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  I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! Try The Brownies
Year: 1968
Director: Hy Averback
Stars: Peter Sellers, Jo Van Fleet, Leigh Taylor-Young, Joyce Van Patten, David Arkin, Herb Edelman, Salem Ludwig, Louis Gottlieb, Grady Sutton, Janet E. Clark, Jorge Moreno, Ed Peck, Jack Margolis, Eddra Gale, Carol O'Leary, Gary Brown, Sidney Clute, Roy Glenn
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Harold Fine (Peter Sellers) is a middle class lawyer in Los Angeles who makes a decent living and has a girlfriend, Joyce (Joyce Van Patten), who loves him, yet though he would have trouble admitting it, there's something missing from his life that he can't quite put his finger on. One night, he has spent the evening with Joyce and they have made love, but when it comes to taking her home there are two problems: first, she keeps going on about wanting to set a date for marriage because neither of them are getting any younger, and second he manages to crash a thoughtless neighbour's car into his own...

There are quite a few instances of Hollywood trying to cash in on the latest trend of the day, and quite often today's hip and happening entertainment can look like yesterday's laughing stock, but in this film's case it was always supposed to be funny anyway. Not that it didn't appear dated now with its preoccupation with the hippies seizing the headlines in the late sixties, and even its theme of finding yourself could come across as past it when most people couldn't reach a consensus in the twenty-first century about what was able to make you happy, yet for all the bandwagon-jumping in Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker's script, they might have been onto something.

It wasn't all hippies here, as there was an interesting line in Jewish humour as well, which was intriguing for its star Sellers, who may have been of that faith but didn't often make obvious comedy of his background. Here he adopted a mild American accent and tackled an overbearing mother (Jo Van Fleet) and that sense of duty, of conformity, that many religions insisted upon which made for a strange mix with the drop out gags proliferating alongside the slightly more stereotypical business. Not that the hippies were any less clich├ęd, yet that fitting in as opposed to rebelling tone was the basis for a rich seam of laughs, the most memorable scene being where Harold, Joyce and his parents partake of hash brownies (courtesy of the titular Toklas recipe).

Presumably this was near the knuckle humour for the squares of 1968, though now it appears to be the stuff of many a sitcom episode since, but crucially it was funny, as was a lot of this thanks to the sympathy we feel for the confused main character. That script was nicely constructed with the satisfaction of watching toppling dominos, with one plot point leading easily and effortlessly to another, beginning with Harold having to get his car repaired and in a hint of things to come the only replacement the garage has is a psychedelically-painted station wagon belonging to the owner's eloped son. It is around this point we learn that Harold's brother Herb (David Arkin) has dropped out of society.

So when Harold picks him up to take him to a funeral, along comes Herb's sort of partner Nancy (Leigh Taylor-Young, making a good impression in her movie debut) who begins to fascinate our hapless hero - it is she who bakes the brownies. Soon he has jilted Joyce at the altar to run off with her, and becomes a fully-fledged, ageing flower child, much to the horror of his family. Sellers played this very well, never quite abandoning the straightlaced nature of his character even when he's stoned, with he and Taylor-Young a winning and offbeat couple who we can tell are not really right for each other even if they take a while to acknowledge it themselves. There were just as many digs at the hippies as there were at the middle classes, but with a wistful quality as if to muse, if you don't fit in with these two poles then where does that leave you? If nothing else, I Love You Alice B. Toklas! (as sung by Harper's Bizarre throughout) was redolent of its era, a time capsule not wholly convinced of the worth of that era. Music by Elmer Bernstein.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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