Today: February 26, 2024

The Landlord

File under: where have you been all my life?

File under: where have you been all my life? For the first time on DVD, The Landlord is the
under-appreciated, seldom seen debut by lauded director Hal Ashby, a
satire of soul food and high society and comfortably the best thing you’re ever
going to see Beau Bridges in.

He’s Elgar Winthrop
Julius Enders and wouldn’t you know with so many names he’s moneyed. Confident,
too, though he’s 29 and living at home, albeit in the sort of place that has an
east wing. Keen to break the ties that bind he sets forth, running away to be a
pilgrim gentrifier, buying a walk-up in Brooklyn ripe for gutting and
redeveloping.

The
rat-infested building comes complete with the tenement tenants – all are poor
and black and in all ways from the other side of town. The closest Elgar
usually gets to a black person is when he’s being served by one. His grotesque
family live high on the hog like they’re in the Old South, with drinks and
croquet taken on the lawn.

Cultures clash
as Elgar rejects where’s he’s from in favour or where it’s at, hanging out at
the Brooklyn brownstone, fixing it up for the good people he’s found there. His
family, an over-the-top parody of old money, Republican National Convention
archetypes, shunned.

He can’t be
blamed. Patriarch Walter Brooke – he’s in napalm! – is overbearing and
blinkered; Mother (Oscar-nominated Lee Grant) is flaky and haughty;
sister Susan (Susan Anspach) flirts with pot and radical thought but is
marrying a man who’s just like her Dad.

Mum is
convinced that Elgar’s consorting in The Ghetto, and she’s right. He’s getting
up close with Fanny (Diane Sands), and their red-lit romancing is a most
awkward, beautiful, realistic love scene.

All the
interiors are beautiful, and in sharp contrast to when Elgar goes home. The
Enders mansion is harshly lit, exposing the ugliness of their existence.

The family
gatherings are overblown and hilarious, with opinions entrenched on both sides
of the dining table. There’s even a great Look Who’s Coming To Dinner reference
– but no one’s playing it for laughs.

Elgar finally
loses it with the folks back home when he takes his other lady, the gorgeous
mulatto Lanie (Marki Bey) to a charity party there. It’s fancy dress
with an American hero theme. Dad, perfectly, is General Patton. Susan’s fiancée
is blacked up. Everyone assumes Lanie is white. It’s appallingly brilliant.

So Elgar
retreats, permanently, to Brooklyn and a house-parties-and-hooch life he’s come
to like. But he tries too much – a white man can’t be lover and landlord and
benefactor and missionary, not where the walls are adorned by pictures of the
civil rights fallen – Dr. King, Malcolm X and the Kennedys.

Fanny’s on-off
husband Copee (Lou Gosset Jr.), a radical, is enraged by Elgar’s moves
on his woman and there’s conflict and violence.

Like many
American films of the time The Landlord mourns the death of 1960s idealism, and
presages the battles to come. It’s clever, profound and deeply funny,
underscored by a superb funk and soul score by Al Kooper.

And Beau
Bridges is fantastic – angry and pretty and naïve. He should have been someone.

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