I’ve always believed that the Seventies was a bad time for music, but a great period for movies.
Now, to be honest, I do enjoy a handful of disco era hits, but I think even the most stalwart Studio 54 devotee would have to look back at that decade’s soundtrack and ask, “wow, what the hell were we thinking?”
And don’t even get me started on the clothes.
However, it’s important to note that while the clubs were busy thumping humanity into a stupor, Hollywood was igniting movie screens with such classics as Dog Day Afternoon, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Chinatown, and Serpico, to name a few.
I recently caught up with Cinderella Liberty, another film from that era, and while I wouldn’t necessarily call it great, it’s certainly damn good.
I saw this film with my parents in the old Fortway theater when I was a sophomore in high school. I hadn’t seen it or even thought about it since, but then Turner Classic Movies ran it a few months ago and it was sitting patiently in my DVR until I finally decided to give it a look last week. And I’m so glad I did.
Released in 1973 and starring James Caan and Marsha Mason, Cinderella Liberty tells the story of John Baggs, a lonely sailor, who falls for Maggie, a prostitute he meets in a bar, and becomes a father figure to Doug, Maggie’s mixed-race son.
Baggs is bureaucratically marooned in Seattle after the navy loses his records. Bear in mind, this was over 40 years ago, before computer files, so when I say “records” I mean real world paperwork stuffed into a manila folder.
Today it’s hard to believe now that we once functioned without computers, but, somehow, we did. Back then we thought we were living in the most modern of modern times, but looking back at that period now, it looks like we hammering our information on to stone tablets.
Anyway, without the records, Baggs is virtually nonexistent in the navy’s eyes, and he spends more time with Maggie and Doug. The supporting cast includes Eli Wallach, Dabney Coleman, Bruno Kirby, Allan Arbus, and Sally Kirland.
The movie was directed by Mark Rydell and based on a novel by Darryl Poniscan, the author of, among other things, The Last Detail, which was another fine Seventies film about sailors that starred Jack Nicholson.
I liked this film because it took its time to tell a story about believable characters. There are no monsters, wookies, or superheroes and there are no explosions, slow motion machine gun battles, or ridiculous fight scenes.
It’s just the story of some very ordinary people who are down on their luck and trying to make a life for themselves. I seriously doubt that anyone would make this film today as it lacks all of the aforementioned blockbuster ingredients and offers no possibility of a movie franchise.
Now there are few lines of dialog I could’ve done without. Statements like “Why is it everybody else gets chicken and I always get the feathers?” and “Love is shit with sugar on it” could have been easily deleted from the script without any fear of being missed.
And the theme song is hands down horrible, a faux bluesy jingle called "You're So Nice to Be Around" that was sung by that musical oddity Paul Williams.
No offense to Mr. Williams or his fans, but the guy never did anything for me, and while this tune somehow earned an Oscar nomination—it must’ve been a lean year for music—the song is really nice to get away from.
The tune might have been bearable if it had been performed by an actual African-America blues singer instead of a painfully Caucasian counterfeit trying to sound black.
But the song and the subpar dialog pass quickly and you’re left with one fine film.
On May 25, 1977—the day after my birthday— Star Wars was released to theaters and arguably kicked off the whole science-fiction blockbuster chain reaction that we’re still living with (suffering through?) today.
Like disco hits, I enjoy the occasional fantasy film, but a steady diet of these things is kind of like listening to nothing by dance music. There's not enough sugar in the world to make the shit tasty.
When it comes to feeding my brain, I’d much rather feast on chicken than scarf down a plateful of feathers.