By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: Naive fellow becomes wise.
Ben Harvey (Beau Bridges) is a sheltered young man who decides to leave the safe confines of his humble little town and make a go of it in the big city of Chicago in 1910. However, soon after arriving he is robbed of all of his money and then taken in by Lil (Melina Mercouri) a Madame at the local brothel. Ben then gets a job at the city newspaper, but finds corruption at every turn and when he tries to stop it he ends up falling victim to its allure like everyone else.
The first hour is engaging. It features just the right mix of Americana and whimsy. The pace is quick with a wonderfully quirky sense of humor that comes flying fast and furiously. Opening the film by having Ben dreaming of topless women and featuring some very old turn-of-the-century black and white porno pics is funky. I also liked the scene where Ben manages to make all the prostitutes at the bordello he is staying at teary-eyed after reading them a sad story that he had written. The look at Lil’s face when he tells her that his life’s ambition is to ‘change the world’ is a hoot.
Unfortunately the second half deteriorates badly. The scenes become stretched out too long and the attempts are farcical humor lack any cleverness. The side-story about the attempts of a mad scientist Dr. (Charles Tyner) at using a serum he has invented to revive the dead is stupid. The slapstick like chase sequence gets overblown and the whole thing ends on a flat and boring note, which is a shame. The sets and costumes recreating the period atmosphere are wonderful, but put to waste by the silly script. I felt the film could have been more interesting had it taken a more realistic and dramatic route.
Bridges is actually pretty good. He has played the wide-eyed idealist so many times that it becomes a bit annoying, but here he seems to be making fun of it and it works to an extent. However, his extreme naivety at not catching on that the women he is living with are prostitutes is just too over-the-top and makes you almost want to hit him on his head in order to drive some sense into it.
Brian Keith does well playing the type of gruff, brash character that he excels at. George Kennedy though seems stiff and out of place in the setting and does not appear to be particularly adept at comedy.
Mercouri looks to be having a lot of fun here and her singing isn’t bad either. Margot Kidder is fantastic in her film debut and one of the best things about the film. She plays one of Lil’s prostitutes who takes a liking to Ben and I enjoyed how her character goes from being jaded to idealistic and rather naïve. Melodie Johnson is great simply because she is gorgeous to look at. She is now a successful novelist and judging from the pictures on her website is still looking quite attractive.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: December 16, 1969
Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes
Director: Norman Jewison
Studio: United Artists
Available: Amazon Instant Video, Netflix streaming