Once Is Not Enough (1975)
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Kirk Douglas surprisingly headlines this incestuous melodrama where his daughter January (Deborah Raffin) harbors some sort of daddy-complex since the day she was born. I would have loved to have sat through a theater screening of this and observed the faces of the audience around me. I don't know if I would have seen smirks or looks of discomfort, like someone shouldn't have eaten those bad tacos for lunch.
The movie is very outdated. It's lifted right from a Jacqueline Susann novel (or basically take your pick from any Harlequin read) and plays out just like it on the small screen. Most of the close-ups are shot through a filter, the soundtrack is hijacked by Henry Mancini's orchestrated strings, and all the actresses parade themselves with such high camp you'll find it hard not to fall in love with this atrocity.
Most hilarious is January's attraction to David Janssen's character. Talk about taking the daddy-complex to the next level! Brenda Vaccaro who received an Oscar nomination(!!!) for her portrayal of a man-hungry sex-starved magazine editor is absolutely stunning. She delivered plain awful dialog with perfect snap, "He laid me, and then he fired me!" and also managing to keep a straight face at the same time, she definitely deserved the nomination.
The best line comes out of the mouth of Douglas' long-suffering housekeeper, Mabel (Lillian Randolph), "For twelve years, it's just been a parade of poon-tang!", as she boards the bus to Santa Monica.
Throw in a closeted lesbian millionaire engaging in a secret relationship with a reclusive Hispanic actress (where else could you view an interracial middle-aged lesbian sex scene!!), gratuitous shots of Gary Conway (portraying an astronaut LOL!) running in short shorts on a beach and Deborah Raffin staring blankly into the camera as if she were doped on percosets, and you have the ultimate camp classic of 1975.
There was a scene with Raffin's character walking blankly across the road (nearly getting run over by a taxi) after she is devastated by Janssen's character, and yet I still could not determine any difference in her acting from that scene to the entire film.
Vaccaro is definitely the one thing that holds this movie together, although her character isn't necessary to the story. She seemed to express more personality than all of the other characters combined that it was a joy to watch her self-diagnosing, "Sleeping with men makes me feel better!" It made me feel better too.
The saddest credits on this number: "Producer--Howard Koch. Assistant Director--Howard Koch, Jr." Imagine the agony of poor Guy Green, an aging British yeoman who had just finished work on a biography of Martin Luther, as he struggled with the correct way to shoot a sex scene between Alexis Smith and Melina Mercouri. It's all not quite as peacocklike as it sounds, but Susann certainly had a pop style--the raspy voice of an old Broadway bawd telling an ingenue (i.e., her hausfrau-ly reader), how it really is in the big, ugly, grown-up world. The freaky, non-contradictory mix of camp, obsession and melodrama a la fromage has a sweetness a half century later: the biggest-selling woman author of all time really did just want to be a pampered shiksa teenager stroking some graying temples.
The latter was a classic 70s shampoo commercial (Clairol!) blonde beauty a la Cybill Shepherd almost boosted to stardom in films that fell short. She's more emotionally naturalistic than this movie's often ludicrous soap-opera situations deserve. But at the same time, a more histrionic lead performance and more shamelessly melodramatic directorial hand might have made "Once Is Not Enough" an enduring guilty pleasure rather than just a dated bad movie. Watching it again just now did make me wonder about Raffin, however, who's apparently remained active as a TV/film actress with a modest profile (according to IMDb). She was only 21 when she made this movie, but she holds her own alongside some historied stars.
The best thing about "Once Is Not Enough," however, is Brenda Vaccaro. Following a long line of wisecracking second leads from Pert Kelton to Eve Arden to Dyan Cannon and beyond, she gets an unexpectedly ideal showcase in a seriocomic support role in a disposable movie. She's terrific. Her enjoyment in the role does a lot to dignify a stupid film--one otherwise marked mostly by the efforts of talented people to ignore how trashy their source material is.
It's a slick production with an all-star cast, including the engaging Deborah Raffin as January, but the material is awful. The filmmakers' were obviously trying for a "respectable" approach, and the results are just plain boring. Case in point: Jackie provided the book with a surreal, escapist conclusion that's wholly amazing, whereas the movie just...ends. The book was about a naive girl trying to deal with life, and the movie is about--say it with me now!--LOOOOOOOVE! And it's like every other mediocre movie on the subject.
However, things are brightened by Brenda Vaccaro in her Golden Globe-winning, Oscar-nominated turn as uninhibited magazine editor Linda Riggs. She's the perfect realization of Susann's character (albeit with toned-down material) and provides a lot more spirit than this tepid production deserves. Her performance alone merits a viewing, but everything else is a daytime-TV-style mess. About as shocking as a trip to the supermarket--perhaps even less so.
But to be fair the movie-going public knew this was trash going in and the cast knew this was trash as they spoke their lines with various degrees of conviction. One of the cast Brenda Vaccaro did it with so much conviction that she wound up with a nomination for Best Supporting Actress, but lost to Lee Grant for Shampoo. Vaccaro does add quite a bit of zip to the film as the cheerfully hedonistic friend of protagonist Deborah Raffin. Jackie Susann clearly took that aspect of the film from Marjorie Morningstar and what Herman Wouk wrote in his novel and what was shown on film between Natalie Wood and Carolyn Jones.
Kirk Douglas plays an aging over the hill producer whose daughter Raffin had been in rehab for many years due to head injuries. She's now coming out and Douglas to provide for her and not incidentally to maybe get financing for his future projects becomes the latest of a string of husbands to billionairess Alexis Smith.
In the days of gay liberation it might not be understood, but what Smith wants is a what we used to call a beard. Her real passion is movie queen Merlina Mercouri whom we see too little of in Once Is Not Enough. I can't quite believe that Douglas is that big a fool that he doesn't realize he's married to a lesbian. It would have made more sense to have that part of the novel and film up front.
As for Raffin when sparks don't ignite between her and playboy cousin of Smith's George Hamilton she takes up with boozy over the hill novelist David Janssen. That doesn't sit well with Douglas who can't stand the guy, probably because except for the drink he sees too much of himself in Janssen. It threatens the daddy's little girl relationship he has with Raffin which is what drives the film.
Jackie Susann's fans made this one a winner at the box office, but the reticence of the film probably because certain folks the characters were modeled on were very much alive kind of neutered the content.
She was thrown and hit the wall of a villa high-speed falling to the ground like strand of under cooked spaghetti. After three years of the best health-care money can buy she can the 'restart' button on her life after it went haywire.
With his finances strained Mike courts a wealthy lesbian Dee (Smith) evidently offering companionship and a beard of high society respectability. She accepts his hand in marriage asking only that he give up his career.
Tensions naturally erupt. January has a bad case of the Elektra Complex and resents her stepmother - angst which serves to make a facile dork like her seem less facile.
Dee, for her part, has a meticulous plan that January shall wed her cousin David (Hamilton) a womanizing cad and make a respectable man out of him polishing the standing of their not so noble house. Appearances are of the utmost importance to her even as, touched by love, she enjoys her Sapphic pair-bond with aging former movie actress Carla - her kept woman/girlfriend-on-retainer who happens to be a grade A creep i.e. a kindred spirit for Dee to snuggle with.
These are absurd characters who summarize their lives with a few lines of silly expositional dialogue that clue the viewer in on how vile they are and what nasty habits they have. Whilst failing to properly establish these characters the narrative introduces more of them including misanthrope writer Tom Colt (Janssen) who is clearly a thinly disguised but overly romanticized version of Norman Mailer. Running out of time the film fails to adequately conclude any of the arcs or backstories.
The gorgeous Deborah Raffin turned in some pretty appalling performances in her career. Doubtless her turn in this one was among the very worst any actress is capable of.
Creepy Greek actress Melina Mercouri who gave a pretty distracted performance in her own right can perhaps be forgiven. She had spent the previous seven years under numerous credible death threats for criticizing the military dictatorship of her home country.
Brenda Vaccaro received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress which she actually deserved for other work rather than the characterization she gave in this.
Depictions of lesbian characters in cinema have certainly evolved in the decades since this film was made. The way they are depicted in this film offer justification for complaints of negative stereotyping.
Mike Wayne (actor Kirk Douglas) is an overindulgent father. His character could have been complicated and interesting. Not here. Kirk Douglas's performance on screen is cringe-worthy. Deborah Raffin as his daughter January was boring. I don't know what's worse, icky or blah.
This was a bad movie until about an hour in when the character Tom Colt shows up. David Janssen is so good as Tom Colt that it's like he's acting in a different movie. He elevates this awful movie. I also enjoyed Brenda Vaccaro as Linda Riggs, January's best friend. She must have had a ball with that character – she plays it so enthusiastically and with such confidence. In comparison, Deborah Raffin as January Wayne was practically lifeless. It's just a bland, unintelligent performance, and she's the center of the movie, so she needed to be more interesting. She also had some awful lines and Raffin wasn't talented enough to make more of those lines. And she showed no emotion in her reactions to events. I neither liked nor disliked her. I felt nothing for her. So I couldn't feel sorry for her at the end.
Tom Colt turns out to be the most interesting character. He's earthy and macho. David Janssen gives this movie depth and the beautiful and funny Brenda Vaccaro gives it lightness. Both characters know who they are and are honest. And I cared about them. Everyone else either sleepwalks through this slow-moving movie or weighs it down with melodrama.
It's sad that 30 years after Casablanca (1942), the screenwriter of that classic film was asked to work on this. I don't think he was the right man for the job.
Brenda Vaccaro, in a showy Oscar Nominated performance, spends more time bemoaning her unattractiveness, yet is actually more desirable than the leading heroine, getting some really stinging dialog to deliver. Raffin is saddled in a strange relationship with the much older David Jansen, while George Hamilton, still "Mr. Tan" in 1975, and the great Melina Mercouri are totally wasted, although Mercouri stands out in a truly erotic scene that is the highlight of the film. I wanted to see so much more of Ms. Smith, then having just proved her talent by taking over Broadway in the diva role of the musical "Follies" and a short-lived revival of "The Women". Her secret is revealed after she takes a walk through one of New York's bigger department stores, having been dropped off by her chauffeur and heading out to catch a cab.
The ending is a total disappointment, pretty much coming out of nowhere and adding really no emotional value to the storyline. So now embedded in my memory, I can safely say that "Two times wasn't the charm" and I won't be paying any future visits to this artificial look at a group of mainly dull characters who give Ms. Susann's Neeley O'Hara and Helen Lawson anything to worry about.
Raffin eventually falls in love with alcoholic writer David Janssen (as Tom Colt), after he fails to copulate with her best friend, promiscuous "Gloss" magazine editor Brenda Vaccaro (as Linda Riggs). Mr. Janssen thinks Douglas' film version of his "Pulitzer Prize"-winning novel was awful. Douglas disapproves, naturally, of his daughter's affair with Janssen...
The main theme of "Once Is Not Enough" appears to be the borderline incestuous love between Raffin and Douglas. Also, most of the couples have at least one bisexual partner; although there is no overt indication Janssen has any sexual interest in handsome astronaut Gary Conway (as Hugh Robertson), it's difficult to ascertain another reason for his inclusion in the storyline. Apparently, much was cut from Jacqueline Susann's best-selling novel. She and Irving Mansfield began by assembling good production values, but lost control as the story was turned into something hesitating and vacuous.
Some trashy fun remains.
***** Once Is Not Enough (6/18/75) Guy Green ~ Deborah Raffin, Kirk Douglas, David Janssen, Brenda Vaccaro
Besides the often hilarious camp nature of Once is Not Enough, the film has few redeeming features. The cinematography is terrible. Deborah Raffin is entirely uninteresting as the lead. Throughout most of her screen time, Raffin either giggles or stares blankly into the camera. The dialogue is abysmal and the story line has been done before and done much, much better. Despite all the talk of sex, very little actually occurs. I'm still not sure why Kirk Douglas agreed to do this film and for much of the film he seems confused as to why he is on screen as well. While the first 40 or so minutes are centered on his character, he disappears for most of the rest of the film. When he is on screen, he is loud and entirely over bearing, which sadly is a hallmark of his filmography from around this time.
Brenda Vacarro in her role as magazine editor and sex addict Linda Riggs, is the film's main highlight. Despite her character being written as a one note joke, Vacarro perseveres. She spits out most of her badly written lines as if they are actually worth something and she gives a full characterization of what is largely a poorly constructed out stereotype.
* (out of 4)
I really hope the all-star cast got a good chunk of change to bring Jacqueline Susann's trashy novel to the screen. A burned out movie producer (Kirk Douglas) marries a billionaire (Alexis Smith) so that his virgin daughter (Deborah Raffin) can lead a good life. The daughter, who has some weird thing for daddy, gets jealous and moves out on the advice of a girlfriend (Brenda Vaccaro) who just happens to be "easy". Soon the daughter is courted by a playboy (George Hamilton) but soon she finds herself falling in love with an alcoholic writer (David Janssen) who hates her father because he ruined one of his plays. Did you catch all of that? I'll be honest and admit that I've never read the novel that this is based on and I'll admit upfront that I'm not at all familiar with Susann's work other than the reputation that it's trashy. With an all-star cast it's nearly impossible to stay away from this film and while all of the actors give strong performances you still can't help but scratch your head and wonder why such a talented cast would want to be involved with a film like this. The entire thing is just downright bizarre and it never really makes too much sense. The entire incest relationship between Douglas and Raffin is just downright creepy and it gets even worse when the "friend" suggests to the daughter that she should ask daddy to sleep with her. I can understand a girl saying that her daddy is her best friend but this film takes that a tad bit too far. The two love affairs that the daughter has are just as silly and the amount of melodrama thrown in makes me wonder what adult in their right mind would buy into it. It seems like not even a naive teenager would believe anything going on here so who exactly this film was meant for is beyond me. Clocking in at 121-minutes, this film goes from slow to slower and it just keeps getting worse. There's not a bit of pacing going on and the film just seems to go off in one direction after another. We start off thinking the film is going to be about Douglas but then it skips to the daughter and we get countless other characters that come in and out. What really kills this film is that the entire group of characters are just ugly people and it's impossible to care for any of them. It's not that a viewer can't enjoy ugly characters but the ones here are just so fake, so idiotic and so boring that you don't want to care with them. The shocking thing is seeing the cast give it their all and turn in fine work. Vaccaro picked up a Golden Globe win and she was nominated for an Oscar and she clearly steals the film and beings the only energy to the picture. Raffin is believable as the confused young woman and both Douglas and Smith are good in their parts. The supporting cast is strong but it really doesn't matter because the story is just so stupid and worthless.
OK Jacqueline Susann's book was hardly high art but it was a fun and trashy read. This movie sanitizes the book--all the sex is either cut out completely or off screen. Despite the R rating there's virtually no nudity--for some reason we only get to see Janssen's bare butt! Still it works. With the sole exception of Raffin the cast is very good. Douglas is OK; Smith looks gorgeous AND has fun with her role; Janssen is excellent in his part; Mercouri is only in one scene but she's fun and best of all is Brenda Vaccaro who was nominated for an Oscar here (!!!) as a sexually loose man-chaser. She grabs the movie, chews it up, spits it out and comes back for more! Her scenes are just great. Unfortunately Raffin is the lead here and she's beautiful--but lousy.
This film wasn't a hit and disappeared pretty quickly. Still, out of all the Jacqueline Susann adaptations, this is easily the best. Faint praise I know but it's true. Worth catching--if you can. I give it a 7.
If one reads Jacqueline Susann's biography, it is easy to see that a large portion of the plot for this movie was taken either from her life or from those she knew in Hollywood. These individuals thought that they were living the "glamorous life" when in reality they were superficial, grasping, amoral cretins who did not have a clue on how to lead a life worthwhile.
A well-made romance, with a few flaws. But you can use extreme caution with this one.