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Annette O’Toole

Review: ‘Smile’

[Originally published in Movietone News 44, September 1975]

The bilious purple lettering of the credits prepares us for Conrad Hall’s photographic style through the first half or so of Smile: motion aside, everything appears as it might in a drugstore-developed roll of Kodacolor snapped on a picnic. Smile takes us to Santa Rosa, California—cinematically immortalized as the iconographically ideal American smalltown in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943)—and plunges us eyeball-deep into American camp, several strata below kitsch. The Young American Miss beauty pageant, or rather the sub-pageant designed to yield a contender to represent the state of California, is tooling up. Bruce Dern, as a used-car and trailer dealer known to one and all by the loaded moniker “Big Bob” Freedlander, is deeply touched to learn that Barbara Feldon, a one-time Young American Miss now in charge of marshalling the girls, has provided a special gold nametag for him as head judge. His ole buddy—and Feldon’s hubby Nicholas Pryor—is less than enchanted with her nonstop pageant trip, which condemns him to evenings of TV dinners and booze, and with the initiatory ordeal approaching him: on the eve of turning 35, he must kiss a dead chicken’s ass while his brother, over-the-hill business pals cheer.

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Review: One on One

[Originally published in Movietone News 55, September 1977]

Benson’s and Segal’s screenplay for One on One must have been particularly inviting to Lamont Johnson, combining as it does the interest in two-character confrontations that keynotes virtually all of the director’s work with the admiration for little-guys-who-become-winners-through-sheer-cussedness that Johnson exhibited in The Last American Hero. For me (and, I suspect, for Johnson, too), One on One is the quintessential Johnson film to date. In it, Johnson takes a delicate subject that many another director might easily have turned to syrup, and creates a dramatic, engaging, affecting story of determination and triumph. In the pre-credits prologue, opposition is established as the key motif of the film, as Johnson crosscuts from one side of the gym to the other during a high school basketball game, from one set of cheerleaders to the other, from the high school coach to a college coach who is there as a scout. Tension between opposing points of view or allegiances fighting for domination of the spirit of smalltown basketball star Henry Steele is already established for us even before the disparate viewpoints themselves are stated through dialogue.

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