Chapman Report, The (1962)

“Help me — I don’t want to be half a woman!”

Chapman Report Poster

Synopsis:
Four suburban women — a frigid widow (Jane Fonda), a sexually active divorcee (Claire Bloom), an aspiring sculptress (Glynis Johns), and an adulterous housewife (Shelley Winters) — find themselves questioning their sexual practices when they participate in a Kinsey-esque survey.

Genres:

Review:
Lambasted by most reviewers as “unforgivably cheap and trashy” (see the Channel 4 Film link below), this star-studded melodrama — based on a novel by Irving Wallace — is actually a tame, thinly veiled attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Dr. Kinsey’s infamous sex reports. Ironically, despite Kinsey’s valiant attempt to make “sex” a household term, the word itself is rarely used in this film; characters instead refer to sex as “the physical act”, as when interviewer Efren Zimbalist Jr. says to Fonda’s character: “You’re not the first woman to be afraid — to find the physical act repellent.”

Unfortunately, director George Cukor’s choice to cover the gamut of possible sexual issues facing “average” American women makes it difficult for us to care very much about any one of them. Yet the actresses do their best with the screenplay’s limited material: young Jane Fonda isn’t nearly as bad here as most seem to think (see reviews below); Claire Bloom (always the consummate actress) gives a nuanced performance with hints of unrevealed depth; and Glynis Johns provides welcome comedic relief. Winters’ performance alone is rather half-hearted, but this seems to be primarily a function of her under-written character. Indeed, the film’s worst scenes are those when the women aren’t present — nearly every interaction between the researchers themselves, for instance, comes across as dry and stiffly written.

At first glance, The Chapman Report appears to be preaching heavy-handedly against sex surveys in general — since, rather than remaining a “neutral” collection of data, Dr. Chapman’s work (as predicted by a concerned “member of society”) stirs up deeply uncomfortable feelings in each of its leading participants. Yet this moral attitude gradually shifts, once we realize that participating in the interviews simply pushed these women to confront what was buried not-so-deeply inside of themselves all along. By the end — in typical mid-century fashion — the ideal of marriage in America prevails, with sex put in its “rightful” place as an act of love between man and wife.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jane Fonda’s unfairly maligned performance as the “frigid” widow
    Fonda
  • Claire Bloom as the sultry, suicidal divorcee
    Bloom
  • Glynis Johns in the film’s “comic relief” role
    Johns

Must See?
No. This “infamously bad” melodrama now holds curiosity appeal, but is ultimately not must-see viewing.

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One Response to “Chapman Report, The (1962)”

  1. Not a must. Though “cheap and trashy” isn’t necessarily a bad thing, dull is inexcusable. One assumes that the only available (cut) version saves us less from sexual content (there’s a fair amount there) than from even more turgid, talky sequences than we’re subjected to.

    Director Cukor, famous as “a woman’s director”, turns infamous here, seeming unable to guide either men or women. But, then, the screenplay is a disaster; the only possible explanation for all the names attaching themselves to the project is its (at the time) controversial subject matter (or, in Cukor’s case, the added, apparently distracting, ‘plus’ of randy and/or naked men).

    No one really fares well. The four female leads operate on different levels of sexual hysteria: Winters does a Winters wig-out when she realizes she won’t be ‘getting any’ from her no-good lover; Fonda, in general, hadn’t quite understood acting at this point and does way too much; Bloom edges close to a Joe Sarno flick (talk about “cheap and trashy”!); Johns (not as amusing at it sounds) practically foams at the mouth on her beach blanket as she ping-pongs between recording insipid poetry and ogling Ty Hardin (could his swimwear be any tighter or skimpier?).

    It went far enough in that direction; if only it were so bad it’s good. Why is that too much to ask?

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