The Subject Was Roses

The equation put forth describes a rare comprehension, critics have always stopped short of adding it up completely.

The son has won World War II, the father is a coffee merchant wiped out in ‘29 but prosperous enough for a car and a summer house by a New Jersey lake and the odd mistress and law school tuition for the boy if he wants it, the wife has never forgiven him for failing of his early promise, he might have been a millionaire if she had cared to live in Brazil, they share a third-floor walkup in the Bronx.

To determine all this, with the young corporal still in uniform and his combat infantryman badge and all, is the activity of the playwright, who wrote the screenplay. For the first hour or so Grosbard’s film is a perfect masterpiece, then it becomes what it is.

“Monosyllabic nonsense,” according to Vincent Canby in the New York Times (Ebert simply had a bad day in the Chicago Sun-Times), Time Out Film Guide thought the actors were all, which they are and then some, Halliwell drew a blank with his London colleagues, Variety admired the film.



Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?


Horizons Unlimited is his corporate image, professionally he wears a cowboy hat. Time puts him on the cover. “Voice of the People?”

He writes sunshine songs on his guitar after the terrace breakfast, the wife wants a divorce.

For insomnia, he wakes up his accountant to read him the quarterly earnings report.

For reasons never fathomed by Ebert or Canby, he’s not happy.

Shel Silverstein wrote the songs, Edgar Allan Poe wrote “William Wilson”.


Straight Time

“As a bankrupt thief turns thief-taker in despair, so an unsuccessful author turns critic.” (Shelley)

But a critic is a writer, too. Let’s not be too harsh on them. Straight Time ought to have secured Grosbard’s fame, but it is perhaps a little difficult.

There is an unexcelled precision in the directing that makes it only too easy to mention Grosbard’s early career as a diamond cutter, it’s flawless, hard and telling. It sets up a perfect range for scenes so natural they approach cinéma vérité—and you have to know these actors to see what Grosbard has abstracted from them.

Dustin Hoffman’s performance has been called irresolute and insufficiently motivated, but this is lack of observation in an unattentive critic. Every step of his progression is meticulously explicated without underlining, and there is nothing unaccounted for. The limpidity of Theresa Russell’s character is a precise measure. M. Emmet Walsh shows his flashing passion for caricature, and so does Harry Dean Stanton. Gary Busey has a subtle throe or two. Everybody else, down to the extras and passersby, performs in a manner that would excite the admiration of a Bresson.

The moral dilemma was at least addressed by Grosbard in his next film, True Confessions, which leaves no doubt that you have a Warner Brothers crime drama twenty years after Les Quatre Cents Coups, and half a dozen years after the dramatic ecstasies of Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?

“Poesy will always be pre-eminently an escape, jail broken and assurance that that escape in long and murderous strides has succeeded.” (René Char) The perhaps ambiguous end note of mug shots going “mainly backward” (bearded, younger, juvenile), to which Hoffman lends himself personally, suggests a recidivist or the saying of Nabokov’s, “A man who shaves every day grows a day younger each morning.”


True Confessions

The separation of Church and State, considered as blind justice vs. a kingdom not of this world.

Dramatically, this is built by simple, obvious stages. A monsignor is up to his alb in Los Angeles building projects sepulchering a corrupt developer with whitewash. The former has a brother on the force, who used to take hush money in Vice and still goes along with covering up the death of a priest in a whore’s bed, but who draws the line at seeing a panderer and thug honored as Catholic Layman of the Year (ironically given to soothe the feelings of a dangerous man too hot to handle anymore). The catalyst (a transposition of the Black Dahlia case) brings down the pillar of the community and the monsignor as well, who winds up out in the desert as a parish priest.


Falling in Love

Paolo and Francesca meet over coffee-table books (sailing and gardening) at Rizzoli’s. Brief Encounter (nearly Anna Karenina). Un Homme et une femme.

A studied boredom and muted fatuity inform the piece. Designer homes, de rigueur and out of Architectural Digest. His nondescript skyscraper, not exactly bad, with a job transfer in mid-construction to Houston. Her wan commercial designs, “Fruit & Cheese”.

His friend stuck with a mistress and divorce. Her father ailing with a heart condition, her lascivious office chum looking for a man, maybe in Barbados...



A remake of Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?, in which the title character is a pair of sisters.

Even the absolute dead-end rock-bottom asshole of rock ‘n roll has an absolute dead-end rock-bottom asshole, and both ends are trying to run a business here.

Oscars were called for all around but not forthcoming.


The Deep End of the Ocean

Grosbard’s aim is to find depth in bathos, a raid on the inarticulateness of faux Suburbia. The substructure is built of many relations to Frantic, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Penny Serenade, To Kill a Mockingbird, Branded, Zorba the Greek, Fanny and Alexander, etc., with a whiff of Proust. This is merely revealed in shots of a secondary nature rivaling Harry Callahan.