"Petulia" (1968) is a film set in a particular time and place--the San Francisco of the late 60's Hippie Cultural Revolt-- but yet its still one of those movies that doesn't seem to age, certainly not like 42 year old movie should.
It was always a "dark horse" of a film, one I saw a couple times many years apart. Now, finally, it was put on DVD last year,and hopefully is available. It is an unconventional film in a variety of ways.
What starts out looking dangerously like a Goldie Hawn vehicle from the 70's--- a "too-cute" film about a kooky young married jet-setter Petulia (Julie Christie) who falls in love with an older surgeon named Archie (George C. Scott). Why she falls in love with him is revealed a bit later.
The story changes its tone quickly. Petulia is a kooky woman, but she is also a fully realized human being who is desperate to escape the clutches of a hasty and mediocre marriage to a spoiled all-American upper-class man/boy David (Richard Chamberlain), who has a violent streak that rightfully should put him in prison. But his father (Joseph Cotton) can smooth over anything, except the world he once knew, a world crumbling before his eyes.
Scott's character knows not where he's going, expect that he doesn't want to be married anymore to his former wife (Shirley Knight) and he doesn't want ot get burned again in a relationship. He's a man in flux, not even sure a liaison with a beautiful and bright woman can heal what is eating away at his soul.
Petulia has no such limitations on herself, but she also has a past that won't just fall away and let her be free again.
This friction between the two characters, both running from an unsatisfying past, leaves them with much more in common than Archie realizes, at the very end, what he has to grab unto...if she is still there for him as she was at the first.
All the actors are superb and even George Scott, an actor known for conveying rage perhaps all too readily is both subdued and still powerful in this change of pace for him. The music by the great John Barry is a mile away from his work on the James Bond films, and hits the mark all the way through.
Moving back and forth expertly in story-line between, past present and future this film grows into a much stronger feature about the nature of attraction, love, the woes of divorce, domestic brutality, and the perils of accepting ones life versus fully living life 100 percent by letting go of the past. Nicholas Roeg's cinema photography captures all levels of the backdrop of the city, from the electric energy of the club scene of the time--Janis Joplin and The Grateful Dead can be seen playing throughout parts the film--to the ennui-inducing shallowness of matters like the penguin act at Aquatic Park or a society charity show at the Fairmount Hotel.
Even if you don't care much for the 60's and flower children and all, be assured this is a movie you are likely not to forget. I couldn't and I'm glad its now available in a clear print to a wider audience.
In this scene, Archie puts up with his ex-wife's new fiancee and runs into Petulia. (Where else in San Francisco but at a Cable Car Crossing?)
See the following brief scene between Petulia and Archie at Aquatic Park at the first comment below.