Ewa Aulin, Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, Ringo Starr, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, Charles Aznavour, John Astin, John Huston, Anita Pallenberg, Enrico Maria Salerno. 124 minutes.
'CANDY'...is faithful in dreary spirit to the best-selling novel...and also to the larger, more seriously received schools of writing and cinema, which keep prolonging little trite, messy spasms of mediocrity and mistaking them for the courage to go too far. In two hours of the picaresque story of Candy, an innocent highschool girl who keeps being had in trucks, planes, hospitals and men's rooms and on billiard tables (a kind of reversal of the old Doris Day seduction comedies at exactly the same comic level), there is not enough material for a two-minute bawdy skit.' Renata Adler, New York Times, 18 December 1968.
'It's quite a turnout for your old man. A lot of New York's wealthiest, most respected and fairly depraved citizens are here tonight.'
John Astin, CANDY. (Astin, aka Gomez Addams, plays both Candy's 'father' and swinger uncle.)
(Please note that throughout this review I refer to Terry Southern as the 'author' of the film. This is mainly for shorthand, but also because he was the co-author of the book, he was involved in early work on the film and because it very much expresses his worldview.)
The novel 'Candy' was written by Terry Southern (DR. STRANGELOVE, 1964) and Mason Hoffenberg, and published in 1958. It's a loose, modern updating of Voltaire's 1759 satire 'Candide', and concerns Candy, a beautiful, naive and kind high school girl, whose efforts to help people and find the meaning of life find her sexually pursued by a variety of oddball characters across the US. Maybe I should add that she has arrived on Earth from outer space. The surreal, psychedelic, sex-obsessed late '60's was the perfect time to make a film version, but the first attempt failed. Southern's friend Frank Perry (the Oscar-nominated director of DAVID AND LISA, 1962) was set to direct and United Artists to finance, but after UA head David Picker lost his seat, things went kaput. French actor Christian Marquand (AND GOD CREATED WOMAN, 1956) then begged Southern to give him a two week option for free. Marquand managed to get his best and lifelong friend Marlon Brando to sign up for a role, and this not only enabled the film to get financed (in a deal between Italian, French and American companies), but also attracted many prominent actors and celebrities to the cast.
CANDY is just one of a series of overblown, farcical, big-budget, all-star extravaganzas that appeared from the mid '60's to the first few years of the next decade. They were more often than not surreal, psychedelic and episodic. Examples included WHAT'S NEW, PUSSYCAT? (1965), CASINO ROYALE (1967), HEAD (1968) and the bizarre MYRA BRECKINRIDGE (1970). CANDY has the edge on all of those in that it does have a (loose) thread and themes that run throughout, and is actually funny, with spot-on observations about '60's America (some of which turned out to be prescient, especially the country's obsession with celebrity at all costs).
CANDY quickly became a cult film, is now quite a sought after DVD (the R1 is now out of print) and currently has a 80% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website, but it also has a reputation (as Cinema Retro magazine recently opined) as 'one of the worst movies ever made'. It wasn't successful in the US and was nine minutes shorter, but was popular throughout Europe. Reviews at the time were pretty savage, most criticising the film for a lack of morality and lack of laughs. Terry Southern was certainly disaapointed in the final film: 'The film version of CANDY is proof positive of everything rotten you ever heard about major studio production. They are absolutely compelled to botch everything original to the extent that it is no longer even vaguely recognisable.' Which, all things considered, means you are either going to 'get' the movie or you aren't.
CANDY is never boring. It's an unpredictable, episodic, fast-paced road movie. A good-humoured, vibrant piece of fun. A surreal, psychedelic, pop-art comic book come to vivid life. It makes a fun companion piece to the less artistically successful BARBARELLA, released the same year and co-written by Southern. The photography (Fellini's DP Giuseppe Rotunno), costumes (Mia Fonssagrives, Enrico Sabbatini, Vicki Tiel), set design (Dean Tavoularis) and music (Dave Grusin, The Byrds, Steppenwolf - the later two bands would also prominently feature on the EASY RIDER soundtrack a year later, a film co-written by Terry Southern) are all superb. Douglas Trumbull (in the same year as his groundbreaking and Oscar-winning work on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY) did the special effects for Candy's journey to Earth. But definitely the most entertaining aspect of the movie is the array of performances by major actors and celebrities, all willing to spoof themselves whilst also satirising a certian section of American life that Southern thinks needs to have it's balloon pricked. If you watch CANDY for only one reason, seeing a major actor or celebrity risk his reputation by coming across as foolish or reprehensible is one damn good reason. Here are some selected highlights:
Richard Burton as a celebrated, alcoholic, intellectual author (complete with wind running through his hair wherever he goes) who uses his fame to seduce high school girls. Most memorable scenes: on his hands and knees licking spilled whisky off the floor of a glass bottomed limo, and having sex with a mannequin. (The character's name is MacPhisto, which was also the name of a similar character Bono created for U2's Zooropa tour of 1993. )
Ringo Starr as a dumb, virginal Mexican gardener complete with an accent equal part bad Mexican and full-strength Liverpudlian. Most memorable scene: raping Candy on a pool table (while at the same time Burton does his thing with the mannequin).
James Coburn as an insane, famous brain surgeon who performs public operations. He also brands all his women assistants with a tattoo. Coburn models a new look, dark haired and bearded, but hilariously plays the character like Derek Flint. Most memorable scene: either putting a two pin socket in the back of John Astin's head (this was pre-MATRIX!), or trading insults with hospital administrator John Huston (who knew a thing or two about overblown movies!).
Charles Aznavour as a hunchbacked thief. Most memorable scene: having sex with Candy in a grand piano while feathers fly through the air.
Walter Matthau as a Brigadier General who tries to rape Candy as his reward for giving her dying father a blood transfusion.
There are other hilarious cameos, but the performance that sends CANDY into the must-see category is courtesy of Marlon Brando. He is absolutely hilarious and brilliant. Brando in Indian make-up, long black hair and robes, plays a randy, fake guru who has created his own little world in the back of a trailer that he travels about the country in. I kid you not, it is one of his best performances. He's obviously having tons of fun, and his comic timing is superlative. Brando injects traces of Indian, Scottish and New Yorker accents in his voice to emphasise his fakery to the audience. His acting peeled my eyes back. I never realised he was such a gifted comedian. (Another thing to keep you rewatching his segment is to count him looking off-camera for his cue cards!)
The film ain't perfect. As with all 'scattershot' comedies, not everything works. But like a Godard film (who gets his own ribbing in the film), it isn't long before something great happens. It's a 'trip' you are either willing to take, or not. It's a one of a kind movie. It's scattershot and episodic in it's structure but it belies the very real targets Southern is aiming his arrows at. Like his work on DR. STRANGELOVE (1964), this is a comedy that could have easily been a deadly serious movie about the 'state of the nation' / world. Marquand has a good eye for bizarre and funny images, but his composition and framing is merely adequate. CANDY was Marquand's second and final film as director, his debut being the French romantic drama OF FLESH AND BLOOD (1964). He continued to work as an actor, and appeared in APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) but his scenes were deleted. They were reinstated for the 2001REDUX version. He plays the head of the group of people living on the French plantation.
The movie has much artistic worth. It's a time capsule of the dying embers of The Summer of Love. Every character is out for themselves. Nobody believes in anything, especially in the words that come out of their own mouths. Southern sees America as a sexually repressed land, where people make war, create religion, write books and perform surgeries in order to achieve the sexual satisfaction missing in their private lives. America isn't the 'land of the free' but the 'land of the repressed'. It's people are so repressed that they have become obsessed. Their masks are slipping because sex is a driving force in our lives and comes to the surface no matter what and in no matter what guise. A pure-hearted, generous beauty like Candy just sends such people over the edge. (The character who is at most ease with himself and the world is Candy's swinger uncle!) CANDY could be a satirical remake of SUPERGIRL (1984 - it has a similar credit sequence!), where she comes down to Earth to help humanity and spends the entire film being chased by lecherous, crazed men! CANDY also of course works as a satirical allegory on the return of Christ. If Christ had returned to the world created by Southern et al, he wouldn't be acknowledged and he would be exploited.
CANDY also articulates what it must be like to be a beautiful woman, to spend a life being gazed at. Candy's beauty is simply her shell, and combined with her purity, kindness and naivety, it makes her very appealing. Being an alien, she doesn't have the hang-ups about sex we humans have. Ewa Aulin has been criticised for her acting ability but she's perfect casting, and comes across as the sweet centre of a movie that threatens to implode with it's ambition, excess and energy at any point. It's basically a role that demands her to look nonplussed throughout the entire running time. That she isn't completely blown off the screen by the high-profile actors is a testament to at least how much she understood the role. Unfortunately her career never took off after the film. She only appeared in one more American film - the historical comedy START THE REVOLUTION WITHOUT ME (1970) opposite Gene Wilder and Donald Sutherland. She abandoned her acting career in the mid-'70's to become a teacher, after appearing in a few Italian giallos and sex comedies.
This is a film that demands to be seen and there is more creativity, humour, energy and talent in this film than the average Hollywood blockbuster. The dark humour (especially the public brain surgery operation) and sexual humour (especially the incest jokes) won't be for everyone. It deserves to be reassessed, and is actually quite a relevant film for our times, when one considers that you could find equivalents for many of the characters in modern society. And...it's damn funny that Southern was so right about the nature of his audience (ie. all of us). With the sex element of his book/ film, he knew he would attract the very people he was satirising in the story. I also love the optimism of his message: he's effectively laughing at the crazy and dangerous behaviour that arises out of us repressing our need for sex. 'All you need is love'.
NOTES: Brando actually named his son Christian after Christian Marquand. He was born in 1958 and unfortunately had a troubled life. He was convicted of the manslaughter of his half-sister's boyfriend and died of pneumonia in 2008. According to Empire magazine (February 2011), Ewa Aulin spent two weeks in therapy and production was halted after she endured mind games with Brando whilst filming their scenes!
AVAILABILITY: The R1 Anchor Bay edition is now out of print and attracts high prices. The extras are minimal - the trailer, cast and crew biographies and a photo gallery.
'Candy' review by Renata Adler, New York Times, 18 December 1968.
'Candy' review by Roger Ebert, 26 December 1968.
'Candy' review by Steven Puchalski, Shock Cinema website, 1991.
'The Movie That Killed the '60's' (article on 'Myra Breckinridge') by Dorian Lynskey, Empire magazine, February 2011 issue.
'Stories from Terry Southern, Part 3 ('Candy'). Terry Southern interview, 7th April 2010, Go Into the Story website.