The Sex Manifesto for the Free Love Generation
—The Advertising Tagline for The Harrad Experiment.
Tolstoy wrote that happy families are all alike, while unhappy families are miserable in each their own way. Movies, from a certain angle, function the same way. Good movies, by definition, seem timeless, just as the plays of Shakespeare are still enlightening audiences five hundred years after they were written. A good movie from the 1930s (say, All Quiet on the Western Front) can say more to the viewer than a bad movie made just a few years ago (see Batman & Robin).
Meanwhile, many Bad Movies have that delicious quality of having been so cutting edge, that they started dating before they were even released to theaters. A classic example is the Village People movie, Can’t Stop the Music, a disco flick that came out what seemed mere days after the disco craze died. While not every Bad Movie dated quite that quickly, they do tend to scream, “Hey, I was made in the 1950s!”
Perhaps the greatest era for heavily and laughably dated flicks would be the groovy days of the late ’60s/early ’70s. This is when films were made to be ‘relevant’ (always a bad sign). They championed the groovy politics of the young generation and, of course (I mean, we’re talking Hollywood here), the glories of the sexual revolution. Beautiful young people who were doing drugs, engaging in Free Love, and Fighting the Establishment for the Rights of the People! Dude!
Cut to the future. By which I mean now. The Baby Boomers are the establishment. The oppressed ‘People’ twice elected the ‘warmongering’ Ronald Reagan, a man who represented all that the Love Generation stood against (i.e., being adults). Drugs are viewed with suspicion, especially now that it’s the children of the ’60s Generation who are doing them. And rampant STDs have rather diminished the ‘promise’ of those days. We’ve also learned the hard way that for most people there’s no such thing as a ‘free’ love. (Actually, people already knew this. Like much else, however, it was declared a bourgeois falsehood by the ‘hip’ set. So then we had to learn it all over again.)
But let us revisit those Golden Days of Yesteryear. These were the days when chowder-headed doofi convinced themselves that, not only was Hedonism the way to go, but that adopting it somehow made them morally superior to their parents. You know, the ones who survived the Depression and defeated Nazism and were paying their way through college (the very colleges, strangely, that were teaching those kids about what jerks their parents were).
After Easy Rider showed that there were fortunes to be made with low budgeted ‘anti-establishment’ films, Hollywood studios began cranking them out. Of course, despite Hollywood fancying itself to be a bastion of the Arts, the progressive heart of an otherwise reactionary and unsophisticated nation, Hollywood remains, in fact, an industry town.
As remains true today, however, Hollywood failed to perceive the irony of a multi-billion dollar industry trying to earn big money by catering to the baby boomers’ ‘revolutionary’ vibe. Why, Hollywood isn’t like those other fat cat industries, like Big Oil or Fast Food Companies! No, man! We’re like, making Art, not widgets! We dig the revolution, baby! Power to the People!!
Unsurprisingly, though, the corporate mentality behind many of these flicks was apparent even to stoned hippie types. Only a few films, such as Tom Laughlin’s Billy Jack, managed to rake in the kind of huge dollars that Easy Rider rode off with. There were, however, enough morons and stoners out there to make a second tier of such fare reasonably profitable. Take The Harrad Experiment (Please! Rimshot). Astoundingly, this turkey actually produced a sequel, A Harrad Summer. If anyone knows where I can find a copy of this later epic, please let me know.
We open with an iron gate swinging open by itself, as if to say to the audience, ‘enter.’ (And, presumably, abandon all hope.) It turns out, though, that it’s really opening for a young woman. The awed look on her face, as well as her suitcases and unsuitably heavy coat, all, uh, subtly indicate that she’s entering the world of higher education for the first time.
In a, er, brilliant artistic flourish, she turns around before entering, seemingly looking straight out at us. It’s as if she’s saying, ‘yes, my friends, come along with me on a journey to self-awareness.’ After all, misery loves company. However, a camera cut shows us that she’s looking at a plaque that reads “Harrad College.” It’s a good thing she checked first. Nothing’s more embarrassing than attending classes for a couple of semesters, only to find out that you’ve been matriculating at, say, Yale by mistake. She enters the grounds, the gate closing behind her.
The Embarrassed Actor-ometer starts rapidly clicking away, as the names of veteran thespians like James Whitmore (the ‘giant ant’ classic Them!) and Tippi Hedren (Hitchcock’s The Birds) start appearing in the credits. But the best is yet to come, for it turns out that this film is an early star turn for none other than ’80s TV icon Don “Miami Vice” Johnson. Boy, nothing’s better than a film that manages to humiliate name actors at both the beginning and end of their careers. As a side note, Hedren is the mother of Melanie Griffith, who supposedly is in this somewhere as an extra. This is where she and Don met, prior to getting hitched for the first time. (Not exactly a favorable omen, one might think.)
Our heroine, Sheila, enters a dorm building. She then fumbles around with a map, trying to ascertain her room assignment. Meanwhile, a very ’70s pop tune starts playing, and a Helen Reddy manquÃ© begins to croon. “I walk an unfamiliar road this morniiiiiiing,” she warbles. Get it? The lyrics are acting as a metaphor for the, er, action appearing on screen. Neat, huh?
Sheila finds her room and unfortunately removes her coat, revealing a yucky little beige number that ends about a quarter inch below her crotch. This outfit somehow comes off as both nebbishy and sleazy at the same time. Still, given when this film was produced, I sure that there are far greater fashion atrocities to come.
The continuing credits, to our horror, foretell that we will be ‘treated’ to an appearance by a real life ‘improv group,’ The Ace Trucking Company. Such appearances were another fixture of ‘with it’ ’70s counterculture flicks (Billy Jack, again). However, at least we get to embarrass another minor celebrity, as the name of Fred Willard appears as a member.
Sheila immediately leaves her dorm and begins to wander through the surrounding forested area. I guess that she’s, like, you know, communing with Nature, dude. Although, personally, I prefer to wear pants or something when traipsing though bushes and high grasses, rather than an Ally McBeal-esque mini skirt and high heeled shoes. But that’s, like, my own middle class hang-ups, man.
The credits continue, including the song credits. The Helen Reddy wannabe proves to be the world famous Lori Leiberman. (Well, duh. Who else would it be?) To the general discontent of the viewing public, we note that she’s given ‘credit’ for singing two songs. Horribly, this indicates that another tune’s lurking out there somewhere, like knowing that there’s a poisonous snake hiding in a hayfield you’re walking through.
Then, in a truly sadistic bit, another song credit appears for a tune called, “It’s Not Over.” Coming only three minutes into the movie, this seems a needlessly cruel reminder that there’s another ninety minutes left. And that’s not all. To our absolute horror, we see that this tune will be ‘performed’ by none other than Don Johnson himself. I guess singing sensation David Soul wasn’t available.
Ok, you’re going to think that I made this next bit up. But I swear, it happens. And furthermore, its presentation is utterly, completely non-ironic. Sheila wanders around the foliage, grinning in awe. It’s like she was raised on the desert world of Arrakis and has never seen plants before. Then, and I swear that this really happens, she approaches a tree and, yes, hugs it!! Egad, the woman’s a walking clichÃ©! Perhaps she’ll literally kiss someone’s ass later on, or drive some slaves around.
We cut to the house of the eminent Philip (Whitmore), who we know is either an academic or a scientist, because he’s smoking a pipe. (Yes, children, smoking was once allowed in public.) The camera pulls back and we see that he’s giving a welcoming speech to a group of students. Being the ’70s, long bad hair abounds, especially on the guys. After introducing his foxy wife Margaret (Hedren), he lays down some expository dialog so that we know what we’re in store for here. After a few minutes of this, the truth of the statement ‘ignorance is bliss’ crashes upon us as never before.
First he talks about how the roommates were paired off (we see Sheila looking obviously nervous when the subject is raised, a none too subtle flag that something is up). Weirdly, all the roommates, as chosen by the college, are boy/girl. Philip reveals that, for the present anyway, they’ll have to stay with the partner they’ve been assigned.
“In technical language,” he expounds, “it would be called a controlled group experiment in pre-marital relationships.” In non-technical language, it turns out that this is a movie about students attending Sex College. (Actually, I can think of some other non-technical language that would be even more appropriate, but this is a ‘family’ site.)
Yep, that’s right. Philip is a Professor of Sexology, baby, and all the earnest young students are here to engage in groovy, yet rigorously scientific, humping. In order to forge a brave new world of consequence free sex, youngsters bereft of the silly hang-ups of their elders are here to learn the lessons of Eros. Now I think you understand why all the assigned roommates are male/female. (Despite being a with it, anti-establishment, non-judgmental film, the subject of homosexuality is utterly avoided.)
Still, though, don’t misunderstand what’s happening here. It’s all for Science! To increase Man’s knowledge and general grooviness. I have a couple of questions, though. First, are these guys’ parents paying for this? And what kind of jobs do they think this will get them?
Anyway, this ‘experiment’ will last a year (!) and the students are pretty much required to do the deed. Oddly, some of them (like Sheila, unsurprisingly) look a little nervous when informed of this. This seems strange for two reasons. 1) They’re, you know, college students. 2) They enrolled in SEX COLLEGE!! HEL–LO!!!
And again, as stupid as all this sounds, let me assure you that the film is totally serious about all this, not just the sex, but about the high intellectual purpose of it all. In any case, I presume that when the students graduate from Harrad, they all get to go on to Beer College.
It’s like the film was made by (or for) Bill Clinton: Everyone gets laid all the time, but it’s for a higher good. This impression is reinforced when, just to blow the mind of any ‘squares’ who might be out there, Philips explains that fidelity and marital monogamy are old-fogy ideas that are out of date in our Brave New World. Frankly, other than talk show host, I think that the best post-President job for Clinton would be starring as Philip in a remake of this flick. Or how about a TV series?! You know, on HBO!! (If you know what I’m getting at.) I mean, can’t you see him joking with the students to put them at ease, then biting his lower lip to show them all how serious the whole ‘sex’ mission is?
Philip proceeds with his long, boring spiel. Finally, a relevant point arises. The students will be allowed to change their ‘roommates,’ but not for a month, and only once a month after that. This rule is describes as “inflexible.” Of course, that means up to twelve different partners throughout the year, which hardly seems all that stringent.
Margaret then takes over. She promises to answer a question that she knows they’ve all been asking: “Why such a small class?” (This is the question that they’re all wondering about?!) And with seemingly a dozen to fifteen couples, the class doesn’t really seem especially small. Anyway, it’s because this is the first year of the ‘experiment,’ and they thought a smaller class would be more manageable. Wow, it all makes sense when you think about it.
They ask if there are any questions. There’s only one. A student asks, “When do we eat?” Comedy! (That’s the only question?) And this brings up a subject I’d like to examine. The asker of said ‘humorous’ query is a nerdy type with pimply skin, clunky black glasses and a bad white guy’s afro (well, it is the seventies.) Yet his ‘roommate,’ (who, remember, was assigned this loser) is already dutifully hanging all over him. And, oddly, while a couple of the guys are of less than Adonis status, all the chicks are pretty hot. Boy, this flick must be the number-one, all time rental champ in Nerdsylvania.
After dismissing the students, Philip and Margaret retire to their study. Philip is a little worried. It turns out that a young woman almost made it through their winnowing process, who “ten minutes later would have been yelling rape!” Philip is worried that another of her ilk might have made it through. (In case you were wondering, this film was made before the phrase ‘sexual harassment’ had entered the lexicon).
Margaret thinks he’s worrying too much, but Philips tells her of the mass opposition at the last board meeting (evidently, not enough, though). Why, Philip was even being accused of being a ‘sex fiend,’ and of wanting to corrupt students. Gee, where ever did they get that idea? The only reason they got funded is because of the college President, who gave a speech that was “pure Daniel Webster” (!!). (Hey, what’s that spinning sound I hear?)
Cut to the student luncheon. Philip and Margaret are seated in a little alcove. Sheila comes in, asking whether they’ve heard from her roommate, who’s yet to make his appearance. They assure her that he’s probably just late. After all, they point out, it’s unlikely that a guy would skip this particular class.
That night, we see a student, Harry, entering his dorm room. To our delight, Harry proves to be played by ‘B. Kirby, Jr.,’ better known today as Bruno Kirby. (It certainly wouldn’t be too hard to believe that this film is why he changed his screen name.) Kirby has starred in such films as When Harry met Sallyâ€¦ and City Slickers. Harry’s entrance is accompanied by very ’70s wak-a-chika music.
Inside, he’s embarrassed to see Beth, his assigned partner, standing nude in the bathroom. To make sure we get that this is ‘funny,’ this revelation is accompanied by horns tooting a comical ba-ba-ba-ba, bah bah! So Harry (get ready for comedy!) sneaks back to the door, and pretends to speak to someone in a very loud voice. This is intended to alert Beth, a rather unrealistically hot blonde, to his presence, so that she can get dressed.
Harry, it turns out, is a bit of a nerd. He’s spectacularly awkward over the whole, you know, sex thing. Beth, meanwhile, takes it all in stride. I think that this is to reassure the audience that the women aren’t being exploited by the program. Why, it’s the guys who are nervous, not the chicks! Beth drops her towel, flashing a little ‘T’ to go with the ‘A’ she displayed earlier. Hey, how come only attractive people flash skin here? Isn’t that a little, I don’t know, hypocritical?
That same night, we see a car pulling up to Jack’s Pantry, a greasy spoon that serves as a local hang-out for Harrad students. Inside the diner, we get another odd cameo appearance, this one featuring Ted Cassidy (!). Cassidy is best known for playing ‘Lurch’ on the old Addams Family TV show. Why is he here? Well, it so happens that Ted co-wrote this movie. Hey, Ted! I wouldn’t sell the ol’ butler suit quite yet.
The driver of the car turns out to be none other than Don Johnson, here playing ‘Stanley.’ Stanley enters the eatery, looking for directions to Harrad. We note that he’s stylishly decked out in a brown leather jacket and one of those oversized caps that everyone wears in road show productions of Oliver! Along with directions, though, he also gets some winking insinuations about the college from Jack, the proprietor. It turns out that the local yokels believe (*gasp*) that the program just involves a bunch of kids having a lot of sex! (Gee, where’d they get that idea?) Don’t they understand the deep sociological import of these studies? Ah, but forward thinkers are always mocked by their less visionary contemporaries. Stanley tosses an emasculating remark at Jack as he leaves, but Jack (of course) fails to get it.
Cut back to the College. Harry is shown returning to his room, still obviously trying to avoid actually, you know, having sex with the alluring Beth. ‘Comically,’ he has returned with cigars, the only excuse he could think of for leaving their room so late at night. However (Ha, ha!! This is so rich!!), when he lights a stogie up, he starts coughing. Because he doesn’t really smoke cigars! Get it?! Man, my sides are splitting!
Harry is, not too surprisingly, a little bit intimidated at being paired off with the gorgeous Beth. However, girls (of course) don’t really care about stuff like looks, and Beth assures him that she’ll be glad to have sex with him. She just wants to know the real him, no matter no nerdy he proves to be. (I’m telling you, if you showed this flick at, say, a Star Trek convention, you’d have heads just exploding all over the place.)
Harry finally walks over to Beth’s bed (in a truly odd touch, the students are each provided with single beds, separated by a nightstand). To a swell of romantic music (I swear!), Harry heroically starts removing his pants. Luckily, this is interrupted by the appearance of the late arriving Stanley, who barges into their room by mistake. Stanley seems a little disappointed to learn that Beth isn’t Sheila (who is, of course, his assigned partner). When Harry informs him that a closed door usually means that something private is happening, Stanley wryly notes that, “It’d be a lot easier if you took your pants off!” This ‘quip’ is accented by ‘comedy’ music. This alerts the audience that the remark is funny. Stanley then leaves the room, having presumably ruined any chance of Harry getting an erection for the rest of the year.
Stanley eventually locates his room, finding Sheila wearing a floor length nightgown. They make a little awkward small talk, but it’s obvious that the studly Stanley is a little put off that his partner is the mousy Sheila. Being a guy, of course, he fails to nurture his insecure partner, as Beth has with her’s. Instead he enters the shower. (Equal opportunity nude butt shot, ladies!) Sheila mentions that there’s a nude yoga class scheduled at 7:30 the next morning. Why, that’s disgusting! Who ever heard of a college scheduling classes before noon?! Stanley reenters the room. (Wow! Full frontal, ladies! Yep, this was made in the ’70s, alright.) The embarrassed Sheila sits down to work on a letter, while Stanley climbs into bed. Claiming exhaustion, Stanley goes to sleep.
In the morning, Sheila and Stanley walk to class with Wilson and Barbara. Wilson is an ersatz intellectual type, a stocky pompous fellow sporting a truly bad mustache. He is expressing his discomfort at the nudity requirement for their yoga class. Stanley, who of course is rather buff, mocks his insecurity. Wilson is played as a bit of a doofus, although his partner is, like all the women, rather foxy. (I know that Sheila is supposed to be plain, but she’s ‘movie’ plain, if you know what I mean.)
Next we witness an image that could only have come from the ’70s, especially given the thorough seriousness with which it’s presented. Out in a field, all the students are sitting in a circle, totally naked and doing yoga. That there was a time when otherwise intelligent people believed that such ridiculous shenanigans held the potential to improve all of Human consciousness remains utterly stupefying. This scene goes on for a bit. This provides the audience with a good gander at the chestal assets of many of the female students, along with a couple of wiener shots for the distaff viewer. It also shows us the first signs of real dissension among the students. Stanley, for instance, has seated himself next to Beth, and they begin flirting. Harry, of course, is less than pleased by this development.
OK, l’m sure that the next bit would make a lot more sense if we were all stoned, but we’re not (I’m assuming). You’re just going to have to take my word that this next part really happens. I swear, it’s actually in the film. The Moderator dude, also sans clothing, of course, joins the circle. Everybody holds hands, and each naked person, in sequence, whips their head to the left and tells the next person over, “Zoom!” However, the Moderator informs everybody that they must strive to “connect” with the person that they’re, uh, zoom-ing. Otherwise, I guess, the whole procedure is just silly.
Next we see Margaret teaching a ‘Human Development’ class (as if anyone in this film was qualified to teach on that subject.) We learn, for instance, that the Polynesian word for ‘marriage’ means, ‘to try.’ Yeah, that’s rocking my world, alright. Margaret’s main point seems to be that the very idea of monogamous marriage is outdated in this groovy new age. Sheila, being the character that we’re supposed to identify with (and also learn along with), objects that marriage can work. Margaret shrugs this off as a dubious proposition at best. “Marriage,” she expounds, “means two people sharing only their loneliness together.” Ultimately, the big problem is that marriage can lead to (*gasp!*) repression. Like, you know, if you want to sleep with someone, and can’t, because you’re not supposed too when you’re married.
Marriage leads to possessiveness and jealously, we are informed. These are ‘archaic’ emotions, like hate. (So feeling ‘possessive’ about your husband or wife is tantamount to being hateful.) Her students, however, assure Margaret that she has nothing to fear on their regard. If they weren’t liberated of such outmoded notions, they wouldn’t be fearlessly exploring what it’s like to have sex with a lot of other people. Philip and Margaret, however, remain unsure of their students’ intellectual purity. So they employ ‘improvisational technique’ to run a class exercise. Stanley, Sheila, Harry and Beth will be the subjects. To make room, Philip and Stanley grab a table and move it out of the room. When they return, Philip explains the scenario that they’re to act out.
They’re to remain in their arranged couples, and pretend that they’re attending a dance. Taking Harry and Sheila aside, Philip tells them that they’re to ‘dance’ together, and to ignore him when he ‘ends’ the exercise, as if they’ve become “turned on” by one another. The idea is to see how their real partners react to this.
Philip reunites the couples, but Stanley interrupts him before the exercise starts. He’d prefer to be paired with Beth, he reveals, and believes that Harry and Sheila should be a couple themselves. When Harry objects, Stanley drops the idea, but Harry is pissed that he even suggested it and demands an explanation. Beth tells Stanley to go ahead, and Stanley discloses that Beth has decided that she’d rather have Stanley as her ‘roommate.’ (Assigned lover, whatever.) Harry, of course, feels somewhat ill-used by this revelation. He feels that Beth never even gave him a chance, and now she’s splitting to be with stud boy.
OK, I’m sure we’ve all figured out where this is going. Why, it turns out that this is the exercise. Philip set it up with Stanley when they carried the table out. Beth never stated a preference for Stanley, it was only pretend, in order to see what Harry and Sheila’s reactions would be. They, naturally, displayed jealousy and hurt feelings. This proves (*yawn*) that the students aren’t as free of ‘archaic’ feelings as they maintained. It also proves that Philip is a sadistic bastard.
Now, I have (as you might well imagine) some problems with all this. I guess the idea is that if one partner decides to trade in for another, the leavee should just accept it in good spirits and move on. The problem is that this utterly defies human nature. Besides, in real life we’re not all paired off, and if our lover leaves us, we don’t just automatically get another.
And how is the trading supposed to work, anyway? What if Beth does decide to move in with Stanley, but Harry doesn’t want Sheila, or vice versa. What if both women want to go with Stanley, and Harry is frozen out completely. (Let’s not even get into the possibility that Beth and Sheila might decide to get together.) I guess that idea is that you’re not supposed to prefer one person to another, to find one person attractive over another. As long as you have someone to share your bed with that night, that should fulfill your needs. But does this mean that Stanley and Beth, as attractive members of their respective genders, are obligated to share their stuff around? Because let’s be frank. More people are going to want to be with them than with Harry or Sheila.
After all, physical attractiveness is a form of capitol. The more you have of it, the more options you have on what to ‘spend’ it on. What if they don’t want to be available to everyone? I know the idea is that, once they get past ideas of ‘ownership,’ they’ll have no problem doing so. But does anyone really believe that this would work? What about our need to be special, to be the most important person in another person’s life? Some apparently consider this a trait that can be sloughed off, but the actions of real people invariably thwart abstract theorizing.
Back to the dorm. Stanley starts moving his stuff in, and Sheila lends him a hand. The first thing he sets up is an ultraviolet light over a geranium box. For you squares out there, this is an In Your Home Marijuana Kit. Anyway, what with all this nurturing and growing things around, it proves time for a little nookie. Sheila, however, isn’t ready, much to the impatience of Stanley. Seeing his frustration, Sheila gives in. How romantic! Oops, there I go again. Of course, the whole idea that sex should be ‘romantic’ is itself hopelessly bourgeois. What’s really happening here is that Sheila is being freed of her childish ‘hang-ups.’
The filmmakers helpfully turn up the ‘background’ lighting in the darkened room, so that we can get a good look at Sheila’s breasts. In fact, it’s really quite amazing how stark of a shadow a person can throw in a light-less room when the shades are down. Then, to our amazement (not), Sheila turns out to be a virgin. Stanley, finally ‘getting’ it that this is going to be a much bigger deal for her than he really wants to deal with, takes off.
Out in the woods, Harry is still moping and Beth is still trying to get him to stop moping. Apparently, he’s feeling somewhat pressured at being expected to just have sex with a totally hot and willing and improbably patient blonde. Again, one must wonder how such a bunch of sexual neurotics ended up here at Harrad. Horribly, they just keep on ‘rapping,’ culminating in an inane tale of how the little Beth once ran naked in the show. This finally leads to some sex.
Stanley drops by Wilson and Barbara’s. Walking in, he finds Barbara alone, sitting on her bed in her underwear (I mean, what else, right?). Actually, Barbara has a good reason for sitting on her bed in her underwear: She’s working on her stamp collection. Stanley just happens to also be a stamp, er, buff. Soon enough, stamp talk is soon being used as foreplay (this is ‘funny’) and Stanley and Barbara start to get it on.
Wilson comes in. As you’d imagine, he’s less than pleased. (And, as you’d further imagine, I’m less than interested.) Wilson decides that the situation is an affront to his honor, and pokes Stanley one. Stanley enters the washroom and washes a little blood off his face. I guess that that provided closure for everyone, or something, and Stanley takes his leave. The scene’s ‘punchline’ comes when Barbara swoons over Wilson’s manly action.
Stanley and Harry are seen walking around the grounds. They’re discussing Sheila’s, uh, lack of progress. Stanley plans to give her more time (what a sensitive dude!). He does, however, reveal some cynicism about the whole ‘Sex College’ experiment. Back in their room, Stanley moves his and Sheila’s beds together. Sheila sits near by, sketching an angel. Presumably, she draws unicorns in her other sketchbook. Stanley becomes angered by her lack of enthusiasm, and goes for a swim.
Unfortunately, if predictably, this proves to be a nude swim. Frankly, if I never see Don Johnson naked again, that’ll be alright with me. Actually, if I never see Don Johnson again, period, that’ll be alright too. Sheila shows up, strips, and joins him in the pool. They start sporting around like dolphins, until interrupted by the arrival of Harry and Beth. Then Sheila goes into modesty remission. Harry also notices the continuing attraction between Stanley and Beth.
The rest of the students file in. The ‘punchline’ (and this is a fairly appropriate phrase here, as the ‘jokes’ are literally painful) here is that Wilson finally overcomes his reluctance about exposing his (very modestly) fat body. To a drum-roll helpfully provided on the soundtrack, Wilson whips off his towel and jumps into the pool. Wow, it’s like watching a butterfly hatch from its cocoon.
Actually, just as even the ‘mousy’ women here are uniformly attractive, Wilson proves to have a stocky but muscular build, sporting at worst a bit of a pot belly. In any case, Wilson’s big step forward seems to provide some inspiration to Sheila. She swims out of her corner to Stanley, whereupon they join the group for some splashing and giggling and generally nauseating behavior.
Walking back to their rooms, our main foursome discuss everyone’s ‘progress.’ This is the scene where they reveal their fervid hopes that one day, perhaps the entire world can be as free as they are. You know, them as pioneers beating the path to a better future. Of course, it’s a little easy to laugh at the film in hindsight. But then, it must have been pretty easy to laugh at the film when it came out. It’s like one of those ’50s sci-fi movies, set in a futuristic 1982, where everyone’s name starts with ‘Z’ and they all use jetpacks to fly to work.
Stanley, however, is chaffing at all the rules (like, both of them). He gets everyone bickering a little (this film is much more accurately described as a ‘talkie’ than as a ‘motion’ picture). Stanley wonders about Philip’s motives, and broaches the subject of whether Margaret is allowed to change partners as well. Meanwhile, Harry and Beth express amazement when they learn that Sheila and Stanley haven’t done it yet. Beth, however, admits respect for the fact that Stanley is waiting for Sheila to be ready. Oh, yeah. He’s a regular Gandhi.
Back in their room, Stanley expresses his displeasure at Sheila revealing their little secret. They almost get to fighting, when Sheila exposes Stanley’s weakness: His inability to Love. (Oh, brother!!) After all, the experiment isn’t about sex! (Really! It isn’t!! I swear!) It’s about humans learning to love each other more purely, without artificial boundaries. Still, Sheila has her own problems to deal with. The whole point of this program is to prove that the way to find love is to sleep around, not to first find it and then give yourself physically.
Living up to his creed, we next find Stanley and Beth in a post-coital embrace. Stanley starts rambling about the reproductive patterns of alligators, leading into his observation that animals don’t worry about love when they mate. (Of course, when animals mate, it’s generally for, well, mating purposes.) Beth announces that she will inform Harry of their dalliance. Stanley, however, plans to hide it from Sheila, because she’s so delicate. Of course, you’d think Harry would bring it up, but no matter.
Stanley and Sheila go for a drive in his beaten-up old car. Stanley asks why she was willing to sleep with him the first day, when she didn’t really want to. Sheila replies that it would have been to keep him from running off. (Duh.) They pull into Jack’s Pantry. Inside, Jack is pulling a gag on a couple of customers. If they can get an egg to stand on end, they pay half price for lunch. If they can’t, it’s double.
Jack takes our couple’s order, and offers them the same ‘egg’ deal. Stanley accepts the challenge, as ‘comedy’ music helpfully (if futilely) plays in the background. Stanley lets Sheila in on his plan, then draws lines on the egg. Sheila takes the egg, and smacks it down just hard enough to flatten the end, leaving it standing. Ha, ha! Triumph is theirs!
Stanley leaves to go to the bathroom (said facilities are ‘comically’ differentiated as ‘pointers’ and ‘setters’). Sheila is soon accosted by Mr. Bowers, a middle aged bearded fat man wearing a cape (a cape?!). Having overheard that they’re from Harrad, the guy assumes that Sheila puts out for anybody. Pulling up a chair, this unsavory individual tries to put the make on her. Sheila asks him to leave, but he refuses.
Stanley comes out in time to hear the guy’s spiel. Since everybody knows that they’re teaching sex up at Harrad’s, it’d be hypocritical for her to turn him down. Upping the vulgarity quotient, Bowers assumes that she’s just holding out for a little cash. Stanley comes over, and pretends to be her, uh, manager. He tells the guy it’ll cost him his cape (his cape?!) and fifty bucks. Sheila, of course, is bewildered and somewhat freaked by Stanley’s behavior.
Bowers starts to drag her off, but they trick him, and Sheila and Stanley end up racing off in his car. A pissed-off Bowers drives after them for about a hundred yards before Stanley’s old beater stalls. Bowers jumps out, and is just about to grab them when Sheila tosses his cape (his cape?!) into his face. Stanley manages to get the car restarted, and they make their escape. Whew, that was close! (Close to putting me to sleep, that is.)
Back at their room, Sheila thanks Stanley because (get this!), “You could have left me there.” (!!) Sheila asks if they can “make love tonight,” apparently excited that he didn’t leave her to be raped by an old fat guy in a cape (a cape?!). Yeah, boy, if that doesn’t get them in the mood, nothing will! Stanley puts her off, thinking that she’s only feeling grateful. But they finally do it, much to the relief of the audience, who got rather tired of this sub-plot quite some time ago. Unfortunately, this doesn’t herald the end of the movie. We’ve still got another (ugh!) half hour to go.
We next see our playful lovers splashing around in their bathtub. Then they lay out on the grounds, studying. This leads to another idiotic conversation (collect ’em all!). This one revolves around meeting themselves as kids, so that they can re-learn all the wisdom that they’ve since forgotten. (Oh, brother!) Then she plucks a hair from his head, and they, with child-like wonder, examine, I mean really examine, their own hair for the first time. It’s all like, you know, wow!
Beth, meanwhile, is telling Harry that she slept with Stanley. Harry, of course, is hurt. Then Sheila runs up to ask them along on a picnic. Beth asks how she and Stanley are doing, and Sheila replies that the last weekend was the turning point. Harry is confused, thinking that Sheila means Stanley sleeping with Beth was the turning point, and that she has succeeded in throwing off her bourgeois possessiveness. (Sheila, of course, still knows nothing of the incident.) Harry decides that if Sheila can be that mature, then so can he.
On the picnic, Harry tries to discuss Sheila’s newfound enlightenment. Stanley, seeing a train wreck coming, attempts to change the subject. Sure enough, Harry complements Sheila on how well she handled the Stanley/Beth news. Sheila, finally getting what’s going on, turns out not to handle it as well has Harry had assumed. She runs off, all in tears. (Hey, get back here, you! If we’re stuck here, so are you!!)
Stanley hunts her down, finding her alone in the campus greenhouse. Stanley (who’s wearing a simply hideous white silk scarf tied around his neck, adorning an ugly red checked shirt) tries to apologize, but it’s too little too late. They argue for a while, then end up hashing out their feelings. Ahhhhhh!! TALK TALK TALK TALK TALK TALK TALK TALK TALK!!!! Man, this movie makes My Dinner with Andre look like Raiders of the Lost Ark. Just shut up, already!
Harry later tracks down Stanley, in order to apologize for spilling the beans. (TALK TALK TALK TALK TALK TALK.) Stanley tells him that it wasn’t his fault. Then he notes that the Ace Trucking Company is appearing at a local bar. (Hah! Forgot, didn’t you! Well, there’s no escape!) He invites Harry along for a couple of beers.
Cut to the ‘performance,’ and sure enough, there’s Fred Willard amongst the players. In a bold stroke, the Ace Trucking Company is doing a bit mocking Christians. Gee, what an original target, particularly for a bunch of hippies. Specifically, the routine involves a woman who before finding Christ led a slutty life. As she describes her former erotic adventures, her choir of four men start getting erections. Then they jump her. This is met with much laughter and applause for its ingenuity.
What’s really amazing is that these people aren’t pretending to be an improv group. They really were professionals, somehow making a living with material like this. There was actually a time, believe it or not, when audiences found this stuff funny. (Of course, now that I think of it, a majority of their audiences probably went to their shows totally stoned. So maybe it’s not so mysterious after all.)
Even more horribly, they come back out and explain that they will now perform, ugh, improvisational comedy. I mean, considering how poor the stuff that they actually sat down and wrote is, I can only imagine what their ‘improv’ stuff is like. Scratch that. I’d be luckier if I could ‘only imagine’ what their improv stuff is like. Instead, I’m going to actually find out, and the hard way.
A performer comes out and asks for a ‘pet peeve.’ A suggestion from the audience is ‘group marriages.’ (That’s a pet peeve? Where are they, Salt Lake City?) Recognizing that students from Harrad are in the audiences (man, this is one famous program), they ask for someone from the school to come up and help out with the sketch. A fellow student, Cynthia, is ‘volunteered’ by Stanley and Harry.
As Cynthia walks up to the stage, Willard tosses up a joke from off stage. First he ascertains that Harrad is the school where “the guys have girls for roommates.” This sets up his joke. “When I was in school, my roommate was a shot-putter,” he reveals. (OK, here comes the punchline!) “And a streetwalker!” (?) Everybody laughs. (?!!) Man, now that’s comedy!
After consulting for less than five seconds (literally), Cynthia joins the cast in their skit. Cynthia is dropping over from the college to check out a local group marriage. (Gee, how’d she narrow that list down?) She’s met at the door by a woman. Then the woman’s first husband comes in. He’s the ‘religious’ one. As soon as he mentions “The Lord,” everyone laughs. Ha! He’s taking God seriously! What a mook!
Then the second husband comes in. He’s real touchy-feely. He fulfils her emotional needs. (OK, do we see where this is going yet?) The third husband is the intellectual one. Cynthia is amazed. This woman’s emotional, spiritual and intellectual needs are covered. But what about your physical needs, Cynthia asks. Then a fourth husband comes in and grabs the wife hornily. And that’s it. That’s the conclusion of the bit. Why is it supposed to be funny? I haven’t a clue. Perhaps if I was high on reefer, I could figure it out better.
Back to Philip’s house, where he’s pondering how anyone could possibly find anything offensive in the concept of ‘adultery.’ I mean, how medieval. It turns out that Philip believes that ‘sharing your love,’ (his alternative term for adultery) isn’t only ‘possible,’ but indeed, and I quote, “necessary.” To try to keep someone’s love for yourself (Hmm, what do they call that? Oh, yeah! Marriage.) is in fact to imprison them.
Anyway, they’re all here (I mean, in the program at large) to figure out a practical way for group marriages to flourish. If this problem isn’t faced, “society will stagnate and decay.” When Sheila objects that she personally wouldn’t want to share her mate with another, Philips quietly and calmly cuts her to pieces as a selfish and consuming individual. Considering that Philip is viewed as an absolute authority figure, Sheila is in little position to defend herself. This is convenient for him, because his ‘arguments’ (actually, ‘declarations’ would be a better description) are not extremely sturdy in their construction. Wilson finally asks the obvious question. What about him and Margaret? Don’t they have the kind of old-fashioned marriage that Philip keeps dogmatically declaring to be literally unworkable? Well, Philips replies, one such ‘couple’ (themselves) isn’t scientifically valid (cop-out!), and, besides, he and Margaret represent “the past.” (Super-duper cop-out!)
First of all, there are millions of such couples in the country (they’re called married people). Second, what makes Philip so pompously sure that the emotional needs of future will be so different. Does he really view his own marriage in the horrible terms that he just used to describe the institution? Oddly, no one follows up on these points.
After class, Philip meets with Stanley and Sheila to complement a report they handed in. He also invites them to play badminton with him and Margaret that afternoon. (By the way, I really must mention the annoying manner in which Whitmore is constantly messing around with his ‘look, I’m an academic’ pipe. He’s always sucking on it, or chewing on it, or shifting it around in his mouth. Enough already!) They agree, but we can tell (boy, can we tell) that something is up with Stanley.
We cut to the game, which has oddly ‘action’ oriented music playing in the background, like we’re watching a car chase or something. Stanley is obviously interested in getting into Margaret’s pants, but we can’t tell if he’s only so interested because it represents a taboo or not. (Actually, this topic would potentially be interesting. By removing most sexual taboos for the students, it could be argued that the program has reduced the sheer excitement of sex. But, of course, nothing that undermines the ‘we should have a lot of sex with a lot of people’ concept is much explored here.)
Anyway, Stanley suggests that they ‘switch partners,’ and soon he and Margaret are playing against Philip and Sheila. Sometime later, Stanley sees Margaret strolling around the grounds. He intercepts her, and chitchats with her for a while before getting to the point. She’s ahead of him, though, and dismantles him by brutally dissecting his motives. Then she agrees to sleep with him anyway, but humiliates him when she suggests doing it out on the lawn, in the open. Stanley freaks out and folds.
Need I point out that this really makes no sense. After all, this is Harrad. Every one of the students is expected to sleep around with most of the other students (after the one month period). Everyone’s seen the others naked. They are all being taught to believe in ‘free love,’ and that any rules regarding sex are artificial and unhealthy sociological constructs.
So what would be the big deal about having sex out on the lawn on a nice sunny day? You’d think there’d be blankets spread (among other things) out all over the lawn, actually. Anyway, rather than ‘cleverly’ calling Stanley’s bluff, this scene instead makes him out to be a bit wimpy. I mean, come on, having sex out in the open is recommended in Cosmopolitan and Mademoiselle at least ten times a year. How radical can it be?
Stanley, totally faced, runs up into his room like a little girl. Meanwhile, Philip wonders whether Margaret wasn’t a little rough on poor Stanley. (!) Somehow, it turns out, Stanley’s actions have the potential to cause the program trouble with the College. (Why? I don’t know. Who cares?) So they must decide whether to expel Stanley from school, or risk the entire program. Margaret theorizes that Stanley provoked this confrontation for exactly that reason, to get himself kicked out rather than having to quit. (Apparently, we’re to believe that the emotional truths he’s learning about himself are too much for him to handle.)
Philip heads over to the dorm to talk things over with Stanley (TALK TALK TALK TALK TALK TALK TALK). As he enters the dorm, he finds Stanley coming down the stairs with his meager possessions. Philip informs him that he’s not going to expel him. If Stanley wants to run, he’ll have to face the fact that it’s his decision. Stanley runs past Philip and leaves the building. In this, he reminds one of most of the audience, who took similar action earlier during the picture.
Sheila wanders into their room and finds a note from Stanley. She starts crying. Then we cut to Jack’s Pantry, where Stanley has apparently asked Sheila to meet him. He sits drinking coffee, waiting for her to make an appearance. I guess the idea is that he asked her to leave the school with him. Sheila, however, just wanders the school grounds, thinking things over.
Later at the diner, Stanley is still waiting, finally realizing that Sheila may not show. Horribly, a bad song begins to play over the soundtrack. Especially horrible is that it’s being sung in the thin, reedy voice of Don Johnson himself. Stanley pays up and prepares to leave, alone. Jack tells him how lucky he is, all unattached and able to do whatever he wants. As the camera zooms in on the shattered Stanley, though, we can tell that he doesn’t feel so lucky. (Wow!)
Stanley climbs into his car and drives away. He runs back into the dorm, only to find his and Sheila’s room empty. He then trots down the hall and finds her in Beth and Harry’s room. Stanley tells them that he’s decided to stay. Sheila smiles and takes his hand, then (OK, I can’t believe I’m going to write this, but I’ve got no choice) they form a circle with Harry and Beth and do that ‘Zoom’ thing. (!!!) Then they all hug, happily. Ah, good times. I mean when films like this finally end, of course.