Friday, May 24, 2013

R.P.M (1970)

Two radical student groups occupy the administration building at a large university; Gary Lockwood is the socialist/student rights leader and Paul Winfield is the head of the black student group. They demand that the current president resign and be replaced by hip, much-published sociology professor Anthony Quinn, who is so very 60s with-it that he sleeps with his students (currently with sexy grad student Ann-Margret). The board of trustees asks Quinn to accept, and though he figures he'll get caught in the middle, he accepts. The radicals let him into the building and give him a list of twelve demands to take back to the board. After some negotiating, the board gives in to some of them (a black trustee, a review of college investments) but the final three, including having a student voice in hiring and firing, become sticking points. Quinn advises the students to compromise, having gotten most of what they wanted, but instead Lockwood and Winfield threaten to destroy the administration computers. Meanwhile, Ann-Margret attacks Quinn sexually, saying he's never been in love and just sleeps with a string of groupies; the best line in the movie has Ann-Margret tell him that his sexual activity increases in proportion to the length of his bibliography. Eventually, Quinn calls in the cops who use tear gas to get rid of the students. Although the resolution is relatively peaceful, the student body turns against Quinn whom we assume in the last scene of the film, as he walks slowly through a crowd of hecklers, has become a broken man.

This is one of the few Hollywood films of the era to attempt to deal seriously with the issue of campus unrest--the only other one that comes to mind is THE STRAWBERRY STATEMENT, which was released a couple of months earlier. Though this film is not nearly as bad its critical reputation would have it, there are a couple of big problems. First, it had the misfortune to be made before but released after the Kent State shootings, which would largely call a halt to major campus unrest. Here, the issue doesn't appear to be so much a concern with police violence but more with the campus bureaucracy. The other problem is that the students aren't given a consistent attitude or philosophy. Their demands aren't discussed at any length and they wind up mostly seeming just stubborn. The relationship between Quinn and Ann-Margret is interesting but not explored in much depth. Lockwood (pictured at right, and above with Winfield, looking scruffily cute but rather blank) and Winfield aren't rounded characters at all. Quinn is OK but seems a bit uncomfortable. Best viewed as a period piece. [TCM]

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