Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969)

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), directed by Paul Mazursky.

I remember the ads for this but never saw it before. I must be old enough now. I was expecting some sort of sex farce but it is better, more satirical than I expected. A great acting ensemble.

A couple attend a weeklong group therapy retreat that changes their lives. Being totally honest and uninhibited about feelings becomes their religion and they evangelize it to their friends; jarringly the opening scenes are done to selections from Handel's Messiah: the Hallelujah Chorus and "I Know My Redeemer Liveth".

Jealousy and monogamy are supposed to banished, which causes some distress to their best friends. I would have expected Robert Culp and Natalie Wood to be the more conventional couple, but no: Elliott Gould and Dyan Cannon are the squares trying to adjust to the new free love faith.

In fact it is an odd time for all of them. Presuming they are the same ages as their characters, each of the actors was born in the 1930s and are too young to be the Greatest Generation that worked in the Depression and fought WW2, but they are too old to be boomers. The culture quakes of the 1960s hit when they are already married, already semi-adults. In the end, after the supposed orgy scene shown on the posters (it never gets going) they revert to their natural squareness and it is right for them.

Our players:

The week-long retreat is supposed to be the Esalen Institute, which I know only from satires about it. The Human Potential Movement probably helped some people but the whole touchy-feely let-it-all-hang-out irritations wore out their welcome decades ago.

At the start when asked "Why are you here?" one woman replied "I want better orgasms", which was probably the most sensible thing heard that day.

Brief score by Quincy Jones. Photographed by the great Charles Lang, who filmed Natalie Wood in three other movies, including The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) when she was 9.

Available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time with two commentary tracks: