Some films for which you have nostalgic feelings and were last seen too long ago are probably better not seen again. They might not survive the shock. A few years ago, watching “Around the World in 80 days” again shattered childhood memories revealing itself as a dreadful bore. “Sex and the Single Girl” with Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis survived better although it rode high on the nostalgia wave but “Penelope” another Natalie Wood vehicle was less successful.
I stumbled into it around 10 years ago and remembered that I laughed and laughed. Watching it again now, it revealed itself as nice piece of fluff with some inspiring moments but mostly as the grounds to showcase the leading lady in Edith Head’s costumes with Sydney Guillaroff’s wigs or with as little clothes as possible. The latter is in one of the most tasteless sequences in films I have seen, where sexual harassment and possible attempted rape are presented as light entertainment. The feminists must have cringed.
The film starts with a darling old lady robbing a bank. A few moments latter she is now a blonde young woman in a yellow Givenchy suit and not long after is Natalie Wood, all brunette, in a black dress arriving to her psychiatrist’s office. This is the best moment in the film, and one can only regret that Arthur Hiller didn’t direct the rest of the film with same grace and inspiration. A few minutes into her conversation with her psychiatrist we are set: the bank she just robbed is her husband’s because he’s not paying her enough attention. To be frank, if I was him I would divorce her, and vice-versa, but that’s the cynical in me.
The film clearly started with an interesting premise and a fun first act but it seems that the screenwriters had no idea where to take this and the second, but especially the third act seem contrived and rushed. There is a recurrent gag (and funny, while I’m at it) where Natalie Wood forgets her shoes everywhere but it seems completely gratuitous and is left unexplained.
Sadly for her, especially since this is her vehicle, Natalie Wood has hardly anything to hold on to. Her job is clearly to look pretty and smile and keep her fingers crossed that everything will turn out alright. The actor playing her husband is negligible. Peter Falk as the police detective has a bit more fun parodying himself and Dick Shawn as her psychiatrist almost runs away with film. The only reason he doesn’t is because Lila Kedrova and Lou Jacobi, as a pair of crooks, are by far the best thing onscreen and one can only regret that they aren’t there long enough.