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GOODBYE CHARLIE (1964)

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I just watched GOODBYE CHARLIE this morning and had to start a thread about it. I posted it in this sub-forum, because I think the greatest problem I have with the film is the way it seems purposely gay then at the last minute chickens out. The cop-out ending is truly problematic and undermines everything that came earlier in the story.

 

I have not seen the stage play or read it. But my guess is the play did not end the way the movie did. I am thinking Fox decided to tack on the phony ending to ensure its commercial success and make it seem less gay by the final fadeout. Spoilers ahead for those who have not seen it yet.

 

This story (based on George Axelrod's play) seems inspired by Thorne Smith's gender switching comedy TURNABOUT which was already filmed in 1940. In GOODBYE CHARLIE, the leading man (Tony Curtis) has realized he's developed feelings for the "girl" (Debbie Reynolds) who is his old skirt-chasing pal Charlie now reincarnated. At one point in the story, Reynolds' character realizes this is a karmic justice of sorts-- and Curtis says she's gone from being a pitcher to a catcher. Clearly, a reference to the versatility of gay sex.

 

However, in order to give the audience a more mainstream happy ending, Charlene as she's now called, falls to her death again then Tony's character says it is probably for the best. A short time later, another woman out for a stroll along the beach comes up to the house and she's also played by Debbie Reynolds. She looks exactly like Charlie/Charlene, and when it's discovered she's single, we're led to believe these two will wind up together. A point in the dialogue is made that the new woman at the end has always been a girl, never a boy. Nothing has properly foreshadowed the tacked on resolution. It totally comes out of left field. A silly compromise is even included where the woman has a Great Dane that is named Charlie.

 

Overall, I think this is a disappointing film that until the last five minutes had a lot going for it. There's even a nice subplot with a rich mama's boy (Pat Boone) who falls for Charlene and proposes marriage. She turns him down, but that can be read as the young man being really attracted to another man, which is just dropped when the engagement falls through. Given all Axelrod's humor about the sexes and clever use of reverse psychology, the story has/had great potential to show that love comes in all forms. But such a wonderful lesson is abruptly discarded so that the film can have a completely heterosexual finale. I can't help but think it would have been made more correctly in Europe. It truly deserved an ambiguous ending that made us think about the real nature of bonding, friendship and love.

 

Thoughts...?

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You're right, I have only seen it once - but, as I remember it, the material was much too HOT for movies at that particular time.

 

There was a Blake Edwards re-make, which I remember as DREADFUL.

 

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You're right, I have only seen it once - but, as I remember it, the material was much too HOT for movies at that particular time.

 

There was a Blake Edwards re-make, which I remember as DREADFUL.

 

Yes, the remake was dreadful. It was called SWITCH and had Ellen Barkin in the lead role. I looked up Axelrod's credits on the Internet Broadway Database-- Lauren Bacall was in the original stage version (it ran from 1959 to 1960). She had a deeper sounding voice, so she would have been more believable playing a man reincarnated as a woman. She was probably deemed too old by Hollywood execs in 1964 to be signed for the movie.

 

Fox bought it for Monroe who turned it down shortly before she died. She didn't like how unfeminine the character was-- duh, that was a main part of the story. It was about a gender switch, and Charlie had to learn how to be Charlene. 

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I just watched GOODBYE CHARLIE this morning and had to start a thread about it. I posted it in this sub-forum, because I think the greatest problem I have with the film is the way it seems purposely gay then at the last minute chickens out. The cop-out ending is truly problematic and undermines everything that came earlier in the story.

 

I have not seen the stage play or read it. But my guess is the play did not end the way the movie did. I am thinking Fox decided to tack on the phony ending to ensure its commercial success and make it seem less gay by the final fadeout. Spoilers ahead for those who have not seen it yet.

 

This story (based on George Axelrod's play) seems inspired by Thorne Smith's gender switching comedy TURNABOUT which was already filmed in 1940. In GOODBYE CHARLIE, the leading man (Tony Curtis) has realized he's developed feelings for the "girl" (Debbie Reynolds) who is his old skirt-chasing pal Charlie now reincarnated. At one point in the story, Reynolds' character realizes this is a karmic justice of sorts-- and Curtis says she's gone from being a pitcher to a catcher. Clearly, a reference to the versatility of gay sex.

 

However, in order to give the audience a more mainstream happy ending, Charlene as she's now called, falls to her death again then Tony's character says it is probably for the best. A short time later, another woman out for a stroll along the beach comes up to the house and she's also played by Debbie Reynolds. She looks exactly like Charlie/Charlene, and when it's discovered she's single, we're led to believe these two will wind up together. A point in the dialogue is made that the new woman at the end has always been a girl, never a boy. Nothing has properly foreshadowed the tacked on resolution. It totally comes out of left field. A silly compromise is even included where the woman has a Great Dane that is named Charlie.

 

Overall, I think this is a disappointing film that until the last five minutes had a lot going for it. There's even a nice subplot with a rich mama's boy (Pat Boone) who falls for Charlene and proposes marriage. She turns him down, but that can be read as the young man being really attracted to another man, which is just dropped when the engagement falls through. Given all Axelrod's humor about the sexes and clever use of reverse psychology, the story has/had great potential to show that love comes in all forms. But such a wonderful lesson is abruptly discarded so that the film can have a completely heterosexual finale. I can't help but think it would have been made more correctly in Europe. It truly deserved an ambiguous ending that made us think about the real nature of bonding, friendship and love.

 

Thoughts...?

It sounds like a case of cinematic gay panic- tease the audience with a daring twist but chicken out at the end-  killing the character seems a bit extreme.

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It sounds like a case of cinematic gay panic- tease the audience with a daring twist but chicken out at the end-  killing the character seems a bit extreme.

 

Well, he/she (as Charlie) does get killed off in the beginning, which sets the stage for the reincarnation and gender switch. I wouldn't have a problem with them killing Charlene off at the end, if it had been foreshadowed and made sense. But it's pretty obvious they wanted a happy ending with Tony and Debbie, so they had to kill Charlene off then bring Debbie back as an unrelated heterosexual woman. And that undermines the whole "romance" we had seen building throughout the movie.

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Well, he/she (as Charlie) does get killed off in the beginning, which sets the stage for the reincarnation and gender switch. I wouldn't have a problem with them killing Charlene off at the end, if it had been foreshadowed and made sense. But it's pretty obvious they wanted a happy ending with Tony and Debbie, so they had to kill Charlene off then bring Debbie back as an unrelated heterosexual woman. And that undermines the whole "romance" we had seen building throughout the movie.

They might have gone for the all it's a dream ending - but even in the remake the idea of reincarnated man  having sex with his straight male friend was controversial.

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They might have gone for the all it's a dream ending - but even in the remake the idea of reincarnated man  having sex with his straight male friend was controversial.

 

There is no sex scene in GOODBYE CHARLIE. I don't even remember there being a kiss. Just a scene where Tony & Debbie are laying on a bed together, very innocently-- then he starts to realize he's now attracted to her. Harmless by today's standards. 

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I was watching some scenes on you tube- and there is a definite avoidance of actual romantic contact between Charlene and the men in the movie- specially awkward is her scenes with Pat Boone- when they are sitting in his convertible - logically the scene would have climaxed  with a romantic kiss but all they do is hug (?!)  Now in the Pat Boone character gay coded- if they remade this again- and they will probably do it because the premise is funny- his character would probably discover at then end that he is really gay and run away with some hunky pool boy.

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I was watching some scenes on you tube- and there is a definite avoidance of actual romantic contact between Charlene and the men in the movie- specially awkward is her scenes with Pat Boone- when they are sitting in his convertible - logically the scene would have climaxed  with a romantic kiss but all they do is hug (?!)  Now in the Pat Boone character gay coded- if they remade this again- and they will probably do it because the premise is funny- his character would probably discover at then end that he is really gay and run away with some hunky pool boy.

 

Excellent point about Boone's character. He has no idea she's really a man, or at least used to be a man. Since he is by all intents and purposes a normal American male, we would expect him make some moves on Charlene or at least give her a kiss goodnight at the end of the date. So it's pretty clear the producers (studio execs?) were afraid to explore the different possibilities suggested by Axelrod's material.

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Excellent point about Boone's character. He has no idea she's really a man, or at least used to be a man. Since he is by all intents and purposes a normal American male, we would expect him make some moves on Charlene or at least give her a kiss goodnight at the end of the date. So it's pretty clear the producers (studio execs?) were afraid to explore the different possibilities suggested by Axelrod's material.

I'm not familiar with the play but the premise would suggest a farce.

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I'm not familiar with the play but the premise would suggest a farce.

 

Yes, to me this story has the potential to be a great farce/sex comedy-- if done correctly. It should be remade, exploring the different avenues Axelrod has set up, without fear of box office failure. I sincerely believe that if it's played very tongue-in-cheek without compromising the material, smart moviegoers (regardless of sex and orientation) will respond favorably to it.  

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