A Touch of Class (1973) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

If you ever watch this (I don't recommend it. Although not wholly incompetent, it is a generally unfunny comedy and a mediocrity in all ways), you might think it is OK if you don't have any expectations. It's best just to watch it without knowing anything about it, and you might be able to attain some inner peace while this drivel washes gently over you. If, like me, you watch it expecting a great picture because it was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, you will be completely flabbergasted. Maltin's rating of 2/4 and the IMDb score of 6.1 are both in the right ballpark.

A Touch of Class is not the worst film ever nominated as Best Picture, but it's a strong contender. In fact, the only nominated pics below 6.3 (based on IMDb score, 50 or more votes) all come from the period 1967-1973, almost the exact period we refer to as "the sixties". A quick history lesson for you younger guys - the early sixties were not part of the sixties as you picture them - within the general population there was no long hair, or marijuana, or acid, or acid rock, or hippies, or Vietnam War, or Eastern Gurus, or even Beatles. It was still very much like the Eisenhower era until long past the JFK assassination. The grammies and the record sales still went to non-rock ballads like "I Left My Heart in San Francisco".

It was Vietnam that changed everything. That countercultural epoch, the era of "sex, drugs, and rock and roll", pretty much began with the summer of love in 1967, fanned out quickly from San Francisco to the rest of the country, and pretty much ended with Nixon's resignation in the summer of 1974.

Here are the four surprising Oscar nominations from that era.

Year Title IMDb score
1969 Hello, Dolly! 6.2
1973 A Touch of Class 6.1
1970 Love Story 5.8
1967 Doctor Dolittle 5.5

These films only scratch the surface of the crap that emerged from that era. Easy Rider is just plain bad, no other word for it. In addition to the dreadful Love Story (see table above), the equally awful Airport was nominated as best picture in 1970. Tuna pointed out yesterday that Jane Fonda's Best Actress performance in Klute was not really very impressive, and must rank as one of the least-deserving winners of that Oscar, along with Glenda Jackson's in A Touch of Class. It was the best of times for music, it was the worst of times for movies.

I guess you wonder why the movies of that era were so bad.

First of all, they weren't all bad. That era also produced A Clockwork Orange, The Godfather, The Last Picture Show, The Producers, M*A*S*H, The Graduate, Patton, and Butch Cassidy, as well as a host of excellent foreign films


none. Jackson was seen in a bikini.

But, in general, it was a poor era for movie making because it was a time when everything was politicized. America was in a second civil war, a true cultural revolution. Like all revolutions, it also produced counter-revolutionaries, people who wanted to restore those traditional values of their youth. The country was deeply divided, split into warring camps. Politics and political styles became people's defining elements. If you had long hair and wore jeans, you didn't seek out the ROTC boys and the corporate types. As a result, people chose projects not because they were good, but because they supported their politics. This situation affected not only the projects that academy members chose to work in, but also the ones they voted for. Protestors would picket the Oscars with placards like "a vote for Vanessa Redgrave is a vote for the Vietcong" - and that comment wasn't about some highly politicized "statement movie" - it was about the Kennedy era retro-musical, Camelot!

Sometimes, films triumphed because of one side to the other, but mostly films snuck in because they didn't offend anybody. 1970 provided an excellent microcosm of how the neutral psychology could operate. "Patton" managed to win the best picture award, not because it is good (in fact, it is good), but because it presented the famous general in a way satisfying to both sides. In presenting a great patriot and warrior, a brilliant leader and a genuine WW2 hero, Patton had something for the conservatives. But its balanced portrayal also showed that Patton was an arrogant, vainglorious, half-mad martinet who had little concern for the human beings whose lives were in his trust. In essence, there was an underlying message that war was insane, and therefore required insane behavior from its leaders, something which General Patton was highly qualified to provide. "Patton" won that year because it walked that fine line, while M*A*S*H  and Five Easy Pieces were too liberal. The other two movies (Airport and Love Story) just plain stunk, but were nominated because they were box office smashes and didn't offend anyone politically.

Utter crap like those two films and Dr Doolittle snuck in under the political radar. Looking at the big picture, Doolittle, not A Touch of Class, is probably the worst film ever to be nominated as Best Picture. The IMDb score is only one indicator. The film was despised by critics and audiences alike. Audiences actually stayed away in droves, and the film recouped only a third of its investment. Critics sneered and jeered.  Archer Winsten of the New York Post wrote "Children, schmildren. Let them go by themselves if they like it so much. I'm not going to pretend I wasn't bored silly"

On the other hand, partisan warfare occasionally emerged with a victory for one side or another. Jane Fonda's victory for Klute is a classic example.

Once the cultural warfare ended and Nixon surrendered, things returned to normal. The 1975 nominees were all excellent films: Dog Day Afternoon, Jaws, Barry Lyndon, Nashville, Cuckoo's Nest. None of them are political to any significant extent. Artists had returned to making movies because they were good, not because they supported or opposed a pet cause. Pure entertainment pictures were returning. "The sixties" had ended. "The seventies", that tone-deaf era which really started around the time of the Nixon resignation, the era of the director-as-superstar, had arrived. Vanessa Redgrave was about the only one who continued to use the Oscar show as a personal political soapbox.

Now here's the question that would make for an interesting essay. When the sixties died and the seventies came along, and the arts improved dramatically in some ways (movies), why did music suddenly suck so very, very deep? I suppose it is because highly emotional times like the sixties produce visceral outpourings from everyone, artists and non-artists alike. Agonized statements of rebellion and personal belief don't make very good two hour movies, but make excellent two minute songs.

But that's just my lame theory, and it's probably wrong.

Oh, yeah, the movie. George Segal plays a smarmy American lawyer in London who likes to cheat on his wife. Glenda Jackson plays his latest tootsie. (Glenda Jackson as George Segal's bimbo?) They agree to have an affair because Jackson really needs a good rogering after years of semi-intentional abstinence. She is a career woman who wants no complications, and she chooses Segal to break her fast because he's totally devoid of character, is a shallow womanizer, and loves his wife - therefore promising to be a good lay and not complicate the affair with any emotional involvement. They get down to Spain for a romantic week without really knowing each other. In fact, they agree to go, despite never previously having been romantic in any way. They find out that they don't really like each other that much, and they don't click sexually. The first couple days in Spain are a living hell, but then they find that they are in love. (Surprised?) Then they find out they were really better off when they didn't like each other, because it is impossible to continue their affair when they return to London. The part in Spain has some charm, especially when they hate each other, because Jackson was more natural when she was allowed to be nasty, but the part back in London has really no redeeming value at all.

Oh, yeah, and Segal sings. If you ever saw his talk show appearances, you know that this part of the film would be a good place to step out to get a beer. He's better than Yoko Ono or Bill Shatner, but not that much better. If you had to choose between Segal and Carol Channing, it would be a tough call.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen letterbox, 1.85:1

  • no meaningful features

Glenda Jackson won an Oscar for this performance, but while she was normally an excellent serious actress, she really did nothing very special here. I guess it was one of those deals where Oscar voters were awarding an earlier, neglected performance, like when they gave Judy Dench an Oscar for her insignificant and unimpressive performance as Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love, in order to atone for ignoring her career role as Queen Victoria in Mrs. Brown. In fact, Glenda Jackson was was all wrong for this part, and the film's attempts to glamorize her and mold her into a wacky Goldie Hawn role failed quite resoundingly. Pauline Kael, the New Yorker's film critic, and probably the most influential film critic in history (top directors used to send her scripts before choosing them), wrote the following:

"In A Touch of Class, under a load of glamour-girl makeup with with a suspiciously unvarying hairdo, her acrid performance was ridiculous. She was like a mean drag queen"

And those words came from a woman who revered Jackson, and had earlier referred to her as a "phenomenal talent".

The Critics Vote

  • Maltin 2/4

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDB readers say 6.1/10.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C-. Despite the Oscar nod, it's one of those lighter-than-light romantic comedies like Barefoot in the Park. Completely shallow as drama and character study. Almost completely unfunny as comedy. One of those movies that you might watch all the way through because it isn't completely bad, you expect it to get better, and you're too lazy to reach for the remote. But you'll regret it. If you want to see a good romantic comedy with laughs and people behaving like people, rent When Harry Met Sally or The Tao of Steve or As Good as it Gets, and skip this film.

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