Sunday, December 26, 2021

"A Place for Lovers" Or "The Most Godawful Piece of Pseudo-Romantic Slop I've Ever Seen!"*

* Roger Ebert.

Faye Dunaway and Marcello Mastroianni are ill-fated cuddlemates in "A Place for Lovers" (1969), a flick dubbed "as exciting to watch as a game of Tiddly-Winks."

Che piacere vederti! (That's Italian for "How nice it is to see you".)

All the world loves a lover, right?

Well, not exactly.

When MGM released the romantic drama "A Place for Lovers" in 1969, the critical brickbats were especially fierce. Here's a sample:

"The most godawful piece of pseudo-romantic slop I've ever seen!" exclaimed Roger Ebert in The Chicago Sun-Times.

Film critics reacting to the movie "A Place for Lovers."

"It gives me no pleasure whatever to report that Vittorio De Sica's 'A Place for Lovers' is the worst movie I have seen all year and possibly since 1926," Charles Champlin of The Los Angeles Times carped. "It is endlessly, interminably, paralyzingly, stupefying bad."

"A dismal mess," sniffed Roger Greenspun of The New York Times. "A Place for Lovers' involves Faye Dunaway, Marcello Mastroianni and Vittorio De Sica in what I sincerely hope will be the worst movie of their respective careers."

"Woefully inept," Time magazine marveled, adding, "The five scriptwriters who supposedly worked on the film must have spent enough time at the water cooler to flood a camel."

In the 52 years since its original release, the reputation of "A Place for Lovers" as a Junk Cinema Jewel of Godzilla-like stature has only grown. The film was featured in The Fifty Worst Films of all Time, the January 2019 edition of Italian Vanity Fair magazine included it on their list of the 20 worst films ever made (along side "The Room", "Stayin' Alive" and "Howard the Duck") and even Wikipedia states that the flick "is widely considered one of the worst films of all time."

What makes this romantic drama starring real life cuddlemates Faye Dunaway and Marcello Mastroianni so bad? Let's take a look.

Julia (Dunaway) and Valerio (Mastroianni) enjoying la dolce vita.

The Leads Are Nitwits.

Julia (Dunaway) is a fahionista from America. Valerio (Mastroianni) is an Italian engineer working on safety bags for race car drivers. They meet at the airport. 

"I don't even know myself, how, why, I presume to speak to you," Valerio stammers during their first encounter. "I don't have a good excuse. (Pause) But for two hours now, I've been watching you. Look, I'm not a playboy. This has never happened to me before. I don't even know--how--I'm just an engineer..."

Then he hands her his card and asks Julia to contact him if she's ever in Italy. As it turns out, Julia is staying in an Italian villa the size of a shopping mall. She switches the TV on one night and finds Valerio giving an interview about his airbags. She dials his number and Valerio zooms over.

"I see you like experiments," Julia says. "How would you like to experiment by staying with me for two days?"

Italian smoothie Valerio can't believe how easy it was to hook his latest catch, Julia.

"Why did you ask me for only two days?" the befuddled Valerio asks.

"So you can ask me for the next eight," she replies, fluttering her mascara-heavy eyelashes.

When Julia asks Valerio if he's married, he casually replies, "Just about" (I assume that means yes?). Unfortunately, Julia has Ali McGraw Disease, a mysterious yet fatal ailment where the afflicted remain dewy-fresh and fashion plate perfect at all times. No coughing, sneezing, chills or vomiting. Julia was being treated in a London clinic, but she slipped out and headed to Italy.

Julia never tells Valerio she's a goner. Why? Because she's in love! Really in love! For the first time ever! Can't anybody understand that?! Telling Valerio the truth would spoil everything! Julia just wants to live until she dies, is that so bad?

As I said, they're total nitwits.

The Plot Is Preposterous.

Julia is the most beautiful sick person you'll ever see.

Even though they barely know each other, Julia and Valerio decide to spend the next 10 days together. Our cuddlemates have sex, eat out, have sex, go sight seeing, have sex, shoot home movies, have sex, dance to gospel music, have sex, rent a cottage in the mountains, have sex and have sex. The only time they have a disagreement is when they return to Julia's villa and find a party in full swing. The party then morphs into an orgy, complete with a porno movie and couples swapping partners. Valerio finds this too much and stomps off. 

"But it's only a game!" Julia reminds him.

"Only a game?" Valerio huffs. "Some helluva a game!"

Have no fear: our cuddlemates meet later, patch things up and, of course, have make-up sex.

Hovering in the background is Julia's friend Maggie (Caroline Mortimer), a chain-smoking busybody who is mortified that her terminally ill buddy is shacking up with a semi-married gent in Italy. Doesn't he know Julia's dying? Maggie insists she return to her English hospital so she can die as painlessly as possible. But Julia won't hear of it. Why? Because she's in love! For the first time in her her life she's REALLY in love! Can't Maggie understand?! The Grim Reaper will have to wait because she's in love!

"Boogie Nights": Valerio and Julia enjoy a dance with death.

When Maggie tries and fails to get her bestie on a plane back to London, she stubs out her latest cancer stick and calls up the couple's ski chalet. She leaves a message for Valerio, telling him Julia is doomed and must return to her doctor's care before it's too late. Valerio's eyes pop when he learns the news; after all, Julia doesn't look sick, she doesn't act sick--how can this be? How can she be dying when they're in love? Really in love!

Needless to say, Valerio is horrified and angry. How could Julia forget to tell him she was dying?

"Don't look at me!" Julia sobs when Valerio confronts her about the reality of her condition. "I can't take anymore sad eyes! Everyone always gets those good, sad eyes! Yours weren't! Yours were honest! Now," she gasps, "They're like all the others!"

So Julia didn't want Valerio looking at her sadly. Well, OK. And Julia is tired of people feeling sorry for her. That's understandable. But didn't she think she owed Valerio the truth? After all, didn't she make him promise he would always tell her the truth?

 Now that Valerio knows she's a goner, Julia decides to kill herself. However, when the time comes, she can't do it. Then she and Valerio go for a drive and Julia drives like a maniac round the tight curves of the road. Just when you think--hope--the couple will do a "Thelma and Louise", Julia stops the car. Valerio gets behind the wheel and she takes the passenger's seat. He revs up the car and they drive off.

Marcello Mastroianni literally phones in his performance in "A Place for Lovers".

The end.

Which means what, exactly?

Your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps the flick's scriptwriters and director wanted one of those ambiguous endings, where the fate of the characters was left to the viewers' imagination. Or maybe they just got tired of shooting this crazy, sloppy movie and decided, "That's it. Everybody's suffered enough. Lets call it a day and go home."

The Acting Is Bad

Both Mastroianni and Dunaway are attractive, talented performers, so it's surprising to see them slogging their way through this pretentious, tedious schmaltz. The critics of the day gave full vent to their frustration at having to watch this "Dumb Enchanted Evening", producing reviews that were more entertaining than the movie.

Charles Champlin snarked that Mastroianni looked "embarrassed and befuddled, also a bit puffy, as if he had his nap interrupted or had tarried too long at the pasta." Time stated that Marcello displayed "all the zest of a man summoned up for tax evasion." Meanwhile, Dunaway, never in the same outfit twice, staggers through her scenes with a preoccupied, far away expression reminiscent of people who can't remember if they turned the iron off. "The only smidgen of a plot is that Dunaway makes a late abortive attempt at suicide," Time remarked. "Something the film successfully achieves after about ten minutes."

"Afternoon Delight": Doomed cuddlemates Julia and Valerio enjoy the sunshine of their love. 

The bad acting of the principals was complimented nicely by "the truly bad script" (according to the Saturday Evening Post) that included five scriptwriters toiling away. Even the crew members realized the flick just wasn't jelling; the same SEP article made note of "the lower ranks" making "sick jokes about doomed, desperate ladies" to pass the time.

"They Do It In The Name Of Love!"

Although "A Place for Lovers" received brickbats from the critics, the producers still tried to get the public interested by focusing on the romantic nature of the story. 

"Wherever they meet, they make it A Place for Lovers!" the ads gushed.

When that didn't work, the promoters tried this: "They Do It In The Name of Love!"

No dice.

Even the real life romance of Mastroianni and Dunaway failed to do the trick. In the end, "A Place for Lovers" was the cinematic equivalent of a really bad blind date: long, slow, excruciating and best forgotten by everyone involved. 

Then a year later, the world witnessed the release of another bat-shit crazy love story about doomed cuddlemates called--what else?--"Love Story". That movie also featured a terminally ill heroine who looked like a Vogue cover model (and actually had been a Vogue cover model) but it made zillions at the box office. "Love Story" was just as bad as "A Place for Lovers", but the public embraced it, begging the question "How could a movie starring Ryan O'Neil and Ali McGraw be better than a movie starring Marcello Mastroianni and Faye Dunaway?"

The world may never know.

So movie lovers, please always remember, and never forget, love may mean never having to say your sorry, but when you appear in a stinker like "A Place for Lovers", you will be saying sorry a lot.

So why not help me SAVE THE MOVIES instead?

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