Directed by Frank Tashlin.
Starring Doris Day and Richard Harris.
A female spy (Doris Day) working for a cosmetics company gets caught up in a complex plot to discover the formula to a new hairspray. Teaming up with a fellow spy (Richard Harris) they discover an underworld involving more than just beauty products.
It always amazes me that there are still films unavailable on DVD – forgotten pieces of cinematic history laying neglected and unaccounted for because nobody seems to care. So Caprice, a 1967 oddity starring Doris Day and Richard Harris, finally gets a UK release on a format that has existed for over 15 years.
Caprice starts like a James Bond film. There's a pre-title ski chase resulting in a murder that’s quite exciting and sets up a mystery. What follows is another scene familiar from espionage movies, as the lead character (played by Doris Day) makes her way through Paris to arrive at a meeting and exchange some secret information. But then the twist comes – she's not dealing information about nuclear weapons or international criminal organisations – she’s there to sell the secrets of cosmetics products. And so starts a bizarre combination of spy thriller, satire, parody and farce.
The film is directed by Frank Tashlin, who made his name directing Looney Tunes cartoons before moving on to feature films. He's an unusual director in that all of his films are comedies, yet he received much praise from the famous French critics of Cahiers du Cinema in the 1950s. While I've seen several of his animated shorts, Caprice is the first feature film of Tashlin's that I've watched, but by most accounts it's not really the ideal place to start. Caprice was critically panned on its original release, and while it's now apparently embraced by cult film fans and students it's still a hit and miss affair.
The main problem with Caprice is the balance. On the one hand it's actually a very complex industrial espionage story, with so many twists and double dealings that it becomes quite hard to follow. And then there's an unconvincing romance which only picks up in the final act, further adding to the confusion. It often seems like Caprice is struggling to be a serious film, but failing spectacularly.
Then there is the comedy side of the movie. There's an attempt at a spoofing the spy genre (which was popular at the time following on from a couple of successful James Bond films) while also aiming for a satire about consumerism and ultra competitive business rivals in seemingly trivial areas like cosmetics. Not content with satire and parody alone, Caprice also contains moments of broad slapstick which feel incongruous to the rest of the film.
These moments are admittedly very funny. This is where Tashlin excels, and the physical humour is staged and soundtracked like a Looney Tunes cartoon. I would have been much happier watching more slapstick oriented film, but as it stands these scenes are quite infrequent and the sudden shift in tone stands out sharply.
For fans of all things 60s, Caprice will be a delight. Despite - and somewhat because of - its flaws, Caprice is entertainingly kitsch, over-the-top, and very much of an era. For the regular cineaste it's an interesting curiosity, but one which is a little frustrating. It’s left me wanting to check out more Frank Tashlin though – his comedy has promise and I’m sure his other more critically acclaimed films are a blast. As it is, Caprice is an uneven film that probably isn’t the best place to start with his work.
Caprice is released on DVD on March 5th.
Arnold Stone blogs at spaceshipbroken.com and can also be found on Twitter.