(director/writer: Francis Ford Coppola; screenwriter: from the novel by David Benedictus; cinematographer: Andrew Laszlo; editor: Aram Avakian; music: The Lovin’ Spoonful; cast: Geraldine Page (Margery Chanticleer), Elizabeth Hartman (Barbara Darling), Peter Kastner (Bernard Chanticleer), Rip Torn ( I. H. Chanticleer), Tony Bill (Raef del Grado), Michael Dunn (Richard Mudd), Julie Harris (Miss Nora Thing), Karen Black (Amy Partlett), Dolph Sweet (Frances, Policeman); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Phil Feldman; Seven Arts Pictures; 1966)

“An uneven effort that has both its funny and dull moments, but has since remained popular as a cult favorite.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Francis Ford Coppola’s second feature is a screwball comedy that’s flying high in the mod Sixties of dropouts and sexual liberation but rooted in the values of the Thirties. Viewing it 37 years later, all its hipness has faded but for its firm roots in madcap comedy. Bernard Chanticleer (Kastner) is almost twenty and lives at home in Great Neck, Long Island, with his overbearing mother Margery (Page) and his smug father I. H. (Torn), who calls his son Big Boy. The kid thinks about girls day and night, but doesn’t know how to meet them. Bernard’s father is the curator of the New York Public Library on 42nd Street and has gotten his klutzy son a job there as a lowly assistant librarian. On top of being socially backward, Bernard is a screw up and in the month he’s been working would have been canned if it weren’t for his father. But he’s great on roller skates, which he uses to navigate the hidden bookshelves in the back. The father believes the agreeable Bernard must learn how to grow up and become responsible, so he encourages him to go out into the world alone and pay for his own Manhattan apartment.

Mother finds him a walk-up apartment in the building owned by a prudish lonely 42-year-old spinster named Miss Nora Thing (Harris). There’s a rooster that lives on Bernard’s floor and attacks lady visitors. The rooster must remain there, as stipulated by Miss Thing’s departed brother as part of the agreement for her to inherit the place. Miss Thing and Margery bond, and the landlady agrees to keep an eye on Bernard and make sure he doesn’t bring women up to his room.

There’s an attractive nice girl library worker, Amy (Black), who was a childhood classmate of Bernard’s and finds the nerdy looking guy attractive. But he brushes her advances aside and is attracted to Barbara Darling (Hartman), an aspiring sexy actress he spots visiting the library and in Central Park and at a strip club he attends; and, finally in an off-Broadway play his parents take him to. He writes her a sugary letter and she invites him to visit her in the dressing room after her performance.

Bernard is being mentored to get rid of all his inhibitions and become a free-spirit by his young colleague Raef (Bill), who pictures himself as a poet and a ladies’ man. He teaches Bernard how to smoke cigarettes and turns the naive guy on to pep pills, and tries to push him into bagging the willing Amy. But Bernard can’t stop thinking about Barbara.

Bernard manages to get invited to move into Barbara’a pad, but soon finds that his dream girl is mentally unbalanced and though willing to have sex–is nevertheless a man-hater. The still tripping Bernard can’t perform sexually and is chided, and then kicked out of her apartment just after moving in. The pace is frenetic, as the scenes blend into one another through jump cuts and other slick editing devices popular at the time through Godard and Dick Lester flicks.

The most screwball scene and my favorite, is the landlady visiting I. H. in the library to tell him his son stays out all night and is seeing a woman. But their conversation in a vault gets bizarre when she mistakenly shuts the door and he tells her it’s a time vault and can’t be opened until the time is up. The uptight landlady panics when she looks around and the place is surrounded with art work of nude ladies. She cries out in agony at the innocent I. H. “I’m trapped in the pornography collection of a fiend.”

Too many scenes felt stiff and seem not to be as spontaneous as thought of back then. It’s an uneven effort that has both its funny and dull moments, but has since remained popular as a cult favorite. There’s lots of nostalgia music from John Sebastian’s The Lovin’ Spoonful and local color scenes of the old-fashioned buses, the Automat, a sleazy Times Square and the fifteen cent pretzel. It was an outgrowth of Coppola’s UCLA film thesis that has been adapted from a novel by David Benedictus and helped by a sparkling cast, who give a spirited performance.