It might be 50 years late, but I’ll be catching up on all the Oscar nominees and winners I have missed from the year 1973 through the month of May
Despite a great Oscar-winning performance from Glenda Jackson, Melvin Frank’s A Touch of Class has cheap gags and even cheaper scruples. Rarely has a couple at the heart of a romantic comedy been so difficult to cheer for, much less endorse.
Jackson stars as Vickie Allessio, a divorced British mother of two living in London. Steve Blackburn (George Segal) is a married American businessman who accidently shares a taxi with Vickie. Dedicated to beginning an affair, Steve invites Vickie to tea and then to a hotel rendezvous. Unimpressed, Vickie desires a sunnier destination. Steve arranges a trip to Málaga, Spain.
Hijinks and complications ensue on the trip when Steve’s friend Walter (Paul Sorvino) interrupts their trip. When they finally arrive, any attempts at intimacy are also interrupted by back spasms and sexual politics. When the two eventually do consummate their relationship, further complications keep getting in the way. Eventually, the pair finally coexist and wish to extend their relationship back in the real world. Back in London, the pair get a secret flat, but find continued difficulties in seeing each other.
In a romantic comedy, it’s a bad sign when you are actively rooting against the central romance. Steve’s wife is a perfectly sweet woman who does nothing wrong throughout the entirety of the film. Steve’s kids are also seen as innocents. Why would the audience be cheering for this affair? Even the chemistry and charm of Vickie and Steve isn’t that great to actively want to destroy a marriage with children.
On top of that, the film is all over the place (literally and figuratively). The first 15 minutes takes place in London, while the middle hour is in Spain, with the final 30 minutes are back in London. The middle sojourn to Spain takes up so much of the runtime, it’s a wonder the entirety of the film didn’t stay there. The entire Spain trip is superfluous to the action, which only kicks into narrative gear when in London.
Despite the problems with the film, Jackson is hilarious and pitch-perfect. On the page, Vickie is a thinly-written character whom Jackson expands to the best of her ability. Jackson’s deadpan line readings and sardonic humor elevate the performance well above anything the character deserves. Segal, on the other hand, leans into the negative qualities of the character on the hopes that his charm will win out. As charming and as quick-witted as Segal is, Steve is just too unpleasant of a personality. Jackson and Segal’s chemistry is prickly at best, and never the white-hot fire it needs to be to justify their relationship.
The rest of the supporting cast is superfluous at best and completely wasted at worst. Sorvino is the only one who gets to have any sort of personality, and that is just to give Steve the perspective on his situation. Everyone else either doesn’t have any sort of impact, or is so thinly written, they have nothing of substance to do.
Sexist and silly, A Touch of Class might have been a poignant look at infidelity and love in 1973, but now it feels dated, gross, and unremarkable. Regardless, you can’t take away Jackson’s second Oscar win.
Next week: Ingmar Bergman has one of his biggest Oscar successes with the hauntingly intimate Cries and Whispers
Oscar Blindspots: Les Miserables
Oscar Blindspots: Butterflies are Free/The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeousie
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