Release Date: December 17th, 1968 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Christian Marquand Actors: Ewa Aulin, Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, James Coburn, John Huston, Walter Matthau, Ringo Starr, Elsa Martinelli, Anita Pallenberg
very lengthy opening scene zooms through the galaxy, narrowing in on Earth while showering the planets with psychedelic colors and flaring overexposure. The camera moves over the ocean, across the beach, and finally through the desert to land on a young blonde woman emerging from beneath a white sheet. Apparently it’s all a dream, as blissfully naïve Candy Christian (Ewa Aulin, with a noticeable Swedish accent and awkwardness toward acting) awakes in class, being lectured by her father, the teacher. Later, she watches a presentation by acclaimed poet MacPhisto (Richard Burton), a drunken actor who subsequently tries to rape her in his limousine. When he’s too inebriated to do anything but fall on the floor, Candy instead ends up having sex with her father’s dimwitted landscaper (Ringo Starr).
The decision is made to send Candy to New York for her aberrant behavior, with her father, her uncle T.M. Christian, and his wife Livia (Elsa Martinelli) acting as escorts. En route, the family is accosted by the gardener’s three sisters (Lolita, Conchita, and Marquita, who wield brass knuckles, a switchblade, and a flail), and in the resulting skirmish Candy’s father is knocked into a coma. They manage to board a military plane commanded by Brigadier General Smight (Walter Matthau), who trades a blood transfusion for a patriotic stripshow from Candy, which results in the accidental deployment of the military man’s troops and a shaky landing by T.M.’s wife. From there, a pink scrubs-suited brain surgeon (James Coburn) is called upon to operate, hilariously splattering blood all over his face as he digs into Candy’s unconscious father with scalpels and bone saws as a crowd of onlookers cheer him on. After a successful operation, the doctor and his fans (and also the sedated patient) move to the party room, where they celebrate their triumph. Meanwhile, Candy’s search for her father subjects her to even further demented misadventures. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg as the doe-eyed girl continues on her bizarre odyssey filled with strange people and even stranger sexual encounters, which culminate in an ethereal void.
The supporting cast can barely act, save for the surprising guest appearances by some very big names, all of who probably questioned their involvement after the film’s release. Richard Burton is MacPhisto, the overdramatic, alcoholic thespian; Ringo Starr is Emmanuel, the wide-eyed Mexican gardener; James Coburn is the spider monkey specialist/brain surgeon; John Huston is the head doctor at the mental institution; Walter Matthau is the order-barking general; singer Charles Aznavour is the hunchbacked juggler who also gets a turn with the blue-eyed woman; Anita Pallenberg is a deranged nurse; and Marlon Brando is Grindl, a vegetable-conversing guru living in a trailer, devoid of material concerns – except for bedding Candy. Boxing legend Sugar Ray Robinson even makes a cameo.
The music is very ‘60s, tambourine infused, lighthearted, goofy, and of the caliber found in pornos. The dialogue is similarly dotty, although not without some hidden gems of fast-paced verbal humor. Occasionally, however, it’s little more than gibberish, crass racism, and political incorrectness with exaggerated accents. “Candy” is also peppered with creatively peculiar cinematography, including a shot from beneath the floor, shown as glass, handheld work following around stumbling characters, alternating cuts of MacPhisto fondling a mannequin while Emmanuel has his way with the titular blonde, and the eyes of doctors and nurses following images of bloody surgical tools timed to the beat of rock music. Even backgrounds and props are creepy, unsettling, and out of place.
Characters seem to represent ideas and emotions, without ever clearly being defined as such, and the story proceeds as if made up on the spot with random visuals and without direction or purpose. The reasoning behind it all is the adaptation from the novel by Terry Southern, an erotic comedy based loosely on Voltaire’s Candide. Is it clever satire, a reexamination of optimism, a send-up to classic literature, surrealistic misadventure, or a pointless sex farce? Is it art or trash? Puzzling, hopelessly bizarre, and now viewed as a cult movie, it’s actually a lot like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” with its overt sexuality, general weirdness, and kooky sets. It’s also reminiscent of “Casino Royale’s” (1967) wild partying, British influences, location changes, oddball characters, and extensive cast. Ultimately, however, it’s just too long, baffling, and nonsensical for general audiences to enjoy.
– Mike Massie