Rewind: Films of the 60s, 70s, 80s – John and Mary (1969)

by RICHARD WINTERS

Considered provocative at the time of its release, this film detailed the new phenomenon of the one-night-stand, a movie fad in the late 60s, early 70s that quickly went out of style upon the release of Looking for Mr. Goodbar in 1977. The story here is about a rather nondescript man and woman (played by Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow) who meet at a singles bar and then go back to his place for sex. The rest of the film involves them considering whether it can develop into a relationship.

The first ten minutes are pretty good. It nicely analyzes all the expected awkwardness one must feel waking up the next morning and not knowing for sure who you’ve been sleeping with. I liked how John secretly goes through Mary’s purse to find out more about her while Mary does the same with his telephone messages. Unfortunately after this segment, Director Peter Yates unwisely decided to put in voice-overs of their thoughts. This adds nothing to the proceedings and ends up being heavy-handed. It also takes away one of the fundamental points of good filmmaking, which is learning about characters through subtle visual observation.

The film is also nowhere near as sophisticated or daring as I think the filmmakers would like us to believe. I expected, and would have liked, the male character to be a life-long swinger who has had many of these flings and now suddenly finds himself attracted to this woman and wanting to go in a different direction. Instead we get a character portrayed as being someone who has never done this before and only does so at the coaxing of his much more liberated friend. This leads him to act all shy and unsure, coming off like an extension to the character Hoffman played in The Graduate. The end result is a very boring, bland person who responds to things in all the predicted ways instead of giving us a fresh new perspective by delving into the mind of someone living a lifestyle many of us have not experienced. I also got a strong feeling that the filmmakers had done very little research into this topic, thus giving the viewer no new insight whatsoever. It ends up coming off like one of those trendy ‘statement movies,’ but with no idea of what statement it actually wants to make.

There is no chemistry between Hoffman and Farrow at all. Nothing is shown that would indicate why these two would want to pursue this thing any further. I actually found the scenes involving the side-story of Farrow’s affair with an older college professor (Michael Tolan) to be more interesting and filled with stronger, snappier dialogue.

In the end, this ‘provocative drama’ deteriorates into a very uninspired love story. It concludes with the tired, cliche-ridden scene of John madly driving around New York City looking for this mysterious woman who he is convinced he is in love with despite the fact that he still does not know what her name is. It is easy to see why, in Hoffman’s very distinguished career, this film remains one of his lesser known efforts.

On the technical side this film is actually well done. I liked how it intercut between the present day and the past as well as analyzing the previous relationships of the two characters. This film also offers a nice chance to see a young Tyne Daly as Farrow’s roommate. Cleavon Little from Blazing Saddles fame appears briefly as a would-be film director. Olympia Dukakis has an amusing, non-speaking bit as Hoffman’s activist mother. This also marks the film debut of character actress Marian Mercer.

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