One of the sadder stories of our time is being told by the European producer Leo Fuchs, who claims that the idea for the international anthology film "Sunday Lovers," now at area theaters, came to him while dining alone at the Brasserie Flo in Paris. "Dining alone is a depressing experience," Fuchs testifies, "and, as I sympathized with myself, I wondered about other men in other countries, dining alone. The thought intrigued me and the idea of a movie based on such an experience quickly began to develop."
One can only pray that Leo Fuchs is never allowed to dine alone again. His solitude has proved especially unfortunate for Gene Wilder, who was engaged to write, direct and star in the American episode of the four-part "Sunday Lovers," which also features British, French and Italian segments on the subject of men haunted by sexual hunger pangs over the course of trying weekends. In fact, "Lost Weekends" would be a more fitting title for the package.
Everyone needs to be protected from exposing his sappiest side every so often. Poor Wilder has been permitted to let the sap flow wild and free in the excruciating "Skippy," which shows how the title character, a mental patient played by Wilder himself, is granted a furlough by his inexplicably doting analyst (Diane Crittenden) in order to share a weekend of infantile bliss with Kathleen Quinlan, a former patient who has been his disco partner at the asylum's regularly scheduled hoedowns.
Wilder exposes himself literally as will as figuratively, posing with Quinlan in lingering nude profile. "Did you think I was bigger?" Quinlan shyly inquires as Wilder comtemplates her torse. Naturally, you wait for the reciprocal question, but Wilder is too enchanted with his own schmaltzy, sincerely indecent folly to ask it. As far as he's concerned, it's Magic Moment Time, and for some unaccountable reason no one cared enough to wise him up. Yoooo-hoooo! It's wake-up time and you look like a perfect idiot.
Only the British contribution, "An Englishman's Home," written by Leslie Brucusse and directed by Bryan Forbes, promises to sustain a glimmer of charm. The source of the glimmer is an adorable young actress named Priscilla Barnes. A fresh and clever blond ringer for Lola Albright, she plays a wide-eyed American stewardess who is targeted for a weekend of dalliance by Roger Moore, a chauffeur who conspires with the cook, Denholm Elliott, to bring partners back to the mansion whenever the master is out of town. Since Elliott is coming on swishy, one is led to believe that they alternate available weekends. Lynn Redgrave turns up in an amusing performance as a neighboring aristocrat who has designs of her own on Moore, forcing the conspirators to devise complicated arrangements which conceal one lady from the other. The payoff is a predictable dud.
"The French Method," contrived by the "Cage aux Folles" team of writer Francis Veber and Director Edouard Molinaro, stars Lino Ventura as a businessman who must arrange a date between one of his employes, a temporary receptionist played by Catherine Salviat, and a horny American, Robert Webber, if he hopes to secure the distasteful Yank's trade. The dilemma is ingeniously worked out so that French honor remains unstained after a prolonged tease. One rather suspects that the boss has earned the treat he denied the presumptuous visitor and that the episode is unconsciously allegorical, with Ventura's reluctant pimp standing in for the filmmakers.
The show mercifully expires with a feeble gesture from director Dino Risi and screenwriters Age & Scarpelli called "Armando's Notebook." Ugo Tognazzi is the benighted Armando, who comes across his old black book while wife Rosanna Rodesta is visiting her hospitalized mother. He is moved to ring up some old numbers in hopes of lucking out. Each date made and kept with a former partner, now a generation older too, proves disillusioning in the extreme. You fail to understand why Armando keeps plugging away, and the varieties of disillusion get progressively uglier, as Armando runs from obesity, frigidity, prostitution and nymphomania. There's really no love lost at "Sunday Lovers."