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