“You can’t bring a frozen guru into California!” is but one of the valuable life lessons to be learned from Christian Marquand’s film Candy (1968), an adaptation by Buck Henry (who also appears as a mental patient) of the Terry Southern-Mason Hoffenberg novel. The movie was shot as a French-Italian co-production in Italy with a largely American and English cast. I’d somehow missed this legendary trainwreck for 40 years (not hard to do in 1968, since I wouldn’t have been admitted to the then X-rated film), and I’m a little sorry because this thing is a solid four stars worth of magnficent disaster. It’s part and parcel of the scattershot satires—usually British—that were then prevalent in that experimental year. Candy‘s heart is in the same place as The Magic Christian (1969), but the actuality is closer to Myra Breckinridge (1970).
The story—a kind of spoof of Voltaire’s Candide—is little more than a series of vignettes that follow uber-innocent Candy Christian (Ewa Aulin) through a series of ever weirder sexual (and close-call) encounters with “guest stars” Richard Burton, Ringo Starr, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, John Astin, John Huston, Christian Marquand and Marlon Brando. Some are funny, some are just dull, others are plain weird. Burton probably comes off best as a drunk, womanizing poet (with boxer Sugar Ray Robinson as a sidekick); he’s never seen without a wind machine giving his hair and scarf a suitable Byronic look. As satire, the movie is spotty. As filmmaking, it’s downright fascinating (for a major bit of cinematic sleight of hand, check out Ringo’s family on motorcycles chasing Candy and her family in a car). As a shocking, X-rated movie, the shock is more in the material than in anything seen. As a snapshot of movies of the time, it’s invaluable.