“Only in the movies, baby.”
— Mike Wayne (Kirk Douglas) in Jacqueline Susann’s Once Is Not Enough (1975)
Jacqueline Susann’s Once Is Not Enough (for that indeed is the unwieldy title of this little movie) opens with a shot of two Oscars sitting on an end table. Those Oscars belong to Mike Wayne (Kirk Douglas), a legendary Hollywood producer who hasn’t had a hit in way too long. He’s struggling financially. He may even have to fire his maid (Lillian Randolph), despite the many years that she’s spent making sure he wakes up and remembers to take a shower before leaving the house. What choice does Mike have but to marry Deidre Milford Granger (Alexis Smith), the world’s sixth richest woman? Mike doesn’t even mind that Deidre is having an affair with Karla (Melina Mercouri).
That makes sense to everyone by Mike’s daughter, January (Deborah Raffin). As Mike explains it, January’s name came about as a result of January being born in January. So, I guess if I was Mike’s daughter, I would have been named November. Everyone in the film thinks that Mike’s being terribly clever by naming his daughter after her birthday but, to me, that just sounds lazy.
Does January have some issues? Well, when she returns to America after getting into a serious motorcycle accident in Europe, she greets her father by cheerfully saying, “I hope nobody thinks we’re father and daughter. I hope they think you’re a dirty old man and I’m your broad.”
Agck! That sounds like the set up for a Freudian nightmare but instead, the film’s rather blasé about the whole incestuous subtext of January’s relationship with her father. Mike is soon pushed to the side as the movie follows January as she tries to make a life for herself in New York City. Fortunately, she’s able to land a job at a magazine, working for her old college friend, Linda (Brenda Vacarro). In college, Linda was smart and homely but she has since had so much plastic surgery that January doesn’t even recognize her. Linda’s either found the greatest plastic surgeon in the world or else January is just really, really stupid.
Linda gets all the best lines. While talking about all of the work that she’s had done, she takes the time to brag that she had everything fixed by her navel, which she declares to be perfect. When January comments that Linda is beautiful, Linda replies, “And now ugly is in! I want my old nose back!”
Linda is stunned to learn that January is still a virgin but that problem is solved once January goes out on a few dates with David (George Hamilton), who is Deidre’s cousin. David and January go out to a club and January is shocked when a random woman throws a drink in David’s face. Later, January goes back to David’s apartment, which turns out to be the epitome of 70s tackiness. When January asks David why the carpet and all of the furniture is red, David replies, “I wanted it to look like a bordello.”
Things don’t really work out between January and David but don’t worry! January soon meets the world-renowned author, Chest Hair McGee (David Janssen)! Okay, actually his name is Tom Colt.
Tom spends almost the entire movie drunk and acting obnoxious but January falls in love with him. And, of course, it has nothing to do with the fact that he’s the same age as her father. No, of course not. Instead, she’s charmed by the way he slurs the line, “Forgive me, I can’t take my eyes off of your ass!”
January is convinced that she and Tom are going to be together forever. Of course, Mike hates Tom. And there is the fact that Tom’s married. Literally everyone in the movie tells January that Tom is never going to leave his wife but I guess we’re still supposed to be shocked when Tom tells her that he’ll never leave his wife. He does, however, thank her for allowing “a broken-down old man” to “feel like a stud.” In the end, nothing really works out for January but she’s such an annoying and vacuous character that you really don’t mind.
Based on a novel by the same author who gave the world The Valley of the Dolls, Once Is Not Enough is a movie that manages to be both remarkably bad and also surprisingly watchable. Some of that is because the film is a time capsule of 70s fashion, 70s decor, and 70s slang. A lot more of it is because the cast is made up of such an odd mishmash of performers and acting styles that nobody seems like they should be in the same movie. Kirk Douglas grimaces. George Hamilton looks embarrassed. David Janssen lurches through the film like a drunk trying to remember where he lives. Alexis Smith and Melina Mercouri chew every piece of scenery they can find while Brenda Vaccaro shouts her lines as if hoping the increased volume will keep us from noticing what she’s actually saying. Poor Deborah Raffin wanders through the film with a dazed look on her face. Can you blame her?
Interestingly enough, Jacqueline Susann’s Once Is Not Enough actually was nominated for an Oscar. Brenda Vaccaro was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Admittedly, Vaccaro does probably come the closest of anyone in the cast to creating an interesting character but I still have to wonder just how weak the Supporting Actress field was in 1975.
Anyway, this incredibly silly and tacky film is a lot of fun, though perhaps not in the way that it was originally intended to be. Between the nonstop drama, the unintentionally hilarious dialogue, and the weird performances, the film plays out like a cartoon character’s dream of the 70s.
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at another silly and tacky film from the same decade, 1978’s The Betsy!