First Time Watch: A Touch of Class (1973)

By Christian DiMartino

When watching A Touch of Class, the film before me was funny and even charming, which I found particularly strange because the two characters at the center of it are in the middle of a love affair, and not only do we care about this relationship, but we like these two people… even though they’re unfaithful. When A Touch of Class was over, it dawned on me that love was significantly different in the 1970’s, and that’s why the film, for the most part, has such a free spirit. A relationship I normally would’ve rooted against, due to my own beliefs, I found myself investing in.

It’s due to the good nature of the performances by Glenda Jackson and George Segal that A Touch of Class manages to work. Mind you, the film currently sits at a 6.5 on IMDb, so maybe the views of others got in the way and maybe the film can be seen as “dated.” Perhaps it is. It mustn’t have been dated in 1973 though, because the film was pretty well received at the time (more on that later). Yet the two performances, and a pretty sharp screenplay, make the film tick. Segal seems a bit too goofy to be with someone like Jackson, and yet maybe that’s where the attraction comes from. They’re certainly an unlikely duo, but one that works.

Jackson is Vickie and Segal is Steve. They both meet whenever Segal is playing baseball in a London park and he stumbles into Vickie. He is of course immediately attracted to her, and she finds charm in him, and the two begin seeing each other. Steve is married, but he and Vickie figure they can make this last. The two of them travel to Spain. We see them bicker and fuss. Moments that could be played for dramatic tension soon transform into laughs, and the film follows these two as they pretty much fall in love. That is, until they both sort of realize that this just might be a flight of fancy, but one that they hope to keep alive. It builds to a conclusion that doesn’t match up tonally with the rest of the film, but I admire it because they at least keep it realistic.

The film is a fine showcase for both Jackson and Segal. Jackson in particular, who I have recently discovered, with both this film and her great work in Sunday Bloody Sunday (another film in which she shares a romantic partner with someone else). Jackson won her second Oscar here, which is interesting because she won it over Ellen Burstyn’s flawless work in The Exorcist. Yet… I see why, and I can’t resist it. Jackson kills it here, in a vastly different way of course. She’s funny, she’s sexy, she’s razor-sharp and it’s a great performance of wonderful comic timing and, by the end, she manages to take a character filled with one-liners and transform her into a realistic human being. It’s a great piece of acting.

The screenplay is pretty good too. The film has its fair share of funny moments and charm. It has good moments, and sometimes great. What is completely shocking to me though is that this film was nominated for Best Picture, over films like Paper Moon and Last Tango in ParisA Touch of Class is a pretty likable movie, and one that I liked quite a bit. But that is something that I cannot wrap my mind around. Comedies have received Oscar attention before (see: Annie Hall, Tootsie), but watching this film, I wondered if it would’ve received the same amount of attention if it were released today. My guess is, no. As rom-coms go, it’s significantly better than a lot of the ones that have been churned out today, but it’s still not… great. What it is though, is purely, pretty good.

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