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CHAFED ELBOWS (director/writer: Robert Downey; cinematographers: Stanley Warnow/Robert Prince/William Waering; editors: Robert Soukis/Robert Prince; music: Tom O’Horgan; cast: George Morgan (Walter Dinsmore), Elsie Downey (Mother and voices for all women roles); Runtime: 58; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert Downey; Eclipse from the Criterion Collection; 1966)

About some crude and silly childish business over shock gags and rages against convention.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The underground stream-of-consciousness cult comedy hit that got Robert Downey (“Putney Swope”)rolling in the movie business is about some crude and silly childish business over shock gags and rages against convention. The counter-culture black and white film is mostly composed of 35 mm still photographs, with also a few live action sequences mixed in. It was made for about $25,000. The film concerns the Greenwich Village residing twentysomething idler Walter (George Morgan) involved in an incestuous relationship with nurturing mom (Elsie Downey, the director’s wife). Walter is always on the verge of a nervous breakdown, ones he gets annually in November and January. After wandering through different parts of the city to score a job but failing to find work as an actual art exhibit from a smug pop art artist, a bent-out-of-shape underground porn filmmaker and blowing a job as a server for a caterer, Walter gets on the welfare rolls and marries mom. The happy couple, an underground success story, move to an apartment in Queens.

Inducing a few chuckles, the sophomoric lewd pic never delivers a consistent punch and never brings back nostalgia for the good ole radical hippie days of the 1960s. The absurd scene of Walter giving birth to $100 bills by C-section was more dumb than funny, while the hostile cop jokes and the shot of Lyndon Johnson in a Nazi uniform don’t transfer well into the new century. But the film gives Robert Downey Jr’s dad some recognition as a pioneer in edgy film-making, someone who paved the way for the likes of John Waters and was the much lesser rival of Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls (1966).


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”