Judge Bill Gibron was not impressed with this Doris Day-helmed spy spoof that represents the tail end of her career as a big-screen icon.
Where do you run when there's no place to run? Where do you hide when there's no place to hide?
Patricia Foster (Doris Day, Young at Heart) is an industrial spy, working for Sir Jason Fox (Edward Mulhare, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir) and his Femina Cosmetics Company. Her job is to infiltrate other organizations to steal their deodorant and make-up secrets. Her latest assignment is the May Fortune firm and their new water-resistant hair spray. Under the auspices of fellow secret agent Christopher White (Richard Harris, Camelot), she becomes May Fortune's top designer, working closely with owner Matthew Cutter (Jack Kruschen, The Apartment) and chief chemist Stuart Clancy (Ray Walston, Fast Times at Ridgemont High). But just as she's about to unearth the secret of the new product, she is dragged back into a decades-old mystery involving her murdered father (an Interpol agent) and the smuggling of drugs. Determining what health and beauty have to do with death and dope peddling will be part of Patricia and Christopher's cause. If they aren't careful, they might just fall inside the trap of a double-dealing figure who's forcing both sides against each other for the sake of a fast buck. From L.A. to the Alps, the truth behind the beauty secrets of Caprice will be difficult, if not deadly, to determine.
Caprice is a spy spoof without the genre's standard allotment of farce or fun. Helmed by former Warner Brothers cartoon director Frank Tashlin (perhaps most famous for steering Jerry Lewis through some of his more memorable solo comedies) and starring a sadly miscast Doris Day, what wants to be a Casino Royale-style lampoon ends up being…a Casino Royale-style lampoon. So wildly divergent in tone that you can practically calibrate your home theater system based on the many sudden tone shifts, and unsure of how to approach the whole espionage/entertainment angle, Caprice decides to do a little motion-picture panhandling and mooch off its amiable cast. Sadly, Day, a young Richard Harris, a psycho Ray Walston, and a dour Edward Mulhare don't have a great deal to give. Most of this is Ms. Day's fault. Wearing a hairdo and glasses that purposely hide her expressive face (at 43, she looks a good 20 years older here) and forced to do little more than futz around like a slapstick prop, this is not the actress who stole Love Me or Leave Me from James Cagney or turned Jean Kerr's Please Don't Eat the Daises into a far funnier film than it actually was. No, Day seems distracted, unable to find a focus amongst Tashlin's elaborate set designs and complicated animation-like set pieces. So she simply puts on her fly-eye Edith Head sunglasses, works her way into another sloppy Chanel knock-off, and stumbles around amiably.
Her cast mates aren't much better off. Required to do little else but take off his shirt and feign Carnaby Street cool, Richard Harris is so soft spoken that you frequently wonder if he actually has a voice. On the other end of the thespian extreme, Ray Walston obviously loves the opportunity to break out of his Uncle Martin/My Favorite Martian persona, really going gonzo in his veiled villain routine. Mulhare has a hard time keeping the red-herring reality off his cultured Sir Jason mystique, and various well-known big-screen and small-screen character actors show up to activate your "that guy looks familiar" cerebral software. Taken in total, they're the cinematic equivalent of busy work, languishing around the edges of scenes, supporting Day in her dismaying attempt to milk laughs out of this lameness. There are a couple of comic moments that do work here (Day's line "I'm the spy who came in from the cold…cream" and her attempts to snatch a lock of hair from a co-worker) and Tashlin is a visually arresting director. But infrequent laughs and a backdrop that offers more eye than mind candy do not a stellar satire make. Indeed, Caprice falls apart so many times during the course of its knotty narrative that it becomes impossible to piece back together. Instead, we watch it stumble around like a drunken dockworker until it finally falls into the hackneyed harbor and drowns under its own unstable structure.
Even more depressing is the notion of Doris Day dumped into a project like this. All of her previous perkiness, her smart and sassy effervescence is completely missing. She acts—and looks—tired and bored. In fact, if you pay close attention, you can see the actual moments where she grows uneasy and merely tunes out. She has no chemistry with Harris and even less with the rest of the male members of her cast. Besides, she seems very out of place in Tashlin's celluloid world of living cartoons. Moments where an oversized pair of scissors wind up in a car seat, swaying comically as a standard "boing-g-g-g-g!" sound effect goes off, or the numerous blue-screen inserts used to verify our performers' presence in an exotic locale (or a stunt situation) destroy her usually visible core of genuineness and heart. It's like watching Meryl Streep wander through a slasher film. The two competing cinematic types just don't meld. Give Day a group of defiant kids and a frazzled husband to manage and she seems right at home. But wielding a gun and trying to commandeer a helicopter are not perceivable parts of the Day lexicon. We keep waiting for the actress who sold suspense in The Man Who Knew Too Much and Midnight Lace, or the comedienne who carried That Touch of Mink or Move Over, Darling. Sadly, all we wind up with is a statue-like shadow of a once formidable star. Caprice may want to be a likeable lampoon, but the joke, unfortunately, is on us.
Fox has really gone all out with the release of this, and two other titles in their so-called Doris Day Cinema Classics Collection (including Darling and Do Not Disturb). Given the full restoration treatment—which is illustrated by a brief added bonus feature—and the addition of several other short documentaries, what we end up with is a lame love letter to a movie that doesn't deserve the partial praise. The full-length audio commentary, from Day scholars Pierre Patrick and John Cork doesn't quite excuse the actress's participation, since both men acknowledge the film has flaws. Even better, they offer insight into the production that we might not otherwise have access to. Elsewhere, costume designer Ray Aghayan tries to defend his fashion sense in a nominal interview, and the "Double-O Doris" featurette explains the mid-'60s interest in spies. Add in radio Q&As with Day and Harris, a photo gallery, and a series of trailers, and you have a likeable collection of context. As for the technical elements, the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image is good, if not great. The images are a little soft, and the details not terribly distinct. As for the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, the film's frequent aural gags (including a lunch scene where Day dismantles a secretly-planted listening device) all come across loud and very clear.
If you don't mind the schizophrenic storyline or the lack of genuine laughs, if you feel that the presence of Doris Day in even the most derivative big-screen romp warrants your fan-based attention, then you'll probably find Caprice an enjoyable spoof. But for others who've been burned by this kind of secret-agent silliness before, you'll find nothing but numbing nonsense here. Guilty on all counts.
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• Commentary by authors Pierre Patrick and John Cork
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