James Garner was the king of silly, suggestive films of the mid 1960s. In the first half of the decade, Garner had starred in the comedies Boys Night Out, The Thrill of It All, The Texas Wheeler Dealers, Move Over Darling and The Americanization of Emily. He could be a debonair and a cad at the same time, a personality he carried over from his Maverick series.
The Art of Love was written by Carl Reiner, directed by Norman Jewison and produced by Ross Hunter, the same team behind The Thrill of It All.
Also starring were Dick Van Dyke, hot off his sitcom created by Reiner, Angie Dickinson and Elke Sommer.
A great cast, A-List writer, successful producer and an up and coming director. This film should have been a huge hit. It made money, but it just was not a colossal hit, and it has been forgotten over the years.
The Art of Love had the same gloss as a Jack Lemmon comedy of the same era. Lemmon was tremendously successful, but not every film was a box office champ. These were films that were flirting with something risque, the changing sexual morals, but stayed clean enough to get a wide release from the studio. There is nothing very suggestive about The Art of Love. Maybe at the time, women who had affairs to older men, or painters who painted women nude, or women who worked in nightclubs that entertained me. I feel the morality of the 1960s about to reduce civilization to its knees.
I think you see a pattern here. Women could get into all kinds of trouble, but men were okay chasing women and having affairs. Hollywood was still very traditional about the roles of men and women.
Van Dyke plays Paul, a down on his luck painter in Paris. Garner is Casey, is equally unsuccessful writer roommate. Paul decides to move back to America, to his wealthy fiancé, Laurie (Dickinson), but is derailed by a drunken episode where he and Casey concoct an idea to have Paul fake his suicide so his paintings will appreciate in value.
Paul sees a woman jump from the bridge into the Senne, and he jumps in after her. He rescues her, but is presumed drowned. Casey convinces Paul to carry on the charade for awhile, so they can profit from the sale of his paintings. As they begin to really sell, Casey convinces Paul to hide out in a nightclub and continue painting, since a lot of money is rolling in. Casey naturally handles the money and moves into a a fancy hotel, while Paul lives like a pauper.
The girl that Paul saved, Nikki (Sommer) tracks Paul to Paris and gets a job at the nightclub, where Paul is staying. She is smitten with Paul, but he is still engaged to Laurie, who decides to come to Paris to spend time with Paul. Casey intercepts her telegram and keeps her away from Paul, so they can continue with the belief that Paul is dead. In the meantime, Casey falls for Laurie and begins to romance her.
The story kicks into high gear when Paul, annoyed at his former roommate, decides to get even with him by framing Casey. Instead of drowning, Paul will provide clues implementing Casey in Paul’s murder. He stages a series of clues throughout Paris, a knife with Paul’s blood on it, a shoe, teeth from a furnace and other things. Nikki catches on, and is disappointed in Paul.
Casey is arrested for murder and convicted of the crime. Nikki wants Paul to confess, but he wants to wait until the upcoming execution. The final sequence is Casey being led to the guillotine, while Paul tries to get to the prison to confess that he really had amnesia. Paul tries various methods to get to the prison, carried out in typical 1960s fashion, as Casey is slow-walked to the guillotine. It is one of those arrive-at-the-last-moment endings where Paul gets Nikki and Casey gets Laurie.
Van Dyke has worked with Reiner for the five years of The Dick Van Dyke Show, and the material fit him like a glove. He got to dress up in disguises and engage in some pratfalls. Van Dyke was now committed to a film career after the series ended. He had already appeared in Bye Bye Birdie and Mary Poppins while appearing on television. Van Dyke never really achieved much success in film, it was television that provided his most successful projects.
Garner had both a film and television career at the same time, although after he bought himself out of Maverick, he increased his film load. Alternating dramas with comedies, Garner was one of the busiest and most successful actors of the decade. This was also the first film Garner co-produced.
Norman Jewison would direct In the Heat of the Night in two years and it would change his career.
Carl Reiner would begin directing films in 1967, but his greatest success would come in the late 1970s and 1980s. Oh God!, The Jerk and All of Me would be his biggest successes.