What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called the “Year After Year” blog-a-thon. In short, its all about any movie with a time span of at least one year, which can involve: (a) a movie in which the characters age over the course of a year or more; (b) time-travel movies; or (c) anthology movies with segments involving different eras or periods of time. This is an event hosted by Movie Movie Blog Blog. I’ve been a part of other blog-a-thons with him in the past, but this marks the first time in one which he has hosted.
First of all, I must like Alan Alda films more than I was aware, as this is his second appearance in this series (you can see the first here), and if you check out my Movies and Blog-a-Thons page, you can see he is also the star of an upcoming project. If that weren’t enough, I also know that MovieRob is doing “Same Time, Next Year” as part of this “Year After Year” blog-a-thon. So, if you are ready for “All Alda, All The Time,” you are definitely in the right place.
As the title suggests, “The Four Seasons” follows the trials and tribulations of three affluent, professional couples who are in the habit of taking vacations together during each spring, summer, fall, and winter. The movie, and the year for the purposes of the theme of this blog-a-thon, starts with the spring.
The film opens in a very spring-like northeastern-type vacation cottage with the three couples, Jack and Kate Burroughs (Alan Alda, Carol Burnett), Nick and Anne Callan (Len Cariou, Sandy Dennis), and Danny and Claudia Zimmer (Jack Weston, Rita Moreno) celebrating the Callan’s anniversary. Over copious amounts of champagne, Jack Burroughs makes a toast about “that which bonds us; what keeps us huddled against the cold winds of divorce which blow through so many couples.”
It’s amongst the beginnings shown by the burgeoning New England spring flora and fauna that very subtly, the endings of the Callan’s marriage are beginning to show. During a walk in the woods, Nick Callan lets the proverbial “cat of the bag” to Jack when he confesses to Jack he intends to divorce Anne.
The end of the Callans’ marriage also serves as the genesis showing the cracks in the relationships among the couples, initially and primarily between Jack and Nick. This leads to that special kind of silent awkwardness when Jack’s wife Kate brings up the planning of the summer sailboat trip; Jack and Nick being the only ones in the room who know Anne Callan won’t be there.
Sure enough, it’s on the sailboat in St. Thomas we discover that Anne is in fact not there; she’s has been replaced with Nick Callan’s new girlfriend Ginny Newley (played by Bess Armstrong). Ginny is sweet, charming, and half Nick’s age. She’s also the catalyst for the other two couples’ examining the stretch marks and age spots in their own relationships. Thus begins the “slow burn” which bubbles during the fall vacation, which is a “Parent’s Weekend” trip to the college the Callan’s daughter is attending. Anne monkey-wrenches things quite nicely when she checks into the hotel room which was reserved for “Mr. and Mrs. Callan” when she was still carrying that title. If you live in a college town as I do, you know nothing sucks up every hotel room within 50 miles quite a home football game or Parent’s Weekend.
Things only get worse from here; the “ice machine” scene in the hotel serves as the segue to the winter vacation where everything boils over on the snowy ski slopes of Vermont. The problem really is the other couples want to hate Ginny, but they can’t, because as I’ve said, she’s nothing but sweet and charming throughout the film. Without a target for their collective anger over Anne Callan’s de facto expulsion from the group, they keep sniping at each other, each shot ratcheting up the temperature. The boil over finally occurs when Ginny makes a comment to Kate about how the group’s laughed at Danny’s confiding of his deepest fears, at which point Kate gives her the 1981 version of “stay in your lane,” at which point Ginny unleashes a tongue-lashing on the group and storms out of the ski cabin.
The denouement comes in the form of a subtle progression of injuries to the group. Everything is just fine in the spring before the divorce, the summer sailboat trip sees varying levels of sunburn and seasickness, the fall excursion sees the first bloodshed, and winter brings us torn ligaments and broken bones. It all culminates (spoiler-free) with somebody almost drowning when they break through the ice on a frozen lake.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
The bond between these couples in this film has always remind me of the chemistry that exists in the locker room of a sports team. The sport itself doesn’t matter, any team sport will work purposes of this discussion. What matters most here are the bonds between the people, and how success can affect them. At the beginning of “The Four Seasons,” the scene in the boat during the “spring vacation” is all about a celebration of success. At this point in the film, these three professional couples are literally drunk on the spoils of two decades of building the upper-middle class, disposable-income lifestyle.
In no time, it becomes clear that Nick Callan has come up short in the two decades he’s spent in the pursuit of happiness, and in even less time, it becomes even clearer that Nick Callan is going to make a change. Even Stevie Wonder can see how marriages break up everyday, but what’s less obvious is the relationship between the level of happiness and the level of options provided by financial status.
In the case of Nick Callan, he denied that Ginny Newley existed in his life before his decision to divorce his wife. That may be true, but what is also true is that he could easily afford both an ex-wife and flight attendant girlfriend upon which he lavishes spendy gifts and takes on two-week sailboat vacations in the Caribbean. How many middle-aged guys in unhappy marriages would love to have those options?
Unhappy middle-aged married people aren’t the only ones who shop around those choices. The general managers of every major sports team on earth do exactly the same thing. That’s because the affluent middle-aged couple is just like the team which just won a championship. They both have won; they’ve got what everybody wants; they’ve succeeded. Concomitantly, because everybody wants success, once you have it, there’s somebody who wants to take it from you. That’s part of why Kate Burroughs and Claudia Zimmer resent Ginny Newley; they perceive her as reaping the spoils of success that Anne Callan was just denied.
In the sporting world, Anne Callan is the player on the team who just won a championship, and two days after the victory parade finds out they’ve been traded. The sporting world is full of examples, but the most recent comes from my very own Philadelphia Eagles, who in 2018 won their first Super Bowl. Philadelphia hadn’t hoisted a trophy in the National football League since 1960; well before the Super Bowl Era. One of the defining moments of that Super Bowl was the “Philly Special;” a “trick” play which resulted in a crucial score for Philadelphia.
#88 Trey Burton is the guy who throws the touchdown pass in the “Philly Special,” and he’s also the guy who ended up filling out some “change of address” cards as he is now a member of the Chicago Bears. The problem is players on a team who just won can command higher salaries because the belief is players from winning team can bring a winning culture with them. It just so happened that Trey Burton’s contract was up with Philadelphia, and they gone as far as they were going to go with him. Hence, Burton now hangs his helmet in Chicago, and you know the guy who moved into his locker in Philadelphia got a bit of the “Ginny Newley” treatment.
The best part of all this comes tomorrow when Burton’s Chicago Bears host the Philadelphia Eagles in the wild-card round of the play-offs, which could easily end up being the NFL’s version of the “Parent’s Weekend” scene.
The Moral of The Story:
Success drives up the price of happiness…and free-agency.
P.S. Don’t miss the smart use of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” through out this picture.
P.P.S. While I religiously avoid spoilers in these pieces, be forewarned that at some point, you’re going to see Jack Weston’s ass. If you’re paying attention, you should easily see it coming.
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Remember watching this film x years ago, went through a phase of Alan Alda films including this and Sweet Liberty. Great stuff.
I enjoyed this movie, though I felt that it got a little repetitive as it wound down. (And BTW, I paid a lot more attention to Rita Moreno’s ass than Jack Weston’s.) But you summed up the movie’s qualities nicely. Thank you for contributing this to the blogathon!
Moreno was definitely a better choice, but let’s be honest…Bess Armstrong’s ass was where the money was…
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