Robert Wagner’s bid for stardom is scuppered by a limp plot set in the overheated world of the country club set where a posse of sexually predatory women operate. It doesn’t help that the main narrative thrust finds trouble just hanging in there.
Ex-professional golfer Banning (Robert Wagner), a “moral diabetic” on the run from a loan shark, pitches up at an upmarket country club where he finds work as the assistant golf pro to Jonathan (Guy Stockwell). His most arduous task appears to be picking his way between the toned bikini-ed bodies lounging around the pool and avoiding the advances of Angela (Jill St John) and Jonathan’s wife Cynthia (Susan Clark) while coming on strong to overpaid secretary Carol (Anjanette Comer).
There’s an element of Life at the Top (1965) here, with Jonathan married to the boss’s daughter, resenting their close relationship while not making the executive advances he would like. Every now and then bits of what sound like a complicated past implicating Jonathan and the alcoholic Tommy Del Gaddo (Gene Hackman) pop up and around the halfway mark a subplot kicks in, involving something called a “Calcutta,” a golf tourney which looks like it’s being rigged.
Given that it’s organised by a club boss (Howard St John) who claims every gimme going and feigns drunkenness to skin members at poker, it’s almost a given that Banning is going to come out worst. I have to tell you you probably couldn’t care less, since most of the action, and all of the fun, is off course, and not so much in the bedroom stakes as the war between women for available men.
“I bought you,” purrs Angela in her most seductive attire after she has made it possible for Banning to find a way to pay off his debts. “I want you,” snaps single mother Carol, making a forthright play after spending most of the picture fending off his advances. Standing on the side-lines, watching Angela making her moves, Cynthia observes, “I’d say Angela’s had at least a dozen husbands,” pause for the punchline, “including mine for all I know.”
Predatory moves are not all one way. Turns out the price Carol pays for a salary five times the going rate and a nice house and private schooling for her daughter is setting aside Thursday afternoons for Jonathan. But in the pragmatic manner that appears inbred in the country club, she states, “No apologies, no excuses.”
And before Carol works out just how attractive Banning actually is she had to cut him dead a couple of times and, in a scene guaranteed to put off the modern audience, prevent him drunkenly raping her. It was almost a throwback to the 1940s and 1950s when, it appeared, a woman just needed a good smack on the chops before she could submit and start billing and cooing.
Robert Wagner (The Biggest Bundle of Them All, 1968), tanned within an inch of his life, doesn’t so much miss the target as not being given a target worth hitting. There’s very little sense danger, of a man on the run from the mob or whichever gangster has picked up the tab for his debt, and he’s not a lounge lizard. Acting-wise, he relies on a raised eyebrow, an eye swivel and that scene-stealing trick, copyright Robert Vaughn, of raising his lowered head to open his closed eyes, a neat device for a supporting star but hardly required when you are top-billed.
Anjanette Comer (Guns for San Sebastian, 1968) doesn’t snatch the brass ring either, relying on a tremulous lower lip to evoke emotion. In fact, it’s a toss-up between the classier Jill St John (The King’s Pirate, 1967) and Susan Clark (Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, 1969) as to who steals the most scenes, both winging it with striking dialog, emanating power, regarding men as weak and playthings.
Gene Hackman (Lilith, 1964), generally a prime contender for scene stealing, especially with trademark chuckle now in full swing, unfortunately does himself no favors by over-acting. You might also spot James Farentino (Rosie, 1967) and Sean Garrison (Moment to Moment, 1966).
Ron Winston (Ambush Bay, 1966) directed from a screenplay by James Lee (Counterpoint, 1967). It would have worked better to concentrate more on the bitchy women than the sub-plots.
I’m sorry to say you’ll have a hard job finding this since I purchased my DVD on the second-hand market. Worth the hunt if you’re a fan of St John and Clark or to discover why Wagner’s promising screen career never took off.
2 thoughts on “Banning (1967) ***”
Yikes! That poster art is straight from the Woman’s Own knitting pattern catalogue of 1973.
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Robert Wagner always was a housewives choice.
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