Sunday, December 04, 2005

Alexander Mackendrick

If I ever move away from California then in turn become nostalgic for California, this is the movie I’d probably watch to cure the pain. It feels like a Beach Boys song come to life as directed by Billy Wilder. It’s kinda like The Apartment if the apartment in question was a Malibu beach house on stilts and Jack Lemmon was Tony Curtis pushing luxury swimming pools to rich celebs instead of insurance to poor schlubs.
But more than the beach locale and the fine beach babes (Sharon Tate and Claudia Cardinale!), what makes it seem even more California-specific is the fact that every character and every object in this movie is completely and totally unstable. That goes for successful CEOs, hot “kept women,” mammoth Muscle Beach bodybuilders, or the very landscape itself. It’s a beach movie built on a fault line, but a very funny fault line. And everyone’s in danger of crumbling, physically and emotionally, into the sea at any minute.
Tony Curtis plays Carlo Cofield, a fresh-from-the-East Coast opportunist who gets screwed over by a beautiful woman not even an hour after his arrival to L.A. She accidentally rams his car bumper sending it down a cliff with all his worldly possessions inside. And then she lights a cigarette…POOF! Come to think of it, he could use some of that C.C. Baxter insurance right about now.
But with a gorgeous Italian slice like Claudia Cardinale you tend to be forgiving, especially when you discover she’s the in-house mistress to the powerful CEO of a luxury swimming pool conglomerate where you’d like to get your feet wet. So Carlo climbs into her Malibu beach bungalow while climbing the corporate pool ladder and, eventually, burrowing his way into her heart. Colfield manages to do this all while selling a deluxe pool to the real Mister McGoo (Jim Backus), get saved from drowning by a jiggly Sharon Tate, skydiving without a parachute, and hood-winking a Muscle Beach strong man into laying off the sex with girlfriend Tate so that it will improve his glutes.
Director Mackendrick has some spirited West Coast fun in this one with bits and pieces of The Ladykillers’ dark comedy and Sweet Smell of Success’s fast talk thrown in for good measure. Without a doubt, he’s captured one of the best slow motion trampoline sequences on film.

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