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What a Way to Go

Shirley MacLaine , Paul Newman , J. Lee Thompson    NR (Not Rated)   DVD

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People who cherish the post-Terms of Endearment, post-reincarnation phase of Shirley MacLaine's career might be surprised to discover just how sexy and kooky she was in a past life--that is, the first few years of her movie career. After the triumphs of Some Came Running and The Apartment, MacLaine had a run of starring roles, including this elaborate comedy vehicle. What a Way to Go! cast MacLaine as an unlucky bride whose husbands meet early deaths, leaving her wealthy but unhappy. Gimmick casting of the hubbies adds a bit of dash: Dick Van Dyke as a simple country storekeeper, Gene Kelly as a two-bit entertainer, bearded Paul Newman as a Brandoesque, bohemian painter in Paris. In the movie's best turn, Robert Mitchum gets to play a Howard Hughes character, and Dean Martin and Robert Cummings are around for the ride.

A flabbergasting parade of Edith Head outfits keeps MacLaine hopping, and each segment has a Hollywood fantasy based on MacLaine's vision of her passing marriages (silent comedy, sexed-up foreign flick, splashy musical). Typical of a certain kind of super-production of the era, the film is impressive rather than entertaining, busy rather than funny. Perhaps hiring J. Lee Thompson, who directed The Guns of Navarone, was not the best idea for this Comden-Green script. It snuck in as one of the top ten box-office grossers of 1964, and it has one great surrealist sequence where Gene Kelly orders his house and grounds to be painted entirely pink. --Robert Horton


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  130 reviews
75 of 77 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lush Budget All The Way Jan. 20 2005
By Michael C. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
A quintessential example of Studio comedy of the early 1960's, `What A Way To Go" owes all it's charm to its cast. Topping the list is Shirley MacLaine in a comic performance not to be missed. She brings a fresh kooky charm to her Louisa as she careens from one marriage to the next totaling a roster of husbands with Mega-Star power that today would have sunk 20th Century Fox on salary alone.

Here it's all about timing, reaction and pace. All of witch Miss MacLaine is an expert. It is a sheer joy just to watch her take a thin story and make magic out of it. Dick Van Dyke, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly, and Dean Martin aid her in her romp across the cinemascope screen.

There are two standouts in the husband department for me, first, Paul Newman as an ex-patriot American artist in Paris. Rarely do we get to see him execute a comic turn and here as Larry Flint he is both sexy and funny. And Robert Mitchum as Rod Anderson, the maple syrup king is a delight.

The cleverest aspect of the story is the use of Louise's remembrances of each marriage as a different genre of film from the silent screen to the big splashy musicals of the 1950's. The funniest occurs when she is married to Mitchum. It is a Lush Budget production all the way. Also of note is the big dance number with Gene Kelly, in and of itself a lampoon of Mr. Kelly's famous routines over at M.G.M. a decade before.

Also of note is the superb color and cinematography of Leon Shamroy fresh off his Oscar win with "Cleopatra" the year before. (Note the in-joke jabs at Cleopatra and Richard Burton in two segments.) And glittering right up there with her best work are the stunning costumes of Edith Head.

This DVD also includes slight extras the best of which is a newsreel of the day called "What A Way To Go To The Fair." It chronicles the films opening at the 1964 New York World's Fair. It is a gem all it's own.

What a way to go is a light delight and a prime example of a bygone age of glamour and excess. And above all it is Shirley MacLaine's film all the way and it is the only way to go!
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What A Way To Have Fun! Jan. 18 2005
By Cowboy Buddha - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
The epitome of fluffy 60's escapism with Shirley MacLaine at her kooky best and a dream cast of leading men sending up their screen images. Add to this a big budget, the most outrageous costumes of an outrageous era, and a witty script by Comden and Green that blends romance, satire, slapstick and just a pinch of cynicism. It's big and overblown and all the better for it. And I'm glad to report that it looks fantastic on this dvd in widescreen and vibrant color.

Shirley MacLaine made several screwball comedies in the 60's such as Woman Times Seven, John Goldfarb Please Come Home, and The Bliss Of Mrs Blossom, but What A Way To Go is one of the best. She is helped immeasurably by a galaxy of stars portraying the men in her life - smooth and oily Dean Martin, rubber-faced and loose-limbed Dick Van Dyke, bearded and self-spoofing Paul Newman, surprisingly charming Robert Mitchum, the always delightful Gene Kelly, and a somewhat manic Robert Cummings. As an added treat, the Marx Brothers' old foil Margaret Dumont is wonderfully over-the-top as MacLaine's dragon of a mother. You just don't get casts like that anymore.

Another nice touch is the way several genres of film are spoofed as MacLaine wistfully recalls the best days of each of her marriages. The musical extravaganza with Gene Kelly, in particular, is a real joy. Kelly was over 50 but still had all the moves while MacLaine reminds us what a fantastic dancer she was - with equally fantastic legs. I also loved Paul Newman as the world-weary abstract artist. Many people forget that he made a number of comedies way back when, and that he was pretty good in them.

What A Way To Go was not a big hit when it was released, primarily because it was made at a time when the emphasis was on youth and this film was seen as an instant relic that would appeal only to the Doris Day/Rock Hudson crowd. How wrong they were. Forty years on, What A Way To Go is still fresh and funny, unlike many other Swinging 60's comedies.

Other reviewers on here have mentioned films they would like to see released on dvd. I'll add an old, little-seen favorite of mine - The Art Of Love with James Garner and Dick Van Dyke. Well, I can hope, can't I? In the meantime, I think I'll watch What A Way To Go again.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Opulent, Frothy Showcase for MacLaine and her Men! July 8 2005
By Benjamin J Burgraff - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
"What a Way to Go!" is such an entertaining showcase of vivacious star Shirley MacLaine's talents as a comedienne, dancer, and singer that it's hard to believe that the original script was far darker, and intended for Marilyn Monroe!

A tale of an innocent who dreams of a 'simple life', marrying progressively richer men who leave her an ever richer widow, is the kind of tongue-in-cheek farce that European filmmakers relish, but was unfamiliar to American audiences of the early sixties. Writer Gwen Davis' original story was written to satirically echo Monroe's own marital misadventures, and might have provided the star her best vehicle since "Bus Stop". But Monroe's career took a tragic nosedive, culminating with her death, at 36, in 1962, leaving Fox with a script, a director (J. Lee Thompson), and a film in preproduction.

Gifted songwriting team Betty Comden and Adolph Green, fresh from transferring their B'way hit, "Bells Are Ringing" to the screen, saw the script, and were invited to rework it as a comic vehicle for MacLaine. The talented actress, who had achieved major stardom in "The Apartment", was being given a major build-up by Fox, who wanted to showcase her untapped skills as singer/dancer, as well as in comedy. Thus a lighter, more dazzling "What a Way to Go!" was born.

Fox spared no expense on the production, with over 70 Edith Head costumes, choreography by Gene Kelly, and a new song by Jule Styne...but they balked over Frank Sinatra's salary demands, to play one of the husbands (he was replaced by Robert Mitchum). For MacLaine, it was a joy, working with two ex-lovers (Mitchum and Dean Martin), dancing with Kelly, doing comedy with Dick Van Dyke, Bob Cummings, and a surprisingly deft Paul Newman, and working with legendary Marx Brothers' foil, Margaret Dumont, in her last film.

The end result, while a 'mixed bag', has memorable moments; Newman's French sequence, with a chimp and a murderous painting machine, captures the 'essence' of the material very well; the spoof of Fox multi-costume extravaganzas, with Mitchum, is dazzling (and his death is the funniest); best of all, the giant musical production number with Kelly and MacLaine is a total joy, a homage to both Kelly and Busby Berkeley. While the Van Dyke and Martin sequences lack the same sparkle, and Cumming's scenes appear more contrived than funny, the overall result is wonderful eye candy, with MacLaine never sexier, or more energetic. That the film failed to become a big hit when released was certainly not due to it's star.

The new DVD edition deserves a commentary and 'making of' documentary (neither of which it has), but does offer some entertaining newsreel footage from the 1964 World's Fair premiere, as well as an amusing newsreel of the casting of the chimp for the Newman sequence.

"What a Way to Go!" may not be 'classic' cinema, but it is fun, and if you're a MacLaine fan, you'll be in for a treat!
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Silly, empty headed fun - like cotton candy for the brain! Sept. 11 2005
By J. Kara Russell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
I must begin by saying that I am not a fan of Shirley MacLaine's early work. Her speaking voice is shrill, and I think the raves were mainly for her body. So it is worth noting that I LOVE "What a Way to Go." When an actress has a big name and longevity, there is ONE movie that you can point to and say, "Watch this movie, and you will know why she is a star." I feel this movie is that movie for Miss MacLaine.

She sings, she dances - move for move with Gene Kelly - and she carries this movie entirely on her frequently bare back. She throws herself 100% into every ridiculous costume change and situation, always self possessed, but not self concious. Here, her body is certainly made use of, the take-off on french art films is equally silly, sexy, and laughable ... but her over the top performance and humor lifts it all above the air-headed plot.

The film itself gets kudos from me because, like Miss MacLaine, it knows exactly what it is, is comfortable with that, and can laugh at itself. When she says, "it's like one of those big budget movies, all about love and what will she wear next" we know that there are no pretentions here. That is what THIS movie is. It is the quinessential movie celebrating being a GIRL. It also happens to pinpoint a rare moment in movie history between the tough women, and when the boys took over. It deserves it's very special pink DVD box. It is that unique.

Silly, slapstick, sometimes trying WAY too hard, but a great kick off your shoes, pile up the popcorn treat.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mega-Extravagant Silliness Has a Tireless MacLaine as a Why-Me Black Widow Sept. 26 2006
By Ed Uyeshima - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
Some movies are so supremely silly that they are worth experiencing once just for their sheer giddiness. Such is the case with this 1964 extravaganza, the kind of overdone product that brought many of the major studios to their knees in the sixties. At the time, Shirley MacLaine was a top big screen draw, having graduated from her earlier pixyish waifs. She portrays Louisa May Foster Hopper Flint Anderson Benson, a four times-married, four-times-widowed woman who became exponentially wealthier with each marriage. But instead of playing the black widow angle, screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green, most famous as songwriters but also for their scripts for classic MGM musicals like "Singin' in the Rain", manage an inordinate, bumptious mix of black comedy and slapstick in having Louisa tell her story as a flashback to a psychiatrist who inevitably falls in love with her.

The mastodon-sized movie is really just a one-joke premise translated into four different episodes that lead to the same tragicomic end. Dick Van Dyke plays Thoreau-loving idler Edgar Hopper, who becomes an unbearable workaholic turning his failing little store into a Wal-Mart-level conglomerate. Paul Newman plays brooding, impoverished expatriate artist Larry Flint, who invents a wacky machine that paints big canvases to music and then becomes the toast of Paris with his modern paintings. Robert Mitchum plays maple syrup tycoon Rod Anderson, already a multi-millionaire when he meets Louisa but wanting the simple life down on the farm. Gene Kelly plays third-rate entertainer Pinky Benson, who changes his nightclub act and changes into a megalomaniacal movie star. In each marriage, it is Louise who ironically triggers her husband's success and finds out over and over that money does not bring happiness. In the bookend part, Dean Martin plays the one that got away, the smug hometown playboy at the beginning and the beaten man near the end. A tireless MacLaine is game throughout, but her character's innate why-me innocence becomes increasingly exasperating.

In what amounts to the movie's most clever parts, each marriage includes a mini-homage to a particular film genre - silent comedy with Edgar, sexy French films with Larry, elaborate mega-productions with Rod and of course, MGM musicals with Pinky. The Mitchum and Newman chapters are the most entertaining since both tweak their respective images sportingly. The Kelly segment is highlighted by a terrific shipboard musical number in which the leggy MacLaine gets to showcase her Broadway-trained dancing abilities next to the nimble Kelly. Lacking the finesse for this type of farce, J. Lee Thompson directs the proceedings with the subtlety of an army commando, not a surprise given that his biggest success was "The Guns of Navarone". And worse of all, it simply goes on and on. The legendary Edith Head must have had a field day designing MacLaine's series of elaborate costumes. It's definitely a curio from a bygone era.

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