THE GYPSY MOTHS
(director: John Frankenheimer; screenwriters: from the James Drought novel/William Hanley; cinematographer: Philip Lathrop; editor: Henry Berman ; music: Elmer Bernstein; cast: Burt Lancaster (Mike Rettig), Deborah Kerr (Elizabeth Brandon), Gene Hackman (Joe Browdy), Scott Wilson (Malcolm Webson), Bonnie Bedilia (Annie Burke), William Windom (V. John Brandon), Sheree North (Mary, waitress), Ford Rainey (Stand Owner), Carl Reindel (Pilot); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Hal Landers/Bob Roberts; Warner Home Video; 1969)
“The film has a satisfying honesty to it and outstanding Ingmar Bergman-like performances from Lancaster, Kerr and Hackman.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Director John Frankenheimer(“Ronin”/”Grand Prix”/”The Fixer”) melds together a melancholy action pic of a daring trio of stunt sky-jumpers with a melodramatic story about the smouldering inner feelings of the small town desperate residents they spend a week-end with while putting on a show. The disillusioned daredevils, stuck in no man’s land and going nowhere, are drawn to risk like a moth is to a flame. The barnstorming trio arrive just before the July 4th weekend to put on a show in Bridgeville, Kansas, where their youngest member, the 22-year-old Malcolm (Scott Wilson), left twelve years ago when his parents were killed in a car crash and he then grew up in an orphanage. He is unaware why he was not taken in by his mother’s sister Elizabeth (Deborah Kerr), the lady he now visits, but holds no anger to her. Though not seeing Malcolm since then, Elizabeth and her frosty husband John (William Windom) allow the trio to board for the show in their modest but comfortable suburban house. Also boarding there is a quiet college coed, Annie (Bonnie Bedilia).
The drama is based on the novel by James Drought and is written by William Hanley. The pic reunites Burt Lancaster with Deborah Kerr, who starred together 16 years ago in From Here to Eternity.
The stoic middle-aged Mike Rettig (Burt Lancaster) performs the death-defying riskiest jump in the act. The gregarious ‘everyman’ Joe Browdy (Gene Hackman) handles the business arrangements. While the sensitive and uncertain of himself Malcolm observes his partners and wonders about what he will become like if he ever reaches their age. Each of the skydivers is not sure for how much longer he will be barnstorming, and each tries while on this stop-over for a relationship. But all fail to find romance even if two score in bed. The classy Elizabeth, unwilling to end a loveless marriage, is drawn to the rugged carefree spirit of the laconic Mike for a quickie on the living room sofa. The fast-talking Browdy latches onto a one-night motel stand with the wisecracking, been around the block, busty topless waitress (Sheree North). While the timid Malcolm cautiously shows an interest in Annie, who indicates she likes him but is not someone built for a life of adventure destined to follow such a loose cannon. It all leads to the exciting breathtaking aerial sequences during their town show, which leaves us with a startling dramatic ending.
The film has a satisfying honesty to it and outstanding Ingmar Bergman-like performances from Lancaster, Kerr and Hackman. It’s also directed with great craftsmanship and concern for all his flawed characters by the talented director.
REVIEWED ON 1/2/2015 GRADE: B+