How campy is the sexualized melodrama The Grasshopper? In one memorable scene, bereaved heroine Christine Adams (Jacqueline Bisset), still dressed in black from a loved one’s funeral, demands that her limo driver pull to the side of the road and pick up two scraggly-looking hitchhikers. Once the longhairs are inside the limo, Christine screeches, “Are you holding? Do you have any shit?” By the next scene, Christine is unconscious from an overdose, and the movie still has another half-hour to go. Based on a novel by Mark McShane and written by the unlikely duo of Jerry Belson and Garry Marshall, whose most famous collaboration was the 1970-1975 sitcom The Odd Couple, this fast and furious soap opera charts the spiritual decay of a wholesome Canadian girl who tumbles into a degrading cycle of drugs, prostitution, and tragedy. Yet because the Belson/Marshall script is peppered with quippy dialogue and because director Jerry Paris films the whole story with the bright visual style of, say, a Doris Day/Rock Hudson comedy, The Grasshopper is impossible to take seriously. Plus, with all due respect to the fine acting skills that she later developed, Bisset plays the leading role with a kind of sunny vapidity, smiling blankly through some scenes and unpersuasively mimicking anguish in others.
When the movie begins, 19-year-old Christine drops out of college and flees her home in British Columbia to join her boyfriend, who has already begun his working life in Los Angeles. Along the way, Christine has car trouble and is given a ride by Danny Raymond (Corbett Monica), a Las Vegas nightclub comedian. Although Christine declines Danny’s sexual overtures, she’s dazzled by Sin City while staying overnight there. So when Christine grows bored with her quietly domestic life in LA, she ditches her boyfriend and returns to Vegas, where she gets a job as a showgirl. Eventually, she becomes romantically involved with Tommy Marcott (Jm Brown), an ex-NFL player now working as the manager of a cheesy football-themed restaurant. For a few moments depicting the heyday of the relationship between Christine and Tommy, The Grasshopper is energetic and fresh—addressing miscegenation without sensationalism, the movie draws a connection between two people who wish to be appreciated for more than just their bodies. Alas, Christine’s chance encounter with a horny, Mob-connected businessman (Ramon Bieri) triggers violence, which in turn begins the spiral leading to Christine’s drug problems and sex work. By the end of the picture, when Christine is juggling relationships with an aging sugar daddy (Joseph Cotten) and a craven young stud (Christopher Stone), the lurid aspects of The Grasshopper have spun out of control.
From start to finish, the presentation of The Grasshopper is slick but garish, epitomized by Christine’s showgirl costume of a blue wig, a sparkly leotard complete with built-in pasties, and giant feather wings. Meanwhile, the soundtrack features absurdly on-the-nose songs explaining the heroine’s emotional state. Brown elevates his scenes with the casual cool he brought to all of his screen work, and some of the supporting players are excellent, particularly Ed Flanders as a sleazy hotel manager. Nonetheless, The Grasshopper is unrelentingly artificial, a cautionary tale without credibility, and a jokey treatment of bleak subject matter.
The Grasshopper: FUNKY