Posted by: kfugrip | October 16, 2007

One Hundred: The Day of the Locust

Another Film about Filmmaking, one of my favorite subjects…

I haven’t read the story that the film The Day of the Locust, directed by John Schlesinger, was based on but I can believe that it was a brilliant piece of work. This film, however, was not.

The Day of the Locust is about three characters, or two, it’s difficult to tell because the movie is all over the place. Tod Hackett (William Atherton) is an Art Director who falls in love with his neighbor Faye Greener (Karen Black), an aspiring movie star who spends more time playing with men than she does acting. Faye, upon the death of her father moves in with Homer Simpson (Donald Sutherland), and accountant with a severe social disability. These characters come in contact with the Hollywood of the 1930’s to disastrous effect.

What I liked: The cinematography, by Conrad Hall, was excellent and helped create a sense, along with the production design, of the period. The climax was very effective, if a bit too stylish. The cruelty of the times and the moral bankruptcy of Hollywood at the time, is on display and Schlesinger and Waldo Salt, the legendary screenwriter, are at the top of their games depicting it.

What I didn’t like: What at first seems admirable, to make a film about people who are completely unlikeable, devolves into an uninteresting mess early. Some of the motivations are off here. Why would Tod love Faye? Is it because she is beautiful? Then Karen Black is the wrong casting. It’s not that she isn’t beautiful in a way, but she isn’t so beautiful that her flaws could be overlooked. It’s unbelievable.

Even the climax of the film, which has brilliant moments, is infused with so much over symbolism and stylish flourishes that it takes me right out of the film. I found the performances, with the exception of Black, to be cartoonish and distracting and Black’s performance is apt but shallow. I know the writing, by Waldo Salt no less, is sharp here but the movie feels like it was cut with a dull knife and it does it a great disservice.

I wanted to like this movie but found myself asking: why. Why did I care about these people? I am a watcher of films with unlikable main characters. I enjoy a film that can do this, that can show the failings of a person because that is human nature and art should reflect that. In the case of The Day of the Locust it didn’t work.

2 stars.




  1. Have to admit, I was disappointed when I saw the “Day of the Locust” film too–but I’m going to read the book once I can forget more of the images from the movie. John Schlesinger, the director, did some terrific films in his long career but he was also responsible for some incredible turkeys. Over-rated? I’d make that argument.

    Good post, don’t see too many people talking about DOTL (film or book) any more…

  2. Thanks Cliff.
    I try to go into viewing films with no expectations but the pedigree on this film was so great that I’m sure it boosted said expectations into the realm of the unreal. While watching I could see the ideas at work and knowing that it came from a book, a famous book no less, helped me enjoy it more but the movie was scatterbrained. The blame for my problems sits with Schlesinger. This was one of his turkeys.

  3. I didn’t watch this film with Adam because I was doing other things like chores and taking a shower. But a lot of the work I did took place in the kitche, adjacent to where this movie was playing loudly on our big tv. From an outsiders perspective this movie was just horrible…there was screaching almost non-stop and every scene I saw looked like it was from a different movie. That said, a couple of those scenes (the mob scene in particular) looked really interesting.

    I’m sure this will be very helpful to all your readers 🙂

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