And deservedly so.
Arguably the best movie on race relations made in this country by a major studio (United Artists, which specialized in independent films before that phrase was coined), "The Landlord" marked the directorial debut of the late, great Ashby, who started his career as an (Oscar-winning) editor.
"The Landlord" is notable for having a rare behind-the-scenes diversity that most likely explains its success as a reasoned, level-headed and yet hugely emotional social study. Its source material is a novel by Kristen Hunter, adapted for the screen by Bill Gunn, himself a filmmaker (1973's "Ganja and Hess"). Both Hunter (1931-2008) and Gunn (1929-1989) were black; Ashby (1929-1988) and Gordon Willis (1931-2014), the film's peerless cinematographer, were white. Its cast, of course, is mixed.
Bridges - in perhaps his finest (and most relevant) performance - is hugely appealing as Elgar Enders, a clueless rich kid who decides to liberate himself from his repressive conservative family by purchasing a run-down apartment building in the Park Slope neighborhood of New York and setting up housekeeping among its black tenants - and this was years before the idea of inner-city gentrification became a dubious reality.
There are entertaining supporting turns by Lee Grant (Oscar-nominated here) and Walter Brooke ("The Graduate") as Bridges' parents; Susan Anspach and Will MacKenzie (now a TV director) as his sister and brother; Louis Gossett, Jr. and Douglas Grant as Sands' husband and son; Robert Klein as Anspach's boyfriend; Marki Bey as a dancer attracted to Bridges, and Pearl Bailey (1918-1990), terrific as another tenant. And then there's Grover Dale in a brief, hilarious bit as Grant's personal dancer instructor. (BTW, prior to "The Landlord," Grover Dale and Will MacKenzie appeared in the original Broadway production of the musical "Half a Sixpence.")
Judith Crist, reviewing for New York magazine, and Gene Shalit, critic for The Today Show as well as Look magazine, both named it one of the year's "10 worst films." Hardly. Crist was a friend and, when I asked her about her harsh response to the film, it seemed to be largely in reaction to one anti-Semitic joke in the script: When Grant finds out that Bridges is dating the light-skinned Bey, she shrugs, "She's probably only Jewish."
Crist was also critical of the artwork for the film (which was obviously inspired by the ads for "M*A*S*H"): A phallic finger poking at two doorbells that resemble breasts.
Ashby's next film after "The Landlord" was "Harold and Maude" (1971) which was also initially dismissed before finding a loyal cult audience. Then came an amazing output: "The Last Detail" (1973), "Shampoo" (1975), "Bound for Glory" (1976), "Coming Home" (1978) and "Being There" (1979).
Beau Bridges, meanwhile, always one of my favorite actors, has had an eclectic career with some 200 television and movie credits that are all over the map, but among his films, I especially appreciate the two titles he made for Sidney Lumet, "Lovin' Molly" and "Child's Play," James Frawley's "The Christian Licorice Store," Peter Ustinov's "Hammersmith Is Out," John Schlesinger's "Honky Tonk Freeway," Jonathan Kaplan's "Heart Like a Wheel," Tony Richardson's "The Hotel New Hampshire," Steve Kloves' "The Fabulous Baker Boys," Jack Fisk's "Daddy's Dyin' ... Who's Got the Will?" Michael Ritchie's "The Positively True Adventures of the Texas Cheerleader-Killing Mom," Diane Keaton's "Wildflower," Alexander Payne's "The Descendants"and, of course, "Gaily Gaily" and "The Landlord."
"The Landlord" looms as a template for responsible socio-comic filmmaking at its best, both entertaining and informative. TCM will air it again tomorrow night, November 28th, at 10 (est).
It's a quick shot of Ashby's real-life wedding to actress Joan Marshall who, under the name of Jean Arless, played Emily/Warren in William Castle's seminal 1961 cult film, "Homicidal." The "love-in"-style wedding - Ashby was an old hippie - was attended by the film's producer, Norman Jewison, and its cast. That's title star Beau Bridges (above) in the yellow tee on the extreme left. If you look closely, glimpsed directly behind the bearded Ashby is Diana Sands and behind her is the film's ingenue, Marki Bey.
And that's Jewison getting kissed (below) by Marshall. It was Joan's personal experiences which she related to scenarist Robert Towne that became the basis of perhaps Ashby's biggest commercial hit, "Shampoo."
Hal Ashby died in 1988.
Bonus Picture: Bridges with Gossett and Sands in a musical dream sequence ultimately cut from the film:
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~Beau Bridges in the opening sequence of "The Landlord"
~Publicity shots of Hal Ashby and Norman Jewison
~Diana Sands and Bridges in a scene from the film
~Diana Sands and Bridges in a scene from the film
~One-sheet posters for "The Landlord" and Fox's "M*A*S*H"
~The pre-credits wedding of Ashby and and Joan Marshall (aka Jean Arless)
~Bridges with Gossett and Sands in the musical dream sequence deleted from the film.
~photography: United Artists and Twentieth Century-Fox (1970)©