Before watching the movie:
The premise as I’ve seen it summarized sounds like it could be just a framing device. A recently deceased prankster’s final wish on the afterlife’s doorstep is to watch his three poker buddies’ reactions to receiving letters from him stating that he’s had an affair with all three of their wives. They can’t even be sure if it’s the truth or one last prank. It sounds like the prankster could set the scene for us and then drop out, or mainly appear in flashbacks, but mostly this seems to be a bowl of jealously-fueled comedy arguing.
After watching the movie:
Upon playboy Max Bard’s death, he’s offered one final wish at the lower admission office, and he asks to watch his poker buddies for the next 24 hours as they react to the messages he’s left for them, informing each of them that he’s had an affair with their wives. Each man reflects on a moment in his marriage when he should have suspected something. One started seeing another woman while Max was taking his wife to weekly symphonies and tea. One went snooping around heart patient Max’s house when his nurse wife got an urgent patient call on their anniversary. One is convinced it’s a prank until he recalls how Max took his wife to night clubs and taught her French late into the night. As the reading of the will approaches the next day, each couple is well on their way to a divorce.
As I suspected Max is mainly around in flashbacks, which comprise most of the movie. This is essentially three short stories on a theme, but they aren’t equally engaging. The first story seems very slowly paced, which isn’t helped by the lengthy excerpts of a French movie that the husband and the mistress go to which also happens to be where Max and the wife went. I enjoyed the second part the most, mainly because the couple in the third part have a Ralph and Alice Kramden rapport that always rubs me the wrong way. The first couple I could believe either way, the second belong together (maybe because they’re the ones I Identified with most), but the third should have split up.
This is ultimately a parable about appreciating one’s spouse. Max has a unique position with these couples to see the problems they have and get them to face those problems. I could’ve done without the framing conceit of Max watching them. The main thing it contributes is some voiceover of Max encouraging his friends to think back and admit that they always knew which initiates their flashbacks, something that’s entirely superfluous with the third couple because she’s telling him the same thing.
There’s always a difficulty getting into the pacing of movies this old, but for a movie under 80 minutes, that first segment does make it seem long. There’s the least humor in the first segment, to the point where I was wondering if I was going to declare it less of a comedy than “light entertainment”, not funny, but not high drama. The humor picks up a lot once we get to the “snooping outside Max’s house” sequence.
This is a little more than half a fun movie. The back end is almost worth the beginning, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. It’s not nearly the farce or screwball it sounded like, but it’s a decent way to pass an hour and a half.