September 24, 2013


I Love You, Alice B. Toklas (1969) is largely a bummer because every one of its classic scenes—the blocked car, the Mexican family with whiplash, the brownies, the funeral—occurs in the first 30 minutes. Once Peter Sellers (Harold) turns hippie-beads, the funny bits dry up and so do the themes (the discrepancy between, first, Harold's establishment boringness and his brother's counter-culture idiocy, and secondly between his mother's caricaturish L.A. Jewishness and both her children's apostasy).

Culture clash. Peter Sellers and Leigh Taylor-Young
The rest of the movie is dead on arrival: inchoate scenes of Sellers and Leigh Taylor-Young making love in an old car when the police show up and kick them out (the scene just crumbles before your eyes); the law-firm partner, who's a tiresome letch, propositioning Harold's ex-fiancee; a middle-aged cross-dresser coming into the dress shop and asking for a mini-skirt to try on, etc. There's so much comedy going bust that you start squirming for the actors, because they were all so amusing in the first half hour.

The Jewish jokes fizzle, too, and the shtick gets careless. Why are there flowers at the Jewish butcher's funeral, and why is his casket so fancy? Why is the Lohengrin march played at Harold's wedding? Elmer Bernstein may as well have not even bothered, either. He just repeats the theme song for two hours. Peter Sellers droops and gets confused by the dearth of gags, Mrs. Fine (the skillful Jo Van Fleet) doesn't get any more funny lines, either, and the butcher's widow keeps wailing hysterically. Were the writers smoking too much dope?

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