If Lester had tried to make it with Arthur Penn's emotional directness instead of Alain Resnais's scrambling of time and plot elements, it might have been very good. Instead we get barrages of chopped-up scenes thrown at us; we don't know if Petulia was beaten last week, last year or next week. Very few scenes are allowed to stand on their own, one such is the George C. Scott-Shirley Knight argument at his place when he throws the bag of cookies at her. We are able to see his frustration and wild humor surface here. You can't tell what's going on inside Christie's head for most of the picture, one dumb shtick act follows another (stealing a tuba, turning up in the hospital library just to bug Scott, and on and on). Christie is a fine actress, and was just about the sexiest woman on the screen then--forget about that Jacqueline Bisset robot--but Lester doesn't let her develop her character.
What we have is a sado-masochistic couple (Chamberlain-Christie) with a sinister Faulknerian father in Joseph Cotten: listen to him talk about family values in the old south in a tone of barely-suppressed rage as Christie lies in her hospital bed, comic-horror. Into the mix strides Scott, with a lot of emotional issues of his own (wife lost, kids estranged), and our hapless surgeon must try to keep Christie out of the morgue. It just doesn't work.