Candy is a bad movie, but it's so uniquely bad that you almost have to see it. Almost. Based on the scandalous novel of the same name by Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg, the film serves up a story that's part smutty comic strip, part '60s freak-out and part celebrity-filled extravaganza. It was made in 1968, and it feels like a film that couldn't have been made any other year: it's raunchier than anything that had been made just a few years earlier, but almost amusingly tame in contrast to the explicitly filthy mainstream cinema that was just around the corner.
The film is less a coherent story than a collection of crude sketches united by the participation of the film's title character. Candy (Ewa Aulin, The Double) is a blonde, blue-eyed high school student who stumbles through the movie with wide-eyed bewilderment, meeting one colorful man after another (most of which are played by A-list actors of the era): a poet (Richard Burton, Becket), a gardener (Ringo Starr, A Hard Day's Night), a general (Walter Matthau, The Odd Couple), a photographer (Enrico Maria Salerno, City Under Siege), a doctor (James Coburn, The Great Escape), a guru (Marlon Brando, The Godfather) and others. Near the end of each encounter, the man will attempt to rape Candy.
The joke (if you can call it that) is that every man, no matter what his station in life, is ultimately a slave to sexual desire. A sweeping, unfair generalization, to be sure (particularly when you factor in the sexual violence that every male character displays), but this is a satire, not a docudrama. Even so, the gag loses a great deal from being repeated so often with so little variation: we've gotten the point by the thirty-minute mark, but the film still has another ninety minutes to go. Additionally, the point might have a lot more bite if the movie didn't treat Candy like an empty-headed sex object with no real personality or thoughts of her own.
With an attractive blank space as a main character and a “plot” that's clearly intent on repeating itself ad nauseum all the way to the finish line, we must turn to the performances from the star-studded supporting cast for entertainment. Admittedly, there is some genuinely fun stuff here. Richard Burton's parody of Dylan Thomas is a terrific bit of blustery bombast accentuated by an inspired sight gag: Burton's hair is perpetually blowing in the wind... even when there's no wind present. Walter Matthau seems to be having a good time playing a feverishly patriotic general who seems like a fusion of Buck Turgidson and Jack D. Ripper. Yes, it's a blatant knock-off, but Matthau's commitment to the bit is impressive. There's also a fitfully amusing dual performance from John Astin (The Addams Family) as Candy's conservative father and sleazy uncle.
Unfortunately, not all of the performers manage to, er, rise to the occasion. Ringo Starr's turn as a Mexican gardener is a thoroughly embarrassing piece of work from the amiable Beatle (“Oh, dis no goooood,” he says, accurately describing his own performance), while James Coburn's turn as a seedy doctor never really goes anywhere interesting. Perhaps the worst turn comes from Marlon Brando, doing painfully unfunny work as a phony guru who attempts to pass his lustful groping off as new age therapy techniques. Brando later regretted doing the film, calling it, “the worst movie I ever did” and claiming that it was his worst performance. The extended sequences these actors get seem to drag on forever, and it hurts to see talents like Brando and Coburn serving up such unbearable, unfunny displays of overacting.
The film was directed by Christian Marquand, a French actor and heartthrob who clearly wasn't a seasoned pro behind the camera. According to a new interview with screenwriter Buck Henry (who freely admits that the film was a disaster that nearly made him quit his profession), Marquand primarily seemed interested in getting to ogle the attractive women participating in the film. It definitely shows: despite the fact that there's relatively little nudity (almost certainly due to the tentative restrictions of the era), the film feels as if it's been directed by one of the leches Candy encounters. This is a satire that doesn't seem to realize that it's essentially satirizing itself.
Rating: ★½ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 124 minutes
Release Year: 1968