(director/writer: Peter Bogdanovich; screenwriter: W.D. Richter; cinematographer: Laszlo Kovacs; editor: William Carruth; music: Richard Hazard; cast: Ryan O’Neal (Leo Harrigan), Burt Reynolds (Buck Greenway), Tatum O’Neal (Alice Forsyte), Brian Keith (H.H. Cobb), Stella Stevens (Marty Reeves), John Ritter (Franklin Frank), Jane Hitchcock (Kathleen Cooke), Louis Guss (Dinsdale), Philip Bruns (Duncan),M. Emmett Walsh (Father Logan), Harry Carey Jr. (Dobie), Jim Best (Jim), Don Calfa (Waldo), George Gaynes (Reginald Kingsley); Runtime: 122; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Frank Marshall/Irwin Winkler/Robert Chartoff; Sony Pictures Home Entertainment; 1976-B/W)
“If nothing else, it truly shows Bogdanovich’s love for movies.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The critic-turned-filmmaker, Peter Bogdanovich (“The Last Picture Show”/”What’s Up, Doc?”), directs a flawed comedy about Hollywood in its lawless infancy. It was loosely based on true stories told to him by silent film directors Allan Dwan and Raoul Walsh. It’s co-written in a silly way by W.D. Richter and Bogdanovich. The slapdash affair unsuccessfully tries to mix slapstick with some serious drama, and the results are dismal. It turns out to be just another disappointing film about Hollywood’s silent era when it should have been a great film. Yet there are a few amusing moments (in one scene, it’s a riot to see a free-spirited Burt Reynolds on a horse as a KKK member carrying a torch). If nothing else, it truly shows Bogdanovich’s love for movies (especially those from the past).
The studio forced Bogdanovich to have big name stars (a miscast Ryan O’ Neal just doesn’t have the chops for comedy) and shoot it in color even though he preferred black-and-white. In theaters, it was released in color, but on DVD (I saw it on TCM) it was shown the way Bogdanovich wanted it in black-and-white.
It tells the story of the motion picture industry in its infancy, at a time when the moguls didn’t run it but were on the way to taking control of the industry and wouldn’t let the little guy into the business if he didn’t pay them a patent fee. In 1910, the movie people want to shut down the film of ragtag small producer H. H. Cobb (Brian Keith) over patent violations. The fast-talking cartoonish Cobb was shooting in Chicago, when the inept struggling young lawyer, Leo Harrigan (Ryan O’Neal), a character dressed to be a Harold Lloyd lookalike, stumbles onto his city set. Before you can say boo, the lawyer gladly trades careers to become a Hollywood writer. Whereby the crazed Cobb sends him by train to the California sticks, to a cow town called Cucamonga, to take over as director because the current director went on a drunken bender and stole the payroll. When Leo discovers a sarcastic teenage girl, Alice Forsyte (O’Neal’s daughter Tatum), from a nearby ostrich farm, writes better than him, he turns that job over to her and takes over the directing chores full time even if he’s clueless about what to do.
On the set Leo works with the sexy leading lady (Stella Stevens), a friendly nerd cameraman (John Ritter) and an eager to please veteran film crew already assembled. They are joined somehow by the roustabout Buck Greenway (Burt Reynolds), working for the patent team but switching allegiances after a fist-fight with Leo. Also showing up is the klutzy near-sighted dancer Kathleen Cooke (Jane Hitchcock). They all met briefly before in Chicago, where both Leo and Buck are smitten by her. But all go their separate ways until they meet again on the movie set.
Buck becomes the leading man and Kathleen the leading lady, where they get hitched in both the film and in real life.
The first half is filled with wall-to-wall silly slapstick comedy and sight gags, as it depicts how a movie was made back then. Too bad none of this was funny, and proved to be the film’s downfall (even if all the pratfalls were perfectly executed).
In the final act, Bogdanovich pays homage to D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation as the greatest film ever (never mind if it’s morally deplorable), showing film clips of it as proof and recreating its Hollywood grand opening–showing us the potential of films as art.
But Nickelodeon never amounts to much, though I found it oddly enjoyable at times because it was so crude and wacky.
REVIEWED ON 4/28/2020 GRADE: C