Tuesday, January 21, 2014

To Find a Man (1972, Buzz Kulik)

When she discovers she is pregnant, 16-year-old Rosalind (Pamela Sue Martin) returns home to New York from boarding school and asks her childhood friend Andy (Darren O'Connor) to help her obtain an abortion.  Made just prior to Roe v. Wade, Buzz Kulik's 1972 coming-of-age-film To Find a Man offers an illuminating look into the process of getting an abortion in New York City before the landmark Supreme Court decision, while also providing some nice showcases to Hollywood veterans Lloyd Bridges, Tom Bosley, and Tom Ewell. O'Connor, who who had only a couple more acting gigs before studying law, is excellent as Andy, the brainy kid next door, a little goofy, yes, but not lacking in confidence.  He hasn't put the moves on Rosalind, but it's not because he's an awkward nerd who's afraid of girls.  It seems that it's just not his major pre-occupation, as it is for his slovenly schoolmate Pete (a chubby, long-haired, pot-smoking Miles Chapin). Rosalind is beautiful, but spoiled and not very bright, or as her father (Lloyd Bridges) puts it so delicately after a few drinks, "She's got most of her brains in her tits."  Despite director Kulik's television pedigree, a tv movie this is not!  That said, as was so often the case in the early days of the ratings system, it received a GP (later PG) rating, in spite of its having a fair share of adult language and content. 

Martin matches O'Connor with her performance and in contrast to her character's aforementioned shortcomings, she is not mean-spirited and she remains a sweet and likable presence throughout; in short, she's more complex than my description makes her sound.  The young stars' fine work culminates with the film's pitch-perfect ending in a wintry Central Park.

For fans of Glynnis O'Connor, it's a trip to see some of the same mannerisms and vocal inflections in the person of Darren O'Connor. 
Until it showed up recently on streaming services such as iTunes and AmazonTo Find a Man was sadly lost for all intents and purposes. Part of an underrated wave of teen pictures of the 1970s, of which I'd also include Jeremy (starring Darren's younger sister Glynnis), To Find a Man is moving and affecting without being overly sentimental or cloying.  It has many of the best qualities of the films of this era--progressive in its ideas, shot and performed in a docu-realist fashion, and frank while also maintaining a layer of ambiguity.  It is not saddled with the irony and myriad pop culture references of so many of the teen films of the '80s nor does it wrap everything up in a shiny bow.

Working from a novel by S.J. Wilson, veteran scribe Arnold Schulman was an appropriate choice to write the film adaptation, as he had earlier written (and been Oscar-nominated for) the original screenplay for Love With the Proper Stranger, a film which had dared to take on much of the same material nearly ten years earlier. '70s stalwarts, David Shire and Andrew Laszlo were on hand for scoring and cinematography duties respectively.  Shire's score is appropriately melancholy, but also jaunty and hummable in parts. Laszlo covers some of the same "dirty old New York" turf that he would return to in The Warriors.

Chemistry of another kind.
While the "New Hollywood" was largely the domain of young men both in front of and behind the camera, To Find a Man is refreshing in that it offers audiences a chance to see old-timers like Bridges, rather than his boys Beau and Jeff, outside of the confines of the studio era.  The work of Bosley, Bridges, and Ewell opposite young O'Connor is the highlight of the film for me, with each moving the narrative in unexpected directions.  Bridges and Ewell are particularly moving and I found myself re-watching their scenes a second time, and shedding a tear or two, as they both perhaps see something of their younger selves, or something they wished they still had, in the boy verging on manhood.  

A fine post-Sea Hunt, pre-Hot Shots performance is given by Bridges pere.
It's just one of many fine films of the era that have slipped through the cracks in terms of availability and by the fact that they haven't been written into the popular narrative of what one unfortunate written account dubbed "easy riders, raging bulls."  I guess, though, that it is the nature of such narratives to simplify and narrow the criteria so that it all can ultimately fit nicely into an hour-long made-for-IFC Channel talking head piece.

"Well, what the hell is this?!  In order to get an abortion here, you gotta make an appointment before you're pregnant!"
....anyway, have a look at Larry Karaszewski's informative "Trailers From Hell" piece on the film and rent / download the feature before it's taken down.  Thanks, Larry...where in the hell did you unearth that trailer anyway?!

It wouldn't be a "dirty old New York" movie without a little mugging.

Kulik returned to New York to shoot Columbia's Shamus the next year, including scenes on the grounds of the future, first-ever Brooklyn Whole Foods in Gowanus!


Marc Edward Heuck said...

How does the print look? Is it mastered at 16x9, or is it an old 1.33 ratio TV master?

I am guessing that the trailer Larry used for TFH came off of a Something Weird Video compilation; many rare trailers that have popped up on YouTube have been sourced from their stuff, you'll sometimes see their watermark in the bottom corner.

Ned Merrill said...

It's a 1.33 master prepared for TV, Marc. Still a damn sight better than the heavily salmon-tinted torrent that I downloaded previously. The latter was either taken from an ancient TV broadcast or was a direct transfer of an old 16mm print.

As for the trailer, yes, Larry told me it came from SWV. R.I.P. Mike Vraney.