Despite receiving considerable acclaim during its original release—including an Oscar nomination for Best Picture—the tart romantic comedy A Touch of Class has not aged well. The leading performances by Glenda Jackson (who won an Academy Award for her work) and George Segal are entertaining, and cowriter/director Melvin Frank orchestrates battle-of-the-sexes repartee efficiently. The problem is that the social values represented by the film reflect a peculiar transitional moment between the Bad Old Days of rampant male chauvinism and the era of women’s liberation. Accordingly, Segal’s character spends the entire movie treating Jackson’s character like garbage, and yet the audience is expected to accept two things as true—firstly, that Segal’s character is sympathetic as a put-upon male trying to satisfy his normal sex drive, and secondly, that Jackson’s character is enlightened because she has an affair with a married man in order to avoid the complications of an emotional entanglement.
Similar scenarios powered many romantic films that were made before mainstream culture reflected more sophisticated understandings of the female experience—for instance, the Marilyn Monroe favorite The Seven Year Itch (1955)—but the way A Touch of Class tries to blend antiquated attitudes with fresh ideas simply doesn’t work, or at least it doesn’t work anymore. Having said all that, some viewers might find things to enjoy in the picture simply because of strong performances and occasional flashes of wit.
Segal stars as George Blackburn, an American businessman living in London. He’s married with kids, but indulges in frequent extramarital affairs. George meets the elegant and self-confident Vickie Allessio (Jackson), a divorcée who works in the fashion industry, and proposes an affair. She accepts, fully aware of George’s situation, but insists on a suitable setting. George then arranges a romantic trip to Spain, and a comedy of errors ensues. Predictably, the lovers develop feelings for each other in between farcical scenes of George throwing out his back during sex and/or Vicki trying not to arouse the suspicions of George’s friend Walter (Paul Sorvino), who conveniently happens to be in Spain at the same time as George and Vicki.
Even though Frank has a good light touch for everything from physical to verbal comedy, he can’t help but come off as a second-rate Billy Wilder, and the choice to situate George as a hapless hero—instead of an outright heel—betrays an unattractive perspective on gender relations. Plus, for all of her character’s protestations about being a strong modern woman, Jackson ends up seeming shrill and submissive simply because she spends so much time arguing and making accommodations for the boorish behavior of the Segal character. FYI, most of the film’s principals—Frank, Jackson, Segal, and Sorvino—reteamed in 1979 for another romantic comedy, Lost and Found, which enjoyed a far less impressive commercial and critical reception than its predecessor.
A Touch of Class: FUNKY