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Mister Buddwing


Kinda like ‘Memento,’ only not good

Rod Lott May 18th, 2011

In a rather promising pre-credits sequence that puts us in James Garner's POV, he wakes up in Central Park, not knowing who he is, or much of anything, really.

misterbuddwing

All he has on him are a timetable, a couple of pills, and a phone number. Perhaps those digits will offer a clue to solve the mystery surrounding his identity, and thus, lead him to the only name on the tip of his tongue: Grace.

Could he be to whom the newspaper headline "Dangerous Mental Patient Escapes" refers? He makes up a last name for himself on the fly, by spotting a passing Budweiser truck and airplane, and that, too, is the name of the film: "Mister Buddwing." The 1966 drama is like a proto-"Memento," except not good.

Now available from Warner Archive, it plays almost like an anthology film, as Buddwing meets four women. First, it's Angela Lansbury as some sort of apartment floozy who says she "puts out." Then it's Katharine Ross, as a student who immediately jumps to conclusions of marriage the minute he starts chatting her up.

Third comes Suzanne Pleshette as an actress named Fiddle who's "tired of those AC/DC types," gets pregnant by him, refuses an abortion, and tries to commit suicide. Finally — whew! — there's the saucy Jean Simmons as a drunken party girl on a scavenger hunt who shuttles him away in a taxi cab.

What I could not figure out is whether these encounters — some lasting minutes, others lasting years in the story — are mere figments of his imagination or part of his memories, with the elusive Grace subbed by the various women. I was as confused as Buddwing.

The acting is so showy and theatrical that one might think it were based on a Broadway play. It's not — it's from a novel by Evan Hunter (aka Ed McBain). I haven't read that one, but knowing the author's body of work well, I'm betting it didn't this come off this sentimental, this downright goofy on the page.

I tried to wash out the taste of bad Garner with his far more lighthearted 1963 romantic comedy, "The Wheeler Dealers," co-starring the gorgeous Lee Remick. Sadly, it kept skipping, so I took that as a sign. —Rod Lott



 
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