In this late-'60s drug-tinged melodrama, The Big Cube (1969), screen legend Lana Turner takes a trip. In fact, she takes two. One comes from exposure to LSD and the other is a trip down the career ladder from glossy, but profitable, Ross Hunter confections to tacky, low-budget thrillers with precious little creative or monetary return. (She would, in fact, disappear from cinema screens for six years after this turkey.)
One coming across the opening scene without benefit of knowing which movie is on, might be forgiven for mistaking it as Turner's 1956 costume drama Diane, as we find the star all decked out in period finery (albeit with an anachronistic red and white fabric choice, courtesy of costume designer Travilla) on her knees at the deathbed of a royal figure.
Turns out that this is merely the finale of a stage play that Turner's actress character is performing in. In fact, it's the finale of her stage career period since she's about to retire and marry a wealthy businessman played by Daniel O'Herlihy. Flowers flood the stage as she gives a public farewell to her admiring audience.
O'Herlihy earns a special treat as the camera zooms in for a big, gauzy close-up of Turner blowing him a kiss. He winks back at her from his box seat. (God knows the rest of the audience in attendance has been cut in from stock footage from some different, slightly-earlier movie!)
Though Turner had memorably played a stage actress in 1959's Imitation of Life, that movie didn't ever show any of the character's performances the way this one does – to her detriment! In real life, Turner had never set foot on a theatrical stage, but did do so the year after The Big Cube with moderate success. Her first scenes of dialogue have a bizarre halting quality, with strange pauses, that make one wonder if her character might already be tripping out!
In this bizarre introduction to Turner as “an actress,” she makes a variety of wide-eyed expressions and seems to be caught up in a very artificial style of delivery. Maybe all those lessons from MGM's Lillian Burns sunk in irretrievably. She also manages to look at once highly-elegant and yet also startlingly old. Even with all the haze in this close-up, you might be shocked to know that she was only forty-eight years old here!
Next come the loony, psychedelic opening credits with a “groovy” song called “Lean on Me” which is orchestrated throughout the rest of the movie in various ways. Turner is shown conferring with her husband-to-be while wearing an elaborate hairpiece (the first of several) whose color bears little-to-no relation to the star's own bleached-out tresses. Turner is worried that O'Herlihy's teenaged daughter won't like her.
Said daughter is played by Swedish model Karin Mossberg, whose thick accent is idiotically explained away by the fact that O'Herlihy sent her to a European boarding school after her mother died (because American and Anglo-Saxon girls always come home from boarding school sounding like they were raised on an Alp!) Mossberg has a very fast best friend, Pamela Rodgers, whose idea of fun is to drop acid or engage in an orgy! (She even propositions the elderly butler!) The comparatively-sheltered Mossberg is more of a mousy daddy's girl.
Though she doesn't want to attend the wedding ceremony, she finally acquiesces and Turner does her best to warm up to her. Turner's theatrical producer and friend Richard Egan can see that there is tension, however, and asks Mossberg if she's ever studied acting (something the viewing audience has also been mulling over already as they've seen her awkward performance thus far!) It's really not as bad as she suspected it would be, though, and Mossberg and Turner strike up a tentative friendly relationship.
The newlyweds head off on a sailing honeymoon, with Turner in an elbow-length blonde wig and a hooty pair of oversized sunglasses. (Ken Anderson, when/if you read this, doesn't this look like it could be a still from 1970's Dinah East ?!?)
While they are away, Mossberg has begun to socialize with Rodgers' offbeat gang of friends and has little time to worry about her father and step-mother anyway. One of her newfound buddies is a med school student played by George Chakiris (that he is thirty-five in real life, with gray in his hair, is merely one more bizarre oddity to be found in this hopeless melange.)
An indication of Chakiris' character comes when he is seen making out with one girl, then a second one, but immediately switches focus to Mossberg upon meeting her. The gang heads to a hot night spot (with mostly bare, white walls resembling an empty warehouse or sound stage!) People are grooving out to the music while sipping either beer or coffee. We soon find out that the chief appeal of these two beverages is that they are conducive to having a sugar cube dropped into them which has been saturated with acid/LSD.
Carlos East (wearing circular stripes across his face), one of Charikis' pals and the boyfriend of Rodgers, has an axe to grind with one of the bar's newly-arrived patrons, a tall, goateed bodyguard to a lady known as “Queen Bee” (played by Regina Torne.) East asks Chakiris for a (big?) cube and plops it into the guy's drink. Before long, the man is freaking out, crossing his eyes and tearing at the sides of his hair before being dragged from the place by policemen!
Chakiris sees Mossberg home (in her convertible, which seems to be the type of car for which the need for widescreen cinema came about. It's a boat!)
Their relationship is quite chaste, with him acting very protectively towards her and more than gentlemanly. Though she has driven home in her car with him in the passenger seat, she lets him take the vehicle himself rather than making him walk or otherwise find a way home, saying she'll retrieve it the next day.
O'Herlihy and Turner are surprised to find their daughter traipsing in so late, but she shoos them off with a lie about how Rodgers was sick and she had to stay with her for a while. (I don't know how late it is, but the stalwart parents clearly weren't in bed themselves! He's in a sport coat and Miss Turner is bedecked in a glittering caftan with another of her hilariously ornate hairstyles, this one looking as if a slightly darker Shi Tzu climbed atop her head for a nap! Don't get me wrong, though. I LIVE for these glossy, glitzy looks from 1960s movies.)
Turner informs O'Herlihy that Mossberg is deserving of more trust and that she's a good girl who reminds her of herself at that age. She even says that “the resemblance is remarkable,” but other than blue eyes, blonde hair and a wheelbarrow of heavy makeup, the two women really don't look like each other in the slightest!
We later are told that the drugged up guy from the nightclub ran into the street and was fatally struck by a car. This development leads the police to Chakiris where he is accused of using his school laboratory in order to manufacture LSD and is summarily expelled. With no career on the horizon, he opts to move in with artist East (where Rodgers is a scantily-clad model for his various works) and set his sites on Mossberg as a wealthy meal ticket. He manages to keep his expulsion from her as she continues to think of him as a future doctor.
Meanwhile, Mossberg convinces her father to help struggling artist East by purchasing one of his (ugly) abstract paintings, sight unseen. He gives her $600 for one of his pieces before departing on yet another trip with Turner (who is bedecked in a mod, go-go-booted get-up that would have looked more at home on Sharon Tate or Barbara Parkins in Valley of the Dolls,1967!)
While her parents are away, Mossberg indulges in a wild party that has the usual gang of trippy friends all sprawled out in the living room. The token gay character (who is, of course, way over the top at all times) is performing a striptease for everyone, but he doesn't seem to suit Rodgers enough. She gets up and begins to peel off most of her clothing.
She writhes around, with East egging her on, until finally standing up and yanking off her bra, jiggling her bare breasts around. Naturally, this is the exact instant that O'Herlihy and Turner return home! (If Turner was permitted to do or say much of anything, this would be a racier rehash of her scene in Peyton Place where she catches her daughter slow-dancing in the dark – gasp! - but O'Herlihy handles most of the outrage here.)
He orders everyone out, advising them to take the ugly painting with them as well (even offering to still pay for it!) and scolds Mossberg. When she retaliates with some heated remarks about how Turner has taken him away from her, he gives her a wallop across the face. Needless to say, this whole scene helps to take her mild discontentment towards Turner to a new level of disdain, even though Turner hasn't really done a thing to her.(Later in the film, though, Turner does get to take her own whack at Mossberg.)
Things are about to go from bad to much worse, though. We next see that Turner is barely alive after a horrific storm at sea in which she and O'Herlihy both went into the water! O'Herlihy is dead and gone while Turner has washed up onto the sand. (Little did she realize that with this film, her movie career had darn near washed up, too!)
Leave it to Lana to be discovered, sopping wet, on the beach by a shirtless hunk who, with the aid of a few other gents, helps get her onto a gurney and to the hospital where she clings to life. Incidentally, as one might expect, forty-eight year-old Turner is lit rather well throughout The Big Cube and even in this potentially ruinous scene, she comes across all right, but look at her HAND in the photo below! That's one area that practically nothing short of gloves can fix on a woman of a certain age.
Initially, Mossberg maintains a certain amount of concern for Turner, but once she's recovered O'Herlihy's will is read and it is pronounced that she will have to have the okay from Turner before marrying or else forfeit her million dollar inheritance. Mossberg wishes to marry the devious Chakiris, but there's no way Turner can say yes in good faith after witnessing his shenanigans with her late husband.
Amazingly enough, Chakiris and Mossberg have still, to this point, maintained a chaste relationship! He's still doing some of the regular chicks from his gang (such as a curvaceous gal who begs him to take a shower with him, though his mind is still on Mossberg and her million bucks.)
Chakiris, with no future in medicine now, hangs his sail on Mossberg and manipulates her into going along with a scheme to drive Turner batty so that she'll change her mind about the marriage. Chakiris rigs all her sleeping pills with drops of LSD, meaning that she will increasingly undergo hallucinations and bad trips from the drug. They also, finally, hit the sack together.
Turner is awakened in the night by eerie voices, strange lights and various haunting sights and sounds, culminating in Mossberg coming towards her to choke her to death! But she is found the next morning, alone, by the maid with no sign of foul play (and with Mossberg supplying an alibi regarding her whereabouts.)
Turner and Mossberg (pretending to still care about her stepmother) go for a drive during which Turner is scared witless by Mossberg's driving and, ultimately, is dragged to the edge of a cliff by Chakiris and Mossberg. However, after the fact, no one will believe her side of the story! It's assumed that she is merely coming unglued following the loss of her husband.
Even her old pal Egan struggles to believe that anything factual is happening to her and he believes that she's just coping badly with the loss of O'Herlihy, who she truly loved.
Next, the devious duo plays a series of eerie and suggestive recordings to a half-awake Turner, with the ultimate goal of having her jump off of her bedroom balcony. At the eleventh hour, Mossberg can't go through with it and intervenes, but by that time Turner has already gone off the deep end, mentally, and now has amnesia about anything related to O'Herlihy's death.
With Turner safely ensconced in a cushy mental institution, Chakiris and Mossberg can continue with their marital plans. He presses Turner's lawyer to forgo the marriage's approval process and when the man won't bend, they take it to court and declare Turner mentally unfit.
They finally wed in a hippie-ish ceremony with him in all-white, wearing his ever-presetn ankh around his neck, while she sports a short white dress that's festooned with yellow blossoms towards the bottom.
The reception gets way out of hand as bikers tear across the yard, winding up in the pool, and bikini-clad revelers splash around. Even the wedding cake finds its way into the pool before the melee is over!
As the celebration dies down, Mossberg is slow dancing with East while Chakiris has Rodgers in a clinch. Mossberg is horrified to see him slowly reaching up under her oversized shirt to remove the top of her swimsuit! Then he heads with HER up the stairs to bed! Rodgers tells a stunned Mossberg that she's in for a treat from East, while East says he'd like to have a foursome. Mossberg cannot believe this development and comes unhinged while Chakiris hits the floor laughing. With friends like these...
A now-repentant Mossberg gets rid of Chakiris and goes to Turner's old theatrical producer Egan for help. She confesses her part in the plan and seeks his aid in restoring Turner's memory (something the doctors don't seem to be able to make any progress with!) His idea is about as bizarre a scheme as could be imagined.
Egan intends to write and produce a full-scale, three-act (!) theatrical production based on exactly what happened to Turner, hoping that if she gets up on stage and acts it, she'll remember it! He hires actors to portray her husband and stepdaughter (brunette in the play) and proceeds with rehearsals of this new work.
As the schedule wears on, Turner has an occasional flash of the past, but still has no concrete recollection of what was done to her. Naturally, they get all the way to opening night and she still hasn't completely recalled the circumstances of her breakdown. An already surreal movie gets more so as Turner readies herself to go onstage, before a packed house of real live audience members, and portray a character who is completely based on herself and will be undergoing what she went through yet can not recall!
Meanwhile, Chakiris has slid down. Way down. He's now shacked up with the Queen Bee gal whose bodyguard he helped to kill and has become a hopeless addict himself! He's shown in a torn shirt, crawling around on the floor of a grungy apartment, with sugar cubes all over, carrying on a conversation with a tiny ant he's captured! (I am not. making. this. up.)
Miss Turner had been a top star at MGM in the 1940s and '50s, later surviving a blistering scandal (the stabbing death of her boyfriend by her own daughter) that might have derailed another actress. However, she was able to rebound with great success in 1959's Imitation of Life, in which she played an actress with (comparatively mild) daughter problems. In the wake of that movie, she starred in a string of glossy melodramas, with an occasional comedy, until 1966 when she starred in Madame X, am all-stops-out tearjerker to end them all (which, in view of its middling box office, it practically did.)
That was her last film until this one came along, quite a step down. After this, she starred in her very own prime-time TV soap opera, Harold Robbins' The Survivors (1969-1970), but the very expensive (and very troubled) show only limped along for fifteen episodes before being cancelled. After that, she did something she swore she'd never do. She took to the stage! She toured in Forty Carats and then did productions of The Pleasure of His Company (opposite Louis Jourdan) and Bell, Book and Candle. This was not without trepidation, unease and difficulty, but she was a huge hit with audiences eager to catch a glimpse of the always glamorous star. (You may have to open article above-right in a new tab or window in order to read it if you wish!)
After a few minor movies and a tempestuous stint on Falcon Crest in 1982 and 1983, Turner was practically retired and focused on a life that included healthier eating (and no alcohol!), though years of heavy smoking led to a fatal bout of throat cancer, which took her in 1995 at age seventy-four.
Having won an Oscar for 1961's West Side Story, Chakiris enjoyed nearly a decade of leading roles in movies of reasonable budget and standing, but this one signaled the end of that. Other than one British movie and another straight-to-video flick, his career was relegated to television from here on, though he did distinguish himself there on occasion. Now retired from acting and eighty years of age, you can read more about him (and my own personal meeting with him!) right here.
Egan can probably best be described as reliable. The granite-jawed actor was a handsome presence in movies 1950 on, with hits including Love Me Tender (1956), A Summer Place (1959) and The 300 Spartans (1962) among others. He'd been granted a Golden Globe in 1954 as Most Promising Newcomer. By 1987, he had been part of the cast of the daytime soap Capitol for several years, but was felled by prostate cancer at only age sixty-five.
Irish-born O'Herlihy enjoyed a long, busy career in films and on television from the late-1940s on. One of his prominent parts was the title role in Robinson Crusoe (1954), directed by Luis Bunuel. He was nominated for an Oscar, but lost to Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront. Other movies include the aforementioned Imitation of Life (1959), 100 Rifles (1969) and The Tamarind Seed (1974) among many others. He died of natural causes at age eighty-five in 2005, having retired about seven years prior.
Mossberg had appeared in the 1965 Melina Mercouri film The Uninhibited as well as one other Spanish production that same year, but that is the balance of her acting resume before and after The Big Cube. An undeniably pretty girl (who was, in fact, a fashion model), things simply didn't take off when it came to a career in acting. She is still with us today at age sixty-eight.
Prior to Cube, Rodgers had shown off her lithe figure in movies like Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965), The Silencers (1966) and The Oscar (1966) as well as in episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies and other shows. In 1969, she joined Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In for one season, appeared in that gang's movie The Maltese Bippy and later did a few episodes of Love, American Style before retiring in 1973. She is still alive today at age seventy. The latter-day photo below shows her on a Big (Ice?) Cube of her own!
East was a Mexican actor (whose voice was completely dubbed in this film) with a busy career in movies there from 1964 to 1994 when he died suddenly of a heart attack. (So prolific had he been that four movies were released in 1995 after his death!) He was fifty-two. He had twice worked on Mexican-made horror films starring Boris Karloff, Fear Chamber (1968) and Isle of the Snake People (1971.)
The director of The Big Cube, Tito Davison, was born in Chile and later worked as a teen actor, a writer and then director of many movies. While this movie is loopy (as many '60s flicks are), it does possess a certain amount of style and gloss as well as some creative camera moves. Davison died in 1985 of unknown causes at the age of seventy-two. This foray into movies with American actors in the leading roles is an anomaly in his career. In typical fashion, the Mexican poster for this film is far more vivid and fun than the American one!
This is a must-see movie for anyone who enjoys 1960s clothing, hairstyles and décor and for anyone who gets a kick out of Lana Turner's colorful melodrama period or who wants to see George Chakiris in a villainous role. Everyone in it is trying his or her best to deliver, though overcoming a rather preposterous script makes it damn near impossible for them. I should add that I have watched this at least three or four times and still have no idea WHERE it takes place! Ha ha! I leave you with yet another of Miss Lana's loopy, wide-eyed reactions.