Monday, December 21, 2015

Fraternity Row (1977)

          Though it might seem exemplary of two ’70s-cinema trends, 1950s nostalgia and stories about college students running wild, Fraternity Row is actually a grim rumination on the lengths to which some people will go while seeking to join exclusive clubs. Based on a real-life tragedy, the picture tracks the dual narratives of an empathic fraternity “pledgemaster” who seeks to reduce the amount of cruelty inflicted on freshmen, and an idealistic “pledge” who hopes to change the old-fashioned fraternity community from within. The film tries with some success to ease gradually from merriment to seriousness, and the picture’s greatest strength is the participation of Oscar-winning actor Cliff Robertson, who delivers voiceover narration representing the pledgemaster’s adult recollections of a formative experience. Robertson’s elegant, plaintive tones compensate somewhat for the flatness of the film’s direction, the stilted quality of the dialogue, and the weakness of the acting. It’s not exaggerating to say that Robertson’s narration is the one reason the film more or less works, because in every other regard Fraternity Row is well-intentioned but clumsy.
          Set at a fictional American college populated by the children of the country’s elite, Fraternity Row depicts how pledgemaster Rodger (Peter Fox) uses his position to agitate for the abolition of dangerous and humiliating hazing techniques. Yet some of his “brothers,” notably a sociopathic prick nicknamed “Chunk” (Scott Newman), insist that incoming pledges suffer the same treatment they once experienced. Caught between them is bright, handsome, and sensitive Zac (Gregory Harrison), who respects the traditions of the fraternity system even though he shares Rodger’s disdain for barbarism and stupidity.
          Writer Charles Gary Allison and director Thomas J. Tobin explore the grandeur of such rituals as the “pinning” ceremony during which Rodger and his girlfriend publicly declare their commitment to each other, and some scenes depict the joy of youthful michief. Most of the film, however, portrays devotees of the fraternity system as stalwart defenders of the status quo. (Particularly effective is the characterization of a pathetic businessman whose life revolves around his duties as a fraternity sponsor.) Fox and Harrison give sincere performances, though none of the actors escapes the trap of the film’s workmanlike approach, and the ending is unavoidably histrionic. Still, the ache of the narration and the ugliness of the real-life incident from which the film was extrapolated give Fraternity Row a measure of substance.

Fraternity Row: FUNKY

1 comment:

greg6363 said...

Scott Newman was Paul Newman's son who died from a drug overdose in 1978. This was his last performance.