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Liv Ullmann plays 40-year-old divorcee Ann in the sophisticated romantic comedy, 40 Carats (1973). A successful realtor who seems to have it all, Ann goes on holiday in Greece where she meets Peter (Edward Albert), who is instantly smitten with her and tries valiantly to woo her. Peter is attractive, intelligent, and independent - everything Ann would want in a man. The only catch: Peter is half her age. After a brief but passionate fling, Ann returns to the States, and that is the end of their May-December romance as far as she is concerned. Peter, however, has other plans.
40 Carats was based on a French play by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Gredy, the same team that also wrote Fleur de Cactus on which the hit play and film Cactus Flower (1969) was based. In 1967 famed Broadway producer David Merrick saw Forty Carats performed in Paris. He liked it so much that he purchased the American rights to the material. Merrick then hired writer Jay Allen to adapt the French play into English. Forty Carats opened on Broadway in 1968. It had a successful run of 780 performances, and its star, Julie Harris, won a Tony award for Best Actress.
To make the film version, producer Mike Frankovich teamed up with director Milton Katselas. The duo had successfully collaborated the year before on the hit film Butterflies Are Free (1972) starring Goldie Hawn and Edward Albert. To write the screenplay for 40 Carats, they hired Leonard Gershe, who had worked with them before on the Butterflies Are Free script.
Liv Ullmann, the acclaimed Norwegian actress, was chosen to play the lead role of Ann. The role was considered a plum part for older actresses and was in high demand throughout Hollywood. Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Joanne Woodward, Doris Day, and Glenda Jackson were all considered. Ullmann, who had made her mark working under Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, was an unlikely choice. However, 40 Carats offered the 37-year-old actress a chance to shine in a lighter romantic comedy--a refreshing departure from the heavier roles she was used to playing.
The young up-and-coming actor Edward Albert (son of Eddie Albert) was chosen to play Ann's 22-year-old suitor, Peter. Albert had received acclaim the year before in Butterflies Are Free playing Goldie Hawn's blind neighbor..
Mike Frankovich and Milton Katselas wanted the legendary Gene Kelly to play Ann's amiable ex-husband Billy from the start. However, they were unsure that a star of his magnitude would accept a small supporting part. Kelly, who had not appeared in a feature film since 1966, was caring for his terminally ill wife at the time and didn't like to be away from home for very long.
The character of Billy, however, was perfect for Kelly, and he wanted to do it. The part was charming, the cast was stellar and best of all for Kelly, it would require only 6 days of work. Sharing his enthusiasm, his wife encouraged him to do 40 Carats. "I couldn't see myself declining the opportunity to work with Liv Ullmann, an enchanting actress," said Kelly. "I wanted to work in a film with that wonderful actress and that was enough." Like any good actor, Kelly was more interested in the quality of his role rather than the size of it. "That's not the point," said Kelly when asked about taking a supporting part. "It's good material and it's time we in Hollywood got away from this pretentious business of labeling the appearance of a star in a small part as a cameo, as if excusing it."
The film version of 40 Carats made a successful transition from stage to screen, though it made some significant changes from the original story. The reviews were mixed, but there was praise all around for the wonderful veteran supporting cast including Binnie Barnes, Deborah Raffin, Nancy Walker and Natalie Schafer. In the end, 40 Carats found a small but appreciative audience among more mature filmgoers.
Producer: M.J. Frankovich
Director: Milton Katselas
Screenplay: Leonard Gershe, Jay Presson Allen, Pierre Barillet (play), Jean-Pierre Gredy (play)
Cinematography: Charles Lang
Film Editing: David E. Blewitt
Art Direction: Robert Clatworthy
Music: Michel Legrand
Cast: Liv Ullmann (Ann Stanley), Edward Albert (Peter Latham), Gene Kelly (Billy Boylan), Binnie Barnes (Maud Ericson), Deborah Raffin (Trina Stanley), Billy Green Bush (J.D. Rogers).
by Andrea Passafiume