A young woman goes home to New York after a long stay in Europe. Her former schoolmate introduces her to the decadence of New York and she ultimately falls in love with an older man who's a stand-in for her father, before tragedy strikes.
January Wayne, the sheltered, much-loved daughter of a formerly successful Hollywood producer, goes home to New York after a lengthy stint in a Swiss hospital. Mike Wayne has fallen on hard times and decides to marry for money. January is an innocent young woman who searches for her place in the world. Pursued by her rich new stepmother's playboy of a cousin, she instead falls hard for a much older man, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who's a surrogate for her father, before tragedy strikes.
The big-screen "Valley of the Dolls" and under-appreciated "Love Machine" are both camp film classics in their different ways. But this adaptation of Susann's last novel has a reputation as an embarrassment without being quite bad or enjoyable enough to reward that historical semi-misjudgment. English-born director director Guy Green (perhaps best known for 1965 Sidney Poitier vehicle "A Patch of Blue" and the disastrous 1968 adaptation of John Fowles' "The Magus") does a thoroughly respectable job with his very trashy source material--which is to say he mostly sucks the life out of it via soft-focus and an over-delicate approach to performers who might easily have gone into ham overdrive. They include Kirk Douglas as a Hollywood mogul, Alexis Smith as his ex-wife and Melina Mercouri as her lover; plus Gary Conway, George Hamilton and David Janssen as suitors to our heroine, Douglas' daughter Deborah Raffin.
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.
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