Combustible Celluloid
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With: Donald Sutherland, Karen Black, Burgess Meredith, William Atherton, Richard A. Dysart, John Hillerman, Bo Hopkins, Pepe Serena, Geraldine Page, Billy Barty, Jackie Earle Haley
Written by: Waldo Salt, based on a novel by Nathanael West
Directed by: John Schlesinger
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 144
Date: 05/07/1975

The Day of the Locust (1975)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Burn Hollywood Burn

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Adapted from Nathanael West's novel by Waldo Salt, John Schlesinger directed this vicious film, using 1970s filmmaking sensibilities to describe 1930s Hollywood decadence. William Atherton stars as Tod, a struggling artist looking for a break in the movie biz. He lives in one of those Los Angeles courtyard apartment complexes, surrounded by the ditzy blonde extra Faye (Karen Black), her former vaudevillian father, now reduced to working as a tonic salesman (Burgess Meredith, who was nominated for an Oscar), a dwarf actor (the great Billy Barty) and the world's most obnoxious show biz child. Tod falls in love with the indifferent, and rather cruel Faye, but she lavishes her attentions on Homer Simpson (the original -- played by Donald Sutherland), who lives comfortably in a gothic house and doesn't think twice about buying Faye the clothes she wants. Our heroes think nothing of swilling tequila at a cockfight or covering up for a terrible sound-stage accident during a war picture. But while they adapt nicely to Hollywood's brutal soul-sucking excess, Homer crumbles. In the film's fiery, hallucinatory finale, set during the world premiere of Cecil B. DeMille's The Buccaneer, Homer is literally crushed. Photographed in a glossy luster by Conrad Hall (also nominated for an Oscar), the film manages a fine balance between shimmery illusions and gory reality. Schlesinger was a product of the jagged, lively British new wave, and he was always more comfortable with looser films like Billy Liar and Midnight Cowboy. The Day of the Locust is ultimately too rigid and too distant -- and, at 144 minutes -- too long to qualify as a great film, but it's certainly a vivid curiosity.

DVD Details: Paramount's new DVD has terrific picture and sound but no extras.

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