By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Nobody likes the draft.
Attempt at making a movie out of Arlo Guthrie’s famous 18-minute song, which in itself was based on actual events succeeds for the most part although it seems to be biting off little more than it can chew. Pat Quinn plays Alice a middle-aged woman who along with her husband Ray (James Broderick) buys a church and turns it into a hippie retreat as well as a restaurant. Arlo plays himself and a friend of the couple who helps them in their endeavor. Things go well for a while, but then infighting, the draft, the death of some of the members, and basic overall disorganization do it all in.
Although Guthrie’s song has a bouncy, upbeat, and humorous quality to it the movie works in an opposite fashion. There are a lot of long dramatic takes with a tone that is overall downbeat and depressing. To some extent it succeeds at giving the viewer a vivid look at the late 60’s experience, but compared to the song it seems to be a bit of a letdown. However, there are still some great moments that will connect with you on a purely emotional level. One of them is seeing legendary folk singer Pete Seeger and Arlo playing a song for Arlo’s bedridden father Woody (Joseph Boley) and another includes the sights and sounds of an outdoor wintry funeral for one of their troubled friends.
There are some good comedic moments, but they all come pretty much in the second half making the film seem a bit disjointed and almost like two films rolled into one. The best moments in this area include Arlo’s attempts at dumping out garbage, which features a lot of good quick edits as well as the actual Officer William Obanhein mentioned in the song. Arlo’s army physical is also quite funny especially his experiences in the ‘Group W’ room, which also has an early appearance by character actor M. Emmet Walsh who talks so fast that he becomes incoherent.
The idea of casting Arlo in the lead works to some extent. Obviously the presence in his own story makes it more authentic, but he also seems too detached and shows little if any emotional range. He also looks incredibly young almost like he is only 14.
It is Broderick who comes off best and this is easily his best performance of his otherwise sporadic career. He seems light years away from the more conservative, fatherly figure that he played in the 70’s TV-show ‘Family’ and the fact that the character here is a middle-aged man trying to submerge himself with the youth movement while displaying obvious frailties in the process makes him fascinating to watch and help give the film an added layer.
When I first saw this film years ago I came away feeling that it was too downbeat and disjointed, but upon second viewing I have a greater appreciation for it. It seems now more prophetic and forewarning to the beginning of the end of the hippie movement and how their carefree youthful ideals simply weren’t going to survive amidst the harsh, practical realities of the world that it was in. The long, continuous shot of Alice’s sad, forlorn expression seen at the very end seems to be conveying this and thus makes this movie less of a relic and more perceptive than most people may realize.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: August 20, 1969
Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes
Director: Arthur Penn
Studio: United Artists
Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video