Candy (1969)

It’s odd. There are personages who, as I whimsically leap from film to film, remain to be covered in the depth they deserve. Then, in a spontaneous fashion and entirely sans intent, I find myself examining their work in an almost systematic fashion. Take noted thespian Joe Don Baker. (Please!! Rimshot) Mr. Baker unjustifiably escaped scrutiny on our site for years. Then in successive Video Cheese issues I discovered myself perusing his efforts in Final Justice, Shadow of Chikara and The Pack.

Similarly, I now unintentionally pay successive attention to two exemplars of Richard Burton’s rich oeuvre. As with the above, this wasn’t planned. Bluebeard had always been on The List, but was more or less randomly plucked from my shelves last month. Candy, also a long time List resident, just happened to have recently been released on DVD. Once my copy arrived I became insanely concerned that one of my confederates in the B-Masters’ Cabal would review it before I did. While this was most likely a baseless fear – the film falls well outside the areas of interest of all but a few of them — I thought I’d better get it out of the way. In any case, I’ll try to find to provide something a bit more varied next month.

Aside from reader boredom, however, there’s another problem with sequentially reviewing such similar fare. This regards what topic to explore for my introduction. In my Bluebeard article I provided what is possibly the longest intro section I’ve yet belched out. It examined the historical trends that allowed filmmakers to produce the glorious, epically mammoth turkeys so prevalent in the late ’60s and early ’70s. So I’m not sure where to go with this one.

Part of what I discussed about that era was the suddenly increased power of the filmmaking talent in relation to the previously all-powerful Studios. I also noted the urge of the newly empowered talent to be ‘hip,’ to make films that reflected a groovy with-it-ness in tune with the tumultuous social movements then occurring. Maybe I should explore this ground in a little more depth.

Basically, for the first time you had millionaire talent – screenwriters, directors, actors, etc. — who evinced a hostile contempt for everything America stood for. (Or, more accurately, what they imagined America stood for.) For Brits like Burton this was old hat. He and his fellow generation of English actors – Peter O’Toole, Michael Caine, Laurence Harvey, etc., — initially burst on the scene in the ’50s by appearing in a series of gritty social dramas that eventually became known as the Angry Young Men genre. These plays and films were brimming with rage and a palpable hatred for the poverty and social inequality they saw as defining the England of that time.

In the Eisenhower America, however, times were generally too good to sow a crop of Angry Young Men. Instead, a generation of kids pampered and cosseted by their elders resulted in Irreverent Young Men. Sure, there would be anger and such in the ’60s, but it proved difficult to sustain. (Especially after the draft ceased to be a concern.) Yet if the Impending Revolution failed to materialize, an already ingrained tendency towards disrespectful and biting humor remained.

Raised on the early anarchic Mad comic books of the ’50s, suburban kids became masters of the newly favored comedic forms, Satire and Irony. These modes of humor were favored because they were both irrelevant and, more to the point, irreverent. In contrast, their parents leaned more towards understated drollery and even a stoic gallows humor.

Such brands of japery were alien to their progeny, however. Drollery requires restraint, a trait they had never been raised to worry much about. Genuine gallows humor, meanwhile, was reserved for those who had faced hardship, such as a great depression or a world war. The Boomers would never know anything like these degrees of deprivation. Sure, they spent their college years romantically fantasizing that Nixon and Reagan were on the brink of rolling tanks onto their campuses. But this was a charade, and most of them secretly knew it.

And so they adopted for themselves forms of humor that, along with their music and movies and everything else, were actively designed to alienate their elders. Satire was good, because it mocked and attacked things, especially those things their parents held dear. Irony was even better. If gallows humor is the mark of those who have mightily struggled, irony is the form of humor for those who never struggled. The Great Depression/WWII generations had fought too hard for too much to just cop the attitude that nothing matters. Not so their kids. Ultimately, nothing really did matter to them. History’s first Cosseted Generation, they were largely kept immune from the consequences of their actions. How can you be really serious about things when things never got really serious?

Yet it wasn’t just satire and irony that came into their own in the ’50s. So did other manifestations of increased social anxiety. The nation’s adult population now included a large number of WWII vets. Roughened by the horrors they had witnessed, and perpetrated, they craved more cynical forms of entertainment. Film Noir, fatalistic and stylistically influenced by German expressionism, flourished during the decade. Nor was it only the movies that experienced skyrocketing levels of sex and violence. See the extraordinarily popular Mike Hammer detective novels, for example. Meanwhile, the Beats appeared, proving precursors of sorts to the hippies.

Satire also began catching on with the more literate grown-ups, although they would never absorb it into their bones the ways their kids did. While children had comic books and television programs, their elders were listening to Stan Freberg and the reading the novels of Terry Southern, one of the preeminent literary satirists of that decade.

1955 saw the release of Southern’s novel Candy, a smutty sex farce — and thus considered daringly ‘adult’ at the time — that updated and rather radically reconceived Voltaire’s cynical masterpiece Candide (!!). (Candide? Candy? Get it?) Candide followed the adventures of an improbably innocent naïf who wandered around being rather grotesquely victimized by everyone he met. I’m talking disembowelings and such. Despite this the protagonist never really wised up. Candy meanwhile follows an improbably innocent but sublimely foxy female naïf who wanders around being sexually abused by every male she meets. Assuming the book matches the film, these men were designed to rather broadly caricaturize and ridicule various American authority figures. Thus the ‘serious’ social commentary acted as a shield for the book’s more prurient content.

In the ’60s Southern’s sensibilities became more mass market. He therefore moved from novels to a quixotic film career. His first film work was as co-scripter on Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. From there things headed quickly downhill. Occasionally he was involved with solid dramatic fare like The Cincinnati Kid and even Easy Rider. More representative, however, were baldly satirical projects like Barbarella, Casino Royale and the minor cult favorite The Loved One. Oddly, Southern didn’t himself work on the screenplay for Candy, however.

1969 saw the adaptation of a second Southern novel, The Magic Christian, starring Peter Sellers. A financial failure, it’s generally regarded as a rather horrible film, although it has its defenders. Even so, that miscue, following on the heels of the disastrous Candy – a film, again, that Southern was not directly connected with – pretty much killed the author’s motion picture career. Perhaps Southern should have stuck with books, although it’s possible that his window of opportunity in the literary field also had come and gone. Southern might have just been one of those figures like Hugh Hefner, radically ahead of the cultural curve at one point and sadly behind it not that much later.

Eleven years after The Magic Christian, Southern would ghost script a hardcore porno, The Electric Lady. Nothing would follow this effort for a further eight more years. Finally, in 1988, he took a co-writing credit for The Telephone, an apparent stage play that was cheaply filmed with Whoopi Goldberg. I’ve seen this monstrosity, and it’s one of the more awful film experiences I can remember having.

Time to head back to the late ’60s and the making of Candy. Southern’s brand of anti-establishment agitprop had broadened in appeal – or so it was assumed — from a small set of white middle class intelligentsia-wannabes to a largish minority of the population at large. (In other words, a large set of white middle class intelligentsia-wannabes.) His sensibility was hip now and, as I noted in my Bluebeard piece, Hollywood was full of those who hungered to be among that group.

That being the case, the cinematic adaptation of Candy lured in a simply extraordinary cast. I can only assume that one or two ‘names’ signed up initially, thus acting as bait for other stars to come aboard. (Forgive my cynicism, but I’m thinking Burton was one of the actors in the first group.) Perhaps the film became a hipper analog to one of those fashionable mugging villain turns on the old Batman TV show. In any case, the roster of actors here is simply amazing. What’s even weirder, however, is that despite the nature of the fiasco they ended up involved with here, many would mysteriously go on to appear in similarly smarmy disasters like Myra Breckinridge, Bluebeard and Sextette.

Another mystery is how a veritable novice ended up directing a film boasting so many huge stars. Christian Marquand was primarily a French film actor. His sole helming credit before Candy was a small-scale film made six years earlier. Yet here he was attached to a big budget project simply bursting with world-famous actors. One, moreover, primarily meant to satirize a country that he wasn’t a citizen of. (Shades of Englishman Michael Sarne, the fellow brought in to direct Myra Breckinridge.)

Candy was a US/Euro co-production. This explains the presence of continental performers such as Ewa Aulin, the Swedish teen cast in the title role, and French crooner Charles Aznavour. Even Marilù Tolo, who went on to play Brigit the Masochistic Feminist in Bluebeard, is along for the ride. (Given the plethora of European names studding the credits, are we unsurprised to learn that this searing exposé of the United States of Amerikkka was actually shot in Rome.)

Even so, you’d think you’d want a more experienced director to hold these disparate elements together. Assuming, that is, that any director worth his salt wouldn’t have run in horror from such a project.

Back to Burton. Amusingly, this film acts as a weird counterpart to Bluebeard, still five years off in the future. Structurally, they are somewhat similar. Bluebeard tells the episodic story of a fellow who preys horribly upon every woman he meets. Candy tells the episodic story of a young woman who is horribly preyed upon by every man she meets. Both films are unsuccessful – to say the least — sex farces, puerile and offensive in about equal measures. In Bluebeard (most) every woman represents a broad type of character, who is then held up to satiric ridicule. In Candy (most) every man represents a broad type of character, who is then held up to satiric ridicule. They each last over two hours, were horribly pretentious, made in Europe, are now available in widescreen presentations on DVD, and act upon the viewer like a two-hour long kick in the head.

Ewa Aulin projects the raw intelligence that lurks behind Candy.

We open in outer space, where we see a Star Trek-like energy being. You know, the kind of amorphous, pulsating lights that were constantly possessing crewmembers of the Enterprise. We track this as it drifts through the universe, showcasing a level of special effects that only a big budget can provide. I think that this cosmic voyage Means Something. Because, you know, this is the kind of film where pretty much everything Means Something. Probably about how small the concerns of petty human beings are in this vast universe, or something like that. Eventually – a word I chose carefully, a minute and a half in and we’re already dragging — the light being reaches Earth. It descends over an arid landscape and seems to seep into the ground. A sheet appears and from under it emerges the beauteous if disturbingly vacant-looking Candy.

After an artsy-fartsy tracking shot through some foliage we find Candy daydreaming in a high school classroom. Her aggressively blank look remains, suggesting some kind of rather sophisticated sex doll. I suppose this is another purportedly sardonic point, that so many powerful men will force themselves on someone so internally lacking. Or something. This being the sort of film where the viewer will utilize the phrase ‘or something’ on a regular basis. We also get our first continuity error: Candy is facing a window as we approach it from the outside, but facing into the classroom when we cut to an interior perspective.

The joy of Candy, for our sort anyway, is the aforementioned parade of utterly humiliating cameo appearances by both familiar character actors to some of the biggest movie stars of that period. Thus the best way to enjoy the film is by knowing nothing about it, so that the entrance of each actor is a bewildering, appalling surprise. (This was how I first saw the film, and believe me, bewildering and appalled barely covered it.) The next best way is to show it to fellow film buffs and savor their shock and dismay.

We start things out slowly. The first actor of note to pop up here is John “Addams Family” Astin. He’s playing Mr. Christian, a martinet teacher who we ‘hilariously’ learn is Candy’s father. (So what was with that ‘Candy born fully grown in the desert’ prolog? Ya got me.) His traits – this is the kind of movie, again like Bluebeard, where everyone has ‘traits’ – are that he’s ultra-strict and exhibits a fiercely puritanical attitude towards sex. The latter, unsurprisingly, proves merely a façade for his deeply hypocritical and quite perverse sexual desires. This is all afforded *cough, cough* satirical weight by the fact that his name is ‘Christian.’ Get it? Get it?!

If, somehow, that sly tidbit slipped by you, there are many other such gems to be harvested here. For instance, after getting Candy to call him “Mr. Christian,’ rather than “Daddy,” he manically exclaims, “Now we’re getting somewhere!” This statement is followed by an excited buzz amongst the students. See, the satiric point is that, contrary to his assertion, they really weren’t getting anywhere. If this provokes sidesplitting gales of laughter from you, then you must be whomever it was they aimed this film at.

Christian (giggle, giggle) butts his inevitable pointing stick – every martinet has one – and props it so that it rises straight up. Then he begins running his hand up and down the shaft as he, with increasing excitement, tells the students that their assignment for the evening is to “write an essay on the subject of the citizen’s responsibility to His Government, His Church, His School, His Parents, His Community and His Local Police Force.” In the midst of this sharply hewn portrayal of Authority Gone Mad, we shift to a camera angle that recalls shots of Adolf Hitler from Nazi propaganda films. You know, to make sure we ‘get’ it. The, er, climax of this is reached when he finishes giving the assignment and pushes down on the pointer, collapsing it. Feel free to posit your own interpretations regarding this nebulous bit of imagery.

As she was instructed to, Candy waits for her father out in the hallway after class. They have a awkward conversation – see, they don’t really ‘connect’ – where he expresses his worries that the kids think him a ‘square.’ She reassures him, and they hug. Christian’s panicked expression indicates that he’s having a barely suppressed sexual response to this, however, and he roughly pushes her aside. Again we learn the heavy cost of sexual repression.

Candy heads off and joins the excited students congregating for an appearance by superstar poet/academic McPhisto. This turns out to be Richard Burton. He marches down a hallway choked with his admirers, and the ‘joke’ is that no matter where he is or what he’s doing his long curly hair is being dramatically blown back. Attired in a crushed velvet jacket with an attacked half-cape, a puffy white silk pirate shirt and a scarf, he’s hailed by the students with the respect afforded a rock star as he enters the auditorium. Just before, though, he pauses and rivets his attention on the lovely Candy.

As all the girls swoon he mounts the stage and begins his presentation. Of course, he proves a no-talent hack, because otherwise this wouldn’t be *ahem* satirical. First he reads some of his laboriously awful poesy, using his astounding Burton-esque vocal talents to mask how silly it is. (Of course, in a day in which Suzanne Somers and Danielle Steel have books of ‘poetry’ published, the modern viewer might not find the comical badness of his verse so readily apparent.) Despite the pointedly inane quality of his work, the students rise in a standing ovation as he finishes.

McPhisto then exhorts his audience to send off for his latest self-published book, Forests of Flesh. The joke is that he’s a pathetic poseur who can’t even get his stuff published, although how that squares with his superstar status with the kids is left unexplained. As he reads the address through which to order the book, a church organ is heard. This is one of those ‘satiric…or something’ moments I was discussing earlier. The final joke (get ready for it) is that the P.O. box is in New Jersey. See, it’s funny because New Jersey isn’t the kind of place you’d expect a with-it poet to live.

The scene then leadingly continues as McPhisto gushes out more convoluted gobbledygook which is ‘humorously’ eaten up by the kids. Burton, to our dismay, runs with the part full-tilt, unhappily impaling himself on it in the process. Even veteran Burton-watchers, conditioned to the actor’s grandiose feats of thespic self-immolation, will be quite embarrassed as this all progresses. Meanwhile, the general viewer will be more concerned by the fact that there’s nearly two full hours of this dreck still remaining.

Candy gets a note to meet the Great Man in his huge Mercedes. McPhisto has a black friend or companion or something named Zero (Sugar Ray Robinson!) who agrees to act as chauffer so that McPhisto can make his move on Our Heroine. The relationship Zero between and McPhisto never really comes clear, but is apparently meant to be humorous in some fashion. Or something. Meanwhile, McPhisto tells Candy a zanily self-aggrandizing tale of having saved his companion from a giant snake whilst touring the Congo. When Candy reveals that she saw that same story on the Movie-of-the-Week last Tuesday, McPhisto provides another equally wacky anecdote in its place. By this time I was fantasizing about being eaten by a giant snake myself. It couldn’t be much worse than sitting through all this.

This is either from Candy, or the Richard Burton episode of A&E's Biography. I can't remember which.

McPhisto’s car comes complete with a hard liquor tap dispenser — an accoutrement one could easily see Burton obtaining in real-life – and in another of the film’s failed pieces of japery he becomes increasingly drunk as he tries to score on Candy. Eventually he tries to jump her, following which they end up on the floor of the car. During this the liquor tap is hit and a puddle of booze also spills out onto the floor. As we look up at them (this is filmed through a false glass-bottom of the car), McPhisto begins licking the hooch off the floor with his tongue. I remember when I first saw this I turned to my Bad Movie compatriot Andrew Muchoney and noted that this had to be the single most embarrassing moment in Burton’s cinematic career. He readily agreed. Sadly, our declaration would stand for less than ten minutes.

Candy manages to escape from the car. This is witnessed by her father’s gardener, Emmanuel. This fellow is played, in a fashion, by Ringo Starr (!). His character’s name, you’ll note, subtly indicates a Hispanic heritage. This information proves of some value to the puzzled viewer, as Starr’s accent is all over the map. He more often sounds vaguely German or Italian than even slightly Spanish. In any case, fans of obnoxious minority stereotyping will be cheered to know that Emmanuel, despite his continued first-person protestations of “Emmanuel is a good boy,” harbors an unsavory lust for the pearly-skinned blond daughter of his employer.

Ringo Starr tries to escape from the set of Candy.

Having escaped the drunken embrace of the Potted Poet, Candy feels that something must be done regarding his now booze-soaked trousers. She asks Zero to lug him inside, where the situation can be attended to. Emmanuel, lurking in the bushes, disapprovingly notes these events whilst hypocritically — there’s that word again — exuding a barely constrained prurience.

Zero takes McPhisto down into the basement rec room. Candy, meanwhile, calls in Emmanuel to fetch their ironing board. (The wisdom of applying a hot iron to a pair of pants soaked in alcohol remains unremarked upon.) Emmanuel misunderstand Candy’s pleas and believes that she is requesting attentions of an amorous nature. Thus is Farce. Concurrently, McPhisto stumbles around wreaking havoc upon Candy’s voluminous doll collection. He also smacks into the family jukebox, thus providing ‘naturalistic’ electric guitar accompaniment to the following events. The first of these involve him stripping down to reveal loud paisley boxer shorts, a sight no doubt meant to inspire audience mirth.

Barbie's attempt to be thought of as a serious actress goes horribly wrong.

Eventually his drunken interest focuses upon a perhaps four-foot tall doll equipped with ivory skin, blond hair and blue eyes. The cleverer viewer will discern a certain resemblance between this manikin and Our Heroine, the more so in that each manages to exude the same level of screen presence. Soon this object is seated on McPhisto’s lap, whereupon he begins to fondle it. Following which, in an act that once witnessed will unfortunately prove difficult to forget, the poet is subsequently shown bringing new meaning to the term ‘statutory rape.’ As when watching Bluebeard, the horror-struck aficionado can only express bewilderment at how an artist of Richard Burton’s stature ended up engaged in such literally appalling shenanigans. That his appearance here perhaps more accurately sums up his cinematic career than his efforts in, say, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? remains one of the mysteries, and tragedies, of the age.

As a counterpoint to all this, Emmanuel – ‘comically’ inspired by McPhisto’s stentorian call to ‘Remember the Revolución!’ — forces a weakly protesting Candy down on the family pool table and has his way with her. This act of presumably comical rapine – ha, ha — is intercut with the unfortunate spectacle of Burton gamely humping away at his plastic paramour. Said doll is equipped with those eyes that roll open when the head is raised, and as his machinations cause these to flutter we intercut with Candy’s similarly blue orbs, which are doing the same. See? It’s Art. (Or something.) And for those wondering, the doll does indeed sport breasts adorned with pink painted nipples, a fact I rather wish I could not report upon with any authority.

At these events reach a, uh, terminus — Emmanuel ends his gyrations with a cry of “Viva Zapata!” while the watching Zero notes “Look at that Mex go!” — Candy’s father appears, accompanied by a similarly shocked group of uptight high school teachers. I imagine that this is another of the film’s cornucopia of moments meant to be humorous but which aren’t. Soon Daddy is meeting with his twin brother Jack, also played by Astin. Unfortunately, the actor proves himself no Peter Sellers in the art of multiple characterizations. Jack, who proves to be a lecherous swinger, comes across basically as a sleazier version of Gomez Addams.

Many actors couldn't face themselves after appearing in Candy, but John Astin didn't have that problem.

The perplexed Daddy puts his errant daughter in the care of Jack and his equally sex-crazed wife, Livia. This makes little sense, of course, but it’s a little late for questions like that to be raised. Livia express her views on the above events, noting that while Candy was caught with a “little taco-twister,’ her own lover as a youth was a “Jap.” Ah, truly a film with something for everyone. In any case, the couple is planning to take Candy back with them to New York City. Daddy drives them to the airport, but en route they are confronted by Emmanuel’s three militantly Catholic sisters, who constitute a motorcycle gang. Look, just go with it. It’s easier that way. Although, now that I think about, not all that much easier.

Anyhoo, they want revenge on the little slut who “ruined” their innocent brother. They also, inevitably, use the word “gringo” a lot, as well as calling Candy a “puta.” How droll. After harrassing them during their drive – a horribly lame sequence poorly shot on a soundstage – a confrontation occurs at the airport. Here follows a typically painful comic exchange. For instance, Jack tries to bribe them with his watch, resulting in the Head Sister shouting “We don’t want your stinkin’ watches!” In other words, if I’m getting this right – and really, who knows? – Jack only offers them the watch to set up a (possible) take off on the Mexican bandit who famously shouts “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!” in The Treasure of Sierra Madre. If so, it’s a long way to go for such a lame punchline.

Two of the sisters attack, but one mistakenly hits the other with some brass knuckles and kills her. Or something. At this the Christians run off. Meanwhile, the head sister rides in pursuit, wielding a steel ball on a chain. Meanwhile, a plane is starting down a nearby runway, and from it a helmeted Walter Matthau (!!) calls out. A none-too-exciting chase ensues. The foursome eventually makes it aboard, although in the process Daddy takes a whirling steel ball in the head and is grievously wounded.

The plane proves to contain a squad of soldiers. Matthau, meanwhile, is playing General Smight, a *sigh* crazed military officer of the General Jack D. Ripper variety. Albeit, it must be added, one rather on the opposite side of the quality scale. As with many of the moronically elliptical gags in the film, I suppose the fact that the letters m-i-g-h-t are in his name is meant to have satiric resonance of some kind. In any case, what with the soldiers and the plane and all, this is the sequence that most obviously calls to mind Dr. Strangelove. And believe me, it ain’t helpin’ any.

General Smight proves to be, surprise, a zany ranting anti-commie nutbag. (Because, of course, being an anti-communist is de facto evidence of either madness or just overall evilness.) The scenario here is that Smight and his crack troops have spent the last six years flying around in this plane, landing only for fuel and supplies, ready at a moment’s notice to deploy. Only the order never comes, that’s the gag. See? Get it?

Walter Matthau and Candy. Talk about an odd couple.

This sequence is again accompanied by the film’s atrociously bad score of electric guitar music – no doubt chosen for its ‘hip,’ ‘mod’ quality — which is truly one of the most grating I’ve ever heard. Meanwhile, we are subjected to a series of unfunny comic bits assigned to Matthau for his cameo. For instance, Smight has a wacky prejudice about Albanians, asking if that were the nationality of their attackers. (“No, they were just some Mexicans,” Jack replies.) See, it’s wacky because who’s got anything against Albanians? See? Get it? At a command his troops also do a little dance number, during which they exclaim “Kill! Kill!” Smight also refuses to let Daddy’s family provide blood for a transfusion, because that would be incest.

Them’s the jokes, folks.

Anyway, Smight eventually maneuvers Candy into, dare I say it, the cockpit. Yet another example of the film’s understated drollery. (Actually, that they don’t explicitly use the word ‘cockpit’ does in fact make this one of the picture’s more restrained moments. Perhaps they just didn’t think of it.) He tries to have his way with the protesting young lady, but, uh, his weapon proves to have a hair trigger, if you get my meaning. Meanwhile, he accidentally hits the button that signals his men to deploy from the plane. Smight’s, er, premature culmination is then indicated by cutting to the parachutes of his men, floating through the air. Because as they stream along they sort of looking like released…oh, never mind. In a panic, the general rushes to follow his troops, but manages to jump out of the plane without a parachute. Because it’s funny, you see. We follow him as he falls to the ground, just like Major Kong in the, er, somewhat superior Dr. Strangelove.

Anyway, we don’t want The Point lost in all of this sidesplitting hilarity. Which is, of course, is that Smight makes war because he can’t make love. Of course, we already know that all men in the military, especially those in power positions, are sexually inadequate. That’s why they’re so interested in all those rifles and missiles and things, right? (On the other hand, we must resist the slander that women in the military are merely a bunch of butch dykes – such a supposition would be insulting.) Still, how perceptive of the film to take advantage of this keen insight.

Upon landing in New York, an ambulance takes the still unconscious Daddy to the hospital. We then cut to a crowd perusing theatrical-type posters advertising his upcoming operation. This will be “performed by Dr. A. B. Krankeit,” with “T. M. Christian as the patient.” Attendees are also warned “No one will be seated after the first incision.” This all wittily ties in with the concept of an operating ‘theater.’ See? Get it? That’s the joke.

Soon nurses, handing out programs — when you get a bit this good, you just have to run with it — are seating tuxedoed and fur draped members of the hoi polloi. Also in attendance is Daddy’s family. Electric guitar a’blarin,’ Dr. Krankeit enters the OR to a long burst of applause from the onlookers. (At least those onlookers actually in the film.) Krankeit is played by James Coburn (!!). He wears an uncharacteristic red beard, perhaps in a failed, albeit understandable, attempt to remain unrecognized by those watching the movie. Oh, and did I mention that his entrance is accompanied by bullfighting music? Because, I guess, that’s another kind of theater? Or something.

When he dons his surgical gloves, they magically leap onto his hands of their own accord. (Well, OK, they obviously filmed the gloves being pulled off his hands and then printed it backwards, but that’s the idea. I’m pretty sure that they ripped this off from Jean Cocteau’s surreal masterpiece Orpheus, which invokes fantasies of the director Marquand being severely beaten with a hose.) I’ve no idea what this means, other than being an analog in some fashion to the mysterious breeze which was always blowing McPhisto’s hair. Or something.

Like all the star cameos — well, save Starr’s — Coburn is provided with a hambone blowhard speech. Here it involves the operation. He warns that if all doesn’t go correctly, Daddy will be fine physically, but end up with the mental abilities “of a mature cucumber.” I’m assuming they choose ‘cucumber’ over, say, ‘zucchini’ because of the venerable Comedy Rule that hard ‘c’ sounds are funny. Anyhoo, the point of this sequence, as far as I can discern, is that doctors are nutty egotists more concerned with their own glory than the well being of their patients. (Much like the filmmakers apparently not being concerned with the well being of my patience.) Chalk up another of the picture’s unique insights.

Blood spraying ‘comically’ around, Krankeit conducts the operation. During a montage of this we keep cutting from bloody instruments and such to the jewels being worn by one of the spectators, no doubt meaning…??? Anyway, the operation completed, Krankeit triumphantly gives the operating theater audience a bloody middle finger (don’t ask) and takes his leave.

After the operation, Candy wanders the dreamlike bowels of the hospital looking for Dr. Krankeit’s office. People react in various hostile and surrealistic fashions to her requests for information, including a bit where a man in a straight jacket growls and barks at her and then gets his head stuck in some elevator doors. This characteristically feeble bit is notable mostly in that it provides a quick cameo for screenwriter Buck Henry. Lucky him. Oh, and a haggard mop woman throws mop water at Candy. Then she reappears a bit later and reveals that she’s Krankeit’s mother. The woman’s rather florid accent marks her as being Italian, and she explains that she changed Krankeit’s name because “rich New York doctors ain’t no dagos.”

Candy eventually stumbles into Daddy’s recovery room, in which a Playboy After Dark-esque cocktail party is taking place. I must say that the film’s sudden shift from ‘satire’ (no matter how poorly achieved), a form of comedy that depends on the exacting observation of specific details, to the outright dada-esque surrealism of the current sequence is quite jarring, if no more successful. A radio is brought in to provide music, and Uncle Jack begins to search for someplace to plug it in. Meanwhile, Krankeit explains that he installed an electrical outlet in Daddy’s head. (If you’re wondering how that even comes close to constituting a ‘joke,’ well, ya got me.) This drains off “excess electrical energy” from his brain, which is the only thing keeping him mentally intact.

Needless to say, Jack ends up using this outlet to power the radio – “Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf plays — short circuiting his brother’s brain. Ha, there’s a knee-slapper. Then, pushing the comatose Daddy aside, and eventually knocking him to the floor, Jack maneuvers his niece into the hospital bed and begins to have his way with her. Man, this just gets funnier by the minute.

This heralds the entrance of *sigh* director/actor John Huston. He’s playing Dr. Dunlap, the hospital’s executive administrator, who reacts with some outrage to the bedroom athletics going on here. (Although he’s unconcerned with the surrounding cocktail party. Because that’s funny. See?) He also, of course, places the blame for this incident entirely on Our Innocent Heroine, which results in her falling to the floor in a faint. Krankeit appears and butts heads with Dunlap, after which they (uh, oh) carry the prostate Candy off. They take her into an empty room and dump her on a bed. Then they mull taking advantage of her insensible state, yet another charming sequence.

James Coburn commiserates with a visibly nauseous John Huston.

Instead, Krankeit chases Dunlap out. He then turns to find that Candy has regained consciousness. Telling her that she needs to be examined, he orders her to strip off her clothes. Here the audience is teased with a fully naked Candy, but one seen behind a partially opaque screen. How clever. We cut away to learn that Daddy has gone missing, and back to see that Krankeit mom is spying on her son’s now finished amorous endeavors. I have to give them this, if their intent was to craft a thoroughly repulsive film, they’re certainly done a bang-up job.

Left alone again, Candy is threatened in turn by Krankeit’s jealous head nurse/lover (who exposes the film’s solitary naked breast to reveal that the doctor’s initials are carved into it), Krankeit’s mom and the suddenly reappearing guy-in-a-straightjacket guy as played by Buck Henry. Then she continues to walk the tiresomely bizarre corridors, at one point failing to observe the zombie-like meanderings of her father in the room behind her. She ends up back in the operating observation area, where she sees that Krankeit has carved his initials into all the nurses, while preparing to do so to Livia. He orders that Candy be captured so that she might be next, but Our Heroine (finally) makes her escape from the hospital.

So here we are, a full hour and a quarter behind us and with a gloomy fifty minutes yet left on the horizon.

Candy staggers alone through the mean, if surprisingly deserted, street of *cough, cough* New York City. Eventually she ends up outside the Café la Rosa, which offers Sicilian Cooking. In a burst of creative genius, this venue proves the hangout of some Mafiosos. Their leader, The Big Guy, sends a henchman over to bring Candy to their table. (Apparently they couldn’t get a ‘name’ to play the Big Guy, so he’s just a random Italian dude.) They are preparing to, that’s right, have their way with her when a guy with a movie camera enters. The hoods flee, not wanting their picture taken.

The Director, again played by an apparent nobody, proves the latest of the film’s assorted wearisome zanies. This fellow also is Italian (I’ll bet the Germans were glad this wasn’t being made in Berlin at this point), as proven not only by his accent but by the fact that he wears his shirt open to the navel. His mission is to film people saying the word ‘no,’ for a movie that he’ll never show anyone because they would fail to appreciate its genius. He then takes Candy into the Men’s Room and films her sitting on the toilet (still wearing her clothes, thankfully). “But I don’t know anything about acting,” Our Heroine protests, uttering one of the film’s few lines with which we can wholeheartedly agree.

Various pipes get busted — don’t ask — and the room starts flooding. Meanwhile, the police have arrived on the scene. “Watch out,” the bartender warns them. “He’s got a camera.” Comedy! (Or something.) The cops smash down the door and a bunch of water cascades out – although about a tenth of what we saw accumulating — and a good laugh is had by none.

Candy, her clothes soaked with water and thus, inevitably, translucent, resumes wandering the still deserted streets. She ends up by the lake in *cough, cough* Central Park. There she meets a hunchbacked bum wearing a tape player attached to large shoulder-mounted speakers. He scurries like a monkey up some rocks and she follows. The Hunchback is played by French actor Charles Aznavour, presumably in the hopes of providing some Continental appeal. He leads her into a deserted mansion. Inside the house he begins climbing walls like Spider-Man. He tosses her some dry clothes and watches her as she strips to her underwear.

A gang of young toughs enter, looking for The Boss. (No, not that one.) You know, I really hope I’m not making this sound any more coherent than it is in the movie. The Boss, unsurprisingly, is The Hunchback. They begin to ransack the place, while the madly muttering Hunchback continues his superhuman antics. Chanting “rub-a-dub-dub” he, that’s right, forces himself on Our Heroine in a collapsed piano, the strings making the requisite sounds. I’m assuming this is somehow meant to be humorous, although who knows? Meanwhile his gang tears up pillows and throws a gigantic amount of feathers on them.

Some of these fly out an open window, to be witnessed by the cops from the bar. The older cop rushes inside, looking for some heads to bust. The two get the drop on the gang, and the older cop recognizes the gear of The Little Guy, “the most dangerous hunchback in modern crime!” Alerted, The Hunchback (aka The Boss, aka The Little Guy) scurries up across the walls and ceiling before escaping through a mirror full of green liquid, in another bit stolen from Cocteau’s Orpheus. By now my daydreams involve Marquand being eaten by army ants.

In the squad car, The Sadistic Cop starts, that’s right, taking advantage of Candy. And so, needless to say, we cut to a stage act where a magician covers his assistant with a blanket, cuts her throat, and then lifts another blanket to reveal her still-screaming head on a nearby table. I mean, what else? Then the younger cop, distracted by watching his partner, crashes their cop car through the wall of a bordello. Or…a convention of transvestites. Or…something.

I guess the Sadistic Cop says it best when he shouts, “It’s a nest of commie, fag draft-dodgers! Shoot to kill! Shoot to kill!” Meanwhile, the other cop ends up being kissed by one of the transvestites. Realizing what he’s doing, the cop hits the guy with his nightstick. When he asks, “How’d you like some more of that?,” the transvestite whimpers, “Yes! Yes! Give me some more!” At this point you’ve probably gone from suspecting I’m just making stuff up to hoping I’m just making stuff up. But sadly, no.

Marlon Brando, the guy who didn't want to do The Godfather.

In the confusion, Candy makes her escape, and my heads starts to hurt. OK, hurt worse. The next morning we see here walking across one of the city’s bridges. She asks for a ride in a semi, and hops not into the cab, but rather the trailer. This proves to be the mobile living quarters of a longhaired East Indian Swami/Guru, played by – are you ready – Marlon Brando (!). Apparently floating in the air, he angrily orders her to throw her shoes out into the “material world.” Unsurprisingly, he turns out to be more faker than fakir, and in one of the film’s more embarrassing star turns spouts a lot of pseudo-comical gobbledygook before, that’s right, having his way with Our Heroine. After a long, looong bout of ‘comical’ Karma Sutra-esque sex, Brando ends up frozen solid — don’t ask — while Candy wanders out into the deserts on the border of California.

A busted-up cop car appears (?), sirens blaring, and begins pursuing Our Heroine. Eventually my brain managed to fire enough neurons to figure that it’s supposed to be the same cop car from New York. Sure enough, it crashes and the two New York City cops tumble out. I guess they followed her out to California. Or something. Anyway, Candy continues on, finding a robed figure covered with clay and sporting a myna bird on his shoulder. Candy is much impressed with this, as The Guru had told her to watch out for a “sacred bird.”

The mysterious, silent figure begins to wander the desert, with Candy following behind. Soon they enter a tunnel – or something – behind a bush. The camera pans across some highways, until we end up in (I’m guessing) Hollywood. They enter a deserted old building which is illuminated by of thousands of lit candles and proves to be, if I’m getting this right, a temple to the Hindu goddess Kali. Or something. Thunder and lightning occur, right inside the temple, after which the seemingly ancient structure collapses.

Unfortunately, Kali is a harsh deity, and Candy and The Mysterious Stranger end up surviving the cataclysm. Following which, that’s right, the Mysterious Stranger begins having his way with Our Heroine. Now, you might think at this point the film couldn’t get much more revolting. Sadly, you’d be mistaken. As their act of congress continues, the clay falls from the face of The Mysterious Stranger and we see that he is, in fact, her own brain-dead father. This is all intercut with pictures of Indian religious and/or pornographic artwork from the surrounding walls. Boy, they don’t make ’em like this anymore.

We cut to Candy wandering past a groovy love-in or something. Whatever. In the crowd we see McPhisto, and Zero, and The Hunchback, and Emmanuel and his sisters, and, well, you get the idea. We also see Daddy, apparently cured (let’s not get into it), who ducks behind a banner and emerges as Jack. Then Jack turns his face and we see that he’s half-Jack and half-Daddy. Whatever. Dr. Krankeit appears, giving out shots that turn the recipients into children. He then gives himself a shot and emerges a bearded five-year old. And so we go, sort of like in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band when all the acts get together at the end of the movie to perform a final song. In other words, Marquand & Co. figured out a way to actually script in a big party for the various players at the end of the movie. I’d have like to seen the bill for the various pharmaceutical products used at that bash.

You’re probably ahead of me on this one, but Candy, sure enough, ends up alone back in the desert. We see the same cosmic lights from the beginning of the movie, which on cue head back into outer space.

Ah. Well, at least it made sense right there at the end.


I really fear I’m not getting across how horrible these vignettes are. I know I’m sort of describing them, but seeing them is much worse, believe me. First of all, they just go on and on and on. And if they sound bad in outline, they’re much worse in detail. The Brando bit, described here in a single paragraph, in fact eats up nearly fifteen dreadful minutes of screentime. The attempts at humor are not only lamentably hamfisted, but more often than not actively repellent. While it is possible to make comic hay out of racial epithets, incest and rape, these are subjects that require a rather masterful touch. Which this film doesn’t come within a mile of.

This is also the kind of movie where there is no one even halfway likable, much less anyone to root for. Even Candy, our purported protagonist, comes off less as naive than just teeth-grindingly stupid. She brings back the bad old days of the Dumb Blond who doesn’t particularly wish to be raped but who doesn’t particularly mind it either. The film’s overall philosophy, especially regarding sex, seems rather confusing. People who stifle their sexual urges are portrayed as repressed perverts, while those who indulge them are active perverts.

There’s really little point in further criticizing the film’s poorly wrought and unjustifiably smug satire. If I haven’t gotten my points across by now then there’s not much more I can do. Instead, let’s examine the contributions of our (almost) all-star cast.

Ewa Aulin is exactly what the part requires: A gorgeous but utterly blank presence. A mere eighteen at the time of production, and a former Miss Teenage International, Ms. Aulin is indeed quite easy on the eyes. While the film rather hypocritically avoids any actual nudity, we are often treated to views of her shapely midriff, bared panties and occasional oblique shots of her posterior. (That this generally occurs when she is being more or less raped somewhat reduces any enjoyment to be had from these glimpses, however.) Meanwhile, her vacant stare and obnoxiously breathy vocal delivery aptly suggest someone bereft of, shall we say, an interior monolog. At the risk of being unchivalrous, one must wonder if Ms. Aulin’s performance here is not the result of an astute bit of typecasting rather than an astoundingly brilliant bit of acting. I’ll leave others to form their own opinions, but will note that playing dumb and being dumb are two different things.

Astonishingly, Ms. Aulin’s work in Candy was nominated for the Golden Globe for 1968’s Most Promising Female Newcomer, the very category which Pia Zadora would infamously win in 1982. Ms. Aulin’s competition that year included Sondra Locke and Jacqueline Bisset. The winner was Olivia Hussey, for her titular performance in Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet.

Ms. Aulin’s career (sadly) peaked with her role in Candy. Two years later she appeared in a couple of other films, one the Gene Wilder farce Start the Revolution Without Me, the other an Italian production intriguingly titled Microscopic Liquid Subway to Oblivion. Whether her role is the latter was autobiographical remains unknown. After this followed a desultory array of starring roles in various European features before she retired from the screen in 1973, at the ripe old age of twenty-five.

John Astin, an actor whose technique defines the term ‘broad,’ supplies not one but two of his patented over-the-top portrayals here. Outside of The Addams Family, I’ve seldom found his burlesque style to be especially funny, and Candy unsurprisingly fails to be the exception to that rule. He also has the distinction of being awarded the film’s creepiest, least funny sequence, which considering what Richard Burton does is quite a feat.

Richard Burton is well cast as McPhisto, his booming voice perfect for a poet who obscures the poorness of his work via portentous readings. Unfortunately, Burton gives director Marquand exactly the performance that was presumably requested of him and thus ends up looking rather foolish. What possessed him to take the part, considering the indignities inherent to it, remains a mystery. Even more bizarre is that after appearing in this train wreck, he would sign on to actually star in the quite similar and equally atrocious Bluebeard. Some people just can’t take a hint.

Ringo Starr, a man who couldn’t do a Spanish accent to save his life, gives the most technically inept ‘star’ performance here. He later went on to appear in the similarly abysmal cameo-thon Sextette. His appearance here is even more embarrassing, however, since the Beatles were still in existence when Candy was made. In other words, he hardly needed the work at this point. Moreover, like Burton, one must wonder at his inability to learn from his mistakes. Aside from Sextette, Starr the very year after Candy appeared in the similar counterculture bomb The Magic Christian. That this was yet another Terry Southern adaptation makes you wonder how many drugs Ringo did in the ’60s.

As opposed to Astin, Walter Matthau is a superb comic actor. As opposed to Burton, he’s generally a precise one. (Which, actually, is why he’s a superb comic actor.) As opposed to Starr, he’s…well, an actor. Matthau also has the advantage of having his cameo follow Burton’s, which mean that it is bound to be less embarrassing in comparison. Even though he’s playing a paranoid warmonger who proves to be more or less impotent — shades of Bluebeard — at least he doesn’t end up licking a puddle of booze off a glass sheet or shagging a manikin. On the other hand, the actor does give himself over to the film’s tendency towards broad schtick, which hardly helps his performance. Altogether, a mildly embarrassing role for him, rather than a truly horrific one. Points must also be awarded for the fact that he avoided roles in similar movies, which cannot be said of many of his co-stars.

James Coburn acquits himself about as well as can be expected. His bit as Dr. Krankeit is, for all its blood and gore, more toothless than anything else. If it provides even less of a coherent satiric point than some of the other cameos, at least he walks out of the movie more or less personally unscathed. This despite the fact that, to his own general misfortune, he hangs around the picture a good deal longer than many of his compatriots.

John Huston remains one of the great American film directors. He also eventually became a pretty good character actor, as he proved in Chinatown. Even so, he apparently took on acting jobs for a quick buck and thus appeared in more than his share of crappy movies. That he escapes forcing his hoary attentions on Our Heroine works to his advantage, although he rather loses points for going on to appear in the equally tasteless and catastrophic Myra Breckinridge. All this, mind you, while still directing films like The Man Who Would Be King. Clint Eastwood paid homage to Huston the director by playing him in the roman á clef Black Hunter, White Heart.

Marlon Brando was in a major career slump at the time, although still considered a big star. This is indicated by him getting the picture’s final cameo appearance. Needless to say, Candy probably isn’t one of the films he wishes to be remembered for. Brando already had questionable taste in playing comically exaggerated ethnics, having portrayed in notoriously awful fashion a Japanese guy in 1956’s Teahouse of the August Moon. One can perhaps – possibly – see a Peter Sellers or Alec Guinness pulling off his role here. Brando, on the other hand, is just embarrassing.

Oh, and the rather forgettable tune that accompanies the end credits is provided The Byrds. And the f/x sequences that bookend the film are the work of Douglas Trumbull. C’mon, lads, there’s plenty of blame to spread around.

Finally, and it brings me no joy to say this, but the screenplay for Candy was written by Buck Henry, a year after co-writing The Graduate. (!) Mr. Henry also provided the script for the quite amusing What’s Up, Doc? On the other hand, he wrote the screenplay for the moronic eco-thriller The Day of the Dolphin, as well as a second Barbra Streisand picture, Owl and the Pussycat. Meanwhile, his penchant for bloated satire continued with the screenplay for the love-it-or-hate-it adaptation of Joseph Heller’s anti-war novel Catch 22. Henry would do much better as the co-creator, with Mel Brookes, of TV’s Get Smart, as well as with his work as a comic actor.

Candy, commercially available for the first time, is out on a DVD including the theatrical trailer, which itself is rather poor. Also included is a still gallery, with Ms. Aulin looking typically vacuous in each shot, some rather comprehensive talent bios — Burton’s is the same from the Bluebeard DVD! — and a couple of radio spots for the film. Simultaneously released with the DVD was a VHS edition of the movie, although what, if any, extras are included on the tape I don’t know.

  • Sugarbaby

    Hi! Long-time Jabootu lurker here, first time commenter!

    Just had to say how much I enjoy the reviews, Ken, and I *had* to mention how very much Brando looks like Johnny Depp in the screenshot you posted! Holy crap! Especially with the long, stringy hair and thick, black eye makeup — it’s Jack Sparrow (Captain!) Positively uncanny…

  • The name of Burton’s character: McPhisto seems like a lame reference to Mephistopheles, the name of the Satan used in the Faust legend. Make of that what you will.

  • No doubt, and in fact Burton played Faust in a typically awful movie a bit down the line.

  • eddie

    did john candy at some time own a house & have horses in ham, ont. possibly binbrook ont. on trinity church rd. if not who knows where it was?? please send info to …