The Day of the Locust (film)
|The Day of the Locust|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Schlesinger|
|Produced by||Jerome Hellman|
|Screenplay by||Waldo Salt|
|Story by||Nathanael West|
|Music by||John Barry|
|Cinematography||Conrad L. Hall|
|Edited by||Jim Clark|
Long Road Productions
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
The Day of the Locust is a 1975 American drama film directed by John Schlesinger, and starring William Atherton, Karen Black, Donald Sutherland, and Geraldine Page. 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.
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 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, beating each other to death and turning the already packed street into a war zone. Severely injured, a delirious Tod imagines some of the mob taking on the appearance of the characters in his own grotesque painting The Burning of Los Angeles.
- William Atherton as Tod Hackett
- Karen Black as Faye Greener
- Donald Sutherland as Homer Simpson
- Burgess Meredith as Harry Greener
- Geraldine Page as Big Sister
- Richard A. Dysart as Claude Estee
- John Hillerman as Ned Grote
- Bo Hopkins as Earle Shoop
- Pepe Serna as Miguel
- Lelia Goldoni as Mary Dove
- Billy Barty as Abe Kusich
- Jackie Earle Haley as Adore Loomis
- Gloria LeRoy as Mrs. Loomis
- Jane Hoffman as Mrs. Odlesh
- Norman Leavitt as Mr. Odlesh
- Madge Kennedy as Mrs. Johnson
- Natalie Schafer as Audrey Jennings
- Nita Talbot as Joan
- William Castle as the Director
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
Awards and nominations
Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Burgess Meredith
Best Cinematography – Conrad L. Hall
Golden Globe Awards
Best Motion Picture Actress – Drama – Karen Black
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture – Burgess Meredith
Best Costume Design – Ann Roth
Best Supporting Actor – Burgess Meredith
Best Art Direction – Richard Macdonald