The first scene of Coast to Coast is so strained, so odd, so unmanageable in terms of its comic possibilities that the movie never regenerates itself after its disastrous introduction.
In it, Madie Levrington (Dyan Cannon) is having a small nervous breakdown. Her doctor husband Benjamin (Quinn Redeker) has put her in an institution so she will be deemed crazy by psychiatrist Dr Frederick Froll (Micahel Lerner), a fellow who happens to be a friend of the husband.
She wails and flails, trying to explain that she’s not really crazy – it’s just that her husband wants her to be ruled crazy so she can’t sue for divorce and get her hands on his money.
The scene is long and dull (everything happens exactly as we guess it, including Madie tying the psychiatrist up in a straitjacket and sneaking out of the place with him) and Madie looks more dumb than interesting and her “insanity” isn’t very funny.
But worse than the flaky opening sequence is the chemistry – or lack of it – between Cannon and Robert Blake.
Coast to Coast demands that we accept the pair as a romantically inclined couple, but it’s too steep a hike. They don’t cut it together and there’s an underlying sense of tension between them that gives the film a sludgy feel.
The story follows nicely along the classic lines of screwball comedy: spacy, well-to-do, beautiful woman escapes from the loony bin and hitches a ride cross country with a monosyllabic trucker.
Like two ill-formed beings, the beautiful woman and the truck driver rather hate one another until they mysteriously – and for no apparent reason – fall in love.
The best kind of screwball comedy proceeds at a madcap rate; something seems to happen at every turn and someone always seems to be talking. Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn best typified the greatness of screwball comedy with Bringing Up Baby. The plot is convoluted, crazy, improbable and always witty.
In Coast to Coast, the plot holds some possibilities because it gives Cannon the chance to strut her stuff. She can be wickedly funny, but her performance doesn’t work here.
As the nervous, innocent Madie, Cannon is more screechy than frenetic, more tense than eager. On occasion the Cannon wit emerges nicely – her best moment comes when she finds some chunky peanut butter in the back of the truck.
Her sexual frustrations, it seems, have been transferred to food, and her delight at discovering that the peanut butter is chunky rather than smooth is finely evoked.
Blake, as Charlie Callahan, the cowboy trucker running from the creditors and his wife, plays Callahan in a perfunctory, pained fashion. He says things like “no more women, so no more trouble” which indicates the operating level of the script.
Madie and Charlie dash across the country fleeing their pursuers and the landscape is captured nicely as they travel from Pennsylvania to a Beverly Hills living room.
Coast to Coast has its ups and downs, but in the final, unfortunate analysis, director Joseph Sargent failed to capture the true spirit of screwball comedy. It’s not crazy enough, and the characters are not silly enough.
Dr Frederick Froll
George P. Wilbur