Judge Clark Douglas wants no part of this exasperating war.
Any man who hates dogs, women and children can't be all bad!
There's no question that James Thurber remains one of the most distinguished humorists of the 20th century. His quiet wit anchored a host of delightful (and occasionally profound) stories over the years, and his deliberately crude illustrations often brought amusing additional context to the proceedings. By all accounts, he was also a fairly terrible person, known for his temper, misogyny and spitefulness towards certain fellow artists. Unfortunately, The War Between Men and Women hews much closer to the spirit of Thurber's life than to the spirit of his writing.
The film is certainly a strange one, at times feeling like the 1972 equivalent of A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III (and only slightly more tolerable than that). It's an adaptation of some of Thurber's work, an homage to his comedic sensibilities, a juvenile sitcom and a very loose biopic rolled up into one. Jack Lemmon (Glengarry Glen Ross) plays Peter Wilson, a writer whose infamous illustrations happen to look exactly like Thurber's. Wilson is a notorious grouch, misogynist and cynic, but his resolve in these areas begins to crumble when he meets Theresa (Barbara Harris, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), a woman who appreciates his writing and defies many of the female stereotypes lurking within his mind. The relationship progresses splendidly, and eventually Peter and Theresa decide to get married. Alas, just when they've tied the knot, Theresa's ex-husband Stephen (Jason Robards, The Ballad of Cable Hogue) turns up and starts muddying the water.
Though I like much of Thurber's writing (I even purchased the Library of America compilation of his assorted works), this cinematic tribute to the man is exceptionally obnoxious. It's partially due to the fact that the film doesn't just include the more misogynist elements of Thurber's personal life, but because it largely endorses that point-of-view. Despite a few casual lines promoting the notion of equality, The War Between Men and Woman is much more sympathetic to the male perspective (reaching its low point during a sequence in which a drunken Lemmon and Robards collaborate on a partially-animated fantasy that imagines countless hand-drawn women dying on a battlefield).
It's also partially due to the fact that the film is so irritatingly self-satisfied, constantly patting itself on the back for its own cleverness. Lemmon is frequently turning to the camera and making comments to the audience, but these fourth wall-breaking moments are rarely entertaining or insightful. They're simply self-indulgent bits of useless smarm, which along with the animated sequences, over-the-top Marvin Hamlisch score (which is at least entertaining on its own terms) and unsubtle performances only serve as "look at me!" attention-grabbing stunts. The whole thing attempts to turn profound during its closing moments with a dramatic re-telling of Thurber's anti-war tale "The Last Flower" (and attempts to give the moment extra juice by killing off one of the characters). To say it's a clunky denouement would be putting it mildly.
The War Between Men and Women has received a rather unspectacular DVD release from Paramount, clearly a half-hearted attempt to cash on Ben Stiller's loose adaptation of Thurber's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The transfer looks pretty rough, often suffering from softness and loaded with scratches and flecks. Hamlisch's score occasionally sounds distorted on the Dolby 1.0 Mono track, but dialogue is generally clean. There are no supplements whatsoever.
Thurber enthusiasts will certainly find much to chew on in this long-forgotten comedy, but it's one of Lemmon's most obnoxious performances and it certainly isn't half as good as it thinks it is.
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