Friday, September 11, 2015

Rabbit, Run (1970)

          Adapted from John Updike’s celebrated 1960 novel about an American everyman whose existential crisis leads him to flee the confines of an unsatisfactory domestic situation, Rabbit, Run is undoubtedly an example of how things get lost in translation when a project leaps from one medium to another. The filmmakers depict the protagonist’s irresponsible behavior without clearly articulating the reasons why he can’t build lasting connections with other people. (One presumes that Updike’s novel was more successful than the film at delineating the leading character’s psyche.) When the movie begins, Harry “Rabbit” Engstrom (James Caan) reaches a breaking point in his marriage to alcoholic Janice (Carrie Snodgress), even though the couple has one child and another is on the way. Following an argument, Harry leaves home and tracks down his former coach, Marty (Jack Albertson), who is now a sad old drunk. Marty introduces Harry to a hooker, Ruth (Anjanette Comer), with whom Harry falls in love. Meanwhile, an overbearing priest, Rev. Eccles (Arthur Hill), encourages Harry to return home. (Meandering subplots involve Harry’s golf games with the priest, as well as Harry’s sexual tension with the priest’s alluring wife.) Betrayals, tragedies, and twists ensue. By the end of it all, Harry’s the same perplexed individual he was at the beginning of the story, even though he’s caused and suffered a lot of pain.
          Caan’s casting is a major detriment. Although he looks the part of a former athlete and unquestionably possess formidable dramatic abilities, his innately macho quality clashes with the role of a sensitive character who is intimidated by life’s petty humiliations. Caan excels at playing men who fight, which means that seeing him portray a man who runs strikes a false chord. In fact, “false” is a suitable adjective for most of this film’s content. From the stilted dialogue to the weird sex scenes (in which footage is optically rocked back and forth while fuzzy guitars and pounding drums reverberate on the soundtrack), nearly all of the stylistic touches that producer/screenwriter Howard B. Kreitsek and director Jack Smight employ are contrived and ineffective. Other than implying that men are entitled to pursue anything they want in life, no matter the circumstances, and that women who fail at motherhood are loathsome, it’s hard to know what the filmmakers meant to say here. Worse, the way they chose to put across their murky thematic statements isn’t especially compelling to watch.

Rabbit, Run: FUNKY


Will Errickson said...

I've read a few of Updike's RABBIT novels; they are fundamentally *literary* in a way that makes for poor cinematic adaptations. THere is indeed much more about Rabbit's psyche detailed, altho' he is often a very unsympathetic character. Caan is definitely miscast--altho' I've never seen this movie!--and I wonder if someone like Richard Benjamin or Elliott Gould would have fared better in the role.

Unknown said...

Odd thing happened, I was reading Will's comment above and George Segal sprang to mind, he was another unusual leading man who seemed active at that time. In any case, I'm dubious of the idea that all literature can or should be adapted. Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby should probably never have been filmed, not even once.

Sir Sweetstick said...

Those actors are too urban for this role. If the producers were actually going to film the story and characters in the book, Bruce Dern would have been very good as Rabbit. I have seen the movie and read the book; the movie complete misses everything but surface level details. Having said that, I enjoy this movie on its own terms, as it shows people and places not often covered in films of this period.

Will Errickson said...

You know... Bruce Dern *would* have been great! Good call.