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  Woman Times Seven Shirley's World
Year: 1967
Director: Vittorio De Sica
Stars: Shirley MacLaine, Peter Sellers, Rossano Brazzi, Lex Barker, Elsa Martinelli, Robert Morley, Patrick Wymark, Adrienne Corri, Alan Arkin, Anita Ekberg, Michael Caine, Philippe Noiret, Vittorio Gassman, Clinton Greyn, Elspeth March, Jessie Robins
Genre: Comedy, Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Ah, woman! So multifaceted in your various charms! Let us take a look at seven women who all look alike (because they're played by Shirley MacLaine), but have differing personalities to distinguish them from one another - though they may have more in common than they realise. First up is a recent widow in Italy called Paulette who is attending her husband's funeral, but as she and the rest of the mourners parade through the streets behind the hearse, feeling very solemn, someone is attempting to engage her in conversation. He is a friend of her husband's, Jean (Peter Sellers), who begins dropping heavy hints through her tears that he would be very keen to look after Paulette from now on...

Here's a film that could only have been made at this point in cinema history, with these attitudes beginning to rumble as the eruption of feminism a few short years after its release would redefine what females did in movies. In this case each character Shirley MacLaine played was defined by the man (or men) in their lives, and while even in the twenty-first century perhaps things hadn't changed so much for women in cinema, at least they don't often come across as so downright quaint in their attempts to bring humour and experience to their depiction. By "experience", what was meant was a kind of demeanour that spoke to telling it how it is for the modern sixties woman of the Western world, with all her trials and tribulations.

But actually this was pretty much a couple of men, director Vittorio De Sica and screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, pandering to what they thought the ladies in the cinema wanted to see from the heroines, yet also winking at the men in the audience as if it say, "Chicks, huh? You know what I'm sayin'!" How this played out was to treat Shirley as a sort of Barbie doll to be dressed up in chic finery and suffer a selection of issues that her gender typically were supposed to, mostly man trouble but also the pressing question of what to do if a rival wears a frock you covet (the answer to that appears to be: blow her up), as well as a nod to self-actualisation which resolved itself into Shirley reading T.S. Elliott to two men lusting after as she sits there in the nude, only her long hair covering her modesty.

So even when she tries to better herself intellectually and spiritually it doesn't matter, she's still regarded as an object of male desire, which you might observe was world-weary satire on the part of the film, but more likely was an example of the sense of humour operating here. Not that it was particularly funny, as all these tries at being grown up were clearly not thought through, so you had one of the seven women considering prostitution when she finds her husband (Rossano Brazzi) in bed with another woman, all to get her revenge on him which is such a stretch that anyone would behave that way, especially the mousy individual MacLaine is essaying in this segment, that all semblance of believability flies out of the window.

But then the makers would argue it was intended as a joke, which is scuppered in that it doesn't make you laugh. You could see why MacLaine and all her famous co-stars wanted to work with De Sica, as even at this stage he had some clout in the international arena, but it was only she who was offered very much interesting to do as the others barely registered. You go, hey, it's Michael Caine, but then he doesn't get any lines, or go, hey, it's Alan Arkin, but then the subject of a joint suicide comes up in his section and you don't feel much like giggling. Elsewhere, former Tarzan Lex Barker was a pretentious writer concocting a ludicrous fiction about his ideal woman who a dowdy Shirley wishes to live up to, making herself silly in the process, again, there's a germ of an intriguing notion but it's underdeveloped when there's barely ten to fifteen minutes to do it justice. Only the anecdote that Lord Lucan apparently auditioned for a role has Woman Times Seven remembered much today, but if you wanted to see what pseud trendsetters considered sophisticated in 1967, here it was. Music by Riz Ortolani.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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