Diary of a Mad Housewife was made by Frank and Eleanor Perry, and marked their last collaboration. The Perrys were a married couple who wrote and directed about five films together during the ‘60s and right up to 1970, when this film came out. They were quite important filmmakers – amongst the first independent filmmakers in Hollywood, with work including the films David and Lisa and Last Summer. Probably their best film is The Swimmer.
This was their first studio project with full creative control—it was one of the Universal films that came out in the wake of Easy Rider, where young filmmakers got about a million to make a movie that might tap into the times. That interesting slate of films included things like Two-Lane Blacktop and The Last Movie. The Perrys optioned the original book by Sue Kaufman, a writer who died quite young. It’s basically a character study of a housewife who is surrounded by men who are complete scumbags.
Carrie Snodgrass plays the lead, Tina Balser, and received an Oscar nomination and won the Golden Globe for her part. Tina has an affair with a writer played by Frank Langella—in his first film role—who turns out to be a creep. Her husband Jonathan is an abusive, emotionally nasty middle-class lawyer. Richard Benjamin had his little moment in the sun as a leading man in the 1970s, and he is really good in his role as Jonathan Balser. Having met her husband, you can totally see why Tina falls for Langella’s sleazy Norman Mailer-type writer.
They’re a suburban couple who are trying to be hip, so there’s an amazing sequence where they go to a club and it’s the Alice Cooper Band with a full-on wild performance.
It’s an interesting film and definitely has its fans, although of the Perrys’ work, I prefer The Swimmer. It’s very much a film of the 1970s, and a bit too fragmented for its own good, although it fits nicely with feminist films like Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. It was shot by cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld, who later collaborated with Frank Perry on Doc, a 1970s take on the Doc Holliday story with Stacey Keach.
The film was out of print for years, so the release has been long awaited. Larry Karaszewski has been a huge champion of Diary of a Mad Housewife, and I believe he helped get the US Kino release off the ground. It would be great if Indicator could also salvage Frank Perry’s adaptation of Joan Dideon’s Play It As it Lays, which is still not available on any home video format.
Powerhouse’s package features both the theatrical cut and an alternative TV version. The theatrical cut comes with a new audio commentary by actor Rutanya Alda and film historian Lee Gambi, while the TV cut commentary is by Frank Perry biographer Justin Bozung. A new video appreciation by filmmaker Chris Innis, trailer with commentary from Larry Karaszewski, radio spot, image gallery, and an extensive booklet with new and archival writing on the film round out the offer.