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A Movie A Day: Quint on DESPERATE CHARACTERS (1971)
Salvation comes from staring at the pubic region of strangers.

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day. [For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.] Shirley MacLaine bridges us from yesterday’s watchable, but unmemorable CAN-CAN to today’s damn near unwatchable lost-for-a-reason experimental head-up-its-ass 1971 drama, DESPERATE CHARACTERS. Guess what I thought of the movie? I think I understand now how non-movie fans feel when they accidentally watch a Terry Gilliam or David Lynch movie. Instead of being enthralled by the bizarre qualities of those filmmakers and seeing the subtext, imagine if it just seemed like shit happened for no reason, people were saying weird things for no reason and you could tell the filmmakers were spending the time inbetween set-ups bent over in front of a mirror, peering between their legs and admiring the beautiful and unique puckered butterfly they have. Okay, so that’s INLAND EMPIRE, but I mean good Lynch. That’s the impression I got from this film. Mr. Frank D. Gilroy wrote and directed it and probably thought he was the best goddamn thing to hit the moving picture industry since John Cassavettes. I’m struggling to tell you what the movie is about and I watched every single minute of it. You have Shirley MacLaine trying her damndest to give a good and important performance as the lonely, cheating wife of a… I don’t know… somebody who was in a partnership that just dissolved. Lawyer, maybe? Her husband is played by Kenneth Mars and this pairing was what made the movie appealing to me. I haven’t seen enough of that guy… he’s in everything from FLETCH to POLICE ACADEMY 6… but I remembered him the most as Inspector Kemp from YOUNG FRANKESTEIN (“Fushtops! Fushtops!” “Oh, foot steps!”). Really, the movie doesn’t have any structure at all. MacLaine goes from a 5 minute long dinner conversation with her husband to a dinner party to a store to buy a pan and no one says anything fucking interesting or revealing… they just talk. And talk. And talk, sometimes quoting poetry. It’s almost like an Andy Warhol movie or a Sprockets episode. I don’t know how this read on the page, but in the movie it’s just pretentious weird-for-weird’s-sake garbage. The big event in Act 2 is “Black man comes in to use the phone.” I’m not kidding. This movie comes in a line of flicks released by a company called Legend Films and they have some really interesting looking stuff. They’re all first-time-on-DVD releases and I hope that the rest of them are better… Got some coming up in the next week as they sent me all 30+ titles they released, mostly ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s films ranging from drama to horror of which I’d only seen 2 or 3. In a way, even though this is probably my least favorite film I’ve seen in the last 2 months of AMAD entries, I still love that this is on DVD. It’s titles like this, forgotten movies, that are fascinating to me. This one was a stinker. There was a reason it was forgotten, but I have a feeling in the batch of Legend Films we’re going to find something really special that very few people have ever seen. That was the joy of raiding Mom and Pop video stores for obscure VHSs back in the day. This one was worth a shot because of an interesting pair of leads. I got a little fucked, but maybe the next one will become a cult favorite of mine. We’ll see. Final Thoughts: MacLaine is at a very interesting time in her career, just hitting middle age and she embraces it in this film. She’s actually quite attractive here (and shows her boobaloobies), but unfortunately there’s very little other reason to watch this movie. Carol Kane shows up for 2 lines at a party playing a hippie chick and there’s a funny/disturbing sequence where Kenneth Mars and Shirley MacLaine try to trap a stay cat. Yeah, no. Don’t ever watch this movie. Trust me. The schedule for the next 7 days is: Tuesday, August 5th: THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY (1972) Wednesday, August 6th: QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX (1970) Thursday, August 7th: START THE REVOLUTION WITHOUT ME (1970) Friday, August 8th: HELL IS A CITY (1960) Saturday, August 9th: THE PIED PIPER (1972) Sunday, August 10th: PARTNERS (1982) Monday, August 11th: BARRY LYNDON (1975) I’m really looking forward to getting to Barry Lyndon. Unless I’m forgetting something it is the only Stanley Kubrick film I haven’t seen (I even saw FEAR AND DESIRE off a bootleg… must have been 7 or 8 years ago). Anyway, tomorrow we follow MacLaine over to horror flick THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY. Should be a good one! See you then! -Quint

Previous Movies: June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can

Readers Talkback
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  • Aug. 5, 2008, 12:25 a.m. CST

    Sounds like one to avoid.

    by Rando Calrisian

    Thanks for taking one for the team, Quint.

  • Aug. 5, 2008, 12:26 a.m. CST

    Let's keep this thread going, guys...

    by Rando Calrisian

    We're up to two!

  • Aug. 5, 2008, 12:29 a.m. CST

    Shirely McClaine....

    by The Eskimo

    ....wasn't she the one who had a previous life as a lizard or something? Or was that just the Farside Cartoon? How did that shit go? I just remember it was funny...

  • Aug. 5, 2008, 12:38 a.m. CST

    "Salvation comes from staring at the pubic region of strangers"

    by TroutMaskReplicant

    I no like that line so much. Isn't Legend Films the people who released the DVD version of Saul Bass's Phase IV? Review the ass off that film.

  • Aug. 5, 2008, 1:38 a.m. CST

    Based on the Paula Fox novel?

    by fiester

    Is it? also, Paula Fox is Courtney Love's grandma. Too funny.

  • Aug. 5, 2008, 1:46 a.m. CST

    Maclaine's a fruit-loop these days, alas

    by palimpsest

    check out www.shirley - a great place to buy your chakra sky jewellery, apparently. Never heard of this movie (and when I first saw the title, I thought it was a John Waters flick), and thanks to Quint I'll avoid it like something really avoidable-worthy. PHASE IV - that's an awesome little movie. And BARRY LYNDON? Jeebus, Quint, wasn't there a practical element to your geek qualification?

  • Aug. 5, 2008, 2:34 a.m. CST

    john maclaine's wife is in movies now?

    by chipps

    well give me a sign that says 'i hate niggers' and send me to harlem

  • Aug. 5, 2008, 2:42 a.m. CST

    Sounds like crap.

    by Harry Weinstein

    Yep... I got nothing here.

  • Aug. 5, 2008, 2:58 a.m. CST

    I don't remember this one

    by Napoleon Park

    But the next few days look interesting. My dad and I loved Quackser fortune.<p>and I like the idea of obscure movies. When are you going to turn on the TV and catch "Alex In Wonderland' or "The Strawberry Statement"? Or "Hieronymous Merkin"?

  • Aug. 5, 2008, 4:59 a.m. CST

    the candle lit barry lyndon

    by Prossor

    kubrick cant wait! hope you do full metal jacket, a rather underrated and underlooked kubrick i think...

  • Aug. 5, 2008, 7:44 a.m. CST

    Kenneth Mars

    by BobParr

    I can't picture that guy playing a normal character. He was so hilariously over the top in all of those 70s comedies. "I am Hugh"

  • Aug. 5, 2008, 8:56 a.m. CST

    Dear Mrs. Harry Knowles...

    by Negator76

    Please punch yourself in the cunt. The point of this column isn't just to find 'good' movies. Even if Quint doesn't recommend a flick, movie lovers like me appreciate hearing his thoughts on obscure and forgotten films. Hell, I might even check out 'Desperate Characters' just to find out what's so bad about it, especially since movies nowadays are almost entirely risk-free excercises made for improvident lackwits like yourself. In fact, I'm much more likely to investigate a film like this than rent a passable Jimmy Stewart western from the early 70's... A movie which might be OK, but will certainly not feature anything new or unexpected. Keep it up, Quint. The column is awesome.

  • Aug. 5, 2008, 9:04 a.m. CST


    by Negator76

    Talkbacks for this section are NEVER going to compete with articles on movies in production, or news on the latest geek-splooge casting of the next superhero adaptation. But this is a consistently interesting feature to the site that I'm sure has already developed a loyal readership. In fact, I would suggest that AICN draft another writer to continue AMAD when Quint needs a break. This column gets to the essence of what we love about movies. As someone who's just as likely to love 'Spider-Man 2' as 'Killing of a Chinese Bookie', I applaud Quint for the sheer volume and variety of films he's willing to watch.

  • Aug. 5, 2008, 9:09 a.m. CST

    Barry Lyndon?

    by Knuckleduster

    Wow. I'm not really one to criticize; there are a lot of movies I haven't seen, but... wow. Then again, I've seen every Kubrick except Fear and Desire. Can't find that fucker anywhere.<p> Still not sure what to think of Inland Empire (maybe that's the point). It's frustrating. Some parts of that film are extremely captivating and innovative, but I couldn't help thinking Lynch was laughing at me as I was watching it. Oh, he's evil, I tell ya.

  • Aug. 5, 2008, 9:45 a.m. CST

    You have described...

    by smallerdemon

    some of the many reasons that I often hate straight up drama flicks and why I don't go see them very often (although there are many I love). Wow! People with problems TALKING ABOUT THEM! Now THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! And it's going to end in one of two ways: resolved or not resolved. Whatever the big drama between people was throughout the movie will either be resolved or it won't be. One of my favorite dramas is Jarmusch's <i>Broken Flowers</i> simply because he says "Oh, and fuck you." at the end with the binary resolution. It ISN'T resolved and the movie doesn't feel like it's over and I <i>love</i> that about <i>Broken Flowers</i> (along with Murray's performance). <p> Thanks for taking one for the team, Quint. This would have been studiously avoided by me anyway, but it's always fun to read someone else's take on a movie I would never go see to start with.

  • Aug. 5, 2008, 9:53 a.m. CST

    Legend Films

    by smallerdemon <p> I thought I had heard of them, and it's because they are the company that distributes RiffTrax online. It looks like they are the ones who recently colorized and released The Forbidden Zone as well (why do that, I don't know). I have their Reefer Madness DVD I picked up for $5 at a live RiffTrax show and it has commentary from Mike on it. They also are the releasing company for Girl On The Bridge and the very strange but still watchable Serial.

  • Kind of makes me want to watch it, if for no other reason than to see how strange it really is.<p>Barry Lyndon is one of the few Kubrick films I haven't seen either. I'm going right now to put it as #1 in my queue on Zip.

  • Aug. 5, 2008, 10:21 a.m. CST

    Yes, Quint, but when do they dance?

    by MCVamp

    Because now is the time on Sprockets when we dance.

  • Aug. 5, 2008, 12:33 p.m. CST

    " "Moving Violations" isn't worthwhile..."

    by jim

    But how would Quint know until after he watched it? And once he's watched it, he might as well do a review of it. <p>The great thing about this column is discovering long-forgotten or underrated films. Today's entertainment industry is so focused on "the next big thing" that it is nice to take a look at what came before. Some of it will be bad, some just awful, but then you get the ones that are so good they make it all worthwhile.

  • Aug. 5, 2008, 12:52 p.m. CST

    Big Jim--

    by Negator76

    Well said. And Mrs. Knowles-- If you can't see variety between 'Meatballs', 'Desperate Characters', and 'Shadow of a Doubt', then I don't know what the fuck to tell you. Really, 'Out of the Past' is 'discarded hollywood fluff'? You sure you don't want to amend that statement? Now I know, I can't blame a fella for being born retarded. What pisses me off is when retards get arrogant!

  • Aug. 5, 2008, 2:49 p.m. CST

    I want THE CHALLENGE(1982) with Mifune on DVD!

    by Tacom

    I saw a clip of it on YouTube where Mifune and Scott Glenn are infiltrating a building with armed guards and it looks great.

  • Aug. 5, 2008, 3:11 p.m. CST

    til Barry Lyndon, the rest is crap

    by filmfanatic1

    Sorry, Quint, but the next few films will disappoint you, guaranteed. Now, if you review FEAR AND DESIRE, that'd be great. It's the only one I and many others haven't seen. In fact, Kubrick hated it so much that he personally called a theatre that was going to show it and asked them to withdraw it. But it's supposed to be terrific.

  • Aug. 5, 2008, 6:33 p.m. CST

    not true filmfanatic

    by aint_it_cruel?

    START THE REVOLUTION WITHOUT ME is not crap. It's no classic, but it's worth seeing at least once.

  • Aug. 5, 2008, 7:59 p.m. CST

    It stars Shirley MacLaine, that' in itself is a

    by Grammaton Cleric Binks

    warning label that screams don't watch this.