By Bruce Eckerd | October 6, 2009
Everyone Wants a Taste….
Candy. Featuring Charles Aznavour, Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, James Coburn, John Huston, Walter Matthau, Ringo Starr, Ewa Aulin, John Astin, Elsa Martinelli, Sugar Ray Robinson, Anita Pallenberg, Lea Padovani, Florinda Bolkan, Marilù Tolo, Nicoletta and Machiavelli. Original Music by Dave Grusin. Screenplay by Buck Henry. Based upon the novel by Mason Hoffenberg and Terry Southern. Cinematography by Giuseppe Rotunno. Film Editing by Giancarlo Cappelli and Frank Santillo. Directed by Christian Marquand. (Cinerama Realsing Corporation, 1968, Color, 124 minutes. MPAA Rating: R).
The 1960s, particularly the latter half of the decade, were a time of sexual discovery, personal awakening, and loosening censorship. Movies like Midnight Cowboy and Myra Breckinridge–whose sexual themes would have had them banned only a few short years before–were suddenly making it onto the big screen. Candy is one of the earliest examples of this trend.
Candy is possibly the quintessential over-the-top 60s movie. If you’re looking for faults, it has its share. But frankly, if you like the 60s I don’t see you not liking at least something about this movie. For starters, it practically has an all-star cast, Marlon Brando, John Huston, Walter Matthau, Richard Burton, and James Coburn. Speaking of “stars,” Ringo Starr makes an appearance as the Mexican gardener, Manuel, which is probably one of the few reasons people still remember this movie.
Like most films from the late 60s and early 70s, Candy was meant to satirize “the Establishment.” (There’s just something about a preemptive war that gets certain youngsters feisty.) And what better model to emulate than the ultimate satirical scourge, Voltaire’s Candide. Think of Candy as Candide’s female counterpart and instead of 18th Century France, her travels are through the American landscape of the late 60s when flower power was at its height, and psychedelic drugs were handed out like (no pun intended) candy on Halloween.
The absurd opening sequence of a celestial starscape is certainly made more than endurable by the psychedelic rock soundtrack produced by the Byrds (“Turn, Turn, Turn”). At the beginning of an average day, we see Candy Christian (Ewa Aulin) daydreaming in a classroom where her father, T.M. Christian (John Astin), is also her teacher. He angrily stirs her from her temporary mind trip and when she calls him daddy, she only gets in more trouble and is asked to stay after class. Her father undoubtedly represents the fuddy duddy conservative, the object of scorn to this day by unwashed hippies everywhere. She has to cut their after class conference short however, as British poet laureate MacPhisto (Richard Burton) is making an appearance at the school this day.
Throughout the remainder of the film, Candy’s exploits are followed closely as she is pursued by men of all walks of life, including an army general, a surgeon, a film director, a swami, her uncle, and even her own father, who at the time has lost most of his mental faculties due to an unfortunate run in with some enraged Mexican women. The plot is somewhat weak and to a large extent involves only Candy’s search for her father who goes missing after having surgery on his head somewhere in the middle of the film.
One of the weaker parts of the film is the very passive role Candy plays in moving the plot along. She’s more of an observer of the bizarre events that occur to her. Instead of being an active catalyst in them is instead unwillingly drawn into them. In a sense, this is a reflection of the overwhelming existentialist philosophy of the time it was made, where people, particularly younger people, saw the world as absurd and unstable, due largely to the crumbling social structure and the Vietnam War.
Although it clocks in at a lengthy 124 minutes, a bit long for a screwball comedy, the film manages to keep your attention, especially with the help of new and interesting characters and locations which are introduced regularly. In fact, the only part of the film that really drags is a scene towards the end where a swami, played by Marlon Brando, babbles endlessly in faux-spiritual platitudes that were so popular at the time (did Francis Ford Coppola use this as a basis for Brando’s rambling psychoses in Apocalypse Now?). This scene runs for about 15 minutes which is way too long, especially for a scene that has little to do with the plot (threadbare as it is).
Candy has not aged well, and a basic understanding and appreciation of the culture of the late 60s is definitely needed in order to get any enjoyment out of the film. To a fan of this culture, the humor captures the spirit of the age well, and ranges from the predictable to the absurd, but always to the extreme. For a fan of the 60s who has not yet seen this film, it represents a fairly accurate window into the over-the-top pop culture that dominated the time.