Group, The (1966): Sidney Lumet Directs High-Profile Ensemble–Candice Bergen, Elizabeth Hartman, Jessica Walter

This sharply uneven ensemble film, directed by the ever-prolific and creative Sidney Lumet, is based on Mary McCarthy’s well-received novel of the same name.

Semi autobiographical, the book focuses on a group of female graduates from a Vassar-like college during the Depression era. It follows their personal and professional lives from 1933 to 1939, with the looming threat of WWII.

Our Grade: B- (** out of *****)

The film, which played at the Berlin Film Festival, divided critics at the time, but was a commercial success, launching the careers of many of the ensemble members.

The cast includes eight talented actresses: Candice Bergen, Joan Hackett, Elizabeth Hartman, Shirley Knight, Jessica Walter, Kathleen Widdoes, and Joanna Pettet.

The film also features small roles for Hal Holbrook, James Broderick (Matthew’s father), Larry Hagman, and Richard Mulligan.  Director Lumet’s father, Baruch Lumet, is cast as a kind and sensitive neighbor.

The script by Sydney Buchman (who’s also a producer) is faithful to the novel in detail, but not in spirit or tone.  The book’s text is wittier and more sardonic.

Compressing the multiple events and characters, the narrative jumps briskly from one woman to another, and as if to make sure that the viewers distinguish among the women, occasionally titles are printed on screen with the women’s names and turning points of their lives.

A more serious problem is the film’s lack of the satirical and critical perspectives of McCarthy’s book, which essentially details the gap between the ivory league education of rich and privileged girls, full of idealistic ideas about politics, love, and family, and the actual realities they are forced to face after graduation.

In fact, during the last scene (a funeral), we hear echoes of the 1933 commencement graduation speech, in which the graduates are urged to assume active role in the emergent American society.

For its time, the movie was considered bold and audacious, dealing with some controversial cultural issues and taboos, such as adultery, open marriage, free relationships, abortion, lesbianism, mental illness and psychoanalysis, physical abuse and violence against women.

After their college days, the eight women go their separate ways.

It should come as no surprise, considering the source material, that the men in the movie get a more negative and one-dimensional portraiture.

Lakey (Candice Bergen), always regarded as their leader, leaves for Europe to begin a new life on her own.

The domestic lives of the others go in unanticipated, largely negative ways, defying their idealistic hopes and expectations when they were students.

Priss (Elizabeth Hartman) marries an opinionated doctor, and suffers two miscarriages before finally giving birth.

Kay (Joanna Pettet) weds a struggling, alcoholic playwright who cheats on her.

Dottie (Joan Hackett) gives up a flamboyant lifestyle in Greenwich Village to settle down with a dull Arizona businessman.

Pokey (Mary-Robin Redd) raises two sets of twins.

Polly (Shirley Knight) has an affair with a married man, who’s going through psychoanalysis.

Helena (Kathleen Widdoes) travels the world but is unable to find happiness at home.

Libby, a success in the literary world, is frigid in her personal life, and is subjected to humiliation and physical abuse.

With the impending war in Europe in 1939, Lakey returns home with a woman (a baroness no less), who seems and behaves as much more than just a traveling companion, making her peers realize she’s a lesbian.

After a tragedy that results in the death of one woman, the rest of the group meets for one more (last?) time at her funeral.

 

Cast

Candice Bergen- Lakey

Joan Hackett – Dottie

Elizabeth Hartman – Priss

Shirley Knight – Polly

Joanna Pettet – Kay

Mary-Robin Redd – Pokey

Jessica Walter – Libby

Kathleen Widdoes – Helena

James Broderick – Dr. Ridgeley

James Congdon – Sloan Crockett

Larry Hagman – Harald Peterson

Hal Holbrook – Gus Leroy

Richard Mulligan – Dick Brown

Robert Emhardt – Mr. Andrews

Carrie Nye – Norine

Credits:

Made on a budget of $2 million, the film grossed $6 million at the box office.

Running time: 150 minutes

Release date: March 4, 1966.

 

Films directed by Sidney Lumet

12 Angry Men (1957)

Stage Struck (1958)

That Kind of Woman (1959)

The Fugitive Kind (1960)

A View from the Bridge (1962)

Long Day’s Journey into Night (1962)

The Pawnbroker (1964)

Fail Safe (1964)

The Hill (1965)

The Group (1966)

The Deadly Affair (1966)

Bye Bye Braverman (1968)

The Sea Gull (1968)

The Appointment (1969)

King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis (1970)

Last of the Mobile Hot Shots (1970)

The Anderson Tapes (1971)

Child’s Play (1972)

The Offence (1973)

Serpico (1973)

Lovin’ Molly (1974)

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Network (1976)

Equus (1977)

The Wiz (1978)

Just Tell Me What You Want (1980)

Prince of the City (1981)

Deathtrap (1982)

The Verdict (1982)

Daniel (1983)

Garbo Talks (1984)

Power (1986)

The Morning After (1986)

Running on Empty (1988)

Family Business (1989)

Q & A (1990)

A Stranger Among Us (1992)

Guilty as Sin (1993)

Night Falls on Manhattan (1996)

Critical Care (1997)

Gloria (1999)

Find Me Guilty (2006)

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)

Television
Beyond This Place (1957)

The Iceman Cometh (1960)

100 Centre Street (2001–2002)

Strip Search (2004)