Cast & Crew
At Amherst College in the late 1940s, freshmen roommates Jonathan and Sandy develop a friendly rivalry over their attempts at "scoring" on their dates with female coeds. The sexually aggressive Jonathan wants to be "smothered and mothered" by large breasts, while shy, romantic Sandy claims to value intelligence and sincerity. At a college party, Jonathan spots Smith College student Susan and, after summarily dismissing her breast size, encourages Sandy to approach her. Sandy's initial clumsy attempt leads to several dates with the intellectual and humorous Susan, which he then reports in detail to Jonathan. After Jonathan pushes him to "feel her up," Sandy persists in trying to touch Susan's breasts on a subsequent date, but Susan claims that she is not sexually attracted to him. Desperate, Sandy admits that she is the first girl that he has ever tried to touch in that way. Feeling sorry for Sandy, Susan allows him to touch her while she puts her hand on his penis. After Jonathan learns that Susan is more promiscuous than he had previously thought, he asks Susan to go out with him. While neither Jonathan nor Susan tells Sandy about the resulting romance, Sandy continues to tell Jonathan about his dates with Susan, claiming that he has fallen in love because she appreciates his sensitivity and intellect. On his next date with Susan, Jonathan, jealous that Susan likes Sandy more than him, tries to win her sympathy by fabricating a story about his humble childhood which led him to want to become a socially conscious lawyer. Several dates later, Jonathan's ploy pays off and Susan agrees to have sex, but does not enjoy the act. Jonathan describes his dates with Susan to Sandy, but calls her "Myrtle" to keep their betrayal a secret. When Sandy learns that Jonathan has lost his virginity with "Myrtle," he tries to have sex with Susan, who at first refuses but finally relents. Months later, Sandy confesses to Jonathan that he is jealous of the fact that Jonathan lost his virginity before him and continues to have more adventuresome sex than he does. One night, when the three friends go out together, Susan dances with both men, enjoying Jonathan's suave demeanor and easy footwork more than Sandy's awkward attempts at intimacy on the dance floor. Later, Jonathan, angry that Susan has told Sandy that she feels so close to him she can read his thoughts, demands that Susan choose between the two men. When they both agree to break the affair soon after, Susan suggests that they can still be friends, but Jonathan coolly remarks, "I hope not." Days later in Sandy and Jonathan's dormitory room, Susan and Sandy playfully argue like a married couple over packing for a camping trip while Jonathan sullenly watches. Over ten years later, the two friends meet and discuss their lives. Jonathan, who is now a taxman, is still the consummate playboy and complains that assertive women are gold-digging castrators and claims that he wants to settle down with someone "if their figure is good enough." Meanwhile Sandy, who has married Susan and started a family, is bored with their suburban life and jealous of Jonathan's sexual freedom. Soon after, Jonathan begins dating television model Bobbie, whose revealing clothing displays her voluptuous figure. After several weeks of dating and passionate lovemaking with Jonathan, Bobbie suggests they move in together, but Jonathan rejects the proposal, suggesting that it will ruin their sex. Soon after, Jonathan confesses to Sandy that he was experiencing moments of impotence but has been cured by his attraction to Bobbie's figure. After Bobbie moves in with him, Jonathan insists that she quit her job, promising to provide for her. Bobbie concedes in hopes of marrying Jonathan and having children, but he continues to adamantly resist to the idea. At home with nothing to do, Bobbie becomes increasingly depressed, rarely leaving her bed and barely capable of warming television dinners for Jonathan. Lacking in any tenderness, Jonathan constantly berates and humiliates Bobbie, causing her to weep in despair. After Jonathan rages at Bobbie for having a more "checkered" sexual past than him and orders her to do something useful like housework, a desperate and sobbing Bobbie states that she cannot stand her life. One night, when Sandy and his sophisticated mistress, Cindy, are at Jonathan's apartment to pick them up for a party, Jonathan tells Sandy that Bobbie is too passive, while Sandy claims Cindy dominates him in the bedroom. After Jonathan urges Sandy to swap partners for the night, Sandy agrees and goes to the bedroom to find Bobbie. Jonathan then dances with Cindy, who refuses his advances, confidently explaining that she will sleep with him but only on her terms. When Cindy leaves after ordering Jonathan to tell Sandy that he should not bother returning home if he sleeps with Bobbie, Jonathan opens the bedroom door to find Bobbie passed out from an overdose and Sandy calling an ambulance. Even as he witnesses Bobbie's despair, Jonathan can only yell at the unconscious woman that their relationship is "not going to work out." In the 1970s, twenty years since their college days, the now jaded middle-aged friends are still far from understanding love in a committed relationship. Wealthy Jonathan complains about his alimony payments to his now ex-wife Bobbie and their child, while Sandy, desperate to recapture his youth, dates demure eighteen-year-old Jennifer, dresses in hippie attire and espouses the "free love" of the new generation. When Sandy and Jennifer visit Jonathan, he presents a slide show of all his past lovers, including a picture of Susan which he attempts to ignore, referring to them all as "frigid ballbusters," and paints increasingly degrading verbal portraits of each woman, upsetting Sandy and Jennifer. Later, Jonathan confesses to Sandy that he has only glimpsed the illusive nature of love through brief sexual encounters, while Sandy laments that when he finally falls in love with a woman and makes a commitment, his sexual interest in them dies. With his impotence increasing, Jonathan seeks out prostitute Louise, who obliges Jonathan's obsessive request that she perform a verbal ritual worshipping men's "virile" and "domineering" behavior and castigating women as manipulative and castrating. When Louise veers slightly from the script, an enraged Jonathan, whose libido has immediately faltered, demands that she repeat the lines verbatim to ensure his satisfaction.
Joe L. Cramer
Lawrence O. Jost
Joseph E. Levine
Mary Ellen Mark
George R. Nelson
After college, we drop in on the men still friends, still comparing notes about love, life and women, still fumbling through failing relationships as young professionals in New York City in the sixties and finally as forty-somethings at the turn of the seventies. Sandy divorces and grows a mustache and Jonathan just bastes in his own bitterness at broken relationships and the women of his past. Cartoonist-turned-playwright Jules Feiffer, who turned his own unproduced play into this original screenplay, scripts an unflattering portrait of American men who are not so much in love as in lust, looking for what they think they want and coming up unfulfilled, angry or simply bored. Sandy extols the virtues of married life and a devoted wife, but he sounds more like he's trying to convince himself than share his bliss with Jonathan. "It's not as easy getting laid as it used to be," complains Jonathan, who meets his idea of the perfect woman at a party. Ann-Margret comes on like a tiger as Bobbie, a sassy, sexy woman who is all cleavage when we first meet her (it's all Jonathan can do to tear his leer away from her bosom). "I'd met women like Bobbie Templeton, sensuous and fragile," wrote Ann-Margret in her autobiography. "Bobbie wants to marry and have children, but the man she is obsessed with, Jonathan, turns into a madman at the thought of surrendering his freedom." Their relationship is all sex and fun until Bobbie suggests that they "shack up." All too quickly her confidence evaporates and she becomes passive and starved for affection and affirmation, two things that Jonathan simply can't provide.
The downward spiral of this affair is as raw as they come and the savage verbal attacks and attitude of contempt cut through Nichols' coolly observed style. Shooting in long takes and slow camera moves that follow the rhythms of the performers, with periodic close-ups of the men speaking directly to the audience, as if conversing with the camera, it's a handsome film with subdued color and austere sets and settings. The better for the confusion, the self-delusion, the anger and frustration to jolt the 1971 audience off-balance.
Carnal Knowledge was shot largely in Vancouver, B.C., with some scenes on location in New York City. Nichols, who had come to films from the stage, was very attentive to performers and performances and rehearsed his cast extensively before going in front of the cameras. Off-screen, Nicholson, Garfunkel and Bergen shared a house for the Vancouver shoot, a "tiny utopia," in Bergen's words. "Many of us had been friends before the shooting, and those of us who weren't became friends during it." It was, by all accounts, a generous and supportive group of people and a happy set.
Jack Nicholson had yet to break as a major American star his most notable role to date was in Easy Rider (1969) and his breakthrough film, Five Easy Pieces (1970), was not yet released when Nichols cast him as Jonathan. Writer Jules Feiffer, who was often on set, was dubious that Nicholson was right for the role of a ferociously womanizing Jew from the Bronx but was won over by his intensity and attention. "I remember watching the shacking-up scene," recalled Feiffer. "I couldn't believe Jack's directness and simplicity and intelligence. He got everything." Nicholson, a director in his own right (he was busy editing his directorial debut, Drive, He Said, on weekends), was reportedly very attentive to the other actors and remained the on set to feed lines off-camera.
This was Art Garfunkel's second film as an actor (he had made his acting debut in Nichols' Catch-22, 1970) and his first as a lead. He's dominated by powerhouse Nicholson but it works for their onscreen dynamic: Sandy seems forever to be explaining and justifying himself to Jonathan, who from the beginning acts the role of the wiser, more experienced one. Ann-Margret, still best known as an entertainer, was desperate to break out of her image as a sex-kitten and made the most of this challenging and complex adult role. "I'm not a technical actress," she writes in My Story. "I can't turn it on and off. I'm all raw emotion and nerves. I literally become the person I'm playing." The transformation took its toll. "I spent hours at night pacing the bathroom, depressed, teetering on the brink of a breakdown, and hoping I made it through the movie." She earned rave reviews, an Oscar nomination and recognition as a serious actress, but at a personal cost: "Carnal Knowledge left me in a depressive stupor fueled by pills and alcohol."
The film was a critical hit and a popular success, thanks to strong, unself-conscious performances, the discomforting intimacy and wit of Feiffer's script and the sharp observations in Nichols' direction. And the combination of frank sexual discussions, unnerving portraits of male behavior and (partially obscured) nudity by Ann-Margret made it quite the sensation in 1971. It was briefly banned in Italy. Some American newspapers refused to advertise the film because of the title. In Georgia, the operator of a movie house was convicted of distributing obscene material for showing the film and the case went up to the Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled that the film was not obscene.
While the sexual content is hardly controversial by today's standards, the raw portrait of these two men the fumbling romantic and the aggressive Casanova stumbling through the decades is a startling and unsettling snapshot of the "sexually liberated" sixties and seventies as you'll find.
Producer: Mike Nichols
Director: Mike Nichols
Screenplay: Jules Feiffer
Cinematography: Giuseppe Rotunno
Art Direction: Robert Luthardt
Film Editing: Sam O'Steen
Cast: Jack Nicholson (Jonathan Fuerst), Candice Bergen (Susan), Art Garfunkel (Sandy), Ann-Margret (Bobbie), Rita Moreno (Louise), Cynthia O'Neal (Cindy), Carol Kane (Jennifer).
by Sean Axmaker
During the opening credits, a discussion is heard between characters "Sandy" and "Jonathan" about their recent dates, which includes Jonathan's question, "Would you rather be in love, or be loved?" The image of a female ice skater, dressed in pure white and perfectly executing complex moves, first appears when Jonathan and Sandy meet in the 1950s. The image then reappears in the film as Jonathan discusses his sexual desire. The series of stills of "Jonathan's" past lovers in the slide show sequence were shot by Mary Ellen Mark, a prominent photographer whose still photographic work was first seen on the 1969 film Alice's Restaurant. In addition to studio work at Panorama Studios, Vancouver, BC, Carnal Knowledge was also shot in New York City.
Upon the film's release, many reviewers noted the abrasive sexual content. On September 18, 1971 New Republic reported that newspapers in 14 cities had refused to advertise the film, objecting to its title. By February 7, 1972 Variety reported that after a January 1972 opening of the film in Rome, Carnal Knowledge had been banned in most of Italy for alleged obscenity. An February 11, 1972 Daily Variety article noted that the ban was then removed.
In July 1972 a Playboy article stated that a movie house operator in Albany, GA was convicted of distributing obscene material when he showed the film. A July 19, 1973 Hollywood Reporter article stated that the lower court obscenity conviction was upheld in Georgia's highest courts. After appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court by the DGA and MPAA, among others, to reverse the ruling on the film, a June 25, 1974 WSJ article noted that the court upheld their decision to allow local juries to apply local rather than national standards regarding obscenity, but suggested that local courts do not have "absolute freedom." A June 25, 1974 Hollywood Reporter article added that the Supreme Court ruled that Carnal Knowledge was not obscene because it did not display human genitals or actual scenes of intercourse. According to a September 9, 1974 Box Office article, the film finally reopened later that month in Albany, GA.
Ann-Margret was nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role by the Academy Awards and the New York Film Critics for her performance in the film. The film garnered much critical attention. Some castigated the film for having a "repellent," "stereotypical" and "pessimistic" vision of love, while others praised Carnal Knowledge for its frank handling of the "chauvinistic nature of American men." The film was included in New York Times, Cue and Chicago Sun-Times "Ten Best" lists for 1971.
As noted in a October 26, 1969 New York Times article, Carnal Knowledge was based the unproduced play by Jules Feiffer, who wrote the film's screenplay. Although the play was never staged on Broadway, over fifteen years later it was produced at the Pasadena Playhouse (4 November-11 December 1988), in Dallas, Texas and off-Broadway.
Released in United States July 1971
Released in United States Summer June 30, 1971
Based a play by Jules Feiffer which was unproduced when the film as made. Never staged on Broadway, the play was later produced at the Pasadena Playhouse (Nov 4-Dec 11 1988), in Dallas, Texas and off-Broadway.
Released in USA on video.
Released in United States Summer June 30, 1971
Released in United States July 1971