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: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Jorge in Sao Paulo, Martin & Colin, and Donal.
Sunday, 2 September 2012
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 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".