Turns out David Niven’s close encounter with a streaker during the 1974 Academy Awards broadcast wasn’t the only time when the exhibition of male anatomy caused him grief. A few years earlier, the debonair Brit starred in The Statue, a randy UK/US coproduction in which the public display of a phallus is pivotal to the plot. Very much a product of its historical moment, The Statue tries for scandalous laughs by exploring subject matter that could not be explicitly depicted onscreen at the time, therefore creating a sort of wink-wink/nudge-nudge relationship with the audience. And though time has dulled any edginess the picture once possessed, luckily The Statue has other virtues, not least of which is Niven’s smooth comic timing. So even though the movie is quite trivial—a fault not uncommon to sex comedies—it’s palatable and relatively harmless.
At the beginning of the picture, uptight linguistics professor Alex Bolt (Niven) receives the Nobel Prize for his creation of Unispeak, an international language meant to bridge divides between nations. For convoluted reasons, the American government spends a large amount of money to commission a statue commemorating Alex’s accomplishment, and Alex’s hot-blooded sculptress wife, Rhonda (Virna Lisi), gets the job. But when Alex gets an eyeful of the work-in-progress, he’s shocked: Not only is the giant statue a likeness of Alex in the nude, but the genitals on the statue don’t resemble his own. Thus begins Alex’s fevered quest to identify the model Rhonda used for inspiration, since he presumes that man must be her lover. Probing household staff for the names of men who visited Rhonda while she was working on the statue, Alex contrives to see the men naked by attending a hippie musical, visiting a steambath, and so on. In one especially goofy sequence, Alex slips into a photo booth and snaps shots of his own manhood for evidence, alarming those standing near the photo booth.
It’s tempting to say this material was beneath Niven, as well as costar Robert Vaughn, but the mischievous spirit of the thing comes through in scenes featuring Monty Python’s John Cleese as a friend of Niven’s character. Cleese lampoons the repression inherent to British culture while also skewering the anything-goes ethos of the ’70s. In its best moments, The Statue is ribald and smart; in its worst moments, the movie is puerile and silly. Whether the good outweighs the bad is very much a matter of taste, though it should be said the Cleese/Niven scenes are a cut above the rest of the picture.
The Statue: FUNKY