Looking back at the Looking for Mr. Goodbar movie
In a recent post, I wrote about Judith Rossner’s Looking for Mr. Goodbar. Reading the 1975 bestseller was meant to fulfill a long-held curiosity I’d had about the book. But my curiosity didn’t end there.
After discovering that the full 1977 movie version is available on YouTube, I sat down to watch it this past weekend. These are my thoughts…
This is 1970s New York City at its grittiest. Case in point; the opening scene takes place on the subway, where a guy standing next to Diane Keaton, playing the main character Theresa Dunn, is reading a copy of Hustler. I repeat, on the subway.
Keaton is in a different movie from everyone else. The actress, fresh off Annie Hall, plays it cool for the most part (though she has a strong, emotional scene where she claims ownership of her body). But Tuesday Weld as her older sister is borderline hysterical whenever she pops up. By far the worst offender is veteran actor Richard Kiley. There’s not a scene in which he appears, as Theresa’s father, where it doesn’t look as though a vein is going to explode in his forehead.
Based on a true story
There are some terrific scenes with Keaton as a teacher of deaf children. This is a detail that wasn’t in Rossner’s novel, but was actually taken from the story of Roseann Quinn, the woman on whom the book is based. The scenes add an extra layer of pathos to the film, which definitely veers wildly in tone, from high camp to comedy to tragedy. The schoolroom scenes also give rise to one of the movie’s best lines: “If you can teach a deaf child, you’ve touched God.” The movie is good at playing up the character as saint by day, fallen woman “whoring around” (the movie’s words, not mine) by night.
This is definitely a women’s-issues film. Writer-director Richard Brooks (adapting Rossner’s novel) lays it on with a trowel. The first 10 minutes alone is a litany of sexual liberation-era talking points, including loss of virginity, abortion, unwanted pregnancy, and adultery. Also, there’s a lot of Catholicism and Catholic in the movie that I don’t remember from the book. I especially like the scene when, while Dunn is waiting, a subway pulls up, doors open and a nun pops out.
Keaton’s character sprays her hoo-ha with perfume before a date. Was this ever really a thing?
Choice bit of dialogue #1: “I just can’t stand a woman’s company right after I’ve fucked her.”
Choice bit of dialogue #2: “Is my breath bad? Do I use the wrong toothpaste? Is my sex too straight?”
Kudos to the filmmakers’ for using Boz Scaggs’ Lowdown, especially when a scene suddenly cuts to a singles’ bar. In fact, the whole soundtrack is a doozy, and its selection of disco-era classics may be one reason (that is, procuring the rights) that the film has not been released on DVD (a point made by filmmaker Bruce LaBruce in his awesome assessment, complete with references to Greek mythology, of the film at thetalkhouse.com from earlier this year).
The main character develops a coke habit. Again, different from the book. Not sure what the point of it is to the movie, which would be just as effective without it in my opinion.
The movie features ’70s lingo I’d never heard before. At one point, Weld’s character says, “He’s the best safecracker in the business.” In case you’re wondering what that means, she follows up with, “Isn’t that a great name for an abortionist?” No, not really.
Random thought #1 (as Keaton’s character descends into angry, mostly unfulfilling promiscuity): this is a long way from the Orgasmatron in Sleeper.
The ending is brutal. I’d be warned about this by a friend, and the final scene lived up to the warning. It also seems to nod, in a weird way, to the Italian Giallo (blood-drenched films usually featuring gruesome murders of beautiful young women) genre, and directors like Dario Argento. It’s tempting to hope that Brooks was using exploitation techniques to comment on the proliferation of onscreen violence against women, but nothing else in the movie makes me think this might be the case. Another point of interest; where, in the book, Theresa’s killer becomes enraged when she insist he leave, in the movie he attacks her because he believes she is calling him out on his (repressed) homosexuality.