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Pamela Franklin

Five Sleazy Pieces

[Originally published in Movietone News 25, September 1973]

Recently I encountered a phenomenon—I refuse to call it a book—labeled The Only Good Indian and coauthored by Ralph and Natasha Friars. Its specific sins against the English language and any recognizable form of ratiocination are catalogued elsewhere in this issue. I mention this pseudo-scholarly study of the American Indian’s martyrdom by cinematic slings and arrows only because it exemplifies a particularly cavalier attitude towards product and consumer alike, an attitude rampant not only in selfrighteous critical tracts like the Friars’, but also in an increasing number of current films. People like the Friars don’t have to make sense (either stylistically or thematically), don’t have to work at selling their shoddy wares even on the level of persuasive polemic. Why? Because their readers are pre-sold, previously primed to ingest that which already constipates their thinking. Not, admittedly, a new process—this recycling of pap that effects no change, no growth, only a mild to offensive case of intellectual flatulence. Still, recent movies like The Last of Sheila, The Harrad Experiment, and most particularly Badge 373, Harry in Your Pocket, and The Legend of Hell House impel one to speculate about a spiraling trend towards just this sort of bland diet in the cinema.

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The Last of Sheila cashes in on the audience’s putative taste for the games (rich) people play, not to mention psychic stripping, a spectacle many in our group-therapy-ridden society have come to relish in and for itself with or without any therapeutic payoff for the individual involved. Broadway composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim—who, with close friend Tony Perkins, wrote Sheila‘s screenplay—is reputedly hooked on the puzzle-game habit himself. Perhaps as a result, the film retains the half-thought-out, initially grabby but ultimately flabby quality of a neat idea cooked up by old buddies with shared interests over late-night scotches.

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Review: Food of the Gods

[Originally published in Movietone News 52, October 1976]

Bert I. Gordon’s initials form a whimsically appropriate acronym for the work of a man whose directorial stock-in-trade since the middle Fifties has been giantism. This time he has served up another “portion” of H.G. Wells’s The Food of the Gods, on which his 1965 Village of the Giants was also loosely based. The premise of the story involves the creation, by vengeful Nature, of a pasty substance that seeps out of the hillside on a small Canadian island, causing giantism in creatures that eat the stuff. This gives Gordon the opportunity to dwell on giant wasps, rats, chickens (?!), and a few other goodies (one of which, in the film’s only high point, is discovered by Ida Lupino behind a row of Mason jars on a cupboard shelf and is sure to delight anyone who’s ever reached into a dark area, afraid of finding something unpleasant). The wasps are animated-in à la Hitchcock’s The Birds; the chicken is a model; the rats are real, shot in closeup and writ large into the world of human beings via rear projection and matte work. But the detail of Gordon’s extreme-closeup work on the rats—though it maintains the illusion of size and generally conceals the model and matte work—leads to poor perception of spatial relationships and a frustratingly shallow depth of field: A big rat, yes: but where is he in relation to the players, and to the other rats we just saw in the preceding shot? In most cases, there’s no telling. Further, the bigness of Gordon’s creatures, unlike that of Wells’s, is not matched by a similar bigness of idea. Little attention is paid to the script’s early, labored explanation that the food of the gods has no effect on adult animals but causes overgrowth only in juveniles. And a pregnant woman who—logic demands—is in the story so that her infant will somehow ingest the “F.O.T.G.” and grow large (something like this happens in Wells’s novel), ultimately serves no dramatic purpose at all, except to give birth at the height of a rat attack, under even less comfortable circumstances than Melanie Wilkes.

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