Petulia – Richard Lester (1968)

“Warner Home Video released an appealing collection of comedies from the 1960’s and early 70’s a few weeks ago. It includes period pieces like Tony Richardson’s once-outrageous satire on life and death in Southern California, ‘The Loved One’; the proto-hippie ‘A Fine Madness,’ with Irwin Kershner directing Sean Connery as an aggressively nonconforming poet; and the high-hippie ‘I Love You, Alice B. Toklas,’ with Peter Sellers as a lawyer who tunes in, turns on and drops out. But the great film in this grouping is Richard Lester’s 1968 ‘Petulia,’ a moving romantic tragedy with comic detailing that was released to largely uncomprehending audiences. Mr. Lester was still best known as the director of the first two Beatles films, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ (1964) and ‘Help’ (1965), and his pop instincts had not abandoned him. He includes unbilled appearances by the Grateful Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company (featuring Janis Joplin), bands at the beginning of their careers. But Haight-Ashbury and the Summer of Love figure only as a background in this story of establishment figures: George C. Scott as Archie, a divorced physician; Julie Christie as Petulia, a bored young socialite; and Richard Chamberlain as Petulia’s husband — the son of a San Francisco burgher (Joseph Cotten) — who is driven to fits of violence by the impossibility of living with his own apparent physical perfection. As a young television director in Britain, the American-born Mr. Lester had introduced several of the revolutionary techniques of the French New Wave to his work, including jump cuts, subjective flashbacks, accelerated action and pop-culture references. All of these are present in ‘Petulia,’ along with a new twist, the flash-forward, introduced by Mr. Lester’s editor, Anthony Gibbs. Yet what emerges is hardly a carefree romp. The tone is quickly set by John Barry’s eerie, mournful score, and by a dreamlike, haunting sequence that finds a group of accident victims being pushed in wheelchairs through the kitchen of the St. Francis Hotel. These silent, ghostly figures are on their way to a highway safety benefit, where a reluctant Archie is a member of the organizing committee, and Petulia is a strangely aggressive guest who attaches herself to Archie and insists that they are going to have an affair. …”
NY Times
W – Petulia
Roger Ebert (July 01, 1968)
YouTube: PETULIA (1968) trailer

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