Monday, June 17, 2013

The Landlord

The Landlord; comedy, USA, 1970; D: Hal Ashby, S: Beau Bridges, Marki Bey, Diana Sands, Lee Grant, Pearl Bailey, Louis Gossett, Jr.

Elgar Enders is a 29-year old lad who never had to work for living due to his rich family. He decides to buy an apartment block in Brooklyn and evict all tenants from there. At first, he is shaken by the lower class tenants, African Americans, but gradually grows fond of them. He falls in love with mulatto Lanie, and even has sex with married tenant Fanny. Elgar's uptight mother Joy is upset by her son's "strange" behavior and disowns him. When Fanny gets pregnant by Elgar, her husband goes crazy and wants to kill him with an axe, but in the end chooses not to. Fanny gets the baby and leaves it to Elgar for adoption, who decides to live with Lanie.

When Norman Jewison volontarily abandoned the directing position of "The Landlord" to make room for his friend and editor, he practically paved the way for one of the most opulent directors from the 70s, the incredibly underrated Hal Ashby. However, looking at it from today's perspective, the movie is slightly dated in its relationships between blacks and whites, arguably the weakest achievement from Ashby's most creative phase, the 70s, and it can be sensed that he was unsure how to make it: numerous scenes are pretty to look at, but one can feel they are "not right" and should not have been there in the first place. "The Landlord" is a patchwork, with too much random ideas scattered throughout it, instead of aligning them into a harmonious whole. The story turns into a serious drama in the last 30 minutes, transforming into a 'coming-of-age' essay where the hero Elgar decides to live his life, awakened by the tenants in the apartment block who are primitive, but somehow so alive that they awaken his dormant existence. This is where "The Landlord" gets to the point, but alas, it takes too long for the journey to really pay out. Ashby's often theme of celebration of life even during untypical situations is already established here, in the best sequence, where, after sex with Fanny, who says it didn't "mean anything", Elgar is seen running through the streets in pure joy nonetheless, in tune to Al Kooper's music in the background. A small jewel here is Lee Grant as Elgar's uptight mother, nominated for an Oscar, who is interesting even when her lines are not that inspiring, and especially when they are ("I can't remember...Which husband did I marry?").


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