What's Good For The Goose

Director: Menahem Golan
Norman Wisdom, Sally Geeson, Sarah Atkinson

Even if you are not heavily into movies as I am, it's likely that from time to time you have come across some theories about movies from experts of this media. One such theory is the auteur theory, which first came out of France in the 1950s. The theory more or less is that with any movie that's made, it is mainly (or completely) the director's vision, voice, and message that we observe in the finished product. In the past, I sometimes scoffed at this theory, since many people, from the screenwriter to the music composer, play a big role in shaping a movie. But I recently realized that if I were a director, the movies I made would carry a common theme. If I were to direct a slasher movie, it would be about the employees of Telefilm Canada (the government film funding agency that funds one rotten film after another) going to a retreat in the wilderness (on the taxpayers' dime, of course), but at their camp their numbers are cut down one by one by a machete-wielding killer until none of them are left alive at the end. (The sequel, taking place the following year at the camp across the lake, would involve employees of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation meeting the same fate.) If I were to direct a thriller, it would be about a reporter uncovering the fact that the Canadian government is putting subliminal messages in various media in an attempt to brainwash the Canadian population into watching those rotten Canadian films. If I were to direct a satire, it would be about the adventures of one Apple Agonya, a Canadian movie director who has no clue that the films that he makes with taxpayers' dollars have no audience in Canada or anywhere else in the world. Do you see a pattern yet? Naturally, I would get these productions funded with private investment dollars from the United States or other foreign countries in order to show people that my movies are real movies.

But let me get back to being a bit more serious. I have to admit that over the years, I have observed a few directors where the auteur theory seems to exist, such as with John Ford and the many westerns that he directed over his career. But let me emphasize that it's only a few directors where I have observed evidence for the auteur theory. Most directors whose many movies I have observed don't seem to put a personal stamp on their movies, even if their movies cover the same genre multiple times. It's even harder to find a personal signature on some other directors. Let me give you an example of one such director, Menahem Golan. If you are into B movies, no doubt you know of the many movies he produced during his career. But in his career, he also directed several dozen movies, and each seems wildly different from the other. He directed a disco musical (The Apple), but several years later directed an adaptation of Brecht and Weill's The Threepenny Opera (Mack The Knife). He directed several wildly different kinds of action movies ranging from a ninja movie (Enter The Ninja) to an American military flag-waver (The Delta Force). He directed movies based on true stories, from the saga of the World War II martyr Hanna Szenes (Hanna's War) to the real life saga of the Israeli military rescue mission of hostages in Entebbe (Operation Thunderbolt). Other movies he directed include gangster movies (Lepke and Hit The Dutchman), a romantic comedy (Over The Brooklyn Bridge), as well as an adaptation of a classic novel by Dostoevsky (Crime And Punishment).

I would really love to bring up the subject of Menahem Golan to all those pro-auteur theory Frenchies, and ask them what common theme they can find in all of his vastly different movies. Actually, if I were to be asked that question, I think I could come up with an answer - that this director What's Good For The Gooseshowed a great love of film. Golan obviously loved films of all kinds, and seemed determined to try and cover every genre he possibly could. True, most of his movies have not received the best notices possible from the critics, but I think at the very least he deserves applause for not being discouraged from tackling any possible kind of movie subject matter. Whenever I get the chance to see a Menahem Golan directed movie, I admit I am always curious to see how he tackles it. That's why when I found a DVD copy of Golan's What's Good For The Goose in a pawn shop, I was sure to plunk down my three dollars to buy it. The genre Golan was tackling with this movie was not only new for him at the time - a comedy - but it was a different comedy from the others he directed in his career. This particular comedy was a British sex comedy. The central figure in this British sex comedy is a middle-aged gentleman named Timothy (Wisdom, The Night They Raided Minsky's). At the start of the movie, we see that his life is in a severe rut; his relationship with his wife Margaret (played by Sally Bazely) no longer has spark, and he has a very boring job as a bank manager. He gets orders to attend a bankers' conference in a coastal village, and during his drive to the conference, he picks up two young and attractive hitchhikers, Nikki (Geeson, The Oblong Box) and Meg (Atkinson, The Hunting Party). It doesn't take long for Timothy to find that these two women, particularly Nikki, are fun-loving in both senses of the phrase. Soon he finds himself having an affair with Nikki and abandoning all thoughts of his wife and his job. But can all this fun last?

As I indicated in the previous paragraph, What's Good For The Goose was not the first movie Menahem Golan directed, but it was the first English language movie Golan directed after several earlier Hebrew language efforts. And Golan did not just direct this movie; along with its star Norman Wisdom and a third party, Golan is also credited with writing the screenplay. So I guess that with this Golan movie, one could find more evidence than usual for any possible Golan auteur theory. To be honest, however, I was more concerned with being entertained by the movie. But I will start my analysis of the movie by looking at Golan's general direction. Golan obviously didn't have a large amount of moola to work with; British sex comedies of this era were notorious for being low budget. But despite not having a lavish budget, Golan was able to make the movie not look cheap. The cinematography is acceptable, and there is always an acceptable amount of lighting, even when the action moves outdoors under those notorious grey British skies. Golan also apparently chose locations well, filming much of the movie on already existing locations that add some considerable production values, like a seaside carnival. Some studio sets were built for the movie, but they look fine under Golan's control. Also, Golan pulls off some camera techniques that are more sophisticated that you might think for a low budget movies, ranging from tracking shots to shooting the action from an overhead camera. I will admit that not everything about the general direction is good; there is a little sloppiness here and there, like how the boom mike makes an appearance in the frame more than once. But if you can overlook such minor flaws such as those, more likely than not you'll be impressed by how Golan managed to accomplish so much without a megabudget.

So on a technical level, Golan manages to make What's Good For The Goose succeed. But there are other aspects of a film a director has to work on besides the general look, one of them being how the characters come across. And since Golan contributed to the writing of the movie, he had somewhat more control than most other directors in this regard. When it comes to the level of acting in the movie, Golan did manage to coax likable performances from the cast. Sally Geeson's Nikki character may be someone casting all responsibilities away and living for the moment, but Geeson gives her character an amiable and energetic attitude that makes her somewhat hard to dislike, even towards the end of the movie when her character makes an unpleasant revelation to Timothy. Norman Wisdom, as Timothy, does make the transformation from stuffy banker to a pleasure-seeking champion believable. He also gives a pretty upbeat attitude to his character once transformed, and he shows he has an ability to act in a slapstick vein during the moments of the movie when things start to become quite silly. However, despite Wisdom's great efforts, I eventually lost sympathy to his character. The problem I had with his character is that Timothy not only risks losing his job during his romp with Nikki, but that he eventually cheats on his wife with Nikki. This is a problem, because it's established in the first few minutes of the movie that Timothy has three children who love him, and he has a wife that does love him as well despite the marriage being in somewhat of a rut. Seeing him risk breaking the hearts of his family with an affair with a somewhat bubble-headed young woman kind of soured things for me.

That is not the only story problem to be found in What's Good For The Goose. Eventually, Timothy does return to his wife and subsequently uses what he has learned to spice his marriage up. Though it wasn't just the fact that the memory of his cheating still remains, but that this end portion of the movie goes on far too long; the movie really should have ended more than fifteen minutes earlier. And earlier in the movie, there is an agonizingly long scene of Timothy attempting to smuggle Nikki into his hotel room that goes far beyond the breaking point. Those two portions of the scene represent another problem I had with the movie - Golan more often than not with this movie doesn't know when to quit, such as when it comes to humor. For instance, there is more than one instance when he speeds up the film to a Keystone Kops pace, which isn't funny even the first time he does it. But a good part of the humor goes for the very expected and predictable; for instance, the tired gag of a character firmly saying he won't do something, but in the immediate next scene is seen doing it, is dusted off and used here. Whatever kind of humor is attempted, it simply isn't very funny despite the enthusiasm of the cast. But the movie also fails in the other portion of its label, the "sex" portion of "sex comedy". Believe it or not, if you don't count the scene where Nikki is seen wearing a translucent bra, the first instance of real nudity comes when the movie has passed the one hour mark. Later in the movie, there is some fleeting nudity in a bathtub sequence, and that is it when it comes to nudity. It should then come as no surprise that there is no sex seen at any point, just the inexplicit aftermath of the deed a couple of times. It's a mystery as to why the MPAA gave this movie an "R" rating when it was brought to the United States. In the end, there's not much that's "good" about this Goose. While those aforementioned auteur theorists may be interested, more likely than not all they'd learn about Golan from this movie was that he had a dismal sense of humor.

(Posted July 4, 2018)

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See also: The Apple, Bunny O'Hare, Surrender