The Day of the Locust

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Christopher Bligh

Plot: What’s it about?

In the mid-seventies Paramount was at the top of their game thanks to a boost of interest in period pieces triggered by the success of The Godfather. However, after it’s release, the period pieces that followed like Chinatown, Daisy Miller and The Great Gatsby got respectable notices but failed to match or go beyond the financial success of The Godfather. During this time, the studio inked a deal with Academy Award winning director John Schlesinger to make a few movies for them. The first involved a time before World War I when Hollywood was at the top of their game with the movies that the studios turned out but in reality, the studio system hid a boulevard of broken dreams and has beens. There are many days of the week but that’s nothing compared to The Day Of The Locust.

A young art director (William Atherton) moves into town hired by Paramount Pictures to work on a war film and on the set falls in love with an attractive extra named Faye (Karen Black) that he notices living next door to him unaware of what literal baggage she brings along including a cowboy (Bo Hopkins) and a Spaniard (Pepe Serna) with an affinity for cock fights. Meanwhile, her alcoholic father (Burgess Meredith) has reduced his “acting career” to being a door to door salesman giving a literal song and dance of potions and magic with no success almost drinking himself to death when a simple but well off individual named Homer (Donald Sutherland) takes him in where his daughter encounters the both of them and starts to notice a thing or two about Homer.

With the period look captured perfectly and the score driving the movie without being too overpowering, The Day of the Locust shows that beneath the glamour and the feel of the great period of the studio system, there lied a period of great things for many and sadness and depression for a great many more. There are no superstars, only ones that were something at one time. Their time has past and there’s not enough for them to grab it back.

The acting all around is superb. Before his days of being the eighties idiot in almost all movies, William Atherton seemed to be locked in the seventies to the role of the boy that meets the girl but turns out to be too overwhelming for the girl and the boy will do anything he can to make her his. Nevertheless, he brings a little more to that as the art director with a vision and his other scribblings on the side.

Burgess Meredith, who was nominated for his role, shows a little bit of magic to his character that turns from happy to tragic in a matter of minutes that the viewer wishes he had seen more of his character in this film.
Donald Sutherland continued to show in the seventies and even today that he is a credible actor that can make the difference between a good movie and a great one with his role as the unaffectedly simple but sharp man sharing the name of everyone’s favorite cartoon father on Sunday nights, Homer Simpson.

John Barry’s score plays throughout the movie but it doesn’t become redundant and it doesn’t drown the narrative making for a beautiful score for a depressing but memorable movie. It’s a story that the glamorous life can be deceiving even in the peak of the studio era before television.

The look of this film, courtesy of the late great Conrad Hall, showed the appearance of a glamourous look but an ugly feel beneath it all showing no matter how wonderful things look in Hollywood, there is tragedy abound and it can come to anybody at that time. It’s bright, it’s beautiful but beneath it all, something doesn’t look right and within the last few minutes of the film, the audience starts to notice what the time was really made of. With the teaming of Hall and Schlesinger, they combined for a memorable but disturbing story of loneliness, depression and Hollywood.

Video: How does it look?

Paramount gives The Day of the Locust is given the first wide anamorphic treatment in 1.85:1 and the results make for a beautiful transfer with a bit of cloudiness and a speckle or two during scenes. The print glows with the hazy and candy colors without any hints of bleeding or oversaturation as it remains sharp without too many print flaws and nicks in the print. A well preserved treatment to a seventies Paramount title.

Audio: How does it sound?

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is good making great use of John Barry’s score but as many seventies movies go, the sound has a bit of muteness that doesn’t make the track totally crisp or groundbreaking but limits it to where the audio does not make for a great example of one’s sound system. There are no hisses or cracks and the track remains sharp with the majority of the activity of dialogue and effects coming from the middle and with some effects by the back channels appear but not as much. All in all, a good audio track. This disc also has a restored English mono track as well as English subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Unfortunately, like John Frankenheimer’s Black Sunday, a recent passing of the director hurt the chances of a commentary or any other kind of extra for this title. What hurts even more is not only does the audience not get to see how the film was sold in a trailer but there is no insert. An unacceptable move by Paramount that could’ve helped matters with a memorable title that deserves more than that after being that long awaited in a wide form.

The Day of the Locust joins a great many other titles from this studio that gets released amongst the latter of the 1 in every 80 getting the special treatment despite a very good transfer and a possible discovery amongst the “in-the-middle titles of the seventies gaining availability on DVD. There is a yearning for more with this title, even an insert and here’s hoping that Paramount can display their titles with some credibility even if it means including a trailer and/or an insert.

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