Five office friends meet up for a night on the town to celebrate the forthcoming marriage of one of them. As the night wears on and the drink starts to tell, they become more confidential ...
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Five office friends meet up for a night on the town to celebrate the forthcoming marriage of one of them. As the night wears on and the drink starts to tell, they become more confidential in expressing their concerns and hopes.Written by
Jeremy Perkins <firstname.lastname@example.org>
E.G. Marshall and Jack Warden appeared in 12 Angry Men (1957). See more »
In the subway scene, the moving image through the window behind the actors is not synchronized with the images seen through the windows further down the train. See more »
I want that one over there. Not bad, huh? I think she's a communist. I think she wants me to join the party.
How you making out?
Not so good. I may have to join the party...
I better get back there. She's liable to recruit somebody else.
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Despite the reassuring conventional ending, this is one of the few 50's films to catch the decade's growing unease. It's a post-war period of fast rising prosperity and "settling down" into a comfortable life style denied to the Depression and war years. Migration to suburbs turns into a stampede as more and more folks can afford a piece of real estate. The movie's setting, however, is Manhattan, but the prevailing atmosphere of job, marriage and kids carries over.
The movie follows five office co-workers on-the-town, celebrating one of the buddies' engagement (Arnold's). Anxiously uncertain Arnold is about to settle into the prevailing life style, which seems like a cause to celebrate. But as the movie progresses, layers of convention begin to peel away exposing a core of self-doubt and degrees of unhappiness among the married men (Blyden, Marshall, and Murray), and one that soon turns into full-blown angst over ordinary middle-class norms. Each party-goer reacts in an individual way as he begins to face a hidden personal truth. As a result, the party turns from a celebration into what amounts to a trial by fire, at the same time we glimpse some of the underlying tensions of the time.
Those tensions revolve around two core issuessexuality and freedom. Settling down means security and the consolations of family and friends. But it also means a loss of freedom to explore new life styles and relationships. Murray, in particular, feels the conflict as the roving party opens up tempting new worlds and a sense of adventure, especially with Carolyn Jones' exotic seductress. It's really Murray's character who is pivotal as the less spirited Blyden and Marshall retreat from the temptations that urban nightlife offers. On the other hand, Murray's married man is stimulated, making his outcome emblematic of the film's outcome.
The movie is really more effective in opening these issues than in dealing with them. Warden, the bachelor, whom the others envy for his single-man freedom, is later shown as leading an empty and compulsive life, not to be envied. Similarly, Jones' sexual cravings are shown to be empty and unrewarding. Thus the deck is ultimately stacked against an unmarried life style, thereby reinforcing the conventions of then and perhaps now. I don't know if that was writer Chayefski's choice or whether the conformism was mandated by nervous producers, but the slant remains, nevertheless .
Two well-executed scenes expose tensions on the woman's side. Murray's sweet, pregnant wife Smith is visited by her older sister-in-law Marchand. The talk quickly becomes a heart- to-heart, where Marchand reveals the angst of a settled marriage, in which her doctor husband has pursued a number of affairs, leaving her with the kids and a comfortable life- style she'll stay with, even though she conveys an air of frustration and emptiness. When Smith objects that her husband, Murray, is not like that, Marchand tells her to just wait until they too have been married eleven years. What's more, she advises Smith to get rid of the pregnancy so that Murray will have a chance to finish accounting school and "fulfill himself". The implication is that marriage and family can become a trap leaving both partners unhappy. Needless to say, Smith's young wife is left deeply apprehensive, but hopeful that she and her husband are different. These are two very well written and well-acted scenes.
Taking an historical step back from the film-- the tensions on display here break into the open during the free-love counter-cultural movement of the 1960's, when a new generation not chastened by the hardships of the 30's and 40's arrives on the scene. Stripped of political context, their rebellion can be viewed as a more self-indulgent reaction to the confines of the job-marriage-family norm that Bachelor Party deals with and that their parents settled for. The issue of why the rebellion faded away in favor of a return to those more traditional norms remains an interesting question, but poses a context different from the one in the film.
The movie itself is well paced by director Mann, who manages to keep things moving despite all the dialogue. It's also a powerhouse cast with such familiar faces of the time as Warden, Marshall, Murray and Jones. Murray especially is an attractive player who managed to combine a sense of boyish enthusiasm with an adult-level of sincerity. As a young husband, he's perfect. Sure, the movie looks dated as fashions, styles, and technology change. But the underlying issues that the movie deals with remain as relevant now as then, as national divorce statistics, for one, testify. For a look at how similar themes were handled during the same period in a suburban rather than a city setting, check out No Down Payment (1957, Martin Ritt). Nonetheless, Bachelor Party remains a worthwhile look back in time for its perceptive exploration of conventions that in most ways are still with us.
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