Thursday, September 06, 2007
cinema obsura: Hal Ashby's "The Landlord" (1970)
The directorial debut of a former editor - the late, great Hal Ashby - the 1970 film was hastily denounced as "blaxploitation" by critics who simply didn't "get it." Judith Crist, then-critic for New York magazine, and Gene Shalit, the die-hard critic of The Today Show (and also Look magazine), both named it one of the year's "10 worst films." Hardly.
Based on a wonderful novel by African-American writer Kristen Hunter and adapted by the estimable Bill Gunn ("Ganja and Hess"), another African-American,"The Landlord" looms as a template for responsible socio-comic filmmaking.
Beau Bridges - in perhaps his first and last screen role of any relevance - is hugely appealing as Elgar Enders, a clueless rich kid who decides to liberate himself from his repressive family by setting up housekeeping in the Park Slope neighborhood of New York - and this was years before the idea of inner-city gentrification became a reality.
The film consists of one memorable moment after another, fueled by a major (and award-worthy) performance by Diana Sands as one of Bridges's tenants and entertaining supporting turns by Lee Grant (Oscar-nominated), Louis Gossett, Jr., Pearl Bailey, Walter Brooke, Robert Klein, Susan Anspach, Marki Bey, Mel Stewart, Douglas Grant, Will MacKenzie (now a TV director) and in a brief, hilarious bit, dancer Grover Dale.
On the technical side, there's Al Kooper's spot-on song score and the always-reliatable Gordon Willis' shimmering cinematography - so good that it makes even a ghetto setting seem inviting and comparionable.
Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.
(Artwork: Beau Bridges in his best role as Elgar Enders in "The Landlord"; Bridges with Louis Gossett, Jr. and the late Diana Sands in a musical dream sequence ultimately cut from the film)
* * *
Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com
Posted by joe baltake at 7:16 PM