Day of the Locust


Director: John Schlesinger

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Day of the Locust is a strange film populated by stranger characters, set in 1930s Hollywood. It follows the careers or would-be careers of several would-be entertainers & dreamers destined for desolation. It's not exactly about Hollywood's losers, as Tod (William Atherton) is a successful set designer; Faye (Karen Black) gets regular work as a background figure & once even had a spoken line; & her alcoholic dad (Burgess Meredith) seems once to have had a heyday as a cp,oc & might not have been so miserable if only he could face retirement gracefully. Though not quite the worst losers on the earth, they are each & everyone about as dissatisfied with life as anyone can be. Misery is the natural state of being in a world of artificial smiles.

It's a creepy world which, as I was watching it, had for me something of the feel of a horror film, though it was merely about people's lives. The climax took me by surprise because it was in fact a horror-film climax, visceral & grotesque, so obviously director Schlesinger was giving it that horror film feel throughout on purpose, so that the story's brutal appalling climax would make perfect sense, no matter how shocking. That ending, referenced in the film's title, reminded me of The Quatermain Experiment, though to say why it reminded me of that science fiction film would be giving too much away. You'll know my meaning if you've seen both films.

There are only stand-out performances but the stand-out of stand-outs is Donald Sutherland as Homer Simpson (a name that today has to make a viewer grin) as a lonely religious man who is happy to be taken advantage of by the beautiful Faye just so long as he can bask in the light of her beauty & seeming friendship.

Long before Sutherland was typecast as a psychopath or pyromaniac or evil genius, he played many varied & wonderful roles from Felini's Cassanova to Hawkeye in MASH. Day of the Locust was the first glimpse of the roles that would keep him employed in his later movie appearances, as dangerous madmen like the pyro of Backdraft or the vampire's assistant of Salem's Lot. There's an image of him toward the end of the film, hopping up & down with his head twisted to one side, a maniacal look upon his face, that he may never have matched again for pure madness.

I loved this film. I had no idea it was going to be as horrific as it turned out to be. I thought it was going to remain throughout one of those medium-dark dramas, good of kind, a bit of humor, a bit of sadness, a lot of cynicism about Hollywood, & some fine acting, all of which surely would've been plenty. When it went from medium-dark to armegeddon, I was one happy camper with jaw dangled in amazement.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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