"There's a Girl in My Soup" was originally a highly successful stage play before it became a film. I have never seen the theatrical version; although it ran for six years in London's West End, from 1966 to 1972, becoming what was then Britain's longest-ever running comedy, it never seems to be revived these days. The cinematic version is a mixture of the traditional romantic comedy and the sex comedy, a genre which had become popular in the sixties.
In real life Peter Sellers was never, except in his own imagination, and possibly also in Britt Ekland's imagination, a major sex symbol. Here, however, he gives a surprisingly convincing impression of one. His character, Robert Danvers, is a popular and highly successful television chef. (He was apparently based on Graham Kerr, a real-life popular and highly successful television chef). The elegantly dressed, forty- something Danvers is an incorrigible womaniser; when we first meet him he is seducing an old flame on the day of her wedding. (Mind you, given that the lady's intended is a prime example of the upper-class English chinless wonder, we can probably forgive her).
Danvers is not interested on love or romance; all he wants is uncomplicated, no-strings-attached sex with as many women (preferably much younger than him) as possible. He rather looks down upon his happily married friend Andrew. He meets his match, however, when he meets Marion, a nineteen-year-old American hippie living in London. (Marion is supposed to be American, but at times it sounded as though Goldie Hawn was trying to put on a British accent). She has just split up with her Neanderthal rock musician boyfriend Jimmy, who wanted a ménage a trois with her and another girl, and Danvers assumes she will be easy pickings. To his surprise, however, she initially turns him down, but he is nothing if not persistent, and eventually succeeds in getting her into bed.
Anyone familiar with the conventions of the romantic comedy will know what is coming next. For the first time in his life Robert Danvers, the Don Juan of the cooking show, falls in love with someone other than himself. Marion becomes his steady girlfriend, moves in with him, and accompanies him on a trip to a wine festival France. Even though she sometimes embarrasses him with her gauche behaviour, Robert learns to treat her as a person in her own right, not merely a vehicle for his own sexual pleasure.
At this point, familiarity with the conventions of the romantic comedy ceases to be a reliable guide. We all know that, according to all the rules, the film should end with the wedding of Marion and Robert, especially as a misunderstanding has led to everyone concluding that they are married already. As I said, however, this is not a pure-bred romantic comedy but the bastard offspring of a romantic comedy crossed with that ugly beast, the sex comedy. The classical romantic comedy rule book contained no prohibition against an ending in which a lovely young woman became the bride of a man old enough to be her father. Indeed, at one time such endings were positively encouraged in Hollywood, but by 1970 they were starting to look just a bit too nineteen-fifties and out of place in the brave new world of the seventies. So an ending was contrived in which Marion returns to the ghastly Jimmy while Robert slips back into his bad old ways. When we last see him he is seducing Andrew's pretty young au pair girl.
There is no real logic or motivation behind Marion's decision to abandon Robert for Jimmy, who, despite being a generation younger, is even more male chauvinist in his attitudes than the older man. This was presumably done simply to make the movie look trendier; after all, in 1970 rock musicians were the wave of the future, TV cooks a blast from the past. (Today, of course, it is the other way round; celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver and Delia Smith are among the most popular figures on British television, whereas heavy rock looks nearly as dated as ragtime or Gregorian plainchant).
This bungled ending is unfortunate as in other respects this is quite a good film. There is an attractive musical score, based around Mike d'Abo's catchy theme song "Miss Me in the Morning". There is an amusing credits sequence which credits not only an "Assistant Director" but also an "Assistant to the Assistant Director" and an "Assistant to the Assistant's Assistant". (Was this inspired by a similar jest in the film "April in Paris"?) Sellers is not quite as good here as he was in, say, "Dr Strangelove" or the better entries in the "Pink Panther" franchise, but his is nevertheless a reasonable performance and Hawn is as lovable as ever. The script, written by Terence Frisby who also wrote the stage play, is a witty one and the action, until the disappointing denouement, is well handled. 6/10, a mark which would have been higher with a better ending