The Pleasure Seekers was a last second record simply because it has the beautiful Ann-Margaret in it. Ann-Margaret is an actress I love solely due to one film, the musical adaptation of Bye Bye Birdie! Altogether I’ve seen four of her films (this, BBB, Viva Las Vegas, and Newsies although I don’t consider that in the same league as her earlier work). The Pleasure Seekers is a light romantic comedy featuring beautiful girls in a beautiful location having problems with love. I distinctly remember Selena Gomez remaking this in some form last year (okay I know 2011’s Monte Carlo isn’t a direct remake but it might as well be). If you enjoy frothy entertainment where cooing and stupid decisions are good then this is the film for you. It’s easily in the category of “turn off your brain” entertainment and really Ann-Margaret and Carol Lynley saved me from hating this completely.
Three friends live together in Madrid finding that their problems in life and love aren’t any different in such a beautiful locale. Fran (Ann-Margaret) is a singer in love with a poor doctor. Susie (Pamela Tiffin) is a stick-in-the-mud who discovers she’s fallen for a flightly playboy. Finally there’s Maggie (Carol Lynley), an office secretary in love with her married boss (Brian Keith).
Since this is my blog I have to get on my feminist soapbox for a quick second. Let’s look at that synopsis again, three friends live together and their entire problem is finding love with the wrong men. I think out of the 107 minute runtime they sit down together (for more than five second) about twice, and once was when they were all introduced and the other was when they finally decide to leave because they hate their lovers! This is 1964, I think I said this with Beach Blanket Bingo, but seriously! The three females have little character other than “singer,” “uptight,” and “office girls….slutty?” I think the character given the worst back and forth is Maggie. I thought Carol Lynley was darling but the script makes her fall for a married man, then give his wife a horrific speech about his straying being the wife’s fault! Mind you said wife is played by film legend Gene Tierney in her final film! Having been in a family torn asunder by infidelity Maggie’s speech isn’t graceful or powerful, it’s vindictive and rude! Are we supposed to ignore the fact that the man is a cheater and/or she was going to be complicit in this with him? And the ending never resolves this aside from boss Paul Barton saying he’s going back to his wife….great guy! And I REALLY didn’t want to hate Brian Keith considering he played Mitch Evers, the father in The Parent Trap (which came out three years before this).
Okay so I had some serious issues with the plot and who do I have to thank? The film is based on a novel by John H. Secondari and a screenplay by Edith R. Sommer. Edith Sommer…where do I know that name? Oh yeah she wrote the script for the Joan Fontaine film Born to Be Bad which I reviewed last month and you can read here. I believe I had similar issues with that film in fact I pointed out the script as a major flaw. On top of that The Pleasure Seekers is directed by Jean Negulesco who has made a handful of appearances already on this blog, and I can’t say I’ve been wowed by any of his work which includes O. Henry’s Full House (he did The Last Leaf segment) and How to Marry a Millionaire. The Pleasures Seeker does rank higher than those two (although this is an exotic take of How to Marry a Millionaire).
Now that I’ve sufficiently vented my frustrations over this film, let’s look at the plot itself. Seeing as how I’ve seen it in quite a few films of the 1960s I think it’s enough to call it a trope but this film combines older actors (Brian Keith, Gene Tierney) and places them opposite the hot young stars of the day (Ann-Margaret). I hate to return to Beach Blanket Bingo but we saw similar material there where Buster Keaton starred opposite Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. I will say Pleasure Seekers gives the older stars actual meat to their plots as Keith’s Paul Barton is the boss in love with his secretary. Tierney of course is the wife who doesn’t understand….this plot still irks me. While Tierney wasn’t the glamorous “Get Girl” of her heyday by this point she still has a carriage to her acting that really sets her above the younger stars making almost a jarring juxtaposition in the quality, especially when she’s opposite Carol Lynley whose style of acting is geared to the soap-0pera style.
Oddly enough the majority of my notes on this film were in response to the acting, probably because the plot is wafer-thin. Honestly, the plot has the three women meeting, going off on their respective adventures, and that’s it. You don’t get the sense of friendship or camaraderie you’d expect from a film about young girls on tour. In fact aside from one museum trip, the majority of the film just uses establishing shots of Madrid, you never see the girls interacting with the magnificent city around them. Many scenes I felt were shot on rear-projection even though they filmed on-location.
The acting ranges from good to poor with little middle ground. I can’t fault Ann-Margaret for being in this as she did appear to be typecast in the 1960s as the perky girl next door with that sexual spark. The actress is definitely the most comfortable of the trio as Fran. She’s bright and bubbly but not overbearing or grating. If you enjoyed her as Kim McAfee in Bye Bye Birdie then you’ll love her in this as they’re pretty much the same character. She also has a humor that places her in the dumb category but there’s a determination apparent, case in point a scene where she’s told she’ll have to perform on short notice to which she replies “I have to rehearse. It’ll take all night! I’ll do it!” Of course being a vehicle for the singer/actress Ann-Margaret sings three songs in the film. I could watch her sing and dance all day, she has such talent and her performance of the title song is memorable and fun (although it doesn’t fit into the style of the performance that precedes it but whatever).
Her romance with the doctor Andres Briones (Andre Lawrence) is straight-forward and a bit stupid. The only reason they won’t be together is he’s poor and proud. I didn’t worry about them getting together (the same thoughts for all three relationships) but it’s so obvious they will be that there’s no need to worry. That seemed to be the lingering question, why must they all get what they want? I understand the plot dictates it but one relationship involves a married man (so they implement a secondary relationship that never feels legitimate) and the other involves a womanizing tool. Fran seems to be the only one who finds a decent man, and it doesn’t help that she makes flirtation and sexuality look effortless!
Carol Lynley was the only other actress I felt able to root for. I’ve never seen her in anything previously (although I will be seeing her again in the 1965 biopic Harlow…which I need to purchase) although my mother has vouched for her career. Lynley is beautiful sure, easily on par with Ann-Margaret but there’s a sweetness to her. Even though she’s introduced as just getting out of a torrid affair and entering a new one with a man she thinks is “fatherly” (her boss) she doesn’t appear to be jaded or blase about her life. There is a scene towards the end where she details Susie’s upcoming seduction at the hands of Emilio Lacayo (Anthony Franciosa) but she does it with a “been there, done that” feel and geared towards helping her friends. When she gets drunk after realizing she won’t be with Paul, that’s the only mark of sadness, the only time Maggie truly lets her guard down. I saw her as a perfectly well-rounded mixture of the girl next door with a slightly bitchy veneer that’s never over-the-top or offensive. She’s tough but only when she needs to be.
The last, and weakest of the trio, is Pamela Tiffin as Susie aka the innocent. I’ve never seen Tiffin in anything before but she appears to be a model in appearance and acting…as in not very good. She’s beautiful but she plays like a deer in the headlights for the majority of the film. Part of it is the script which forces Susie to rise above her friends in the beginning yet spending the entire film one-upping them. She starts the film discovering that by not having an affair she’s a social leper, “don’t spread it around.” Yet, she doesn’t want to believe that Emilio is a total cad even though her friend knows his entire routine! I didn’t connect with her character mostly because through her acting Tiffin felt fake. She didn’t possess the breezy quality of her two co-stars and felt stiff, even when her character is supposed to let loose!
The end of the film makes as little sense as the rest culminating in Paul Barton making all three paramours of the girls affections come together at one of his parties. Do I want to know how Maggie’s boss knows who her two friends are dating and why it’s so important he gets them all together? I’ll leave that as one of many flaws of The Pleasures Seekers. It tries to be a frothy diversion in the genre of “young beauties going to a new country” but there’s little connection to the beauties or the country. Ann-Margaret and Carol Lynley find the souls in their thinly drawn characters but even then there’s no established relationship between the three other than the plot saying their friends. Their loves lives are pointless and over-the-top and the rest of the plot meanders before happily ever after. It’s good to watch if you’re a fan of one of the trio but other than that, there’s not much else.
**NOTE: I’m attempting to track down any celebrity biopics (made-for-television) between 1960-2000s. If you know of any DVD copies/online videos/willing to lend me one…..that’d be much appreciated! Working on getting a series of reviews out.
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.