Combustible Celluloid
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With: William Tepper, Karen Black, Michael Margotta, Bruce Dern, Robert Towne, Henry Jaglom, Michael Warren, June Fairchild
Written by: Jeremy Larner, Jack Nicholson, based on a novel by Jeremy Larner
Directed by: Jack Nicholson
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 95
Date: 06/13/1971

Drive, He Said (1971)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Rat Traps and Rutabagas

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

For a brief period in the mid-1960s, Jack Nicholson's acting career wasn't exactly catching fire, so he took up screenwriting, quickly followed by directing. His debut was the moody, startling calling card Drive, He Said (1971).

Once criticized for its lack of cohesion, it feels fresh compared to today's homogenized cinema.

While having an affair with a faculty wife (Karen Black), college basketball star Hector (William Tepper) tries to decide if he wants to sell out to the man by going pro.

His radical roommate Gabriel (Michael Margotta) tries to lead a revolution and slowly goes crazy. Bruce Dern co-stars in a solid performance as Hector's coach.

This film is a fascinating, if dated, relic, steeped in 60s-era values. Nicholson's personality is evident in the film's rhythms: crazed and vibrant at times, classical and refined at other times.

You can almost hear his snide drawl in certain lines of dialogue, co-written by Jeremy Larner. On basketball: "To you it's poetry, to me it's staying after school in your underwear." Or in the supermarket: "I got rat traps and rutabagas. Someone's going to think I'm crazy."

Nicholson's love of the game comes through in the beautiful basketball footage, anticipating his future courtside Lakers seats.

According to some sources, Robert Towne and Terrence Malick both worked on the screenplay, without credit.

To date, Nicholson has only directed twice more, Goin' South (1978) and The Two Jakes (1990), both decent efforts.

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