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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Review: The Chapman Report



 
Somewhat based on the real-life Kinsey reports, Andrew Duggan plays the title doctor conducting research on the sexual behaviour of several mostly upper middle-class women. Efrem Zimbalist Jr plays one of his researchers, who despite strict guidelines that are meant to enforce anonymity, manages to get involved with one of the subjects. This would be Jane Fonda, a frigid young widow. Claire Bloom plays a nymphomaniac whose alcoholic tendencies seem to give her more than she bargained for when sleazebag musician Corey Allen turns up at her doorstep. Shelley Winters plays a bored housewife to loving but somewhat clueless Harold J. Stone, and is having an affair with married playboy theatre director Ray Danton. Then there’s the bubbly Glynis Johns, a wannabe artist of somewhat middle age, who becomes infatuated with beach bum and footballer Ty Hardin, and wants to sketch him. Meanwhile, her husband (John Dehner) never seems to notice her and at best patronises her. Henry Daniell turns up as a humourless doctor who opposes the study, and yet ironically it’s because he feels statistics and science tell you nothing about love.


This 1962 exploration into the sex lives of women is better and more mature than you’d expect from the period. Directed by George Cukor (“Gone With the Wind”, “My Fair Lady”, “The Philadelphia Story”, “Adam’s Rib”), it has dated a lot less than you might expect, though it wouldn’t be surprised if some people found it rather sexist or too melodramatic. It’s certainly a bit of a soap opera, but you’ve got to look at it within the context and era that it was made. I found it interesting, and mostly very well-acted at the very least by four of my favourite actresses (which helps).



Despite an odd hairdo and makeup ensemble (she looks Asian!), a young Jane Fonda is quite good in a difficult role (one of her first), and rather sexy. A lot of people seem to think she’s amateurish in this, but aside from a little ‘affectedness’, I think that’s crazy talk. Shelley Winters plays a typical character for her in this period of her character (whiny and neglected), and does it expertly, even though her story strand is easily the most predictable. Best of all are British actresses Claire Bloom (one of cinema’s most beautiful and underrated actresses) and Gladys Johns in choice parts. Bloom has a damn near impossible, slightly degrading (but purposely) role and gives a performance so strong I was shocked that she wasn’t nominated for an Oscar. It’s the kind of thing critics like to call ‘daring’. Johns has the film’s comic relief and is absolutely delightful as always, even if her material is tonally (and totally) different to the rest of the film. She too, probably deserved an Oscar nomination to be honest (and at around 40, looked damn fine in a swimsuit, I must say. I’ve never thought of her in that way before this, but wow).

The men aren’t so impressive (though I hear Cukor was rather ‘impressed’ with Mr. Hardin), aside from the always dry and humourless Henry Daniell and Harold J. Stone. Stone’s character is one I actually really felt sorry for, to be honest. He was a decent and loving, if inattentive husband, and it makes Winters the least likeable of all the women, really. Zimbalist is merely OK as the male lead, as was John Dehner as Johns’ oblivious and rather dim husband, but Ray Danton is incredibly wooden and Corey Allen gives a weirdo performance that I just couldn’t quite work out. The film is melodrama, but Allen was off-the-charts melodrama, almost 60s LSD freak-out stuff. And what’s the point of calling the film “The Chapman Report” if the title character, ably played by Andrew Duggan, gets barely any screen time? His function seems to get taken over by Zimbalist’s character. Weird.



It’s not a great film, and not always consistent, but it’s an interesting curio certainly, and far more successful than I expected it to be. The screenplay is by Wyatt Cooper, Gene Allen, Grant Stuart, and Don M. Mankiewicz (“Trial”, “I Want to Live!”), from an Irving Wallace novel (other novels of his turned into films include “The Prize” and Russ Meyer’s flop “The Seven Minutes”).

Rating: B-

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