BONE(director/writer: Larry Cohen; cinematographer/editor: George Folsey, Jr.; editor: Michael Corey; cast: Yaphet Kotto (Bone), Joyce Van Patten (Bernadette), Andrew Duggan (Bill), Jeannie Berlin (The Girl); Runtime: 92; Jack H. Harris Enterprises / Larco Production; 1972)
“Cohen admitted to being influenced by the playwright Joe Orton when he wrote this film.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Larry Cohen’s auspicious debut film is a scathing black comedy set in Beverly Hills. Cohen uses his macabre pool setup as a symbolic meaning for the social unrest and sweeping changes taking place in the country: of smoking weed and interracial dating becoming more commonplace. There seemed to be a breakdown in society and Cohen isn’t interested in why but in what is happening to the country.
Cohen admitted to being influenced by the playwright Joe Orton when he wrote this film. A film that absurdly dramatizes the murky relationship of a white middle-class couple living beyond their means in luxury and the big black buck rapist/robber, who frightens the couple. But Cohen lets the suspense go to pieces and eases the heavy rape scene with social comedy and gentrified manners. It is sordidly funny in spots and at other times it just seems shrill and pretentious. There were too many flat spots between the mesmerizing opening scene around the swimming pool and the bleak finale in a sand dune, to make this quirky effort work entirely. It seemed to be toying with the audience for its acceptance or disapproval, more than anything else. Bone is a film desperately trying to get under one’s skin, but doesn’t have enough staying power to complete the job. It fits nicely into Cohen’s concept of film as schlock art.
Middle-aged TV personality Bill (Duggan) is pitching his used-car lot in the maddening tone snake-oil salesmen use to call attention to their products. At home he lounges around his Hollywood styled swimming pool as his disinterested wife, Bernadette (Van Patten), suddenly comes to life when her husband tells her he just saw a rat in the swimming pool drain. Bernadette insists he call the pool service, but he can’t get them to commit to a date. Soon a huge black man with a disarming smile comes ambling up to them by the swimming pool, and they think their pool service reconsidered his request and sent a man over. They tell him about the rat and he reaches down with his bare hands into the drainpipe and pulls out a dead rat. They soon find out that he actually came to rob them and rape her.
The black dude threatens to rape and brutalize Bernadette if Bill doesn’t return from the bank with the full withdrawal of $5,000 from his bank accountant by the bank’s closing time. Cohen will split the screentime with Bill and Bernadette at this point. Bill has already been exposed for having secret financial dealings his wife doesn’t know about and faking his bankruptcy, which causes her to resent him more than she already does.
Bill goes to the bank but while there changes his mind about getting the money, instead he hopes that his wife gets killed. While in the bank he gets diverted by a ditsy young lady (Berlin) hustler who takes him back to her place for sex. Bill reminds her, by his smell, of a dirty old man she met as a child in a Bronx movie theater (Loews Paradise?) showing “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” She had sneaked into the adult section because the children’s section was too noisy and he let her sit next to him, pretending to the matron that he was her father; and, while Howard Keel was singing, he pulled down her panties and fingered her.
The rapist (Kotto) goes by the name of Bone. When he goes to rape Bernadette he stops just before he penetrates, which disappoints her. She asks him what’s wrong and the two start conversing and a real relationship develops. The two think that they have something in common, which leads them to have sex in a gentle way. They also find that her husband has a life-insurance policy and they decide to kill him and collect on the premium.
When the couple meet up with Bill again, he tries to tempt them with an odd offer to spare his life. While the couple try to decide if they want to stay together, or go their separate ways, or just kill Bill.
Bone had its moments in the sun, but couldn’t get out of its shadow in time to say more than boo! What remains chewy about it, is the bizarre psychology evoked. It is a film that could be admired for its originality and for its quirkiness, but there are others who might see it strictly as exploitative. Bone had moments when it was both terribly good and just terrible.
REVIEWED ON 6/20/2000 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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