Andrew Bergman is a very learned director who evidently studied films like Andrew L. Stone’s Hi Diddle Diddle before he made So Fine. Here, in a model later refined as Big Trouble and Striptease, is the voice of experience speaking through a mask of naivety, and calling forth the neophyte.
Overall, the critics were undecided about The Freshman. A real analysis of the script reveals how much of a masterpiece it really is.
Based on Oliver Twist, in a unified conception, it presents three broad areas of activity: The Innocent’s Progress, beginning with a surreal image of a Komodo Dragon breaking its shell; The Film School, comprehensively built in turn on a correct analysis of Coppola’s The Godfather; and a formal construction built on three levels sustained throughout, like three voices or musical lines.
The basis is Matthew Broderick’s open performance as the Innocent, which is joined at the end by Penelope Ann Miller’s as the Don’s Harvard daughter. The middle voice is given by Bruno Kirby first, joined later by Maximilian Schell (compare his performance in Robson’s Avalanche Express for this). Finally, the upper voice is played alone by Marlon Brando in a complicated parody of Don Corleone which has mystified some critics (notably the irascible Hal Hinson), though it’s a trademark of Brando’s to engage in a comic parody of his dramatic roles. He tosses in a bit of Broderick Crawford for good measure, out of sheer virtuosity.
The first few scenes show the elevation of this structure, and it’s evident from start to finish how clear and distinct the several lines are. Maslin appreciated something of this, but failed to note the ease given by it, the ideal of script preparation derived from Capra.
Honeymoon in Vegas
The situation (later filmed as Lyne’s Indecent Proposal) is simple and direct as a dream or a hallucination, and piled high on both sides to satiety (rich title, rich material). The charm of it is the three-dimensionality, which one is the dreamer?
Of course it’s Bergman. The actors move in this with great flexibility and stillness, to maximum effect. James Caan outvies Jack Carter as Jack Carter, nearly.
There is a theory about that Bergman was fired from Big Trouble for incompetence (Cassavetes says he understood Bergman was “exhausted” with writing and producing as well), the last thing he can be accused of is ineptitude. The aggressive technique here often uses the camera to set up shots, rather than wait for the editing table. The ending is nicely adapted from Dreyer’s Vampyr.
Bergman’s long researches into screwball comedy tend here toward Preston Sturges, with an actual result stylistically akin to Charles Crichton’s A Fish Called Wanda. The prime beneficiary is Burt Reynolds, beside himself in a Marlon Brando (or Andy Warhol) wig, also Ving Rhames rather like Oliver Reed in Don Taylor’s The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday.
Roger Ebert’s review contains a touching tribute to Tempest Storm.