THE DAY OF THE LOCUST
Review by Gordon Justesen
Donald Sutherland, Karen Black, Burgess Meredith, William Atherton
Director: John Schlesinger
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Length: 144 Minutes
Release Date: June 8, 2004
Hollywood has been
envisioned many times in the movies, but there’s hardly ever been a portrait
of Tinsletown like the one in John Schlesinger’s The Day of the Locust. The film, adapted from Nathaniel West’s
acclaimed novel of the same name, is a rare look into a certain dark underworld
that existed in Hollywood during the 1930s. There’s a constant line in the
film that is drawn between that of satire and pure insanity. For me it was a
mixture that was nicely conceived, if uninvolving.
I never read
West’s novel, and quite frankly, never heard of the film either until the DVD
release (you’ll have to forgive me for being momentarily ignorant). Despite
the strong vision of Schlesinger, and the nice ensemble cast, I doubt those who
don’t cherish, or simply haven’t read the original novel are going to have a
difficult time getting into this satirical period piece.
The central focus,
in that of an array of many characters, is a young art director named Tod
(William Atherton). Tod has been hired by none other than Paramount Pictures to
work on a period war epic. While he should be concerned about how the film is
going to turn out, or what visual shape it is in, the one thing Tod can’t stop
thinking about is that of Faye (Karen Black), a blonde beauty who is an extra in
the film. A sight for the eyes, Faye is clearly the type who wants to exceed her
work as an extra and become that of a monumental celebrity.
The two soon fall
for each other and engage in a loving, if not bizarre, relationship. It is at
this point where Tod is revealed piece by piece the eccentric elements that make
Faye’s life not the Hollywood fairy tale she would like for it to be. She
lives with her alcoholic father (Burgess Meredith), a former big time star whose
condition has reduced him to the profession of a door to door salesman. Faye
also has a few strange incidents with two men, a cowboy and a Spaniard, who seem
to seem to have a thing for cockfights, in addition to wanting Faye’s
A moment of chance
results in Faye’s encounter of another man, named, strangely enough, Homer
Simpson (Donald Sutherland). Homer encounters Faye’s father, who’s
attempting to drink himself to death. He then takes him in a generous gesture.
When Homer meets Faye, he starts to become just as infatuated with her as every
other guy, though for Homer, it’s the rarest of feelings.
The film seems to
be a mixed bag according to the masses. Many have praised the film, going as far
as to proclaim it one of the strongest films to emerge from the 1970s. Others
have deemed it simply too strange for words, stating that the book was
un-filmable to begin with. Though it has some things going for it, I can
certainly agree with the latter of the two. The film has too many things going
on with its many different characters, leading up to what has to be one of the
most mind-boggling conclusions to any motion picture.
In the end, it just
depends on what you dig, and my honest opinion is The Day of the Locust is a momentarily engaging film with clearly a
lot of fire and not a lot of water to put it out.
I honestly have no
idea if it was me, or if the film was meant to look as periodically shoddy as it
did. Nonetheless, Paramount has recently done magnificent wonders to many of
their 60s and 70s pics on the DVD format, which is very much why I found this
one to be lacking so much. The anamorphic job applied to this 70s piece seems to
start off in a very flawed manner, though before long it seems to pick up and
appear more decent in the latter portions of the film. There are occasions were
the image seems to have both saturation and coloring overkill, along with the
fact that it just doesn’t appear as sharp as it could be.
The 5.1 mix is very
strong on that composer John Barry’s frequently played score to the film.
Dialogue itself is delivered much nicely, and a number of set pieces manage to
elevate the sound quality better than you’d expect. That bizarre final
sequence is indeed an example.