Monday, October 22, 2012

Little Fauss and Big Halsy (1970)

          In Michael Feeney Callan’s 2011 biography Robert Redford, there’s a brief but illuminating examination of Redford’s involvement in Little Fauss and Big Halsy, a deservedly obscure flick costarring the gleaming blonde Californian and diminutive oddball Michael J. Pollard. According to Callan, Redford picked the project as his follow-up to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) for perverse reasons of wanting to undercut his likeable image. And, indeed, Redford plays a right proper son of a bitch in this meandering movie about two losers who make their way through the Southwestern dirt-bike circuit. Halsy (Redford) is a narcissist who swindles everyone he meets, but rarely thinks past his next meal or sexual conquest. During his travels, Halsy seemingly befriends insecure white-trash troll Fauss (Pollard), but it turns out Halsy’s got an agenda—he injures Fauss during a race, then persuades Fauss to become an on-call mechanic rather than a competitor. Meanwhile, Halsy gets involved with a string of women and dangles the possibility that he’ll get Fauss laid.
          This strange movie becomes less and less plot-driven as it progresses, so the second half of the film comprises interchangeable scenes involving Fauss, Halsy, and Halsy’s main girlfriend, Rita (Lauren Hutton), a vapid hippie who eventually becomes pregnant. Although the story doesn’t go anywhere, Little Fauss and Big Halsy is moderately interesting for its offbeat texture. Most of the film was shot outdoors, so grim, sun-baked terrain becomes a visual signifier for the going-nowhere characters. Country-music legend Johnny Cash sings a number of original songs, which comprise the entire musical score. And then there’s Redford, playing one of the most extreme roles of his career—while showcasing his matinee-idol looks by appearing shirtless in many scenes, he also captures the reckless way self-centered studs strut through life.
          For instance, at one point Halsy slips out of a motel room the morning after a threesome, claiming he’s got no use for chicks who go both ways: “Once it’s cool, twice it’s queer!” Seeing Redford play a carefree monster is bracing, so it’s a shame the movie doesn’t rise to his level of commitment. Part of the problem is director Sidney J. Furie, who builds individual scenes competently but can’t seem to find a shape for the overall narrative, and part of the problem is the lack of star power complementing Redford. Bonnie and Clyde Oscar nominee Pollard presents a compendium of tics instead of a performance, moping and pulling weird faces, while former model Hutton is dull and whiny.

Little Fauss and Big Halsy: FUNKY

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