Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Comedy of Manners, Satire, Sex Comedy  |   Run Time - 104 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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In some ways, it's surprising that a film so identified with a time period as is Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice should hold up as well as it does. It was both famous and infamous in its day for tackling the sexual revolution, and is often thought of as "that film about wife swapping." In fact, the spouse swapping comes only at the climax of the film and actually only takes up a small portion of its running time -- and is presented seriously, rather than as simple titillation. Indeed, though a comedy, Bob & Carol takes a serious look at relationships circa 1969 and how they had been affected by rapid societal changes. Because it is as much concerned with its characters as it is with the society affecting them, Bob & Carol has not dated as badly as many other films from the era. By painting an incisive, intelligent portrait of a quartet of real, identifiable people, Bob & Carol remains effective despite some turns of phrases and expressions of ideas that seem quaint or naïve. Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker's screenplay also picks up points for keeping the characters complicated; even the "free thinking" Bob and Carol are wrapped up in denials that they can't even recognize. Mazursky directs with assurance and flair that belie his then-novice status, helped enormously by Charles B. Lang's cinematography, which contributes greatly to both the atmosphere and our understanding of the characters. And the actors playing the title characters could hardly be better. At the time of its release, the bulk of the praise went to the Ted and Alice of Elliott Gould and Dyan Cannon, both of whom were relatively fresh faces giving breakout performances. Gould has rarely been better, and Cannon is a revelation throughout, but especially during her psychiatrist scene and her climactic "let's do it" scene. However, Robert Culp and Natalie Wood are equally deserving of praise, each turning in finely calibrated performances that are filled with nuance and meaning. Wood's hungry, expressive eyes convey a multitude of meanings, and Culp's rapid acceptance of encounter group principles is completely believable. A seminal film of the 1960s, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is still relevant today.