Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

An Unmarried Woman (1978)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

An Unmarried Woman (1978)

In director/writer Paul Mazursky's serious and groundbreaking (but dated) feminist film, a romantic drama that portrayed the character of a Upper East Side Manhattan wife who suddenly became insecure and "unmarried" when her long-standing marital relationship abruptly ended:

  • the film opened with a title sequence that was backgrounded by a couple during an early morning jog through parts of the Upper East Side of NYC near where they lived; the two were mid-30s wife/mother Erica Benton (Oscar-nominated Jill Clayburgh), a part-time Soho art-gallery worker, with her stockbroker husband Martin Benton (Michael Murphy); Martin was quickly disgruntled after stepping in dog poop on the sidewalk with his expensive $35 dollar "sneakers" ("F--king city's turned into one big pile of dog s--t! Come on out and take a crap on me! Everybody else is!"); when she complained that he was about to smoke a cigarette, he criticized her - an ominous foreshadowing: "The longer I'm married to you, the more you sound like my mother"
  • after making love ("a little quickie") in the bedroom before Martin left for work, she performed a giddy dance in only her T-shirt and panties, pretending that she was performing a pas de deux for "Swan Lake"
  • that evening, she was casually nude as she changed her clothes and they chatted together in their bedroom; she was therefore entirely unprepared the next day when he suddenly stopped and began sobbing on the street after lunch together. She first asked: "Marty, Marty, come on, what is it, honey? What's the matter? What is this? What, tell me?" - he delivered a tearful admission about his year-long affair with another woman whom he met at Bloomingdale's: ("I'm in love with somebody else. I'm seeing another woman, for over a year. At first, you know, I thought it was just a-a fling. But it isn't. I love her. I want to live with her. Oh God, I don't want to hurt you. I don't want to hurt Patti. But I-I can't...She's not a whore or anything. Her name's Marcia Brenner. She's, she's a teacher. She's twenty-six. I met her at Bloomingdale's, for Christ's sake. I was standin' there buying a shirt, you know, and she-she was standing next to me. She asked me if I liked this shirt that, uh, that she was buying for her father. Oh, God! I'm so sorry")
  • Erica's first stunned words were to have him confess to their precocious 15 year-old daughter Patti (Lisa Lucas) attending private school: "You tell Patti, you tell Patti that you're sorry." Martin repeated: "I'm in love with her." Erica asked a stony question: "She a good lay?" and then fled down the street and soon vomited; she was accompanied by her obvious confusion, humiliation, and anger towards all men
Erica's Stunned Reaction - Throwing Up
  • Erica began to "erase" Martin's memory by removing all of his belongings and piling them into the living room, and also removing her gold-band wedding ring from her finger
  • after the breakup, she continued to meet regularly with her gossipy girlfriends at an upscale bar, including bitter, man-hating divorcee Elaine (Kelly Bishop), Sue (Patricia Quinn) who was barely tolerating her asexual marriage, and another middle-aged divorcee Jeanette (Linda Miller) engaged in an affair with a "very mature" 19-year-old still living at home with his parents, and admitted that she had an eye massage with him: "There ain't nothin' wrong with a good, old-fashioned eyeball orgasm."
  • while seeking a divorce, she had a number of uncomfortable experiences including a "definite f--kin' pass" made at her by family physician Dr. Jacobs (Daniel Seltzer), who claimed he only invited her out for a drink. She sarcastically told others how it happened: "My husband left me for a younger woman. Ha, ha, ha....He was buying a shirt in Bloomingdale's and he fell in love." She felt depression, confusion, fear and loneliness, and was overwhelmed by having to see other men or to pursue dating, although she was open to it: "I'd risk it with some new men." A blind date with an infatuated and clueless Bob (Andrew Duncan) at a luncheon went poorly.
  • in ongoing therapy with lesbian psychiatrist Tanya Berkel (Penelope Russianoff), she was advised to continue on with her life, and that it was OK to feel angry, jealous, and depressed, but not guilty ("I would like to see you... take a vacation from guilt")
  • in a difficult and argumentative meeting with Martin, he noticed her bitterness and asked: "How can you hate somebody that you were in love with for 16 years?" Feeling demeaned by the break-up, she snapped back that they had made love almost 2,000 times during their marriage: "Did you fall out of love with my, my flesh, my body, or me - with Erica? Did you fall out of love with Erica?...I was your hooker, Martin. I was a bright, high-priced, classy hooker. Upper East Side by way of Vassar hooker, but I was your hooker."
Erica's One-Night Stand With Charlie (Cliff Gorman)
  • she agreed to a one-night stand ("Take me to your loft, Charlie") with smooth, gold necklace-wearing co-worker and womanizing swinger Charlie (Cliff Gorman). At first, she nervously blurted out: "Charlie, let's just do it, okay? Now, before I change my mind." He set the terms for their relationship: "Let's just get something straight right off the top, babe, huh? I don't get involved with my women. I'm a short-term guy. I don't fall in love. I don't wanna get married.... The only thing you can count on me for is sex. I am what I am. I make no bones about it." And then she confided in him: "Charlie, I've only slept with one man in 17 years." He told her (as he touched her) that she had a "beautiful body."
A Relationship with Artist Saul (Alan Bates)
  • later, she found a more reciprocal loving relationship with handsome and respectful, divorced strong-willed English abstract artist Saul Kaplan (Alan Bates) and slept with him almost immediately, but noted that although the sex was "very good", it was "sort of empty": ("I just slept with a man that I barely know. I mean, casual sex is not my...I'm experimenting. I'm, well, I know it sounds a little cold, but that's the way it is these days. I just want to see how it feels to make love to someone that I'm not in love with") - she also added how she really felt: "As soon as the sex was over, I wanted to leave"
  • toward the conclusion of the film, Martin confessed to Erica that he had broken up with his mistress: "I broke up with Marcia...Well, the truth of it is she left me. I don't know. I mean, the minute I moved in there, we stopped having fun" - he asked to come back, but Erica refused: "It doesn't work that way, you know?"
  • in the end (although she was "going steady" with Saul), she decided to part ways with him during the coming summer, when he proposed that she join him in Vermont. She finally realized that they were two very independent individuals, and she had to be in control of her life as an unmarried, self-fulfilling and independent woman

Title Sequence

Erica Benton (Jill Clayburgh) With Husband Early in Morning After "Quickie" Sex

Ballet Dancing After Martin Left

Erica Later in Evening Casually in Bedroom With Husband

Erica to Unhappy Husband Martin on Street: "What is this? What, tell me?"

Erica Suddenly Dumped by Husband

Conferring with Gossipy Girlfriends After Breakup
(l to r): Elaine, Erica, Sue, Jeanette

Consoling Her 15 Year Old Daughter Patti

Erica's Removal of Martin's Belongings

Martin's Confession That His Affair Had Ended


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