Friday, September 27, 2013

The Best Films I Have Never Seen Before: A Touch of Class (1973)

A Touch of Class (1973)
Directed by: Melvin Frank.
Written by: Melvin Frank and Jack Rose.
Starring: George Segal (Steven 'Steve' Blackburn), Glenda Jackson (Vicki Allessio), Paul Sorvino (Walter Menkes), K Callan (Patty Menkes), Cec Linder (Wendell Thompson), Michael Elwyn (Cecil), Mary Barclay (Martha Thompson), Hildegard Neil (Gloria Blackburn).

Melvin Frank’s A Touch of Class tries very hard to be a modern screwball comedy, taking a more 1970s outlook on romance and adultery and combining it with the type of over the top, out of control, rapid fire dialogue popular in the 1930s. It may have even worked had the two leads felt like they inhabited the same movie – but George Segal plays his role as he played all of his roles in the 1970s – as a modern man – while Glenda Jackson tries very hard, and for the most part succeeds, in channelling an actress like Katherine Hepburn or Rosalind Russell. Either acting style could have worked, but the fact that the two stars approached the film from opposite sides made it hard for me to buy them as a couple in love – and as such it was hard to enjoy the movie as a whole.

Segal stars as Steve, an American insurance broker living and working in London with his wife and two kids. Jackson is Vicki a divorced mother of two, a fashion designer whose job is to copy the dresses of high class designers for far less money. The two meet cute once, then twice, and then go on a few dates, before deciding to sleep together. Not wanting just a cheap fling, they head to Spain for a week – and after everything that can possibly go wrong does, then end up at each other’s throats, wishing they never went on vacation together in the first place – which, in the tradition of all romantic comedies, is of course, when they actually fall in love.

As individual performances, both Segal and Jackson are quite good, it’s just they never really gel together. Segal is far too much of the 1970s man – trying hard to be respectful of an independent woman, yet still far too old fashioned to really do it. He is charming and funny however, as Segal always is. Jackson is even better. Known for much more serious roles – in films like Women in Love (for which she won her first Oscar) and Sunday Bloody Sunday, Jackson shows off her lighter side in A Touch of Class – and was rewarded with her second Oscar. It must have been a weak year for actresses, because even though Jackson is clearly the highlight of the movie, and it is a wonderfully witty performance, there is nothing in it that you don’t see any number of times in any given year. Yes, she`s wonderful, but not Oscar worthy.

That pretty much describes the movie as well. A Touch of Class has been pretty much forgotten by everyone over the years, except for people like me who make an effort to see all Oscar winning performances and Best Picture nominees (and amazingly, in one of the strongest years ever for movies, 1973, this average comedy did in fact get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture). A Touch of Class is a strange movie, because for so much of its length it tries very hard to be a screwball comedy – with mixed results – and yet because Segal is married, we know that the film will not really have a happy ending. The problem with the ending isn`t so much that it’s sad but that it strains credibility. After everything these two people go through, to end it the way the filmmakers do doesn`t quite feel right. As much as I`m not quite sure I liked these two people, they deserved a better ending than writer director Melvin Frank gives them.

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