Friday, 4 July 2014

The Pleasure Seekers (1964)

Once upon a time there was a really nifty film magazine called Movieline. It tread a fine line between those artsy-fartsy dry highbrow film journals and the more populist fare favoured by teenagers and fan-boys. I recall with fondness that their letters page said that they welcomed correspondence from readers who could spell! It was a hip joy to read and had some really literate and amusing writers on its staff, like the irrepressible Joe Queenan. Needless to say it has been out of business for years, failing to move successfully from print to the internet.

One of the magazine's best features was a regular column called 'Bad Movies we Love' and in 1993 these were collected in a paperback edited by Edward Margulies and Stephen Rebello, with a forward by Sharon Stone (many of whose own movies were featured). The columns continued after the book's publication and together they formed the basis of one of my many lists -- 'bad' films that I had yet to view, knowing that most of these would fall into the category of 'so bad, they're good'.

The above title is one of their featured movies although rating only one star out of four, their top rating being 'so wretched and so lovable that you should get your hands on it right now'; this one was more in the make your own mind up category. Directed by Romanian-born Jean Negulesco, his is not a name that one immediately associates with top-flight movie-making, although he had a long and busy career and can boast some pretty good pictures in his filmography -- movies like "The Mask of Dimitrios", "Johnny Belinda", the l953 "Titanic", and "Daddy Long Legs".

He then had a run of successes as a 'trio of starlets' specialist with hits like "How to Marry a Millionaire", "Three Coins in the Fountain", and "The Best of Everything". Some bright studio ideas man had the brilliant thought of updating 'Three Coins' by moving the action from Rome to Madrid and "The Pleasure Seekers" is the hilariously bad result. The trio in this instance are Carol Lynley, Pamela Tiffin, and Ann-Margaret. The movie is largely a showcase of sorts for the latter, who at least has maintained a reasonable career over the years. Lynley is unbelievably still working but has done nothing particularly memorable in these 50 (!) intervening years. Tiffin, so perfectly-cast in the 196l romp "1, 2, 3", gracefully retired in the l970s.

Anyhow, we are now largely in Madrid although the film plays like a promotional travelogue for Spain with side-trips to Toledo and Malaga and lovingly photographed close-ups of Velazquez' "Las Meninas" and various El Greco paintings, actually filmed in the Prado. We are invited to follow the ups and downs in their love lives, Ann-Margaret with a handsome young doctor who has nearly run her down with his motorcycle, Tiffin with rich playboy Tony Franciosa, and Lynley torn between a young reporter and her aging boss, Brian Keith, in the publishing office where she supposedly works. Her work seems to consist of pouring coffee for Keith each morning.

Still the three seem well enough off to share a sprawling flat, where they spend most of their time prancing around in bath-towels, baby-doll nighties, sexy undies, or long sweatshirts, always with high heels and full make-up, even when they have just woken up. Ann-Margaret is  the most worldly and sexually experienced of the three, with Lynley and Tiffin coming off as professional virgins. A-M is given a selection of soppy songs to belt out including one appearance at a high-class party where she comes on stage after a professional flamenco dancer has 'entertained' us for what feels like hours; she's in flamenco gear too but her dancing is far more bump and grind. She's a curvy minx but the wide-screen cinemascope ratio makes her look rather chubby, and part of her so-called 'character development' is stuffing her face at every meal.

Naturally the course of love does not run smooth and all three are ready to pack up and go home before the obvious happy endings. Lynley is particularly upset when Keith's wife, an ill-used Gene Tierney, has the nerve to call her a little tramp. Tiffin's beau suggests that they should become intimate to decide whether they are compatible (the nerve of some people) and the worthy doctor 'can't afford me' moans Ann-Margaret.

It's not the trashiest of movies nor is it worthy of a higher accolade in Margulies and Rebello's wonderful book, but it's sufficiently silly that you could have a good time watching its various excesses, giggling to yourself merrily. 
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