Tuesday, January 27, 2015

cinema obscura: Peter Ustinov's "Hammersmith Is Out" (1972)

One rarely encounters a cinematic calamity as uncouth, outragous and gleefully offensive (and hilarious) as 1972 "Hammersmith Is Out," Peter Ustinov's willfully unhinged take on the "Faust" legend.

Beau Bridges plays a greasy sleaze wittily named Billy Breedlove who falls in thrall of both Hammersmith, a patient at the facility for the criminally insane where Billy works as an orderly, and Jimmie Jean Jackson, a hashslinger with pretentions. These roles are played by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, clearly cast against type when they were at the height of their reign as the film industry's "It" couple.

As the creepily unemotional Hammersmith goes on a killing spree, Billy and Jimmy Jean continually consummate their relationship in a variety of ill-advised locations - until Hammersmith ultimately comes between them.

Ustinov is on hand as the asylum director trying to keep an eye on Hammersmith and, as the film's auteur, he's surrouned his stars with some top character actors - Leon Ames, John Schuck, George Raft, Leon Askin and the wonderful Anthony Holland who, as another orderly, earns laughs almost effortlessly, without the strenuous mugging employed by Taylor and Bridges. (Burton is aptly stoic throughout.)

The film includes such howlers as Taylor referring to Bridges' member as a "monkey dick" and Bridges bending over to flatulate in Ustinov's face.

Why on earth didn't this film ever make the midnight circuit?


michael w. said...

Without shame, I admit it: I like "Hammersmith Is Out." Don't know how it holds up. Haven't seen it in years. I do remember that Ustinov's stylistic excesses reveal an unpalatable truth about human nature at its worst.

Vadim said...

To my mind, this film always seemed very brute and sensational, but I wouldn’t call the film unprofessional, more just uncreative and filled with surface effects, which didn’t accrue any complexity to the "Faust" subject matter.

Sheila said...

I remember this film - haven't seen it in ages. I enjoyed the “comic book psychology” that allowed me to connect with the incredible and flamboyant style that Ustinov brought to it. This goes against everything I usually look for in a film. I'm talking about my need to connect to a character’s emotion or motivation, in order to find the filmmaking successful or to justify filmmaking that tries to be “flamboyant”. That is the albatross I am talking about: that films have to have people we “care” about. Not true! The people here are horrid. I'd like to see it again.