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March 03, 1978 - Image 5

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Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1978-03-03

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HE MOST interesting event during my lazy Sunday afternoon watch-
ing The Betsy occurred behind rather than in front of me: As the film's
opening credits unrolled, a small baby parked in the middle of a large family
the next row back began to exhibit an insatiable desire to do an imitation of
anair raid siren. At which point his beleagered dad would raise a half-open
fist over the kid's head and fix with with a gaze that looked fierce enough to
vaporize Darth Vader. "Shuddup, dammit!," he undertoned menacingly.
The threat of imminent annihilation seemed only to induce the child to
bellow even louder, eventually driving pop, mom and himself to the exits in
alternating shifts, amid mutual mutterings of consternation: "When's the
kid gonna learn to behave himself?" "He's only a year old, Fred." "That's
no excuse!!" In retrospect, the tyke was probably the most sensible spec-
tator present - he didn't pay anything to get in and didn't feel compelled to
stay around long enough to watch. This should have.been a warning to the
rest of us.
It was already a foregone conclusion that The Betsy would be an exer-
cise in unmitigated schlock; but one at least entertained the hope that it
might turn out to be fun'schlock, in the tradition of A Matter of Time, Demon
Seed and other howlers so sublimely exhibitionistic in their incompetence
that each endures as a kind of iconoclastic wonder in inverse proportion to
its intelligence. Alas, The Betsy lends no such excitement to its own illogic.
The film's plot, its people and its structure are unadulterously comatose, in-
citing its audience to wince, to writhe, finally to snore.
IN CASE YOU'RE fortunate enough not to know, The Betsy - based on
Harold Robbins' sleazy best seller of the same name - was connived as a
barely fictionalized shocker about Detroit and the auto industry that runs it.
Aesthetic kneejerk notwithstanding, it's a potentially compelling American
locale if placed in the hands of a sensitive film craftsman, as witness the
success of Paul Schradeir's current Blue Collar. Unfortunately, craftsman-
ship and sensitivity bear as little relevance to the world of Harold Robbins as
liquor does to a Muslum.r
Would that one could simply banish from consciousness the drab phallic
scratchings of this literary vampire who endlessly excretes his computer-
formula novels and his creatively stunted emotions. As bad luck would have
it, trash can often be alchemized into loot, which is one talent Robbins has
honed to a dagger's edge. And since'money still talks louder than anything
else in Hollywood, we are thus forced semi-annually to gird our loins and
dubious acumen in oder to suffer through two hours watching normally
competent performers and technicians make somnambulistic oafs of them-
selves.
The Betsy's evolvement prompted considerable prideful stirrings
throughout the Detroit area last year, what with the picture's much-
trumpeted inner-city shooting, a cast headed by no less than Lord Laurence
Olivier, and a general local euphoria over the Motor City's having finally
earned a place for itself on the celluloid map.
Well, the collective populace needn't have held its vainglorious breath:
The sum total of on-location Detroit sequences totals approximately two
minutes out of the entire film, car assembly line shots comprise perhaps one
minute, a super-ballyhooed period sequence involving loads of area bigwigs
decked out as extras in 1930's duds lasts maybe forty seconds. So much for
local color. The rest of this enervated work consists entirely of various
financial-carnal wheelings and dealings behind the closed, plush doors of the
skyscrapers and mansions which supposedly make up the nerve centers of
the industry. I cannot remember a film characterized by such a total lack of
any form of physical action; it's a visual paean to immobility.
The Betsy's small-minded though labyrinthian plot need barely be
touched upon. It dimly catalogues the not-too-diverse gyrations of the four-
generation Hardeman auto empire (patterned chronologically, tough cer-
tainly not otherwise, after the Ford family). Proceedings begin in the
present where we find elderly company founder Loren Hardeman Sr.
(Olivier), apparently remorseful in his dotage over his robber baron past,
struggling to develop an innovative economy car designed to permanently
relieve the nation of its energy crunch. He dubs his new creation "The Bet-
sy," named after his fast-budding granddaughter.
Shortly thereafter, Loren Sr. hires American-Italian race driver Angelo
Perino (Tommy Lee Jones) to help build and test his four-wheeled messiah.
All well and good and ecological, except that Loren III (Robert Duvall), now
actually in charge of the corporation, is violently opposed to the car for dark
and dank reasons mercifully not revealed until nearly the end of this long
opus. But wait, perhaps Angelo has plans of his own unbeknownst to either
Hardeman.
On such dubious cruxes of conflict The Betsy numbly turns, lunging
clumsily from present to 1930's flashbacks to present again. In the process it
drags out every drab skeleton in the Hardeman closet, from Loren Sr.'s
ribald lecheries to Loren Jr.'s deviant lecheries to Loren III's oedipal
lecheries. And all about as chocking and lively as half an issue of
Cosmopolitan.
ONE YEARNS FOR a few laughs amidst the general torpidity, but such
moments are suffocatingly rare. Occasionally a Robbinsesque gem emerges
(Loren Sr.'s daughter-in-law declares "I love you, Loren, even if I have to be
damned for it," all the while oggling him with lascivious yet maternal
soulfullness); but before you can say scene change it's back to offices,
drawing rooms and intertia. The Betsy is simply too incompetent to enjoy its

own inadequacies.
The picture is laid out like a rigid but slightly defective clock: Its sex
scenes are more sterile than steamy, with its myriad of lovers resembling
objects of furniture very carefully placed and moving like stiff, precision
robots. Most sequences are foreshadowed through a general poverty of in-
spiration - eerie music in a car ramp preceeds a mugging, sinister
whistling wind in a villain's apartment signals that he's about to get hurled
out his upper-story window.
There are no female leads, the women in Robbins' world being limited in
character to clinging, aristocratic pseudo-groupies, either predators or vic-
tims in turn exploiting or being exploited by the men who really run the
world. Of the varied male cast only Olivier seems to be having a good time,
though he tends too often to opt for a quasi-Lionel Barrymore imitation. As
Loren III, Robert Duvall proves once again that he's an actor who makes a
good role brilliant but a bad role horrible. Until The Betsy, I had sensed that
Tommy Lee Jones might well become our next major movie presence, yet
here he delivers a performance so stupefyingly pallid that a major re-
evaluation of his talent already seems in order.E
The female thespians, from Katharine Ross to Jane Alexander, shine
even less - another tradition of schlock cinema. In all fairness though, it
should be stated that Kathleen Beller, as granddaughter Betsy, has a nice
body. And in Robbinsland, that's all most of the audience asks for anyway.
Wet dreams should really be made of stiffer stuff,

The Michigan Daily-Friday, March 3, 1978-Page-5
'Hope' lacks. diamonds sparkle

By CHRISTOPHER POTTER
I N ART as in wine, some things im-
prove with age; others dry and de-
cay, often to the point where various
pseudo-connoisseurs most embarras-
singly wonder just what in the world
they saw in their once-coveted work.
Howard Sackler's The Great White
The Great White Hope
by Howard Sackler
Power Center
Cap'n Dan .......,................ Loren Dale Bass
Smitty ......................... Daniel Ziegler
Goldie ....................... Lee McNamera
Tick .....................Ron "OJ" Parson
Jack Jefferson ...........James H. Hawthorne
Eleanor Bachman........Lynn Ellen Musgrave
Clara............................. Janice Reid
Dixon ...................John v. McCarthy
Directed by Richard Burgwin
Hope seems a notable example of such
a cultural regression: Wildly showered
with Tonys and Pulitzers a decade ago,
the play wears the test of time in a state
of extreme aesthetic lugubriousness.
It's not that Sackler's barely fiction-
alized adaptation of the enforced tribu-
lations of black heavyweight champ
Jack Johnson carries less truth in it
now than when first performed. It's
more a problem of simple chronology -
The Great White Hope premiered dur-

ing the peak of the moral fervor of the
60's, an era when, in the spirit of social
justice, one might be willing to overlook
the play's periodic preachiness and its
underlying structural barnacles. Sad to
say, Sackler's work enjoys no such
ideological immunity in the cool, inner-
directed 70's.
IN SACKLER'S VIEW, Jack Jeffer-
son represents not only a growing black
challenge to the fearful white majority,
but on broader (and more hackneyed)
terms symbolizes the individualist pit-
ted against the monolith of society, the
free thinker and doer who must be
crushed in order that bureaucracy sur-
vive. Thus Jefferson is harassed by
both strong-arm tactics and legalisms,
eventually forced to flee the country

with his white mistress, still champion,
but unable to get a fight anywhere in
the world.
Broken by poverty and humiliation,
Jefferson eventually agrees to fight an
American "great white hope" chal-
lenger set up by domestic powers-that-
be, on the understanding that he will
throw the fight. Whether Jefferson ac-
tually does "take a dive" is left cloaked
in ambiguity (as indeed it was left in
real life) by Sackler in the play's final,
tumultuous scene.
In order for Hope's "big" scenes not
to stagnate, one needs a grand-epic Zef-
ferelli-like approach, full of fervent
tumult, white-heat pacing and, above
all, lots of people; instead director
Richard Burgwin has opted for a mode,
of stifling austerity. He gives us a spar-.
tan stage virtually bereft of props,
scenery or people, limiting his visual
efforts to a trio of slides depicting the
scene locations, which were
inadequately projected at that.
WHERE THE PLAY needs a set full
of commotion and controlled confusion,
Burgwin's small ensemble clusters in
various quiet, immobile groups,
leaving vast expanses of barren stage
and dead silence leering ponderously
out at the audience. Only once, in the,
escape scene at the end of Act I, is there
enough verve and energy to overcome
the overriding visual-rhythmatic apau-
city. Otherwise, especially in the fight
sequences in which the actual fighters
are never shown), the unrelenting
ocular famine combined with sloppy,
technically erratic sound cues caused
the proceedings to grind to a yawning,
thudding halt.
The play's more intimate scenes fare
better, largely through the work of
guest artist James H. Hawthorne,
whose performance alone makes Great
White Hope worth seeing. Although his
physique and delivery are geared more
toward Muhammed Ali than Jack

Johnson, one still gets swept away in
Hawthorne's absolutely stunning,
galvanic effort. Hawthorne gives one of
the most ferocious yet controlled per-.
formances one could ever imagine,:
modulating joy, anguish and sheer rage
into an almost unbearable confessional.
His Jack Jefferson is a man utterly
aware of his mind, body and the things-
that life is about, yet doomed to an en-
dless hopeless struggle that slowly
twists and squeezes him dry. Hawthorj
ne's convulsive denoument at the end of
Act II is monumental and terrifying.
CAST IN HAWTHORNE'S shadow,
the other players fluctuate rather frus-
tratingly in quality. As Jack's mistress.
Eleanor, Lynn Ellen Musgrave looks
gorgeous but consistently swallows herl
lines, and in the early scenes projects A
tarty quality out of kilter with her char-
acter's upper-class roots. Leo McNa-
mara is crisp and authoritative as Jef-.
ferson's manager Goldie, though hsis
Irish brogue tends to intrude into his
Jewish mannerisms. Ron "OJ" Park)
son's Tick (Jack's trainer) is almost-
pure Richard Pryor, but fun to watch.
and certainly an audience pleaser.
Among the smaller parts, Janice
Reid deserves mention for her dyna-
mite portrayal of Jack's ex-girlfriend,
as does Terry Caza for her perforni-
ance as a crooked sports promoter.
Least effective is John V. McCarthy ih
the crucial role of Dixon, an FBI agent:
who hounds Jefferson throughout .h*
global wanderings. Instead of exuding
the ruthless impersonality required fpj
the part, McCarthy opts for an adoles
cent smirkiness, his Southern-tinged'.
delivery approximating a spoiled brat
snitching on his younger brother. ,.
Yet, if the joy of watching a great act
tor at the apex of his talent is enough
reward for you, then by all means'
break down the doors to see this play.
Mr. Hawthorne's performance is surely
worth a dozen admission prices.

'CA Suite
By SUSAN BARRY
N THE ONGOING dramatic
movement to capture the essential
mediocrity of American life in all
classes, no one has been quite as
prolific as Neil Simon. His production,
California Suite, which began at the
Fisher Theatre in Detroit last week,
concerns four groups of visitors to a
California hotel. The four vignettes
each take place in the same suite, and
the visitors ra'nge in class from a
suburban Philadelphia couple to a
movie star and her husband. Each
group of guests has its own reasons for
being in California, and each experien-
ces a significant alteration in perspec-
tive before leaving.
The first performance in the series
was by far the worst. Hannah Warren,
an associate editor of Newsweek,
comes to California in search of her
runaway daughter, who has left New
York to live with her divorced father.
An unofficial custody battle ensues
between the parents, which rapidly
turns into an exchange of insults con-
cerning their respective lifestyles.
William Warren (Don Murray) has
apparently disguised himself as a
cliche. He sports blue jeans and side
burns, pops vitamins, and gives up hard
liquor in lieu of natural tea. He writes
screen plays and lives with a young ac-
tress in a French-style farmhouse in
Beverly Hills.
Hannah Warren (Elizabeth Allen)
has remained in New York, sharpening
her acid wit, and having an affair with
the second best mind she has ever met
in- the form of a Washington Post
reporter (no, not one of those two).
OBVIOUSLY SIMON has written
some witty lines into this scene.
However, through some disturbing
blocking that leaves Billy rocking on his
toes while his ex-wife verbally abuses
him from an armchair, and some sim-
ply poor deliveries, many of the lines
are thrown away. Hannah's zingers
have about as much vigor as her
husband's weak tea. Billy is colorless
and limp. When he supposedly
penetrates his ex-wife's in-
vulnerability, one begins to speculate
that this couple's marriage must have
been even more boring than their
divorce. The dialogue becomes so mud-

goes sour
died that it is difficult to extract the
couple's respective objectives.
The second scene fared much better.
Marvin Michaels (Warren Berlinger)
awakes in the hotel suite with a hooker,
a present from his brother in honor of
his son's bar mitzvah. His wife is on the
way up to the suite and the hooker is out
cold.
Berlinger excels as the chubby,
befuddled husband, whose uninten-
tional stumble into adultery bewilders
himself almost more than it bothers his
wife. Patti Karr as Millie Michaels
charms with her trusting innocence,
and extracts a memorable revenge.
THE TWO SCENES comprising the
first vignette of the second act,
however, are undoubtedly Simon at his
best. Diana Nichols (Elizabeth Allen)
breezes into town from London with her
husband Sidney (Don Murray) as an
Oscar nominee. The dialogue in these
scenes is honed to a fine point and
delivered withsuperb timing and em-
phasis. The second scene glows with
creative humor, and pathetic climax as
the drunken actress returns. If one
scene could redeem a play this one
would have tocome extremely close.
The final scene, about two couples
from Chicago vacationing together, is
pure slapstick, three stooges style. The
accident-prone vacationers battle it out
until they all become casualties and,
under tnreat of more violence, swear
their devotion and friendship to each
other and declare their intention to
travel together again.
In all the entertainment has its ex-
tremely funny moments, as well as
moments of stirring pathos, but too of-
ten it wallows in the mediocrity of its
subject matter and settles for slapstick
rather than authentic humor.
rather than authentic humor.

,,

INDIVIDU6L NEEDS'
and SOCIfiL TASKS x
a lecture by
D1IETRICPI V. EOSTEN
President of the Asten Group, Inc.
Saturday, March 4-8:00 P.M.
Rudolf Steiner HouseI
1923 GEDDES AVENUE
ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN
The public is welcome
Sponsored by the Rudolf Steiner Institute of the Great Lakes Areu

r

r-.- Af- C

,'Guest Artist-Setres
Featurin
JAMES H.HAWTHORNE
Guest Artist-n-Resid.rice
Wed Sat Mach,-4. 8pr
HO~e Power Canter
A Play by Howard Sackler
Pultzer Prze Wnner Tny Award - Best Play

S
ICa
E.
e
,
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!f

BARRY
AVEDON
DRAWI NGS
MARCH 1-31

RECEPTION
MARCH 3
7:00 - 900 pm

Tues -Fri. 10-6
Sat, Sun. 12- 5
'764-3234

FIRST FLOOR MICHIGAN UNION

::".'A''11 ' ' ' f A .
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x::" ""i:",'" "",

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