What a Way to Go!
||This article reads like a review rather than an encyclopedic description of the subject. (May 2008)|
|What a Way to Go!|
|Directed by||J. Lee Thompson|
|Produced by||Arthur P. Jacobs|
|Written by||Gwen Davis (story)
Dick Van Dyke
|Music by||Nelson Riddle|
|Editing by||Marjorie Fowler|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Running time||111 minutes|
It was also the final film of actress Margaret Dumont.
Louisa May Foster (Shirley MacLaine) wants to marry for love, not for money. However, she believes she's a victim of a supernatural curse, as she tends to marry poor men for love, then ends up a neglected wife and a rich widow as a result of her ill-fated husbands' greed. All of her husbands die. All four leave her immensely wealthy but intensely unhappy.
In a dream-like pre-credit sequence, a pink coffin is carried down a pink staircase in a pink mansion with Louisa as a black-clad widow following behind. The pallbearers drop the coffin, which sleds down the stairs.
Louisa tries to give away more than $200 million dollars to the U.S. government Internal Revenue Service, which believes it an April Fools' Day joke. Louisa ends up a sobbing widow on the couch of an unstable psychiatrist (Robert Cummings). Louisa tries to explain her motivation for giving away all that money, which leads into a flashback with occasional fantasies from Louisa's point of view (including a Marnie type aversion to the colour pink).
We meet Louisa as a young, idealistic girl. Her mother (Margaret Dumont) is fixated on money; she is pushing for Louisa to marry Leonard Crawley (Dean Martin), the richest man in town. Louisa loathes Lennie and instead takes up with Edgar Hopper (Dick Van Dyke), an old school friend who inadvertently woos her with his relaxed attitude, lack of ambition, and love of the simple life. Hopper is inspired by the writing of Henry David Thoreau, taking the writer's message of "simplify, simplify!" to heart.
Louisa marries Hopper and they live in a shack, poor but happy (illustrated with a silent movie styled fantasy sequence) until Hopper abandons the simple life for an all-out assault to drive Crawley out of business in Crawleyville. Edgar, frenetically promoting his own department store, makes a lot of money while pushing himself to his human limits, but neglecting his wife. He achieves his goal of bankrupting Crawley, but pays the ultimate price by faling dead from an apparent heart attack while chiding, "Hard work never hurt anybody!"
Louisa is a millionaire. She travels to Paris, where she meets Larry Flint (Paul Newman), who is driving a taxi. Avant-garde art dominates Flint's life, including a chimpanzee that paints. One of his projects is a "Sonic Palette," a machine that paints by sound, a "fusion of man and machine -- the only positive statement in art that is being made today!"
Louisa falls in love with Flint's attitude of "Money corrupts. Art erupts!" and marries him. She enters into his bohemian lifestyle while renouncing her secret millions. An erotic foreign-film spoof shows the sheet-clad pair making love in progressively smaller bathtubs and on a bed. Flint's minimalist abstracts are just good enough to keep them fed. Louisa idly suggests having the machine paint to Felix Mendelssohn's Spring Song—thus leading to the creation of a masterpiece. Flint becomes famous by having the machine "paint" more music. Increasingly obsessed with money, he builds more Sonic Palettes to paint a giant work of art, but the machines wind up turning on their creator by beating him to death.
Louisa is richer but more depressed. After missing a flight back to New York, she meets an already wealthy man named Rod Anderson (Robert Mitchum), who offers her a lift on his jet, Melissa. After discovering the softer, kinder man under the business-magnate veneer he projects, she convinces herself that it might be easier to love a rich man since she can't make him any richer and inadvertently cause his death. To paraphrase Louisa's narrative, it is "like one of those lush budget films where it's all about what she's going to wear next." This fantasy segment is full of Edith Head's over-the-top costumes and ends with Mitchum and MacLaine making love in a huge champagne glass.
Despite his happy retreat into marriage, Rod discovers he's actually gotten richer while neglecting his industry. Just as he vows to find out who is responsible for making his company successful WITHOUT him, Louisa discovers Melissa was a prize cow he raised in his youth. Louisa convinces Rod to sell everything and retire to a small farm. The good news is that Rod never neglects her. However, a slightly tipsy Rod makes a fateful mistake by trying to milk his bull, Melrose. The unhappy steer kicks Rod through the barn wall, which leaves Louisa a widow yet again, and now fantastically wealthy.
Louisa wanders the States alone. In a cafe called the Cauliflower Ear in a small town, she meets Pinky Benson (Gene Kelly), a customer who charms her with silly dances and rhymes in the manner of Pinky Lee. She learns he's been a performer at the Cauliflower Ear for 14 years. His clown act is tolerated because he doesn't distract from the serving of food or liquor. Louisa is charmed by Pinky's satisfaction with his simple lot in life and marries him.
One night, she suggests that Pinky perform without his clown makeup. Suddenly the customers notice his talent. In short order, Pinky becomes a Hollywood movie star. Once again Louisa is neglected by a husband obsessed with fame. An all-pink mansion is among Pinky's obsessions, as is Louisa's appearance at a movie screening in an all-pink chinchilla coat and a pink wig. Pinky's adoring public stampede him at the premiere, trampling him to death into an early grave (the funeral we see at the beginning of the film).
Louisa has told the psychiatrist her sad tale. He turns and begs her to marry him. Just then, a familiar-looking janitor comes into the office. In an attempt to lower the psychiatrist's chair that has accidentally elevated, she winds up letting him drop from ceiling-height, knocking him out cold. She then recognizes the janitor as Leonard Crawley, who has lost everything and is now leading a poor, simple life. As the doctor comes to, he sees Louisa and Leonard kissing passionately, which causes him to pass out again.
Years later, we see a happy Louisa with several children in a quaint house, while Leonard sits in his running tractor reading Thoreau. The tractor slowly grinds itself into the ground and strikes oil. Thinking her "curse" has finally resurfaced, a devastated Louisa runs to her husband's side. A man in coveralls runs up and starts berating Leonard for hitting an underground oil pipe with his tractor. A relieved Louisa hugs and kisses Leonard as both are showered by the erupting oil.
- Shirley MacLaine ... Louisa May Foster
- Paul Newman ... Larry Flint
- Robert Mitchum ... Rod Anderson, Jr.
- Dean Martin ... Leonard 'Lennie' Crawley
- Gene Kelly ... Pinky Benson
- Robert Cummings ... Dr. Victor Stephanson
- Dick Van Dyke ... Edgar Hopper
- Margaret Dumont ... Mrs. Foster
- Anton Arnold ... Mr. Foster
- Lou Nova ... Trentino
- Fifi D'Orsay ... Baroness
- Maurice Marsac ... Rene
- Wally Vernon ... Agent
- Jane Wald ... Polly
- Lenny Kent ... Hollywood Lawyer
- Christopher Connelly ... Ned
- Tom Conway ... Lord Kensington
- Queenie Leonard ... Lady Kensington
- Pamelyn Ferdin ... Geraldine Crawley, age 4
- Jeff Fithian ... Jonathan Crawley, age 5
- Bill Corcoran ... Leonard Crawley, Jr., age 7
- Anthony Eustrel ... Willard
- Milton Frome ... Lawyer
- Army Archerd ... TV Announcer
- Reginald Gardiner ... Mad Pink Painter
- Phil Arnold ... Publicity and Press Agent
- Roy Gordon ... Minister
- Sid Gould ... Movie Executive
- Joe Gray ... Customer
- Jack Greening ... Chester
- Marcel Hillaire ... French Lawyer
- Mark Bailey ... Rod Anderson's Private Airline Pilot
- Burt Mustin ... Crawleyville Lawyer
- Dick Wilson ... Driscoll
- Teri Garr ... Dancer in the Kelly/MacLaine shipboard musical
- Arlene Harris ... Sour woman in club audience
- Paula Lane ... Movie Executive's Girl
- Marjorie Bennett ... Mrs. Freeman
- Myrna Ross ... Party Girl
- Barbara Bouchet ... Girl on Plane
- Helene Winston ... Doris
The audience sees four lampoons of film styles as interludes in the story. In order, we see lampoons of silent film comedy, French New Wave with jump cuts, Ross Hunter fashion-heavy eye-candy films, big 1940's Hollywood musicals, and a spoof of Cleopatra.
Originally intended as a Marilyn Monroe vehicle, it was recast after her death.
Shirley MacLaine was quoted as saying that she was happy to work with "Edith Head with a $500,000 budget, seventy-two hairstylists to match the gowns, and a three-and-a-half-million-dollar gem collection loaned out by Harry Winston of New York. Pretty good perks, I'd say."
Robert Mitchum's role was originally meant for Frank Sinatra but Sinatra suddenly wanted several times more money than what the other male leads received. The studio refused Sinatra's demands; Gregory Peck was sought but he was unavailable. Shirley MacLaine recommended Mitchum to director J. Lee Thompson who recommended him to the studio.
Box office performance 
What a Way to Go! was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Art Direction (Jack Martin Smith, Ted Haworth, Walter M. Scott, Stuart A. Reiss) and Best Costumes by Edith Head and Moss Mabry, a BAFTA Best Foreign Actress Award for Shirley MacLaine, a Laurel award for Best Comedy and Best Comedy performer for Paul Newman, and an American Cinema Editors Eddie award for best editor for Marjorie Fowler. It won a Locarno Film Festival award for Best Actor for Gene Kelly.
- Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p254
- Box Office Information for What a Way to Go! The Numbers. Retrieved April 30, 2013.
- Shirley MacLaine on her experience with "What A Way To Go!" at shirleymaclaine.com
- p.377 Server, Lee Baby, I Don't Care 2002 St. Martin's Griffin
- Solomon p 229. See also "Big Rental Pictures of 1964", Variety, 6 January 1965 p 39.
- "NY Times: What a Way to Go!". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-26.
- "Awards for What a Way to Go!". IMDb. Retrieved 5 May 2013.
- What a Way to Go! at the Internet Movie Database
- What a Way to Go! at AllRovi
- What a Way to Go! at the TCM Movie Database
- What a Way to Go! at Rotten Tomatoes
- Complete Dialogue