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Barbra Streisand shows off her considerable comedic chops in the 1974 madcap comedy For Pete's Sake directed by Peter Yates. Streisand plays Henrietta ("Henry," for short), a Brooklyn housewife married to Pete (Michael Sarrazin), a cab driver with ambitions of being a landscape architect. Henry and Pete are deeply in love, but they are cash-strapped and struggle to make ends meet on a daily basis. When Pete gets the opportunity to invest in pork belly futures on the stock market, Henry borrows three thousand dollars from loan sharks without Pete's knowledge to help him get in on the deal. Unable to pay the borrowers back on time, however, Henry gets involved with a number of shady schemes to help work off her contract. As the interest on the original loan escalates outrageously, so do the absurd comic situations that Henry gets herself into.
In 1973 Barbra Streisand was already one of the biggest stars in the world. In less than a decade she had conquered Broadway, the recording charts, television and the box office with her dynamic talent. At the age of 31, Streisand was already a rare EGOT winner, referring to an exclusive group of entertainers who have earned an Emmy (television), Grammy (music), Oscar® (film) and Tony (Broadway) award. Streisand had nothing to prove professionally, but was always looking for a new challenge in her relatively young career.
Having just come off of two challenging, versatile roles in Up the Sandbox (1972) and The Way We Were (1973), Streisand was ready for some lighter material. She had fared well in Peter Bogdanovich's zany hit comedy What's Up, Doc? (1972), and her manager Marty Erlichman urged her to do something in the same vein for her next project. He also wanted it to be a comedy in which she didn't sing, so that audiences could see she was capable of carrying such a film on her acting merits alone without having to rely on her voice.
Erlichman, who was co-producing the film, commissioned a screenplay from the writing team of Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin. Shapiro, who would co-produce the film with Erlichman, was known for penning several successful Doris Day comedies including Pillow Talk (1959) and That Touch of Mink (1962).
When the screenplay was completed (with the unfortunate original title of July Pork Bellies), Erlichman and Shapiro took it to Ray Stark, who put a deal together to make the film at Columbia Pictures. Englishman Peter Yates, who had scored a major hit with Bullitt in 1968, was slated to direct. Yates knew going into it that "this was really a film to promote Barbra, to make her look great and for people to enjoy her, which they did, I'm glad to say."
With the film set to be a showcase for Barbra Streisand, the biggest challenge in pre-production was to find an actor secure enough to play opposite her as her character's husband Pete. "It's very difficult to cast somebody in a film opposite Barbra," said Yates, "because unless you have a major star, you're going to have problems of balance. But no major star wanted to play it...It was like the girl's part in almost any other film. Instead of the girl following two paces behind the guy, it was the other way around. So we had to find somebody who was a strong personality who could act...and get along with Barbra."
Actors Michael Landon, James Farentino and Michael Sarrazin all tested for the part. In the end it was Sarrazin, who had made a splash opposite Jane Fonda in 1969's They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, who won out. Sarrazin seemed to have a natural chemistry with Streisand, and the two hit it off right away. The supporting cast was rounded out with some terrific veteran character actors, including Molly Picon as Henry's madame Mrs. Cherry and Estelle Parsons as Henry's spiteful sister-in-law Helen.
Director Yates wanted to give Barbra Streisand a new look for the film. He wanted her appearance to reflect the young and modern woman that she was at the time. He encouraged her to sport a fresh, short hairstyle (courtesy of Streisand's then boyfriend, famed celebrity hair stylist Jon Peters) and dress in sexier more form-fitting clothes that would show off what he called her "very good figure" that often got covered up in films. For Pete's Sake, said Yates, would be all about featuring Streisand at her most attractive and appealing.
Shooting began in September 1973 under the new and much improved title For Pete's Sake. Shot mostly on location in and around Brooklyn, the film proved to be a fun experience and a chance for Streisand to enjoy being back on her old New York stomping grounds. Whenever she was filming an exterior scene on the streets of Brooklyn, it was no easy task to keep large crowds at bay that wanted to catch a glimpse of their beloved hometown girl.
Peter Yates enjoyed working with Streisand. He described her as a "marvelous comedienne" with "terrific timing." He also found her "far more friendly than her reputation would lead you to believe...She was absolutely delightful. Mind you, we were making a film that was supposed to promote her, a proper old Hollywood star vehicle. And it's very difficult to quarrel with someone when you're trying to make them look as good as possible."
Even though For Pete's Sake was intended to showcase Streisand the actress and not the singer, in the end the producers couldn't resist taking advantage of her golden voice in some way. Streisand recorded a new song called "For Pete's Sake (Don't Let Him Down)", which plays over the film's opening credit sequence.
When the film opened in the summer of 1974, it was a solid hit, though it fell short of some of the blockbuster success that Streisand had enjoyed in the past and reviews were mixed. There was praise for Streisand the comedienne but some criticism for the old-fashioned farcical devices used in the outrageous story. Nevertheless, For Pete's Sake did what it was supposed to do: provide a light-hearted vehicle for Streisand's multi-faceted talent. As Peter Yates said in a 2001 interview, "it's supposed to be enjoyed and not taken seriously."
Producer: Martin Erlichman, Stanley Shapiro
Director: Peter Yates
Screenplay: Stanley Shapiro, Maurice Richlin
Cinematography: Laszlo Kovacs
Music: Artie Butler
Film Editing: Frank P. Keller
Cast: Barbra Streisand (Henrietta 'Henry' Robbins), Michael Sarrazin (Pete Robbins), Estelle Parsons (Helen Robbins), Molly Picon (Mrs. Cherry), William Redfield (Fred Robbins), Louis Zorich (Nick Kasabian, the Dispatcher), Heywood Hale Broun (Judge Hiller), Richard Ward (Bernie), Ed Bakey (Angelo), Peter Mamakos (Dominic).
C-90m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.
by Andrea Passafiume