“Nobody with a good car needs to be justified.”
Huston, in his seventies, still had six more films to make and his fifteenth oscar nomination to earn. This movie was far weirder (and dirty, run-down & location-shot) than anything I thought a respected veteran hollywood studio filmmaker would produce. His might be a career I need to obsessively explore some day! We saw a square-ish 16mm print, which looked fine and dandy to me (I mean, the film looked like it’d been left in the glove box of Hazel’s car for some years, but looked fine ratio-wise), but I see the Criterion DVD will be 1.78:1.
Hazel Motes arrives back home to find his family gone, his childhood home looted and decrepit. Instead of trying to find them, he stalks a street preacher and daughter, then decides to preach his own church, one without Christ. Simpleton Enoch Emery follows Hazel trying to be his friend, eventually supplies a Christ for his church (pygmy mummy robbed from a museum). Hazel spooks the preacher into leaving town and (inadvertently) charms the daughter into shacking up with him. A con man likes Hazel’s game and emulates it by hiring his own preacher. Cars are run into ditches and lakes, much preaching is done, and Hazel refuses to warm to anybody, finally blinding himself to the delight of his landlady who now has someone helpless to take care of… but when she forces his hand, Hazel wanders off and dies on the streets alone. An extreme movie (and book), full of heresy and, supposedly, redemption. Film is a quite literal adaptation of the book, with a few omissions and modifications.
Professional crazy-actor Brad Dourif (crazy doctor in Alien 4, crazy Wormtongue in Lord of the Rings 2, crazy doll in Child’s Play) played Hazel Motes. Tron star Dan Shor was alright as Enoch Emery – I’d pictured him younger and dumber. It’s good (hell, it’s great) to see Harry Dean Stanton as the fake-blind preacher with daughter Amy Wright (who just appeared in Synecdoche New York). William Hickey (Toulon in the original Puppetmaster!) was the fake preacher hired by con artist Hoover Shoates (well played by Ned Beatty of Nashville). Mary Nell Santacroce (Atlanta native who appeared in another fake-preacher movie, an ill-advised remake of Night of the Hunter) is the landlady who takes over the last few scenes after Hazel blinds himself. And the fictional city of Taulkinham is ably played by Macon, Georgia.
Adapted and produced by the Fitzgerald family (friends of the author). Appalling music by Alex North starts out with bloopy keyboards and wheezing horns then cranks into comic-book twangy versions of recognizable standards. Sounds an awful lot like what someone from Chester Pennsylvania would image people in Macon listen to. Steve agrees the movie would be a masterpiece if you could cut that music out. Let’s hope Criterion has found a way.
Canby of the Times loved it, “lyrically mad and absolutely compelling even when we don’t fully comprehend it.”