Pete 'N' Tillie

1972, Movie, PG, 100 mins

Review

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This unusual love story is indebted to PENNY SERENADE, which dealt with the same subject but not in the same manner. The title, unfortunately, sounds like that of a sitcom or an old comic strip. It was only Burnett's second film, after waiting almost 10 years since her small role in WHO'S BEEN SLEEPING IN MY BED? In this film she is very much under control and engages in none of the mugging and hamminess that made her a TV star, however, this is in some ways regrettable. Had she overplayed, she would have been accused of not being able to sustain a characterization, so she chose to go for reality and her antics were missed. Burnett is on her way to becoming an old maid when her pals Page and Nelson throw a party at their San Francisco residence and use it to introduce her to Matthau. He's a compulsive punster who works in motivational research, and although she's not all that impressed by his verbal byplay, she does allow him to take her home to her place, where they share a drink, but nothing else. He begins to woo her with a series of dinners at out-of-the-way (but not necessarily romantic) restaurants, and when they finally climb into bed together, it's wonderful. After a while Matthau gets a better job and a raise and Burnett gives him an ultimatum: either get married or forget it. They wed and have a son, whom Matthau dotes upon and raises in a world filled with gags, puns, old movies, and practical jokes, pulled on their neighbor, Jones, who always falls for them. Matthau begins a brief fling with Blake, a pretty office colleague; then Burnett goes to meet the woman and convinces her that the affair will lead nowhere. Their son, Montgomery, becomes a victim of leukemia and has less than 12 months to live. They don't tell him what's wrong but lavish much upon the boy, including a camping holiday in the mountains. Eventually, Montgomery dies and both are understandably devastated. Half a year goes by and Burnett and Matthau continue their mourning until they finally go out one evening to a party at Page and Nelson's, the same place where they met 10 years before. Matthau forces himself to be jolly, even going so far as to make a pass at one of the guests. Burnett and Matthau begin to drift apart, and she considers a conversion to Catholicism in order to find some meaning in her life and their son's death. Matthau moves out and Burnett doesn't make any attempt to stop him, preferring to seclude herself. Page, trying to get Burnett out of her funk, asks her friend to join her while working on a charity drive. Page has to get an official police permit to do her benevolent work, and that requires her to state her name, address, and age. Page has been keeping her true years a secret, and when asked the question, she can't handle it and faints on the spot. Burnett and Page get into an argument that winds up in an actual fight as the women batter each other with purses, water hoses, and whatever is handy. (At this point the picture opts for farce and loses just about everyone.) All the while Burnett has had a male friend, Auberjonois, a gay man who has always been there to give balm and solace. He realizes she needs someone to be with, so he suggests they get married, with no sex, and become companions. Burnett is touched by his proposal and considers it briefly. Just as Burnett has recovered her mental and physical strength and is getting ready to return to her normal life, Matthau arrives and confesses that he has not had a moment's happiness since they drifted apart. They discuss the reasons for their estrangement and decide to have another go at it as he walks her to his car and a return to the life they once led.

The mixture of happiness and grief, laughter and sobs, reality and farce makes this an admirable attempt at great filmmaking. However, it never quite settles in on what it is, but while it's playing, just about everyone can find something to like. Epstein and Page received Oscar nominations for their efforts, and the picture made money, though this was not the kind of story that audiences were clamoring to see in the early 1970s. leave a comment

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Pete 'N' Tillie
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