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The Day of the Locust (1975) – DVD Review

day of locust dvd cover


Written by: Waldo Salt, based on the novel by Nathanael West
Directed by: John Schlesinger
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Karen Black, Burgess Meredith, William Atherton, Geraldine Page

Released by: Paramount
Region: 1
Rating: R
Anamorphic: Yes

My Advice: Don’t bother.

Hollywood, as befitting a fantasy factory, presents a fantasy of itself to the world. For decades, under the beneficent gaze of the Hollywood sign, we see the beautiful people moving from their palatial homes to fashionable restaurants then to mighty studios and then to exclusive clubs. Of course, like any other city, it has a seedy underbelly with desperate people working some scam or another to make it in the big time or simply to survive. Recent Yale graduate and aspiring artist Todd Hackett (Atherton) enters this world while working as an art director at Paramount. He is entranced with his next-door neighbor, a blonde extra named Faye Greener (Black). Unfortunately, Faye is extremely high maintenance and Todd neither has the money or time needed to feed the emotional black hole she is. So as Todd gets more entangled in the morally ambiguous movie business, Faye hooks up with Homer (Sutherland), an accountant who is living to fulfill her needs. But as she demands more and more, Homer is nearing the breaking point and Todd can see the approach of The Day of the Locust.

[ad#longpost]This movie clearly demonstrates that sometimes you can be too artistic. It suffers from all the excesses of 70s filmmaking, where the director is so busy making a visionary statement that he forgets to entertain his audience. I think the main problem was focusing on the Faye character. I wonder if Schlesinger was making her to be an avatar for Hollywood, needing constant adulation and tribute while only giving a brief glance and smile in return. This treatment makes the character completely unlikable and makes you wonder why all these men are interested in this spoiled brat of a woman. It doesn’t help that the actress is a bit older than the ingenue the part calls for. You need a golden goddess, not a girl who’s been through the back lot a few too many times.

And Sutherland portrays the Homer character like the younger brother of Norman Bates. Even the self-involved Faye should have picked up on the weird vibe he was putting out. He’s playing Homer so much like a man ready to explode, he should have been wearing a warning sign. With the arc the character goes through, he needed to be more normal at the beginning, so the climax could have more of an impact.

I can understand the director wanting to give us the dreary seedy side of Hollywood, but it still must have some passion and excitement to interest the viewer. If these Hollywood types are going to sin, they should sin like they mean it. Without giving us some glitz or enthusiasm, there is nothing to compare the seediness to. And without adding some Hollywood glamour, the tawdriness could have come from any other city. Then we go from moral ennui to a climactic riot scene at a movie premiere that comes out of nowhere. This excess of mad violence is totally out of step with the rest of the film. To make it even worse, the director starts adding elements of the surreal by having Todd hallucinating that the mob resembles his own fantastical artistic vision. It takes this from just a sad little movie about sad little people to leaving you completely agog and wondering what the director had up his nose at the time.

To make matter worse, there are no special features on the disc. I can understand not having a commentary from the star since that would cost money, but not even a few lines of text explaining the differences between the movie and the book that it was based on or how the director had in mind. But since this is considered one of Schlesinger’s lesser works, I can see why the studio didn’t bother with augmenting The Day of the Locust. You shouldn’t bother getting it either.

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