Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.
I’m not really sure what I expected with A Touch of Class, but I didn’t expect a film that looked this dated. To suggest that this was considered one of the best films of 1973, enough that it was nominated for Best Picture, is surprising to me, because there’s very little here that translates to an audience 40 or so years removed. Glenda Jackson won the Oscar for her performance, and I like her performance here, but she is just about the only thing about this film that I thought was worthwhile.
This is a simple story. Vickie Allessio (Jackson) is a divorcee with two kids living in London. Steve Blackburn (George Segal) is married and has two kids and also lives in London despite being an American. The two meet in a park, then meet again the next day when sharing a cab in a rainstorm. Steve is obviously interested in Vickie and she hasn’t had a relationship for a while and admits that she could use some good non-committal sex, but not in the cheap hotel he has lined up for them. Instead, she expects a weekend away, which he agrees to since he claims to have never been unfaithful to his wife in the same city.
This results in a week-long trip to Malaga, Spain, and there are (of course) a number of comic occurrences, including problems with the travel arrangements, Steve having to agree to take his wife to Malaga and then convincing her not to go, Steve meeting his friend Walter Menkes (Paul Sorvino) at the airport, a problematic rental car, medical problems, and a series of arguments. And of course, despite this, the two fall for each other and agree to get a shared apartment that neither of them actually lives in in Soho. And, of course, there are problems once they start meeting up for sex at their place since he in particular has to manufacture reasons to leave the house for hours at a time.
That’s really it. A Touch of Class is a comedy about a guy cheating on his wife and having a bunch of comic misadventures while doing it. Never has the potential destruction of a family been so wacky and lighthearted. Or something.
So there’s that as a significant problem with the film. It’s tonally very strange in that respect, and I think that’s very much a product of its time. I may well be naïve in that respect, but the idea of making a comedy about extra-marital affairs strikes me as strange. A black comedy, perhaps, but this is meant very much to be fun and funny, not creepy and kind of dismal. Perhaps that worked better in 1973, but today, it comes off as, well, icky to the point where I hate the fact that I share a first name with the main male character.
It also can’t decide when to end a joke. There’s a long scene in the airport at Malaga where Steve tries to rent a car but his friend Walter wants the same car…and it’s the last decent car the rental agency has. Walter, suspecting nothing, of course, comes up with perfectly reasonable plans to either drop Steve at his hotel or have Steve drop him off. Of course, Steve can’t have that happen because he has to drive Vickie. Instead, he lets Walter take the car and he winds up with a crappy vehicle with a dodgy clutch. It’s funny for a couple of seconds when he’s struggling to get the car out of second gear on the highway. But we get multiple car jokes of the car bouncing along because of the bad clutch. Worse, those multiple car jokes are all actually the same car joke, not even told differently each time. It’s literally the exact same joke over and over.
We also have the issue that Steve Blackburn is a macho dick. There’s a long sequence where he plays golf and rather than just playing golf, he has a bet with his Spanish caddy who plays alongside him. And the caddy is 13, but he can’t let it go that the kid might actually beat him at the game. And he’s pissed off that she doesn’t think that sex with him wasn’t the greatest experience of her life. I honestly can’t tell if he was supposed to be sympathetic or not. If he was, pretty much every aspect of his character fails on all fronts, and this from a film nominated for Best Original Screenplay.
The lone bright spot here, and I do mean that exactly as it lies, is Glenda Jackson. She’s good, and Vickie Allessio is actually a very modern woman in a lot of respects. Vickie wouldn’t look out of place in a movie written this year. She’s funny, knows exactly what she wants and isn’t afraid to go for it, has no illusions about anything going on around her, and takes no shit from anyone. And Jackson plays her beautifully, even giving her the odd noticeable quirk, like wearing her glasses so that the earpieces are over her hair instead of under it. Jackson is the single reason this film isn’t complete shit.
As you might guess, that’s not enough. If you have a need to watch every Oscar-winning performance in history, you’ll be rewarded here with a fine performance from Glenda Jackson. But not a bit of the rest of this film is worth a minute of your time.
Why to watch A Touch of Class: Glenda Jackson and not much else.
Why not to watch: It has aged extremely poorly.