Thursday, September 06, 2007

cinema obsura: Hal Ashby's "The Landlord" (1970)

"The Landlord," arguably the best film on race relations made in this country, will be given a long-overdue revival at New York's Film Forum, 208 West Houston Street (at Sixth Avenue), for one week, beginning September 19th.

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)

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John H. Kaiser said...

Never heard of it before. Not available on DVD.
Will keep an eye out for it.

joe baltake said...

It's been available on VHS, but not yet on DVD. Also "The Landlord" showed up a couple times as a late-night feature on Turner Classics. Great film.

jbryant said...

Good movie! Still can't believe the Academy found room for Grant but not Sands. Nothing against Grant, of course.

Daryl Chin said...

THE LANDLORD is being revived in New York City at Film Forum; this is a new "restored" print, which usually means that a DVD is in the works if the studio is going to the trouble of trying to get a really good print.

Anonymous said...

It's a great movie. I had hoped it would appear on DVD soon after its FIlm Forum run, but so far no go. Come on Criterion Collection!