Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The Art of Love

Norman Jewison died back in January. I knew that TCM would likely wait until after 31 Days of Oscar to do a programming tribute to him; looking ahead to the March schedule I see that there is one planned for some time after 31 Days of Oscar. But I'll post on that closer to the day of the actual tribute. I had a movie on my DVR that was directed by Jewison and is unsurprisingly not part of the programming tribute, so I've decided not to delay my post on it to coincide with the tribute. That movie is The Art of Love.

After an animated opening credits sequence that looks like it's imitating the Pink Panther style in large part because it was made by the same people (DePatie-Freleng), we cut to a shot of Dick Van Dyke punching his fist through a bunch of art canvases. It's more or less OK, however: Van Dyke is playng Paul Sloan, a starving artist living in a garret apartment in Paris, together with his friend, equally struggling write Casey Barnett (James Garner). Paul has decided to give up the dream of becoming an artist and plans to move back to America to marry his fiancée Laurie. Casey is distressed by this because the two of them have been living off allowances sent by Laurie's wealthy father. If Paul goes back to the US, so do the allowances.

Casey tries to sell some of Paul's canvases, and comes up with an idea. He's trying to write a book based on the American owner of a dive nightclub, Madame Coco (Ethel Merman) and the young women who make up the floor show there. Madame Coco is struggling too, so Casey comes up with the idea that she should buy a couple of the paintings in order that Paul will have enough money to stay in Paris, at which point Casey will too, and can complete the book that will be a big advertising boost to Madame Coco.

Paul, meanwhile, has gone to his art dealer, Zorgus (Roger C. Carmel). In a conversation, Zorgus mentions that a lot of artists are bums, but that bums have a way of becoming famous after death and their paintings suddenly becoming worth a lot more even though they're no better artistically than before the artist's death. With that in mind, Paul mentions it to Casey, and they joke about suicide, with Casey beginning to write a phony manifesto on one of the bridges over the Seine.

But Paul sees a car on the bridge with the headlights still on and the doors open. A woman is threatening to jump off the bridge! Paul doesn't think about his own life any more and decides he's going to try to save her. She falls in the river while he falls on top of one of the barges carrying cargo down the Seine. Thankfully, he's able to save the woman, a young girl named Nikki (Elke Sommer) who had been living with an uncle in Strasbourg but tried to make it in Paris. Not having done so, she decided to try to kill herself instead of going back to Strasbourg. The next day, after the trip has traveled some distance away from Paris, Paul convinces her to get on a bus for Strasbourg.

But at the bus stop, Paul sees a newspaper that has announced the suicide of an American in Paris. As you can guess, that American was one Paul Sloan. Paul of course knows he's not dead, but since he doesn't have any ID with him he wouldn't be able to prove it to the authorities. Or he just doesn't think about that, this being a comedy. Instead, he decides to make his way back to Paris. There, he finds that with his suicide having been publicized in the media, his paintings are selling like hotcakes. Casey concocts a nutty plan to keep Paul in hiding, making new paintings, until showing up at an art show claiming amnesia.

Complicating all of this is that Laurie has decided she's going to come to Paris, although she doesn't know about Paul's supposed suicide or any of the stuff that's followed from there. (She not being the wife, the embassy wouldn't inform her, I guess.) Things fairly quickly spiral out of control from there, as you wonder how the writers are going to extricate themselves from all of this and come up with an ending that satisfies the still-in-place Production Code along with giving viewers the requisite happy ending.

The Art of Love was part of an evening of Dick Van Dyke movies on TCM, presented by Dave Karger. In his outro after the movie, he mentioned that it was a flop. It's really not hard to see why. The movie is an absolute mess. It's not nearly as funny as it would like to think it is, and it seems like there are so many absurd plot holes surrounding Paul's "death" not being found out. It also doesn't help that the Casey character becomes increasingly mean, and taking big part in one of those "comedies of lies" that I tend not to like.

I can see why the people involved with The Art of Love wanted to make it, but can also see where it fails. But as always, judge for yourself.

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