Monday, October 07, 2013

Living in an Alice B. Toklas Recipe

Guru (Louis Gottlieb): Do you know yourself?

Harold Fine (Peter Sellers): I'm trying to know myself.

Guru: You will know yourself when you stop trying.

Harold Fine: I'm trying to stop trying.

My mother was a huge fan of Peter Sellers.

Mostly, though, I think she liked his work in primarily British films from the 1950s and, especially, his performances in the Pink Panther movies. She also liked him in "Being There," Sellers' last film to be released in his lifetime.

I don't know if she ever watched "Dr. Strangelove." We never talked about it — even though it is one of my favorite movies.

Nor did we ever talk about "I Love You, Alice B. Toklas," which is also one of my favorite movies. It made its theatrical debut 45 years ago today.

It's a bit dated now. I mean, the whole thing revolved around the generation gap and the rest of it just expanded from there.

In the many years that have passed since 1968, I think many people have concluded that there was no more of a generation gap then than at any other time. Sure, the generation gap exists. It always has. The older generation has never really understood the younger generation and vice versa. It just got a lot more attention in 1968, when young people were protesting a war in which many were being compelled to fight by their elders.

Sellers played a character named Harold Fine, a 35–year–old lawyer (a square, to use the lingo of the times — and to use Harold's very own self–description — and a bit of a nebbish). He was living a very establishment kind of life with an establishment kind of fiancee and an establishment set of Jewish parents.

Nothing exciting ever seemed to happen to him. It was a very buttoned–down kind of life.

Until Leigh Taylor–Young (in her first film role) came on the scene.

Harold: I've got pot, I've got acid, I've got LSD cubes, I've got ... I've got this thing here ... I'm probably the hippest guy around here. I'm so hip, it hurts!

Familiar only to viewers of TV's Peyton Place, Taylor–Young probably was the perfect choice to play Nancy, a free–spirited and previously unknown young thing who was decidedly not establishment.

A better–known actress might not have been able to pull it off, but Taylor–Young's relative anonymity worked in her favor. Audiences could focus on the character and not the actress.

And she was quite a character. After spending a night at Sellers' place and waking up after he had left for work, she made a batch of marijuana–laced brownies for him — thus inspiring the title.

Sellers' character was inspired to abandon his square lifestyle and pursue love or inner peace or whatever the young and the restless of 1968 were pursuing when the movie hit the theaters.

I didn't see it when it was in theaters. I saw it many years later when I was in college, but I'm sure my reaction would have been the same if I had seen it on a big screen. I thought it was a wonderful, even sympathetic, satire of the counterculture of the late '60s.

As I say, it is quite dated now, but it is still entertaining, thanks mostly to Sellers' knack for comedic timing. That was a big reason why, I believe, "I Love You, Alice B. Toklas" avoided the fate of most social satires of the day, which tended to portray hippies as a threat, and instead made the young people of 1968 seem simply goofy but, essentially, harmless.