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A young man returns home after a three year tour of duty in the navy only to find things are somewhat different from when he left. His kid sister has grown into a young woman, the job he thought was waiting for him turns out to have some unique conditions, and perhaps most importantly his former sweetheart has married a wealthy and much older man. Disillusioned, he drifts from job to job while trying hard to avoid the advances of his former girlfriend, who is unhappy in her marriage and longs for something extra. While all he wants to do is make something of his life, his will power will be put to the ultimate test. Written by
Kevin Steinhauer <K.Steinhauer@BoM.GOV.AU>
There's a lot to like about this film, even though it's slight and, too often, dramatically crude. The director, Harvey Hart, went on to do mostly television in his career and that's a little surprising, because he frames scenes in very thoughtful, compelling ways. The story doesn't have quite the depth or psychological complexity to support all those hysterical camera angles, (he had to have been influenced by Elia Kazan's classic "East of Eden" - which interestingly, he later went on to direct the TV movie remake of) but it keeps the movie from getting boring - which it all too easily could have become.
The best thing about the film is the cast. Michael Parks. Ann-Margret. Kim Darby. Janet Margolin. They're all bright, young, attractive, appealing (and in Ann-Margaret's case scorchingly sexy) - you don't mind spending an hour and a half with these people. It's particularly interesting to watch Parks in one of his few fully fleshed out roles. He was often criticised for being a 2nd rate James Dean imitator, but there's very little of that here. As in "The Happening" which he would appear in a couple years later, he shows a real talent for physical, self-mocking comedy - sort of lampooning the expectations of his Dean-like appearance. In fact, you get the feeling he's struggling to shed all that "sensitive young rebel" baggage, and is much more comfortable just being a clown.
Parks unfortunately slogged and mumbled his way through a lot of wretched movies throughout his career but here he IS an actor. There is one key exchange which illustrates this perfectly. He walks into a bar after a disillusioning encounter with a Mortician friend he thought was going to give him a job, no strings attached and has the following conversation with the bartender: "Bus, you look like you just got back from a funeral." "I did." "Whose?" "Mine, I guess." Not especially original dialogue, but Parks is able to put a spin on that last line which makes it sound fresh and, more importantly, real.
For a film that never quite comes together, (and in fact falls apart in the 2nd half) it boasts an unusually high number of memorable scenes: Parks' early morning, exhilarating embrace of his kid sister (Darby) his first day back; A-M deliberately running her expensive car into his new convertible so that he'll have to notice her; and my favorite - Parks walking out on her in some club, and A-M following him slowly in her car as he mills through the deserted streets of his hometown. The two of them really connect in some of their early scenes together (they're as good as anything between Beatty and Wood in "Splendor in the Grass") so it's really disappointing when the decision is made to reduce A-M from a 3 dimensional character to 2 dimensional as the story unfolds. The relationship simply isn't explored in a satisfactory or believable way.
Nevertheless it's fascinating watching this curiosity, through the miracle of video, that's been virtually buried for 35 years.
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