Monday, July 11, 2022

#2,782. Penelope (1966) - Natalie Wood 4-Pack


I always thought of Natalie Wood as a fine dramatic actress, but in 1966’s Penelope she proved she was just as adept at comedy, holding her own alongside some of the era’s best funnymen.

Penelope (Wood) is married to successful banker James Elcott (Ian Bannen), who dedicates every waking moment to his job. Hoping to get James' attention, Penelope disguises herself as an elderly woman and holds up a teller at his bank, escaping with around $60,000 in cash!

Later that same afternoon, Penelope tells her psychiatrist Dr. Mannix (Dick Shawn) what she’s done, and even accompanies James when he and Police Lt. Bixbee (Peter Falk) review the bank’s surveillance footage to get a glimpse of the robber.

But when Penelope decides to come clean and confess to James and the police, she is both surprised and a little hurt that nobody believes her!

Directed by Arthur Hiller, Penelope features an impressive supporting cast. Dick Shawn is at his manic best as the psychiatrist who has fallen in love with his patient, and does whatever is necessary to help her get out of this mess (even going so far as to volunteer to return the money for her). Peter Falk is also strong as the inquisitive police detective who finds he, too, is falling for Penelope, while the great Jonathan Winters makes a silent cameo as a randy college professor (it was a reunion of sorts for Shawn, Falk, and Winters, all three of whom appeared in Stanley Kramer’s 1963 comedy masterpiece It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World).

Equally good is Ian Bannen as Penelope’s workaholic husband, while Lila Kedrova and Lou Jacobi get their share of laughs as husband / wife con artists Madame Sabada and Ducky; a late scene where they attempt to blackmail Penelope is arguably the film’s funniest.

But as solid as Shawn, Falk, and company are, it’s Natalie Wood who steals the show, playing the title character as a ditzy yet oh-so adorable thief who doesn’t take her life of crime as seriously as she should. Within hours of robbing her husband’s bank, Penelope drops the yellow outfit she wore off at a second-hand thrift store, then, sporting a blonde wig and a fake French accent, places a $1,000 bill in a Salvation Army collection plate! Wood is simultaneously funny and alluring, and it’s easy to see why just about every male character in the movie (aside from her husband, of course) develops a crush on Penelope.

This 1966 film may boast an all-star supporting cast, but when all is said and done, Penelope wouldn’t have been half the movie it is without Natalie Wood.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

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