Wednesday, December 29, 2010

LOOT (1970)

Every so often, I see a movie to which description cannot do justice. Sometimes it's a great movie (like 2001: A Space Odyssey), sometimes it's a terrible movie (like Santa Claus vs. the Martians), and sometimes, it's just fuckin' weird. Loot is that third kind of movie. Actually, it's not quite one-of-a kind; it reminds me in its energy and dark humor of THE WRONG BOX, a manic British farce of the Swingin' Sixties era. That movie had a strong cast and some witty dialogue well delivered. This movie falls down on all those counts, even though it's based on a play by the well-regarded Joe Orton. Still, because it's not on home video and showings of it are rare, this is one to catch for lovers of, shall we say, eccentric cinema. I took notes as I watched, but as I look back over them, nothing seems coherent. Still, I'll soldier on:

Hywell Bennett and Roy Holder (above) are friends who often seem to be just on the verge of being lovers, grabbing and hugging and calling each other "Baby." Bennett works for an undertaker. He and his buddy have a 3-way in a hearse with a meter maid. Holder's mother dies and the funeral parlor where her body is housed is next door to a bank. The boys decide to rob the bank (stark naked, for some reason or other) take mom's body out of the coffin, put the loot in, and make a getaway. Of course, it's not that easy. Richard Attenborough shows up as a odd detective in a Hitler mustache, and Lee Remick is the dead mother's sexy nurse. For much of its running time, the movie is a frantic door-slamming farce which takes place in the odd little village hotel that Holder's father (Milo O'Shea) runs, involving hiding and finding the bags of money and the mother's corpse But the more frantic a farce, the more it risks coming off as desperate, and that's exactly what happens here. The director throws everything but the kitchen sink at us and about a third of it is amusing, but the rest just seems strange. The art direction is rather fabulous--every set is garish, largely in tones of purple, yellow and blue, and that's one of the few elements here that works. There are some quotable lines, most likely derived directly from Orton. Holder: "Bury her naked! My mom! It's a Freudian nightmare!!" Attenborough, thinking Holder wants to open the coffin for some hanky panky: "Conjugal rights should stop at the last heartbeat!" Attenborough again: "We only arrest the innocent as a last resort." I liked seeing Bennett who was memorable in THE FAMILY WAY, and O'Shea and Remick are both fine, especially Remick who is tarted up quite nicely, looking like a living sex doll. Attenborough seems uncomfortable, as they all should. You've been warned. [TCM]

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