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THESE THREE money-making films are all preoccupied with being up to date. Their self-conscious and facetious timeliness emphasizes the latest strategy of commercial cinema: the presentation of a debonair, or at least charming, independent as the modern woman, followed by a gradual undermining of her independence. These films free their female leads from a few minor prejudices only to shove them back into still deeper caves of male domination.
One of the three, A Touch of Class, is so disarmingly witty and charming a film that when the lights come on and the laughter goes off the contradictions of plot seem vague and unmemorable. But the other two films are so dramatically feeble that their crude manipulation of attitudes is blatantly offensive. 40 Carats and Interval have identical beginnings: a car driven by an unmarried, middle-aged woman has broken down in a far-off romantic land. In both films, a man stops to help. In both, the woman soon falls in love with a much younger man. 40 Carats stars Liv Ullmann, Interval stars Merle Oberon. 40 Carats stars Greece, Interval stars Yucatan, but both follow the same road. Both women lead active, independent lives, and Oberon has a satisfying Francis-of-Assissi kinship with nature -- though the men who try to win her can't understand how this could make her happy. Both women are eventually brought to believe they shouldn't live outside a man's dominion, and that's when they fall for their virile young men.
Note that both succumb to younger men. Old double standards prescribe mixed-age marriages only for older men and younger women -- so these films break one convention even while miring in much more serious ones. That's what allows the film companies and many of the public to think the films just ooze enlightenment.
GLENDA JACKSON (Touch of Class) and Liv Ullmann are two of the finest actresses around. Their major roles include many of the recent years' more sensitively handled women's leads, so it's more than disappointing to see them choosing these roles. More so with Ullmann, because she's just arrived in Hollywood, the first of Ingmar Bergman's leading actresses to work in this country. She can't handle a minor character: she tries to infuse her role with all the drama of Persona, but it can't stand the strain, and all she achieves is incongruity. Jackson, on the other hand, proves to be a nimble and quick-witted comedienne. The plot line in her film is ultimately as offensive as that of the other two: she's a strong-willed woman who enters into an affair with a married man, but eventually settles into a role as tame and submissive Soho mistress. Still, her dexterity and pungent British wit alone make A Touch of Class worth seeing.
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