By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: White man becomes black.
Jeff Gerber (Godfrey Cambridge) is a bigoted white man who wakes up one morning having suddenly turned black. At first he thinks he’s spent too much time under the sun lamp, but after he and his wife Althea (Estelle Parsons) try every concoction they can to return his skin back to its normal color and nothing works they finally accept the inevitable. Jeff’s lifestyle then changes in major ways. He loses his friends, his job and even forced to move out of his neighborhood giving him firsthand experience with how drastic the racial lines are.
The film was directed by Melvin Van Peeples who was at the front of the independent film movement during the ‘60s and doesn’t get enough credit for some of the groundbreaking films he made in that era, but this one remains his best and most famous work. While other films chose to present racial issues in very serious and dramatic ways this one takes the wacky comedy route and in a lot of ways becomes far more compelling. Some of the funniest moments comes when the characters discuss racial stereotypes, something filmmakers of today would shy away from for fear that they would be labeled racist, but here by bringing it all out-in-the-open it trusts that the viewer will see how silly and absurd they are without feeling the need to suppress anything.
Although Cambridge is never completely convincing as a white man despite an admirable job by the make-up department he still gives a splendidly engaging performance and without his presence this movie just wouldn’t have worked. Parsons is great as well with her character being quite supportive initially, but then eventually she turns her back on him like everyone else. Mantan Moreland is funny as a café waiter who laughs politely at all of Gerber’s dumb jokes when he is white, but gives him a completely different response once he turns black. Erin Moran can be spotted as the daughter and songwriter Paul Williams has a brief bit as a would-be employer.
There are moments where it shifts awkwardly between drama and comedy and there’s one scene where the action freezes completely and suddenly begins to display on-screen titles, which does nothing but take the viewer out of the story and should’ve been avoided. It also would’ve been nice had there been some explanation for why this all occurred. A potentially funny idea would’ve been having a scene where God decides to change Gerber into a black man to teach him a lesson and having the Almighty portrayed as being African American, which would’ve been considered quite edgy for the period and helped complement the already outrageous storyline.
Despite all the laughs the issues that it brings out are quite startling and not far from the truth, which makes this an integral part at revealing the problems that the black movement had during the early ‘70’s and still does and a film that deserves more critical praise than it’s been given.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: May 27, 1970
Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes
Director: Melvin Van Peeples
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube
Posted in 70's Movies, Comedy/Drama, Movies with Nudity, Offbeat
Tagged Entertainment, Erin Moran, Estelle Parsons, Godfrey Cambridge, Mantan Moreland, Melvin Van Peebles, Movies, Paul Williams, Review
By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Teen has mental illness.
Based on the acclaimed novel by John Neufeld the story centers on Lisa (Kay Lenz) a teenage girl who begins behaving in strange ways. She feels that she is suffering from some sort of mental illness and asks her parents (John Forsythe, Anne Baxter) if she can see a psychiatrist, but they refuse as they were raised in an era where mental illness was considered a ‘character flaw’ that didn’t occur to ‘respectable’ people and psychiatry was still thought of as a ‘new-age’ type of practice. Her friends (Debralee Scott, Jamie Smith-Jackson, and Anne Lockhart) think differently and try to get her the help that she needs, but when that fails they then read up on psychotherapy themselves and try to help Lisa with their own brand of therapy.
This film, which aired on NBC in November of 1973 as a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation, was critically acclaimed at the time, but it has not aged well. I applaud the effort at trying to destigmatize the myth of psychiatry, but the drama often times comes off as strained and unintentionally funny. The sappy songs by Rod McKuen are abysmal and enough to drive the viewer as batty as the main character.
I found it strange how enlightened Lisa’s teen friends were about mental illness and wasn’t quite sure that I bought into it. I would think they would be just as confused and frightened of Lisa’s behavior as the adults and maybe try to stay away from her completely. Seeing how sympathetic Lisa’s classmates are to her condition is nice, but not realistic. At that age I would imagine some of the teens would ostracize and mock Lisa while considering her some sort of ‘freak’ and the film would’ve been better balanced had at least shown briefly some of that, which it doesn’t. The idea that these girls could read a few books by Sigmund Freud and then be able to perform psychotherapy is laughable and the whole thing would’ve been better served had it taken place in a college setting as the students all look college-aged anyways and the plot would’ve been more believable because it could’ve had her working with students or interns that were majoring in psychiatry.
The film never bothers to give any type of explanation for Lisa’s issues nor any inkling as to whether she was able to find some sort of adjustment through medication or therapy. It all seems like an excuse to promote the acceptance of psychiatry to the mainstream and not about the main character at all, which makes it come off as a thinly veiled ‘message movie’ and nothing more.
Lenz, who for a time was married to singer/actor David Cassidy, does well in the title role, but I didn’t care much of her toothy smile. It is fun seeing Anson Williams and Erin Moran in supporting roles as they both later became cast members to the long running TV-show ‘Happy Days’. Richard Stahl also appears as the father of one of the girls, but has his voice dubbed for some reason, which was quite strange.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: November 28, 1973
Runtime: 1Hour 15Minutes
Director: Jeannot Szwarc
Studio: Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions
Available: DVD (Out-of-print)
Posted in 70's Movies, Adolescence/High School, Drama, Made-for-TV, Movies Based on Novels, Obscure Movies
Tagged Anson Williams, Entertainment, Erin Moran, John Neufeld, Kay Lenz, Movies, Review, Richard Stahl