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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Eleanor Bergstein's Earlier Movie "It's My Turn"

Recently I happened to watch a 1980 movie titled It's My Turn. My wife wanted to watch a romantic-comedy, so I looked at the movies that would be shown on television that evening. This movie starred one of my favorite actresses, Jill Clayburgh, and one of my wife's favorite actors, Michael Douglass, so I recorded it and we watched it.

Here is the movie trailer.

The movie turned out to be lousy, but we watched it to the end. The next day, I searched Google for articles about the movie and discovered that the screenplay had been written by Eleanor Bergstein, who later wrote the screenplay for the 1987 movie Dirty Dancing.

By the time I read that, I already had deleted my recording. If I ever see It's My Turn on television again, I will record it and analyze it carefully with regard to Dirty Dancing. In the meantime, I am writing this article about It's My Turn based on my recent memory.

Clayburgh plays Kate Gunzinger, a mathematics professor, and Douglas plays Ben Lewin, a retired professional baseball player.

Judging by their family names and by their parents' wedding ceremony, he and she seem to be Jewish. She has a boyfriend named Homer (last name unspecified), who is played by Charles Grodin, an actor who was raised in an orthodox-Jewish family. The Homer character seemed to me to be a Gentile -- especially with the Greek name Homer. The characters' ethnicities are not apparent factors in the movie's plot, but perhaps were subconscious factors in Bergstein's mind when she wrote the story (similar to Dirty Dancing).  

The Wikipedia article about It's My Turn says the following:
The film was directed by Claudia Weill and written by Eleanor Bergstein. The producers of It's My Turn cut out an erotic dancing scene from Bergstein's screenplay, which sparked her to go on and write a new script that would become the 1987 hit film Dirty Dancing.
The version I watched on television did have a scene where Kate and Ben dance. In fact, the above trailer shows a glimpse of the dance scene.

The dance scene was not "erotic". Kate obviously is an awkward and reluctant dancer, and that seems to be the scene's point. I assume that this was the scene that was cut from the movie's original version and that the scene has been put back into the version shown now on television. Perhaps, though, the movie's pre-edited version included a second dance scene that was supposed to be "erotic".

There were several reasons why It's My Turn is a bad movie. Here are a couple minor reasons:

* Some of the dialog is unintelligible. There were at least five passages that I had to replay repeatedly to try to understand what was said. The problem was a combination of inadequate sound-recording and sloppy pronunciation. This was very annoying and must have been doubly-annoying for people who watched the movie in theaters. (The movie shown on television does not include closed-captions.)

* Many of the scenes lasted far too long. The above trailer begins with part of a long scene that takes place in a hotel's game room. Kate and Ben play ping-pong and a game similar to Foosball. The idea seemed to be that she tried to be competitive, but he played better. Whatever, the scene lasted far too long.

A major reason why the movie is bad is that the story is implausible. Kate Gunzinger is a super-serious mathematics professor who is living with a successful architect in Chicago. She travels to New York City for a few days to attend a job interview and her widowed father's wedding. During her few days there, she falls in love and enjoys sex with her new brother-in-law (the son of her father's new wife) a professional baseball player who recently had to retire because of an injury. Kate returns to Chicago but wants to continue her affair with Ben long-distance. He, because he is married, breaks off the affair. Then Kate dumps her boyfriend Homer because he does not pay enough attention to her. The movie ends with her single, continuing to teach mathematics at her Chicago university.

This scene shows the high level of mathematics that she teaches at a Chicago university.

(This scene -- which is essentially irrelevant to the rest of the movie -- is a good example of the many scenes that were far too long.)

The number of 35-year-old (Jill Clayburgh's age) university professors who teach such mathematics and are female and look like Jill Clayburgh and are living with successful professional men (e.g. architects) and still are unmarried is very small -- ZERO. Now multiply that small number by the number of such women who would immediately -- in two or three days -- fall in love with a retired professional baseball player who happens to be her new brother-in-law -- ZERO SQUARED.

Kate is a character with whom very few female viewers would identify. Clayburgh is an actress who possibly could make such a character seem plausible, but even Clayburgh fails in this movie. I love Clayburgh as an actress, but I didn't believe in her Kate character for even one second.

For me as a male viewer of the movie, I even thought that the Kate character was morally repugnant.

* Attending the preparations for her widowed father's wedding, Kate has a sexual affair with the son of the father's new bride. If this affair had been exposed, her father's wedding and marriage could have been ruined.

* Kate treats her father's new wife meanly.

* Kate asks Ben to continue their affair long-distance after he returns home to his wife and she returns home to her now cuckolded boyfriend.

* Ben refuses to continue the affair because he is married. Nevertheless, he sends her a present by mail, and she seems to be happy and hopeful that her affair might continue after all.

* After she returns to Chicago, she dumps her boyfriend Homer because, she complains that he has not been paying enough attention to her. So, it's Homer's fault. She does not admit to Homer that she already has become a baseball player's groupie.

In general, men do not admire such women and do not consider movies featuring such women to be romantic comedies.

Since Douglas and Clayburgh were expensive actors, the movie's investors must have lost a ton of money.


Evidently, however, Bergstein learned some valuable lessons that paid off for the people who financed her next movie, Dirty Dancing, which enjoyed the following advantages.

* The female protagonist, Baby Houseman, was a character with whom female viewers could identify and with whom male viewers could fall in love.

* The male protagonist, Johnny Castle, was single and did not have even a steady girlfriend.

* The dancing in the movie was superb.

The two movies were similar, however, in terminating the love affair. Just as their was no future together for Kate and Ben in It's My Turn, there was no future together for Baby and Johnny in Dirty Dancing. Each movie is about a brainy Jewish female's brief sexual fling with an dopey but athletic male.


The Amazon webpage about the movie includes customer comments that praise the movie inanely. However, one commentator, Skip Jones, tells the truth.
The whole film, It's my Turn, from beginning to end, is jive. Watching this film was a truly hateful experience. 
Two words, Baby: Chick Flick! The characters portrayed in It's My Turn seem about as real as the two-dimensional cardboard likenesses of film stars that one might see in the lobby of a theatre. 
The whole concept behind the movie is laughable. It's full of campy 70's feminist rhetoric, and about as deep as a soap opera about Barbie and Ken. Not much to think about, really. The dialogue sounds like a series of mindless jokes. Did people really talk like that back in 1979? 
Charles Grodin and Mike Douglas portray a couple of Archie and Jughead-types on the make. Jill Clayburg's performance is particularly laughable as a seventies version of every-woman who struggles with the mundane problems of life in Chicago and New York. A meaningless subplot: Her father fails to comply with her beatific ideas of perfection! 
I saw this film at the local cineplex over twenty years ago, and since then, have never forgotten the experience. Upon the conclusion of the film I felt that I had wasted two hours of my life. I was so irritated that I seriously considered breaking into the projection room, taking the film from the projector and burning it with some lighter fluid and a match. 
Would I recommend this film to my friends? Sure! Why not? Anything's better than watching The English Patient
Bonus Comment: I predict that by the year 2020, this film will be a tremendously popular camp favorite with people who are yet to be born, or are in their early infancy. 
By 2020, Charles, Mike, Jill and the rest of the gang will be enroute to the old actor's home. By then, kids will look at It's My Turn in much the same way that most kids of today watch reruns of old TV shows like The Beverly Hillbillies and think that their parents were dolts.

The movie It's My Turn featured a song with the same title, sung by Diana Ross. The song became a hit, reaching #9 on the Billboard Top Hundred in 1980. Here is a YouTube clip:

Here are the lyrics, written by Carole Bayer Sager:
I can't cover up my feelings
In the name of love
Or play it safe. 
For a while that was easy
And if living for myself
Is what I'm guilty of
Go on and sentence me. 
I'll still be free.
It's my turn
To see what I can see. 
I hope you'll understand
This time's just for me,
Because it's my turn
With no apologies. 
I've given up the truth
To those I've tried to please
But now it's my turn. 
If I don't have all the answers
At least I know
I'll take my share of chances
Ain't no use of holding on. 
When nothing stays the same
So I'll let it rain
'Cause the rain ain't gonna hurt me. 
And I'll let you go
'Though I know it won't be easy. 
It's my turn
With no more room for lies
For years I've seen my life
Through someone else's eyes.
These lyrics do express insightfully Kate's attitude toward her boyfriend Homer in the movie It's My Turn. Kate has intended to cheat on Homer and then to dump him. Her self-justification is expressed in these lyrics. In her mind, it's just logical.


The movie It's My Turn was directed by Claudia Weill, who went on to become a successful director, especially for television. For example, she directed the TV dramas Thirtysomething, My So-Called Life, Once and Again, Chicago Hope and Girls.

Weill is interested in portraying the resentments of women (especially Jewish women) having to compete with, measure up to, and learn from men. In a recent interview, she said:
Weill is interested in portraying the resentments of women (especially Jewish women) having to compete with, measure up to, and learn from men. In a recent interview, she said:

I was very fixated on what it meant to be Jewish and female in America ... because that was what I was facing. ... because I had Orthodox grandparents. God was just available for men, not for women. [There is] a kind of self doubt which is perhaps more female, I think of it as being more female, not being sure that you’re really a contender, that you can play the game. Not sure that you’re one of the boys, so to speak.

It was important to me [to portray] the girl that’s not normally the protagonist -- not the pretty, blond, breezy one that everybody loves and adores. She is that girl’s best friend, the 'Rhoda' lineage, Mary Tyler Moore's best friend played by Valerie Harper.

The best friend is always funnier and men are usually less attracted to her because she’s either overweight, not as gorgeous or not as oriented towards pleasing them. I was very interested in making a movie about that girl because that’s who I am and making films was just my way of figuring life out.
The movie It's My Turn is full of such resentments. Although Kate is a brilliant mathematician, she feels inadequate around Ben, who is athletic and knowledgeable about sports. She submits sexually to Ben very quickly and falls in love with him passionately. She turns out to be incapable of continuing her relationship permanently with either Ben or Homer, and so she finds her main satisfaction in her independence.


See also my article Re-Watching Eleanor Bergstein's Earlier Movie It's My Turn.

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