Friday, January 20, 2012

cinema obscura: James Frawley's "The Christian Licorice Store" (1971)

Beau Bridges, one of my favorite actors, mades waves as a would-be hippie in his breakthrough film, the otherwise awful "For the Love Of Ivy" (1968).

Hollywood noticed - well, at least Norman Jewison did - and responded with two lead roles in a couple of promising titles, Jewison's "Gaily, Gaily" (1969) and Hal Ashby's "The Landlord" (1970), produced by Jewison. Both are really fine, dissimilar films, but in their day, each came and went, without making much impact.

Then something happened that can be described as only bad karma. Bridges made two films that virtually no one saw - Philip Leacock's Austalian-made "Adam's Woman," a 1970 film which Warners never bothered to release, and James Frawley's ultra-trendy "The Christian Licorice Store," which played only in Boston in 1971 and then was promptly shelved by the now-defunct Cinema Center Films.

"The Christian Licorice Store," the more intriguing of the two, opened November 24th, 1971 at Boston's Paris Cinema, and the Boston Globe dismissed it as "flat."

I caught up with it in New York in 1977 when exhibitor extraordinaire, the late Ralph Donnelly, opened it for a week at his First Avenue Screening Room as part of a series of hard-luck, unreleased films (which also included Paul Bartel's "Private Parts," a guilty pleasure that's still missing). Anyway, I liked it, but frankly, much of my appreciation for "The Christian Licorice Store," written by Floyd Mutrux, had everything to do with the fact that I was rooting for Beau. And for Gilbert Roland, that incorrigible veteran actor who was making something of a comeback - or at least trying to.

In it, Bridges plays Franklin Cane, a professional tennis player whose mentor/trainer is Jonathan (Roland), who himself was once a great tennis champ and now is intent on molding Franklin into his own likeness.

Much of the film follows Franklin through the celebrity territory of non-stop parties, where he meets a celeb photographer (model Maud Adams in her film debut) and where he abandons himself to a hedonistic lifestyle, crippling his future.

"The Christian Licorice Store" includes one wild sex scene (staged on a trampoline) and several notable cameos - by then-budding actor Allan Arbus and by filmmakers Jean Renoir and Monte Helman. Yes, very trendy.

I've no idea who or what owns this film now, as Cinema Center went kaput. Other titles in its library were bought up by other studios. But this one has been missing in action just about ever since it was completed.

Hopefully, someday, it will be unearthed - hopefully for Beau, who is in his prime here as a promising young actor with movie-star allure to spare.

Notes in Passing: (1)James Frawley followed "The Christian Licorice Store" with Dennis Hopper's "Kid Blue" (1973) and the Joe Bologna-Stockard Channing romp, "The Big Bus"(1976) before finally hitting it big with "The Muppet Movie" (1979). Of late, he's been directing mostly TV stuff. (2) Beau Bridges is currently on Broadway as J.B. Biggley (the Rudy Vallee role) in the current revival of the Abe Burrows-Frank Loesser musical, "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." (3) Ralph Donnelly passed on September 21st, 2007, at age 75 at his home in Oldsmar, Fla. Among his many exhibition triumphs in New York was his stint as president of Cinema 5 theaters, the Gotham chain created by Donald Rugoff.


Alex said...

Hey Joe, flick sounds fascinating, as so many "lost" films do. Maybe some day!

By the way, Bartel's "Private Parts" isn't lost. Warner Home Video released it on DVD in 2005. I've seen it on amazon.

Oh, and I believe "Adam's Woman" was directed by Philip Leacock, not Richard, who's a documentarian. They're brothers.

joe baltake said...

You're absolutely right, Alex! It was Philip Leacock who directed "Adam's Woman." Once again, a sign of my haste. Anyway, it's been fixed. Thanks!

Alex said...

Speaking of obscure Philip Leacock films, have you ever seen Hand in Hand (1960)? It's about a Catholic boy and Jewish girl, each around ten years old, who become friends. After a while, it becomes clear that their parents approve of the friendship only because the kids aren't older and dating.

The story takes a few interesting twists and turns, and the moral point, though obvious, is made without resorting to stern piety and cardboard villains. It may not be an overlooked masterpiece, but it won a Golden Globe for "Best Film Promoting International Understanding" and scored Leacock a DGA nomination.
You might want to keep an eye out for it.

joe baltake said...

You don'thaveto seel me. I love "Hand in Hand."

r.c. said...

I saw "Hand in Hand" about five times in one week when I was seven. An enormously touching movie about cross-cultural intolerance and understanding. Thinking about it makes me homesick for the '60s.

joe baltake said...

r.c.: "Hand in Hand" is a truly wonderful film. I wish I could see it again. For those of you who don't make the connection here, it is in reference to my mentioning "Adam's Woman." Both were directed by Philip Leacock.

Jim said...

Hand in hand is a beautiful film and has seemingly dissappeared . I have been searching for a copy for a long time. Found one place that will copy a copy in Austraila for 80 American dollars. Does anyone know if there is another place somewhere in the US? If one reads other websites it is obvious that the film had a deep effect on anyone who saw it.

jbryant said...

I stumbled upon HAND IN HAND while channel-surfing a little over two years ago on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, some sort of religious channel. I watched the entire movie without knowing the plot or title, something I rarely do, but the story pulled me in. The moral point, though obvious, is made without resorting to stern piety and cardboard villains. A nice job.