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Fredrik Egerman is very happy in his marriage to a seventeen-year-old virgin, Anne. Only she's been a virgin for the whole eleven months of the marriage, and being a bit restless, Fredrik goes to see an old flame, the famous actress Desiree Armfeldt. Desiree is getting tired of her life, and is thinkin of settling down, and sets her sights on Fredrik, despite his marriage, and her own married lover Count Carl-Magnus. She gets her mother to invite the Egermans to her country estate for the weekend. But when Carl-Magnus and his wife Charlotte appear, too, things begin to get farcical (Send in the Clowns), and the night must smile for the third time before all the lovers are united. Written by
There are several misunderstandings about this woefully mis-guided film floating around.
First, Liz Taylor cannot be blamed for the sound of her singing -She was dubbed! I've heard her actual vocals -be very, very glad that another singer was used. Only Len Cariou, Diana Rigg, and Laurence Guittard's singing voices are their own.
The decision to move the locale from Sweden to Austria had nothing to do with art and everything to do with finances. The picture was financed by an Austrian company... And woefully underfunded, which limited neophyte director Prince's re-shoot options (re the ever-expanding, ever-contracting Liz).
Prince has said he simply couldn't figure out a way to use the vocal quintet for the film, so they and their songs were cut. Sondheim wrote new lyrics for Liaisons, and the song was filmed (as was In Priase of Women) but for some reason they were cut from the final version of the film. Perhaps length. Perhaps to keep the focus on the Cariou-Taylor plot line. The new version of The Glamorous Life was extremely well-done, and shows the potential of the piece in surer, better-financed hands.
Casting the film proved extremely difficult. Liz Taylor's name value was crucial to the production. Many different leading men were considered, and in the end Cariou was only brought in at the very last minute because no one else had been signed. Ditto with Laurence Guittard. It's ironic that their performances are the best in the film.
Most of the blame for this shambles falls on Hal Prince. He allowed the movie to be far too dark and Taylor to be far too desperate and clutching. Stephen Sondheim is said to have encouraged the dark tone. Perhaps another director would have lightened things up a bit and allowed the film to be more romantic and fun.
A DVD transfer is extremely unlikely -The original negatives are all but destroyed, not having been preserved properly. Image Entertainment had the title on their release list for some time, but eventually gave up on it, saying the original elements were unusable and the title not likely to sell nearly enough copies to make a restoration worthwhile. The sound, in particular, is problematic -as it was terrible to begin with. There is a very good laserdisc release of the film, which is much clearer than the VHS version, but it's exceedingly hard to find.
So -What was good about this film? The new Glamorous Life song/sequence worked wonderfully, as did the expanded Everyday A Little Death sequence. Cariou, Guittard, and Rigg gave excellent performances. Jonathan Tunick's new orchestrations and underscoring were, as always, first-rate -particularly during Erik's attempted suicide. (Tunick has a cameo as the conductor at the film's opening.) Prince's transition from the theatre stage to "real life" was well done, and the movie has a very promising start. Fans of the original stage musical will forever be frustrated by this film version, which could have been wonderful.
UPDATE: Since I wrote this the film has been (at last!) released on DVD, and the soundtrack recording is now on CD. Several reviewers have complained of the poor quality of the DVD, but the video and audio restoration work was extremely well done. The film never looked or sounded better. According to the new liner notes for the soundtrack CD there were four additional songs from the stage score that were to be filmed, but the production ran out of money. I'm upped my original rating of the film, as each time I see it I find more to enjoy.
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