A film about free love being released at the end of the free love era of the sixties turned out to be something of a masterstroke for director, screenwriter and actor Paul Mazursky. His somewhat satirical look at that era, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, was a hit on release and it received four Academy Award nominations too.
It’s no real surprise that Arrow have unearthed this old comedy favourite with a new restoration and extras for fans and newcomers alike. It might well be a victim of its time, but there are elements of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice that show why it caught audiences’ attention. Particularly in 1969.
The comedy-drama opens at a free-thinking, free-love retreat where filmmaker Bob and his beautiful wife Carol (Robert Culp and Natalie Wood respectively) experience openness and honesty within a group of people that they seemingly hadn’t experienced before and appear changed upon their return home. When they meet with friends Ted and Alice (Elliot Gould and Dyan Cannon respectively), Bob and Carol share their new-found philosophy with them over dinner. Ted and Alice are more conservative than Bob and Carol who seem slightly bemused by their friends’ new view on life, giving the impression that the two couples were virtually the same before Bob and Carol’s retreat, sharing similar views and opinions on life, love and marriage. Hence their friendship and Ted and Carol’s eagerness to share their eye-opening experiences at the retreat.
Those opening scenes are a good set-up for what is to come as affairs and almost-affairs are revealed, surprising intimate details shared for good and bad; one scene has Bob shocked after he admits to an affair while working in San Francisco only to have Carol be completely fine with it. The tables are later turned, but it ends up being quite a humorous scene between Bob, Carol and Carol’s tennis instructor, Horst (Horst Ebersberg), which sums up Bob and Carol’s new-found attitude to life and love, so it seems.
This scene also sums up the film, in a way. Its laid back nature with a couple of surprising reveals and a somewhat baffling but strangely humorous and uplifting ending generally describes Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. It doesn’t exactly grab you and demand your attention, but it gently lets you into this interesting situation between two couples with its overriding message and Burt Bacharach’s classic ‘What the World Needs Now is Love’ at the film’s climax – or anti-climax in terms of what happens when the two couples end up in bed together.
Overall, while not being an obvious comedy classic, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is quite an interesting watch. Tapping into that late 60’s chilled-out vibe, while giving us a nice message about how it might be nice to explore or think about other options, but being honest and open and ultimately being in love is sometimes all you really need. This type of film won’t be for everyone but for fans of sixties films/comedies and the free love era and way of thinking, it’s worth checking out. If anything, you’ll see how beautiful Natalie Wood was.
Extras for this release include an audio commentary by Paul Mazursky, Robert Culp, Elliot Gould and Dylan Cannon. A new audio commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin. A new video essay looking at the films themes by filmmaker and critic David Cairns and an archival interview with Paul Mazursky. Add in a reversible sleeve with newly commissioned artwork with first pressings of the release featuring an illustrated collector’s booklet with new writing on the film by author Michael Atkinson and you have an essential purchase for Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is out now from Arrow Academy.