Wrath of Kwan


THE WILD AFFAIR is based on a novel by William Sansom — he wrote some good spook stories collected in some of the paperback anthologies I own — and is a pre-Swinging London sex comedy starring Nancy Kwan. Interestingly, Miss Kwan’s parents are played by a couple of white folks, including the Personality Kid herself, Bessie Love (by 1963 a British resident, accounting for her rather psychotronic credits) with no explanation for her racial difference, which is kind of nice. Of course, Kwan was a bit of a catch at that time. The only thing that would have been even nicer would be if they had found a couple of Anglo-Chinese actors — I’m certain they did exist.

Coming right before director John Krish made the micro-budget misogynist sci-fi UNEARTHLY STRANGER, this movie has gratifyingly more complex and less icky sexual politics, though we’re not quite out of the danger zone. Kwan, as Marjory,  is leaving her secretarial job at a perfume company to marry, but her alter-ego in the mirror, Sandra, thinks she should lose her virginity first, and the office Christmas party seems an ideal opportunity.


The scenario seems to pose questions about whether monogamy and chastity are important for the modern young woman, but the movie slants things towards a conservative answer by making Marjory engaged, so that she’d be cheating, and by surrounding her with male clowns, so that the mere idea of sex is kind of icky. Jimmy Logan, the comedy Scotsman, is about the most seductive fellow on offer (he does downplay his trademark gurning but he’s hardly Sean Connery), Victor Spinetti is just impossible, and Terry-Thomas as Kwan’s lecherous boss is quite unappealing when he’s trying to worm his fingertips under her Mary Quant collar. The whole British sex comedy genre was based around desperate, craven, sex-starved men not getting any, an amusing conceit which started to disintegrate with the permissive age, when the possibility of actual screen intercourse rose into view.


The film has several interesting women characters (including Kwan’s Miss Hyde in the mirror), but they do exist to drive home the lesson — the lonely spinster, the jealous, bitter mistress. And by making sex a practical impossibility, the movie unwisely creates for itself the problem George Axelrod diagnosed in THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH: “The play was about a married man who cheats and feels guilty about it, whereas the film was about a married man who doesn’t cheat and feels guilty about it, so the film became rather trivial.” At the end of THE WILD AFFAIR — which is pretty entertaining  while it’s on — the main character has contemplated pre-marital sex and then decided against it — the wrong message for its era, and a heart-breaking waste of its adorable, sexy, smart and stylish star.

16 Responses to “Wrath of Kwan”

  1. Nancy Kwan was Richard Nixon’s favorite actress.

    I’ll give y’all some time to contemplate that.

  2. That is a pretty hard one to figure out, though one possible interpretation is that Viet Nam was just a big sexual fantasy for him.

  3. I’ve known for a while that Wilder was forced to dumb down and de-sex “The Seven-Year Itch” but somehow I still like the result. It amuses me, as one subject to less comical fits of unwarranted anxiety over trivia, to see Tom Ewell tie himself into knots over absolutely nothing. But I guess the whole affair is pretty lightweight. Still, of all the farces I’ve seen whose characters can hint and wink and drop broad hints about sex without ever actually doing anything even remotely erotic, “Seven-Year Itch” is by far the best.

    I suppose it’s a reliable comedic trope to show us a protagonist who is allowed briefly to flirt with forbidden lusts only to realize at the end that chastity and monogamy are the only answer. After all, isn’t comedy all about restoring the world, after an upset, to its natural order? But it does get tiresome, especially when the trope gets applied to purportedly more serious treatments of sexual relationships. I’m reminded of “American Beauty”–a film
    I utterly loathed, by the way–and of Blake Edwards’s “10”. Not long ago I described “10” to my girlfriend, who reacted with dismay and contempt to how Dudley Moore is all set to have his fling but *spurns* her because he wanted some fantasy seduction and not a practical reality. And I have to agree that as plot contrivances ensuring the restoration of monogamous normality go, the climax (har) of “10” is one of the more distasteful variations.

  4. And Stanley Kubrick tells essentially the same story in Eyes Wide Shut. I wonder what a double-bill of that and The Seven Year Itch would reveal?

    I like Seven Year Itch fine because it has some good silly jokes, and the movie-as-colossal-tease approach is probably more interesting than when they try to actually satisfy the audience’s lusts.

  5. The notion of “Eyes Wide Shut” as a kind of puffed-up, R-rated version of “The Seven-Year Itch” with more tracking shots and a naval officer taking the place of Sonny Tufts, suddenly makes the movie more interesting.

    A college chum once suggested to me that EWS was a deliberate parody of Zalman King, but that didn’t make me like it more…

  6. You got it Mr. Cairns!

  7. Wilder was able to elide the production code through Marilyn. She’s such a delicious sexual fantasy in and of herself that actually having sex with her isn’t required. Axelrod’s play was about sex and guilt. Wilder’s film is guilt free. Ewell is a neglected middle-aged male who feels wildly unappreciated by everyone around him. Enter Marilyn who appreciated the hell out of him, simply because he’s nice. As a result he gets his mojo back. This wouldn’t have worked at all with anyone other than Marilyn.

    What Wilder did with Itch is far less drastic than what Tashlin did with Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter. He took the title and Jayne Mansfield and wrote something entirely his own. I saw the play on Broadway. It was a modern version of “Faust” (not as outré as “Jeffrey de Cordova’s” version in The Band Wagon) with Orson Bean as the Designated Faust, Walter Matthau as Old Nick, and Jayne as Marguerite (as it were.). There is no one in the play named “Rock Hunter.”

  8. Axelrod had better luck with The Manchurian Candidate, How To Murder Your Wife, Lord Love a Duck and the shamefully neglected The Secret Life of An American Wife. His first wife remarried. The second husband was Howard fast and their son Jon was a classmate of mine at Communist Martyrs High. Alas he married a Phoebe named Erica Jong who made great sport of him in her book “Fear of Flying.”

    Jon’s mother invariably referred to her first husband as “George the Rat.”

    Howard fast told me the only fun he had in Hollywood when Spartacus was being made was meeting (wait for it)

    Barbara Steele.

  9. You’ll find George in HERE

  10. “William Sansom… wrote some good spook stories collected in some of the paperback anthologies I own”

    He’s also plays the fireman who plays the piano in Fires Were Started.

  11. Wow!

    I tracked down Axelrod’s play when researching my piece for the Masters of Cinema blu-ray of Rock Hunter — which I recommend! Mephisto as a Hollywood agent, and Mansfield “trailing clouds of Shalimar.” Also a line about her “great, prehensile toes.” The stage directions are as funny as the dialogue.

  12. I could trail clouds of Shalimar if you like. I’ve got some. Thank god I don’t have “great, prehensile toes.”

  13. Fiona has the tiniest feet I’ve ever seen on a living human being.

  14. I wafted a cloud of vintage Shalimar at him (pure perfume if you please!). He said, “Smells like talcum powder.” Why I aughta’…

  15. My stock responses to anything Fiona wafts at me: “Flowers” or “talc”. And she admitted that Shalimar has a powdery quality, so my nose does not lie.

  16. […] watching THE WILD AFFAIR, in which Nancy Kwan is delightful, Fiona wanted more, so we ran THE WORLD OF SUZIE WONG (some nice […]

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