"Hollywood Wives" compares unfavorably with everything. Yet another low-minded supertrash collaboration between ABC and producer Aaron Spelling (does the "A" in ABC stand for Aaron?), the six-hour, three-part mini-series begins its weary-randy run tomorrow night at 9 on Channel 7. The usual comment made when contemplating such pap is that one can enjoy it provided one's brain is put on hold. Better to have no brain at all; that puts you on equal footing with the people who made the film.
For a while, it is a sick sort of fun, lust and bluster in a society that brings to mind not the real Hollywood so much as it does Sludge Falls, the imaginary soap of Johnny Carson's sketch "The Edge of Wetness." The participants in this sleazathalon in fact have something of a liquid fixation; sex and water are inextricably linked, whether it's the old hot-tub routine, a joint shower or a pivotal exchange like the one between the man just toweling himself and the sex kitten on the phone inviting him over.
He: "All I have to do is dry off." She: "Don't bother. I'm only going to get you all wet again, anyway." Writer (!) Robert L. McCullough liked that one so much he used it three times.
A flock of stock Gomorrahans inhabits this world of satin and plastic. Suzanne Somers plays Gina Germaine, "the most beautiful, sensuous sex symbol in the United States today" (no special effects department in the world could bring that illusion off), willing to do anything to get a part in a new movie to be directed by Anthony Hopkins as Neil Gray. "Anything" naturally includes seducing him and videotaping the encounter for blackmail purposes later. In Part 3, he has a heart attack in her bed and dies, and at his funeral the clergyman says he was "an unequivocating foe of mediocrity."
Gray's wife Montana, played by Stefanie Powers, is too busy demanding "creative control" over the film, the first she has written, to notice hubby's philandering, but then adultery in this crowd is considered no more consequential an immorality than, say, sneaking a Twinkie is among normal people. Candice Bergen as Elaine Conti is meanwhile trying to hang on to Steve Forrest as her aging moviestar husband Ross, but he's fooling around with, among others, Mary Crosby as Karen Lancaster, who invites him into her hot tub because of an older-man fixation aggravated by hatred for her father, Robert Stack as retired movie star George Lancaster.
Also bobbing up and down in this big Jacuzzi stew are Andrew Stevens and Catherine Mary Stewart, the two token innocents of the group, although Andrew's character, Buddy, is not that innocent, since his re'sume' includes a stint as a prostitute -- specifically, and implausibly, "the best young stud I ever had in my stable," says Roddy McDowall as Jason Swankle, caterer to the fantasies of visiting lonely ladies.
Buddy doesn't know it, but he's the son of Angie Dickinson as agent Sadie La Salle, who can create stars with a click of her fingers, she says, but who doesn't realize the twins she thought were stillborn years ago survived, and Buddy's evil twin, a hairy devil who murders his adopted parents in the first act, is on his way to Hollywood to settle some sort of score (did Jackie Collins, who wrote the "novel" this is based on, borrow her plot from Shakespeare?). That leads to a hilarious finale on the lawn of Dickinson's mansion with much shouting and shooting and rolling about.
Stevens is gratingly wimpish as the good Buddy but faintly funny affecting a wolfman walk as nasty Deke. The actor has a washboard stomach. He also has a washboard face. The best male performance on the premises is Rod Steiger as a manipulative producer. It's a celebration of smarm with a little wit to it.
Essentially, the film is a six-hour meditation on the subject of whorishness by people who should know. Characters keep calling each other "whores" or alluding to "prostitution"; at one point Hopkins barks at Somers, "You're a haw!" The particular schizophrenic attitude Hollywood has always held about itself, a combination of insatiable vanity and guilt-ridden self-loathing, has resulted in entertainments as dramatically respectable as "The Bad and the Beautiful" and as deliriously overripe as "The Oscar" and "Valley of the Dolls." But "Hollywood Wives" makes the town a bland Babylon; the film has so little style, it could probably not be parodied.
Although in the Hollywood depicted there exists only one homosexual person (a hairdresser -- how original), many of the "Hollywood Wives" of the title come across like drag queens and female impersonators. Pauline Kael said "The Boys in the Band" was "The Women" recast with men; "Hollywood Wives" is "The Boys in the Band" recast with women. They trot around in foolish fashions and spend their days playing tennis and getting propositioned by half-cute pool boys. Men can hoodwink or manipulate them without much effort. Ross Conti at one point tells his wife, "You get me that script and you can spend an entire day at Neiman-Marcus."
Imagine her excitement. She says that what she really wants is a weekend being made love to by big stwong Mr. Hims.
It's not that novelist Collins, adapter McCullough or director Robert Day seems to hold or manage to impart any identifiable attitude about the Hollywood mind-set or the role women play there. There is no attitude, there is no approach, except to keep the designer outfits passing by the camera and maintain the sin-a-minute pace.
The director played by Hopkins is handed the epigrammatic chores, and within about five minutes he says both "When you have no taste, you can do anything" and "When you're head of a studio, you don't need class." And when you're head programmer at ABC? The thought isn't worth completing.