Weekend Movie Pick: Hal Ashby's lost gem 'The Landlord'
Larry Karaszewski has a day job that keeps him busy, having written (with his writing partner Scott Alexander) a host of movie delights, including "Ed Wood" and "The People vs. Larry Flynt," as well as the upcoming "Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters." But what impresses me the most about Karaszewski is that he's found time to moonlight as a film history enthusiast, helping curate a series of revival screenings, almost all accompanied by appearances by the film's key talent, including "Taking Off" (with Buck Henry), "The Hired Hand" (with Peter Fonda) and "Ten From Your Show of Shows" (with the immortal Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks).
This Sunday night Karaszewski has arranged a screening of a rarely seen movie classic: "The Landlord," a 1970 film that marked the directing debut of Hal Ashby. Unavailable for years, the film is finally out on DVD, via MGM limited edition series, but it is still worth a trip to the Aero Theater at 7:30 p.m. Sunday to see it. You'll have the added bonus of hearing Karaszewski discuss the film with Beau Bridges, its star, who also co-starred in "The Fabulous Baker Boys," the second film on the Aero Sunday night bill.
"Landlord" has its roots in '60s-era social consciousness, with Bridges starring as a spoiled New York rich kid who buys a run-down tenement in the ghetto, hoping to flip it and make a lot of dough. But when he moves in, he starts to identify with the tenement's African American residents and has a change of heart. "The film is about race and class," Karaszewski explains. "But because it's Hal Ashby, it never feels preachy or dated. It just feels real."
Karaszewski says Ashby's directorial touch, most evident in later films like "Harold and Maude," "Shampoo" and "Being There," is already visible in this early effort. "You can see all of his later work right here from the start," Karaszewski says. "There's a great scene in the film between Lee Grant and Pearl Bailey where they're smoking pot -- and it feels totally improvised, as if the scene just started playing out right in front of everybody."
The film is also worth seeing because it has a score by Blood Sweat & Tears founder Al Kooper and was shot by Gordon Willis, who went on to fame as the cinematographer for Francis Ford Coppola's "Godfather" films and a host of Woody Allen classics. For Karaszewski, giving the film a tip of the hat has an element of kismet. "The Landlord" was produced by Norman Jewison, who had used Ashby as an editor on his early films, including "The Thomas Crown Affair" and "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming." And guess who works out of Jewison's old office in Culver City today? Karaszewski and Alexander. No matter how big Hollywood gets, it's still a small world.
-- Patrick Goldstein
Photo: Hal Ashby, in an undated photo, on the set of his film "Bound for Glory." Credit: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences