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DVD SAVANT

CANDY


Candy
Anchor Bay
1968 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic 16:9 / 127 (115) min. (Candy e il suo pazzo mondo)
Starring Ewa Aulin, Charles Aznavour, Marlon Brando, James Coburn, Richard Burton, John Astin, John Huston, Walter Matthau, Ringo Starr, Anita Pallenberg, Elsa Martinelli
Cinematography Giuseppe Rotunno
Production Designer Dean Tavoularis
Opening and closing designed by Douglas Trumbull
Film Editor Giancarlo Cappelli, Frank Santillo
Original Music Dave Grusin
Writing credits Buck Henry from the book by Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg
Produced by Robert Haggiag
Directed by Christian Marquand

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

"Swirling ions from the stars, gazing down upon the Earth ..."

Take one movie industry in a censorship meltdown, a bunch of French and Italian producers with a desire to make the next breakthrough mainstream erotic movie, and a lot of money to throw at some of the biggest stars of the sixties, and you have Candy, a career embarassment and major boxoffice flop of 1968. It's scarcely been seen since, making this Anchor Bay DVD also a major point of curiosity.

Synopsis:

A shimmering light descends from outer space and coalesces into the form of nubile, innocent teenager Candy Christian (Ewa Aulin), who already attends high school and has an uptight teacher father (John Astin).  Quickly captivating every male in sight, Candy goes on a randy Pilgrim's Progress through a succession of oversexed father figures, including her father's twin brother Jack (also John Astin).  Rogue poet McPhisto (Richard Burton) takes her from school, where she's assaulted by gardener Emmanuel (Ringo Starr). Escaping from Emmanuel's protective sisters, Candy and her injured father join rabid General Smight (Walter Matthau) in the back of his perpetually-aloft troop plane, where Smight naturally propositions Candy for some airborne R&R.  In New York, father becomes the special guest patient of superstar brain surgeon Dr. Krankheit (James Coburn), who saves his life by affixing an electrical plug to the back of his head.  After he takes her in a side room, the doctor's nurses chase Candy from the hospital, where she spends a wild night with weird hunchbacked vagrant (Charles Aznavour) before hitching a ride in the semi-truck / sacred shrine run by guru Grindl (Marlon Brando), who initiates her into a search for enlightenment through (of course) sex.  The truck deposits Candy in the western desert, where she meets the ultimate guru Grindl has foretold.  She follows him underground, to surface in a self-destructing Indian temple in the middle of Hollywood.  There she discovers the identity of the ultimate, final wise man, reprises her strange odyssey, and returns to outer space as floating energy.

"Vision of an untapped grace, walking gaily in the sand .."

The big sell on Candy in 1968 was the idea that the 'unfilmable' sexed-up novel by Terry Southern had indeed been turned into the hottest film ever made, an all-star comedy crossed with a stag reel.  Described as being loosely adapted from Voltaire's Candide, whatever topical brilliance the book had definitely got lost in the Buck Henry adaptation.  What's left is a pack of stale sex jokes enlivened here and there by spirited performances.  The precedent that Ewa Aulin's pouting, willing, wet dream of a heroine most reminds is Harvey Kurtzman's Little Annie Fanny, a cartoon from Playboy magazine.  Yes, Candy has come to liberate the uptight world from the stranglehold of sexual repression.  But any potential satire on godlike doctors, military men, writers and religious gurus quickly drowns in a flood of smarminess that isn't clever enough to rise above the level of Smut, 2nd class.  Back in 1970, when Savant saw the film, it didn't seem to cohere enough to encourage a second thought.

Now, Southern and Henry's world seems to revolve around power-mad paternal figures who figuratively and literally want to rape their own daughters.  This undigested insight is unsupported by the semi-virginal baby-doll 'innocence' of Candy, who is presented as a spirit far above the obscene desires of men, not necessarily an alien, but something like a pagan God. 1  The few other females in the story are either wanton libertines (Elsa Martinelli's Livia) or vicious animal-like creatures who attack Candy, guarding their various men like landlords.   There isn't much room for profundity in the world of Candy.

A European production that did some location shooting in the states, Candy has that weird continental awkwardness that results when furriners try to stage New York scenes in Rome.  A look at the key production credits above shows the caliber of talent that labored on this essentially cheap movie.  Christian Marquand's direction is haphazard, possibly aggravated by the necessity of aligning everything to the schedules of the big star talent.   3   The lack of inspiration throughout becomes even more evident at the finale.  It's a dismal imitation of a Fellini film, a self-conscious circus-like revisiting of all the characters as they romp together on a hill.  Candy wanders through this mess on her way back 'to the stars.'  The camera crew is even seen in a mirror, and the "can I go home yet" movie stars go through their schtick as part of a forced 'happening.'  2  Marlon Brando looks particularly lost, hoisted into the air on wires Peter-Pan style while mugging for the camera.  It's a setup more appropriate for Lucille Ball than the King of method acting.

Earlier, Brando provides the highlight of the show, actually generating some kooky sexual energy with his horny guru act.   When he gropes Aulin in search of her cosmic power center, the grin on his face is priceless.  James Coburn gives his matador-surgeon a lot of manic effort; his bickering with dirty old man John Huston disguises the pointlessness of it all.  Other actors don't fare as well.  Richard Burton's sellout poet role has him making love to a mannequin, which must be the nadir of his not-very-impressive later career.  At least Ringo Starr makes it with cupcake Ewa Aulin in person (or her stand-in, complete with vaccination scar on her hip).  But his horrible Mexican accent makes you wish the whole scene would just go away.  Walter Matthau's Buck Turgidson imitation isn't very interesting either, and Charles Aznavour makes no impact at all.  John Astin carries a lot of the show but relies a bit too much on his stock set of Gomez Addams wild-eyed stares.  As Candy, Swedish model Ewa Aulin does a good wide-eyed innocent act, considering that it goes on for two hours without becoming trying.  She looks great, but the character doesn't develop beyond a concept ... as a role, even Barbarella is more interesting.

The presence of Marilù Tolo, Anita Pallenberg and Elsa Martinelli prove that the producers had access to top European female talent, but they have little to do, or are stuck being as unconvincingly Mexican as Ringo.  This DVD may actually be longer and sexier than what I saw those 31 years ago - Anchor Bay lists the running time as 124 minutes, close to the 'European length' reported by The Internet Movie Database.  The sex on view is limited to some fleeting nudity, a few suggestive poses and a lot of foreplay.  But it was plenty hot in 1968, just when the Production Code was biting the dust, before the explosion of the porn industry.  That seems to have been the main audience for Candy - men in raincoats who could see better sex in things like The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart down the street.  Just about everyone else was either turned off by the film's desperate print ads -- or the terrible reviews.

"Child of the Universe, giving freely of herself.."

Anchor Bay's DVD of Candy is a pretty package.  The anamorphic transfer shows no signs of the film's age.  The photography of Giuseppe Rotunno is colorful and the Dave Grusin rock score is actually rather nice in a commercial sort of way.  The Byrds' Child of the Universe is woven through the instrumentals, and sung by The Byrds themselves over the ending titles and credits.  The memory of this tune, to be honest, is why Savant wanted to see the movie again.  The basic song is underscored with horns and violins, in the George Martin sense, and is quite grand.  Also on the disc, heralded by pleasing pop-art menus, is a nice set of star bios written by Avie Hern.  They're refreshingly candid, actually discussing the fact that Candy was a commercial and critical lemon, and that it represented the low point of half-a-dozen careers.  Just look for similar honesty anywhere on a DVD by a major studio!  A minor movie, but a major curiousity, Candy is nowhere near as bad as Savant thought it was going to be.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Candy rates:
Movie: Fair
Video: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: Trailers, Radio Spots, Bios
Packaging: Alpha case
Reviewed: April 18, 2001


Footnotes:

1. The attractive opening and closing outer space visuals were provided by 2001 alumnus and psychedelic whiz-kid Douglas Trumbull, who later joked that he produced them as if measuring out fabric by the yard.  Coming at the end of the show instead of the beginning, the titles are unusually modern - and bear a striking resemblance in many respects to the titles of Star Wars, made nine years later.
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2. A bunch of self-conscious, we're-out-of-ideas-so-lets-go-psychedelic movies were made in 1969-70, clearly inspired by the media-hyped anything-goes mentality of the times.  Michael Sarne's Joanna caps two hours of painful self-indulgence with a fantasy in a train station, where the whole cast cakewalks to the title tune.  It's a far cry from the sentimental cast portraits at the end of John Ford's Irish movies.
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3. It says a lot for the hoped-for freedom of the big screen in 1968 that all of these stars would lend themselves to a 'pornographic' movie.  This was the moment of Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Killing of Sister George and The Fox, before Easy Rider turned Hollywood upside down, resulting in the "we're lost so give 'em tasteless sex" studio tactic of Myra Breckenridge and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Candy, like the equally vapid Barbarella, exists at the cusp where big budget Hollywood cinema might have become sexually adult, if anything like maturity had prevailed.
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