Synopsis: Shirley MacLaine lights up the screen in this collection of seven sexy stories of love and adultery set against the romantic backdrop of Paris. Whether she’s playing an amorous widow, a meek housewife gone wild or a socialite who will literally kill for a dress, Shirley MacLaine displays the irresistible charm, beauty and humor that catapulted her to stardom. Famed Italian filmmaker Vittorio De Sica (Bicycle Thieves) directs this tour de force performance that earned Shirley MacLaine a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture Actress in a Musical/Comedy.
eyelights: the original concept. the delightful cast. the location shooting.
eyesores: some of the performances. the plain writing.
“I’m not crazy. I’m just in love.”
‘Woman Times Seven’ is a seven-part comedy anthology featuring Shirley MacLaine in the role of seven different protagonists. Truth be told, until about two-three months ago, I had no idea that it existed. But I stumbled upon it while browsing in a Montréal used CD/DVD/book shop, and was immediately intrigued by its recurring theme: adultery.
Personally, I don’t think that adultery is a laughing matter, but I was nonetheless curious to see which seven angles the filmmakers would take on the subject. I also found it interesting that MacLaine would be the centre of it – what a plum part for any actress! Further to that, my eye caught Peter Sellers’ name, one of the many guest actors in this film.
I bought it without hesitation.
After the fact, I read middling reviews for ‘Woman Times Seven’, but something about it kept it at the top of my list. And, since I was doing a streak of films about infidelity and/or polygamy, I decided that it would make the cut sooner than later. And I’m very glad to report that I found the whole much better than what was otherwise suggested.
What makes it work is that it’s comedy. By virtue of that, the bar is set a bit lower than if it had been a dramatic picture: in comedies, the performances are often brittle and the writing looser. Secondly, it helps that it’s an anthology, because each story wraps up relatively quickly – at no point are we stuck with an intolerable scenario that won’t end.
It does end. But, truth be told, the segments are actually not half-bad – all things (period, concept, cast, …etc.) considered. The only problem is that, in being so short, they only whet your appetite – something which can be unsatisfying: at no point do we really get beyond the superficial gag or conceit of the piece to explore the characters more.
1. Funeral Procession: MacLaine plays Paulette, a widow at the head of her deceased husband’s funeral cortege. Peter Sellers is the family doctor, at her side, who inappropriately begins to suggest that they become an item, offering her all sorts of incentives and scenarios. She ponders it, and eventually they walk off together as the cortege makes its way through the cemetery. I loved the inappropriateness of the situation and its punch. To me, this was a terrific was to start the film. 7.0
2. Amateur Night: Maria Theresa comes home to finds her husband in bed with her best friend. In a rage, she tears out of the house and wanders the streets until she befriends a pack of prostitutes – who quickly take her side and try to convince her to get revenge on her husband by sleeping with the next John to come by. MacLaine was pretty good at playing a distraught simple housewife, and I liked the unusual pairing of her with this gaggle of women; it was an amusing contrast. 7.0
3. Two Against One: Linda, a dispassionate translator, is pursued by a couple of European men. At first completely detached, the more they pursue her, the more she lets her guard down. Soon the men are in the company of an arty intellectual type who likes to read poetry to them in the nude, and they will do almost anything to win her favour. I enjoyed the dramatic dual personality of Edith, but I mostly enjoyed the ridiculousness of the men and MacLaine’s long hair (she almost always sported a short do, and I think that this was a mistake – she is lovely here). 7.0
4. Super Simone: Edith is a mousy housewife whose husband is a popular novelist. He is obsessed with Simone, his female protagonist, always going on about how fabulous she is. Evidently, he consequently barely notices his spouse, who naively decides to adopt Simone’s impulsive, flamboyant personality. She becomes grating, but is finally noticed. But not for the right reasons: he thinks she’s lost her mind! I loved the weirdness of some of what she did as “Simone”, even if it had limited scope. And I empathized with her, as she was being “cheated” on with an adversary she could never fell. 7.0
5. At the Opera: Eve is a wealthy and entitled woman who discovers that a forgery of the dress she was about to wear at the opera will be worn by a rival that night – the design having been stolen from her own designer. She has a fit and does all she can to prevent this from happening. It’s meant to be funny, but the character was shallow and exaggerated. This failed to make me laugh or even sympathize with her (Oh no… you might have to wear a similar dress as someone else? God forbid!). And it really doesn’t fall in line with the theme being explored in the other segments. 4.5
6. Suicides: This one features a couple in a hotel room, planning their double suicide. They’re both in relationships but are unhappy. Marie wants to make a statement, but he’s just depressed. They argue, reconcile, but then they both try to escape out this scenario – without the other’s knowledge. I enjoyed this because you hear about double suicides a lot in fiction, but this takes the piss out of it. And Alan Arkin was a great counterpart, as he can play misery like none other. 7.5
7. Snow: Two women are being followed by a stranger (played by Michael Caine) and are trying to figure out which one he’s got his eye on. So they split up to see who he will follow. Naturally, it’s Jeanne (MacLaine), and she feels validated. It’s ironic because her husband thinks all is well, but now she’s pining for this mystery man. Meanwhile, she thinks that he was driven away by the sight of her husband. Not quite: there’s a twist. Weird how this was approached in a playful manner: today it would have been treated as stalking. 8.0
Bizarrely, during the film, each segment is introduced by the name of each female protagonist – their actual titles only appear during the end credits (aside for ‘Two Against One’, which is strangely absent). I’m not sure if this was an artistic choice or a contractual obligation, given that this was a Shirley MacLaine vehicle (although it is said Natalie Wood was the first choice).
Be that as it may be, I really enjoyed the vibe of ‘Woman Times Seven’, probably because I tend to like character-based anthology films, even if they’re uneven. It’s more than just watching a series of shorts, because there’s usually a method to the madness: the segments are woven together in a premeditated fashion to provide a tone or a flow. It’s kind of like a mixtape.
In particular, I loved that it’s all set in Europe (this was a Italian/French/American co-production), because the style and architecture is very different than a North American film would have been. It also informs the tone of the various pieces, in that social mores were/are incredibly different in Europe, thereby making much of the discourse and developments more acceptable.
Needless to say, the film would be a total wash if Shirley MacLaine were unable to sustain seven characters over the course of 100 minutes. MacLaine is a gifted actress, that is for sure, but I was never impressed with her brand of comedy; I always preferred her as a dramatic actress. Still, she makes each character relatively believable, even if she flirts with parody at times.
All in all, I was quite pleased ‘Woman Times Seven’. It’s nothing innovative, but it’s a nice gimmick. And it’s one of those rare female-centric films that doesn’t become sappy or trite. There are stereotypes, for sure, but given the era and how strong the female characters are, it’s surprising to me that it didn’t make more of a mark than it did – it certainly deserves more attention.
I’m sure to watch it many times over.
Date of viewing: May 25, 2014