When she sees him at a hospital fund-raiser, newlywed San Francisco socialite Petulia Danner, who has been married to naval engineer David Danner for six months, seems determined to have an affair with soon to be divorced physician Dr. Archie Bollen, who has been married to his wife Polo for close to ten years, their marriage which many saw as being perfect. Archie doesn't even know Petulia's name, but only knows her as the woman who brought in a young Mexican boy into the hospital with serious injuries. Petulia's pursuit of Archie is relentless - she even declaring that they will someday be married - even as Archie dates another woman named May. Archie eventually learns part of the reason why Petulia is so determined to cheat on David as her relationship to David and David's wealthy father are brought to light. Archie also learns that getting involved with Petulia in any regard has its consequences, both for Petulia herself and for him, most specifically in his relationship to Polo. Written by
"Petulia" is one of the best American films of all time. It should be ranked with "Citizen Kane" and I'm not being sarcastic.
The beauty of the film is how dated it is. Some films that "define" or capture a certain period of time very well often appear very dated later on and lose their effectiveness because of it. But because "Petulia" is so definately set in it's time period, it's like watching a time capsule. There are films which are made today that take place in the late 60's and try for that "mod" feel. But they're removed from that time and therefore can't capture the true feeling of that tumultuous time. "Petulia" captures it beautifully and integrates the 60's experience into it's storyline and structure. For example, when Archie returns from a day out with his sons and returns to his apartment, on TV there is a newscast about Vietnam. It's not overplayed or anything. It's just there as it would have been on any TV in 1968. It's carefully woven into the structure of the film.
Lester has been praised for his editing in this film and it's pretty ingenious. But overall, I found it at times a little too much. There is a LOT of jumping around in time. We learn the story of Petulia and her abusive husband and the little Mexican boy very slowly over the course of the film. It's only in the final moments of the film where we get the gyst of Petulia's neediness and of Archie's as well. I will never forget the final moment where Petulia softly says Archie's name before being putt under gas to have her baby.
A VERY 60's film. Anyone with an interest in the times and how they might've felt should see this film. One of the most underrated films of all time. Lester shows his true genius here. And like the film, he's the most underrated director. Too bad he's not making films anymore.
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