Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Cactus Flower" Scores on Screen

Cleveland Press December 24, 1969

Considering most of the movies that are released at Christmas it's no wonder that a reviewer -- who has to see them all -- finds a certain kinship with Ebenezer Scrooge.

So when an exception comes along it is only right to flip a little. Tomorrow "Cactus Flower" will open and a nicer Christmas gift the movie people couldn't give a tired critic.

Maybe it's all relative. Maybe it isn't as funny as it looked in the screening room. But doggone it I did laugh, right out loud, too, and I have to confess it.

First of all there is Walter Matthau. Matthau is not really a person. He is a tired grizzly bear or a walrus nursing a hangover and he is just pretending to be human.

Tired old, funny old Matthau has seldom been better.

HE HAS A FIGHT on his hands, though. There are a couple of other people in the movie who keep taking over.

They are veteran actress Ingrid Bergman and newcomer Goldie Hawn. Between them they give "Cactus Flower" a special kind of sparkle.

"Cactus Flower"was a reasonably funny play on the stage. Humor specialist Abe Burrows took a French comedy, completely Americanized it and added his own special brand of insane dialog.

THE SCREENPLAY is by I. A. L. Diamond who has co-authored Billy Wilder's screen comedies. The best of Burrows is retained and with it enough bright bits by Diamond so that there are few if any slow moments left.

The story is about a philandering dentist (Matthau) who gets caught in his own lies, the ones he used to capture Greenwich Village kook Golde Hawn.

He's single but he tells her from the start that he is married and has three children. He figures this way there will be no complications. Besides, she loves him for his honesty.

SHE LOVES HIM so much that on the first anniversary of their meeting she tries suicide because he broke their date. Igor Sullivan (Rick lenz), a neighbor, saves her. That's not his real name. He made up the Sullivan.

Igor points out that she should have stuck her head in the oven and she replies with some impatience that it's a second-hand stove and there were no instructions.

MEANWHILE, back among the dental drills, Matthau goes berserk when he reads her suicide note, rushes right to Goldie's side and proposes marriage.

But there's the wife. Since Goldie has loved him for his honesty he has to divorce a wife he never had.

Goldie insists on meeting her. "You wouldn't like her," growls Matthau. "No one likes her."

No wife, no marriage; so Matthau begs his nurse-receptionist (Ingrid Bergman) to pose as his spouse. Poor starchy, proper Miss Bergman ("a large Band - aid" someone calls her) has been in love with her boss for years.

HE HAS TAKEN HER for granted because she was almost everything a wife should be -- regulating his life and keeping him in new shirts and fresh chicken salad sandwiches.

Gamely she takes up the masquerade, even pretends to be dating "other man" (Jack Weston) to make the charade seem real.

Wearing a pretty frock, sipping champagne, dancing in a discotheque, the Band-aid blossoms. What follows is predictable but no less funny for being so.

MISS BERGMAN gives her role so much warmth and charm that you are completely taken with her and her story.

The part of the kook has been built up considerably for the movie, but it does not throw the work out of balance. I don't know if Miss Hawn can repeat in another film, but in this one she is absolutely right. Watch her as she widens those softboiled eyes or makes karate chop motions behind Matthau's back.

"Cactus Flower" is captivatingly zany and could well be this year's "Odd Couple."