By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: He’s maladjusted to adulthood.
Harry (James Caan) was a basketball star in high school and nicknamed Rabbit because of his speed. Now he’s a middle-aged man working a thankless job and stuck in a loveless marriage with an alcoholic wife (Carrie Snodgress). One day he decides to just jump into his car and drive away from all of it. He meets his former coach (Jack Albertson) who hooks him up with a prostitute (Anjanette Comer) and the two begin a makeshift relationship, but that doesn’t work out either. Rabbit then decides to return to his wife just as she’s ready to deliver their second child only to ultimately have tragedy strike.
Although the film was not as well received by the critics as the John Updike novel that it’s based upon was I still cam away liking it. There are indeed some lulls but director Jack Smight nicely incorporates the on-location shooting of Reading, Pennsylvania where Updike was born into the story, which gives it a distinctive visual flair. The scene where Rabbit walks into his gray, dingy old apartment only to see his wife slouched on the sofa with a liquor bottle would make anyone want to get up and run out of there and visually you get a sense of what Rabbit is feeling and therefore you don’t totally blame him for doing what he does even as irresponsible as it is.
Caan gives a great performance in a part he was born to play and I was impressed with his long distance running that occurs both at the beginning of the film and the end. However, if would have been nice to have had some flashbacks showing the character in better times. It’s one thing to talk about the character’s success on the basketball court and it’s another to actually see it. It would’ve also helped explain his weird rendezvous with his coach as the old man tells him, much to Rabbit’s shock, that the most important thing in life is ‘tits and pussy’. I think the reason for this, without having actually read the book, is that as a teen the coach acted as a role model and put up a moral facade for his players, but now as both are adults he sees the more jaded side of the guy, but without the benefit of a flashback this point gets lost.
The characters are nicely multi-dimensional, which makes watching them interact fascinating. I enjoyed Arthur Hill as a minister who tries to redeem Rabbit only to admit that he has fantasized about doing the exact same thing that Rabbit did although his wife, played by Melodie Johnson, is too young and dresses too provocatively to ever be taken seriously as being an actual pastor’s wife.
Smight captures the book’s shocking elements nicely including the baby drowning scene in the bathtub where the viewer sees it from the infant’s underwater point-of-view. However, the moment where Comer gets pressured to ‘go down’ on Caan in an effort to perform fellatio with him, which she apparently did with some of her other customers, has clearly lost its edge since it’s a more mainstream sexual practice between couples now than it was back then although the pounding music that gets played over this sequence as they ‘debate’ whether to do it or not is good.
The ending though I found disappointing as it’s too similar to the one in Adam at 6 AM, which came out around the same time and had the film’s star Michael Douglas driving away from his obligations in a car while here Caan does the same, but only on his feet yet one can’t run away from things their whole lives. I was hoping to see how he changed during the different stages of his life, which this film doesn’t show. Updike wrote three follow-up novels to this story ‘Rabbit Redux’, ‘Rabbit is Rich’, and ‘Rabbit at Rest’, and I hope that they can remake this film while adding elements of those stories into it, which will create a fuller composite to the Rabbit character and his life, which this film lacks.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: October 10, 1970
Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes
Director: Jack Smight
Studio: Warner Brothers
Available: DVD (Warner Archive), YouTube