(director: Sidney Lumet; screenwriters: Gore Vidal/based upon the play “The Seven Descents of Myrtle” by Tennessee Williams; cinematographer: James Wong Howe; editor: Alan Heim; music: Quincy Jones; cast: James Coburn (Jeb Stuart Thorington), Lynn Redgrave (Myrtle), Robert Hooks (Chicken), Reggie King (Rube), Perry Hayes (George); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Sidney Lumet; WB; 1970)

Hardly enjoyable due to the ponderous plot and the unpleasant characters.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Based upon the flop play of Tennessee Williams, that was produced in 1968 by David Merrick and ran for only 29 performances. Sidney Lumet (“The Morning After”/”Just Tell Me What You Want”/”The Offence”)directs this ill-advised vehicle, that’s written by Gore Vidal. It takes us into familiar perverse Williams territory and leaves us there to feel the pangs of the character’s degradation, as it cries out against the south’s hypocrisy over racial attitudes and lets us sharply know that if the south ever wants to revisit its so-called happy slave day past it will be shocked at what it finds waiting there.

Myrtle (Lynn Redgrave) and Jeb Stuart Thorington (James Coburn) are strangers who attend “The Happy Couple” TV show in New Orleans, where contestant couples can win kitchen appliances. They become a couple and win the appliances, and accept the TV host’s offer to come back next week and receive a check for $3,500 to get married on the TV show. After the marriage they return to Jeb’s rundown 1840 Waverley plantation in the Louisiana Delta, where he aims to restore the mansion to the way it was in its glory days. Jeb’s parents are deceased, and we learn other tidbits of Jeb’s life through ongoing flashbacks.

Also on the plantation helping in the restoration is Jeb’s surly black half-brother Chicken (Robert Hooks). Because Jeb is weak from his terminally ill cancer, he signed a legal paper with Chicken that stipulates for his help in the restoration he will inherit the place if there’s no other blood kin after Jeb dies. Jeb married the low-life showbiz Myrtle for her to conceive a heir to the plantation before he dies and thereby thwart Chicken’s future ownership.

Because of the heavy rains, the Mississippi River is expected to rise and flood the area. Added to the tension is the love-triangle that develops among the three stranded residents on the plantation and the actions taken by Jeb to do everything in his power to make sure Chicken doesn’t get the mansion.

The title is derived from the name of the topless all-girl band called the Mobile Hot-Shots. It’s a band Myrtle belonged to and where every other member was violently killed off with Myrtle remaining the sole survivor.

Hardly enjoyable due to the ponderous plot and the unpleasant characters, Lumet can’t even get this stuck vehicle out of the mud far enough to say something reassuring about the playwright’s usual theme of heroic failure.