Palatable: Tracks

Tracks (1976)
Written and directed by Henry Jaglom
Produced by Howard Zuker, Elliot S. Blair, Irving Cohen, Ted Shapiro, Bert Schneider
Starring Dennis Hopper, Taryn Power, Dean Stockwell, Zack Norman, Michael Emil, Barbara Flood, Topo Swope, Alfred Ryder
From Santa Fe to his unspecified hometown somewhere in New England, a shell-shocked Army sergeant (Hopper) escorts the coffin of a fallen friend on a train where he meets a flirtatious oddity (Stockwell), a pushy peddler of realty (Norman) bantering with a chattering accountant (Emil) prepossessed with chess and sexology, one perrerating lady (Flood), and a sweet student (Power) with whom he’s enamored straightway. Jaglom’s second feature is the first produced during the immediate postwar years to address the adversities of veterans, and breathes the ardent, aimless anomy intrinsical to the climate of the ’70s. Hopper’s a cut above the great supporting cast, born to play the jittery, erratic officer whose hallucinative episodes confront him with his own penitence, nostalgia and violence. The late Stockwell meets expectations by precipitating himself from breezy geniality to desperate frenzy, and Power’s tender turn as the pretty innocent serves to highlight Hopper’s temperamental tirrets. Much of the dialogue is naturalistically extemporized; together and separately, producer Norman (A.K.A. Zuker), and Jaglom’s brother Emil are fully, pricelessly unscripted, portending their chaffing collaborations in the filmmaker’s several sequent comedies. Cameos by Alfred Ryder, Richard Romanus, Cayle Chernin, Paul Williams and Sally Kirkland are as amusive as appearances by real stewards and soldiers on the Amtrak trains from which Jaglom and his cast and crew were often ousted. His approaches to photography and histrionics correspond, as Jaglom shot players and passing locales in picturesque natural light, silhouette and shade. Only a few years before Coppola qualified it as box office gold for over a decade, popular aversion to the subject of the war prevented this movie’s theatrical distribution, but as a depiction of the traumatized soldier to become a cinematic archetype, and an unspoken reflection on the United States’s morbidly optimistic addiction to war in the 20th century, it’s yet to be bettered.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Apocalypse Now or The American Friend.

Execrable: The Chase

The Chase (1966)
Directed by Arthur Penn
Written by Horton Foote, Lillian Hellman
Produced by Sam Spiegel
Starring Marlon Brando, Angie Dickinson, Jane Fonda, James Fox, Richard Bradford, Janice Rule, Robert Redford, E.G. Marshall, Henry Hull, Robert Duvall, Miriam Hopkins, Clifton James, Joel Fluellen, Martha Hyer, Diana Hyland, Nydia Westman, Jocelyn Brando, Steve Ihnat, Katherine Walsh, Marc Seaton, Paul Williams, Malcolm Atterbury, Bruce Cabot, Maurice Manson, Steve Whittaker, Davis Roberts, Pamela Curran, Ken Renard
Natives of only a few regions have been so frequently and grotesquely distorted in Hollywood’s productions as those of the reconstructed south, where a middle-aged, middle-class, terrible Texan trio (Bradford, James, Ihnat) crazed by booze and white privilege run amok in their town by harrying and terrorizing blacks (Fluellen, Roberts), drubbing their sheriff (Brando), and pursuing with intent to kill a jailbroken scapegrace (Redford) involved in a murder. A year before he and Warren Beatty focused the energies of and popularized nascent New Hollywood, Penn helmed this zany, overheated, overpopulated clunker masquerading as social drama, which condignly ravaged Spiegel’s career. Playwright and novelist Foote is reportedly renowned for the naturalism of his dialogue; one can only conjecture that both he and Hellman are responsible for the unbelievable, ostentatious kitsch invested in nearly every line of her script, and marvel that anyone in the cast could recite it plausibly. Among those so outstanding are Brando and Dickinson as the canny lawman and his liege wife, Marshall in the role of the town’s tirelessly enterprising magnate, and especially Bradford, who indues to his almost cartoonishly villainous banker a confounding charisma and conviction. Both are hopelessly miscast, but Duvall’s less inconsonant as a cowardly cuckold than Redford as a good ole boy named Bubber, cluelessly selected by Spiegel for his sex appeal. (Incidentally, Duvall played a cheated husband with threatening vehemence not too many years later in The Conversation under Coppola, who reunited him with Brando in The Godfather — for which Robert Evans also misintended Redford as Michael Corleone.) Approximately half of Foote’s characters behave like unhinged children, the worst of which are the most overpersonated: (ordinarily superb) Rule slithers sillily about as Duvall’s slutty spouse; Hyer hollers Bradford’s blaringly besotted wife into being; Marshall’s sappy, sententious son played by Fox is as disappointing a romantic interest as he is an heir; aged Hull’s a cornball, roaming realtor who chirps unfunny quips and peripherally insinuates himself into his neighborhood’s felonies; as Redford’s hysterically penitent mother, Hopkins irritates almost so persistently as Westman’s obtrusive, bible-banging widow. Like many movies drawn from stage plays, this is a twofold failure — stagily fake in the worst possible manner, but as overblown as its hams for cinematic liberties of gunplay and explosion. Foote’s story is fundamentally, indulgently horrible, its puny plot dwarfed by excess exposition and contrived complications, such as a pointless love triangle between Fox, Fonda and Redford. Armchair riffers will delight in an alcoholic party at the home of Duvall’s nebbish boasting some of the most jerkily wacko dancing ever committed to film. In the service of sinister sensationalism, this escape, advoutry, wassail and vigilantism might’ve been exploited as the unrestrained frolic of an exciting comedy; as a pontifical social drama, it’s a tremendous waste of histrionic talent and another of John Barry’s big, bold, blustering scores.

Instead, watch Cool Hand Luke.