Ed Fancher Reviews "The Bachelor Party"
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June 26, 1957, Vol. II, No. 35
Movies: The Bachelor Party
This week at Loew's Sheridan
By Edwin Fancher
My companion commented after the screening: "This is the most subversive picture I've ever seen." He wasn't referring to "Bachelor Party's" many bold uses of realistic situations seldom or never before presented in an American movie: the two housewives' serious and even sympathetic discussion of abortion and infidelity, the depiction of men watching a stag movie, the use of a men's room in a Village bar as the setting for a probing conversation about marriage. Chayefsky deserves every praise for such pioneering in social realism in this basically well-acted and well-produced film.
The "subversive" exists in its total representation of the lives of the middle-class white-collar workers of the American metropolis. Chayefsky's device for exposing this class is a bachelor party tossed one summer night by four cogs in the bookkeeping department of a large firm for a fifth cog about to be married.
They abandon their wives for the evening -- in one case, a girlfriend -- to go on the town. Their initial camaraderie in the Village bar quickly falls prey to their anxieties, and they dispute over whether to retreat to home and hearth while all is still safe, or to pursue their escapade. With trepidation they continue the carousal. Tired and bulging-eyed, they sweat out the titillations of a pornographic movie in a cramped apartment. They follow a beautiful doll (Carolyn Jones) into a phoney Upper (?) Bohemian party, where they are disappointed to find only emptiness and loneliness behind the chattering Existentialist facade. They wander on into the hot night: there is an inconclusive run-in with a prostitute -- this and the party are badly UNrealistic episodes -- a sweltering subway ride, more bars, and so on. And at each step of their Odyssey these "nice average guys" reveal a little more of the emptiness, the frustration, the inherent despair, the colossal impotence of their lives.
For one of them (Don Murray), the unwanted pregnancy of his wife will ruin his career and marriage. The engaged one (Phillip Abbott) is overwhelmed by his sexual failure and general inadequacy. A third (E. G. Marshall) is driven by the sadomasochistic compulsion to literally kill himself by working in an unhealthy climate so as to give his child a coveted professional education.
Of course Chayefsky doesn't let it all go at that. He has to save the day in the end. His bookkeeper hero suddenly blinds himself to all the insights gained throughout the harrowing evening, and reaffirming the eternal verities goes back to his loving wife in Stuyvesant Town. The impotent fiance decides to go through with his marriage because he fears breaking it off more than consummating it. And finally, Eddie -- gay, aggressive Eddie (Jack Warden), the ladies' man who has lured them to this adventure by scoffing at their timidity and conventionality -- Eddie himself is exposed as a lonely insecure fraud of a man.
But the patchwork ending is too little and too late. The damage has already been done, and Chayefsky, whether he meant to or not, has created the most savage indictment of metropolitan American middle-class life that has yet found its way to the screen.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]