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FINGERS (director/writer: James Toback; cinematographer: Mike Chapman; editor: Robert Lawrence; cast: Harvey Keitel (Jimmy “Fingers” Angelelli), Tisa Farrow (Carol), Jim Brown (Dreems), Michael V. Gazzo (Ben), Marian Seldes (Ruth, Mother), Carole Francis (Christa), Danny Aiello (Butch), Ed Marinaro (Gino), Tanya Roberts (Julie), Georgette Muir (Anita), Lenny Montana (Luchino), Dominic Chianese (Arthur Fox), Tony Sirico (Riccamonza); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: R; producer: George Barrie; Warner Home Video; 1978)
“It blends together high and low culture, as Toback bet on this combo to win despite its long odds.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The provocateur filmmaker, with a gambling problem and a degree from Harvard, in one of his earliest films, James Toback(“Harvard Man”/”Black & White”/”The Pick-up Artist“), directs this daring downbeat gangster psycho-drama. It blends together high and low culture ,as if Toback bet on this combo to win despite its long odds.

Jimmy “Fingers” Angelelli (Harvey Keitel) is a confused NYC lad, who practices and practices a Bach suite for his upcoming Carnegie Hall audition. The wannabe concert classical pianist, a talent inherited from his Jewish mother (Marian Seldes), meanwhile works for his loan shark mafioso Italian father (Michael V. Gazzo) collecting gambling debts by cracking skulls and when necessary raping in the toilet the mistress (Tanya Roberts) of someone who didn’t pay his debt.

Besides obsessed with the 1960s funky song “Summertime Summertime,” the repressed and insecure Fingers is obsessed with the sexually alluring sculptor Carol (Tisa Farrow), from his SoHo neighborhood. But she throws him off his game because she has a thing for the cocky and violent bad-ass womanizing black stud club owner, Dreems (Jim Brown).

It was produced independently by George Barrie, the Brut perfume magnate, who Toback rips for the film’s box office woes by not releasing it properly.

The oddity drama is interesting as a character study of a man faced with deep inner problems (like his sexual identity and questions if he’s a homosexual), and of presenting troubling societal issues of inter-racial sex in such a frank way. It’s a deeply personal film that commendably pushes the boundaries of taboo subjects to the edge, but the inexperienced director lacked the experience to be given so much freedom to make such a personal film and probably could have benefited if there was a good producer around to rein him in.

It was remade by the French as “The Beat That My Heart Skipped” (2005), with Jacques Audiard directing. But the remake lacks the freshness, immediacy and ability to pack a punch like the original.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”