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April 01, 2008

The Love God?

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Nat Hiken - 1969
Universal Region 1 DVD

The Love God? almost defies description. In its own peculiar way, Nat Hiken's film encapsulates the confusion of late Sixties, simultaneously progressive and conservative, hip and square, nostalgic and progressive. Hiken gently skewers everybody, poking fun of his characters as he embraces them. There is also a certain amount of suspension of disbelief in watching a film more or less made for general audiences that is about sex. Most of the skin on display is no more licentious than what's to be found in the lingerie section of a Sears catalogue.

At the time it was released, The Love God? was already dated. "Playboy" magazine had been around for about fifteen years, and was challenged by new, more graphic upstarts. Hiken is smart enough to let the audience connect the dots involving some of his double entendres though such as having Don Knotts portray the failed publisher of a bird watching magazine, the legacy of his family named Peacock. Edmond O'Brien, the publisher of girlie magazines, takes over the operation. O'Brien's magazine bizarrely feature one woman, his wife, played by Maureen Arthur. Not only could O'Brien's venture be called a mom and pop operation, but O'Brien addresses his wife as "Mother", not entirely inappropriate considering that Arthur straddles the fence between voluptuous and matronly. Added to the mix is the not so silent partner, a gangster played by character actor B.S. Pully, and Anne Francis as the magazine editor, the epitome of the contemporary modern woman. What is seemingly prescient about the role Francis plays as the editor of the envisioned upscale magazine is that while her dialogue seems lifted from Hugh Hefner's "Playboy Philosphy", she also anticipates Gloria Leonard and Christie Hefner.

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This is a film where the Attorney General argues with Knotts that it is his constitutional duty to be a smut peddler. Knotts' association with the bucolic entertainment of Mayberry is subjected to Hiken's satire, especially when the loyal, virginal girlfriend waits on the porch for Knotts to come courting, no matter what the weather conditions may be. Hiken manages to fill the screen with women unashamed of their libidos, while putting Knotts in the position of almost publicly announcing his purity.

Almost thirty years later, Hiken's only feature film might be best appreciated by those who cherish Preston Sturges and Frank Tashlin. Most obviously influenced by Sturges is Charlie Midnight, the gangster who finances the revamped magazine. Midnight, in an attempt to better himself, has the elderly former teacher, Miss Love, expand his vocabulary with such words as prerogative and fastidious. The Tashlin influence might be seen throughout the film, but is personified by Edmond O'Brien's character which is almost a continuation of his role in The Girl Can't Help It. Even though O'Brien was a last minute replacement for Phil Silvers, the casting gives the film an extra edge it may not otherwise have had. Anne Francis, coincidentally, starred in Tashlin's Susan Slept Here, another movie about sexual tension in an otherwise chaste relationship. Hiken is best remembered for his comic television series about men in uniform, "Sergeant Bilko" and "Car 54, Where are You". How much of The Love God? represents Nat Hiken's vision may be up to debate as the strain making the film helped cause Hiken to die at the age of 54, almost eight months before the release of the film. As a satirist, Nat Hiken may not have had the edge of some of his contemporaries, but what is offered instead is something both sweet and wonderfully silly.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 1, 2008 12:51 AM


Hiken looks to have predated the Sharon Stone Basic Instinct leg crossing scene by some twenty odd years.

Posted by: Jonathan Lapper at April 2, 2008 11:13 AM

What is the name of the actress above Anne Francis in these picture? The blonde in the black sheer nightie? Is she listed in the credits?

Posted by: mark at October 9, 2008 08:37 PM

That would be Maureen Arthur.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at October 10, 2008 12:53 AM

Thank you for your help.

Posted by: mark at October 10, 2008 02:20 PM