By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: Cab driver dislikes pigeons.
Based on the novel of the same name by David Boyer, the story centers on Jonathan (Jordan Christopher) a Princeton graduate who spends his days working as a New York cab driver with no ambition to climb up the corporate ladder. Jonathan detests the establishment, but is too old to be a part of the hippie movement, so he rebels from society in other ways by being flippant with his customers and kicking at pigeons in Central Park. His friend Winslow (Robert Walden) has problems of his own as he’s 24, but still a virgin. Jonathan takes Winslow to a party in an effort to find him a woman, but Winslow is so socially awkward that they all turn him down. Back at his apartment Jonathan meets-up with Jennifer (Jill O’Hara) who’s busy trying to ‘find herself’ while living off of her parent’s money. Initially Jonathan resists her advances, but since they’re both lonely he eventually agrees to a relationship with her as long as there are no strings attached. He even brings her to visit his mother (Kate Reid), but then at a holiday party Jennifer makes the mistake of saying she wants to get married and have kids, which scares Jonathan away and the two break-up only for Jennifer to then sleep with Winslow, which causes Jonathan to become jealous.
This was one of an assortment of youth pictures from the early 70’s trying to analyze the alienation of the love generation and their resistance to conformity and middle class values. These films tended to be much less structured and in certain cases downright experimental, but the subject matter was still considered topical enough that the studio heads at MGM decided to pick it up for distribution only to then quickly drop it when previews of it scored low with test audiences. It was then handed over to a fledgling film company known as Plaza Pictures that re-edited it down to 90 minutes while cutting-out much of the second act in the process and then re-naming it as Pigeons, but this version did no better and the film sat in obscurity for many decades before finally getting a DVD release in 2014.
While I do like offbeat movies I did find the way this one began hard to get into as the lackadaisical pace makes it seem like there isn’t any plot and just a lot of throwaway segments dealing with the angst of big city living. It does improve and manages to even have a few keen moments. John Dexter’s direction, he was better known for his work in the theater as well as his rude behavior towards women, helps a lot. In fact it’s the directing that keeps the thing watchable and despite the modest budget it’s quite polished with the most impressive moment, outside of a taxi car driving off the dock and into the water, is when Jonathan goes under his kitchen cabinet in an attempt to exterminate hundreds of ants. This isn’t as easy as it sounds to get a camera and lighting into such a small space, nor finding all the ants, and I suspect the cabinet was specially made for the production, but still on a small scale it’s impressively done.
The film also features a great supporting cast including Walden in his film debut who is both believable and amusing as Jonathan’s shy and apprehensive friend. O’Hara is equally engaging, she looks exactly like her more famous sister Jenny O’Hara and for awhile I thought it was the same woman. Kate Reid is a scene-stealer as the meddling, oppressive mother and William Redfield has a great moment near the end playing the stepfather who openly has a one-night-stand with a lady he meets at a Christmas party and then comes home late at night to talk to Jonathan about it.
The film’s Achilles heal is the casting of Christopher. He rose to fame as the singer of The Wild Ones, which got him cast as a rock singer for the cult hit Angel, Angel Down We Go, which generated enough notice that producers decided to take a chance on him in a lead role, but it doesn’t work. His character is unlikable and he lacks a dynamic presence let alone his disheveled mop-head hair-do that resembles a bird’s nest. Having the film begin by showing him kicking at pigeons in Central Park, fortunately his foot doesn’t seem to actually hit any of them, makes the viewer despise him right from the start and things never improve.
The cop-out ending is a disappointment as it features Jonathan riding off on a train headed to Des Moines, Iowa, but I’ve rarely found anyone who’s been born and raised in New York to move to the farmlands of the Midwest. Sure many New Yorkers have gripes about where they live, most anyone is never completely happy with their home city, but ultimately they remain because it’s what they’re used to. Instead of ending it with him riding away it should’ve made this a part of the movie showing his adapting to a completely new and alien place, which could’ve given the movie some interesting insight and made a stronger impression than it otherwise does.
Alternate Title: Pigeons
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: October 28, 1970
Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes (DVD version runs 1 Hour 30 Minutes)
Director: John Dexter
Studio: Plaza Pictures