When They're So Very Bad, They Are So Very Good
Among the most prominent genres of Grindhouse Films is that of what we call "sexploitation", a genre that still to this day is a staple of the B-Movie industry, the field that grew out of The Grindhouse, normally they'd be a thriller of drama that had excessive nudity and what would be considered by as late as the early 1980s to be risqué dialog, or in the case of many of the films from Europe, the latin countries, bollywood and Asia, completely upfront sexuality, now don't let that put you off the genre, infact some of the best films to come from the Grindhouse era were sexploitation, infact, I'd like to talk about one of those films right now, a little known outside of groups of Auteurs well versed in the genre, but one that is so hilariously bad, its become a beloved classic to those in the know. I'm speaking ofcourse, of the trainwreck that was 1968's Candy.
Yes, Candy, the hilariously bad but so very good at being so classic, that proves that it doesn't matter how much star power you pack into a film, a bomb, is going to always be just that, a bomb. Now, to understand Candy, you have to first understand where the film came from, its story of pure naivety and curiosity in the ways of the world was first told in January 1759, back then it was called "Candide" and was written by often overlooked old world french wordsmith Voltaire, who tends to be lost in the shuffle when speaking of his contemporaries, in Candide, the main character is a male who lives in an edenistic paradise of harmony and bliss, who is forced to venture out into the world which he has never known and discovers that his idealistic ways and his dreams of how he sees the world, are not how the rest of the world sees things, its a painful eye opening road that Candide has to travel in the book. The story would lay forgotten and obscure in the annals of literature until 1958 when writer Maxwell Kenton (pseudonym of Terry Southern, the screenwriter for Barbarella, Easy Rider, and Doctor Strangelove among others), where he spiced up the story, and made it the controversial story of a beautiful young girl named Candy Christian, aged eighteen, is an extremely pretty and desirable but naive young woman, who finds herself in a variety of farcical sexual situations as a result of her desire to help others. The men in her life, regardless of age or relationship, wish only to possess her. And though this alters the story greatly from its 200 years earlier original, the book goes into graphic detail of how every man she meets wishes to obtain her, and follows Candy's travels as she travels around the world looking for a place where her effects on men will do her no harm, tragically that never happens, and she is forced to admit to herself in the end, that she is a beautiful woman, and that no matter what, she will have this effect on men. The novel is ranked as the 22nd most sexually arousing book of all time and is infact the only comedy on the list. Now, with such an interesting history, and an interesting evolution, you would think that the movie based on this would be an excellent film right? You're wrong.
1968's Candy starred what, on paper, was a brilliant cast; Marlon Brando playing a supposed sexual guru from India, Walter Matthau as a completely repressive and way uptight army general, John Huston and James Coburn as new age doctors who treat operations like theatrical events, Richard Burton as MacPhisto the horribly bad new age poet and author who's hair and scarf are literally aways blowing in the wind, Charles Aznavour as a hunchback juggler, Ringo Starr as a young mexican gardener who's family is a mexican biker gang, John Astin (Gomez Addams, from The Addams Family) in a duel role as twins Jack and T M Christian, Jack is Candy's father an uptight repressed english teacher and T M is a wild sex drugs and rock and roll loving swinger, and finally often forgotten swedish beauty Ewa Aulin as Candy. Honestly, with a cast this heavy, its very hard to fathom why it would fail, I mean logically, this should have been to sexploitation comedies what The Graduate is the sexploitational drama, but it wasn't ment to be, they were expecting Lawrence of Arabia, and ended up with Ishtar, and if you get what that reference means, you get 200 cool points in the happy days board game that is life.
Before I get into why Candy failed and became the joked about classic that it is today, let me tell you about the story itself, which is pretty funny in itself. The film starts out with a ball of light coming down from the heavens, landing in a white robe like outfit, and with a flash of light, we see Candy standing there. There is no reason for this to be here, it just is, kinda like that topless scene at the start of "The Beast Of Yukka Flats", but with a hot blonde girl, next we see Candy in school, daydreaming as every teenager does, she's then let out of class to go to a special assembly, the high school has invited beatnik poet MacPhisto to give a reading of his work, Candy has no idea who he is, so she gets up onto a high landing to get a good look, MacPhisto notices her, and her effect on men takes its effect on him, as he reads his poetry, and plugs his book, as his hair and scarf constantly blow in the wind, he becomes entranced with Candy, and after the reading he asks her if he can drive her home, she says ok, slightly star struck a famous writer would ask her to go anywhere with them. MacPhisto gets more and more drunk as they drive, saying many things that could be deemed of a sexual nature, though Candy being naive as she is, doesn't pick up on this fact. They eventually get to Candy's home, where MacPhisto invites himself in for another drink, he continues to get more and more drunk and starts to ramble off his horrible poetry, when Emmanuel, the Mexican gardener comes in to ask a question about the yardcare, somehow which is never really explained, macphisto's poetry incites Candy and Emmanuel to have sex, they are then caught by Candy's father, and it all results in a huge scandal, which Candy's father decides its best to send her away until it all dies down, as her father and twin uncle, along with the uncle's girlfriend, drive Candy to the airport in the middle of the night to sneak her away, they run into Emmanuel's family, a group of leather clad Mexican bikers, who try to intimidate the Christian family as Emmanuel yells "I'm a good boy!" repeatedly, this intimidation leads to Candy's uncle T.M, to utter some of the funniest lines in the film in reference to their threats, and I quote "Now look you people! This isn't some godforsaken border town where you can just, uh, go about as you please and, and bother innocent people and do... do... do... Mexican things!". After that nugget of cinema brilliance, the bikers are chased away and Candy is able to leave to start her adventure that is life. Each adventure involves her falling into some sexually precarious situation or another, it going to far and she's either left running in shame and horror or running to get away from her own effect on men, it gets absurdly formula but the one liners and comic banter is hilarious. Walter Matthau rambling about how someone giving a member of their family a blood transfusion is laugh out loud hilarious, and the idea of Marlin Brando as a sex guru makes me laugh every single time. So though its not a good movie, its still a good laugh, because as they've always said, sometimes a bad movie becomes so bad it becomes good, and thats what the case is with Candy.
Now, on to why this film failed. Its simple, the director Christian Marquand, a french actor who in the 1950s would have been the french counterpart to James Dean or Caesar Romero, who for some reason in the later years of his fame felt the need to try and direct films, none of which were really all that good, Marquand is sort of the french Uwe Boll of his time, and as is customary with his work, he completely botched this film. He relied to much on Ewa Aulin's sexuality and popularity as one of the models that helped bring the mini-skirt into vogue to sell the film rather then making it make any sense, the scenes all seem forced together and don't really fit or make a complete story, and the scene in the bar bathroom makes absolutely no sense what so ever. One of the most important things to remember when doing an oddball style comedy such as this, it can be as off the wall and strange as you like, but it has to make sense too, if the story doesn't make any sense, the comedy will be lost because people will be trying to figure out whats going on, you want to focus on the laughs, not leave everyone in the theater lost and trying to find their way to where the story is at, that'd be like watching The Money Pit and wondering why the house is falling apart or something.
So there you have it, in a nutshell the story of Candy, one of my favorite bad movies of all time, the story of a beautiful young girl, who is just too trusting, and just too sexual for her own good, and the men who take advantage of her as travels through her life Forrest Gump style, only to end up at some super trippy happening cira europe 1968 with bright lights and ribbons and hippies, and you're left wondering what the hell does this have to do with the film itself. Well that part is simple, its put there to prove that even the greatest actors, sometimes make horrible choices in roles, but lucky for us, when they do, they become beloved for just how bad of a choice they made. Remember, even a bad movie can be good, but when its a super bad Grindhouse film, it spins all the way back around to excellent.