Movie: The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom (1968)

I listen to a great deal of psychedelic music from the late 60’s, especially that from the UK.  I suspect my listening preferences have established a false correlation in my mind, where I have misled myself into believing I also enjoy off-kilter British comedies of that era.  With each additional one I watch, I am reminded how much I dislike these kooky, allegedly countercultural, films.

Consider 1968’s The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom, in which Shirley MacLaine has a man (James Booth) in her attic, which she is keeping there essentially as a sex slave.  Even though Booth is completely amenable to this situation, it is still more than a hair creepy, not the least because she reminds him of the mother he lost when he was two.  Her feelings towards him are also icky—a combination of nurturing instinct and sex drive.  Paging Dr. Freud…

Richard Attenborough plays her oblivious husband.  This is a sad man, whose sole hobby seems to be conducting imaginary orchestras in his free time.  He also seems to be without a sex drive, and so is not in any way tempted by the models he is always in close physical proximity to in his work as head of a bra manufacturer.  One of those models is an uncredited Carol Cleveland.  She doesn’t get a line, and I was greatly dismayed to see in such a thankless cameo this great comedienne, a person I regard as the seventh member of Monty Python. 

A fully-fledged Python is also in this film in a too brief cameo.  John Cleese plays a confused post office clerk, and he has a line that is the only time I can recall laughing in the course of this film’s 90 minutes. Instead of giving a description of MacLaine to the police, only instead accidentally describes the woman who had just that moment left the counter.  Yeah, it wasn’t anything gut-bustingly hilarious, but I’ll take any diamonds I can glean from this trash pile.

This is a truly dreadful film.  Compounding the queasiness of the film’s central conceit are the usual lousy psychedelic trappings of the time in which this was made.  At one point, there a preposterously long tandem bicycle with something like 20 people on it that cuts through a scene for no good reason.  The house is decorated in a manner I haven’t seen outside of the first Dr. Phibes film, a kind of pop art take on art nouveau. 

At least the house was visually pleasing to an extent.  I can’t say the same for the office of Bob Monkhouse, as a deeply annoying psychiatrist who, in keeping with the films of this era, is completely sex-obsessed.  The doc’s office is all mirrored surfaces, and I suspect even the floor is, though we never get a shot of that.  Monkhouse also has all manner of bizarre apparatuses and electronics, and all kinds of lights of different types and colors.  This shrink’s advice is like something from a subpar sitcom: “Insomnia is nothing to lose sleep over”  And one point, Attenborough tells him, “Oh, doctor, I think you’re on the wrong track!”  Let’s not delude ourselves, this is a film without a track and so cannot possibly leave it or go onto a wrong one.

I don’t think anybody could have made a quality film from this material, though a good choice for the material might have been Richard Lester.  Instead, Joseph McGrath takes the helm.  He had directed many music videos for The Beatles, but I noticed that, even as much as I like those, such clips were far less refined than Lester’s pieces such as the “Can’t Buy Me Love” segment of A Hard Day’s Night.  Curiously, McGrath’s next project after this would be directing Ringo in The Magic Christian. What is most baffling to me is the author of the screenplay is Alec Coppel, who provided that service for Vertigo.

In such an odd and off-putting film, there is a development towards the end that takes the film into even stranger territory.  Apparently, Attenborough had a life-long dream of creating a bra that could dynamically fit any woman, and his gift to the world will be to give these away gratis to the underdeveloped (so to speak) nations of the world.  So, he has enough money to give away free bras, but opts not to provide something useful like food, books, medicine or contraceptives.  Boy, is he ever going to be in for a surprise when the “burn the bras” movement would sweep the world in a couple of years.

The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom left a bad taste in my mouth, making its questionable premise all the more disturbing because of the goofy trappings employed here.  You have somebody hiding their lover in their attic for years, yet that man gets punched out by his own profile while shadow boxing.  Then, after the film was over, I learned it was based on a real-life scenario which ended in murder.  Imagine, somebody was inspired by such an incident to make such a daft film.  I’m just grateful they apparently had never heard of Anne Frank’s story.

Dir: Joseph McGraph

Starring Shirley MacLaine, Richard Attenborough, James Booth

Watched on Kino Lorber blu-ray