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Kay Lenz

Review: The Underground Man

[Originally published in Movietone News 32, June 1974]

While maintaining a properly modest reticence myself, I spent the commercial breaks—and part of the regular showtime—wondering who really should be the one to direct the film versions of Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer books. Altman has the southern California feel for the milieu, but—sometimes for good, sometimes ill—he can’t leave the original of anything intact enough to suit an admirer of the original. Besides, his acid-splashing approach to interpersonal relations runs counter to the concerned decency of Macdonald and his protagonist, a sort of well-meaning-English-teacher-with-an-edge private eye with memories of a long-ago world war and a marriage that failed. Huston? Yes, the Huston of today, the Huston of Fat City rather than The Maltese Falcon, the Huston who can now take his camera where a Lew Archer has to go without the sense of slumming that mars some of his best work (The Asphalt Jungle, for instance). Bogdanovich? Maybe, yes, if he can keep from quoting The Big Sleep (Hawks’s grey-and-grey soundstage world with sprinkler rain and Max Steiner thunder music and chauffeurs getting driven off piers on the wrong side of a town that has nothing to do with real space, isn’t Archer’s California, though it was certainly Bogart/Marlowe’s). Bogdanovich has the penchant for long-take, middle-distant contemplation that the styles of both novelist and detective call for.

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Review: Breezy

[Originally published in Movietone News 35, September 1974]

Breezy confirms the fitful but definite promise of Play Misty for Me and High Plains Drifter: Clint Eastwood can direct. Not brilliantly—at this point, anyway—but intelligently, and with conviction to spare. Conviction has a lot to do with the success of his third film, a movie one has only to synopsize in order to appreciate its bountiful capacity for ending up something dreadful: footloose hippie with big dark eyes, a funky hat, and a guitar keeps getting entangled with middleaged, joyless-playboy divorcé in real estate; she decides she loves him, he decides he “can’t cope” with loving her, they part, and an endearingly disproportionate dog reunites them. You can cut yourself off a generous portion of skepticism and still be won over by the cliché-trampling sincerity of Kay Lenz and William Holden in the respective roles. Eastwood himself stays offscreen this time (save for a brief atmosphere bit in longshot) and perhaps that helped his directorial concentration. Yet in another sense one almost feels his presence in the unforced sympathy he brings to both the young representatives of the counterculture (Breezy’s nicely characterized pals as well as the girl herself) and the well-preserved, semi-sporty, but distinctly middleaged lovers and other strangers Holden shares his California lifestyle with (Eastwood, almost incredibly, is pushing 50). It was by no means a given that Holden’s silvering hair and creased face should play off so movingly against Kai Lenz’s breathtakingly tawny-sleek flesh and clear eyes; shot after shot unobtrusively defines their awakening to a kind of mutual knowledge beyond facile paraphrase, and when Holden turns to Lenz in the night after recounting the failure of his marriage and fairly gasps, “You’re so incredibly new!”—well, it’s a considerably more awesome moment than anyone would have expected from a one-time cattle drover on Friday night CBS.

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Review: The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday

[Originally published in Movietone News 50, June 1976]

The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday may rate a footnote in film history as the first Hollywood Western to include oral-genital humor, and if that’s your idea of cinematic immortality, enjoy. As American-International Pictures’ first “class” production, the film does not bode well. Any one of AIP’s beach party flicks was funnier, and quite a few of their horror and action programmers have shown more class. You can wonder about the title for a while (Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday … is it a train? a medicine show act? a holiday?), but what it refers to is this old scout (Lee Marvin) who helped win the West and then misplaced his share of it; and this young refugee from a whorehouse (Kay Lenz) whose name becomes Thursday only momentarily, and irrelevantly. They travel some together, along with a clap-ridden halfbreed who went to Harvard (Oliver Reed) and an ineffectually randy reprobate (Strother Martin). There’s an old pal of the male trio’s (Robert Culp) who’s boondoggled and bombasted his way to a position of political prominence, along the way marrying the scout’s erstwhile girlfriend (Elizabeth Ashley), and we can’t forget—although we try, oh do we try!—the putatively lesbian madam (Sylvia Miles) our adventurers have “stolen” Thursday from. The Old West was a pretty silly place, you know: people fell in the mud a lot, and everybody was basically some kind of cheat. The music tells you when things are supposed to be funny, which is about 95 percent of the time; and about 100 percent of the time, it’s wrong.

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