By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: He’s detached from life.
Charlie Bubbles (Albert Finney) is a successful English writer who finds that he is no longer connected to the world around him. He sits in his office and views life from the television monitors around him. He has an affair with his secretary Eliza (Liza Minnelli in her film debut), but it means little. He travels to the countryside to visit his estranged wife Lottie (Billie Whitelaw) and his son Jack (Timothy Garland), but finds the effects of his detachment have worn off on them. No matter how hard he tries he cannot get his son to emotionally connect with him, which he finds troubling.
This is to date Finney’s only cinematic foray behind the camera and on a visual level it proves interesting. Most actors who turn to directing lack the needed cinematic eye, but Finney is just the opposite. The scene, which gets protracted, showing all the action inside Charlie’s sprawling home from within the television monitors that he has set-up is really cool. It’s like in the film Network where you see several monitors on top of each other and two per row. Each monitor shows a different room in the mansion as well as the garage. As the action moves from each room it also moves to a different monitor, which becomes fascinating to follow. The scene inside a hotel hallway with milk bottles and newspapers lined up at each door has an interesting design to it and the part where Charlie and Eliza come upon a lonely marching band in a desolate rundown part of the city has a unique visceral appeal. The massive food fight between Finney and actor Colin Blakely near the beginning of the film deserves a few points as well.
The downside to the direction is that the film is slow and almost as aloof as the character. The scenes become too extended and the dialogue has little to say. The segment inside a roadside diner has the sound of cars passing by it during the character’s conversation, which becomes distracting and unnecessary.
The Charlie character seems almost like he is sleepwalking and barely responds to anything. I realize this is to show his detachment, but it goes overboard. It’s like viewing a corpse who has no screen presence or energy and absolutely no connection with the viewer nor any ability to wrap them in to his quandary.
Minnelli makes for an odd choice to represent the film’s sexual tensions. She was never considered attractive and her constant and incessant chattering while the two ride in a car would be enough to make most men want to throw her out let alone make love to her. The sex scene itself is about as mechanical as you can get and lacks eroticism. It also becomes like a throwaway scene that doesn’t end up having that much to do with the story as a whole.
The viewer needs more of a background to this character in order to make him real and interesting. Simply showing someone who is detached doesn’t mean much unless we know why and if he was at any time any way else. The ponderous ending leaves a lot to be desired and watching this movie is similar to viewing a program on C-Span as it comes-off like a nonevent.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: February 11, 1968
Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes
Director: Albert Finney
Available: None at this time.