This Paul Mazursky film is a satire about the sexual revolution of the 1960s, involving two couples in Los Angeles. It starts with Bob and Carol (Robert Culp and Natalie Wood), who go off to some Esalen-like place and come back home wanting to tell everyone how it has changed them. They meet up with their friends Ted and Alice (Elliott Gould and Dyan Cannon) over dinner. Ted and Alice are slightly more conservative than Bob and Carol, who are upper middle-class would-be hippies—especially medallion-wearing Bob, who is a documentary filmmaker. Sexual tension soon raises its head, with both men obviously attracted to the other man’s wife. But first, Bob has an affair at work, tells his wife, and when she really isn’t all that bothered, tension turns into something else.
It’s a very dated look at that point of time, featuring a pretty out-there role for Wood in particular. It as also one of Gould’s first big parts, pre-M*A*S*H, and its success precipitated him towards stardom. It’s still hard to believe that for a year or two there Gould was one of if not the biggest movie stars around, as he was an unlikely type. But Gould is such a huge presence in this film that it would have really suffered a bit without him.
It was Mazursky’s first feature as a director (he also co-wrote the script); he had been a stand-up for a while in the previous years. He got several comedy-dramas off the ground during this period, which were for the most part successful although they are a bit hit and miss. Mazursky was an interesting character—quite a good actor as well, including playing himself in the Orson Welles film The Other Side of the Wind, which was made around this time but has only recently been released. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice remains a interesting “New Hollywood” movie with some great performances and some great lines (“first we’ll have an orgy, the we’ll go see Tony Bennett.”)
Extras include a commentary with Mazursky and the cast members, except for Wood, who of course died young; a new commentary with the film scholar Adrian Martin; a video essay; an archival interview with Mazursky speaking abut this and other films, plus a booklet featuring new writing on the film from Michael Atkinson and original reviews.