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Once Is Not Enough (DVD Review)

11 Oct, 2010 By: Mike Clark

$24.95 DVD
Rated ‘R.’
Stars Kirk Douglas, Deborah Raffin, Alexis Smith, David Janssen.

Let’s all go to the Hamptons and take Kirk Douglas along.

This would at least seem to be a sub-theme of this Panavision twist on the “Daddy’s Little Girl” syndrome — a follow-up to the comparably campy movie versions of Susann’s Valley of the Dolls and The Love Machine released nine months after the author’s 1974 death. In the process, it finds an atypical (though not career-unique) milieu for its male lead — who, as a male-boomer favorite, had previously shown budding “guys” that might was right in action dramas like The Indian Fighter and The Vikings.

But in this case, Douglas plays a movie producer who apparently mangled the most heartfelt book of a boozy novelist (David Janssen) — yet one who also has enjoyed success, albeit in past tense. The movie is very coy about spelling out what it implies in every frame: that Douglas and his 20-ish daughter (Deborah Raffin) have a repressed thing for each other — all against a backdrop of Henry Mancini strings. Say it ain’t so, Spartacus.

So let’s see if we can sort this out. Playing a character named January when this was considered weird enough for the script to include a line about it, Raffin has just endured a long, arduous recovery from an accident that could have left her physically handicapped for life (for all it’s developed, this comes off as a gratuitous plot point). Papa Kirk, strapped, then becomes the latest husband of the world’s fifth richest woman (Alexis Smith), who is secretly — under the guise of leaving her posh digs for backgammon games — having an affair with a reclusive actress (Melina Mercouri), complete with a fruit bowl near the bed.

Mercouri is in turn also half-heartedly seeing Smith’s playboy cousin (George Hamilton, tan intact), who deflowers Raffin in the coolest apartment you’ll ever see without a wall-screen TV. Raffin, though, has eyes for her father and for father-substitute Janssen, who regularly “puts it away” the way Norman Mailer once did. Barely hanging around for runs with Raffin on the beach is a smitten astronaut (Gary Conway, two years after the actor posed for Playgirl). The character’s former profession comes as a surprise because Conway sports a very un-astronaut-like haircut (hell, the tip would be $1,200) that no moon creature has ever seen.

For a while, the movie is mild and silly fun until the final quarter seriously runs out of gas (perhaps anticipating a plane crash that becomes a key plot point with much adequate dramatic preparation). With Chinatown to his credit the year before and Scarface later, Once cinematographer John Alonzo was an expert at putting a lush veneer on the sordid; the film’s glossy look rates an excellent transfer from Olive Films in another of its “go’s” at a vintage title from the Paramount catalog.

And speaking of gloss, there’s also Brenda Vaccaro’s ticklish-enough performance as a Raffin friend who ascends to the editorship of something called Gloss magazine by sleeping with every significant New York figure of the day this side of Ed Koch. Vaccaro won a Golden Globe and got an Oscar nomination here, which seems a little much. But she does have a memorable line here about using her mouth like fingers and fingers like a mouth — not something you expect to hear from screenwriter Julius J. Epstein, one of the Epstein brothers who co-wrote Casablanca. (“We will always have  … my fingers.”)

For subtext — a fancy word to use for trash like this — the movie completes a trilogy of sorts in its casting of Douglas (pushing 60 but super-trim here) as a movie producer; he previously played the same in 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful and 1962’s Two Weeks in Another Town, both directed by Vincente Minnelli and both better movies. It’s also kind of eerie seeing Janssen playing someone characterized as being prone to abuse of booze and tobacco, given that both vices were said to have been real-life factors in the actor’s fatal coronary just five years later at 48.

The director was Guy Green — an Oscar-winning cinematographer for David Lean’s Great Expectations, who, like Rudolph Mate a little before him and Ernest Dickerson later, elected to abandon a career shooting other people’s great movies to flounder in ephemera that was at least all his own. Trying to come up with a career-representative movie to feature in a parenthetical next to his name on the DVD box art, no one thought to highlight A Patch of Blue, still a very affecting movie of its tear-jerking ilk and with an Oscar-winning performance by Shelley Winters. Instead, someone affixed 55 Days at Peking, which will come as a surprise to Nicholas Ray cultists, given that it was Ray’s last credited Hollywood feature (though Green apparently did some mop-up work).

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