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The Day of the Locust
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Reviews & Ratings for
The Day of the Locust More at IMDbPro »

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67 out of 84 people found the following review useful:

One of the most haunting films of all time

Author: JonB-2 from Los Angeles, CA
23 July 2004

I don't quite understand the comments from the viewers who found this film boring. I've been lucky enough to see it on the big screen several times at revival houses, and each time I was blown away. Day of the Locust is a dark, compelling, amusing, bitter epic that's really more about America itself as filtered through the lens of Hollywood at its first creative height, in the 1930s.

What makes the movie, beyond the writing and direction, is its cast, and many of the supporting actors here create indelible characters. Why Karen Black didn't remain a superstar after this decade is a mystery, especially after this film -- in which she proves that she could act the hell out of a role. And how can you not like a film in which Billy Barty plays a foul-mouthed alcoholic (the first character we meet in the book), Burgess Meredith is a hapless door-to-door salesman, Natalie "Lovey" Shafer is the madam of a high-class whorehouse in San Bernardino, and Donald Sutherland is the repressed Homer ("No Relation") Simpson, an accountant who's so alienated from his own feelings that he's reduced to howling in despair in his own garden. And, in fact, Sutherland's character is involved in one of the film's most harrowing moments, which features a young Jackie Earle Haley as a promising child star of indeterminate gender but infinite obnoxiousness.

Anyway, if you have a chance to catch this film on the big screen, by all means do so, and be sure to add the DVD to your collection -- although, since we're coming up on the 30th anniversary, it's just possible that Paramount Home Video might decide to give it the deluxe treatment it deserves. Frankenheimer, et al, manage to take a brilliant novella by Nathaniel West and turn it into an amazing piece of cinema that will stick with you long after the lights go up. And, as an added bonus, you can just enjoy it as a great story, or delve deeply into the symbolism. This is the kind of film that works both ways, and one that you cannot miss if you consider yourself any kind of film fan at all, at all.

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44 out of 57 people found the following review useful:

Masterwork of the Cinema - unduly neglected and underrated

10/10
Author: Enrique Sanchez from Miami, FL
6 August 2001

Wow...

I've sat here in front of this blank for several minutes now.

I cannot find another word to describe this movie. The building tensions are handled so deftly, the ending, which must rank among the most harrowing scenes in all art, comes both as a surprise and as no surprise.

William Atherton, Karen Black, Donald Sutherland, Burgess Meredith, Richard Dysart - all incomparably perfect in every way in these roles.

Schlesinger is a master, the Barry score is cleverly arranged and the Hall photography and Clark editing, especially in the final sequence is just about the most prodigiously horrendous and horrific in all cinema.

I'm still shaking.

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38 out of 46 people found the following review useful:

Donald Sutherland's finest performance

9/10
Author: squelcho
17 July 2005

Can you believe that back in the dark ages of the 1970s, UK fleapits would run double bills like Chinatown/Day of the Locust? Two of the finest films of the 70s in a single sitting was quite an experience. I've never forgotten either movie. I've seen Chinatown on TV a couple of times, but The Day of the Locust is still vividly imprinted in my mind from 1975. It's one of the most harrowing visions of the rancid side of the American dream ever committed to celluloid. A real masterpiece of design, script, ensemble playing, cinematography and direction. Humanity at its most despicable and malignantly deranged has rarely been captured as majestically as this.

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34 out of 41 people found the following review useful:

"...a forgotten masterpiece of 70's cinema"

Author: Mark Randall (mrandcast@aol.com) from Hollywood, CA
15 May 1999

Many critics consider The Day of the Locust by Nathaniel West to be the best novel ever written about Hollywood. The screen version directed by John Schlesinger and written by Waldo Salt is one of the most faithful adaptations of a book to film ever made. Initially overlooked upon it's release in 1974 (to mixed reviews), it has since developed a huge cult following and is now considered to be a forgotten masterpiece of 70's cinema.

It tells the story of Todd Hackett who comes to Hollywood in the 1930's (but it might as well take place in the present) hoping for a career in set design, he soon finds that the road to success in the film industry is a difficult one and his journey takes a downward spiral as he falls in with the users and abusers of Hollywood, the desperate, disillusioned souls who, consumed by boredom and their own emptiness, search out any abnormality in their insatiable lust for excitement - drugs, perversion, crime.

Aside from top-notch direction, the film contains gorgeous (Oscar nominated) cinematography by Conrad Hall, a haunting score by John Barry, authentic period costume and art design, and outstanding performances from the entire cast. Notably: William Atherton as Todd, Karen Black (her finest role) as Faye Greener, a selfish, wannabe actress and extra, Burgess Meredith (also Oscar nominated) as her alcoholic father and former vaudeville star, and an almost unrecognizable Donald Sutherland as the sensitive, socially retarded misfit who is torn apart by those around him and triggers the films much talked about finale.

One thing is for certain, anyone who has seen the last 20 minutes of this disturbing film will never forget it. A must-see for film students, art directors, and anyone interested in the "golden" years of Hollywood.

Related reading:

Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger

Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion

Less than Zero by Brett Easton Ellis

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29 out of 33 people found the following review useful:

A truly terrifying look at Hollywood

9/10
Author: zoeyneo from United States
19 April 2007

The Day of the Locust takes place in one of the most bizarre settings to have ever existed in the real world. Hollywood in the 1930s was a place of grand illusions, with an incredible power to change people's lives for the better, or for the worse. The relics of that time are, for the most part, the films that were churned out on sound stages, generally very wholesome and carefree. The reality of what went on offstage is largely a mystery, although it is safe to assume it wasn't all glamor and good times. The Day of the Locust is dark historical fiction, and is utterly fascinating. It is a journey through Hollywood's golden age, guided by someone who comes to Hollywood a typical dream seeker, who finds himself helpless under the pressure of the industry and the misleading tactics of those who rule the screen. The characters that come in and out of his life are caricatures of the aspiring actresses, child stars, and crew members that help make Hollywood truly troubled and deeply strange.

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44 out of 63 people found the following review useful:

!!!!!!!!

Author: spud-41 from California
29 January 2000

I finished watching this movie half an hour ago and I am still trembling, my heart still pounding. I am a great admirer of John Schlesinger and he has been one of my favorite directors since I saw Midnight Cowboy. But this just beats it all. It is the most horrifying movie I have ever seen. I am normally not a sympathizer with human characters in movies, but the end made me CRINGE. Donald Sutherland was perfect for his role and Karen Black made me feel such hate for her. There is nothing I would change in this movie. It is perfect, and beautiful, and hit with such force that I would probably never see it again, but I will remember every detail.

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28 out of 32 people found the following review useful:

A Plague Descends

8/10
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
24 January 2009

It took over 35 years and the collapse of the big studio system before anyone in Hollywood, in this case Paramount, brought Nathanael West's novel The Day Of The Locust to the big screen. That climax at a Hollywood premiere is certainly not something the studios would want to show the public as a typical event.

The book is based on West's experiences while writing B pictures in Hollywood during the Thirties and some of the characters he knew. His main protagonist is William Atherton, an aspiring artist who is making a living doing set designs. That's one competitive business and he's got to go over his immediate supervisor John Hillerman's head to get his work noticed by producer Richard Dysart. Like the rest of West's characters, he's sacrificed pride a long time ago. It's his eyes that we see the other characters through.

But he's a paragon of virtue compared to starlet Karen Black who will do anything and anybody to advance her career. Atherton would love to get something going with her, but he's mindful of how amoral she's become. Her only real attachment is to her father, an ex-vaudevillian and now door to door salesman, Burgess Meredith. Even trying to do his shtick with sales doesn't gain him clients.

But the saddest one in the lot and the fellow with the best performance is Donald Sutherland who is an outsider to the film people, a businessman named Homer Simpson who Black uses and abuses. Sutherland's performance is not too different from the hapless cartoon character. Imagine the cartoon Homer Simpson dealing with real life heartbreak and you've got Sutherland's character. The line between tragedy and comedy can be a very thin one.

Geraldine Page has a brief role as an Aimee Semple McPherson like evangelist, shamelessly bilking the Depression's downtrodden. She's great in the part as is Jackie Earle Haley, a really rotten child star of whom I'd love to know who West's model was.

The Day Of The Locust was directed by John Schlesinger who got an Oscar for The Midnight Cowboy. Like that film, The Day Of The Locust deals with some fringe people just trying to get by. Burgess Meredith got an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor and the film also got a nomination for Costume Design.

Before Newton Minow referred to television as a vast wasteland. I think that's what Nathanael West had in mind in writing about his experiences in the movie capital. I'd recommend seeing the film to see how well Schlesinger put West's vision across.

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21 out of 25 people found the following review useful:

All that glitters is not always gold.

9/10
Author: JohnRouseMerriottChard from United Kingdom
11 October 2008

The Day of The Locust is an adaptation of the highly powerful novel from Nathanael West, it focuses on the seamy underbelly of Hollywood in the 1930s. Pot boiling with pacey precision, director John Schlesinger crafts what is still to this day one of the hidden pieces of art from the 1970s.

We are witness to an assortment of odd characters on the outskirts Hollywood and it's big shiny star, fringe characters driven on by less than stellar ideals. The centre of it all is Karen Black's sexy but untalented actress, Faye, she lives with her father, Harry {a fabulous Burgess Meredith}, who was once a fine stage performer but now is old and dying and forced to peddle potions on door steps. Faye realises that her limitations are getting in the way of her starry ambitions, so thus she becomes the assembly line hump on the casting couch, she believes it's a small price to pay for the price of fame.

Caught up in Faye's maelstrom of shallow conniving worthlessness is William Atherton's art director, Tod, and Donald Sutherland's sympathetic dolt, Homer Simpson {Sutherland stunning and Atherton a career best}. All three of them will come crashing together as the story reaches it's cynical and terrifying conclusion. The Day Of The Locust failed at the box office, mid seventies audiences were clearly not ready for this unsavoury and stark look at the flip side of the industry we all follow with relish. Many of the characters featured in the piece are believed to be based on real life Hollywood figures, now here in this modern age the public embrace such titillation with glee, back then they clearly wasn't ready for it.

Conrad Hall's cinematography was rightly nominated for an Academy Award, as was Burgess Meredith in the Best Supporting Actor category, but Sutherland, John Lloyd {Art} and Ann Roth {Costumes} were criminally ignored, but it matters not for now this film can be viewed by a wider more open thinking audience, and hopefully as the finale grips you round the throat {and it should do}, you will be forced to think about it for some time after. 9/10

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21 out of 26 people found the following review useful:

"Mulholland Drive" with more blood.

Author: Muffy-5 from Kitchener, Ontario
7 July 2003

I first saw "Day of the Locust" because I thought Karen Black was keen. I liked the film, but I can't say I understood its point at the time. What's with the faceless people, Sutherland's hands, and the angry dwarf? Sounds like David Lynch to me, especially in light of "Mulholland Drive" and its scathing, unsympathetic view of Hollywood (it even has a cowboy!)

I finally got around to reading the Nathanael West novel -- which is absolutely brilliant -- and decided to watch the film again. And I need to say that, as much as I still appreciate and enjoy the movie, it really missed the boat, trying to cram bits and pieces of ideas from the novel (the strange, artificial relationship between Faye and her father, the barely-restrained violence of those who "come to Hollywood to die," the anachronistic and cold facade of Hollywood and the people in charge of it), meanwhile stuffing in some 70's ideas, reflecting back on the beginnings of WWII (which wasn't an issue in the book at all), and -- strangely enough -- adding warmth and humanity to characters whose sole characteristic (in the novel) was that they had NO warmth or humanity whatsoever.

And that's the weird thing about this movie. I remember, when I first saw it, I was amazed at how unlikeable all the characters were. After reading the book, however, I can say that the characters in the movie are FAR TOO likeable to support any of the book's themes. This is most notable when it comes to Faye's little breakdowns, letting the viewer know that she's really a good person who wants to be loved, turning her into a VICTIM of the star system. But the point of the book -- as I gathered, anyway -- was that these people aren't victims at all. They're greedy people who victimize each-other, and usually in sloppy, stupid ways ("Jeepers, Creepers!") Faye isn't capable of an unaffected tender moment, all she can do is pretend. The same goes for her father: even his moments of genuine sickness and pain are filtered through his never-ending vaudeville routine.

Homer Simpson, as well, is portrayed (in the film) as a sort of unfortunate lump, and a bible-thumper to boot, taken advantage of by Faye. But that destroys one of the great levels of nastiness in the novel: Homer is just as much as an opportunist as Faye, and he deserves everything he gets. Why is he being so generous, letting her stay with him and hold cock-fights in his garage? Because he's a pathetic, incapable human being who barely has a human feature to him: he's just a collection of nervous ticks. He lusts after her, and he seems to delight in his thwarted lust. He's got less going for him than that lizard on the cactus, eating flies.

The film suffers from an attempt to make the characters likeable, almost without exception. The only person who escapes this "Hollywood-ization" of the book is Adore, the horrible child star whose fate nobody who has seen the movie (or read the book) will ever forget. Jeez!

If you find yourself watching this movie and "just not getting it," do yourself a favour and read the book. It won't make the movie any clearer, but you can at least view the movie as a clear-cut example of the sort of thing the book was pointing out and railing against, way back in 1939 when this idea was still a novel one: Hollywood films are manipulative and full of fakery, and so are humans in general, and people in general are also ghoulish and horrible, and no amount of eyelash-fluttering or smooth tango-dancing will disguise that. You might be the owner of a big studio and have an inflatable dead horse in your pool, but you still can't relate to your wife, and the only thing left in your life is pathetic thrill-seeking (cock-fights, cheesy stag flicks).

(Incidentally, I'm amazed at how many quirky things ended up in the screenplay that WEREN'T part of the book! Kudos to the scriptwriter for that at least!)

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13 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

A film you won't forget

9/10
Author: d-hopmann from Germany
30 December 2008

I saw this film in 1986 and I was very thrilled. But it had even more impact on me when I came to L.A. for the first time two years later. It seemed as if the movie had exposed parts of the soul of this strange city to me. Many people I met there - some of them became friends - seemed to share features of the characters in "The Day of the Locust", maybe it had something to do with their unfulfilled dreams and their lack of success. One seems to understand who Hollywood an the movie industry became the way they are now. Another aspect of the picture is the incomparable feeling of horror it lays on you - even though the sun is shining most of the time and you have no idea what will actually happen in the end. I would love to see this film again ever since, but it's so hard to find. Only a single one of my friends has even heard of it. In my view one of Schlesingers masterpieces, strangely underrated and almost forgotten.

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