Day of the Locust (1975)

Day of the Locust (1975)

A Story by Doug Ordunio
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a very dour movie about Hollywood based on the novel of Nathanael West

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Director: John Schlesinger

 

This film is a rather ugly but compelling portrait of Hollywood in the post-Depression era. Based on the 1939 novel of Nathanael West, it follows Tod Hackett (William Atherton) who is an underling at the production department of Paramount Pictures. As the film begins, he is looking at an apartment at the San Bernardino Arms a typical one-story group of apartments around a central courtyard. The manager is showing him the “Earthquake apartment” whose wall has a gigantic crack caused by the Long Beach earthquake (a 6.4 temblor).  In a way, the crack is a symbol for Hollywood, where the artifice of surface hides the damage beneath. In the first scene, he inserts an artificial flower in the opening.

In the case of all the characters who are not studio executives, there are numerous cracks. Tod’s neighbor is Faye Greener (portrayed perfectly by the lion-eyed Karen Black), a wannabe actress who lives at the S.B. Arms with her father Harry (Burgess Meredith), an out of work vaudevillian who tries to sell bottles of Miracle Solvent from door to door.

We meet Faye’s friend Earle Shoop (Bo Hopkins), an out-of-work cowboy actor whose friend is Miguel (Pepe Serna) a man who lives in the hills and runs illegal cockfights.   Another character is Homer Simpson (yes! that’s his character name) (Donald Sutherland), a conservative man who has a rather short fuse, although we don’t see it except when we least expect it.  He lives alone in a substantial elegant house in the hills. Adore Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley) is a bratty child whose mother is trying to push her, him or…it into being a child star.  Abe Kusich (Billy Barty) is another of Tod’s neighbors who he has big problems with his much taller wife.

Tod falls in love with Faye at first sight, but she is not really interested. As Harry later notes, Faye is a CT.   Tod gets to know his real boss Claude Estee (Richard Dysart) and he gives Tod a boost in his career. When Claude invites him to a party at his friend Audrey’s house, we find that she shows stag films to the gathered.  Tod also discovers that a friend of Faye, occasional film extra, Mary Dove (Leila Goldoni), is a hooker for Audrey. He suspects that Faye may be employed in a similar capacity.

Tod is beginning to work on drawings for a massive film scene based on the battle of Waterloo. He takes inspiration from anywhere but he draws faces that seem to be inspired by the angst-ridden visages of the German expressionists.

There are some classic moments such as an evangelical service, whose primary purpose is to make money. It is seemingly run by a woman who seems to resemble Aimee Semple MacPherson. As Big Sister (Geraldine Page) is preaching, her manner of speaking seems like it could also be a woman in the midst of sexual ecstasy rather than purely religious fervor. As Homer and Faye sit in the audience, Harry is pushed onstage in a wheelchair and Big Sister, who obviously knows his acting ability, “cures” him of his inability to walk.

After Harry dies. Faye moves in with Homer, but he is a man much too conservative for Faye’s taste. . She frequently belittles him, and there is a poignant scene where the two try to dance to the song being played on the radio, “Dancing on a Dime.” Homer is stiff and doesn’t know how to hold her. As they awkwardly turn around, we see that Faye is crying.  Another striking scene is shown where Faye, Homer and Tod go to a jazz club. Homer becomes unnerved when the transvestite singer sits on his lap.

Faye has Earle and Miguel move in to Homer’s garage because Faye says they are down on their luck.  One night, he hears Faye making some unintelligible songs from her bedroom. He enters and finds Faye and Miguel in flagrante poontang.

Tod has been hired to create designs for a filmed version of the battle of Waterloo. In the end, during the filming, he sees that all the “Danger” signs warning the extras to keep off the flimsy structure of the hill. The set collapses injuring many extras.  Faye, fortunately, is unhurt.  When later he points out to Claude that the signs were not posted, Claude says “What would it matter?”

In the climactic scene, it is the night of Cecil B. De Mille’s The Buccaneer (1938) at Grauman’s Chinese theater. Huge crowds are there. A nearly catatonic Homer, dressed in a gray suit, carrying a suitcase, is getting out of town on foot. As he sits on a bus bench on a side street, Amore comes up and begins to taunt him, calling him a “Nazi spy.” When she picks up a rock and throws it at his head, hitting him, Homer goes berserk and chases the child, ultimately stomping Amore to death. The crowd sees what he has done and turns on him. Faye sees Tod in the crowd but cannot get to him. As he agonizes in pain, due to his broken leg, he sees images of the tortured faces he has been painting and drawing. The riot turns completely grotesque.

The riot fades and we see a scene similar to the sunny quality of the opening. Faye walks into Tod’s apartment which is now vacant and appears even more wrecked than at first. The camera closes in on the flower he stuck in the wall.

 

For the most part Day of the Locust is a depressing look at Tinseltown of long ago. The film did win a BAFTA award for best costume design for Ann Roth. Burgess Meredith was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. The movie contains a scene where Tod visits Claude Estee at home. His abode is the famed Hollyhock House of Frank Lloyd Wright.

© 2011 Doug Ordunio


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Added on December 18, 2011
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Author

Doug Ordunio
Doug Ordunio

Tujunga, CA



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I have been writing for a little while-- Please read and you might be entertained. Please don't send me tons of read requests. If you must send one, make sure it's your best stuff. From me, you will.. more..

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