Penelope: A Hysterical Caper Comedy

Natalie Wood, Peter Falk, and Lila Kedrova in Penelope. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Penelope, starring Natalie Wood in the title role, is a hysterical caper comedy that asks the question of whether committing a crime can save a marriage.

Imagine robbing your husband’s bank because you’re not getting enough attention from him.  This is exactly what happens for Penelope Elcott (Natalie Wood) when her banker husband, James Elcott (Ian Bannen), is more focused on his work than his wife at home.  One day, Penelope disguises herself as an old women and steals $60,000 from the bank.  That’s really the gist of the film and it gets crazier the further we go.  When Penelope does confess at the police station, nobody bothers as much to even believe her.  What does she do?  Rob the bank again!

There’s a solid supporting cast rounding out the film including Dick Shawn, Peter Falk, and Jonathan Winters to name a few.  I’m familiar with Dick Shawn’s work from his appearances in It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and The Producers.  It’s nice to see him in a different kind of role as a psychiatrist, Gregory Mannix–one who also needs to see a psychiatrist after seeing his kleptomanic own client!  Peter Falk–prior to starring in Columbo–co-stars as Lieutenant Horatio Bixbee, a cop investigating the robbery.  At one point, you almost think he’s going to solve the case right then and there when Penelope is wearing the yellow suit.  But alas, it does not happen.  As for Winters, his character isn’t the nicest guy by any means–not even at all–but Professor Klobb’s actions are what help set Penelope down this criminal path.

The film features one of earliest film contributions from composer John Williams.  The maestro composes the music for the title theme song as well–featuring lyrics from Leslie Bricusse.  It is a memorable tune even if it doesn’t appear on the 2-disc greatest hits from Williams.  If you’re a Williams fan, Penelope is worth checking out just to hear his pre-Spielberg/Lucas work.

For a comedy from the 1960s, the humor holds up quite well.  There are points in the second act where I felt the film kind of drifting off in a different direction.  However, it starts getting right back on track.  I didn’t find myself losing attention because the laughs–from an overall standpoint–kept coming.  The jokes manage to right themselves.  At one point, Penelope sits in with her husband and views the robbery footage at the police station.  In natural comedic fashion, you couldn’t even tell it was her.

While Wood herself is fine in the film, the mid to late 60s took on a different turn in her personal life.  After Penelope, the actress would not make another film for three more years.  But yet, the filmmakers went all out in making sure Wood has a top-notch wardrobe in the film.  You certainly couldn’t go wrong with Edith Head.

While Penelope wasn’t well-received in 1966, people ought to give it another chance.

DIRECTOR:  Arthur Hiller
CAST:  Natalie Wood, Ian Bannen, Dick Shawn, Peter Falk, Lila Kedrova, Lou Jacobi, and Jonathan Winters

MGM opened Penelope in theaters on November 10, 1966. The film is available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive. Grade: 3.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.