Cast & Crew
As actress Maria Wyeth catatonically wanders the grounds of a psychiatric clinic, she reflects on the events that led her there: Maria, the estranged wife of self-absorbed film director Carter Lang, has not worked since she walked off a picture she was filming and spends her days driving the endless freeways of Los Angeles in her yellow Corvette. One day, she meets Carter's friend and producer, B. Z. Mendenhall, to watch a screen test of a young actress named Susannah who is auditioning for Carter's new film. After ascertaining that Susannah is to be Carter's new star not only on screen but also in bed, Maria recalls the period when she and Carter, then an aspiring young filmmaker, started dating: Carter decides to make a cinema verité film focusing on the winsome Maria. Maria so captivates its audience that Carter is able to raise the funds to direct a motorcycle epic called Angel Beach that also stars Maria. After leaving the screening, Maria returns to her home in Beverly Hills, where she is camped outside for the night when Carter arrives to complain that he has been trying to reach her, but she has not returned his messages. Carter chastises Maria for continually visiting their brain-damaged daughter Kate at the institution to which Kate has been committed at Carter's insistence. After Carter's visit ends in a contentious screaming match, Maria, in the present, recalls growing up in Silver Wells, Nevada, population twenty-eight, and how she inherited from her father an optimism that did not leave her until recently. Returning to her past, Maria recalls: She and Carter are at B. Z.'s Malibu beach house with B. Z.'s caustic mother Carlotta; his wife Helene, whom Carlotta has paid to stay married to her homosexual son; and B. Z.'s brawny masseur and lover, Nelson. After Carlotta spitefully asks if Maria's child is still in an institution, B. Z., who sees Maria as a kindred soul, strolls on the beach with her as she confides her dreams of living in a beach house with Kate. Over dinner that night, Maria impertinently asks Carlotta how much she pays Helene to stay married to B. Z., prompting Carter to criticize her behavior on the drive home. After Maria retorts that she is pregnant, Carter asks if the baby's father is screenwriter Les Goodwin. Furious, Carter packs his bags and moves out of the house. Before leaving, he gives Maria the telephone number of a discreet abortionist, and when she refuses to have an abortion, threatens to deny her visitation rights with Kate. The day before her abortion, Maria visits Kate, and as she imagines her dream of living with her daughter, an unsympathetic nurse disapprovingly looks on. The evening after her abortion, Maria arranges to meet Les in a cheap motel room off the highway where she unceremoniously announces she has had an abortion. Later, feeling guilty and rootless, Maria confers with a hypnotist to ask him to regress her back to the state of consciousness of a fetus, then contacts Benny Austin, an old friend of the family, to ask about her parents. One night, while watching television, Maria sees Carter being acclaimed in an interview with some panelists and switches the set off in disgust. Maria then forsakes her house for a rundown, furnished apartment. When B. Z. comes to deliver her mail, the nearly catatonic Maria states that she does not want to read it. Some time later, B. Z. drives Maria back home, and on the way warns her that if she is looking for an answer in life, there is no such thing, to which she responds that she never wants to be where he is. After B. Z. and Carter leave to go on location in the desert for their latest production, Maria travels to Las Vegas. There she once again meets Benny in hope of extracting more information about her family and also has a fling with Larry Kulik, an infamous gangland lawyer. However, Maria finds Benny more interested in gambling than reminiscing, and once Larry deserts her, Maria flies back to Los Angeles, then drives to see Carter on location. After she disrupts a take, Carter throws her off the set and she drives off in her Corvette, firing a pistol into the air. Back at a tennis court in Los Angeles, Maria picks up television actor Johnny Waters, who takes her home and watches his show as foreplay to sex. Afterward, Maria speeds off in Johnny's car, and when Johnny reports the car stolen, the police stop her and, finding drugs in the car, arrest her. After Helene and B. Z. bail Maria out of jail, B. Z. warns her that "she is getting to be where he is." B. Z. drives Maria back to the location set, where she has another acrimonious fight with Carter. The next day, when B. Z. asks Maria to tell him "what matters," she replies "nothing." Once principal photography is completed, Carter, Helene and Susannah jubilantly decide to go into Las Vegas, which is nearby. B.Z. and Maria refuse to accompany them, and once the others have left, B. Z, carrying a bottle of vodka and vial of barbiturates, knocks on Maria's door and asks if she wants to go into Las Vegas. When she says no, he announces that he "doesn't feel like playing anymore," and asks Maria for a glass of water. After she refuses to give him one, he pours himself a glass, mixes it with vodka and downs a handful of pills. Recognizing that they are kindred souls, Maria cradles B. Z. as he drifts off into death. Some time later, Helene stands over Maria, who is still holding B. Z.'s body, and screams that Maria is responsible for his death. Thinking that Maria is insane for allowing B. Z. to die, Maria is sent to the clinic, where she is administered a series of psychological tests. When the psychiatrist asks why she did it, she replies, "Why not."
Big Black & The Blues
John Gregory Dunne
Roger M. Rothstein
Several of the onscreen production credits were missing from the viewed print. Although a 1972 copyright statement for F.P. Films, Inc. is included in the onscreen credits, the film was registered for copyright by Universal City Studios, Inc. The narrative continually shifts from events in the present to events occurring at different times in the past. The structure is held together by the voice-over narration of Tuesday Weld as "Maria Wyeth," who in the last scene of the films, speaks directly into the camera and asks, "Why not?" Throughout the film, Maria uses a series of game metaphors to describe events in her life. For example, she says that when her father called to tell her that her mother was dead, he told her that although she has been dealt a bad hand, she is holding all the aces. At the end of the film, Maria says that even though she knows what nothing means, as in a game of cards, she keeps on playing, hence the film's title, Play It As It Lays. Images of a poisonous snake and Maria firing a gun out her car window as she is driving the freeways are interspersed throughout the narrative. Although there is no background music in the film, music emanates from ambient sound within the story. For example, Maria's car radio provides a source for the music that accompanies her as she drives the freeways.
According to Filmfacts, Diana Lynn was initially slated for the role of "Helene," but died of a cerebral hermorrhage on December 17, 1971, shortly after filming began. Filmfacts also noted that location filming was done in Hollywood and Malibu, CA, and the desert around Las Vegas, NV. A January 1972 LAHExam news item added that the scene in which Maria visits her daughter was filmed on the terraces of the Doheny Estate, which at the time was the American Film Institute campus. Although Hollywood Reporter production charts and various news items add Dorothy Andrews, Robert Golden, Robert Douglas, Lucille Benson, Norman Foster, Warren Seabury and Stewart Moss to the cast, their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. A modern source adds Dirty Denny to the cast.
According to studio publicity materials contained in the film's production files at the AMPAS Library, Adam Roarke, who played the director "Carter Lang," appeared in several biker films similar to the one that Carter is directing. Arthur Knight, who a member of the panel interviewing Carter, was the film critic of Saturday Review. A February 1972 New York Times news item added that director Frank Perry hired artist Roy Lichtenstein as a visual consultant for Play It As It Lays. Weld was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress for her portrayal of Maria. Producer Dominick Dunne is the brother-in-law of author Joan Didion, who wrote the novel on which Play It As It Lays was based. Didion was married to her co-scenarist John Gregory Dunne, the brother of Dominick Dunne.
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1972
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1972