Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing (1972), The Crazy World of Julius Vrooder (1974), A Small Town in Texas (1976)

U.S. One-Sheet

"If they think you're crazy you can get away with anything."

Style A

Style B, U.S. Insert

With Barbara Hershey in her "Barbara Seagull" days.

Timothy Bottoms' future as a Dubya impersonator was sealed at an early age.

"All Poke wanted was to get his girl and get out.  All the Sheriff wanted...was to get Poke."

U.S. One-Sheet

We need more Bo Hopkins.

Same goes for Susan George.  First Hershey and then George.  Damn you, Bottoms!

Of the four acting Bottoms brothers of Santa Barbara, California, Timothy was the first to break out and the most likely to achieve stardom.  Joseph came next, then Sam, and finally, Ben.  It never really happened for any of them, but Timothy had quite a run following early success in Johnny Got His Gun in the title role and, most famously, The Last Picture Show as Sonny Crawford.  In the wake of the success of co-stars Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd it's easy to forget that Bottoms was top-billed.  He went on to great success in James Bridges' Academy Award-nominated The Paper Chase and played a pivotal role alongside Warren Oates and Lou Gossett in Philip Kaufman's fascinating and unusual The White Dawn. Around this time he starred in a trio of curios that are less remembered than the aforementioned titles: Alan J. Pakula's Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing, Arthur Hiller's The Crazy World of Julius Vrooder, and Jack Starrett's A Small Town in Texas.  Following these films, Bottoms migrated more to television films and theater, mixing in the occasional feature film (Rollercoaster, Hurricane, Invaders From Mars).  He appeared in the long-awaited sequel to Last Picture Show, Texasville, and a long line of direct-to-video titles before gaining new fame as something of a professional George W. Bush impersonator (the resemblance is rather uncanny) in three different productions, most notably That's My Bush! for Comedy Central.

The Pakula film, a May-December romance co-starring Dame Maggie Smith and written by Alvin Sargent, was the film he made in between Klute and The Parallax View, two of his most admired films.  Perhaps inspired by the success of Harold and Maude, Love and Pain was a considerable change of pace for Pakula, best known, of course, for a series of paranoid thrillers, with the occasional drama such as Sophie's Choice, from the early 1970s until his bizarre and untimely death in 1998.  Because of its pedigree, Pakula, Sargent, Smith, it is surprising that the film has nearly completely fallen off the radar.  In his Times review, Vincent Canby praised the humor of the film while criticizing it for overplaying the dramatic ramifications of the "taboo" (at least in Anglo-Saxon culture) age defying relationship between the two leads.  While, he says, the film "eventually goes to soap can enjoy two of the most intelligently comic performances of the year so far."

The Crazy World of Julius Vrooder was a clear attempt to cash in on Bottoms' appeal to the young, hip audience.  Produced by Hugh Hefner, the anti-war comedy stars Bottoms as a Vietnam vet who thinks he is smarter and saner than the doctors running the mental institution he's been placed in following his return to civilian life.  Barbara Hershey, known then as Barbara Seagull, is the nurse who he falls in love with and marries.  Nora Sayre, writing in the Times felt the film was too cute and that Bottoms appears to have been directed to appear perpetually "elfin."  The cast includes Golden Age director George Marshall (Destry Rides Again, How the West Was Won) not long before his death, Lawrence Pressman (who also appeared in Walk Proud), Richard Dysart, future playwright-screenwriter-director Michael Cristofer (The Witches of Eastwick, Original Sin), and Albert Salmi.  Hiller had already struck big with Love Story and Plaza Suite and directed cult films such as The Hospital and The Out-of-Towners.  He would next work on The Man in the Glass Booth for the American Film Theatre before settling primarily into the realm of comedies and light dramas.

Probably best known for his intense portrayal of sheriff's deputy Art Galt in First Blood or as Gabby Johnson in Blazing Saddles, the late Jack Starrett was, in fact, a first-rate director of hard-hitting action films throughout the 1970s.  A Small Town in Texas came after an impressive run that included Run, Angel, Run, Slaughter, The Gravy Train (aka The Dion Brothers), Cleopatra Jones, and Race With the Devil.  He would later direct Final Chapter: Walking Tall and contribute episodes to Starsky and Hutch, The Dukes of Hazzard, Hill Street Blues, and Eischied, the only show to top-line one Joe Don Baker. Bottoms is Poke Jackson, recently jailed on a marijuana charge and out to reunite with the mother of his son, Mary Lee (Susan George).  Bo Hopkins is Sheriff Duke, the one who wants to "get Poke."  Ebert, Canby, and Variety ridicule the film's Southern stereotypes while giving praise to the stunt work and chase scenes.  The latter says that "Bo Hopkins acts rings around Bottoms."

From what I can tell, the earlier films have never appeared on any home video format in the States.  Julius Vrooder has played on Fox Movie Channel in the last several years.  MGM, who controls A Small Town in Texas, released a VHS through Amazon a few years ago, but there has been no DVD in Region 1.  There is a Spanish DVD of the film, which is playable if you have an all-region DVD player.  

On the repertory circuit, Starrett's Gravy Train (never on home video) recently played at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in a series curated by David Gordon Green and he calls it, along with Tango and Cash, the biggest inspiration for Pineapple Express.  A Small Town in Texas and Race With the Devil were screened at the George Eastman House as part of a series devoted to car chase movies.

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