A minor sub-genre that’s uniquely Hollywood was the star-studded comedy extravaganza, where a minor plot hook dragged stars upon stars through various escapades and brought the whole gang together for one big sequence of organized chaos.
Why this small genre was thought of as viable probably stems from variety show films and musicals, but it all seemed to collide when MGM’s old concept of having ‘more stars than in the Heavens’ was applied to singular super-production.
In its most absurd form, the star-collage turned the tale of the Christ in George Stevens’ The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) into a cameo marathon, perhaps proving that having major stars pop up in small roles purely for gimmick ruined any serious dramatic moments. Maybe that’s why packing stars into a broad comedy film seemed more viable, although whether that helped or harmed Stanley Kramer’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) is still up in the air (except to ardent fans).
What’s assured is that bloated star studded super-productions with meandering running times don’t work if the guest roles aren’t dramatically functional (the few exceptions being the epic war film, such as The Great Escape, or The Longest Day), and yet throughout the sixties (and fleetingly in the seventies, via duds like Michael Winner’s Won-Ton-Ton The Dog That Saved Hollywood) producers still tried to make the combo work within the comedy genre. Charles K. Feldman held onto the rights of Casino Royale (1967) not to make a proper Bond film, but a Bond spoof while the franchise was in full swing, using five directors and multi-generational stars in a 2+ hour beast that’s an embarrassing aberration within Bondian lore and order.
Candy actually falls between a star-collage and a sixties counter-culture romp because major stars appear in thinly tied vignettes and misadventures designed to support a sexualized teen that’s supposed to appeal to the youth market, but the ploy failed to attract the desired multi-generational market, and flopped.
Anchor Bay’s DVD comes with minor publicity extras and some bio factoids, but it seems decades after the film’s release, no one wanted to talk about a big dud that involved some amazing talent.
The history of this celluloid circus show is fairly basic: Buck Henry (who also appears as a screaming mad mental patient) adapted Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg’s novel (itself loosely derived from Voltaire’s novel Candide) for the film’s Italo-French producers, with actor Christian Marquand making his second and last feature film effort as director. Primarily shot in Europe, the featured stars – many of them music and comedic icons, plus use of New York’s Living Theatre– were supported by perfectly fine European talent, including several stunning actresses better-known for their work in the sexploitation genre (which included gialli, horror, and spaghetti westerns).
Although the perception is that Ewa Aulin was dragged from obscurity to star as Candy Christian, Aulin, a former teen beauty queen and model, had done a few films prior to landing the starring role in Candy. Then still seventeen, Aulin had made waves a year earlier in two of the most intriguing giallo entries – Tinto Brass’ Deadly Sweet, and Giulo Questi’s bizarre Death Laid an Egg – where she respectively and convincingly played the heroine and the mistress, so it’s surprising to see the actress play an even narrower character who’s essentially a blonde Betty Boop forever being manhandled by multi-generational mashers.
Aulin pouts or stays frozen and wide-eyed whenever an older man gets his hands or groin close to her nether regions, and that’s probably the film’s most controversial aspect because Candy is essentially a teen who’s pursued by a mad poet named MacPhisto (a slurping, gibbering “I have NEEDS!” Richard Burton), assaulted by Mexican gardener Emmanuel (Ringo Star, perpetually sputtering “This not GOOD!”), fondled by a sexually deprived special ops leader (Walter Matthau), leered at by her uncle and aunt (John Astin and Elsa Martinelli), boffed by her father’s brain surgeon Dr. Krankheit (James Coburn), metaphorically penetrated by indie filmmaker G3 (Enrico Maria Salerno), romanced into a rub-a-dub-dub by a hunchback sporting a boombox harnesss (Charles Aznavour), ravished by pseudo-Indian swami named Grindl (Marlon Brando), and ass-pinched by her brain-damaged father (also played by Astin) in a giant underground temple after a trek through the desert chasing after a robed stranger sporting a toucan.
END OF SPOILER
Now, having not read the Voltaire or Southern-Hoffenberg novels, Candy isn’t the most coherent film unless one accepts it as an expanded Betty Boop tale, with Betty having some ties to inter-stellar space travel or planetary creationism. The film’s vignette structure also makes Candy more surreal experience, but aside from some hysterical moments or snappy lines – perhaps vestiges of the novel – it’s a product of excess that just doesn’t work.
Blake Edwards’ The Party (1968) has an even slimmer plot hook – a moron is mistakenly invited to a Hollywood party – but its shorter running time somewhat smoothens that film’s lack of narrative meat, as well as the big free-for-all finale with a painted elephant in a swimming pool. That film was more counter-culture farce, but like Casino Royal, it too had a bloated quality that seemed to grow fatter until the entire cast assembled in one final combustible scene. (One can also find the same flaw in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, which moves from a brilliant satire of western clichés to a rampage of stars bursting through soundstages.)
Candy similarly ends with a total gathering of cast and (literally) film crew in a giant meadow, but that sequence feels even more surreal because it reminds one of the wandering, soul-searching, spiritual quest finales of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973), but that might be due to a popular literary concept in tying spiritual awakening to some real or metaphorical Shangri-La, either in a verdant meadow, or high up in the misty mountains.
Is Candy a grotesque train wreck? Not quite. The movements from vignette to vignette is sometimes jarring (probably less of an issue in the book), the constant manhandling gets tiresome in spite of some risqué nudity and politically wrong moments, and the finale that’s supposed to bring things to a trippy full circle is, as envisioned on celluloid, incoherent; we’re not sure if Candy’s an alien raised by a doting teacher, or why’s she has the I.Q. of a cucumber, but her doe-eyed dumbness does give a few of the characters plenty of room to grandstand, and there are some deliciously funny moments that occasionally give one an idea of what the filmmakers tried to nail but simply couldn’t.
The best bits deal with James Coburn as a loony surgeon with jealous manager John Huston, and bombshell assistant Anita Pallenberg. Coburn’s Dr. Krankheit vignette feels like a live-action version of a Daffy Duck cartoon with naughty sixties sensibilities and nudity. It’s almost brilliant, because director Marquand coordinates the cast to create a compact opera of the absurd in the physical environment of Brutalist-designed surgery theatre, and Coburn plays a monstrous egotist who operates with bullfighting music, and is assisted by nurses branded by logos carved by Krankheit himself.
Also of note is a Felliniesque sequence where Candy flees with her father, uncle and aunt to the airport, only to be chased by Emmanuel’s angry maternal, motorcycle-riding posse. The trio of angry Spanish mamas includes actresses Marilu Tolo (Bluebeard, Roy Colt and Winchester Jack, Five Days in Milan) and then-newcomer Florinda Bolkan (Love Circle, The Last Valley, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin).
Less successful is Marlon Brando’s turn as an Indian guru in brown paint #12 and Indian wig #14. The actor was still in good shape (the ice cream years and career implosion didn’t happen until Apocalypse Now), but as Bedtime Story (1964) proved, Brando in broad comedy tended to render the method actor into a hulking buffoon, and the lack of any amusing dialogue worsens the vignette. The pliable sex scenes go on for a bit, but the only real chuckle comes when guru Grindl ‘finds’ Candy’s spiritual center, and causes a Boopish reaction from Candy.
The initially amusing MacPhisto vignette degenerates into a painful experience of watching Richard Burton slurp booze from his glass-bottomed limo and later ravish a sex puppet, and Charles Aznavour behaving like a monkey in the dwarf vignette makes one want to revisit Shoot the Piano Player (1960).
On the other hand, Enrico Maria Salerno as “G-cubed” is a tight little assault on pretentious filmmakers. Salerno’s turn as indie filmmaker Jonathan J. John is very vivid, and satirizes the nature of guerilla-style director/cameramen who use themselves to provoke reactions for cinematic performance art. When Salerno turns the long-lens camera around to capture the physical reaction of his teeth, gums, and throat, it’s pure translation of Terry Southern’s knack for capturing ridiculous human behaviour.
The original soundtrack album from ABC was propelled by Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” song, but that lengthy tune is barely heard in the actual film. Most of the music comes from Dave Grusin, who uses the Byrds for the vocal parts. The film’s crackly mono mix doesn’t do the score justice, and Grusin’s funky Candy theme becomes monotonous and grating early into the film.
Candy was released on DVD in 2001 by Anchor Bay as a single disc and multi-disc set housed in a fuzzy pink tin, but it’s been long out of print and is in need not only of a new transfer (there’s also Region 2 2005 release from Cinema Club) but a proper special edition that chronicles the colourful history of the film’s production and reception.
It’s hardly a beloved classic, but it is an important footnote in Southern’s career, since it was an attempt to adapt his insane prose to film by another party (which may have been the first in the film’s long series of creative mistakes, even though Southern adapted his other novel, The Magic Christian, in 1969, as a starring vehicle for Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr). Southern’s other (and better) scripts include the Peter Sellers showcase Dr. Strangelove (1964), The Cincinnati Kid (1965), and the trippy Barbarella (1968).
Voltaire’s little story was later riffed in the adult-themed The Erotic Adventures of Candy (1978) and Candy Goes to Hollywood (1979) by director Gail Palmer.
Ewa Aulin would appear in Bud Yorkin’s Start the Revolution Without Me (1970) before starring in a handful of Italian productions and retiring from acting in 1973.
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan