A twosome becomes a foursome, plus another two, and an unconventional-but-amicable multiple coupling becomes a legal and moral stand for free love in Stephanie Rothman’s GROUP MARRIAGE (one of a pair of Stephanie Rothman films out this month via Code Red Releasing).
Rent-a-car clerk Chris (Aimée Eccles, THE CONCRETE JUNGLE) is having trouble communicating with her bumper sticker slogan writing boyfriend Sandor (Solomon Sturges, THE WORKING GIRLS) until she meets parole officer Dennis (Jeff Pomerantz, THE GREEK TYCOON). When an argument between Chris and Sandor results in a knee to the groin for Dennis, he stays over for the night and Chris wanders into his bed. Chris maintains that she still loves Sandor but she also likes Dennis. Mutually deciding that turnabout is fair play, Dennis invites the couple out to dinner with him and his ex-stewardess girlfriend Jan (Victoria Vetri, ROSEMARY’S BABY). Chris disrupts Sandor’s and Jan’s attempts to get to know each other, but eventually realizes that she’ll have to have faith that she won’t lose Sandor since he hasn’t lost her to Dennis. The foursome’s romantic dinner, catered by gay neighbors Rodney (Bill Striglos, TARANTULAS: THE DEADLY CARGO) and Randy (John McMurtry, POINT BLANK), is scuttled by smoke damage when Jan forgets to open the flue, so they take to the beach for a picnic. Jan wanders off and meets hunky, skinny-dipping lifeguard Phil (Zack Taylor, THE YOUNG NURSES). Chris gets her turn with him the next morning while trying to fix his truck.
It turns out that Phil is getting a divorce and has nowhere to stay, so he becomes houseguest number five. Rather than looking for another place to live, Phil sets out to find a third girl for their household. He meets lawyer Elaine (Claudia Jennings, SISTERS OF DEATH) while jogging. She defines their unconventional arrangement as a “group marriage,” and is up for the experience (even though she’s Phil’s ex-wife’s lawyer). Media attention to their living arrangements also provokes obscene phone calls and vandalism (including a production value-friendly exploding car). Rather than running away, the six are determined to stand up for themselves and make their union official in an act of civil disobedience. Their plans are threatened when Chris announces that she is pregnant, which begs the questions: who is the father (and does it matter)? Will she keep the baby? Do Elaine and Jan want to be mothers or do they have other ambitions?
Co-written with her husband Charles S. Schwartz (then head of acquisitions at Dimension Pictures) and Richard Walter, GROUP MARRIAGE is full of humorous byplay, and it might have been funnier had the cast been up to delivering the arch dialogue with any sort of conviction. Eccles, Pomerantz, and Taylor are particularly wooden, and Sturges seems to be the only one who hits his notes consistently and casually. Despite the acting, we do come to care about characters and the plot is fairly unpredictable. The gay neighbors Rodney and Randy are in the script for comic relief, pointing out the unnatural and deviant living arrangement of the multi-partner coupling. Pepe Serna’s ex-con is also around mainly for comic relief (and some fisticuff) and to establish that Dennis goes above and beyond with his cases (there is a great shot of Dennis giving the finger to his boss, with a portrait of Richard Nixon on the wall over his shoulder). The script is further padded out by eccentric visits from people answering Phil’s underground newspaper add (including a bisexual Ramon, a dominatrix, a precocious ten-year-old girl, and a man and his sheep). One of the more successful funny bits involves the sextet turning a sensationalist reporter’s prurient questioning back on to himself. After a leisurely buildup, all the odd that are stacked against them seem to come pretty quickly and mechanically, but (as with TERMINAL ISLAND and THE WORKING GIRLS) one gets the sense that Rothman and her co-writers end things the way they do more because they care for their own characters than merely placating the audience.
Before GROUP MARRIAGE, Hong Kong-born Eccles was one of Roger Vadim’s PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW (1971) and she had a handful of roles in film and TV after Rothman’s film (including a guest role on KUNG FU). Vetri, aka Angela Dorian for her several TV roles, had already had a buxom role in Hammer’s WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH (1970) and followed up GROUP MARRIAGE by headlining the INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS (1973). Jennings may be more familiar to cult fans with her roles in ‘GATOR BAIT (1974), SISTERS OF DEATH (1977), and David Cronenberg’s FAST COMPANY (1979) before her early death in 1979. Pomerantz’s resume includes guest appearances on several memorable 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s TV shows, but also includes a role in the backwoods pseudo-slasher SAVAGE WEEKEND (1979). Sturges, son of director Preston Sturges, worked infrequently in film and TV, including the Elvis pic CHARRO! His last credit was Rothman’s follow up to this film: THE WORKING GIRLS (also on DVD from Code Red). Taylor debuted in Bert I. Gordon’s HOW TO SUCCEED WITH SEX (1970) and only had a handful of television and film credits up to and following GROUP MARRIAGE.
Serna had previously appeared in New World’s THE STUDENT NURSES (1970) and had a couple other credits before GROUP MARRIAGE, but he followed it up with a voluminous resume of television and film appearances (in addition to the aforementioned De Palma film, he also appeared more recently in THE BLACK DAHLIA ). Jayne Kennedy (MS. 45) is underused as Chris’ rent-a-car co-worker, until she makes a surprise appearance in the end (although some viewers may have forgotten who she was at that point). McMurtry also played one of the cult weirdos in Thomas J. Schmidt’s GIRLS ON THE ROAD/HOT SUMMER WEEK (available on DVD from Scorpion Releasing). As with THE WORKING GIRLS, Michael Andres provides another folksy score, with a title song “Darling Companion” by John Sebastian (Andres also scored Rothman’s TERMINAL ISLAND). Another Rothman regular was cinematographer Daniel Lacambre (SUZANNE’S CAREER), who shot all three of Rothman’s Dimension Pictures productions. Lacambre’s assistant cameraman was Tak Fujimoto, who went on to shoot Jonathan Demme’s SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Editor John A. O’Connor (FINAL EXAM) went on to edit Rothman’s THE WORKING GIRLS. Co-writer Paul Rapp had been an assistant director on several Corman AIP and Filmgroup productions including A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959), THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961), THE TERROR (1963), and THE TRIP (1967). He graduated to TV as production manager on “Happy Days” and “Laverne & Shirley”.
1.85: widescreen anamorphic, progressive, single-layer transfer was supervised
by Rothman herself (mastered in HD from UCLA’s archival 35mm print). A
pressing error seems to cause jumps at certain points on some DVD players (although
my non-retail check disc version played smoothly). The mono audio is in good
condition. The only extra related to the film is the theatrical trailer (2:29).
Trailers for Rothman’s THE WORKING GIRLS (with Cassandra “Elvira”
Peterson) and TERMINAL ISLAND along with DR. BLACK AND MR. HYDE and CRY YOUR
PURPLE HEART OUT (which will be released by Code Red under the alternate title
HOW TO SUCCEED WITH GIRLS on a double bill with WHITE RAT) round out the package.
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