Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Candy (1968)

In the 1950s exploitation movie producers had discovered a lucrative new market - movies about youth culture, aimed at youth, and they discovered that these movies could make a good deal of money on the burgeoning drive-in circuit. Bu the mid-60s mainstream movie producers were keen to get in on the act, and movies like Candy were the result.

Candy (also released under the title Good Grief It's Candy was in fact a US/French/Italian co-production, and it was an attempt to jump on two bandwagons, the youth bandwagon and the closely related counter-culture bandwagon. It’s based on a satirical novel by Terry Southern, who was no stranger to the film industry himself, having written or collaborated on some of the most interesting screenplays of the 60s (The Loved One, Dr Strangelove and Barbarella). He was also oddly enough involved in the writing of the least interesting screenplay of that decade, Easy Rider. His novel Candy (inspired by Voltaire's Candide) managed to get itself banned in all the best places, so it seemed like perfect material for a psychedelic counter-culture youth-oriented movie.

Candy is a very attractive but somewhat naïve high school girl, and the very loose plot follows her varied adventures. She meets a drunken libertine Welsh poet (played by Richard Burton). He’s desperate to sleep with her, but having gained access to the “play room” of her father’s house he is so drunk he ends up having sex with a mannequin instead, while Candy has sex with the family’s Mexican gardener Emmanuel (played by Ringo Starr, doing a truly bizarre combination of Liverpool and Mexican accent).

Unfortunately it turns out that Emmanuel had been preserving his virginity in order to enter the priesthood. Now the rather scary motorcycle-riding female members of his family are out to get Candy. Candy, her father and her uncle (both played by John Astin) and her uncle’s wife make their escape at the last moment hen they’re picked up by a military transport aircraft. The completely insane Brigadier General Smight (Walter Matthau) and his 24 hand-picked elite paratroopers have been remaining constantly airborne (apart from landing to refuel) for six years, ready to go into action at a minute’s notice to combat the Red menace.

Six years of vigilant airborne service have left the general even crazier than he had been originally, plus he hasn’t had a woman for six years. And one look at Candy’s youthful charms sends him into a frenzy of sexual excitement. He manages to persuade her to disrobe for him, but this has unexpected and catastrophic consequences for both the general and his anti-communist crusade.

Candy’s next adventure involves a megalomanic surgeon (James Coburn) who has to try to save her father who was injured during the escape. Candy’s adventures in the hospital include finding herself in bed with her uncle (who has been trying to get into her pants for quote some time). And then there’s her encounter with the Indian mystic and guru (played by Marlon Brando) with his mobile temple in the back of a semi-trailer. John Huston and Charles Aznavour also make appearances.

It’s all just a series of adventures, with no real connecting plot. But this was the 60s, and the plotless nature of the film enhances its psychedelic vibe. And Candy’s escapades are all fun. Most seem to end with Candy naked, and not quite sure how she ended up that way except that she generally tries to please people. And pleasing most of the people she encounters seems to be most easily achieved by removing her clothes.

It is of course impossible to take this movie seriously, even as an exercise in 60s counter-culture acid-fueled psychedelia. On most levels it’s an abject failure, but as camp it’s a glorious triumph. The various big name actors who appear in the film all seemed to have a very clear understanding that this was going to have to be treated as high camp, and they do so. They all give enjoyable performances, even Ringo Starr whose acting is fantastically but amusing appalling. For me the highlight though is Brando, taking a break from serious Method Acting roles and having a great fun being outrageously silly.

Ewa Aulin has the right kind of wide-eyed innocence to carry off the title role quite successfully. While she sheds her clothes frequently the nudity is fairly tame.

The Region 2 DVD lacks extras but it looks extremely good. Unfortunately both it and the Region 1 DVD are now out of print which is a great pity since this is classic 60s high camp silliness, and it’s enormous fun.

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