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Cactus Flower

Now that Kate Hudson is a beautiful, blond, Academy Award-nominated Hollywood It Girl, it's fascinating to look back a generation and see her mother in all her big-eyed, high-voiced ingénue glory. In Cactus Flower — Goldie Hawn's Oscar-winning 1969 big-screen debut — the erstwhile "Laugh-In" go-go girl is utterly charming as Toni Simmons, the earnest, naively matter-of-fact mistress of Fifth Avenue dentist Julian Winston (Walter Matthau, for once looking good enough to be almost believable as the 21-year-old Toni's boyfriend). Sunny and sweet by nature, yet realistically accepting of things like LSD and adultery, Toni attempts suicide as the movie opens because she's so distraught over the fact that Julian's wife and children are preventing him from being by her side. Horrified, the good doctor — who, as it turns out, is neither a husband nor a father, just a lying playboy who wanted a relationship without any pressure to commit — promises to divorce his "wife" and marry Toni. All seems well until the always-honest Toni insists on meeting Mrs. Winston to talk things over; forced to produce a soon-to-be-ex, Julian turns to his efficient, well-starched nurse, Stephanie (Ingrid Bergman), and begs a favor. Because of her devotion to the doctor, she agrees, the situation escalates, and soon all of Julian's carefully laid plans are turned on their head. Hilarity is presumably supposed to ensue, but warm chuckles are pretty much as good as it gets (with the guffaw-worthy exception of Bergman getting down on the dance floor). Adapted from Abe Burrows' hit Broadway play (itself an adaptation of a French stage comedy), Gene Saks' big-screen version is a little too slow-paced to work as a farce — and Bergman's 180-degree turn from straight-laced old maid to swingin' single gal happens a little abruptly to be convincing. But thanks to Hawn's beaming smile and unaffected kookiness, Cactus Flower is a cute, watchable comedy that, for all its 1969 trappings, has a surprisingly contemporary feel. If you've always meant to watch it, now's the time: It looks great on Columbia TriStar's DVD. Both the anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and the full-screen version (on the flip side of the disc) do justice to Hawn's electric-blue eyes and Technicolor-bright costumes, and the digitally mastered Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is clear. English and French subtitles are available, as are trailers for Cactus Flower, Groundhog Day, and Butterflies Are Free. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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