THE WICKED DREAMS OF PAULA SCHULTZ crept into theaters on Jan.3,1968, the first release of the year. In terms of content, handling and reception it didn’t bode well for what lay ahead: throughout the year the comedies that followed were, with few exceptions, a resoundingly lame lot. In this instance, someone had a good idea—headline the beautiful and charming Elke Sommer, mostly minus clothes—and two bad ones—making gags out of escaping East Germany, and casting the oil slick Bob Crane as her leading man, with three of his confederates from TVs Hogan’s Heroes as blundering foils. Not a glimmering entry on the long resume of director George Marshall. *
Track & field star ‘Paula Schultz’ is a State heroine in Communist East Germany, but she has a bad habit of speaking her mind, and flees to the West (pole-vaulting the Berlin Wall) after being hound-dogged by Party propaganda officer ‘Klaus’ (Werner Klemperer). Refuge with smarmy black market hustler ‘Bill Mason’ (Crane) is temporary, with the C.I.A. horning in and Klaus and underlings (John Banner, Leon Askin) in pursuit. Run, Paula, run.
Blame the sorry script on Albert E. Lewin, Nat Perrin and Burt Styler. It was shot during Hogan’s Heroes summer break (it ran from 1965 to 1971, the same length as World War Two), and besides the presence of a squad from its cast, it looks as cheap as a TV show. George Marshall didn’t so much phone in his direction as send it by Pony Express.
The burlesque naughtiness of exposing as much of Elke’s body as censors would allow isn’t offensive (if you care to be offended by Elke Sommers body you need your head examined), since the actress more-than-gamely plays along with the nonsense. The bad taste (a staple of that rotten TV show from the get-go) is using the misery of East Berlin as a launching point for a comedy. Even Billy Wilder and James Cagney had a tough time with that background when they made One,Two,Three back in ’61. Crane is a turn-off, Klemperer, Banner and Askin work with frantic energy. Elke looks fabulous and radiates charisma and comic timing, but the movie lets her down. Besides needing a better script, a director with sufficient gas in the tank, and leading man with style, an editor would have helped. The thin premise was geared for a more tolerable 90-minute package, but it gasps on fumes to a ridiculous 113, making Paula’s dreams more wearisome than wicked.
With Joey Forman (bring on the canned laughter machine), Maureen Arthur (no slouch herself as a sexy comedienne, but wasted here) Theo Marcuse, Larry D. Mann, Benny Rubin.
* Woofers of ’68: How To Save A Marriage And Ruin Your Life, The Biggest Bundle Of Them All, Candy, The Secret War Of Harry Frigg, Stay Away Joe, Where Angels Go Trouble Follows, The Impossible Years, The Private Navy Of Sergeant O’Farrell, Prudence And The Pill, What’s So Bad About Feeling Good?, I Love You Alice B. Toklas, The Secret Life Of An American Wife, Speedway, Salt and Pepper, A Fine Pair, Don’t Raise The Bridge Lower The River, Inspector Clouseau, How Sweet It Is!, Skidoo.
George Marshall’s career began in 1915, and included a few classics among many agreeable entertainments. But his choice of projects and his skill in presenting them took a downhill plunge in the mid-60s. Seventy-six when he accepted the Schultz schtick; he finally called quits on features after his next, the embarrassing Hook, Line and Sinker, with the way-past-due-date Jerry Lewis and Peter Lawford.
The failure of ‘Paula Schultz’, along with several other duds in the second half of the decade, dimmed Sommer’s bright career path. She was always good: the scripts were beneath her. My late brother-in-law (actor Larry Pennell) got to know her a little, probably around the time this was made; he said she very nice, and was “the most naturally athletic actress” he’d ever met. Fans of Elke Sommer get an eyeful in this movie, but other than her ebullient efforts and fab face’n’form, the film is an advertisement for the fast-forward button on your remote. Okay, the Rewind and Pause, too…