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at the Savoy

By Frank Rich

"IS CANDY faithful? ... only to the book," scream the ads for the film version of the Terry Southern-Mason Hoffenberg satire. Forget it. Candy is faithful to nothing--except its creator's desire to make a buck.

What should Candy have been faithful to? Perhaps the book, or at least the spirit of the book. The novel, for those who haven't reread it recently, is the story of one Candy Christian, an all-American coed who makes her contribution to society by giving herself to men who need her. Besides being something of a satire of the American view of sex, it also contains sporadically funny pokes at psychiatry, transcendental meditation, scholars and assimilation-conscious Jews. All this is gone (or reduced to the basest terms) in the Buck Henry screenplay.

Henry, who co-authored The Gradaute with Calder Willingham, reveals his true limp creative hand this time around. There are so few laughs in Candy that one must conclude that anything funny in Henry's earlier film came from either Willingham or director Mike Nichols. Likewise, the often funny television series of a few years back, Get Smart, which was co-authored by Henry and Mel Brooks, apparently owed its humor to Brooks.

As for Henry's Candy screenplay (an unpleasant topic to discuss, I assure you), it is astoundingly unfunny, unoriginal and tasteless. Dr. Krankeit (Jewish and author of the prize-winning Masturbation Now in the book) becomes a quack surgeon of Italian descent in the movie. The marvelous, obscene Aunt Livia character is transformed into a grotesque nymphomaniac, about as funny as a scrawl on a public bathroom wall. Candy herself becomes an aimless slut--hardly what the original work intended.

Besides wrecking the funny material inherited from Southern and Hoffenberg, Henry adds some unfortunate bits of his own: a right-wing army officer (How's that for new satirical terrain?), some lecherous and brutal cops, a racially stereotyped black chauffeur and so on. There's no wit, just half-remembered jokes from other sources, clumsily executed.

Equally clumsy is the film's direction, the work of Christian Marquand. Every sequence is overlong and overdone. The editing is helter-skelter, with some scenes totally incomprehensible. The color is shoddy and dank; the musical score is too loud and irrelevant. Worst of all, it is highly questionable that Marquand even bothered to direct any of his cast.

At the center of this cast, of course, is Ewa Aulin in the title role. That a Swedish actress should be chosen for the pivotal role in a satire of America is strange enough, but that the actress should be as dreadful as Miss Aulin remains a total mystery. This 18-year-old girl has no discernible talent for comedy and tends to deliver her lines as if she were practising English elocution. The people around her (among them Charles Aznavour, Ringo Starr, Richard Burton, John Huston, Walter Matthau, Marlon Bando and James Coburn) manage to look like they had a hell of a good time making the film, but, alas, this does nothing for the audience.

The sex aspects of Candy do little for the viewer either. Except for the fact that the heroine is displayed in bra and panties a little more often than most sex-comedy heroines, there is nothing to recommend this movie as a skin flick. All the book's references to love making, the clitoris and gynecology have vanished; as with most exploitation pictures, Candy no sooner teases us by showing a couple sacking out than it jolts to a new scene. For all its snide innuendos and come-ons, Candy ultimately has about as much to do with sex as the Julie Nixon-David Eisenhower wedding.

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