Sextette (1978)

PG | 91 mins | Musical comedy | 2 March 1978

Director:

Ken Hughes

Writer:

Herbert Baker

Cinematographer:

James Crabe

Editor:

Argyle Nelson

Production Designer:

James F. Claytor

Production Company:

Briggs & Sullivan, Inc.
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HISTORY

       Early sources such as the 9 Oct 1968 DV and the 28 Jul 1970 DV referred to the movie and the play upon which it is based as Sextet.
       Accounts vary as to the plot of the source play and when, if ever, it was written and staged. DV stated on 28 Jul 1970 that star Mae West wrote the stage play approximately ten years earlier, but later reported on 29 Apr 1976 that she wrote the play in 1928. While the 3 Jul 1976 LAT noted that the play toured in the 1960s, according to the 12 Jan 1976 Box, it played successfully in New York City on Broadway in 1941 and was set in a high-class English hotel in the 1930s. On 16 Jan 1978, New West, which referred to the 1928 stage play as Sex, noted that it included kinky scenes, such as one set at drag ball, that led to West being jailed.
       According to news briefs in the 9 Oct 1968 DV and the 12 Feb 1969 Hollywood Citizen-News, West sold the film rights to her stage play, Sextet, and the screenplay adapted by Leonard Spigelgass, to James T. Aubrey, Jr., and Hunt Stromberg, Jr. The duo planned to produce the movie through Aubrey’s production company, the James Aubrey Company, for Warner Bros.-Seven Arts and scheduled principal photography to start on 17 Apr 1969. On 28 Jul 1970, DV stated that Aubrey, who had become president of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), was considering bringing the project ... More Less

       Early sources such as the 9 Oct 1968 DV and the 28 Jul 1970 DV referred to the movie and the play upon which it is based as Sextet.
       Accounts vary as to the plot of the source play and when, if ever, it was written and staged. DV stated on 28 Jul 1970 that star Mae West wrote the stage play approximately ten years earlier, but later reported on 29 Apr 1976 that she wrote the play in 1928. While the 3 Jul 1976 LAT noted that the play toured in the 1960s, according to the 12 Jan 1976 Box, it played successfully in New York City on Broadway in 1941 and was set in a high-class English hotel in the 1930s. On 16 Jan 1978, New West, which referred to the 1928 stage play as Sex, noted that it included kinky scenes, such as one set at drag ball, that led to West being jailed.
       According to news briefs in the 9 Oct 1968 DV and the 12 Feb 1969 Hollywood Citizen-News, West sold the film rights to her stage play, Sextet, and the screenplay adapted by Leonard Spigelgass, to James T. Aubrey, Jr., and Hunt Stromberg, Jr. The duo planned to produce the movie through Aubrey’s production company, the James Aubrey Company, for Warner Bros.-Seven Arts and scheduled principal photography to start on 17 Apr 1969. On 28 Jul 1970, DV stated that Aubrey, who had become president of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), was considering bringing the project to the studio, where Stanley Musgrove and William Belasco would serve as producer and executive producer respectively. Several years later, Perry Paulding, who had appeared with West in Myra Breckinridge (1970, see entry), announced that he would produce the film through his production company, Eracon International, and that Laurence Olivier, David Niven, Elton John and Charlton Heston had expressed interest in the script or had accepted cameo roles in the film. Paulding acquired the rights to the movie when the major studios refused to comply with West’s stipulation that she retain complete artistic control of the film adaptation, according to a 12 Jan 1976 Box article. The next month, however, an advertisement in the 27 Feb 1976 HR announced that Sextette would be a presentation of Briggs & Sullivan Productions and that filming was scheduled to begin 1 Jun 1976. Later, as reported by the 29 Apr 1976 DV and the 16 Jun 1976 LAT, the start of principal photography was moved to the end of Jun 1976, then to 1 Aug 1976. On 4 Aug 1976, DV announced that production would begin 11 Oct 1976, then revised the start date to 29 Nov 1976 on 12 Nov 1976. On 2 Dec 1976, DV confirmed that principal photography began 1 Dec 1976 at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles, CA.
       In a 20 Feb 1977 letter to the editor of LAT, writer A. J. Palmerio, claimed that he consented to write the screenplay for Sextette on condition that he draft an original version with no regard for any previously adapted screenplays. Palmerio argued that it was the quality of his script that garnered the project financing and two producers, but indicated he did not know yet whether he would claim credit for the produced film. Palmerio’s name does not appear in onscreen credits.
       According to articles in the 16 Jun and 3 Jul 1976 LAT and in HR and DV on 4 Aug 1976, nearly one thousand men auditioned at a 30 Jun 1976 cattle call that West held at Samuel Goldwyn Studios to find a “tall, dark and handsome” co-star. Although she chose none of the applicants to be her leading man, eighteen were selected for small or non-speaking roles in the film.
       On 24 Jan 1977, DV announced the names of nine bodybuilders and professional athletes who had been cast as members of the “U.S. Athletic Team.” Although two of the names, Franco Columbu and Roger Callard, are not listed in the onscreen credits, Callard appeared in the film as “Javelin thrower,” according to production notes in AMPAS library files. Likewise, a news brief in the 2 Mar 1977 DV reported that Hugh Hefner and Sasha Huene had joined the cast, but they are not credited in the onscreen cast list. Production notes indicated that Sasha Hoyningen-Huene appeared in the movie as “Kellner.”
       LAT reported on 17 Jun 1976 that Ellen Bennett would make West’s wigs and stated on 3 Jul 1976 that Irving Rapper would direct the film. However, a news item in the 12 Nov 1976 DV announced that Rapper had left the project and neither he nor Bennett is listed onscreen. Likewise, neither graphic designer Rod Dyer nor production assistant Sal Grasso, who left the production early, according to New West, are credited onscreen.
       The Sheraton Town House hotel and the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles stood in for the locations referred to in the film as the Sussex Court Hotel and St. Martin's Church.
       With West reportedly earning $1 million and a percentage of profits, budget estimates for Sextette ranged from $4 to $7 million, according to news items in New West and in HR on 4 Mar 1976 and 14 Oct 1977.
       DV announced on 7 Mar 1977 that filming was scheduled to end in two weeks and a full-page advertisement in the 28 Apr 1977 HR announced the completion of principal photography.
       Although Sextette had no listed distributor during production, Warner Bros. sponsored the film’s preview on 16 Sep 1977 at the Westwood Bruin Theatre in Los Angeles, according to articles in New West and the 14 Oct 1977 HR. On 13 Dec 1977, DV announced producers Daniel Briggs and Robert Sullivan’s plan to open Sextette in mid-Feb 1978, at Mann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, CA, following the run of Star Wars (1977, see entry), with a national release to follow after Easter. However, Star Wars proved to be so popular, its run at Mann’s Chinese was extended and Briggs and Sullivan had to reschedule the release of Sextette to 2 Mar 1978 at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. Unable to find a distributor, the producers had to distribute it themselves, according to a 23 Feb 1978 HR news brief. On 17 May 1978, Var announced that New World Pictures would distribute Sextette internationally and noted that although it had played at the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles and at the Berlin Film Festival, which took place 22 Feb-5 Mar 1978, the movie still had no domestic distributor. Months later, Crown International Pictures acquired Sextette for worldwide distribution and planned to play up its campy qualities in anticipation of a Thanksgiving release, reported HR on 22 Sep 1978 and 25 Sep 1978. According to a 14 Nov 1978 HR news brief, Crown scheduled a premiere on 16 Nov 1978 at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco, CA. The following year, Sextette played as a midnight movie at New York City’s 8th Street Playhouse, where the predominantly gay clientele dressed up as the movie’s characters and shouted out the lines, noted the 1 Oct 1979 Village Voice. Still hoping to turn the film into a camp classic, Crown released the picture for a series of midnight runs in Southern California on 14 Dec 1979, according to the 6 Dec 1979 HR and the 17 Dec 1979 DV.
       DV reported on 3 Apr 1981 that Sextette would be one of the first films that Crown sold to pay and subscription television services and on 30 Apr 1982, HR announced the distributor’s plans to re-release Sextette as a midnight movie in New York City starting on 14 May 1982.
       Critical reception for Sextette ranged from mildly positive to strongly negative. While the 3 Mar 1978 LAHExam acknowledged that West delivered the kind of performance her fans wanted to see, the 2 Mar 1978 DV found the film a “pitiful and embarrassing attempt at camp” whose only amusing element was Dom DeLuise’s portrayal of “Dan Turner.”
      End credits include the following text: "Our sincere thanks to the Royal Navy and especially the Captain and Crew of H.M.S. Cleopatra".
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
12 Jan 1976.
---
Box Office
2 Oct 1978.
---
Cue
6 Jul 1979.
---
Daily Variety
9 Oct 1968.
---
Daily Variety
28 Jul 1970.
---
Daily Variety
29 Apr 1976.
---
Daily Variety
4 Aug 1976.
---
Daily Variety
12 Nov 1976.
---
Daily Variety
30 Nov 1976.
---
Daily Variety
2 Dec 1976.
---
Daily Variety
15 Dec 1976.
---
Daily Variety
23 Dec 1976.
---
Daily Variety
27 Dec 1976.
---
Daily Variety
13 Jan 1977.
---
Daily Variety
24 Jan 1977.
---
Daily Variety
2 Mar 1977.
---
Daily Variety
7 Mar 1977.
---
Daily Variety
9 Mar 1977.
---
Daily Variety
2 Nov 1977.
p. 2.
Daily Variety
13 Dec 1977.
---
Daily Variety
2 Mar 1978
p. 3, 6.
Daily Variety
22 Sep 1978.
---
Daily Variety
17 Dec 1979.
---
Daily Variety
3 Apr 1981.
---
Films in Review
Aug-Sep 1979.
---
Hollywood Citizen-News
12 Feb 1969.
---
Hollywood Reporter
23 Jun 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
27 Feb 1976
---
Hollywood Reporter
4 Mar 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
4 Aug 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Aug 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 Nov 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 Nov 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Dec 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Dec 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
4 Mar 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Mar 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Apr 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Oct 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
5 Jan 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
23 Feb 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
2 Mar 1978
p. 3, 10.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Mar 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Mar 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
22 Sep 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
25 Sep 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Oct 1978
p. 1, 4.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Nov 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
16 Jan 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Dec 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
21 May 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Jun 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 Apr 1982.
---
LAHExam
3 Mar 1978.
---
LAHExam
26 Mar 1977.
---
LAHExam
23 Feb 1997.
---
Los Angeles Times
16 Jun 1976.
---
Los Angeles Times
17 Jun 1976.
---
Los Angeles Times
1 Jul 1976.
---
Los Angeles Times
3 Jul 1976
Section II, p. 6.
Los Angeles Times
1 Dec 1976.
---
Los Angeles Times
15 Dec 1976.
---
Los Angeles Times
24 Dec 1976.
---
Los Angeles Times
12 Jan 1977.
---
Los Angeles Times
25 Jan 1977.
---
Los Angeles Times
20 Feb 1976.
---
Los Angeles Times
23 Feb 1977.
---
Los Angeles Times
30 May 1977.
---
Los Angeles Times
15 Sep 1977.
---
Los Angeles Times
19 Sep 1977.
---
Los Angeles Times
16 Dec 1977.
---
Los Angeles Times
2 Mar 1978
p. 1.
New West
16 Jan 1978
p. 44.
New York Times
8 Jun 1979
p. 10.
People
4 Dec 1978.
---
Playgirl
Sep 1976.
---
The Advocate
14 Jul 1976.
---
The New Republic
30 Jun 1979.
---
Time
7 Feb 1977.
---
Variety
15 Sep 1976.
---
Variety
9 Mar 1977.
---
Variety
8 Mar 1978
p. 31.
Variety
17 May 1978.
---
Variety
21 Mar 1979.
---
Variety
30 May 1979.
---
Variety
19 Dec 1979.
---
Village Voice
18 Jun 1979.
---
Village Voice
1 Oct 1979.
---
Women's Wear Daily
20 Dec 1976.
---
Women's Wear Daily
17 Jan 1977.
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT

NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Special appearance by
And
as Dan Turner
Cameo appearances (In alphabetical order)
(All American Gymnast)
(Mr. California)
(Mr. U.S.A.)
(Mr. Universe)
(Mr. America)
(Mr. America)
(Mr. Pennsylvania)
(Jr. Mr. California)
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
Briggs and Sullivan present
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr/assoc prod
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Asst cam
Asst cam
Gaffer
Key grip
Key grip
ART DIRECTOR
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Asst prop master
Asst prop master
Prop leadman
Set dec
Set dec
Set des
COSTUMES
Miss West's gowns des
Furs for Miss West
MUSIC
Mus ed
Pre-prod mus supv
Orch
Mus supv
For Filmusic
Mus mixer
Asst mus ed
Song dir
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom man
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Title des
DANCE
Choreog
Asst choreog
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Line prod
Prod liaison
Casting
Prod assoc
Prod assoc
Scr supv
Title des
Casting asst
Prod secy
British footage prod
British footage prod
Prod assoc.
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play Sextette by Mae West (production date undetermined).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"After You've Gone" Henry Creamer-Turner Layton, Morley Music Co. Inc.
"Baby Face" Benny Davis-Harry Akst, Warner Bros. Music, a division of Warner Bros. Inc.
"Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen" Neil Sedaka-Howard Greenfield, Screen Gems-EMI Music, Inc., additional lyrics by Ian Whitcomb
+
SONGS
"After You've Gone" Henry Creamer-Turner Layton, Morley Music Co. Inc.
"Baby Face" Benny Davis-Harry Akst, Warner Bros. Music, a division of Warner Bros. Inc.
"Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen" Neil Sedaka-Howard Greenfield, Screen Gems-EMI Music, Inc., additional lyrics by Ian Whitcomb
"Honey Pie" John Lennon-Paul McCartney, Maclen Music, Inc.
"Hooray For Hollywood" Richard A. Whiting-Johnny Mercer, Warner Bros. Music, a division of Warner Bros. Inc.
"Love Will Keep Us Together" Neil Sedaka-Howard Greenfield, Neil Sedaka Music, Inc.
"Next Next" composed and conducted by Van McCoy
"Marlo's Theme" written and performed by Van McCoy, Warner-Tamerlane Music
"Happy Birthday Twenty-One" vocal performance by Mae West, courtesy M.G.M. Records, Inc.
+
PERFORMER
DETAILS
Release Date:
2 March 1978
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 2 March 1978
New York opening: 9 June 1979
Production Date:
began 1 December 1976 in Los Angeles, California
Copyright Claimant:
Briggs & Sullivan, Inc.
Copyright Date:
27 September 1978
Copyright Number:
PA14487
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Color by Metrocolor
Duration(in mins):
91
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
24549
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In London, England, news outlets report on two major events taking place simultaneously at the Sussex House Hotel: heads of state gather for an important world peace summit and American movie star Marlo Manners checks in for her wedding night after marrying Sir Michael Barrington. As Marlo’s manager, Dan Turner, prepares the bridal suite for the star’s arrival, he explains to Sir Michael that Marlo is supposed to start a new movie immediately following her honeymoon, and will need to have a costume fitting and shoot a screen test that afternoon. Although he is not happy about the encroachment on his wedding night, Sir Michael grudgingly acquiesces. Turner leaves the bridal suite for a clandestine meeting with Dockweiler, who entreats him to persuade Marlo to do a mysterious task “for Uncle Sam.” Meanwhile, Marlo reminisces about her former husbands, Russian diplomat Alexei Andrea Karansky and director Laslo Karolny, as she dictates her memoirs into a tape recorder. Elsewhere, gossip columnist Rona Barrett’s live report from the hotel lobby suggests that Marlo is similar to the lascivious characters she portrays. Sir Michael interrupts Rona’s broadcast to defend Marlo’s honor and instead unwittingly leaves the journalist with the impression that he is gay. Meanwhile, Turner asks Marlo to do one last favor for her country. When she demurs because she is in love with Sir Michael, Turner reminds Marlo that she has no choice since she agreed years ago to date and even marry important political figures at the behest of the State Department. Now the U.S. government wants Marlo to influence her ex-husband Alexei, who is attending the summit meeting. ... +


In London, England, news outlets report on two major events taking place simultaneously at the Sussex House Hotel: heads of state gather for an important world peace summit and American movie star Marlo Manners checks in for her wedding night after marrying Sir Michael Barrington. As Marlo’s manager, Dan Turner, prepares the bridal suite for the star’s arrival, he explains to Sir Michael that Marlo is supposed to start a new movie immediately following her honeymoon, and will need to have a costume fitting and shoot a screen test that afternoon. Although he is not happy about the encroachment on his wedding night, Sir Michael grudgingly acquiesces. Turner leaves the bridal suite for a clandestine meeting with Dockweiler, who entreats him to persuade Marlo to do a mysterious task “for Uncle Sam.” Meanwhile, Marlo reminisces about her former husbands, Russian diplomat Alexei Andrea Karansky and director Laslo Karolny, as she dictates her memoirs into a tape recorder. Elsewhere, gossip columnist Rona Barrett’s live report from the hotel lobby suggests that Marlo is similar to the lascivious characters she portrays. Sir Michael interrupts Rona’s broadcast to defend Marlo’s honor and instead unwittingly leaves the journalist with the impression that he is gay. Meanwhile, Turner asks Marlo to do one last favor for her country. When she demurs because she is in love with Sir Michael, Turner reminds Marlo that she has no choice since she agreed years ago to date and even marry important political figures at the behest of the State Department. Now the U.S. government wants Marlo to influence her ex-husband Alexei, who is attending the summit meeting. Alexei will concede to some issues important to the U.S. if he can have one more romantic dinner with Marlo. Once Marlo agrees, Turner explains his plan to distract Sir Michael with television interviews while she entertains Alexei. Before leaving, Turner takes the cassette tape onto which Marlo recorded her memoirs in order to destroy it, claiming it contains too many damaging state secrets. Sir Michael returns to the bridal suite and Marlo soothes his insecurity about being her sixth husband. Turner places the cassette tape in the oven of the hotel’s kitchen where it is accidentally baked into a cake, then returns to the bridal suite where he urges Sir Michael to refute the rumors that the lord is gay. While Turner muses about being secretly in love with Marlo and Sir Michael exacerbates the impression he is gay as he talks to sportscaster Gil Stratton, Marlo meets Alexei for dinner in his suite. Marlo notices that the cake Alexei ordered contains her taped memoirs. As Alexei proclaims his love for her, Marlo dissuades him from eating the cake and he throws the dessert out of the window. When the cake lands on the ground, a dog runs off with the tape. As Sir Michael gives another interview, he spies Marlo on the balcony with Alexei. Meanwhile, the dog drops the cassette tape on the field where the visiting U.S. Athletic Team is practicing. Spotting the tape on the end of a javelin, Marlo leaves Alexei to retrieve the cassette at the gym where the U.S. team is working out. Before she can get to it, however, the tape is launched by trampoline out of the gym and into the mouth of a gargoyle on the hotel roof. Marlo returns to the bridal suite to conduct a screen test directed by her former husband, Laslo, while Turner arranges a photo opportunity between Sir Michael and the U.S. Athletic Team. The athletes mention to the lord that the cassette that piqued Marlo’s interest landed on the gargoyle. Later, Sir Michael walks in on the screen test and, not realizing the romantic scene is staged, demands to know why Marlo is always with another man. Marlo reassures her groom that they are finally alone and while she changes out of her costume, he falls asleep on the bed. As Dockweiler informs Turner that Alexei gave in to American interests, Turner notices another of Marlo’s former husbands, gangster Vance Norton, entering the hotel lobby and demanding to see Marlo. Dan rushes to inform Marlo that Vance, who had been presumed dead, is on his way to see her. Meanwhile, Sir Michael awakens and climbs onto the balcony. Vance enters Marlo’s room and explains he had to fake his death. Although Vance claims he is still married to her, Marlo cannot remember whether she went through with her plan to divorce him. Turner and Marlo realize the only proof of the divorce would be in her memoirs. When Marlo informs Turner she saw the cassette tape land in the gargoyle’s mouth, he and Vance leave to get the tape, not realizing Sir Michael is already on the roof looking for it. After Turner and Vance fail to locate the tape, Sir Michael finds the cassette and reenters the building. He encounters the hotel chef, Christopher, who greets Sir Michael as a member of the Secret Service. The lord gives Christopher the tape and returns to his room as the chef wheels a cake into the state dinner. Back in the bridal suite, Vance and Sir Michael argue about which one of them is legally married to Marlo until they notice the live television broadcast of the state dinner and see the cassette on top of the cake. Marlo, Turner and Vance go to the banquet hall where Vance pulls a gun on the group until one old Italian dignitary, the Godfather, commands him to play the tape. The recording reveals political secrets on every diplomat in the room and clearly indicates that Marlo divorced Vance before he disappeared. Marlo warns the ambassadors that she has enough information on all of them to start a war so they had better work out their problems. Marlo returns to her room to find Sir Michael gone; a note explains he is one husband too many for her. Determined to save her marriage, she prepares to check out of the hotel as Turner informs Marlo that because of her, the heads of state signed the peace pact and that Sir Michael is really a secret agent who has been working undercover. Marlo does not care that Sir Michael leaked her tape to the ambassadors; she only wants to be with him. Later, on his yacht, Sir Michael realizes that Marlo is waiting for him in his bed. When he commends Marlo for doing as much for her country as Paul Revere, she counters with the hope that she can echo Revere’s words: that “the British are coming.” +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.