Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

THE DAY OF THE LOCUST

The movie premiere that climaxes Locust













THE DAY OF THE LOCUST (1975). Director: John Schlesinger.

"I could only let a fabulously rich man love me. I could only love a man criminally handsome. Please try to understand."

In Hollywood of the 1930's, artist Tod Hackett (William Atherton) lives in the same complex with aspiring star Faye Greener (Karen Black) and her father, an old-time performer named Harry (Burgess Meredith). Although Tod is very drawn to Faye, she wants a man with money, and winds up sexlessly cohabiting with the somewhat strange but wealthy Homer Simpson (Donald Sutherland). There is a nasty-minded midget (Billy Barty) and a bratty Shirley Temple clone (actually played by the male Jackie Earle Haley), as well as two guys who run cockfights out of Homer's garage. After two hours of meandering, the film arrives at a climax at a movie premiere that seems intended to wake the benumbed audience out of their lethargy but is too little, too late. When The Day of the Locust was released, it was overpraised in some quarters because of the admittedly vivid climactic riot and a "daring" scene of a child being stomped to death, which fooled people into thinking this piece of treacle was more adult and "meaningful" than it really was. Time has, unfortunately, not made the movie any better. Karen Black probably gives her all-time worst performance, so irritating is she that she almost sinks the movie right from the first, and Burgess Meredith isn't that much better. Atherton isn't bad at all, but Sutherland gives the best performance as Homer. Barty can do nothing to make his character less of a caricature, but Haley in drag is certainly vivid and memorable. Still, the movie presents unpleasant, and worse, uninteresting characters that you simply don't care about. Natalie Schafer, Nita Talbot, and William Castle [as a director] have small roles, as does Geraldine Page as an evangelist. A scene when a set collapses is well done from a technical standpoint. This was based on a novel by Nathaniel West; I don't know how faithful Waldo Salt's screenplay is to the source material, but it's pretty bad. The absolutely most disgusting scene shows poor Billy Barty kissing a rooster on its bloody beak. Dick Powell Jr., plays his father at the premiere-within-the-movie, which explains why he looks so much like the actor. Although Schlesinger was considered a "serious" director as, say, compared to Robert Aldrich, this movie is in reality little better than Aldrich's atrocious Legend of Lylah Clare! This is almost as bad as Schlesinger's Darling.

Verdict: Just a mess -- and boring to boot! **.

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