Sunday, June 28, 2009

Day 136: Day of the Locust (1975) - Rank 5/5


What a bizarre movie. Within the first five minutes, a young Jackie Earle Haley (in possibly his creepiest career role...and that's saying something) strolls up, dressed in full Shirley Temple attire, and blows kisses at our protagonist for the film and coquettishly imitates Mae West in saying: "Why don't you come up some time and see me, big boy?" From that point on, you realize you're in for an odd ride. The central focus is around Tod Hackett (William Atherton), a storyboard artist fresh in from the East Coast with aspirations of "making it big" in Hollywood. He takes up residence in a tenement complex, still cracked from the 1936 earthquake, where he meets a variety of odd characters. Abe Kusich (Billy Barty) an alcoholic dwarf with a penchant for cock fights. Harry Greener (Burgess Meredith), a has-been vaudvillian who utilizes his old schtick for selling cheap, cure-all tonic door-to-door.

The wackiest of them all is Harry's daughter Faye. A bubbly, blond Karen Black who turns one of the best performances of her career. Being the shallow individual that I am, I have trouble taking her serious in intense roles because of her wandering eye, but it actually adds to the daffiness of Faye Greener, a girl who flirts with every man but withholds herself from them all, and who has aspirations of lighting up the screen but never ends up as anything more glorious than an extra. Tod falls in love with Faye and her carefree nature, but he soon finds himself competing for her love for Homer Simpson (Donald Sutherland - who plays his role with such quiet, yet powerful intensity, you half expect him to punch a hole in a nearby wall after delivering a line). However, both men soon begin to realize that Faye may not be a girl who can be satisfied by any one man as she comes on to one man after the next, from Mexican drifters to studio executives (Tod's boss, played in a delightfully smarmy manner by veteran character actor Richard Dysart, a man possibly best remembered for his role in "The Thing").

Hpe and aspiration soon become disillisionment and dispair as notions of love are dashed by torrid affairs, film sets become graveyards and the idyllic notion of Hollywood is reduced to a madness akin to WWII Germany. Clearly director John Schlesinger's focus is the false promise of Hollywood and the film industry - a promised land where people flock to with the thought of becoming famous only to have those dreams dashed and to lose any innocence of mind or spirit they may have had left. This theme is really hit home with the film's climax - a descent of humanity into primal insanity and bloodlust (a sequence of events as unsettling as the finale to "Quatermass and the Pit"). While excellent performances and gorgeous cinematography (thanks to Conrad Hall) make this a film worth remembering, the haunting imagery and mood that Schlesinger incorporates make it a story you can't shake.

Watch the Trailer

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