Films

Boob and Carnal and Dread and Malice

THE LAST MARRIED COUPLE IN AMERICA Directed by Gilbert Cates

Richard Corliss February 11 1980
Films

Boob and Carnal and Dread and Malice

THE LAST MARRIED COUPLE IN AMERICA Directed by Gilbert Cates

Richard Corliss February 11 1980

Boob and Carnal and Dread and Malice

THE LAST MARRIED COUPLE IN AMERICA Directed by Gilbert Cates

It could only have happened this way: a covey of moguls is sitting around the sauna, quoting snatches of Wayne Dyer from memory; the wives are out by the IUD-shaped swimming pool, reading Variety and preparing to take over the studio. Everybody is in a cosmic funk about the big bucks the sci-fi kid flicks are taking in—profit without honor. Suddenly Manny (fat and bald) shouts out, “The hell with the easy money! Let’s do something for ourselves— something meaningful—a comedy about the new morality!” Moe (thin and bald) says, “Yeah! With George Segal— he was in A Touch of Class.” And Jack (thin and too much hair) chimes in, “And Natalie Wood—wasn’t she in Bob & Carol?” Friday, a script is commissioned. Six monkeys at typewriters pound out the script by Monday. The moguls find it profound; their wives find it dynamite box-office. Audiences respond with a mixture of anger—at the moguls —and sorrow—for the monkeys.

Truth to tell, The Last Married Couple in America was written by a primate named John Herman Shaner, whose inspiration derived from the Rock Hudson-Doris Day movies which turned the honorable tradition of Hollywood romantic comedy into one long smirk. But Shaner has more on his

mind: he wants his audience to be moved by the changing of partners and the clanging of clichés. “Everybody’s breaking up, and I don’t understand why,” muses husband Segal to wife Wood. To judge from this film, the main cause would seem to be overacting. An honor role of comedy actors (Valerie Harper, Alan Arbus, Richard Benjamin, Oliver Clark, Bob Dishy, Marilyn Sokol), who honed their subtleties on some of TV’s better sitcoms, have been directed to deliver their lines at fever pitch, and to wave their arms in desperate semaphores; the Dallas Cowgirls could have done better. In the foreground, Segal spends his time smiling impishly, biting his tongue and being cute as all get-out; and Wood (who still looks great at 41) tries to get by on verve, when it’s nerve she needed—the nerve, when she was presented with this comeback script, to say no.

There is one time-capsule moment in this dismal romp. Natalie Wood—who believed in Santa Claus when she was 8 (Miracle on SUth Street), fell in love with James Dean when she was 16 (Rebel Without a Cause) and was embraced by John Wayne when she was 17 (The Searchers)—our Natalie Wood

scrunches up her little Bambi nose in reel 5 of The Last Married Couple in

America and says, “Go f---yourself!”

It’s the biggest Hollywood shock since Jackie Coogan (Chaplin’s adorable kid) played Uncle Fester in The Addams Family. Otherwise, there are no valid historical or esthetic reasons to see this out-of-date ode to California compatibility—which should have been called Boob & Carnal & Dread & Malice.

Richard Corliss