Couples Bob & Carol Sanders and Ted & Alice Henderson are best friends. After attending a weekend self-help self-discovery session, Bob and Carol feel newly enlightened, and want their friends, Ted and Alice, to feel the same way.
This satirical Paul Mazursky film (his debut film) reflected the ‘free love’ era of the late 60s sexual revolution. The film was noted for its publicity – a view of couples in bed together readied to experience group sex.
The tagline “Consider the Possibilities” referred to its story of:
weekend encounter groups and liberalizing group therapy at “The Institute” (a California, Esalen-like retreat center with hot-tubbing, naked yoga and sun-worshipping nudity)
permissive and casual sex and a no-guilt approach
emotional openness among affluent adults
At first, the forward-thinking married couple of Bob and Carol attended a weekend workshop and were enlightened by its free approach to life and sex. With their best friends, another more stable and staid married couple (Ted and Alice), they began to challenge their marital vows of fidelity (and monogamy) during a weekend swinging trip to Las Vegas:
Bob (Robert Culp), a Pasadena documentary film-maker
Carol Sanders (Natalie Wood), Bob’s brunette wife
Ted (Elliott Gould), a lawyer
Alice Henderson (Dyan Cannon), Ted’s blonde wife
Although urged not to, Alice drunkenly stated as she started to undress down to her pink bra and bikini panties in the living room – to carry everything to its logical conclusion:
“I am being honest! I am doing what I feel like doing…I feel like doing what we came up here to do…Orgy, have an orgy. Orgy. Orgy. Orgy!”
However, Carol noted that they were hindered by being best friends: “Alice, listen, I don’t want to sleep with Ted, and Bob does not want to sleep with you.” Taking the dare, Alice directly challenged Bob to make love to her: “Would you like to go to bed with me?…Do you want to go to bed with me?…Bob, Bob, could you make love to me? Don’t cop out. Can you? Could you?” Ted was also challenged by Bob to take his wife Carol to bed – but he refused: “Absolutely not! Absolutely not! Under no condition!…Of course I find her attractive, and I love her very much, but like my sister.”
Carol began to get herself undressed and urged them to pursue their sexual inclinations, arguing that she was getting aroused: (“Alice is absolutely right. We have to be straight about this. Now, I’m beginning to feel something. I’m beginning to feel excited. Now, do you want me to deny that?”). She urged her husband Bob to show his own sexual desire for Alice, as they continued to discuss their anxieties and hopes before proceeding further – but soon were all down to their underwear:
Bob: “Alice I could go to bed with you.”
Ted: “Well, I’m not going to bed with anybody.”
Carol: “Why Ted, why not?”
Ted: “I know you too well.”
Carol: “If Bob says it’s all right, and Alice says it’s all right, and I say it’s all right.”
Ted: “It just seems wrong.”
Carol: “Oh, It’s not. Look, it’s just nice feelings, it’s something that we’ve never done before. It’s physical fun, it’s just sex. Oh, come on, it’ll be fun.”
Ted: “Well, I do feel aroused. I can’t deny that. It would be purely physical.”
Carol: “Purely. It would be purely physical. Come on, it’ll be fun.” (Carol started to undress Ted)
Bob: “She’s right, man. It’s beautiful. But what the hell is the big deal? We’re supposed to experience everything…”
Ted: “First, we’ll have an orgy and then we’ll go see Tony Bennett.”
In the bedroom, Bob had the two women to himself on the bed for awhile, as Ted slowly and nervously prepared himself in the bathroom with mouthwash and deodorant. After he joined the others, the foursome sat quietly in bed, all naked under the covers (after Ted spent a lot of time shedding his black socks and underwear). They appeared awkwardly nervous, as the camera slowly zoomed in. After a long pause, Ted asked Bob about a financial investment and stock market prices: “Did you put any money into Pitston, Bob?” But then, Bob tentatively kissed Alice, and Ted kissed Carol – although after a few moments, both men lost interest and stopped. Abruptly, the camera cut to the couples leaving the hotel room.
Repercussions resulted from the liberated sexual experimentation (more disenchanting than genuine), and in the film’s much-criticized sappy ending, the couples didn’t trade partners or have sex after all, following an abortive attempt (with only brief kissing).
The ensemble film ended with the very familiar Burt Bacharach song: “What the World Needs Now (Is Love, Sweet Love).”
Director: Paul Mazursky
Tags: Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice Online, Celeste Yarnall, Donald F. Muhich, Dyan Cannon, Elliott Gould, Free movies 1969, Horst Ebersberg, K.T. Stevens, Lee Bergere, Natalie Wood, Noble Lee Holderread Jr., Robert Culp