The Day of the Locust (film)

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The Day of the Locust
Poster of the movie The Day of the Locust.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Schlesinger
Produced by Jerome Hellman
Screenplay by Waldo Salt
Story by Nathanael West
Starring William Atherton
Karen Black
Burgess Meredith
Donald Sutherland
Music by John Barry
Cinematography Conrad L. Hall
Editing by Jim Clark
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates May 7, 1975
Running time 144 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $17,793,000

The Day of the Locust is a 1975 American drama film directed by John Schlesinger, and starring William Atherton, Karen Black, and Donald Sutherland. The screenplay by Waldo Salt is based on the 1939 novel of the same title by Nathanael West. Set in Hollywood, California just prior to World War II, it depicts the alienation and desperation of a disparate group of individuals whose dreams of success have failed to come true.

Plot[edit]

A cynical and gothic look at Hollywood during the late 1930s, The Day of the Locust tells the tales of residents of the dilapidated San Bernardino Arms: Faye Greener, a trashy aspiring actress with limited talent, and her father Harry, a washed-up vaudevillian reduced to working as a door-to-door salesman; sexually repressed accountant Homer Simpson, who desperately loves Faye, and East Coast WASP Tod Hackett, an aspiring artist employed by the production department of a major studio, who also fancies Faye.

There are unusual and bizarrely disturbing images: a middle-aged man sits in an untended garden staring at a large lizard that stares back; a young woman is transported into the film she's watching and finds herself portraying a harem girl in old Baghdad; a dwarf tenderly caresses a rooster, bleeding and dazed from a cock-fight,and then tosses it back into the ring to its death; an androgynous child beckons to a man through a window and performs a grotesque imitation of Mae West.

These brief vignettes do little to advance the basic plot, but they serve to shape the audience's understanding of the era depicted as one of Hollywood sleaziness and wholesale alienation. Spectacle fills the screen—a set of the Waterloo battlefield collapses on the extras during the making of the film within the film. In the film's climax, an enraged Homer brutally tramples a child near a Grauman's Chinese Theater as crowds gather for the premiere of a new film. Seeing this, the enraged crowd swarms over and kills Homer. Almost immediately, the entire crowd is driven to riot, turning on itself, smashing store windows, overturning cars, trampling each other to death and turning the already packed street into a war zone. Severely injured, a delirious Tod imagines some of the mob take on the appearance of the characters in his own grotesque painting The Burning of Los Angeles.

Cast[edit]

Critical reception[edit]

In his review in the New York Times, Vincent Canby called it "less a conventional film than it is a gargantuan panorama, a spectacle that illustrates West's dispassionate prose with a fidelity to detail more often found in a gimcracky Biblical epic than in something that so relentlessly ridicules American civilization . . . The movie is far from subtle, but it doesn't matter. It seems that much more material was shot than could be easily fitted into the movie, even at 144 minutes . . . It is reality projected as fantasy. Its grossness — its bigger-than-life quality — is so much a part of its style (and what West was writing about) that one respects the extravagances, the almost lunatic scale on which Mr. Schlesinger has filmed its key sequences."[1]

Jay Cocks of Time said, "The Day of the Locust looks puffy and overdrawn, sounds shrill because it is made with a combination of self-loathing and tenuous moral superiority. This is a movie turned out by the sort of mentality that West was mocking. Salt's adaptation . . . misses what is most crucial: West's tone of level rage and tilted compassion, his ability to make human even the most grotesque mockery."[2]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called it a "daring, epic film . . . a brilliant one at times, and with a wealth of sharp-edged performances," citing that of Donald Sutherland as "one of the movie's wonders," although he expressed some reservations, noting, "Somewhere on the way to its final vast metaphors, The Day of the Locust misplaces its concern with its characters. We begin to sense that they're marching around in response to the requirements of the story, instead of leading lives of their own. And so we stop worrying about them, because they're doomed anyway and not always because of their own shortcoming."[3]

In the Chicago Reader, Jonathan Rosenbaum described the film as "a painfully misconceived reduction and simplification . . . of the great Nathanael West novel about Hollywood . . . It misses crucial aspects of the book's surrealism and satire, though it has a fair number of compensations if you don't care about what's being ground underfoot - among them, Conrad Hall's cinematography and . . . one of Donald Sutherland's better performances."[4]

Channel 4 calls it "fascinating, if flawed" and "by turns gaudy, bitter and occasionally just plain weird," adding "great performances and magnificent design make this a spectacular and highly entertaining film."[5]

The film was shown at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival, but wasn't entered into the main competition.[6]

Awards and nominations[edit]

BAFTA Awards[edit]

Win:

Best Costume Design - Ann Roth

Nominated:

Best Art Direction - Richard Macdonald

Best Supporting Actor - Burgess Meredith

Golden Globe Awards[edit]

Nominated:

Best Motion Picture Actress - Drama - Karen Black

Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture - Burgess Meredith

Academy Awards[edit]

Nominated:

Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Burgess Meredith

Best Cinematography - Conrad L. Hall

References[edit]

External links[edit]