Cast & Crew
While doing research for a documentary, filmmaker Bob Sanders takes his wife, Carol, to an Esalen-type "sensitivity" institute in Southern California. Enlightened by the experience, the couple vow to expand their capacities for love and understanding by sharing everything with each other. So great is their enthusiasm that they decide to share their newfound "liberation" with their closest friends, lawyer Ted Henderson and his wife, Alice. But the Hendersons, particularly the somewhat inhibited Alice, remain skeptical. Following a trip to San Francisco, Bob confesses to his wife that he had a brief extramarital fling with his production secretary.
Deeply moved by Bob's frankness and trust, Carol repeats Bob's confession to Ted and Alice, but the revelation leaves Alice so aghast that she feels compelled to visit a psychiatrist to discuss her sexual life with Ted. Upon returning from another trip, Bob finds that Carol spent the previous night with Horst, the tennis instructor from their club. Stifling his initial hostility in favor of a more "civilized" attitude, Bob insists that Horst sit down and join him in a friendly drink. A short time later Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice go off to Las Vegas for a weekend. Before leaving to catch Tony Bennett's dinner show, Bob relates Carol's experience with Horst, and Ted is moved to admit that he, too, recently indulged in a brief adulterous episode.
Unhinged by what has happened, Alice defiantly demands that they have an orgy before going out to dinner. After some hesitation and discussion, the two couples agree to the proposal and all four climb into one large bed. Despite some preliminaries, however, they find that they are unable to go through with it. Filled with good will toward each other, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice get dressed, leave the hotel, and join the throngs of people milling about outside.
Donald F. Muhich
Noble Lee Holderread Jr.
K. T. Stevens
M. J. Frankovich
M. J. Frankovich
Stuart H. Pappé
Charles J. Rice
Frank [a.] Tuttle
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best Writing, Screenplay
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
Writer-director Mazursky was wise enough to resist the temptation to come off as superior to the fatuousness of the so-called sexual revolution of the 1960s. It's not about people slipping out of clothes. It's about people slipping into attitudes, usually with snowballingly funny deadpan solemnity as they keep congratulating one another on the honesty and openness in which they think they're trafficking. Far from dealing in sexual uproar, Mazursky and his film realize its motor is its characters' insecurities, seething beneath their sleek exteriors and strained laid-backness. It's a comedy of attitudes and manners, as close as LA gets to Noel Coward not just slick, but graceful in its stylized artifice, sweet, with unconcealed affection for its four titular sexual pilgrims stumbling toward self-awareness through discomfort.
That, and the ability of Mazursky and co-writer Larry Tucker to rev up the psychobabble and play it against the lack of conviction of the characters gushing it, has, one suspects, kept it from dating as thoroughly as its Southern California Love Generation milieu has. Elliott Gould and Dyan Cannon got supporting actor and actress Oscar® nominations (until then he was best known as Barbra Streisand's ex, she as Cary Grant's). They play the square couple Ted & Alice -- led into a mate-changing situation by Natalie Wood's and Robert Culp's self-styled sophisticates, Bob & Carol, after each not only admits an extramarital affair to the other, but expects and gets -- Brownie points for honesty. The hilarity peaks in a scene where Culp's Bob, returning earlier than scheduled from an out-of-town business trip, finds his wife in their bedroom with a tennis pro, and behaves toward the embarrassed guest with a false urbanity that we can't fail to notice is completely at odds with what his face tells us he's really feeling.
We're hot-wired to the rage and betrayal he feels, but he isn't. That's the point. Their will to obtuseness and fear that they are stuck in outmoded behavior eventually proves contagious to their very straight friends until Alice does a 180 in a hotel suite in Las Vegas and flips from dubiousness and resistance to an orgy-ready striptease that leads to the four of them sharing a bed. Gould amusingly takes an inordinately long time brushing his teeth before completing the foursome (and wearing his socks to bed) to bring to an inevitable end the misadventure into which Bob & Carol found themselves swept during their mountaintop weekend where mislabeled feelings were verbalized constantly, but actually felt not at all.
Thus the film that begins with the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah, as Bob & Carol tool up a mountain road in their open convertible on their way to the Essalen-like institute, ends with the Burt Bachrach-Hal Davis "What the World Needs Now" as aural underpinning to a Fellini-like daisy-chain-of-life procession. More derivative than brilliant, that ending, but it gets them out of that hotel suite and it does preserve the benign worldliness of the writing by Mazursky and Tucker (both of whom appear in cameos, with Tucker looking right into the camera).
Given mostly uneasiness to play, Gould and Cannon play it robustly. She's brittle, he's a paragon of uptightness. Wood and Culp are given an extra layer of complexity, which puts them more at risk, but pays greater dividends. There's a twinkle in the eye of Wood that in fact invites skepticism. Half the time you ask yourself if her Carol is really just pretending to play along, tongue firmly in cheek. She seems a shade too worldly to convince us she really believes the nonsense that's put in Carol's mouth to speak. But her lusty mischievousness overcomes all. It dispels any hint of the pre-shoot anxiety Wood had been feeling after a three-year absence from moviemaking and her general uneasiness about playing comedy, a realm in which she was relatively inexperienced.
Moreover, the script's semi-improvisatory quality (Mazursky and Tucker started out at that legendary temple of improv, The Second City) mitigate the Beverly Hills housewife stereotype and Wood's overall anxiety. In its day, the film stood apart from most other sendups of marital and social mores by the frequent edginess in the writing and by Mazursky's lively, rhythmically steady figurative directorial baton. Today, it's the writing's spirit of tolerance that seems to give the film ongoing life, outweighing what would otherwise be its dated topicality. In a time when the term adult comedy still usually means childish comedy, the humanity behind its sharp-eyed writing still makes Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice seem lastingly adult.
Producer: Larry Tucker
Director: Paul Mazursky
Screenplay: Paul Mazursky, Larry Tucker
Cinematography: Charles F. Lang
Art Direction: Pato Guzman
Music: Quincy Jones
Film Editing: Stuart H. Pappe
Cast: Natalie Wood (Carol Sanders), Robert Culp (Bob Sanders), Elliott Gould (Ted Henderson), Dyan Cannon (Alice Henderson), Horst Ebersberg (Horst), Lee Bergere (Emilio), Donald F. Muhich (psychiatrist), Noble Lee Holderread, Jr. (Sean Sanders), K.T. Stevens (Phyllis), Celeste Yarnall (Susan), Lynn Borden (Cutter).
by Jay Carr
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
The film's confused characters express the confusion of the times, even as they emancipate their emotions by spouting feel-good rhetoric. Paul Mazursky's film is frequently described as a satire but certainly doesn't play like one. Every scene seems 100% earnest, even if Mazursky leads off with Handel's Messiah playing over shots of sun-worshipping nudists.
Synopsis: Bob and Carol Sanders (Robert Culp and Natalie Wood) attend an Esalen-style encounter session and are inspired to attempt full honesty and emotional openness in their lives. This alarms their best friends Ted and Alice Henderson (Elliott Gould and Dyan Cannon), especially when Bob admits to having an affair on a business trip, and Carol openly welcomes his candor. Bob in turn has to accept his wife's freedom to have an affair of her own, and the inaudible but real sound of marital taboos shattering has a strong affect on both couples. Alice, previously the most uptight member of the foursome, eventually challenges them all to be really honest about what they want, and on a weekend trip to Vegas declares that the solution is an all-out orgy.
I've always been suspicious of outside attempts to influence my thinking, and the group encounter methods shown for perhaps the first time in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice provoke the same reaction. By admitting that one is looking for something missing in life, the participant opens up to new experiences that are only as genuine as the personalities involved. Just as my teenaged Tae Kwon Do children thought it hilarious that their martial arts instructors shouted for them to "Meditate!" as if ordering a high kick, telling people to be honest with each other produces not honesty, but instead surrender to the will of the instructor or the peer group. (Personal opinion.)
So it doesn't at all seem like a good thing when the Sanders confront the Hendersons with their "lack of emotional openness" and "unwillingness to be honest." Bob practically bends Ted's arm to his way of thinking. The foursome already has a great fondness for each other but that natural state is seen as inadequate to Bob and Carol, who insist that every bit of "love" be brought out into the open. Each person finds his or her own level of comfortable interaction, and I frankly have little use for Hollywood types that insist on getting all huggy-feely. When casual acquaintances greet each other with profuse expressions of affection, it waters down the currency of affection.
If anything Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice comes off as an honest exploration of the difference between free love and loving relationships. The whole 'revolutionary' concept behind the original Free Love movement was that by having only loving relationships with our neighbors and friends, hostility and aggression would vanish, you know, the flowers-in-the-gun-muzzle thing. That, and by eliminating sexual hang-ups, people would be emancipated from the rules of "the establishment" and free to invent better ways of living. Right on. It all sounds great, but I never saw it work well for young hippies unless they had some outside source of finance. These chain-wearing, Jaguar XKE driving hipsters smoke pot and think they have it all, but they're exactly as Bob describes himself, a middle-aged guy trying to act younger than he is.
1969 audiences were surely fascinated by Bob & Carol's open-minded application of new rules to deal with marital infidelity. Bob and Carol believe that it's cool to have sex outside the relationship so long as the relationship isn't threatened. That's fine and dandy, but who can promise such a thing? Isolating sex from emotional commitment only works for predators and randy youngsters who think they're getting away with something. And it's wrong to assume that the outside partners just want sex as recreation. Most people who claim that are looking for something deeper.
Although I don't think that many picked up on it at the time, it now appears that the Carol character (Dyan Cannon) shows the other three the folly of their ways by proving that she's no prude and bravely calling their bluff. The others are coy and smug about their comfort level with sexual openness, but Carol has the guts to push the hypocrisy to the limit. If sex doesn't mean anything, she says, let's all get naked and have an orgy. I think that's practically the last dialogue in the movie. When the foursome in a bed scene doesn't gel, all must face the fact that total freedom with no strings attached is a hollow goal. The film ends in a limp Fellini-esque scene that uses the Burt Bacharach song "What the World Needs Now (is Love Sweet Love)" as a feel-good crutch and an Easy Out.
There's a lot of honesty in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice - it commendably confronted issues on everyone's mind - but in 1969 it could go only so far. When films like Carnal Knowledge picked up the torch and continued forward with the issue of the sexual revolution, they invariably turned dark and malevolent, eventually coming full circle with the downright punitive Looking for Mr. Goodbar.
The four main actors do a fine job, especially Robert Culp and Dyan Cannon. Both Natalie Wood and Culp are able to deliver the difficult "you cheated but it's okay and I love you" scenes without coming off as total idiots.
Columbia TriStar's DVD of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice sports a fine enhanced transfer and good color. Quincy Jones' unobtrusive score is nicely presented. Paul Mazursky dominates an audio commentary that reunites all of his stars save the beloved Ms. Wood, who died in 1981. The director also shows up in a lively interview taped at the Strasberg Theater Center West in 1983, plugging a new book.
For more information about Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, visit Sony Entertainment. To order Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
First, we'll have an orgy. Then we'll go see Tony Bennett.- Ted Henderson
'Natalie Wood' decided to gamble her $750,000 salary on a percentage of the gross, earning $3 million. She had earlier declined a similar offer with West Side Story (1961).
Actors who turned down roles in the film included Warren Beatty, 'Robert Redford' , 'Steve McQueen' , Tuesday Weld, Jane Fonda and Faye Dunaway.
Location scenes filmed in California.
1969 New York Film Critics Awards for Best Supporting Actress (Cannon) and Best Screenplay.
1969 Writer's Guild of America Award for Best-Written American Comedy Written Directly for the Screen.
Released in United States 1982
Released in United States 1996
Released in United States 1999
Released in United States September 16, 1969
Released in United States Summer July 1969
Shown at Avignon/New York Film Festival in New York City (French Institute) April 22 - May 2, 1999.
Shown at New York Film Festival September 16, 1969.
Feature directorial debut for Paul Mazursky.
Released in United States 1982 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Natalie Wood: A Retrospective) March 16 - April 1, 1982.)
Released in United States 1996 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "Out of the Seventies: Hollywood's New Wave 1969-1975" May 31 - July 25, 1996.)
Released in United States 1999 (Shown at Avignon/New York Film Festival in New York City (French Institute) April 22 - May 2, 1999.)
Released in United States 1999 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "Columbia 75" November 19 - January 13, 1999.)
Released in United States Summer July 1969
Released in United States September 16, 1969 (Shown at New York Film Festival September 16, 1969.)