12.10.2006

Brenda Vaccaro in Jacqueline Susann's Once Is Not Enough (1975) - Supporting Actress Sundays

StinkyLulu's reverence for actressing at the edges sometimes requires intrepid tramping through astonishingly awful cinematic bogs. There are times when it seems a miracle that this or that shining diamond of actressing was glimpsed at the rough edges of a generally dreadful picture. There are those other times when this or that otherwise unremarkable performance gets plumped by the pomposity of the proceedings to appear nomination-worthy. There are still other times when an actress gets noted for for her sheer pluck in simply not being dead yet. And then, as StinkyLulu has just learned, there's...


...Brenda Vaccaro in Jacqueline Susann's Once Is Not Enough (1975).
approximately 19 minutes and 32 seconds on-screen
10 scenes
roughly 16% of film's total screen time


Oh. My. Goodness.

Jacqueline Susann's Once Is Not Enough is even worse than its title suggests. In it, Deborah Raffin plays January, a brain-damaged (yes, no joke) blonde beauty who arrives to New York to discover that her film director father Mike (Kirk Douglas, a curiously prissy cocksman) has married wealthy society enigma/bitch Deidre (Alexis Smith, exuding urbanity with radiant malaise) mostly -- hush hush -- to secure January's financial future. January's jealousy of her father's new wife/life drives her to secure a job/apartment -- more about that in a moment -- and ultimately begin a torrid, devirginizing romance with Tom Colt (David Janssen, yelling and squinting all the while) a boozing, brawling novelist who just happens to be January's father's age and who just happens to loathe him. Pile in a handful of underutilized supporting players, including George Hamilton (as a glibly detached superstud with a kicky bachelor pad and a queer permasmile, like he's mildly stoned or constantly enjoying the private delights of his personal pleasure plug) and Melina Mercouri (as Karla the yappy secret lesbian lover of Smith's Deidre).The film aspires to be a romantic epic -- ostensibly depicting "all the avenues and darkest alleys of love among the international set" -- but crumbles under the creepiness of its core erotic conceit: the romantic triangle between a girl (Raffin), her father (Douglas), and a snorting pig (Janssen). (Time Magazine reviewed the film under the remarkably appropriate title Father Lusts Best.) All told, Jacqueline Susann's Once Is Not Enough may well have been the last of a cinematic breed. Within a few years, tawdry epics of this sort became the near exclusive purview of television mini-series. But in 1976 such "mature" themes still belonged to the cinema, and Brenda Vaccaro snagged a Best Supporting Actress nom from Oscar. (Not to mention a Golden Globe statue.)

In Jacqueline Susann's Once Is Not Enough (or, as Lu now calls it: OINE!), Brenda Vaccaro plays Linda Riggs, the man-crazy editor of Gloss magazine who's somehow remembered by brain-damaged January as "the oldest, ugliest, smartest girl at school." Linda Riggs introduces herself as "the youngest female editor of a women's magazine," boasting of screwing every man on her way to the top -- "literally and figuratively" -- and stepping over any woman who got in her way. (Vaccaro's Linda adopts January as her new best friend and sets her on a new career path perfect for a brain-damaged blonde: actress/model/writer.) But, of course, Linda's a bundle of neurotic contradictions, having retrofitted herself with new tits, nose and ass ("My navel, I'm proud to say, is real") and blithely inclined to sleeping with any/every man who crosses her path. The character, as scripted and as performed by Vaccaro, is a shocking, slutty, potty-mouthed cross between Helen Gurley Brown and Rhoda.

And while Vaccaro makes hay with every one of Linda's improbable zingers, she's unable to spin this pulp into gold. Vaccaro's Linda is an outrageous treat, to be sure, a brash breeze of energy and zest whipping through the deadly dullness of the film. But Linda's also a hollow script-device, the mouthy best friend whose crazy advice and wacky decisions anchor the idiot heroine in the realm of the normal. And while Vaccaro hits each note of the performance with clarity and verve, she stops short of crafting anything to connect these disparate moments of Linda's desperation. Indeed, Linda's character arc -- Linda spirals downward until she hits bottom after being first f*cked and then fired by her publisher in a single evening -- might have become a redemptive parallel to January's own. But neither the film nor -- more sadly -- Vaccaro craft that kind of emotional architecture into the character. Instead, Vaccaro's Linda remains an amusing accessory.

It remains an astonishment that Brenda Vaccaro's competent, unremarkable performance received an Oscar nom. Was it the Globe win? The shock value of Linda's trash mouth matched with Vaccaro's genuine charisma? A Cowboy nostalgia? It is indeed an Oscar mystery...

Watching Vaccaro's performance in this film, however, did contribute two unexpected insights. First, Vaccaro's Linda is almost certainly the reason behind her casting in those notorious tampon commercials. Second, Vaccaro's Linda underscores the extraordinary accomplishment of Cattral's Samantha a couple decades later...

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5 comments:

ModFab said...

You realize that you've just made me want to see this movie with an insane desire. Thank you!

Pete said...

ooh, ooh! alexis smith? as in tony winner from follies alexis smith? that make me want to see it, just to see how bad she is....

donna said...

How ironic that this movie is now on either MAX or Showtime!!!! I watched it again after almost 40 years and it is just as wierd now as it was then!!!

donna said...

How ironic that this movie is now showing on cable!!!! It was as horribly acted now as it was when I first saw it almost 40 years ago!!!

M4modern said...

Your analysis is spot on! For forty-five years I've wondered about this film, having been too young to see it when it was in the theaters. I finally found a really bad copy on YouTube and watched it. I kept waiting for Vaccaro's "Oscar moment" but, like David Jansen's character, it never came... I think her nomination is attributable to all that you mention, but keep in mind, too, the dearth of good roles for women in films in 1975 (the Best Actress that year, Louse Fletcher, was really a supporting role). And, the Academy loves to reward the new "hot babe" (Jennifer Lawrence being the most recent example). Brenda was an up and comer and they were rewarding her with the recognition of an Oscar nomination.