A depression era soap opera centered on eight female 1933 graduates of Vassar College, The Group is based on Mary McCarthy’s novel of the same name. As economic hardship grips the country, these girls, their families, and friends remain largely isolated; concerned not about jobs or affording their next meal but finding the proper man to marry. Released in 1966, Sidney Lumet (Network) directs this lively soap opera that tracks the evolution of the young ladies until Europe’s entry into World War II. With divorce, infidelity, sexuality, and leftist politics all on the men, The Group was immediately controversial, and considered “Adults Only” fare.
As an all-female chorus chants in the background, we are introduced to the eight young ladies as they gather for the low-key wedding of Kay Strong (Joanna Pettet) to theater manager, and aspiring playwright, Harald Peterson (Larry Hagman, I Dream of Jeannie). Kay happily takes a job at Macy’s to support her new husband while he gets his career off the ground…or not. Dottie (Joan Hackett) begins post-college life eager to experience sex. She decides to lose her virginity to a notorious womanizer curiously named Dick Brown (Richard Mulligan), who never calls her again. Unfortunately, after realizing Dick has permanently disappeared, she heads for Arizona, and is rarely heard from again. Other characters include the mousy Pris Hartshorn (Elizabeth Hartman), who gives up her dreams of a career in social justice to marry a demanding doctor; Libby McAusland (Jessica Walter) who finds success in the publishing world, but in some ways fails to mature; Pokey Prothero (Mary-Robin Redd) is a wealthy, but ditzy girl who lives an uncomplicated life, marries, and gives birth to twins; Unmarried, Polly Andrews (Shirley Knight, Paul Blart: Mall Cop) works in a hospital lab; An aspiring artist Elinor ‘Lakey’ Eastlake (Candace Bergen in her film debut), sails for Europe after graduation. Joining her, is class valedictorian Helena Davison (Kathleen Widdoes) whose wealthy father doesn’t want her to become a kindergarten teacher.
There are a lot of characters here, and even with the films 150-minute runtime some are more flushed out than others, it’s impossible to do them all justice. Shirley Knight turns in a nuanced performance as Polly. Having given up her dream of being a doctor, she’s fairly content working in a hospital lab. However, her personal life is unsettled. Having an affair with a married communist (played by the reliable Hal Holbrook) undergoing psychoanalysis to please his wife, this relationship isn’t destined to end in Polly’s favor. On top of that, Polly has to deal with her mentally ill father (Robert Emhardt) who comes to live with her. Polly’s story would make a movie by itself. In contrast, others barely register at all. As beautiful as Candace Bergen is here, she’s only onscreen for a few minutes, and the “surprise revelation” regarding her character near the end of the film seems strictly for shock value, as it goes nowhere. Helena, who remains in Europe, is simply a convenient narrator. Screenwriter Sidney Buchman (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) clearly tried to make all the subplots work but fell short.
Despite significant flaws, The Group isn’t a total failure. Bolstered by a talented cast, there are some standout performances from Shirley Knight and the late Elizabeth Hartman (A Patch of Blue), whom I wish had gotten more screen time. This is also when Larry Hagman must have started working on his J.R. Ewing personality, because you will probably love to hate his character!
Presented in the 166:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer from Kino Lorber looks good, not great. There are some obvious signs of aging throughout, the colors aren’t particularly vibrant, skewing a bit dark. Reds look rusty, and flesh tones pale. Detail is quite good though, showing changes in makeup and hairstyles. Grain resolves nicely, and there are no major compression issues.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track supports the film well. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout. The score by Laurence Rosenthal comes through nicely. It won’t feel sweeping by any means, but considering its mono mix, the fullness is credible.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Trailer (HD, 3:47)
The Group (1966)
Movie title: The Group
Director(s): Sidney Lumet
Actor(s): Candice Bergen, Joan Hackett, Elizabeth Hartman , Shirley Knight , Joanna Pettet , Jessica Walter