Saturday, July 12, 2014

Tilt (1979)

          Even though the main bullet point for any discussion of Tilt should be the brazenness with which cowriter/producer/director Rudy Durand ripped off the classic drama The Hustler (1961), moving the original story about pool into the oh-so-’70s arena of pinball, it’s impossible to discuss any of leading lady Brooke Shields’ early films without marveling at the unpleasant influence of the male gaze. Few starlets have been as overtly sexualized as Shields was in the late ’70s, whether she was modeling jeans in print advertisements or striking sultry poses in feature films. Even her most seemingly innocuous movies, like this one or the equally dodgy Wanda Nevada (1979), feature scenes in which men discuss their sexual attraction to the very young Shields. “Distasteful” is too timid a word. Anyway, setting that aside, Tilt is unimpressive for a number of reasons. The pacing is deadly dull, male lead Ken Marshall gives a performance of numbing vapidity, and the film is loaded with aimless montages set to bland singer-songwriter tunes. Plus, close-ups of little silver balls bouncing around inside pinball machines quickly lose their novelty.
          Yet Tilt has one very important saving grace, which is the presence in the cast of the great Charles Durning. He’s so good in his scenes, elevating clichéd material into passable drama, that he’s almost reason enough to watch the movie.
          The plot begins in Texas, where would-be singer Neil (Marshall) tries to hustle obese pinball wizard Harold (Durning), only to be caught cheating. Neil decamps to California, where he meets teen runaway Tilt (Shields), a preternaturally gifted pinball hustler. Neil lies to Tilt by saying he needs money for recording a music demo, when in fact what he really wants is to employ Tilt’s skills for revenge against Harold. A long and uninteresting sequence of Neil and Tilt traveling from California to Texas follows, but things pick up once Harold and Tilt meet. Durning and Shields share a long scene together, which is thankfully bereft of erotic implications, and watching the scene is like watching Durning give an acting lesson to an eager young student. While Durning decorates his lines with subtle gestures and vocal flourishes, Shields provides a gentle sounding board, occasionally reflecting back some subtle nuance that Durning has injected into the scene. Interesting stuff.


1 comment:

D said...

Something that a lot of people don't talk about is that for all the sort of pervy sexualizing of Brooke Shields in those early films, she consistently gave good to better performances. With each film she gets better and better, her curse ( if that's what we call it ) is that she's "Brooke Shields" . She's a terrific actress and deft light comedienne.