Otto Preminger experienced a public post-mid-life professional crisis in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The much-feared Austrian producer-director slipped into the cinematic equivalent of a Nehru suit and love beads and tried to figure out what the kids were up to. In 1968, Preminger’s strange flirtation with Hollywood’s youth movement created one of Hollywood’s oddest curios in the form of the geriatric Groucho Marx/Jackie Gleason free-love freak-out Skidoo. In 1971, Preminger hooked up with Elaine May, one of the most complicated and gifted geniuses of the emerging youth movement, for a professional marriage of convenience that would have been doomed from the start even if both parties weren’t notoriously difficult to work with. May was so ashamed of what Preminger did to her script that she took her name off it. So when Such Good Friends was politely ignored at the time of its release, the screenplay was credited to the nonexistent Lois Dale, though traces of May’s sophisticated wit survive Preminger’s predictably lumbering, tone-deaf treatment of the material.
Adapted from Lois Gould’s novel, Such Good Friends stars Dyan Cannon as a spacy wife and mother drifting through a life of ease and convenience as the partner of successful editor and children’s-book author Laurence Luckenbill. When Luckenbill goes into the hospital to have a seemingly benign mole removed and complications develop, Cannon casually confronts the emptiness and hypocrisy of her existence and the lives of everyone around her. Throughout Such Good Friends, the façade of chummy sophistication dissipates to reveal the nastiness and animal urges lurking just under the strained smiles and busy cocktail-party chatter.
Preminger was a peerless chronicler of massive institutions. He was all about the big picture, the long take, and the wide shot, so he’s a staggeringly perverse choice to direct a literary, novelistic comedy-drama about the complicated inner life of a shallow woman. Such Good Friends fatally lacks intimacy: it simply cannot get inside Cannon’s head, and its attempts at surrealism are consistently embarrassing. Only once Cannon emerges from the fog she’s lived in for years does Such Good Friends’ vision finally snap clearly into place, such that it stops drifting aimlessly. By that point, however, the film is beyond redemption. Early in Such Good Friends, Burgess Meredith appears to dance around with only a book covering his privates, all part of one of Cannon’s periodic vacations from reality and into fantasy. It’s hard not to look at a naked old man trying to keep up with the kids at a party and not see a potent metaphor for Preminger’s failed seduction of New Hollywood.
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