Sunday, July 2, 2017

Prelude to Happiness (1975)

A generous appraisal of this romantic melodrama would celebrate the movie as a noble effort at inclusion, because the story revolves around a woman missing one of her legs, and the leading lady is a real-life amputee. Yet this generous appraisal would require overlooking the actual content of the film, which includes a hackneyed storyline, shallow characterizations, and terrible performances. There’s also a cloud of exploitation hovering over the enterprise, because several scenes feature star Susan Mulhollan in bikinis and/or lingerie. One gets a sense of producers deliberately catering to viewers with amputation fetishes. Anyway, Mulhollan stars as Susan, a young nurse engaged to a handsome fellow. After a car accident costs Susan her leg, she rebounds because at least she still has her fiancĂ©—but then he shocks her by saying he can’t envision a future with a one-legged wife. Helping Susan rise from her doldrums is dashing young Dr. Steve Hartman (Gary Lee Davis), who urges Susan to take physical therapy seriously. He also performs additional services, such as helping Susan find a new apartment. Naturally, the attention Steve lavishes on his favorite patient bothers Steve’s girlfriend, rich bitch Tiffany (Carol Sowa). Wrongly assuming that Steve is sleeping with Susan, Tiffany makes clear that she’s okay with being two-timed, so long as Steve is discreet. What ensues is wholly predictable, right down to the pointless vignette of Susan hobbling in terror while being pursued by would-be rapists. Naturally,  the movie’s dialogue is stiff and unconvincing (Susan: “I wrapped myself in a blanket of self-sacrifice!”). One could argue that Prelude to Happiness is harmless, inasmuch as most low-budget stories about people with physical challenges overcoming adversity are just this perfunctory. Yet “harmless” does not necessarily imply “worthwhile.”

Prelude to Happiness: LAME


Allen Rubinstein said...

Wow, Peter. You haven't reviewed anything over "funky" for more than a month now. Is it mostly a pile of clunkers from here on out?

How about:
WR: Mysteries of the Organism
A Free Woman
Jeanne Diellman
Celine and Julie go Boating

Would love to hear your take on them.

By Peter Hanson said...

By coincidence, today's movie is a "groovy," so that offers a brief reprieve from the onslaught of mediocre-or-worse titles. The road ahead is not entirely as grim as you might envision, though for very logical reasons some of the worst '70s movies will be among the last I find. Most titles with significant followings, which implies some level of interest and/or quality, are easier to access. I'm hopeful that I will encounter a few happy surprises as I move through the last phase of the process.

Regarding the foreign films you suggested, I probably will not get to them. As the focus of the project is domestic product, and as I'm actively trying to wind things down, I want to focus on American films that have thus far evaded me. I have a couple of foreign pictures in my stockpile of not-yet-published reviews, I will hit a couple more during 1980 Weeks, and I may happen upon some other points of interest. But I'm no longer actively looking to review foreign pictures.

That said, of the titles you mentioned, 'Trafic" is probably the strongest contender. I've always been curious because it sounds so charming. Conversely, having watched "WR" a million years ago in film school, the thought of engaging with it again is not appealing. It's such a wild film that it's almost impossible to discuss in a succinct way, and it wouldn't make much sense to tackle that one without also tackling "Sweet Movie." By this point, I've about had my fill with boundary-pushing European art-movie weirdness. (Thanks, Pasolini.)

Appreciate the suggestions, though.

Allen Rubinstein said...

I hear you about the thinning out of quality as you sift through the pile. I'm already seeing a bit of that effect, and I'm not going anywhere near as deep-dive as you.

I had very mixed feelings about Trafic, as I adore Tati, but the movie was deadening to me. I've heard something about him losing a lot of autonomy (and I think budget) for some reason for his last two films (Parade is as slight a piffle as you can watch - practically a concert film). Trafic seemed to encourage all the wrong aspects of his mime-art and leave behind everything that makes Playtime and Mon Oncle so special. It's got moments here and there, but not much else. Long stretches of it are outright boring.

And hey, don't rule out Jeanne Diellman! I know it's a challenge watch - I kept it running on my laptop while doing other things, since at least a third of its runtime is about as interesting as a below-average screensaver (which is the point of it), but I think the piece as a whole is a stone-cold classic, ingenious work of film, and the end makes the whole thing chilling in retrospect. I love reading reviews of it, since people are so divided on the film. It's become such a huge deal critically - I've seen it on several "best ever made" lists - how can you not weigh in on your seventies blog?

At least Hoffman, while not "domestic", is English language (as is The Blockhouse I mentioned in a previous post somewhere - another one with Peter Sellers).