Saturday, March 17, 2012

Stubs - The Day of the Locust

THE DAY OF THE LOCUST (1975) Starring: Donald Sutherland, Karen Black, Burgess Meredith, William Atherton. Directed by John Schlesinger. Produced by Jerome Hellman. Written by Waldo Salt. Based on a novel by Nathaniel West. Music by John Barry. Run Time: 144 minutes. Color. US. Drama.

The best way to describe the film is that it’s like taking Nathaniel West’s novel, dropping it into a blender, adding scenes and filming the results. While the film shares the same characters and interactions of the novel, many of the events in the novel do not happen in the same sequence. The resultant movie seems to be more of a series of vaguely related vignettes about people on the fringes of Hollywood that don’t add up to a congealed whole.

William Atherton, perhaps better known as the asshole news reporter in the first two Die Hard films, plays Tod Hackett, a painter who works in Hollywood doing production designs. Living in the apartment across the way is Faye Greener (Karen Black), an aspiring starlet who mostly does extra work, and her father Harry Greener (Burgess Meredith), a one-time performer reduced to selling miracle solvents door-to-door.

Faye is blonde and beautiful and Tod easily falls in love with her. But getting involved with Faye is a little like falling down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. Through her Tod is introduced to Earle Shoop (Bo Hopkins) an urban cowboy before there was that phrase who, like Faye, is an extra. Earle lives in the hills with Miguel (Pepe Serna) a Mexican who raises roosters for cock fighting. Donald Sutherland, who gets top-billing, is Homer Simpson, a hapless businessman who falls in love with, but never can seem to seal the deal with, Faye. Faye is the stereotypical crazy girl, who even her father refers to a c-teaser. Tod, like Earle and Homer, is infatuated with her, but never can bed her and never do figure her out.

Also living in the complex is Adore Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley) an annoying kid actor whose mother is always taking him to auditions. Abe Kisch (Billy Barty) is a midget, naturally, who has trouble with women.

One day, Harry has an attack while selling his solvent to Homer and Faye comes by looking for him. Homer is immediately smitten. Harry rallies, but it is short-lived. Faye and Homer at one point take Harry to a Big Sister (Geraldine Page) revival, but that doesn’t seem to help. When Harry does eventually die, Faye and Homer develop a business-deal and she moves in with him, though they never share a bed.

Tod, meanwhile, gets his break in Hollywood when he gets the attention of his boss’s boss Claude Estee (Richard A. Dysart) and is assigned to do production drawings for a film about the battle of Waterloo. Estee invites Tod out for an evening of dinner and stag films. Tod will later return the favor by inviting Claude to cock fights in Homer Simpson’s garage. The party that follows deteriorates into a drunken brawl when Faye is found in bed with Miguel, first by Homer who impudently does nothing, and then by Earle, who starts to beat up on 
Miguel and breaks furniture and windows in the process.

The film is quite disjointed and one scene rarely sets up the next one or the one after that. The film does end in a similar way to the book with a riot at the premiere of a Cecil B. DeMille film at the Grauman Chinese Theater. Homer, for some reason, is walking around carrying suitcases, though it doesn’t appear he is going any place in particular. Tod, who is caught up in a traffic jam caused by the premiere, sees Homer and tries to talk to him. But Homer is in a catatonic state and is unresponsive.

While sitting on a bus bench not too far away from the premiere, Homer is accosted by Adore, who berates Homer and even strikes him with a rock in the forehead. This sets Homer off. He chases down and eventually stomps the life out of Adore. When the crowd hears the boys screams, they come running and in mob-rule mentality literally starts to pull Homer apart. Hearing the commotion, the police, who are at the premiere, try to break up the scuffle, which in turn sets off a riot, with looting, cars being over turned and fires. Tod who has been trying to find Homer gets caught up in the riot and gets wounded.

Overall I found the film to be a little confusing, very depressing and too long. This is definitely a case where you cannot watch the movie instead of reading the book, because the book and film, while telling the same basic story, do so in very different ways. While the original novel is considered to be a classic, the film is perhaps best forgotten unless you’re doing a survey of failed adaptations.

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