This week’s mystery movie was the 1959 Twentieth Century-Fox film “The Man Who Understood Women,” with Leslie Caron, Henry Fonda, Cesare Danova, Myron McCormick, Marcel Dalio, Conrad Nagel, Edwin Jerome, Harry Ellerbe, Frank Cady, Bern Hoffman and Ben Astar.
Screenplay by Nunnally Johnson, from the novel “The Colors of the Day” by Romain Gary. Music by Robert Emmett Dolan, photography by Milton Krasner, art direction by Lyle R. Wheeler and Maurice Ransford, set decorations by Walter M. Scott and Paul S. Fox, special photographic effects by L.B. Abbott, edited by Marjorie Fowler, executive wardrobe designer Charles LeMaire, makeup by Ben Nye, hairstyles by Helen Turpin, assistant director Hal Herman, sound by Charles Peck and Harry M. Leonard. Song “A Paris Valentine” by Paul Francis Webster and Robert Emmett Dolan, orchestration by Earle Hagen. Color by De Luxe, color consultant Leonard Doss, CinemaScope lenses by Bausch and Lomb.
Produced and directed by Nunnally Johnson.
“The Man Who Understood Women” has never been commercially released on VHS or DVD. Gray market copies are listed on the Internet.
I selected this movie entirely at random. And I mean, at random as in using a random number generator. My main interest was Cesare Danova (Mayor Carmine DePasto in “Animal House”). And there’s Leslie Caron post-“Gigi.” But overall, this film is mostly a curiosity. The script is odd (it really cannot decide what it wants to be) and Henry Fonda is totally miscast. Call it “Too Much Nunnally Johnson.”
The New York Times reported in 1958 that the film was cast with Leslie Caron and Tony Franciosa, with Cesare Danova on loan from MGM. Henry Fonda was cast in the lead by January 1959.
Writing in the New York Times (Oct. 3, 1959), Howard Thompson said:
Some deliciously wry dialogue almost saves “The Man Who Understood Women,” a picture worth saving. Written, directed and produced by Nunnally Johnson, a gifted man who understands movies, the Roxy’s arrival yesterday co-stars Leslie Caron and Henry Fonda.
Here is an odd package indeed, from Mr. Johnson or anybody. In this part frolic, part philosophical tract and part symbolic drama, Mr. Johnson is airing some extremely rhetorical views on life, marriage and the pursuit of movie careers, as personified by a love-tossed Hollywood couple visiting the French Riviera. His source is a Romain Gary novel, “The Colors of the Day.”
If this Twentieth Century-Fox release is cloudy, talky and confusing, it’s also beautiful to watch, as smoothly piloted by Mr. Johnson. The Cote d’Azur backgrounds, where most of it unfolds, have afforded the color photographer a tasteful field day….
A gifted movie-maker has served us some overlapping hors d’oeuvres on a heavy platter. But it is Mr. Johnson’s sideline wit, dry as a good martini, that really makes it palatable, if not quite understandable.
Sherwin Kane, writing in Motion Picture Daily (Sept. 22, 1959), said:
Nunnally Johnson, who produced, directed and wrote the screenplay for “The Man Who Understood Women,” is responsible for a frothy, amusingly sophisticated bit of entertainment that shows off his own bon mots equally as well as it does the picture’s stars, Leslie Caron and Henry Fonda.
…. Johnson’s screenplay is based on the Romain Gary novel, “The Colors of the Day.” It is played strictly for amusement as it is devoid of serious or, at least, sustained dramatic pretensions, and one never forgets for long that all in the cast are playing a part. It adds up to pleasant entertainment.
For Monday, we have a mystery gent.
Update: This is Booth Colman.
For Tuesday, we have a mystery clown. And as incredible as it may seem, he does not approve of such goings-on.
Update: This is Henry Fonda in clown makeup.
For Wednesday, we have a mysterious gent with a cigar.
Update: This is Edwin Jerome.
Brain Trust roll call: Howard Mandelbaum (mystery movie and both mystery guests) and Sylvia E. (mystery movie and both mystery guests).
For “Aha Thursday,” we have three guests with varying levels of “Aha-ness.”
This is mystery guest No. 1…
Update: This is Marcel Dalio.
… mystery guest No. 2…
Update: This is Conrad Nagel.
… and mystery guest No. 3.
Update: This is Cesare Danova.
Brain Trust roll call: Howard Mandelbaum (Wednesday’s dapper mystery gent) and Sylvia E. (Wednesday’s dapper mystery gent).
For Friday, we have our unmysterious leading lady and even less mysterious leading man, this time without his clown makeup.
Update: This is Leslie Caron and Henry Fonda.
Brain Trust roll call: Howard Mandelbaum (Thursday’s mystery guests), Sylvia E. (Thursday’s mystery guests), Benito (mystery movie and Thursday’s mystery guests No. 1 and 3) and L.C. (mystery movie and mystery cast).