Friday, November 21, 2008

Ingrid Bergman does comedy!

Ingrid Bergman had made some comedy movies in her native Sweden in the 1930s before coming to the US, but after coming across the Atlantic, she didn't make many. One notable exception is Cactus Flower.

Walter Matthau stars as Julian Winston, a New York dentist who is also a confirmed bachelor. He serially gets into relationships with young women, such as his current relationship with Toni (Goldie Hawn), and then breaks them off by saying he can't get married to them, because he's already married to a woman who won't give him a divorce. Unfortunately for the caddish doctor, Toni responds to this rejection by closing all the windows to her apartment and turning on the gas stove, intending to commit suicide. Her next-door neighbor Igor (Rick Lenz) discovers her, saves her life, and hears her tragic story. Eventually, they hit on an idea: if she can see Dr. Julian's wife, she'll be able to convince her to grant him a divorce, or else disabuse herself of the idea that she'd want to marry Dr. Julian.

What's a doctor to do? Well, he's got a nurse-receptionist, Stephanie (that's Bergman, seen in the photo), who happens to be unmarried, and wouldn't she pretty please help him out by pretending to be his wife? Needless to say, Stephanie is horrified by the idea at first, but Dr. Julian is such a schmoozer that eventually, she agrees to go along with the plan. They say honesty is the best policy, and here, trying to keep up a lie only makes things worse, as Stephanie falls in love with Igor! It seems more logical, of course, that the two young people should end up together, as should the two old folks....

Cactus Flower is a lot of fun. It was released in 1969, and is clearly a product of the 1960s, but it's a fun trip back in time, with the horrid fashions and design. This sort of schemer is a role that Matthau was perfect for, having already won an Oscar for playing the type in The Fortune Cookie. In Cactus Flower, however, the Oscar went to Goldie Hawn, who does do a fine job as the young woman. That having been said, the one who really shines is actually Bergman. She shows deft comedic timing, and gets some of the more fun lines, notably one about Idaho champagne delivered in a 60's-chic nightspot. Her character starts off as an almost uptight, spinsterish woman, but really begins to loosen up and discover how much joy there can be in life as she meets and falls in love with Igor, who seems bohemian, but really has a conscience under that exterior. Lenz, to be honest, is competent, although he seemed to have been cast to provide eye candy, getting several scenes where he's just come out of the shower and is only wearing a towel.

Somewhat surprisingly, reviewers of the time weren't so kind to Cactus Flower. Although it's dated, it's a little gem, and not just for Ingrid Bergman's good turn at comedy. Thankfully, it's been released to DVD, too.

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