July 28th, 2010

How are Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice doing these days?

Remember this movie, all you older folk like me? Bet you do, if only vaguely; this was the suggestive photo that appeared in the promos:


Something made me think of the movie the other day, and I became curious enough about how the film—that quintessential artifact of the encounter movement of the 60s—has held up over these well-nigh forty years since its 1969 release to order it from Netflix and watch it, which I did last night.

Those of you who didn’t live through those times would probably find the film silly indeed, and rather boring at that. But it held my interest, in no small part due to its role in reminding me of those transformative and ultimately ridiculous and even destructive times.

The film’s message is essentially conservative; it especially mocks protagonists Bob and Carol (Robert Culp and Natalie Wood), who go to a weekend at an Esalen-like “Institute” and end up thinking they should jettison the rules of sexual monogamy while practicing an endlessly-disclosing and incredibly self-centered “honesty” about their feelings at all times. Their more traditional friends, Ted and Alice (Elliot Gould and Dyan Cannon, who are especially good in this movie) have some—err—problems with the idea. Although both couples eventually succumb to experimentation, the supposed come-on of the orgy scene in the photo above is tempered by their realization that monogamy has its charms, after all.

Other tangential observations are: (1) as you can see from the photo, the now-ubiquitous chest-hair removal for men that I commented on here had fortunately not yet begun; (2) the movie is worth watching if only for the fashions; (3) Natalie Wood was very beautiful; (4) the female stars are every bit as thin as stars today; and (5) there are a few very funny scenes, including one between Gould and Cannon in bed.

The movie is a caricature, of course. But it reminded me of some of the stupidest ideas of the 60s that have mercifully disappeared for the most part: love beads for men (sported prominently by Culp’s character), the conviction that full disclosure of thoughts/feelings is a plus, and lengthy weekend sessions featuring all-night encounter groups.

31 Responses to “How are Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice doing these days?”

  1. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    Fritz Perls.

    Who was sure incipient fascism was America’s greatest problem and thought his techniques would help us break through.

    Taken very seriously by some.

  2. Adrian Day Says:

    Full disclosure I assume includes telling your wife if that outfit makes her look fat.

  3. George Pal Says:

    Hated the movie when I saw it – never saw it again – will not see it again. At the time I saw it I remember, vaguely, thinking what a bunch of cowards. If it’s libertine and slut you want – go for it. Stop trying to justify your lust and stop couching it in psycho-babble. What an awful memory.

  4. vanderleun Says:

    I was unfortunate enough to see a few bits and pieces of this wheezing lump of cinema sludge a while ago.

    It filled me with an inertia and loathing so profound that I simply passed out to avoid the pain.

    As to “the female stars are every bit as thin as stars today” I agree. It is especially true of Natalie Wood.

  5. Tatyana Says:

    If that even possible, movie stars of old Hollywood were thinner. I remember seeing Katherine Hepburn in some old film and thinking – oh my, she’s the same wasp waist at front and the side view!

  6. SteveH Says:

    I look back at most all anti establishment types in the 60’s and ponder how time has revealed them to actually be the people who wanted a dogmatic religion shoved down the throat of every American. Turns out Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon were off the charts hip compared to these F*****s.

  7. soupcon Says:

    Neo, would you care to rent Carnal Knowledge and see if it holds up to modern scrutiny? lol

  8. neo-neocon Says:

    soupcon: couldn’t stomach the leaden “Carnal Knowledge” first time round. “B&C&T&A,” on the other hand, is a send-up of the beliefs it spotlights.

  9. michaele Says:

    Just the other day, I decided to see if Netflx offered Exodus which seemed like such a wonderful movie to me when I was 12. Admittedly, my enthusiasm for the movie might have had something to do with being mesmerized by Paul Newman’s blue eyes and mockingly sexy smile. Anyway, it arrived today. It’ll be interesting to see how well it has held up for me.

  10. rickl Says:

    I saw the movie on TV many years ago but don’t remember anything about it.

    What I find interesting about the picture is that the women are smiling but the men aren’t.

  11. Bob from Virginia Says:

    michaele, here is a totally unimportant and unrelated factoid about Exodus. Leon Uris based the character of Ari ben Canaan on a young IDF officer he met in Israel, one Yizhack Rabin.

    Re: movie classics of the 60’s; I detested B&C&T&A and Carnal knowledge and Mash and Catch-22. The whole decade was a bust. It’s a wonder Niel Armstrong did not curse out the whole planet when he landed on the moon.

  12. rickl Says:

    Bob from Virginia:
    Speaking of 1969, I remember seeing a bunch of 1969 movies on TV awhile back. It might have been a special film festival on TCM or A&E. I saw Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, and one or two others I can’t remember. What really struck me was that they were all dark, dark films.

    Actually, M*A*S*H was released in 1970 but filmed in 1969. I have to admit that I liked it, although I didn’t see it until years later. A few years ago I saw it on TV with commentary by the cast. There was one scene where the camera zoomed in on the moon in the say. They said that scene was filmed on the evening of July 20, 1969. So I guess you could say that Neil and Buzz were in that movie.

  13. rickl Says:

    say = sky

  14. Rick Says:

    I watched “The Big Chill” a couple of years back to see how it held up. It didn’t. What a bunch of whiney, self-absorbed, self-important,
    pre-yuppy goodfernuthins. Hard to take.

    @michaele re: “Exodus”. Take away the music and Paul Newman’s steely blue eyes and there’s not much there. The book on the other hand….

  15. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Best part of “chill” is when the public defender, who’d gotten an education about the mean streets says, of her vanished idealism, “I didn’t know they’d be so guilty.”
    Sort of leads you to think that even clowns like this can be taught if hit over the head enough times by reality.

  16. IgotBupkis Says:

    > As to “the female stars are every bit as thin as stars today” I agree. It is especially true of Natalie Wood.

    Natalie Wood was always thin — from Rebel Without A Cause to Gypsy and The Great Race and on after, she was always “modern thin” thin.

    Word is they had to pleat her chest for the bikini scene in B&C&T&A.

  17. Jamie Says:

    rickl, I was struck by the facial expressions too.

    I confess to wondering whether our hostess threw in that last bit about the demise of “the conviction that full disclosure of thoughts/feelings is a plus” as a conversational foil of some kind, since OBviously that idea is nowhere near dead.

    Netflix… boon or bane? I got Lost Boys and Ladyhawke and a bunch of other old stuff for the same reasons as those expressed above – how do these movies, my teenage favorites, hold up today? In a case like Ferris Bueller, I’m relieved and happy that my taste was so good back then. Some of these others… not so much. (I still love Ladyhawke, in spite of… well, everything. The idea is so darn romantic – “Wolves and hawks mate for life. He couldn’t even leave us that. Not even that…” – and Michelle Pfieffer is so darn beautiful.)

  18. Jamie Says:

    P.S. How do you “pleat” someone’s chest?

  19. physicsguy Says:

    “the conviction that full disclosure of thoughts/feelings is a plus, and lengthy weekend sessions featuring all-night encounter groups.”

    Oh, I don’t know if these have gone by the wayside. Each late August our Dean requires the dept chairs to attend a weekend “retreat” which resembles exactly those quoted sessions. Of course what can one expect out of a bunch of Boomer academics who went into the ivory tower in order to preserve their one big year of 1969.

    More on topic: my favorite movies of the 60’s were the Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns. What I loved about them were the way they portrayed the true gittiness of the ol’ West. My favorite was, For a Few Dollars More, while most people went with G,B&U.

  20. Bilwick Says:

    I saw a PBS bio of Natalie Wood about a year ago (I think it was called “The Wood That Couldn’t Float”) and there was a clip of her from “BACTAA” in a bikini. She was certainly slender, but not excessively thin. In fact, she could have easily been a PLAYBOY Playmate in that era, when Playmates were more individual and came in a variety of shapes and sizes, from the very svelte to the voluptuous (and b yh today’s standards, “fat”).

  21. donb Says:

    Somebody I heard suggested a contemporary (2010) remake to be named “Bob and Carl and Ted and Alex”

  22. neo-neocon Says:

    Bilwick: Here’s a photo. She looks pretty thin to me—on the cusp of being too thin but not quite over the line.

  23. I R A Darth Aggie Says:

    Full disclosure I assume includes telling your wife if that outfit makes her look fat.

    That’s not true. The outfit doesn’t make her look fat.

    Her fat makes her look fat.

  24. Bilwick Says:

    Thanks for the photo, neo-neocon. I’ve got my screen saver for the week! “On the cusp” is the key phrase. I generally like my women with a little more meat on their bones, but I celebrate their “infinite variety,” and I think Ms. Wood looks pretty good there.

  25. IgotBupkis Says:

    > P.S. How do you “pleat” someone’s chest?

    It’s a joke. The point is she wasn’t what you’d call “bosomy” by anyone’s reckoning.

    I certainly had the hots for her and Jill St. John when I was thirteen, though. Needless to say, I considered Robert Wagner to be an impossibly lucky bastard.

    P.S. Here’s a pub shot of her from ‘Gypsy’

    And some more Gypsy photos

  26. IgotBupkis Says:


    She just had eyes you could fall into

    Here’s a huge Natalie Wood photo gallery

    And another

    As a guy, I think the thing about Natalie Wood is that she managed to be very sexy and very classy at the same time… not always an easy combination to pull off.

  27. IgotBupkis Says:

    Also, like Sela Ward, she was a woman who matured spectacularly well. I think she was still quite hot even into her forties.

  28. neo-neocon Says:

    Bilwik and IgotBupkis: I am a big Natalie Wood fan. B&C&T&A wasn’t one of her best movies, although she does fine in it. In my opinion, this was her best—and one of the best performances by a movie actress ever.

  29. Bilwick Says:

    Liked her in WEST SIDE STORY. She’s gotten some criticism for that role because she (a) was not a Latina and (c) she didn’t do her own singing; but neither of those bother me. I think she managed to look Hispanic “enough”–that is enough to be conmvincing–plus I used to live in Manhattan and I’ve seen PRs of all kinds of hues, hair colors, etc. As for the singing, I think it takes a certain kind of art to convincingly “sell” the song when you’re NOT actually singing it, and she accomplished that; as did co-star Richard Beymer. (In the anniversary edition DVD, by the way, there’s a clip of Ms. Wood as Maria doing her own singing (later dubbed over by Marni Nixon) and NW did a nice job with her own pipes. Aopparently it was felt her voice wasn’t strong enough for the big screen, but it was a good enough voice.

  30. joeedh Says:

    I thought I’d comment. I think “full disclosure” makes sense–for some couples. It depends on the situation. Some people need that, others don’t, and it really just depends. Many women seem to look for protectors and strength in men, while a growing number of men now look for strong women.

    1/5th of the population has what’s termed the “highly sensitive” personality type; emotional sensitivity (and, yes, needyness) isn’t limited to women, and neither is the corresponding male-stereotype insensitivity limited to males.

    Personally, I think that your perceived power in society determines how you are attracted to people. If you feel net powerful, then you look for people who would contribute good genes; if you feel net unpowerful, you look for protectors and care more about emotional satisfaction. This seems to apply to both males and females, in my experience.

  31. Don Says:

    I remember when B&C&T&A came out, though I’m sure I only saw the Mad Magazine version. It would be an interesting movie to review in these times. The concept and practice of polyamory has surged, and indeed a close friend of mine is discovering it now that her children are out of the house. If people want to claim it is just sluttery with a fancy name, they can, but when they do they denigrate experiences they cannot very well understand.

    Of course it faded away going into the 70s because it had become fashionable, and many, probably most, people who tried it found it was not a good fit. This surely led to a popular backlash. Now that polyamory is more or less under the cultural radar (and hopefully no sexual identity ever will be fashionable again), and the practice has sprouted some hard, fast, and practical rules, people can gravitate to it or not as their true nature demands, with the natural expectation they will be respected for it.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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