great story, thanks. I also remember her in that Terence Stamp western BLUE, another one long unseen.

  3. I love this movie, and I'm so glad I stumbled on this blog. Thanks.