than a decade after such career highlights as Imitation of Life
(1959) and Portrait in Black (1960) Lana Turner headlined
The Big Cube (1969) a silly, trippy, LSD-soaked tale that
tries to mix classic Hollywood melodrama (familiar territory for
Turner) and the swingin' sexed-up drug culture of the late 1960's.
The result is a colorfully spectacular mess, making it a savory
treat for bad movie connoisseurs.
may seem like you've put the wrong disc into your DVD player, but
the scenes from the low-rent historical epic in the opening moments
of The Big Cube are merely the closing night of a play featuring
glamorous stage star Adriana Roman (Lana Turner). After taking her
final bows, she announces that she is "saying good-bye to the
theatre forever" in order to marry wealthy business tycoon
Charles Winthrop (Dan O'Herlihy).
the groovy opening credits (featuring the muzak-style theme "Lean
on Me") you may think that Turner has already begun to partake
in the mind-altering drug referenced in the film's title. It's the
only logical explanation for her awkward performance in a scene
where her character tells her husband-to-be that she's worried how
his teenage daughter will handle their impending nuptials.
Winthrop (Karin Mossberg) can't stand her new stepmother. With her
perfectly coiffed blonde hair and pretty pink party dress, Lisa
looks to be the perfect all-American suburban debutante, but in
an odd juxtaposition, actress Mossberg makes no attempt to hide
her thick European accent. Her best friend Bibi (Pamela Rodgers)
is of little help. "Sweetness, baby, float with the tide,"
she suggests. "Let's call half a dozen guys and have an orgy."
tries to bond with Lisa after the civil ceremony. "We're going
to be the best of friends," she insists, "we have the
same good taste in men."
taste is put into question when Lisa starts hanging out with Johnny
Allen (George Chakiris) and his thrill-seeking beatnik friends.
Their first excursion is to club Le Trip, the kind of kinky, psychedelic
dance club that only exists in movies from the 1960's. "Sugar,
in beer?" Lisa questions as all the hep cats start dropping
The Big Cube.
mysterious woman called the Queen Bee arrives with a muscular escort.
Lalo (Carlos East) one of Johnny's artist pals, wants revenge on
the muscle head for some imagined indignity. "I'm gonna cube
that mother, but good."
spike the guy's beer with a heavy dose of LSD and it isn't long
before a full-scale freak-out ensues. "My face. Don't steal
my face!" the guy shouts as he goes into a psychotically spastic
(and enjoyably hilarious) fit.
investigating the drug-induced death at Le Trip, the police accuse
Johnny of making LSD in the college chemistry lab. Kicked out of
med school and with no other prospects, Johnny sets about wooing
Lisa full-time. He moves in with Lalo, who is preparing for an exhibition
of his third-rate artistic renderings. Lisa procures money from
her father and buys one of the paintings. To celebrate the sale,
Johnny and his dead-beat pals throw a swingin' party at Lisa's place.
Bibi entertains the crowd with a strip tease and drops her top just
as Lisa's father arrives home. Everyone is thrown out and a family
fight ensues, the argument ending with Lisa receiving a slap from
turned my father against me," Lisa complains to Johnny, "And
now they're trying to keep me away from you."
the next scene, Adriana washes ashore and we find out (after an
amusingly stylized flashback) that she is the only survivor of a
storm at sea. When she finally awakens in the hospital, she is given
the tragic news that her husband has drowned.
the reading of the will, Lisa is awarded a trust fund. One million
dollars will be hers on her 25th birthday or, if she chooses to
marry, she will receive the funds immediately. The only condition
is that Adriana must approve of her choice of husband. Adriana does
not approve of Johnny.
dollar signs in his eyes, Johnny continues to manipulate Lisa, "I
don't give a damn about the money or anything. What gets me is everybody
gushing about poor Adriana. If it was my father she'd killed, I'd
make her pay for it."
weapon of choice? Sleeping pills laced with LSD.
and vivid psychedelic colors begin to haunt Adriana's sleep. "A
nightmare, pure and simple," offers playwright and friend Frederick
Lonsdale (Richard Egan).
suggests she and Adriana spend more quality time together. While
on a drive to the coast, Adriana (under the influence of her tainted
medication) has another freak-out. Johnny appears on the side of
the road and, with Lisa's help, drags Adriana towards a cliff. With
colors whirling and lights flashing, she manages to escape, but
no one believes that Lisa and Johnny tried to kill her. Her psychiatrist
thinks her wild stories are simply the result of hysterical griefa
widow unable to deal with the death of her husband.
who is feeling guilty about gaslighting her stepmother, agrees to
put Adriana through the ringer one last time. On a particularly
dark and stormy night, Adriana takes a sleeping pill and immediately
begins tripping. A tape-recorded message (You killed my father.
You're going to die.) helps push Adriana to the brink of insanity.
Colors and patterns dance across Adriana's chi-chi bedroom set as
images of Johnny beckon her to jump from the balcony. Lisa keeps
her from jumping, but the damage is already done.
trip was so severe that she can't recall her past (including her
marriage to Charles or his death) and must be institutionalized.
"Maybe there's no perfect murder," Johnny muses, "but
I think we figured the perfect freakout."
Adriana is legally declared incompetent, Johnny and Lisa get hitched
in a bikini-clad backyard blowout. Lisa is shocked when Johnny suggests
a four-way on their wedding night and kicks him out when he calls
her, "a square, a cube, a jerk".
tells Frederick the whole sorted scheme. Determined to help Adriana,
he comes up with the most outrageously cockamamie scheme in cinema
history. "Suppose she relived the part of her life she's trying
to forget?" To cure Adriana of her acid-induced amnesia, he
plans to, "Write a play based on her experiences, then convince
Adriana to play herself."
a read through of the play, Frederick and Lisa watch expectantly
as Adriana performs a monologue from the play in which her character
wistfully reminisces about her husband who was killed in a shipwreck.
Adriana doesn't crack. As rehearsals continue, she gets occasional
flashes of her former life, but continues to work all the way up
until opening night.
Adriana performs the movie we've been watching for an appreciative
audience, Lisa frets backstage, "She has no reaction at all.
It's useless. It's not going to work!"
Adriana begins the third act, you'd think she would've figured something
out by now. She's performing on a set that's an exact replica of
her own bedroom! Desperate, Frederick decides to pull out all the
stops. As the psychedelic stage effects begin, he plays the same
tape recording Lisa and Johnny used to push her over the edge: You
killed my father. You're going to die.
really chews the scenery as Adriana relives her freak-out and finally
remembers her past. Lisa shatters all sense of verisimilitude and
takes the place of the stage actress playing her. "It was Johnny
and me. It was us," she confesses. "With drugs
hearing this, Adriana lets loose with a particularly memorable bitch
slap and then shrieks, "Oh, my God. I'm not mad. I'm not
mad!" The audience applauds wildly as the curtain comes
down. Meanwhile, Johnny has hit rock bottom with a little help from
the Queen Bee. He pours an entire vial of LSD into a bowl of sugar
cubes and begins to pop them like candy. Vivid colors and images
of death haunt him as be begins a fatal acid trip.
Frederick and Lisa as her escorts, Adriana exits the theatre surrounded
by appreciative fans and enthusiastic members of the press. For
an actress, this is perhaps the ultimate happily ever after. She
gives a queenly wave as her chauffeur driven car pulls away.
Turner always strived to look her very best onscreen. As with many
actresses of Turner's era, the veneer of Hollywood glamour was helped
along with diffused lighting and careful costume choices. In The
Big Cube, there's plenty of soft-focus to keep Lana looking
her best, but some of the outrageous costumes by Travilla are truly
a sight to behold. In one scene Lana appears in an ornate gold caftan.
But as unflattering as some of the gowns are, they can't compare
to the towering hairpieces she burdened with. The various curls,
braids and bouffants look all the more ridiculous since none of
them come close to matching Turners own blonde hair.
Big Cube marked one of Lana Turner's final starring roles. It
may seem like an inauspicious way to wrap-up a Hollywood career,
but several other leading ladies were making similarly themed projects
around the same time. Academy award winner Jennifer Jones was featured
in Angel, Angel, Down We Go (1969) and two-time Oscar winner
Shelley Winters played the mother of twenty-something tyrant Christopher
Jones in Wild in the Streets (1968). George Chakiris won
Oscar gold in 1961 for West Side Story, but after The
Big Cube, the majority of his roles came from television guest
years of obscurity, The Big Cube is now available on DVD.
The widescreen print (approx. 1.66:1) is crisp and colorful. A wonderfully
trippy trailer, which features some of the film's brief nudity,
is the disc's only extra.