Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Big Cube (1969) - Lana Turner Says Just Say No to LSD

The Big Cube 1969 poster
"The Big Cube" (1969).

It's so, so easy to make fun of this experimental film, not least because Lana Turner does a seemingly low-rent "Sunset Boulevard" turn. But I liked it. Strange and full of jarring contrasts, without a doubt. It has a clear message, though, which I suspect is the reason she did it.

The Big Cube 1969 Karin Mossberg
There are a lot twists and turns in "The Big Cube."

So, Lana Turner, screen legend of the '40s ("The Postman Always Rings Twice") and the '50s ("Imitation of Life"), plays veteran actress Adriana Roman who loses her wealthy new husband in a tragic boating accident. Her husband's Will then (unfairly) puts her in the position of having to pass judgment on her daughter Lisa's (Karin Mossberg) fiancé Johnny (George Chakiris). He just happens to be a gigolo (he even admits as much at one point) who has his eye on the family fortune, and, as drug pushers tend to be, is simply a bad influence in general on the rather level-headed Lisa. This influence consists of introducing Lisa to his druggie friends who seem rather mean-spirited to outsiders.  Fortunately, Chakiris as the fulcrum gives the best performance in the film.

The Big Cube 1969 Karin Mossberg George Chakiris
Groovy, man! "The Big Cube" has great fashions sense.

The balance of the film consists of Johnny, a former medical student who specialized in creating LSD in the lab for his friends, doing very bad things in his attempt to realize his goals. Adriana winds up losing her memory, and almost her life, but fortunately she has a lot of people who care about her and who stage an extremely inventive intervention - using her participation in a play about her own problems to try and jog her memory. This is a fascinatingly far-sighted form of therapy that is the most interesting thing in the film, and is almost prescient regarding creative therapies of the future. I was most impressed.

The Big Cube 1969 Karin Mossberg
It's hippy fantasy time, partying in the mansion....

Anyway, I think it's all too easy to miss the point of this film. It's not about the trippy music or the stripteases performed by the hard-edged Pamela Rodgers or the rather tacky fashions of the day. The message is simple: Just Say No. As in, Just Say No to Drugs. The film concludes (I'm not giving anything away here) with a Bad Trip by the perpetrator of Bad Trips, Johnny. He winds up living in squalor, kicked out of medical school and with rats and ants sharing his space, while the conventional folks like Adriana and Lisa wind up much better off. Could the message be clearer? But most reviewers here seem to be missing it. Strange.

The Big Cube 1969 Pamela Rodgers Karin Mossberg
I know where you think this is leading, but no it doesn't....

Yes, this is a low-rent production made in Mexico. But it says something positive and represents an honest attempt to bridge the generation gap of the day. That it has some truly oddball dialog and scenes, well, write that off to the film's attempt to be relevant. Let's imagine, for the sake of imagining, that Lana wasn't desperate and degrading herself just to stay in films (she wasn't, and ultimately did fine work in TV), but instead wanted to make the attempt to fit in with the youth culture in a film that might do some good. The contrast between the older generation and the youth culture couldn't be clearer in this film. Turner had some fun and reached a hand across the divide. Maybe she didn't want to think of herself as an old lady yet (she wasn't). I don't see anything so terrible about that.

The Big Cube 1969 Lana Turner
Really!  It was this big!

All right, she probably did take this for the quick bucks.  Does it really matter? We get one of the old-time legends of the silver screen, miraculously transported through time to a weird late-60s cult film. Do you think that Cary Grant, who actually DID acid in real life, would take this kind of chance? Not on your life. But Lana did. Isn't that enough reason to take a look?

The Big Cube 1969 Lana Turner
Lana gets to scream a lot, every actress' dream.

Well, maybe or maybe not.  But if you like late-'60s weirdness, you might like this.

The Big Cube 1969 Lana Turner
I'd like to thank the Academy.... Wait, where am I?

I liked it. I really did. Just have an open mind and realize going in that this was made in 1969, not 1949.


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