Sunday, April 24, 2016

The War Between Men and Women (1972)

          The title of this romantic comedy is a misnomer, because the picture doesn’t pit archetypal representatives of opposite genders against each other. Rather, the film tracks the unlikely romance between a misanthropic cartoonist and a compassionate divorcée. These two characters engage in conflict, but their clashes stem from the cartoonist’s disagreeable personality and the divorcée’s lingering affection for her ex-husband. Therefore, the only reason the title makes any sense is that the cartoonist often departs on flights of fancy in which he imagines men and women battling each other with weapons. Yet the muddiness of the title is but one of many problems plaguing The War Between Men and Women, which has several meritorious elements despite being a disappointment overall. Not least of the film’s virtues is a go-for-broke leading performance by Jack Lemmon, who plays a heel to the hilt.
          Set in New York, the film revolves around Peter Wilson (Lemmon), a sardonic cartoonist who writes illustrated books and also contributes to posh magazines. Suffering from poor eyesight, he visits his ophthalmologist one day and receives a grim diagnosis before experiencing a meet-cute with fellow patient Terri Kozlenko (Barbara Harris). For Peter, it’s dislike at first sight, but Terri finds him interesting. Later, the two meet again at a party and, improbably, begin dating. Terri’s lighthearted nature wears down Peter’s misanthropy, so they marry, which makes Peter a stepfather to Terri’s three children. Enter the ex-husband, Stephen Kozelenko (Jason Robards), an easygoing photojournalist. Funny and heroic and kind, he’s the opposite of wimpy whiner Peter, so his return causes friction—as does Peter’s discovery that Terri knew all along he’s verging on total blindness. As per the rom-com formula, complications ensue.
          Based upon the writings of humorist James Thurber and cowritten and directed by Melville Shavelson, The War Between Men and Women is an odd sort of picture. About 60 percent of the screen time comprises comic interplay, one-liners, and sight gags, including scenes of Lemmon directly addressing the camera. About 20 percent of the picture comprises animation or mixtures of animation with live action, with the lead character’s cartoons coming to life. And about 20 percent of the picture comprises maudlin melodrama. At its most rudderless, the movie swerves into a long scene of Peter counseling his teenaged stepdaughter about the realities of marriage and sex. The film’s tonal jumps are awkward, especially since the movie hums along fairly nicely whenever Shavelson and cowriter Danny Arnold—who previously collaborated on a TV series extrapolated from Thurber’s work—simply lock into a sitcom-patter groove. Still, Lemmon is terrific here, and one could do a lot worse for comic foils than Harris, Robards, and costar Herb Edelman.

The War Between Men and Women: FUNKY


Peter L. Winkler said...

It sounds not unlike My World and Welcome To It, a TV sitcome Shavelson created which ran for one season on NBC from 1969-1970. My World also featured a wry cartoonist (William Windom), and was loosely based on Thurber's writings.

By Peter Hanson said...

That is indeed the series referenced in the review, co-created by Shavelson and future "Barney Miller" guy Danny Arnold. Had the pleasure of meeting Shavelson very late in his life. Don't love all of his work, but, man, did he experience nearly the whole span of 20th-century entertainment.

Unknown said...

I remember that show! It started off strong but got weak round about the time it chickened out and started relying on a laugh track.

Peter L. Winkler said...

Where did you access this film, Peter?

By Peter Hanson said...

Found it at Cinefile, a wonderful rental place here in LA. Highly recommended for those seeking cinematic arcana.