Cast & Crew
During the depression of the 1930's, eight young women graduate from college and confidently face their futures. Lakey, the undisputed leader of the group, leaves for an extended stay in Europe. Dottie, a Boston Brahmin, abandons her well-ordered life to become the mistress of a Greenwich Village artist. Their affair lasts only one night, and the heartbroken Dottie returns to New England and the inevitable "proper" marriage to an Arizona business magnate. Priss, quiet and frail, is forced to give up her dream of working for President Roosevelt's poverty program when Congress declares it to be illegal. Instead, she marries an ambitious pediatrician and has two miscarriages before finally giving birth to a son. Her husband's insistence that their child be breast-fed results in a physically weak and exhausted Priss and a spoiled child. Kay, nervous and insecure, quickly marries a young playwright and helps support him by working at Macy's, but he has a weakness for liquor and other women. During a party at their apartment, when the entire group except Lakey is present, the failure of Kay's marriage, as well as her husband's career, becomes obvious. Polly, sweet and practical, takes a hospital job and has a brief, unrewarding affair with an indecisive man who cannot break the ties holding him to his estranged wife and his psychiatrist. She does, however, find happiness with a young doctor. Helena, rich, talented, and the class valedictorian, is denied her parents' permission to teach and spends her unmarried life traveling, collecting art, and giving teas. Libby, attractive and the most ambitious of the group, plunges into New York's literary set and rapidly achieves professional success but is frigid and a personal failure. Finally there is Pokey, who, after short-lived flings at flying lessons and veterinary classes, becomes an uncomplicated wife and the mother of two sets of twins. In 1939, war pressures in Europe force Lakey to return. The entire group assembles to meet her, and upon seeing her mannish baroness companion, they realize that Lakey is a lesbian. At a party celebrating Polly's engagement to her doctor, the radio announces Hitler's invasion of Holland and Belgium. Polly, worried about Kay, who has had a nervous breakdown following a violent marriage breakup, telephones her at her apartment. Hysterical, Kay has heard the newscast and, hearing what she believes to be German planes overhead, leans too far out of a window and plunges to her death. At the funeral, her arrogant husband is quietly but firmly rebuked by Lakey.
Bruno Di Cosmi
Robert De Cormier
Charles K. Feldman
Anna Hill Johnstone
Jack Wright Jr.
Then Feldman upped the publicity ante for The Group (1966) by casting seven little-known but very talented young actresses...and Candice Bergen. Nineteen-year-old Bergen, the daughter of ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, had become highly visible as a fashion model. She had never acted, and had no interest in acting, but was at loose ends after flunking out of college, so she agreed to play the relatively small role of Lakey, the group's leader, who is revealed as a lesbian. Shirley Knight, who played Polly, was the best known among the young cast, having been twice nominated for Academy Awards as Best Supporting Actress for The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1960) and Sweet Bird of Youth (1962). Elizabeth Hartman, who played Priss, was also an Oscar nominee for her debut film, A Patch of Blue (1965). Jessica Walter, who played the brittle Libby, had appeared in just one film, though she had done theater and television. Making their film debuts in The Group were stage actresses Joan Hackett as Dottie, whose sexual awakening had been the most-discussed scene in the book; Joanna Pettet as Kay, whose wedding and funeral begin and end the story; Kathleen Widdoes as Helena, the group's artist and chronicler; and Mary-Robin Redd, as rich, dopey Pokey.
Feldman hired veteran screenwriter Sidney Buchman to adapt the book and produce the film. Sidney Lumet was hired to direct -- an odd choice, some thought, for a story of WASPy Vassar girls. Lumet came from a theatrical family. His parents were actors in the Yiddish theater (his father would play Mr. Schneider in The Group), and Lumet had been a child actor. He'd started as a director in television, and had made nine features, although he'd never had a box-office hit. Critic Pauline Kael, in her long essay on the making of The Group, describes Lumet when the film began as "the director producers settled for when they couldn't get the one they wanted - everybody's second choice." But with his background in television, Lumet worked quickly and economically. And, Kael conceded, "he showed a professional respect for acting and his job." And Lumet's work was getting attention. While he was making The Group, two of his other films, The Pawnbroker (1965) and The Hill (1965), opened to great critical acclaim. "By the time The Group was finished," Kael wrote, "everybody knew he was going to be a big director."
Most of the film was made in and around New York, still a rarity in 1966. With a budget of $2,600,000, The Group was the most expensive movie made to date in that city. But the film came in on time and on budget. It was made with no major logistical problems and, in spite of the huge, mostly female cast, no major catfights. However, Candice Bergen recalls in her autobiography that she did encounter some hostility from the other girls. For one thing, she got the lion's share of attention from the press. For another, she was an aspiring journalist, and was writing an article for Esquire about the making of the film. Bergen claimed her notes disappeared, and she received some not-so-veiled threats from one of the other actresses. But she also concedes that she was snotty, undiplomatic, and not a serious actress.
The Kael article, which is critical of the filmmaking process, is nevertheless a fascinating and detailed look at how a film gets made. The highly opinionated critic attacked the filmmakers for failing to pay attention to the novel's depictions of the characters' motivations. And she could be scathing, as when she describes Lumet telling an actress to play a scene with a "terrible smile" on her face. "Lumet is prodigal with bad ideas," she harrumphed. Yet in spite of her complaints, Kael liked the movie, calling it "one of the few interesting American movies of recent years...the talented, fresh young performers are given some material to work with."
In spite of all the publicity, The Group was not a commercial success, and barely made back its cost. But over the years, it has become something of a cult favorite. As for the notoriously curmudgeonly Mary McCarthy, she was already annoyed that the book had gotten the bestseller treatment and that she was getting so much attention. But the film had been remarkably faithful to the novel, and a friend who accompanied her to a screening said McCarthy liked the film visually. At the end of the film, the author murmured, "It'll do."
Producer: Sidney Buchman
Director: Sidney Lumet
Screenplay: Sidney Buchman, from the novel by Mary McCarthy
Editor: Ralph Rosenblum
Cinematography: Boris Kaufman
Production Designer: Gene Callahan Set Decorator: Jack Wright, Jr.
Costume Designer: Anna Hill Johnstone
Principal Cast: Candice Bergen (Elinor Eastlake), Joan Hackett (Dottie Renfrew), Elizabeth Hartman (Priss Hartshorn), Shirley Knight (Polly Andrews), Joanna Pettet (Kay Strong), Mary-Robin Redd (Pokey Prothero), Jessica Walter (Libby McAusland), Kathleen Widdoes (Helena Davison).
by Margarita Landazuri
Location scenes filmed in New York City. The Group marked the film debut of actress Candice Bergen.
Released in United States October 1996
Released in United States Spring March 1966
Candace Bergen's screen debut.
Released in United States Spring March 1966
Released in United States October 1996 (Shown at AFI/Los Angeles International Film Festival (All-Night Movie Marathon 1996 - On the Verge: Hollywood and the End of Censorship, 1960-1070) October 18-31, 1996.)