It's always a bit sad when you remember a movie for so long, with such joy, and then finally when it comes out on DVD and you rush to view it, well, as Mr. Wolfe likes to say: "You can't go home again". I first saw this movie as a little boy, sneaking into the neighborhood theater. "Woman's Times Seven" was, after all one of those "foreign films" (though not really), and I was told that no self respecting all American boy should see it. So I was there the first day it opened. For a little boy, seeing Shirley Maclaine reading TS Elliot in the nude, or running around with heart-of-gold prostitutes was enough to proclaim this a masterpiece. For some strange reason this was a movie that didn't find its way onto regular TV, or even cable (or perhaps I just missed it), and only recently came out on DVD. So it remained as a great film in my mind all these years.
But then I just saw it again.
The problem is that six of the seven stories, watching them now as an "old man", just don't work. They are, more "shaggy puppy stories", than anything. Simple ideas (grieving widow being seduced in "eye shot" of her dead husband, scorned wife seeking revenge, pampered rich bitch, crazy UN translator, suicidal mistress, plain housewife trying to bring life back into her marriage, etc.) just fall apart after the first scene.
Sure, I remember Lex Barker as the ultimate writer cliché
two massive dogs at his side, ever lit pipe, writing sexy novels in his study wearing a smoking jacket, (and from then on wanted nothing more than to write novels myself!)
but basically so much of this film is forgettable, and the endings just sort of fizzle out. The first story, with Peter Sellers, the "family friend" escorting the beautiful grieving widow, walking right behind a horse-drawn Hearst along with a party of mourners, trying to seduce her while her dead husband's body is still warm, could have been wonderful
especially if they had allowed Sellers to do his own thing. But director De Sica (who plays a cameo in this story as one of the mourners) keeps it cold, and by the numbers. There is no motivation for what Maclaine decides to do at the end of this story. This seems to be a problem with the next five stories, their pay-offs are basically bankrupt.
Sure, even as a boy I got the joke that the photo of her lover in the story where she was a UN Translator having a "night" with two horny bureaucrats, was actually Marlon Brando, but when that one gag (which, by the way, they play into the ground) becomes the highlight of what should have been a "shocking" celebration of a possible "ménage a trios", then you have problems.
And when have you ever seen Alan Arkin complete wasted before?
So many of the endings have this kind of self-satisfied "shrug" to them. A sort of "oh well" sensibility that seems more cop-out than pseudo existentialism.
However, the reason I call this review "woman minus six", is that the movie is completely redeemed by the seventh and final story, called "Snow". A simple story, the most beautifully photographed in the streets of Paris, shows two best friends, Maclaine and Anita Ekberg on a shopping day, being pursued by what they believe to be a young smitten wannabe lover. In sweet simple scenes you follow the "suitor", (played with elegant grace by Michael Caine
and without one word of dialogue!) as he seems to pursue these two women. When they decide to split up after lunch to see which one he truly is after (although Ekberg does say: "Maybe he wants us both, he could be one of those moderns) Maclaine. to her joy, finds that he continues to follower her.
I won't spoil the ending, but this truly was a pure, finely crafted story, which says more about women, their needs, hopes, desires, fears and fantasy's, in fifteen minutes, than most movies do in two hours.
And finally Ortolani's theme which has been repeated through every story, also finally makes sense. Everything comes together in this last story. I'm sure there is no coincidence that it was placed last. They must have know it was the best. If only they had realized that, and thrown the other six out and started over
using "Snow" as their bar to try and rise above.