What a Way to Go! (1964)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Black Comedy  |   Run Time - 111 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Though not as dark as the contemporary Dr. Strangelove, the premise of What a Way to Go! is surprisingly black for a Hollywood comedy, especially one with an extraordinarily lavish budget. That budget is well used -- Shirley MacLaine gets to wear 72 mostly fabulous outfits, including a dress that is essentially one long pearl necklace and that must be seen to be believed. The rest of the physical production, including sets and decoration, is impressive, and the cast is stellar. Unfortunately, the excessive production seems to have overwhelmed screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green a bit. There are some good lines scattered throughout, but on the whole the writers don't rise to the bait offered by the premise. The movie ultimately is too soft and safe, and the atmosphere tends toward the frenetic and hysterical, indicating that the material itself can't sustain a more relaxed approach. Although the idea of telling the stories of each husband in a different style is clever, it wears thin after a while. The cast is always watchable, with Paul Newman turning in one of his most easygoing performances, and Dick Van Dyke is very funny. Gene Kelly's self-parody is perhaps the best realized performance. MacLaine is fine, although she does resort to mannerisms and mugging too often. What a Way offers delights, but it's a shame that it settles for being good rather than special.