Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '76 - Everett Jones ""

Monday, August 29, 2016

Underrated '76 - Everett Jones

Everett is an avid movie watcher and user of Letterboxd like myself - follow him there: - I've gotten many good film recs this way.

See his Underrated '96 and '86 lists here:
Peter Bogdanovich was arguably the first of the “movie brat” directors of 1970s Hollywood to emerge, as both a recognized name and a box-office success. He was also the first to experience the large-scale failures and public backlash that eventually, either at the end of the decade or start of the next, overtook them all. The odd thing is that, unlike his contemporaries’ not necessarily bad but undeniably excessive Waterloos--One from the Heart, Heaven’s Gate, New York, New York--his string of flops seem hardly in diminished in quality to me from his hits. 1974’s Daisy Miller is--aside from a not-great Cybill Shepherd performance--the best Merchant Ivory movie Merchant Ivory never made. 1975’s At Long Last Love is admittedly not good, though also unique if nothing else, but 1976’s Nickelodeon is delightful. Especially in the B&W version put out on DVD--the movie’s about the early, pre-Birth of a Nation days of filmmaking, and Bogdanovich’s precise, witty direction is a good match for the classics of silent comedy, which tend to be both hilarious and beautiful.

The Desert of the Tartars
This all-star European production starts off like an entry into a particularly old-fashioned Hollywood genre--the colonial adventure movie. Think Beau Geste or Gunga Din. It will only gradually become apparent to you, if like me you never read the once-popular novel the film was based, that this is something else entirely. Director Valerio Zurlini is an underappreciated name, not as unmistakable in signature or colorful in public as many of his peers in ‘60s and ‘70s Italian cinema, but very accomplished and consistent in turning out accomplished dramas. I’d be surprised if the Criterion Collection or some other comparable party didn’t spearhead a major rediscovery of his work in the U.S. at some point. Of what I’ve seen so far--and none of it’s easy to see--this is my favorite, something like a David Lean movie that turns into a Franz Kafka novel.

Robin and Marian
A low-key, revisionist Robin Hood movie starring Sean Connery that hasn’t really received much more attention in recent years even as director Richard Lester’s career, as a whole, has. But it made a big impact on me as a kid, not particularly as a Robin Hood movie (Lester doesn’t make a big deal out of his Robin’s feet of clay, certainly not enough to eclipse memories of my favorite, Errol Flynn), but as a cynical, antiheroic ‘70s movie. I was raised on ‘80s popcorn movies, on Spielberg and Lucas and Joe Dante, and along with the similarly themed Little Big Man, this was probably my first encounter with the New Hollywood sensibility (even if American-born Lester was British-based.) What made the greatest impression on me wasn’t the reimagining of fictional characters, but Richard Harris’s performance as the real-life King Richard I, presented here as an alcoholic, psychopathic despot just returned from a futile foray into the Holy Land, along with the middle-aged, weary Robin and Little John (Nicol Williamson.) Harris has only a few scenes, all in the beginning, but he’s unforgettable as a prototypical ‘70s bad authority figure. The remaining cast couldn’t be better chosen: Audrey Hepburn as Maid Marian (probably the best role of her spotty later career), Robert Shaw as the Sheriff, Denholm Elliot as Friar Tuck, and Ian Holm as King John.

The Ritz
A prolific director these days is one who releases a movie every year, or even every other year, but in 1976 Richard Lester managed to release two. And I’d also recommend that second film, which if anything is even lesser-known. As an adaptation of a play, Terrence McNally’s then-hit Broadway comedy, it might not seem to reveal many traces. And being almost entirely set inside one (windowless) location, gay a NYC bathhouse, it feels much more than one decade removed from his visually freewheeling ‘60s work, like A Hard Day’s Night and Help! But this admittedly minor film is also a great deal of fun, probably one of the more successful old-fashioned farces made on film since the heyday of Billy Wilder and Blake Edwards (along with Bogdanovich’s Noises Off, another underrated Bogdanovich picture.) I think it works a lot better than the much better-knownLa Cage Aux Folles, which has the same theatrical feel and now very dated, but then positive, approach to gay characters at a time of still-generalized movie homophobia. The standouts in the cast, many of them from the original production, are Rita Moreno, as a third-, or maybe fourth-, rate lounge singer who performs at the bathhouse, and F. Murray Abraham (to someone born in the ‘80s, it’s somehow just impressive seeing him anywhere outside the court of Vienna) as its most uninhibited patron. But it’s also always great seeing “that guy” character actor Jack Weston (Wait Until Dark, A New Leaf), here in the closest thing to a starring role either he or the movie ever had, as a Cleveland waste-disposal exec hiding out from his murderous Mafioso brother-in-law (Jerry Stiller) in the least likely place he’d encounter him (the central joke of the story being that many of these establishments were owned by religiously observant Mafiosi.)

Next Stop, Greenwich Village
Paul Mazursky is a quintessential ‘70s Hollywood director who--just like Hal Ashby--seems to belong all the more to that decade in not having a signature style that could be imitated outside of it. His actor-driven, seriocomic movies are a still-semi-undiscovered treasure trove of the era. This is an autobiographical piece, his I Vitelloni or American Graffiti, about moving from Brooklyn to, of course, the Village in the ‘50s, as Mazursky did. The appealing, not very well-known Lenny Baker plays the Mazursky stand-in, the proverbial nice Jewish boy with a proverbial Jewish mother (Shelley Winters), who aspires to be an actor (Mazursky became one, and appeared in Stanley Kubrick’s independent first movie, Fear and Desire.) The rest of the cast is filled with more recognizable faces, mostly in the start of their careers and less locked into the personas we now know them by: Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum (particularly funny as a Victor Mature/Tony Curtis-like ‘50s matinee idol), Lois Smith, Antonio Fargas, Ellen Greene (and Bill Murray, mustachioed and for a few seconds in the corner of one crowd scene).

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