Saturday 14 January 2017

Move [1970]

MOVE is an American comedy that was directed by Stuart Rosenberg and originally released in February 1970 by 20th Century Fox.  It stars Elliott Gould and Paula Prentiss with support from John Larch, Genevieve Waite and Ron O’Neal.  Gould plays Hiram Jaffe, an aspirant playwright who writes pornographic novels to support him and his wife Dolly (Prentiss) and their enormous dog Murphy.  On the day the Jaffes are due to move to a new apartment he finds all sorts of problems and frustrations coming to a head, causing him to indulge in self-obsessed fantasies.

There were a lot of films like this around at the beginning of the 1970s, usually American, usually based on a novel or play, often starring Gould, or Alan Arkin, or Donald Sutherland, or a combination thereof, and often VERY SHOUTY.  This is a typical example.  Adapted from his own novel by Joel Lieber with assistance from Stan Hart – and I confess I haven’t read it – the film seems better suited to the page than the screen.  They are often determinedly kooky, with it, self-consciously daring, meandering and a little bit wearing.  LITTLE MURDERS [1971], which features all three of the aforementioned actors, and was directed by Arkin, is another good example.  The sub-genre is neatly encapsulated by a dinner party scene in which all the characters are shouting at each other and, in another little quirk typical of these films, repeat each other’s names a lot.

In MOVE, Gould’s character, on screen for virtually the whole running time, comes across as a desperately self-absorbed neurotic who can’t see the wood for the trees.  Now, the same might be said of other screen fantastists, particularly Billy Liar, but save for a tardy removal man, Jaffe doesn’t seem to have that much to be resentful about.  Billy Liar is essentially a sympathetic character by Jaffe is a moaner.  That the central character is thus a turn-off holes the film below the waterline and very early on too.

Like Billy Liar, Hiram Jaffe is an unreliable narrator, that is to say, the viewer isn’t always sure which scenes are fantasies and which are ‘reality’.  Generally speaking, the scenes with his wife seem to reality but the stuff about the telephonist, the removal man and possibly even The Girl is wholly imagined.  So what do the fantasies reveal about Jaffe?  Well, for a start he has a persecution complex.  The ‘removal man’ who has become his bete noir rings him several times to taunt him about his marriage, his house move and so on.  The ‘telephonist’ frustrates him repeatedly by refusing to pass on information or let him communicate directly with the real removal man.  I think these reflect Jaffe’s own feelings about his worth as a man and as a husband.  It’s only in this way that the film starts to make sense as, on the face of it, Jaffe is a dislikeable individual.

The pre-credits sequence: Hiram fantasises about being run down by a roller while his feet are stuck in hot tarmac and he can't MOVE (geddit??!!)
Jaffe has the great good fortune to be married to Paula Prentiss but for some unfathomable reason has grown distant from her.  It is hinted that the point of conflict between them is her desire for a child and his reluctance.  Ironically it isn’t until Jaffe has picked up and had sex with The Girl, whether it happens in reality or not, that he feels able to return to his wife.  Perhaps this indicates performance anxiety of some sort; in the era of Philip Roth’s ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’ (which was adapted into another early 70s kinky, kooky comedy, starring, incidentally, Paula Prentiss’s husband Richard Benjamin) sexual issues of this sort were all over the screen. 

Hiram fantasises about the recalcitrant telephonist who won't help him sort out his house MOVE (geddit??!!)

A fantasy about Hiram and Dolly's wedding in which he is unable to break the traditional glass

Another fantasy sequence, this time a fancy dress party hosted by his transvestite brother
Frankly, not much happens in MOVE.  Jaffe is ultimately compelled by his fantasies to confront his real life issues and it all ends happily ever after, with the family unit restored and a baby on the way.  A very conservative message actually, even though it is delivered with the two leads in the bath together.  Prior to that there is little more than a series of sketches – Hiram going berserk with the paint brush in his new flat; Hiram getting hassled in Central Park by a mounted patrolman (familiar character actor John Larch); Hiram imaging a shootout between his neighbours, one of whom (Ron O'Neal) has just bought a gun for his wife; recalling his wedding day; a family party.  None is particularly amusing and the net result is a dissatisfying experience.  Maybe it’s for this reason that MOVE is another of those films I occasionally cover which is, or was, very difficult for me to get hold of.  The print I did see was extremely ropey and the accomopanying stills reflect that.

Elliott Gould as Hiram Jaffe
Elliott Gould was one of the faces of early 70s American cinema, appearing in a string of right on the money fashionable films, the most successful of which was M*A*S*H [1970], thus beginning a working relationship with Robert Altman that stretched through at least four further pictures.  My personal favourite is THE LONG GOODBYE [1973] a contemporary adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel featuring the archetypal private eye Philip Marlowe.  Gould plays him as a somewhat slovenly, half-hearted investigator which incensed some film critics who were, presumably, Marlowe purists.  However, I side with those who think that although Gould’s interpretation is superficially the opposite of Marlowe he nevertheless has the same easy-going nature, a strong sense of principle and a dogged determination to see justice done, no matter how many beatings he has to take.  When the quality of US film-making declined in the late 70s and Gould found himself out of fashion, his star waned but he continues to be a prolific actor and livens up virtually everything he is cast in – which includes big budget productions like the OCEAN’S ELEVEN trilogy and CONTAGION [2011] - which shows both his enduring talent and the esteem in which he is held by those who know their cinema.

Paula Prentiss as Dolly
Paula Prentiss is an actress I am extremely fond of, despite not having seen many of her films.  The ones I have seen, including WHAT’S NEW, PUSSYCAT? [1967], CATCH 22 [1970], THE PARALLAX VIEW [1974] and THE STEPFORD WIVES [1975] she is brilliant in.  She has a very winning manner and a quite unique range of inflection in her voice which can be hilarious.  Sadly she more or less packed it in in the 1980s although I see she has a role in  a new horror film called I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE [2016] which I shall make a point of seeing.

Two supporting actors: Ron O'Neal, famous as SUPERFLY...

and John Larch, the kind of actor whom, once you recognise his face, you will see everywhere.
The director Stuart Rosenberg should be much better known than he is.  His best known film is COOL HAND LUKE [1967], perhaps the anti-authoritarian picture of the 60s but aside from that he made a number of highly professional pieces of entertainment that occasionally strove for a modicum of social comment, usually of a liberal persuasion, such as BRUBAKER [1980].  A film of his worth catching if you can track it down is WUSA [1970] starring Paul Newman a populist radio host on an extreme right radio station, which has some similarities with the better known and aforementioned THE PARALLAX VIEW.

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