THE HAPPENING doesn’t. Granted, it has two salient elements: The Supreme’s bouncy hit title tune and the temperature-elevating vision of a tanned and midriff-baring Faye Dunaway drawing visual attention from anyone else in a shot. Diana Ross & girlfriends #1 charting song lasts less than three minutes, leaving another 98 of running time to endure, and 26-year old Faye’s second film appearance, 6th-billed, steals scenes not just because she’s such a sultry looker but thanks to their being zip-else but frenetic, deathly unfunny idiocy on tap.
Led by the silliness of the Beach Party pix, the studios had been gingerly creeping up on the changing mores. 007 brought the casual sex, and a slew of serious political thrillers greased skids away from status quo. 1964s A Hard Days Night proved there was potential gold in long hair and nose-thumbing convention. 1965s I’ll Take Sweden had Establishment Front Man Bob Hope start barbing with Tuesday Weld and Frankie Avalon (already on the way to Outsville). The truly strange Lord Love A Duck (Weld, wilder) plopped into 1966 along with the less lovey antics of The Wild Angels. 1967 blew the gates open: The Graduate, Bonnie And Clyde, The President’s Analyst, The Trip, Don’t Make Waves. In that group, languishing at the bottom, with terrible reviews and catastrophic receipts (it came in a choking 125th of the years releases ) was this unbaked hash brownie, directed by Elliot Silverstein, co-written by Frank Pierson. Silverstein was fresh off a hit with the cheeky Cat Ballou. Pierson wrote that one, had decent TV credits and pulled off one of ’67s best scripts, encapsulating a generations skepticism in one line for Cool Hand Luke.*
Whatever director and writer brought to the table for ‘Cat and ‘Luke went AWOL with this mess, along with the talents of Anthony Quinn, George Maharis, Michael Parks, Robert Walker Jr., Martha Hyer and Milton Berle.
A quartet of thoroughly charmless hipsters (more than beatniks but not quite hippies, babbling nonstop in strangulation-provoking jargon) kidnap a mobster (Quinn, trying hard), who turns tables on them and joins their weird caper. When the Generation Gap comedies of the period failed (most did), with the likes of Hope, Debbie Reynolds and other icons of the 40s and 50s trying to groove with the stoning dropouts, the purple pills were pretty hard to swallow for anyone over 15 and under 30. Bad as those usually were, many still retain a kind of nostalgic sheen, albeit wince-inducing. This may be the worst of the whole Geritol Meets Groovy kibbutz. If you ‘happen’ upon it, you have been warned. Even acid wouldn’t help (okay, Faye might melt right off the screen, so let’s not totally rule it out….).
With Oscar Homolka, Jack Kruschen, Clifton James and Luke Askew.
*Silverstein had one more hit, three years later, A Man Called Horse. Pierson’s score with Cool Hand Luke‘s “…failure to communicate ” erased the night in the box that was The Happening, and he went on to sculpt The Anderson Tapes and Dog Day Afternoon, for which he snagged an Oscar. His co-writers on this dud, James D. Buchanan and Ronald Austin, managed to have steady careers in TV after this maiden effort sank. In 1967, Dunaway marked time in Hurry Sundown, followed by this. Then one more job came up: Bonnie And Clyde….