Film: Jennifer on My Mind (1971)

August 26, 2015 | By


JenniferOnMyMind_posterFilm:  Weak

Transfer:  n/a

Extras: n/a

Label: n/a

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Released:  n/a

Genre:  Black Comedy / Drama

Synopsis: The heir to a family fortune recounts his troubled relationship with a blue-blood heiress, freshly dead from a heroin overdose in his swanky NYC apartment.

Special Features:  n/a






Anthony Spinner and Barry Shear reportedly bought the film rights to Roger L. Simon’s 1968 novel Heir in 1969, after which it was developed at United Artists with final producer Bernard Schwartz (Coal Miner’s Daughter, Roadgames, Psycho II) guiding what probably seemed like the right mix of cast & crew for a dark, black comedy-drama about spoiled heirs whose young lives and romantic interludes are ultimately turned upside-down by heroin.

Noel Black had recently directed the black comedy Pretty Poison (1968), cinematographer Andrew Laszlo had shot the romantic comedy Lovers and Other Strangers (1970), and editor John W. Wheeler had co-edited the youth romance The Sterile Cuckoo (1969) for director Alan J. Pakula, a filmmaker no stranger to dramas and thrillers with unusual structures and editing styles.

Screenwriter Erich Segal was fresh off the Oscar-winning youth weepie Love Story (1970), star Michael Brandon had just debuted in Lovers and Other Strangers, and co-star Tippy Walker had already established herself as a model and later starlet in the coming-of-age comedy-drama The World of Henry Orient (1964) and TV’s Peyton Place (1968-1969), so one would suspect nothing could possibly go wrong with a modestly budgeted production set in New York City and Venice, Italy.

When Jennifer on My Mind was finally released in 1971, it was reportedly shorn of significant footage to keep its running time succinct and story less ‘arty’ and abstract, and time hasn’t been any kinder to what UA probably wrote off as one big artistic mess.

Simon’s story, as hammered out in Segal’s script, has Marcus Rottner (Brandon), heir to a family with roots in booze smuggling, narrating a kind of ‘Here’s how I got into this mess’ saga into a portable tape recorder while the cadaver of his beloved Jennifer (Walker) rests open-eyed in a chair, freshly dead.

In small patches of flashbacks, Rottner recalls his first encounter with the pretty yet thin blonde in Venice, Italy, and his efforts to forge a relationship when a few months later both returned to their respective Jersey homes. Marcus’ romantic overtures go nowhere – a cab ride with a stoned driver (Robert De Niro) merely upsets Jennifer’s ‘birthday party,’ where two minstrels (unrecognizable Barry Bostwick and Jeff Conaway in their film debuts) are injecting her with heroin – and an attempt to liberate Jennifer from drugs by a forced return to Venice implodes, leaving him alone again until she tracks him down and shows up at his fancy Jersey apartment.

What begins as a reconciliation veers into a bad trip, and within less than an hour Jennifer has lethally overdosed, leaving Marcus to figure out body disposal. Jennifer’s death is emotionally horrific, and it’s perhaps her only moment of real impact in a whittled-down character that barely registers above a schizophrenic bitch (although why no neighbours call the police when either of the pair scream in emotional agony on an open balcony is a mystery, if not plain dumb plotting).

Marcus doesn’t fare much better as a thinly drawn, unsympathetic character, although there is some coherent humour whenever he’s haunted by the cackling ghost of his bootlegging grandfather who evaporates after making some vaguely portentous statement.

Regardless of whether the film’s elliptical flashbacks and reality anchors were taken straight from the novel, there’s barely any character development, and Segal’s awful dialogue just adds to a sense that UA had tried to save a beautifully photographed stinker. Marcus often asks Jennifer about a mother we never see (apparently Kim Hunter’s scenes were completely removed from the final cut, making Segal’s queries regarding her health oblique), and absurd humour stemming from stoned taxi drivers, drug dealers, and ghosts are contrasted with Jennifer’s spastic behaviour (which seems to infer a troubled mind, but comes off as a weird, crazy chick no sane guy would ever think of courting).

Marcus’ attraction to Jennifer seems rooted in a shared state of ennui, unique to spoiled heirs and heiresses who’ve time and money to globe-trot for fun, take literal dives in Venice’s less than clean waters, and smoke a lot of pot. Heroin addiction feels like a manipulation tool that’s supposed to force sympathy from audiences for the movie’s bored uninteresting brats, and as lovely as Laszlo’s cinematography may be – his compositions are quite exquisite – Black and Segal’s attempt to inject dark comedy is upset by Stephen J. Lawrence’s bizarrely inappropriate score.

In his feature film debut, Lawrence often tackles scenes with lush thematic material belonging to a more predictable sappy romance, ignoring Jennifer’s subtext and character conflicts in favour of rather giddy music. The only cue that works is a wordless vocal track for the Venice scenes which has a Morriconesque tenor; the rest of the score is just completely wrong (although had Black or the studio been opposed to Lawrence’s approach, the cues could’ve been dialed down or minimized to lessen the film’s schizo design. Ergo, the composer isn’t wholly to blame).

Whereas most of the film’s participants continued to work in film and TV for another decade (Brandon would star in Dario Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet the following year), Jennifer did nothing to help Tippy Walker’s career, and after an appearance in TV’s The Sixth Sense (1972), she stepped away from acting, leaving just three feature credits, including The Jesus Trip (1971) and Henry Orient. (One point of peculiar irony: midway into the film, Walker and Brandon stroll down the same Central Park bridge the actress had walked seven years earlier with Henry Orient co-star Merrie Spaeth, a silver screen moment seemingly bringing Walker’s career full-circle.)

De Niro would appear one more time as an idiot in the strained comedy The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight (1971) before starring in the drama Bang the Drum Slowly (1973), ironically featuring another syrupy score by Lawrence.

Director Black went straight into episodic TV with rare theatrical efforts – Mirrors (1978), A Man, a Woman, and a Bank (1979)  Private School (1983) – and was reportedly replaced early into filming of the Erich Segal-scripted A Change of Seasons (1980).

Roger L. Simon’s own screenplays include The Big Fix (1978), Bustin’ Loose (1981), Enemies: A Love Story (1989), and Scenes from a Mall (1991).

Jennifer on My Mind remains unavailable on DVD – warts and all, it deserves some kind of restoration, featuring Lawrence’s unreleased score as an isolated track – but it is viewable on YouTube in six full-screen 15 min. parts.



© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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