I saw this film in the bargain bin, and couldn't resist. Two of my favorites, Carroll O'Connor and Ernest Borgnine, both in a film from 1974. The clothes, hairstyles and attitudes of the day shine through beautifully, and do not disappoint.
However, all is not quite as it seems.
The film starts out very strongly as a mild comedy, but somewhere along the way it transforms into something else, taking unexpected side-trips into dark, gritty, even ocassionally violent scenes. The effect is interesting and memorable, but not altogether effective in my opinion. The film could have easily been either a comedy, or a serious drama, but Czech born director Ivan Passer tried to do both, and with mixed results.
In short, the film is not what you will expect it to be based on the first half. While somewhat disturbing when venturing into serious, gritty drama, this should not dissuade the viewer from watching the film. These moments are handled with great skill, and even a kind of flair that forces you to keep watching. And by the time some of the darker elements begin popping up, you care so much about these characters that you wouldn't turn away even if you could.
You can tell that the studio really didn't know what to make of this one. As the included trailer and TV spots attest, the studio promoted the film as a pure comedy, something that the film really isn't. At least, not entirely.
Great moments abound, both comedicly and dramaticly. One serious bit I especially liked was O'Connor, when his character discovers his daughter in a darkened kitchen. Lit only by a candle flame, we see the character's dawning realization that his daughter is high. Putting this in context with the death of the late actor's son, and O'Connor's subsequent efforts to inform youngsters about the danger and tragedy that drugs can cause, the moment is all the more poignant.
The ending is tough (and I felt, somewhat unnecessary), but excellently handled by all involved. The epilogue that follows is perfection, and of a kind never seen in Hollywood anymore.
It really is too bad that the film is somewhat deceptive; starting as a comedy, winding up as more of a drama. Perhaps this is why the film is not as well-known as it could have been, or should be today.
This film is definitely a must-see for fans of Carroll O'Connor, or fans of early-70's movies. The DVD transfer is pretty good, too.
Try this one out.