Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Hate Culture Grabs "Such Good Friends"

Cleveland Press January 22, 1972

"Such Good Friends" is one of those sick-funny films that asks you to laugh at tragedy and gets away with it. It undoubtedly will offend many and for a number of reasons.

It has a brand of caustic wit that somehow surmounts situations that are a blend of soap opera maudlin and ribald coarseness.

The picture takes on such institutions as marriage, medicine and friendship and treats them all pretty roughly.

What succeeds is a barrage of bright, witty, trenchant lines written by Elaine May operating under the pseudonym of Esther Dale.

Director Otto Preminger, whose recent films looked as though they were directed by an ax murderer, does a better job this time out. There are still scenes that are all surface, some that are just crudely done. But in others, notably those involving large groups of people, he works out an interplay of parts that results in fascinating moments of counterpoint.

A successful magazine picture editor and author of children's books, Richard Messinger (Laurence Luckinbill) must enter the hospital for minor surgery -- the removal of a mole from his neck.

Thanks to the miracles of modern medicine there are complications, his vital organs begin to fail and by the time the picture is over a team of highly skilled doctors has managed to finish him.

But that is only the skeleton on which the main story hangs. While her husband is dying Julia (Dyan Cannon) begins to make discoveries about her husband. He has been having affairs with all of her friends. His frantic activity is duly recorded in a little black book, complete with cryptic comments.

The closer he gets to death the closer she gets to the truth and we get the comic horror scenes of a woman cursing out her husband as he lies there in a coma, tubes protruding in all directions.

Her revenge is to go out and do likewise with his friends.

You have to accept "Such Good Friends" in a spirit of total cynicism. There is nothing likable about anyone in the movie.

Actually the woman is rather hateful from the beginning and her husband thoroughly fatuous. She mentally undresses an elderly male stuffed shirt (Burgess Meredith) early in the film and establishes herself as an unlovable nut. Meredith in the buff, incidentally, is not much of a box office attraction.

If Miss May was out to destroy the male image she doesn't do much for the female image either. She hates everyone.

What makes her humor work most of the time is that it is often so uncomfortably close to the truth. Her best barbs are aimed at the medical profession, the doctors who do in her patient are three of the funniest clowns to be seen on film recently.

"It's a good thing he's sick enough to be in intensive care," a nurse opines. "Now he has a chance to live."

"What happens if you come in her for something serious," the wife asks the doctors. "Do you go home with a mole?"