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THREE(director/writer: James Salter; screenwriter: from a story by Irwin Shaw “Then There Were Three”; cinematographer: Etienne Becker; editor: Edward Nielson; cast: Robie Porter (Bert), Sam Waterston (Taylor), Charlotte Rampling (Marty), Pascale Roberts (Claude), Edina Ronay (Liz), Gillian Hills (Ann); Runtime: 105; Obelisk / United Artists; 1969-UK)
“A marvelously refreshing on the road film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Two young American men of college age, Bert (Robie Porter) and Taylor (Sam Waterston), buy an old Peugeot and go on a summer holiday touring Italy and France. This is a marvelously refreshing on the road film, honestly characterizing the two best friends and what happens to change their relationship when they meet a vivacious young English woman named Marty (Charlotte Rampling). It is superbly acted and photographed and even if the Irwin Shaw short story the film is adapted from seems aimless, there is a poignancy that rings true underlining the inscrutability of the characters.

The personable young men do what tourists do when they want to see the beautiful sights of a country, taking time out to taste the Italian wine and meet a couple of native girls to show them around town. Since a one-night stand didn’t materialize, the boys forget about the nice girls.

Bert is the more playful of the two and more sure of himself with women while Taylor, who is studying to be a lawyer, has a problem saying what he really feels. Taylor’s father is a doctor and has provided money for the vacation; Bert is just getting by as he carefully watches his expenses, concerned about running out of money.

In Florence, Taylor gets into a conversation with the attractive Marty while out for a walk and she happily talks to the shy young man, making him feel good that she’s not angry because he approached her. He introduces her to Bert and suggests the three travel together if they follow a set of rules, such as they keep their relationship platonic and pay their own expenses, this way they can avoid any entanglements.

Before leaving Florence they take a tour of the art museum, and the tour guide tells them of a poem about youth from the Lorenzo de Medici period. A line of it goes like this: “Whoever wants to be happy, enjoy it today because there is no certainty of tomorrow.”

Warning: spoilers to follow.

All three are attracted to each other, but the men adhere to their end of the bargain by just being friends with her. In one revealing shot, the frustration shows on Taylor when he stops to look at a shop with plastic models displaying women’ bathing suits. It makes him realize that he is right next to the woman he has fallen in love with and can’t respond to her because of his insecurities and misplaced feelings about loyalty.

The ice is broken in France, when Bert picks up a fast French woman and sleeps with her. This wears on Marty’s nerve and when she’s out with Taylor, she kisses him and asks him to stay with her. Taylor confides how much he loves her but can’t break the pact they made, fearing it would ruin his friendship with Bert. He tells the puzzled Marty that he wrote her a letter expressing his feelings and that he will give it to her when his ship departs at the end of the holiday.

On a night when Taylor can’t join the other two for dinner, Bert and Marty come together. Taylor, being the good sport, leaves enough money for Bert and returns home alone to ponder his idea of friendship and the meaning of life.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”