This flower hasn't lost its bloom
Do you remember those movies the Superstations used to play on lazy Summer Sunday afternoons? Cactus Flower is one you likely would have passed over while surfing between reruns of The Brady Bunch and Gilligan's Island. At first glance, you might mistake it for a saccharine sweet Doris Day movie with its 1960s look and feel. However, put the down remote for a few minutes and you'll quickly see this book is far more entertaining than its cover.
Facts of the Case
The title sequence paints a vibrant picture of an American innocence long past. It's late in the evening and a bearded flower child makes his way down a New York neighborhood street, planting fresh daisies behind the windshield wipers of the parked cars. Pull back to a familiar young lady exiting her building in baby doll pajamas and big fuzzy pink slippers on the way to the mailbox to deliver an important letter. As she returns to her apartment, it becomes apparent she has been stood up for dinner. However, as she locks up the windows, blows out the pilot light, turns up the gas, and lays down on her bed in true Lily Munster fashion, there is more to her story than meets the eye.
Goldie Hawn, in her feature film debut, stars as Toni Simmons. Toni is a bright-eyed dippy blonde in love with a married dentist, Dr. Julian Winston, as played by the incomparable Walter Matthau. Julian has jilted Toni, on what was to be a celebration of their first anniversary, as a means of playing hard to get. You see Julian is a confirmed bachelor who enjoys a revolving buffet of young females in his life. To keep from getting too involved, he concocts excuses as to why he can't see them more than once or twice. In this case, Julian told Toni he was married with three kids. Having been lied to all her life, Julian's supposed honesty is one of the reasons Toni has fallen for him. What Julian didn't realize is he how hard he would fall for her. Upon learning Toni has attempted suicide, Julian rushes to her apartment and promises to marry her. While she initially overjoyed, Toni becomes concerned with the impact their plans will have on the lives of Julian's wife and children. Before going through with the marriage, she insists on meeting Mrs. Winston, to make things right. Instead of telling her the truth, Julian enlists the help of his tough-as-nails nurse, Stephanie—played to perfection by the legendary Ingrid Bergman—and his swinging friend Harvey—played by Jack Weston—to pull off this wacky scheme. What ensues is a series of compounding white lies and comic misunderstandings that leaves everyone laughing.
Cactus Flower is a beautifully crafted and executed comedy. The script, based on a French play by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Gredy, was brought Broadway in 1965 by Abe Burrows and David Merrick. The show played to sell-out houses for three years before catching the attention of Hollywood. I.A.L. Diamond's (Some Like It Hot, The Apartment) screenplay captures the intimate feeling of the stage and the subtle intricacies of comedic farce, but it is the direction of Gene Saks (The Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park) and the performances of the cast that make the movie a success.
Goldie Hawn is a treat to watch. Fresh off her run as the ditzy go-go girl on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, you can't help but be drawn in by her sincerity, sweetness, and contagious giggle. Hawn's eyes sparkle with a rare brightness, obviously inherited by daughter Kate Hudson (Almost Famous). Her performance charmed the critics and captured the Academy, as she took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1969. Walter Matthau, coming off another stage to screen translation, Barbra Streisand's epic version of Hello Dolly, is in classic form as the player dentist caught in a trap of his own making. The interaction between Matthau and Hawn is delightful. It isn't hard to see why Julian has been taken in by Toni's beauty and charm. However, the real gem of this film is the performance of the Ingrid Bergman, as nurse Stephanie Dickinson. Who knew the legendary, Swedish born star of such dramatic masterpieces as Casablanca and Joan of Arc could display such comedic presence and timing and ultimately steal the movie from the professional comedians. No offense to Goldie, but it is Bergman who deserves the Oscar here. The supporting cast is rounded out by Rick Lenz (The Shootist) as Igor Sullivan, Toni's neighbor and confidant; Jack Weston (The Incredible Mr. Limpit, Dirty Dancing) as Harvey Greenfield, Julian's dead-beat best friend, an actor who enjoys women more than working; and Vito Scotti (The Godfather) as the entertaining Spanish diplomat, Senor Sanchez, who is in hot pursuit of Nurse Dickinson.
Cactus Flower is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and the digitally remastered transfer is quite good. Aside from the dirt and grain of the opening title sequence (which seems to be a common problem amongst older films), Columbia TriStar has done an admirable job of making this 33 year old treasure look as good as new. The 1960s fluorescent colors amongst muted backgrounds come through with energy and clarity. Very little edge detection or artificating to be seen, even when placed under the microscope. The audio is Mono, a product of the time, but in no way distracting from the enjoyment of the film. Quincy Jones' score deftly underplays the comedic interchanges, drawing upon Muzak versions of contemporary classics to highlight the various nightclub scenes. See how many you can pick out. Even the queen of R&B, Ms. Sarah Vaughn, lends her dulcet tones to the films opening and closing titles.
As one might expect, the extras here are in short supply. The menus are static and photo driven, with no hint of any Easter eggs. The only supplements included are three theatrical trailers: Cactus Flower—it amazes me how unimpressive trailers used to be, compared to what we see today; Groundhog Day—a treat for fans of Bill Murray and the movie, although completely out of place here; and Seems Like Old Times—the enjoyable follow-up to Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase's Foul Play.
Never having seen nor heard of this film, I was pleasantly surprised by the entire package. For fans of the film's stars, this one is definitely worth seeing. For fans of this film and the genre, it is definitely worth owning.
Innocent of all criminal intent. After all, it's the '60s man. Peace, love, and comedy.
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