Since they first created their list of the 100 Greatest Movies, the American Film Institute has gone ratings happy. They continue to produce additional rankings of various genres, with the “100 Most Thrilling American Films” as the most recent chart.
If the AFI ever decides to detail the “100 Biggest Wastes of Talent”, I believe I know which movie will be number one: 1968’s Candy. Take a gander at the folks responsible for this flick and you’ll see a tremendous roster of quality people. The movie was based on a book by Terry Southern, the co-writer of two flicks on AFI’s Top 100, 1964’s Dr. Strangelove and 1969’s Easy Rider. The script was created by Buck Henry, the co-writer of another AFI 100 picture, 1967’s The Graduate. In addition to unknown actress Ewa Aulin in the lead role, we find the following actors: Marlon Brando; Richard Burton; Walter Matthau; Charles Aznavour; John Huston; Ringo Starr; James Coburn; John Astin. Boxing great Sugar Ray Robinson even makes a cameo appearance!
A spoof of Voltaire’s Candide, Candy manages to make almost each and every one of these people look like an idiot. Watch all of this film and you’ll wonder how any of them managed to move on with their careers after such a horrific experience. The loosely constructed story follows the erotic journey of naïve schoolgirl Candy (Aulin). Basically she goes from location to location as she seeks for truth and meaning in life. The only real result is that a bunch of strange and sleazy guys boff her.
I suppose that I could elaborate more about the different characters Candy encounters, but what’s the point? They’re all wild parodies of different sorts. Actually, in the early parts of the film, it’s mad broadness almost seems fun. Our first main guest star is Richard Burton as heartthrob poet McPhisto. He offers such a self-mocking and over the top performance that the movie briefly - and I do mean briefly - looks like it might be something interesting.
After that, unfortunately, Candy crashes. Essentially the plot follows Candy from sexual partner to sexual partner, and next she gets it on with her family’s Mexican gardener Emmanuel, played by Ringo Starr, the least Mexican man on the planet. I suppose this casting is supposed to be some sort of sly comment on something, but the ultimate result is nothing more than one of the worst performances committed to film. As a Beatle fan of many years, it pained me to see Ringo offer this insanely lame piece of work. Well, at least he got to grope Aulin.
Once Ringo leaves the film, we move from one nutty character to another, all with the same results: sex and alleged merriment. Possibly the nadir accompanied Walter Matthau’s bug-eyed General Smight. In addition to the bad pun and weak performance by Matthau, this segment provides some of the movie’s more heavy-handed “commentary”. The usual “army equals bad” mentality of the era comes into play as we learn that Smight controls a squad that lives in a plane that never lands; they constantly fly so they can be ready for action. That’s supposed to be wicked satire? It felt like little more than warmed-over Strangelove.
Actually, Candy felt like a sad combination of Dr. Strangelove and Lolita, but one in which they left out all of the good parts. I suppose that’s not totally true. Aulin’s awfully sexy, and she does bare her body quite frequently. She couldn’t act to save her life, and her absurdly wooden and forced performance induces quite a few unintentional laughs, but she was definitely a serious babe. Does Candy have anything going for it other than some good skin? No, unless you hate one or more of its performers and you want to use the film as evidence of their inadequacies. Candy is a completely unfunny and idiotic satire that felt like a true waste of time.
Possibly interesting footnote: if the name “McPhisto” sounds familiar, you may be a U2 fan. During the band’s 1993 “Zooropa” tour, Bono adopted a character called “Mr. MacPhisto”. In pancake face make-up and devil horns, he appeared for those shows’ encores and was supposed to be a weary, debauched aging rock star. That sounds a lot like the drunken poet played by Burton here. Whether Bono took MacPhisto from McPhisto remains to be seen, but the similarities seem to be more than coincidental.
Candy appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the movie occasionally looked quite good, much of the film displayed flaws that made the overall product less than terrific.
Sharpness appeared to be erratic. While most of the movie presented acceptably crisp and detailed images, some scenes came across as rather soft and fuzzy. As was the case with most of the flick, the sharpness presented a mixed bag and it improved as it continued; the worst examples of softness popped up during the movie’s first half.
Moiré effects and jagged edges offered no substantial concerns, but print flaws were a periodic issue. Quite a lot of grain could be seen throughout the film, some of which seemed to relate to special effects shots. For example, when John Astin’s two characters appeared in the same scene, this composite technique resulted in rather grainy images. However, other segments displayed no logical reasons for the excessive grain, and that problem could become mildly intrusive. Grain presented the film’s most dominant problem, but I also saw some grittiness, and the movie exhibited a mildly flickering quality at times.
Colors generally seemed acceptable, and the film presented a nicely psychedelic palette that made sense within its context. At times, the hues could appear somewhat pale and overly subdued, but as a whole, I found them to look reasonably vivid and accurate. Black levels were fairly deep and rich, but shadow detail ran into some concerns. Low-light sequences appeared somewhat thick and heavy, as the darkness appeared too encompassing. Again, Candy was an inconsistent presentation that fluctuated between some very attractive shots and some rather ugly ones; the segments in the operating room looked particularly weak. Nonetheless, the product improved as it progressed, and the film as a whole earned a fairly average “C+” grade.
Also mediocre was the monaural soundtrack of Candy. While not bad for its age, I thought this mix seemed to be pretty lifeless. Quite a lot of speech appeared to have been looped, as many of the lines were oddly “off”; they didn’t neatly match the mouth movements. As a whole, dialogue was acceptably distinct and intelligible, but it thought speech lacked much warmth, and these aspects could become mildly rough and edgy at times.
Music and effects displayed similar characteristics. At times the score appeared moderately shrill and harsh, but the music mainly sounded relatively clear and smooth. Effects were also somewhat thin and discordant, but they never presented any extreme problems. The mix lacked any signs of background noise or surface flaws. Ultimately, Candy provided a fairly lackluster and bland soundtrack.
The DVD release of Candy includes a few minor extras. We find the film’s theatrical trailer and also get two Radio Spots; one lasts for 30 seconds while the other goes for a minute. The Still Gallery provides 60 images; we get a combination of both production and publicity stills plus a mix of advertisements. Lastly, we discover quite solid Biographies of actors Aulin, Brando, Burton, Starr, Aznavour, Huston, Coburn, Matthau, and Astin.
Candy could have used the full special edition treatment if just to explain who thought this mess would work. I found the movie to offer a grating, obnoxious experience that became intermittently watchable due to the lovely young body of Ewa Aulin. Without her nudity, the film would have been totally intolerable. The DVD offers bland but acceptable picture and sound plus a smattering of minor supplements. If you’re the kind of person who can’t take your eyes off of a car crash, Candy is the movie for you; it’s a horrific sight that gets more and more frightening with every passing minute.