The Manipulator
aka, B. J. LANG PRESENTS. 1971

Director: Yabo Yablonsky

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

The ManipulatorThe name Yabo Yablonsky is so unlikely that one might be suspicious of it being invented by someone who didn't want to be identified by his real name, so as not to be held responsible for a film of questionable worth. The name "Cordwainer Bird" was thus used by Harlan Ellison.

But no, Richard "Yabo" Yablonsky was a real guy, & when he died in 2005, an obituary trounced the usual tradition of not speaking ill of the dead by insisting, "Mr. Yablonsky wrote & directed one of the most bizarre & inept films of all time."

The ManipulatorThe Manipulator; aka, B. J. Lang Presents (1971) is a peculiar little film with a cheezy exploitation script requiring no FX or budget.

It possesses a staginess with barely more than one set, complete reliance on dialogue, & Mickey Rooney trying to make an art-film out of it by overacting his psychopathic version of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulvard (1950).

It did in fact originate as a play & it is occasionally still performed. I'm not sure the obit-writer was correct in calling the film adaptation "inept." It's too strange a movie to know whether or not it should've been done in some other manner.

It is difficult to assess its level of eptitude but easy to assess it as bizarre. Yablonskyk's best play was Jews without Money aka, Cracks in the Sidewalk (1999), packed with grim, dark memories of ghetto immigrants in Brooklyn in the Beatnik era of the '50s. There's no doubt he was a competent writer.

The ManipulatorThe Manipulator is without question awfully hard to like. It starts on a rainy night on a dimly lit street, moodily filmed at first, experimentally filmed later on, with a plethora of peculiar angles & flashes of hallucination.

A rumpled bearded gent (Mickey Rooney) enters a cobwebby ruin of a closed theater where are still kept weird theater props.

He climbs a ladder into a rafter room, seats himself comfortably, & slips into nutty conversations with himself or with his manikins. This will be the primary set for most of the film.

Mickey is at this time in his life an old man but still with character-actor looks, not yet the diapered potato he became. He's rather entertaining in this one-man opening act, supported by hallucinated bizarre "actors" whose chaotic presence he tries to "direct."

The ManipulatorBetween the bizarre decorations of the set & Gil Melle's rather good electronic jazz soundtrack, it almost works as a particularly loony music video.

He continuously acts out his delusion that he was once a great film director, & is presently in the process of completing what will be the masterpiece of his lifetime.

In actuality he's not now nor ever was a producer or director. He's an unemployed second-rate make-up man holed up in the closed theater. Had he not made himself a rat's nest in the theater, he'd be homeless.

It turns out that he does have one companion in the rafters who is not an hallucination. She's a woman bound in a wheelchair, a homeless woman who has become his abused captive. About her he has all sorts of delusions, mainly that she's the star of his masterpiece in progress.

The ManipulatorApart from her inability to get through to him any part of her own reality, she seems to have at least a little ambiguous regard for him, though in the main hopes to escape.

If not escape, she would settle at least for being fed, since he's too nutty to realize he's starving her to death.

The way they interact, neither of them quite connected to reality, sometimes feels like the psychotic version of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

The film is awfully fascinating at times, except it goes on too long & gets far too tedious. It has its situation & nowhere to go with it.

As Mickey becomes decreasingly fun to watch hamming it up, his co-star Luana Anders begins to completely steal the show from the Mickster, keeping it watchable longer than her leading man could.

The ManipulatorKeenan Wynn shows up momentarily to be a quick victim, probably just the author-director's attempt to stop it all from being too awfully repetitious.

It has only enough content to fill up a half-hour episode of some old-time television anthology series. As a feature film it wears out its welcome when only half finished, & yet having seen it, it's an unforgettable experience.

Although the madman's nightmarish private world gets tiresome well before the end, it remains throughout a novelty. So few thrillers have anything at all novel about them, gotta give this one a couple kudos for authentic eccentricity.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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