Monday, February 10, 2020

Missing Billy Wilder in "Cactus Flower"

Goldie Hawn as Toni.
I.A.L. Diamond co-wrote some pretty amazing screenplays--his work includes The Apartment and Some Like It Hot. Of course, his writing partner on those films was a guy named Billy Wilder. Mr. Diamond also occasionally branched out on his own. That was the case with the 1969 comedy Cactus Flower, which was based on a French stage play.

Walter Matthau stars as Julian Winston, a New York City dentist who has avoided marriage by telling his much-younger girlfriend Toni (Goldie Hawn) that he's married with three children. When Julian misses a date, Toni assumes he has chosen his wife over her and attempts suicide. A concerned Julian decides to marry Toni. The only problem is that Toni now wants to meet Julian's wife!

Goldie and Walter Matthau.
A desperate Julian tries to convince his highly-efficient nurse, Stephanie (Ingrid Bergman), to pose as his wife. Initially, Stephanie bluntly refuses and advises Julian to tell the truth. However, she has second thoughts and meets with Toni to explain she wants a divorce from Julian. Stephanie is too convincing, however--perhaps because she truly harbors some feelings for Julian?

After watching Cactus Flower for 15 minutes, it's obvious how the movie will end. Therefore, it's just a matter of execution: Can Diamond and the cast make the situations funny enough to justify the predictable plot? The answer is no for most of the film's running time. 

Even the usually delightful Walter Matthau displays an atypical lack of energy--though his lethargy succeeds in counteracting the excessive effort that Goldie Hawn puts in her performance. Amazingly, Goldie not only was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, she won! (For the record, I don't dislike Goldie. I enjoyed her immensely in Overboard...until it began popping up on television every week.)

Jack Weston with Ingrid Bergman.
There are a handful of amusing scenes and Ingrid Bergman makes Stephanie an appealing character. Rick Lenz also scores as Goldie's next-door neighbor, Igor, in the kind of role typically played by Jim Hutton in the 1960s.

As mentioned above, Cactus Flower originated as a 1964 French stage play, Fleur de cactus, written by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Gredy. Abe Burrows adapted it for Broadway in 1965 where it was an immediate hit and ran for almost three years. The Broadway leads were Barry Nelson (Julian), Lauren Bacall (Stephanie), Brenda Vaccaro (Toni), and Burt Brinckerhoff (Igor). Vaccaro and Brinckerhoff were nominated for Tony Awards in the Featured Actress and Actor categories.

As for screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond, he teamed up again with Billy Wilder for his next four films, including the offbeat Private Life of Sherlock Holmes and the underrated Avanti. He then retired from the movie business.


  1. I never cross paths with this film, but I've always been curious about Ingrid Bergman sharing the screen with Goldie Hawn, and how that might go.

  2. I never got past those first 15 minutes when I tried to watch Cactus Flower. How could such a successful play turn into such a "meh" kind of movie? You may be onto something regarding an injection of Wilder.