• Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice



    Released by: Twilight Time
    Release date: January 23, 2018
    Directed by: Paul Mazursky
    Cast: Natalie Wood, Robert Culp, Elliott Gould, Dyan Cannon, Horst Ebersberg, Lee Bergere, Donald F. Muhich, Noble Lee Holderread Jr., K. T. Stevens, Celeste Yarnall, Lynn Borden, Greg Mullavey, Linda Burton, Leif Garrett
    Year: 1969
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    Bob and Carol Sanders (Robert Culp and Natalie Wood) attend a couple’s retreat for hip, rich, white people and emerge mesmerized by the notion of total honesty and openness. They share this new worldview with their uptight best friends Ted and Alice Henderson (Elliott Gould and Dyan Cannon), who are less than comfortable with what they’re hearing but unsure why. A few days later, Bob, an independent filmmaker, bangs his pretty blonde production assistant (Celeste Yarnell). When he confesses all to Carol afterward, she throws him for a loop by being completely fine with it. Not long afterward, Bob and Carol jointly tell Ted and Alice about Bob’s adventure. Neither of them takes the news nearly as well as Carol did; in fact, Alice becomes physically ill. Not surprisingly, Carol returns Bob’s favor first chance she gets by making clandestine whoopee with her boy-toy of a tennis instructor (Horst Ebersberg). When Bob catches them, he takes it like the sophisticate he’s trying so hard to be.

    Later, on a shared vacation in Vegas. Bob and Carol tell Ted and Alice about Carol’s tryst. Alice takes this one more calmly, but then Ted admits to a recent infidelity of his own, and Alice loses her shit. Voices rise, tensions escalate, people get honest… and it all winds up going pretty much where you expect it to.

    In 1994’s Ed Wood, Johnny Depp, as the title character, pitches his film Glen or Glenda to legendary schlock film producer George Weiss. “Now,” Depp/Wood asks, “what is the one thing, if you put it in a movie, it'll be successful?” Weiss replies, “Tits.” Actor-turned-director Paul Mazursky’s first feature-length outing is among the spate of late-60s films that took that approach to heart to a degree not previously seen in American cinema. To be fair, the first incarnation of the MPAA rating system had been instituted only the year before, giving filmmakers a sudden, unprecedented freedom to put grownup stories on the screen. It was probably inevitable that some directors, even talented ones like Mazursky, would jump into the fray so quickly that things such as plot and characterization got lost in the rush. (That’s fine. He went on to redeem himself in the years that followed with Harry and Tonto, An Unmarried Woman, and another half-dozen or so really good films.)

    Not that audiences at the time noticed the thin writing or, if they did, minded. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice did very well financially, ranking fifth in box-office take in a year that included Midnight Cowboy and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It was also nominated for four Academy Awards (including one for Best Original Screenplay, which is frankly a bit of a head-scratcher).

    Quincy Jones oversaw and partly composed the film’s music, which included Jackie DeShannon’s 1965 Top Ten hit “What the World Needs Now is Love,” a Burt Bacharach/Hal David composition/earworm.

    An eleven-year-old Jodie Foster played the Hendersons’ daughter in a 1973 attempt by ABC to resurrect the film as a racy sitcom. The show was cancelled less than two months after its premiere, most likely because broadcast standards of the time made it impossible to put anything like the film on the public airwaves, so, um, what was the point, again?

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Twilight Time has released Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice on Blu-ray with an MPEG-4 AVC encode in 1080p high definition. Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the image looks quite good and filmlike. The opening shots are practically 3D, with the camera placed on a helicopter and flown over low hills, with the trees and shrubs standing out in relief against their backgrounds (as does one hill against the next). Surprisingly, during this sequence—which is intercut with shots of Robert Culp and Natalie Wood on their way to the couple’s retreat—only the shots containing optical credits are soft. The remainder of the film errs toward the sharp, with age spots and freckles revealing the extent of the details, though there are occasional shots that appear softer. The film itself isn’t a terribly colorful one, with colors tending toward brown (a scheme that appears to be the choices of the art director and costume designer), though the occasional reds, greens, and blues do look pretty good. Skin tones are fairly natural. There’s mild crush in a few spots but no problems with compression or artifacting (as per their standard, TT has placed the film on a BD50, giving it ample breathing room). Noise levels are low, with a minimal amount of grain that is naturally resolved. Neither digital noise reduction nor edge enhancement tools appear to have been used, and dirt and debris is practically nonexistent but for a few instances. While this certainly isn’t lifted from a brand-new 4k transfer, it still looks good and should make for happy campers among the film’s fans.

    For the film’s primary audio track, Twilight Time has opted for English DTS-HD Master Audio mono. The music was overseen by Motown producing great Quincy Jones, and it’s mixed well with the other elements of the soundtrack, whether they be sound effects or vocals. The film is naturally dialogue driven, and conversations are clearly delineated in the track; the only time music itself becomes the emphasis is during a discotheque scene, but even then, it isn’t allowed to subvert the intent of the filmmakers in communicating through vocalization. For those who do have a hard time hearing the conversations, Twilight Time has provided optional English subtitles. Rounding out the aural extras are two audio commentaries, one newly recorded by film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, the other a lift from the previous Sony DVD release, this one with writer/director Paul Mazursky and actors Elliott Gould, Robert Culp, and Dyan Cannon (Wood had died in a suspicious drowning decades before). The former commentary is the better of the two, thanks to the fact that it’s led by people interested in preserving and discussing the history of the film. To that end, Redman and Kirgo reveal details about the director and his background, the actors, the history of the institute on which the film is somewhat based, Quincy Jones and the various classical pieces that comprise the film’s soundtrack, the director of photography, the filmmakers’ influences, the editing, individual scenes, and so much more. Redman and Kirgo have an easy and relaxed relationship, trading off facts with relative ease, neither one trying to one-up the other. The second commentary is not as easy to follow; certainly, it has value considering that the participants are three of the four leading players alongside the director. They sit in a room watching the film, recording their commentary as they go. Some of it is obviously prepared (Mazursky) and all the better for it; other parts are simply reactions to what is being shown on film, which can be more than a bit irritating at times. The worst part is that there are times when they get caught up in the movie and forget to discuss it (or they simply laugh through it).

    There is no trailer, but Twilight Time has included another carryover from the DVD: an interview with Paul Mazursky titled “Tales of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” which runs 17:45. Recorded on September 4, 2003 at the Lee Strasburg Theater Institute in Los Angeles, California, it is hosted by David Strasberg. The interview is accentuated by scenes from the film as well as additional interview snippets with Mazursky recorded at an earlier date. Strasberg’s voice, unlike Mazursky’s, is a bit soft and low and difficult to hear, though he takes a backseat to the famed director, giving Mazursky plenty of space to discuss his work and influences.

    Also included is an 8-page booklet written by esteemed film historian Julie Kirgo. Kirgo’s love for the film and interest in Mazursky’s career comes through loud and clear, making for an entertaining, passionate, and informative read.

    Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is limited to 3,000 units. The disc also contains an on-screen catalog of the company’s titles.

    The Final Word:

    Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice was daring stuff in its heyday, but it comes across as pretty tame today save for a couple of instances of female nudity. It’s a bit thin on plot, but it has its supporters, and Twilight Time’s Blu-ray is the best way to watch it, thanks to a nice transfer, strong sound, and some solid extras, including two commentaries.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out in 2018.


    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!