Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 19
October 8, 1969
All Four One

On October 8, 1969, New York moviegoers were urged to “consider the possibilities” by buying a ticket to the debut feature of a young screenwriter-turned-director, Paul Mazursky. And, attracted by its promise of wife swapping and group sex amidst a suburban swirl of love beads, Nehru collars and group therapy sessions, audiences did. The film, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, was one of the year’s biggest hits, grossing $30 million off a production budget of only $2 million. Helped by the laid-back chemistry, good looks and improvisational ability of stars Natalie Wood, Robert Culp, Elliot Gould and Dyan Cannon, Mazursky’s comedy drama managed to both indulge audience’s fascination with ‘60s-era free love while satirizing it enough for mainstream viewers to keep it at a comfortable moral distance. Seen in today’s radically different cultural climate, the movie feels a bit like it’s tumbled out of a time capsule, but, writing at the time, critic Pauline Kael pinpointed what may be the film’s lasting legacy: a tonally tricky, humorously bitter comedic style that finds its echoes today in everything from Ben Stiller comedies to Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. She wrote, “You can feel something new in the comic spirit of this film –– in the way Mazursky gets laughs by the rhythm of clichés, defenses, and little verbal aggressions.”


More Flashbacks
December 19, 1977
Jacques Tourneur dies

On this day in 1977, the film world lost of the most creative directors of the Golden Age of Hollywood, when Jacques Tourneur passed away in Bergerac, a town in the south west of France.

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December 19, 1979
Being There, Sellers' Last Chance

According to director Hal Ashby, the editing of Being There was only finally finished at around 4 a.m. on the first day of its limited Oscar qualifying run, 29 years ago today, and Ashby himself delivered the film to the theatre by hand. The painstaking approach Ashby took with the film, however, translated into rapturous reviews and turned Being There into a financial as well as critical success. The movie was a long-gestating project that Ashby and the film’s star, Peter Sellers, had been planning since 1973 when the Pink Panther star had first shared with Ashby his love of Jerzy Kosinski’s novel about a idiot savant gardener who unintentionally becomes a political heavyweight. Sellers, who was initially seen as too broad a comic actor to play this subtle a role, excelled as Chauncey Gardiner (aka Chance the gardener), the childlike man whose simplistic comments are misinterpreted as ingenious political rhetoric, and garnered the very best reviews of his career and a Best Actor Oscar nod in the process. The film proved the most fitting of swan songs as Sellers died of a heart attack just six months after the film’s release. Being There has since become a classic, not least because of its incisive and gently scornful satire of the American political establishment: during the 1980 election, candidates Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter both tried to paint their opponent as being “like Chauncey Gardiner,” and over the course of the presidency of George W. Bush, numerous comparisons were made between the intelligence of commander in chief and Sellers’ simple-minded comic hero.

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