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Cactus Flower (1969)

Cactus Flower Has Flower Power

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 103 minutes

US Certificate: PG UK Certificate: PG


There’s something unavoidably safe and comforting about watching a film like this one. Sure, it revolves largely around shameless dishonesty and rampant promiscuity, but everyone involved is just so nice and kooky that if feels curmudgeonly to shake your head and tut.

Set in the heart of New York’s swinging sixties – a period in which Austin Powers could walk into any room and nobody would even notice he’s a parody – it’s about a middle-aged dentist (Walter Matthau) who has a talent for pulling more than just teeth. He decides his bed-hopping days are behind him, though, when he falls for mouse-eyed 21-year-old Toni (Goldie Hawn, making a sparkling big screen debut). The trouble is, when he first met her he told her a whopping great porkie about having a wife and three kids, so now he needs to find a willing actress to pretend to be his made-up other half: step forward Ingrid Bergman, as the quick-witted receptionist who has little intention of making things any easier.

Adapted from the hit Broadway play by Pierre Barillet, Jean-Pierre Gredy and Abe Burrows, this is a textbook farce comedy boasting three wonderful leading performances (Hawn won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this one, but I’d dispute that she’s in a supporting role – she’s definitely one of the leads). Matthau may seem at first to be miscast, particularly as his character just doesn’t have the looks, charm or wit to convince us that he truly has his pick of the hotties – but his performance is so engaging and so marvellously delivered that you’ll end up believing it anyway.

Of course, the whole thing is very much of its time, and though it’s clear that a lot of thought has been put into making the dialogue smart and snappy, it’s also fairly lame by more recent comic standards. Though I was certainly kept entertained by these goings on, I can’t recall ever actually laughing. Far better in the chortle department is ‘The Odd Couple’, the previous year’s effort from director Gene Saks which also starred Matthau. Watch that one if you want to laugh, watch ‘Cactus Flower’ if you want to smile.

It's Got: A bloke called Igor (Rick Lenz) who, disappointingly, doesn’t have a humpy back or work as a servant in a creepy old castle.

It Needs: Not much watering.

DVD Extras A triumvirate of trailers: ‘Groundhog Day’, ‘Seems Like Old Times’ and, less randomly, ‘Cactus Flower’. Version reviewed: Cactus Flower (Columbia Tri-Star Home Video) DVD Extras Rating: 1/10


Flower power is more than enough to propel this warm sixties comedy into favour.