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Starring: Donald Sutherland, Karen Black Director: John Schlesinger Rating: Format:
Horror in Hollyweird,
[This review is part of my 31 Days of Hallowen series.]
Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust is by consensus the great Hollywood novel, a poison-pen letter aimed squarely at the tinsel heart of the movie biz. Only in the 1970s could Hollywood actually hazard a film of this story, and the result is suitably corrosive. William Atherton is the observer Tod, Karen Black the blond starlet Faye, and Donald Sutherland the hulking Homer--but they are easily out-acted by the colorful supporting cast. In particular, Burgess Meredith's exhausted showbizzy salesman and Billy Barty's strutting dwarf are superbly crafted gargoyles in this Hollywood wax museum. Director John Schlesinger piles on the rancid atmosphere and rampant hypocrisy until the movie fairly drowns in its own grotesque vision. Long before the climactic apocalyptic riot, the film has torn itself up. There's no substitute for West's wicked prose, so the adaptation comes across as a literal-minded screech rather than a true bonfire of the vanities. --Robert Horton
From the Back Cover
Nathanael West's novel about Hollywood decadence in the late '30's is a brilliant piece of film making. A deeply insightful work that is powerful in its presentation, staggering in its vision. Director John Schlesinger is masterful in creating a world of platinum blondes, cockfights, glamour and broken dreams. And throughout, he plays on the edge of sexual and physical danger which finally erupts in the shocking climax. Oscar nominations went to Burgess Meredith and cinematographer Conrad Hall.
I first saw this movie
an aeon ago after reading the book. I don't think I appreciated it so much back
then--but I do now. In order to really appreciate the ending, I suggest not
reading the book first (if you haven't already.)
One of the reasons I appreciate the film more today is that at the time of the initial viewing, I hadn't seen Karen Black's work as an actor. In hindsight now I can really appreciate what a great actress she is. The horror/suspense movies she participated in during the 70's earned her the position of (at least) Princess of Horror (Betty Davis being the Queen--deserving the title for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?—not to mention the string of B Horror Flicks she is also remembered for.)
The movie is all about the decadence of Hollywood—and it was pretty damn decadent—much more so than today. People didn’t bother to go to rehab in those days & the studios controlled the media (Elsa Maxwell & Hedda Harper were to change all that in the 40’s & 50’s—and the 60’s gave rise to the paparazzi.)
The characters include producers, writers, actors...and all the people who catered to their every need & whim. There's even a group of Mexican toughs who run an illegal chicken fight racket. It looked to me that this particular scene was for real—and it was pretty darn graphic. It did "artistically" fit into the plot—and the movie was made prior to any humane oversight--but I can't defend the nauseating inclusion in the film. It is what it is & I closed my eyes—and deducted a star in response.
Burgess Meredith turns in an outstanding performance as Black's door-to-door salesman/vaudevillian father. This is one of the few times I've actually seen Meredith’s full stature in a movie & it came as a surprise to me to see how short he was (and I'm not confusing him with the actor Billy Barty who actually is a midget—and is powerful in this film.) One of the most striking scenes in the movie is Meredith’s funeral. The wax like figure in the casket is such a shocking contrast to Meredith’s almost maniacal portrayal of the living person. Even in death the character makes a rather frightening statement.
Donald Sutherland plays Homer Simpson (that's right, namesake of The Simpson's dad—and the similarity ends there.) His character is so bottled up & repressed, that it's gotta break out--and it does in an incident of graphic homicide.
The most striking scene for me is the one where Karen Black's aspiring actress character is arguing with her father over something—it really doesn't matter what. The full damaged, schizophrenic nature of her character comes into play: She simultaneously shakes her boobs at her father, cries, screams and laughingly leers. It is a grotesque display of a woman coming apart at the seams—and Karen Black plays it to the hilt.
This film is definitely
NOT for the kiddies.
I will not give the ending away--I just couldn't be that cruel.