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JACK NICHOLSON & ART GARFUNKEL IN 'CARNAL KNOWLEDGE'

Jack Nicholson raging through CARNAL KNOWLEDGE Year: 1971 Rating: ***1/2

If you can get past a then thirty-four year old Jack Nicholson as a virginal college freshman after having asserted himself a man of the world in previous films, you’ll do alright... 

CARNAL KNOWLEDGE sets itself up as a nostalgic just-came-of-age tale but quickly changes decades and storylines later, and, most important, sexual relationships, beginning with University boys Jack and his best friend Sandy — played with a natural screen presence by Art Garfunkel— both dating the same prized Ivy League girl, Candace Bergen… Jack having moved in carnally without Art's knowledge… 

CARNAL KNOWLEDGE with Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel

Here's where we get to know the characters through interesting direction and narrative-style dialog used in conversation between the two pals, seeming like each speaker is being interviewed while both have been learning the ins and outs of sex during the 1950’s...

And then to the 1960's where the mood changes to a tensely contained docu-style art film: combative Jack shacks up with voluptuous, somewhat lazy actress Ann-Margret, and there are some great Nicholson rants here – but where’s Garfunkel? 

CARNAL KNOWLEDGE with Cynthia O'Neal and Ann-Margret

Since the first story centered on both characters playing off each other's contrary personalities, his sporadic screen time makes Jack a one-dimensional grump sans the wily charm – though witnessing his FIVE EASY PIECES style tantrums are fun nonetheless (Karen Black had it easy).

One of the best scenes involves Jack attempting a swap with one of Art’s girlfriends, played by Cynthia O'Neal, a competitive feminist-type who hardly melts to his devilish swagger and who quietly hisses to Jack when he attempts a swap with her Jack with Art and Ann: "You wanna come around sometime by yourself, that's one thing. I've been expecting that. But you tell Sandy that if he lays one hand on that tub of lard in there, not to come home..." 

CARNAL KNOWLEDGE with Jack Nicholson & Art Garfunkel with Carol Kane

What began as a time-period-spanner is about to end quicker than initially expected, teetering on the last act that reintroduces the two college friends as full-blown adults: Jack's gone overboard with machismo while a mustached Art’s found contentment in young intellectual Carol Kane... 

Perhaps if it didn’t play around with time changes so quickly, we’d get to know both guys better for a more complete story. What’s left works well enough, since director Mike Nichols obviously intended that this aesthetically pleasing film center more on its title than the characters therein: but for the intended character study to have worked completely, it takes two to really tango.

Candace Bergen in CARNAL KNOWLEDGE with Art Garfunkel
CARNAL KNOWLEDGE with Art Garfunkel
CARNAL KNOWLEDGE with Jack Nicholson
CARNAL KNOWLEDGE with Ann-Margret
CARNAL KNOWLEDGE with Ann-Margret
CARNAL KNOWLEDGE with Jack Nicholson

Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel in CARNAL KNOWLEDGE
Ann-Margret CARNAL KNOWLEDGE
Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel in CARNAL KNOWLEDGE and Cynthia O'Neal
Jack Nicholson in CARNAL KNOWLEDGE and Cynthia O'Neal
Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel in CARNAL KNOWLEDGE

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