Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hammersmith Is Out (1972)

Director: Peter Ustinov
Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Peter Ustinov, Beau Bridges, Leon Ames, Leon Askin, Anthony Holland, George Raft, John Schuck, Marjorie Eaton


Reworking of the Faust legend has a slovenly, nose-picking orderly at a mental institution helping a patient to escape in exchange for a life of privilege. Taking along a roadside diner waitress on his journey, the young man eventually becomes one of the most successful men in the world--but at the expense of personal happiness. Crummy-looking satirical enterprise, scattered with absurdist humor and "Cleopatra" in-jokes, has enough interest in it for about 40 minutes of its length. The quirky match-up of material and cast (a haggard Richard Burton, an overly-tanned Elizabeth Taylor, and a pitilessly miscast Beau Bridges) can't carry the poorly-paced film beyond that. Taylor, in a variety of wigs, gives the picture a little bounce in the early stages; but when she's turned into a vindictive shrew, her role seems to evaporate--and yet she hangs around without anything to do. Bridges gives a ruinous performance; attempting to play a rough-hewn rube, the well-spoken actor cannot get a grip on his role. There's no story arc showing us the passage of time, and each new episode looks like it was cooked up on the spot. Director Peter Ustinov (who has an extraneous role as a psychiatrist with a Viennese accent) flails about behind the camera, alternately rude comedy with a messy narrative structure that simply gets worse as the film progresses.

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