[Originally published in Movietone News 50, June 1976]
Guy starts his movie with loving closeups of a ramrod squeezing oil down a rifle bore and a hand stroking off the outer barrel, he’d better have either a sense of humor or a deep enough fetishistic commitment to justify the indulgence. Harvey Hart, a Canadian director who did several seasons of American TV and a couple of U.S. feature films in the mid-Sixties, apparently possesses neither, but he’s consistently displayed a predilection for hanging his camera in pointlessly odd places and cluttering up his foregrounds as sententiously as possible. Since Shoot is based on a premise at once pretentious and preposterous, he’s the last man I’d have nominated to save it—and whaddaya know, I’d have been right.
Cliff Robertson is a forceful actor who’s always brought a sense of commitment to his work, and suggested a certain do-gooder spirit behind his selection of small, serious films to lend his talent to; it’s very likely he believed in the cautionary value of a movie about gun-worshipping, National Guard–enrolled, smalltown businessmen who get themselves into an escalatingly bad scene—starting with a spontaneous exchange of shots between them and another party of frustrated hunters in the woods one Saturday—and his quietly fervent performance as the ranking veteran is the sole commendable feature of the movie. Everything else about the film suggests cliché liberal values and a programmatic scheme of exploitable elements locked in unholy, and quite uninteresting, alliance: Robertson (the character’s name is Rex Jeanette) spends as much time as possible away from his alcoholic wife, who thinks he’s got a “friend” on the side although nothing we see or hear confirms this; his buddies make jokes about “faggots” and worry about being taken for “chickenshit” by their peers; the wife of one of his pals tries to seduce him, saying he’s “a real man” whereas her husband is “a very nice guy who doesn’t turn me on”; his sergeant sells National Guard carbines on the q.t. and is hence blackmailable into cooperating when Robertson wants to mount a military expedition against those guys out in the woods; etc., etc., etc.
Shoot is a low-budget film, obviously filmed in real homes, real hunting lodges, real stores, but Hart, for all his egregious handheld-camera zeroings-in and cutaways to available-light overhead shots, has nothing really to tell us about this environment or the people who live there. There’s a wishfully suspense-engendering gimmick involving a greyhaired man who gets Robertson’s number while Robertson is traveling about the countryside trying to learn just whom they shot in their sportsmanlike firefight the weekend before, but in light of the film’s climax and outcome this couldn’t have been more narratively irrelevant if it were a red herring, which it isn’t, quite. What it finally comes down to is you-bring-your-National-Guard-unit-and-I’ll-bring-mine … You bring the popcorn and I’ll bring the salt.
Direction: Harvey Hart. Screenplay: Dick Berg, after the novel by Douglas Fairbairn. Cinematography: Zale Magder. Art direction: Earl Preston. Editing: Ron Wisman, Peter Shalatow. Music: Doug Riley. Production: Harve Sherman; Executive: Dick Berg.
The players: Cliff Robertson, Ernest Borgnine, James Blendick, Henry Silva, Larry Reynolds, Helen Shaver, Gloria Carlin Chetwynd, Kate Reid.
© 1976 Richard T. Jameson