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by Kevin Conner
IMDB Entry: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060818/
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“Penelope” is another Howard Fast adaptation, but it’s not the best. I don’t know if that’s because of how the original story was written, or how this was adapted, but it definitely missed some marks in comedy. Don’t get me wrong, it is enjoyable, but it’s not the best.
This story is about a young woman, by the name of Penelope (Natalie Wood), who robs her husband’s bank on opening day. She confesses this crime to her therapist, and sees him daily to try to track down why she enjoys stealing so much, all while Columbo – I mean Lieutenant Bixbee (Peter Falk) – tries to solve the caper. The movie is thus filled with the amusing antics of the emotionally troubled Penelope, as she gets a kick out of everyone running around like rats in a maze, and as she recounts a comical life. The best way to describe this movie is a dramedy, as it contains a semi serious tone while injecting comedic moments that give you a nice chuckle. Unfortunately, not all of the moments get the chuckle for which they were searching.
Penelope’s main problem lay not in the acting, direction, sound or editing, it lay in the script. For a dramedy to work, you must set the tone for all chuckles and laughs, but that tone has to be complimentary toward the drama of real life as it plays out. You can skim the waters of cartoonish territory, as long as you maintain the seriousness of the drama in the background (at the level you want it to balance out). The problem is, this movie will routinely spike down into comedy you may see from Tom and Jerry or Bugs Bunny, in ways that will feel jarring and out of place. The “Benny Hill” style sequence with Jonathan Winters, for example, is almost painful to watch, as it completely deviates from the seriousness of the discussion which lead up to that sequence. Even the cartoon “Duck Tales” knew when to hold back while providing a serious tone of discovery and cartoonish kid drama, this movie has difficulty in that area. What makes this even more jarring, is well more than half of the movie knows when to hold back, further emphasizing how out of place some of these minor sequences really are when they disrupt the cantor of the film. Don’t misunderstand, there are funny moments, and these moments are moments which uphold the coy 1960s style amusement that borders on cartoonish antics (such as Penelope getting stuck on a tree limb as she rides a horse). Unfortunately, these moments, and the tone of the film, are upset by a dramatic scene which suddenly plummets into a Bugs Bunny style slapstick that seems more disturbing than funny.
There are a few other oddities that make me question what happened behind the scenes, specifically with Jonathan Winters. They are questions which make me wonder if this was one of the many movies where his alcoholism got in the way of his contractual obligations, or if his name was simply a marketing ploy.
The production itself is high for the budget, and the director has some mildly clever moments thrown in (such as the moment Penelope leaves the bank), moments which prove clever enough for a chuckle and a good smile. So, while despite the inappropriate spikes deep into cartoonish territory, the vast majority of the movie is an amusingly serious casually moving flick that proves to be enjoyable, if you are in the mood. For an era which was heralded by the Pink Panther, I have to say that this movie is a bit more enjoyable, although I am sure some would disagree. It’s the same style – relatively slow with some cartoonish aspects in a partially dramatic fashion – but it’s not as slow or as plodding. You really don’t feel the time nearly as much as you would with the Pink Panther (no matter how much you may love the Pink Panther).
If you can enjoy a relatively casual comedic pace, and if you can forgive some out of place comedic spikes, you will find something to enjoy about Penelope. Despite the spikes into cartoon territory, this movie is a very amusing tale about her life and what she plans to do in order to “fix it”, while maintaining a level of self-confidence befitting her own pursuit of happiness; and I am sure many, despite gender, can find something in this production to enjoy.
Direction: 3 1/2
Overall (rounded up) 4 out of 4
Cast and Production Information
(with many more)
Based on the novel ‘Penelope’ by:
Howard Fast as E.V. Cunningham