Saturday 26 September 2020

Movie Review: Sex And The Single Girl (1964)

A romantic comedy, Sex And The Single Girl draws inspiration from the unfolding rearrangement of gender roles to search for incongruous love and subversive laughs.

Bob Weston (Tony Curtis) is the star writer for trashy tabloid magazine STOP. For his next assignment he sets out to sully the reputation of celebrity author and psychologist Dr. Helen Gurley Brown (Natalie Wood). Just 23 years old, she gained fame for writing the bestseller Sex And The Single Girl, a must-read book empowering women to gain control of their careers and sexuality. Bob thinks she may be a virgin and actually knows nothing about relationships. 

Bob has a girlfriend Gretchen (Fran Jeffries) and frolics with his secretary Susan (Leslie Parrish), but he steals the persona of his next door neighbour Frank Broderick (Henry Fonda), a women's stockings salesperson always one argument away from divorcing his wife Sylvia (Lauren Bacall), and approaches Helen pretending to be in need of marital counselling. Soon Bob and Helen are really falling in love, jeopardizing his standing as the king of sleaze.

Helen Gurley Brown's 1962 book Sex And The Single Girl was one of the sparks that helped ignite the 1960s as the decade of women's liberation and new attitudes towards sex, and both her name and the book are borrowed to create a fictional romantic comedy. Joseph Hoffman wrote the bouncy script, and it's certainly a meandering effort featuring multiple mix-ups, trash journalism, pop psychology, and a battle of the sexes redrawn along new front lines. The numerous plot points are eventually all but abandoned in favour of good-natured farce.

None of it should really work, but in the hands of director Richard Quine and thanks to a wicked sense of humour willing to poke fun at all targets, Sex And The Single Girl somehow only gains momentum. The script never misses an opportunity to fire a sharp arrow, the popped balloons including the fields of psychology, gutter dwelling reporters, and penny-pinching corporate committees. On the margins Hoffman looks for laughs with an irreverent intervention by a waterfront hobo, a wacky trip to the zoo featuring role-reversal monkees, and an over-the-top representation of Broderick's stocking business. Plenty of references to Some Like It Hot confirm the film's heightened self-awareness.

A strong cast helps. Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood both exude confident sex appeal, and their duel sparkles. In supporting roles Henry Fonda and Lauren Bacall as Bob's bickering neighbours are both miscast, but anyway bring depth to the battling Brodericks. Fran Jeffries gets to sing a couple of sultry numbers, Leslie Parrish is the secretary on the prowl, and Mel Ferrer appears as Rudy, Helen's dance-loving psychiatrist colleague. 

The final 30 minutes of Sex And The Single Girl are dedicated to an epic multiple car chase, Hoffman and Quine steering the plot towards a massively irrelevant but ridiculously enjoyable high speed drive to the airport, a couple of taxi drivers and one motorcycle cop getting in on the bonkers action. All the characters are involved and somehow contrive to swap cars and partners, with some pretzels thrown in for good measure. The sequence is a marvellous cinematic achievement, and while Sex And The Single Girl may not really care to know where the sex revolution is going, it swerves all over the highway trying to avoid finding out. 

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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