SHIRLEY MACLAINE and ALAN ARKIN

SHIRLEY MACLAINE and ALAN ARKIN

In a perfect world, a movie cast including Shirley MacLaine, Vittorio Gassman, Peter Sellers, Anita Ekberg, Alan Arkin, and Lex Barker, couldn’t miss. But, as the author of the Book of Genesis informed us, this is not a perfect world, and Woman Times Seven, a movie with that very cast, does not fulfill its promise. This 1967 film, directed by Vittorio De Sica, consists of seven short episodes, all involving adultery, in which MacLaine is always the principal player. Natalie Wood was considered first for the film but, in one of her wiser decisions, she turned it down. Those who are familiar with European sexual comedies of the 1950s and 1960s may find that this movie has a familiar feel. Most of the episodes are unsatisfying, possibly because they are too short to be developed properly, and a couple of them are just plain silly, which is not the same thing as broadly humorous.

LEX BARKER and SHIRLEY MACLAINE

LEX BARKER and SHIRLEY MACLAINE

The funniest segment benefits from the deadpan presence of Alan Arkin. He and MacLaine play two adulterers who have checked into a sleazy hotel room after agreeing to a joint suicide, though the rationale for this drastic decision is not convincing. The situation with its alternating depression and panic is a perfect vehicle for Arkin. A heavy-handed denoument spoils an episode in which MacLaine and Ekberg play two stylish women who, while shopping and lunching, realize that they are being followed by a clumsy man — Michael Caine, who does not have a spoken line in the film. Rather than being frightened by this man, the women separate in order to see which of them he will follow. Of course, he follows the headliner and lurks outside her apartment building while she watches him with delight from a window, out of her husband’s sight. No matter what she thinks, it’s not what she thinks. The man has a phone conversion and disappears for good.

ROBERT MORLEY

ROBERT MORLEY

I was happy to see the British character actor Robert Morley with a role in this film, but not happy to find that it was in one of the weakest episodes. MacLaine plays the wife of a novelist (Lex Barker) who is obsessed with “Simone,” a fictional character he created. His wife, unable to get his attention off this non-existent figure, decides to become a fictional character herself, leading her spouse, when he finally notices her bizarre behavior, to summon a psychiatrist, played by Morley. One thing I learned in the process of finding this movie is that many of MacLaine’s films are available. That’s a good reason to leave this one to its fate.

 

 

SHIRLEY MACLAINE

SHIRLEY MACLAINE

I suppose when we search for movie based on the fact that Shirley MacLaine is in the cast, we should be prepared for almost anything. And I suppose that’s what we got when we found the 2003 film Carolina in which MacLaine stars with Julia Stiles and Alessandro Nivola. This was a $15-million property, but Miramax never released it to theaters. After sitting on the movie for two years the distributor abruptly released it directly to DVD in 2005.

JULIA STILES

JULIA STILES

The story, written by Katherine Fugate, uses a well-exercised premise in which a character who seems to live within the strike zone has close ties to her family who are well outside the foul lines if not beyond the left-field wall. Stiles plays Carolina Mirabeau — so called because her gadabout dad, Ted (Randy Quaid)  always named his kids after the states in which he happened to launch their conception. Carolina has a job handling the contestants on a TV dating-game show. She also has an inexplicably poor track record in her own dating game, despite being smart, witty, and gorgeous. A relationship with a rich Briton named Heath Pierson (Edward Atterton) seems more promising than most of Carolina’s liaisons, and it is a critical ingredient in this film, and not only because Pierson, an unlikely contestant on the garish dating show, inadvertently costs Carolina her job. The only intimacy Carolina seems to enjoy consistently is of the platonic sort, involving her charismatic neighbor, Albert Morris, played by Nivola. Morris earns his living by writing romantic novels under a female pseudonym.

RANDY QUAID

RANDY QUAID

Carolina, and ultimately her sisters, Georgia and Maine, were raised by Millicent Mirabeau, Ted’s mother and their grandmother. Millicent is the kind of role a screenwriter would create for vintage ’03 MacLaine if there were only an hour to spare. Millicent lives on the outskirts of the city, figuratively and literally, consorts with whatever odd sorts she takes a shine to and says and does whatever she damn well pleases. You know: Shirley MacLaine. Carolina loves Millicent and often spends time with her, and Millicent has her own ideas about how Carolina should live and particularly whom Carolina should marry. At Millicent’s demand, an outdoor Thanksgiving dinner takes place at her house for her family and a colorful cast of extras, including the only mildly colorful Albert. When Carolina insists that the venue be moved to her apartment one year, there are both predictable and revealing results. This movie is worthwhile for the characters and the performances, but the story is implausible in many regards, the juxtaposition of the uber and under strata of LA society doesn’t seem to have a clear purpose, and the conclusion relies on a turn of events that I would characterize as the easy way out — for the writer if not for the character involved.