We contemporary critic types love to slam the modern RomCom as being too "cartoony" and "unrealistic." We wax nostalgic about the past, when films were about "real people" and "actual characters" contributing nothing but art and honor to the motion picture genre in question, right? WRONG! Are you serious? You must be joking. With Six You Get Eggroll? Yours, Mine, and Ours? It's Never Too Late? The Long Long Trailer? Maybe sometime in the '70s, the joke-laden look at the battle between the sexes wasn't some hyperactive hullabaloo. Perhaps the '80s was indeed the last decade which took the notion of love and laughter intermingled with a decent dose of realism (there's some severe doubt aimed at Mr. John Hughes direction...). Whatever the conclusion, it's clear that The War Between Men and Women was meant to be a farce. Based on the work of humorist James Thurber it was made by the men behind the Thurber inspired TV series My World and Welcome To It (starring the incomparable William Windom) and features a story inspired by the writer as well as animated blackouts in between the scenes.
No, this is not a realistic view of gender politics. Instead, Jack Lemmon plays Peter Wilson, a near-sighted cartoonist who hate animals and kids, loathes commitment and the preoccupations of the fairer sex even more, and really enjoys his swinging, one night stand Manhattan bachelor life. One day, he runs into a striking brunette named Terri Kozlenko (Barbara Harris). He fancies her, but not her three ankle biters. Still, she tolerates his blatant chauvinism, and soon things begin to get cozy. When she rejects his plea for a more physical relationship, he proposes. Soon Peter and Terri are man and wife, but then her nosy ex (Jason Robards) appears out of the blue, wanting to spend more time with the children. When our hero's eyesight worsens, he tries to keep the news from his beloved. Of course, love conquers all, heals all wounds, and makes up for lost time, or whatever.
The War Between Men and Women is weird. Really weird. With its combination of disease of the week leanings, slapstick, animated intervals, and Neanderthal ideas about men and women, it's like opening a time capsule from Phyllis Schlafly's backyard. We are supposed to see the struggles of Peter as kind of a 'crimes and misdemeanors' style situation, his blowhard backwards beliefs (especially in 2014) reflecting the disruption of his personal and professional life. Lemmon, who is always good at befuddled, does a decent dance here, though you'd hardly believe him as a cartoonist. He doesn't seem nimble enough. For her part, Harris is an excellent is slightly stunted foil. Her desire to keep Peter in check means that she will let him say some awfully stupid things, though the end result is almost always in her favor. The entire film feels like a grand comeuppance, an attempt to show Peter for the pig he is time after time. It's entertaining, but it's also relatively one note.
For those of us born of a certain decade, the cast is enough to have us in conniptions. Herb Edelman shows up as Peter's boss (he costarred with Lemmon as Murray the Cop in The Odd Couple). Bess from The Mary Tyler Moore Show (Lisa Gerritsen) and Moosie Drier - Howie Borden, Howard's son, from The Bob Newhart Show - are two of Harris' kids. Severn Darden and Dr. Joyce Brothers even show up for a moment or two. It's a relative cornucopia of recognizable '70s day players. With Lemmon in the lead, we know we're going to get some fine acting. Luckily, the rest of the cast matches him well. As for the men behind the scenes, scripters Danny Arnold and Melville Shavelson were established names. The former would go on to create Barney Miller while the latter had earned Oscar noms for The Seven Little Foys and Houseboat. Shavelson also directed the film, which does suffer a bit from a scattershot approach and all or nothing style. Sure, the cartoon interludes are fun, but we get to know Peter and Terri and wish the movie would take their relationship more seriously. Sadly, like today's RomComs, The War Between Men and Women are having none of it.
Released as part of CBS DVDs presentation of forgotten films, The War Between Men and Women gets a decent digital approach. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image is colorful, if a bit soft, and does suffer from the occasional age element. The details are good and the contrasts crisp. On the sound side of things, the dopey dated musical score is nicely represented by the Dolby Digital Mono mix. Nothing fancy or multi-channeled, just easy to understand dialogue and faux hip tunes. Naturally there are no bonus features for a film like this. We are lucky it's being released. Supplements would be way too much to ask for.
If you are in the proper mood and don't mind the occasional caveman protestations and animated frivolity, The War Between Men and Women will be 100-plus minutes of fun. Lemmon and Harris have a nice chemistry, the story breezes along, and the end result is an intriguing if uneven experience. Earning an easy Recommended rating, this film is for anyone who loves the current RomCom crop. Thurber may be considered a classic humorist, but the narrative built from his work still relies on the kind of characters and contrivances that have made the mixing of love and laughter so specious.
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