By Richard Winters
My Rating: 8 out of 10
4-Word Review: Anything to get ahead.
Duddy Kravitz (Richard Dreyfuss) is a young Jewish man looking to make a name for himself and escape the working class existence of his father. He comes up with several schemes many of which aren’t legal and don’t work, but his aggressive nature drives him even as it alienates those around him.
I loved the Duddy character and I liked him because of his unlikableness. Yes, he is obnoxious, deceitful, conniving, brash, arrogant, crude, and aggressive to the point of running down anyone who might get in his way, but you are shown why he is that way. How the desperate world around him has brought out the ugliness and the allure of money and social prestige only makes it worse. Duddy is more of a victim of a capitalistic culture that promises with money comes happiness, but fails to mention all the sacrifices and compromises that must come with it. The script by Mordecai Richler, which is based on his novel, does a terrific job on analyzing the idea of success on how the end doesn’t always justify the means and how a man who is poor but true to his values can be far richer than one who may have a fortune, but is hollow.
Dreyfuss does a terrific job and I consider this one of his best performances even though apparently he was dissatisfied with it personally. I liked the nervous energy and ticks that he gives the character that easily reveals the desperation and drive that he has inside. He manages to bring out the human side of his character making him relatable despite his many flaws. What is interesting is the way Duddy will display a certain sensitive side in brief and surprising moments.
Jack Warden is wonderful as the father a man who is well aware of his son’s faults, but remains loyal to his strive for success. The film’s final image, which features Warden is a gem especially when taken into effect everything that came before it. Joe Silver, a deep, gravelly voiced character actor has his best performance of his career as Farber. This is a man who shows deep devotion and respect to religion and spirituality, but then openly boasts to Duddy at how he cheated and back-stabbed a business partner.
Denhom Elliot is great in comic relief playing an alcoholic has-been filmmaker who makes a movie involving the bar mitzvah of Farber’s son that ends up showing everything from Adolf Hitler, to a naked woman’s breast, and even a man eating glass. He exhibits this to everyone in the synagogue and the facial reactions of Farber while he is watching it is hilarious.
The on-locations shooting in Montreal is well done. I felt like I was right there back in the 1950’s. The inside of Duddy’s home had a nice lived-in look and feel. There are images that stay with you long after it is over including the gorgeous forest and lake that Duddy hopes to one day own.
This is a perfect example of a compelling drama. Each scene works seamlessly with the others and the film continues to reveal more insight as it goes on. It also an excellent character detailing someone who is all too real and facing many difficult life decisions that we all face.
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Released: April 11, 1974
Runtime: 2 Hours
Director: Ted Kotcheff
Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video