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The Pleasure Seekers

Director: Jean Negulesco
Cast: Ann-Margret, Carol Lynley

(US DVD: 8 Apr 2014)

If I didn’t know whether Madrid was a swingin’ place in the ‘60s, there are movies like The Pleasure Seekers to set me straight. In its resolute avoidance of politics in Franco’s Spain, this Hollywood bauble echoes the country’s own domestic output—and for that matter, most Hollywood output.


Three carefree, curvaceous, healthy, big-haired American girls share a flat in Madrid, and they follow strict house rules: they can only wear some kind of underwear or nightie, especially when crossing their big patio windows in front of the peeping tom across the courtyard.


Maybe we’re meant to mock the funny little fellow, especially since we see more than he does. In an early highlight of gratuitous (in other words, necessary) titillation, Ann-Margret slips her colorful panties on under a red towel and looks like she’s having a high old time. Later, the squarest roommate glances in at her silhouette and spins around, hand on mouth, shrieking “Oh! Naked as a grape!”


What’s most gratuitous here is the plot, which involves all three ingenious ingenues getting mixed up in romance. In order for their hapless hijinks to result in permanent bliss, the various stories must resolve themselves in ways that few viewers will find credible. Fortunately, those viewers aren’t seeking hard-hitting realism, and this movie isn’t called “The Truth Seekers”. Some of the characters are said to be journalists, but they’re never asked to prove it. Similarly, we know we’re watching actresses, but they’re never asked to prove that, either.


This is a postcard movie in Cinemascope and Deluxe color, with handsome buildings and bullfights and, in one big scene, a tour of the Prado to look at paintings by Velazquez and El Greco. That’s where our straightest arrow, played by Pamela Tiffin (“I know I’m dumb, but it’s what I’ve got to work with”), meets a rich swine (Tony Franciosa with amusing accent) whom she initially takes for a gigolo. Elsewhere, a secretary (Carol Lynley) won’t give a tumble to a tall, dark, arrogant, under-achieving reporter (Gardner McKay) because she’s got a father-fixation on her boss (Brian Keith), who loves her despite the wife (Gene Tierney) hanging around his neck.


The third member of our charming triad, who have almost frank discussions about “sleeping with” this guy or that, is played by Ann-Margret. Her character’s a professional singer, which supposedly explains why the movie becomes a musical during her scenes only. We know a wise decision when we see one.


She first sings after the legendary Antonio Gades, bent like a fish-hook and with a face as sharp as the crease on his tight black trousers, performs a flamenco dance, upon which she joins him in what looks like a pink banana peel. She’s literally knocked off her feet by a stunning dreamboat (Andre Lawrence) on a Vespa—and he’s a doctor, mom!


Alas, he’s poor but proud and thinks he can’t afford her. Outside of this movie, that would be true.


Edith Sommer’s screenplay is a loose remake of Three Coins in the Fountain, a huge hit for the same studio a decade earlier. Apart from relocating from Italy and only barely glimpsing a fountain, the greatest difference between the two versions marks a real cultural sea change. Whereas the first movie stipulated that only one of the three women could find true romance, and it was the good girl instead of the ones who were ready for adultery or pre-marital hanky-panky, this new version takes a different, more forgiving tack.


There are still one or two lines it won’t cross, however. The hand-off of Lynley’s character is conducted with bizarre aplomb, since the filmmakers know what’s best even if she doesn’t.


If you judge director Jean Negulesco only by his Cinemascope work at Fox, you’d conclude he was obsessed with colorful surfaces, the plastic, the romantic, the lush. He was certainly visual and design-oriented; it was part of his background, and then he did a lot of musical shorts.


In the 40s at Warner Brothers, he specialized in discovering the potential for gloss and movement within their world of black and white grit, as witness thrillers like The Mask of Dimitrios, Three Strangers, Nobody Lives Forever, and the wonderful, underrated Deep Valley, plus the soaper Humoresque, with Joan Crawford, and Johnny Belinda, which managed to handle the subject of rape in a manner that won an Oscar for Jane Wyman.


At Fox, Negulesco had directed the original blockbuster version of Three Coins in the Fountain, and he’d recently handled The Best of Everything, another multi-woman chic wallow. Faster and less “serious” than these, The Pleasure Seekers is more akin to another Pamela Tiffin movie, the stewardess epic Come Fly with Me. These belong to a small galaxy of the era’s films that focus on friendships between women who have nothing to say to each other that’s not about men. This was a certain late-model streak of “women’s movies” that basically self-destructed with Valley of the Dolls, its decadent reductio ad absurdum.


The made-on-demand disc from Fox Cinema Archives presents the letterboxed image within the central 4:3 area, so the viewer must use the remote control to fill the 16:9 screen with a 2.35:1 Cinemascope. I don’t know why Fox Archives chose to do it this way instead of preparing a new anamorphic transfer (Fox seems to be simply transferring an old master for its Fox Movie Classics channel), but at least it’s much preferable to the pan-and-scanning it’s offered on some other widescreen films. When I blow up the image on my 40” screen, it’s still a clean and colorful picture.


The better to enjoy the cars and clothes and other essential pleasures.

Rating:

Michael Barrett is a San Antonio-based freelance writer who tries not to leave the house. He has degrees from Trinity University in San Antonio and University of California at Davis. He watches one film a day. In addition to his features and reviews on PopMatters, see also his PopMatters column, Canon Fodder. Since the early '90s he has written a monthly video column for the San Antonio Express-News, and his national publications include Library Journal and the Chicago-based Nostalgia Digest.


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