November 29, 2023

THE DAY OF THE LOCUST: The Golden Age of Hollywood Lowlifes

1975 / 144 min
Review by Mr. Paws😼

This somewhat forgotten film from the ‘70s takes a bleak, pessimistic look at Hollywood hopefuls on the outer fringes of the movie business. Being that it was directed by John Schlesinger, there’s a lot to admire about The Day of the Locust, which isn’t the same as actually enjoying it.

In the late 1930s, Tod Hacket (William Atherton) lands a thankless job in the artist pool at Paramount Pictures. He rents an apartment where other tenants still cling to the hope of their big break. This includes Faye Greener (Karen Black), an aspiring actress who looks after her ailing ex-vaudevillian father, Harry (Burgess Meredith, giving the film’s most poignant performance). 

Though Tod instantly falls for her, Faye is shallow, self-absorbed and cruel to most of the men in her life, immediately letting him know that he’s not good (or rich) enough for her. Neither is religious, socially awkward accountant Homer Simpson (Donald Sutherland), but that doesn’t stop Faye from letting him spoil her after Harry dies (taking total advantage of his generosity while treating him terribly). 

When not obsessing over his love-hate relationship with Faye (even attempting to rape her at one point), Tod does manage to sort-of get his foot in the door at the studio, quickly learning the callous nature of the movie business. However, very little of The Day of the Locust appears to be about Hollywood itself. Instead, its episodic narrative focuses mostly on an unlikeable cast of characters who have no hope of ever achieving their dreams…

"I got an ice cream cone and I know how to use it."
…which I suppose is probably the point. However, the film’s cynicism is largely unearned, since there’s no real indication that Hollywood itself hastens their misery. With the possible exception of Homer, one gets the impression these characters would be awful people even if fighting for an assistant manager position at Home Depot. They’re certainly interesting people, but rarely do we actually sympathize with any of them. 

Ironically, the best part of the film is its climax, which takes place during a movie premiere. Considering the slice-of-lowlife nature of the narrative up to this point, the sudden eruption of violence is somewhat shocking, particularly the incident which triggers it. The whole thing builds to a surreal crescendo loaded with symbolic imagery that, I think, might be intended to reflect Tod’s growing disillusionment. It’s hard to say, since Schlesinger doesn’t effectively establish Hollywood itself as the antagonist he obviously intends it to be.

Still, The Day of the Locust has its moments. Though 144 minutes is too long to spend with such unpleasant people, they’re often morbidly fascinating and the performances are really good. There’s also a dreamlike quality to the cinematography and production design that provides a unique contrast to the film’s bitter tone. A little-seen box-office flop in 1975, it’s been resurrected and remastered Blu-ray for the first time, along with bonus features that offer some interesting historical background and analysis.


(NOTE: Free Kittens Movie Guide was provided with a “promo disc” for review purposes. The actual retail version includes physical material not made available for review).

JEEPERS CREEPERS, WHERE’D YOU GET THOSE PEEPERS? - Visual essay by author Lee Gambin, who spends a lot of time reading his notes, as well as other authors’ work.

WELCOME TO WEST HOLLYWOOD - Visual essay by film critic Glenn Kenny.

DAYS OF THE GOLDEN AGE - A featurette about the costume design with historian Elissa Rose.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - Conducted by historian Lee Gambin. With assistant director Leslie Asplund, production associate Michael Childers, costume designer Ann Roth, title designer Dan Perri, ass’t editor Alan Shafland, cameraman Ron Vidor and actors Pepe Serna & Grainger Hines.




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