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THE DAY OF THE LOCUST

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Donald Sutherland, Karen Black, Burgess Meredith, William Atherton
Director: John Schlesinger
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: None
Length: 144 Minutes
Release Date: June 8, 2004

Film **1/2

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 affection.

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.

Video **

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.

Audio ***

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.

Features (Zero Stars)

Nothing.

Summary:

Some films you simply can’t figure out, no matter how laced with goodness they clearly are. The Day of the Locust is such an example of this type of film. I acknowledge the level of talent displayed by both the cast and the director, but in the end I felt the story itself left too much to be desired.