Thursday, June 14, 2012

What A Way To Go! The Simple Life Has Never Been So Glamorous

A decade ago, I wandered on to some obscure movie channel and started watching a delightfully silly movie about a woman who is convinced she is a witch because she has been widowed four times. It was witty and colorful, but although I remembered the movie for years after, I had one problem. I didn't know what the movie was called. This was before I became better acquainted with the classic film stars of yesteryear, so I didn't know the names of any of the actors either. I gradually forgot about the movie until the day I started reading Dick Van Dyke's autobiography. And as he detailed his movie career, he mentioned a movie he did with Shirley MacLaine, where she plays a woman who yearns for the simple life but seems to inadvertently turn her husbands into successful men who die in the pursuit of their impossible ambitions. The title of that film? What A Way To Go!

Thrilled to discover the name of this long sought-after movie, I recorded it last week and sat down to watch it. And it is just as ridiculous and marvelous as I remember. Released in 1964, it is the quintessential 60's movie, bursting with Technicolor that will burn your eyeballs and lavish sets and costumes that only a woman of Shirley MacLaine's caliber could successfully pull off. MacLaine plays Louisa May Foster, a woman who yearns to be married to some poor man with no ambition so they can live a blissful life with the only rule being, "Simplify, simplify, simplify!" The movie opens on the funeral of her fourth husband and then her attempts to give away $200 million to the IRS, a move which leads to her being sent to a psychiatrist to explain why she would do such a crazy thing. The rest of the movie proceeds with various flashbacks as Louisa narrates the tale of how she met her four husbands and how they all started out wanting the simple life but then reached impossible success after marrying her.

It's a typically wild and improbable story but executed with such panache and commitment that it's hard to not adore every minute. MacLaine steals every scene, and the actors playing the men in her life are the creme de la creme of old Hollywood, including Dick van Dyke, Gene Kelly, Paul Newman, Dean Martin, and Robert Mitchum. As Louisa describes each relationship, she also likens it to a different kind of movie, thereby parodying Hollywood stereotypes from silent films to splashy musicals to French New Wave cinema.  And the movie's costume designer was the amazing Edith Head, who puts MacLaine in the most outrageous costumes you will ever see.

What A Way To Go! is a star-studded crazed delight and anyone with an interest in classic cinema and 60's extravaganza will derive oodles of pleasure from this movie. It's funny, charming, gorgeous, and most importantly, wildly entertaining. And that's what the movies are all about.

No comments:

Post a Comment