Carnal Knowledge: Wikis


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Carnal Knowledge (film)

original movie poster 1971
Directed by Mike Nichols
Produced by Mike Nichols
Written by Jules Feiffer
Starring Jack Nicholson
Art Garfunkel
Candice Bergen
Rita Moreno
Carol Kane
Editing by Sam O'Steen
Distributed by AVCO Embassy Pictures
Release date(s) June 30, 1971 (New York City premiere)
Running time 98 min
Language English

Carnal Knowledge is a 1971 American drama film. The film was directed by Mike Nichols and written by Jules Feiffer.


Plot summary

Sandy (Art Garfunkel) and Jonathan (Jack Nicholson) are college roommates whose lives are explored and seem to offer a contrast to one another. Spanning a 25-year period, from their college years in the mid-1940s to middle aged adulthood in the early 1970s, the film explores their various relationships with various women (played by Candice Bergen, Ann-Margret, Carol Kane, Cynthia O'Neal, and Rita Moreno).

A review of the film which appeared in the Saturday Review by Hollis Alpert was later quoted in a legal proceeding as follows:[1]

"[It is basically a story] of two young college men, roommates and lifelong friends forever preoccupied with their sex lives. Both are first met as virgins. Nicholson is the more knowledgeable and attractive of the two; speaking colloquially, he is a burgeoning bastard. Art Garfunkel is his friend, the nice but troubled guy straight out of those early Feiffer cartoons, but real. He falls in love with the lovely Susan (Candice Bergen) and unknowingly shares her with his college buddy. As the "safer" one of the two, he is selected by Susan for marriage.
"The time changes. Both men are in their thirties, pursuing successful careers in New York. Nicholson has been running through an average of a dozen women a year but has never managed to meet the right one, the one with the full bosom, the good legs, the properly rounded bottom. More than that, each and every one is a threat to his malehood and peace of mind, until at last, in a bar, he finds Ann-Margret, an aging bachelor girl with striking cleavage and, quite obviously, something of a past. "Why don't we shack up?" she suggests. They do and a horrendous relationship ensues, complicated mainly by her obsessive desire to marry. Meanwhile, what of Garfunkel? The sparks have gone out of his marriage, the sex has lost its savor, and Garfunkel tries once more. And later, even more foolishly, again."[2]

Legal problems

The changes in the morals of American society of the 1960s and 1970s and the general receptiveness by the public to frank discussion of sexual issues was sometimes at odds with local community standards. A theatre in Albany, Georgia showed the film. On January 13, 1972, the local police served a search warrant on the theatre, and seized the film. In March 1972, the theatre manager, Mr. Jenkins, was convicted of the crime of "distributing obscene material". His conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court of Georgia. On June 24, 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court would find that the State of Georgia had gone too far in classifying material as obscene in view of its prior decision in Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973) (the Miller standard), and would overturn the conviction.[3] Jenkins v. Georgia, 418 U.S. 153 (1974). The court also said that,

Our own viewing of the film satisfies us that Carnal Knowledge could not be found … to depict sexual conduct in a patently offensive way. Nothing in the movie falls within … material which may constitutionally be found … "patently offensive" … While the subject matter of the picture is, in a broader sense, sex, and there are scenes in which sexual conduct including "ultimate sexual acts" is to be understood to be taking place, the camera does not focus on the bodies of the actors at such times. There is no exhibition whatever of the actors' genitals, lewd or otherwise, during these scenes. There are occasional scenes of nudity, but nudity alone is not enough to make material legally obscene… Appellant's showing of the film Carnal Knowledge is simply not the "public portrayal of hard core sexual conduct for its own sake, and for the ensuing commercial gain" which we said was punishable…


In popular culture

The movie was used in an episode of The Wonder Years in Season 5, with the same title.

On an episode of All in the Family, Archie and Edith return home looking somewhat distraught. Edith says "I thought it was a religious movie, with a title like Cardinal Knowledge." Archie responds "I had to tilt my head to watch it" and calls the film "hardpore cornography".


  1. ^ The Saturday Review’s Review of Carnal Knowledge was quoted in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Jenkins v. Georgia, 418 U.S. 153 (1974)
  2. ^ Review of Carnal Knowledge by Hollis Alpert, Saturday Review, July 3, 1971, p. 18.
  3. ^ Censored Films and Television at University of Virginia online

External links

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