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With: Warren Beatty, Goldie Hawn, Lee Grant, Carrie Fisher, Julie Christie, Jack Warden
Written by: Robert Towne, Warren Beatty
Directed by: Hal Ashby
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 109
Date: 02/11/1975

Shampoo (1975)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Washing That Guy Right Outta Their Hair

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Shampoo, which opens today for a week'srun at the Castro theater, was made in 1975 and takes place in 1968. Thismay not make enough of a difference to viewers today, especially those,like me, who were small or weren't even born at the time and don't remembermuch from either period. For example, it's interesting to note that in thispolitical sex satire, a picture of Ronald Reagan appears on a wall duringa political gathering. To the viewers that made this movie a success inits time, the joke of Ronald Reagan as president hadn't even begun.

So perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that this movie didn't affect me much, despite the fact that many friends and colleagues have been insisting for years that I see it.

The movie stars and was produced and co-written by Warren Beatty. It should be noted that at the time, Beatty was already a successful producer with Bonnie and Clyde (1967), but hadn't directed yet. It's telling that he hired an unremarkable director like Hal Ashby to helm his project. I suspect that it was Beatty who wielded most of the power on this project. Even so, the movie suffers from a distant sluggishness that renders most of the comedy null.

In Shampoo, Beatty stars as George, a successful hairdresser who originally wanted the job because he wanted to sleep with beautiful women, and that's exactly what he's doing. He's sleeping with the wife (Lee Grant), the daughter (Carrie Fisher), and the mistress (Julie Christie) of a rich businessman (Jack Warden), while juggling a relationship with his own girlfriend (Goldie Hawn). He's so confused and distracted that his dialogue consists of non-committed "greats" as a reply to nearly everything. Beatty is very good here, playing with his own off-screen image as a playboy. But it's the supporting cast who knocks us out. (Warden was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Lee Grant won Best Supporting Actress.)

But Ashby, who got lucky a number of times during his career with good scripts and actors, can't pull it together. The action is so deadpan it's just plain dead. Ashby's other decent movies, Harold and Maude (1972), The Last Detail (1973), and Being There (1979) all sparked to life under the vigorous rubbing of their stars and screenplays. As a result, he may have been mistaken for a good director.

The screenplay for Shampoo was co-written with Beatty by Robert Towne, who had just won an Oscar for his brilliant Chinatown (1974) and who also wrote The Last Detail (1973). Beatty no doubt hired Towne after his uncredited help on Bonnie and Clyde and Towne was in fact very good. The dialogue in Shampoo is brilliantly crafted, though it may not seem so to today's audiences. It's been a long time since audiences have seen a movie where important details are NOT said. We know that some characters suspect other characters of sleeping around, but their suspicions are kept to themselves. We can only guess.

In any case, Shampoo is overall Beatty's project. There's no way of knowing how much of the final product he left in the hands of Towne or Ashby. I'm willing to bet that it's more than he should have. If the recent Bulworth (1998), directed by Beatty, is any indication, he could have pumped some life into this thing. Either that, or it needed a Howard Hawks to put some His Girl Friday speed into it. And yet, as I was trying to think of a modern-day equivalent of this movie with its daring mix of sex and politics, I couldn't come up with anything. As a whole, our movies today are much dumber than they were in the 1970's. So even though Shampoo didn't blow me away, at least it was more ambitious than anything playing today.

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