Period film: The Group (1966)

(Image: movies.io)

(Image: movies.io)

Eight friends are graduating from college in the class of 1933. These women are intelligent and driven, very hopeful about the future despite the fact that the country is in the middle of a depression. The women are:

Dottie (Joan Hackett) – a promising scholar who gives it all up when she falls for a bohemian womanizer

Helena (Kathleen Widdoes) – an artist who hopes to become a teacher

Kay (Joanna Pettet) – a theater major who decides to get married right out of school and gets a job at Macy’s to support her husband’s struggling career as a playwright

Lakey (Candice Bergen) – an art history major who wants to travel through Europe

Libby (Lucille Bluth Jessica Walter) – an English major who hopes to find a job in publishing

Pokey (Mary-Robin Redd) – the rich one of the bunch, who hopes to marry and live a life of leisure

Polly (Shirley Knight) – a chemistry major who wants to become a doctor, but becomes a medical technician

Priss (Elizabeth Hartman) – an outspoken political science major

After graduation, the eight women deal with the complications of American life during the depression and World War II as well as in their personal lives.

The Group was directed by Sidney Lumet. It was the first film of many of its cast members: Candice Bergen, Hal Holbrook, George Gaynes, Joan Hackett and Joanna Pettet. Also appearing is Larry Hagman. The film was based on the book of the same name by Mary McCarthy, published in 1963.

When an cast includes the likes of Lucille Bluth and Major Nelson, it’s got to be a fantastic ensemble. With such an expansive cast of characters the film does feel like it’s trying to pack in every type of personality imaginable, but all of the performances are so solid that it works.

McCarthy’s novel contains autobiographical elements, as she graduated from Vassar in the class of 1933. The novel and film address issues that were still taboo in 1966, including birth control, mental illness, drug use, alcoholism and abuse.

The film doesn’t seem very authentic to the period in which it is set, but not because of these taboo topics. It falls victim to the odd anachronism that I’ve noticed in many biographical and period films from the mid-century: while some of the visual aspects are convincing, some of them are decidedly suited to the 1960s rather than the 1930s.

(Image: lecinemadreams.blogspot.com)

(Image: lecinemadreams.blogspot.com)

Somewhat problematic visuals aside, the film is still a pretty good watch. Equal parts soapy drama and clever social satire, The Group is certainly an interesting film, and with eight distinct plotlines there’s little room for the viewer to become bored.

At nearly two and a half hours long, I expected it to be slow and just drag along, but it’s surprisingly engrossing throughout the majority of its running time. It isn’t incredibly fast-paced, but there is so much going on that it doesn’t feel dull, or at least not to me. I didn’t find it to be too slow, but that’s because I like films with many interconnected plots and particularly liked the cast of this one.

The Group is a film that will only appeal to certain types of viewers: those who like big ensemble films, and those who like melodramas that are somewhat true-to-life but also a bit soapy. You’ll either enjoy it or be incredibly bored by it, depending on what type of viewer you are.  I happened to like it quite a bit. The score: 3.8/5

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4 thoughts on “Period film: The Group (1966)

    • Lindsey says:

      Hope you get the chance to see it! It was on Netflix streaming when I watched it but I’m not sure if it’s still there, their selection has been changing so much recently.

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  1. Sean Gallagher says:

    I watched this right around the time they had a Sidney Lumet retrospective at Film Forum (the year before he died). It was an interesting film with, as you say, good performances, but it did seem like Lumet didn’t quite connect to the material. As much as I like him as a director, I have to admit he sometimes fell short in depictions of female characters, and I think he did so here. I’ve never read the novel, but I would assume McCarthy intuitively understood the characters, given they were based on her experience, and that intuition seems to be missing here.

    At any rate, nice write-up.

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    • Lindsey says:

      McCarthy’s characters have a great sense of authenticity on paper. Her entire goal in writing The Group was to craft realistic female characters who were not molded to perfection by society’s ideals, and her passion in crafting those characters really comes through. I think Lumet generally did a decent job of staying faithful to the novel and its characterizations, but it would be hard for any film version to measure up to the honesty of McCarthy’s novel… so I did see a bit of a disconnect there, but as a fan of the source material I thought it was just my bias showing, haha. Interesting to hear it from someone who hasn’t read the book!

      Thanks for reading. :)

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