By John H. Foote
25. LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR (1977)
The sexual revolution exploded in the seventies, going far beyond the innocence of the sixties when free love became a practice among the youth. It was nothing in the seventies for college kids to have a different partner each night, affairs were far more commonplace, and the traffic in singles bars ran rampant. An uncompromising cautionary film, Brooks held nothing back in creating a superb adaptation of the Rossner book.
Looking for Mr. Goodbar was based on Judith Rossner’s startling best-selling novel, in turn based on a real-life unsolved murder case. The film was directed by Richard Brooks and featured Diane Keaton in the demanding role of Theresa a young school teacher by day, promiscuous frequenter of bars at night, where she begins experimenting with various sexual partners, one night stands becoming part of her everyday life. She takes cocaine, and her affairs with younger men leave her excited but never truly fulfilled. Though looking for love, the type she thought she had with an older college professor, which he never returned, she begins to realize she will not find love in this manner.
She meets Tony (Richard Gere) a good looking, exciting young man and begins an affair (of sorts) with him, though his vanity is difficult to handle and he disappears for long periods of time with no explanation. During one of his disappearing acts she begins seeing a shy young man, James (William Atherton) who has no interest in sex (it appears) until married. But as they see each other more, she becomes appalled with his controlling ways, his own perversions and sees nothing but unhappiness in her future. After ending it with James, she begins seeing strangers for one-night stands, usually older men who at least treat her with a degree of respect. While with a “date” one night in her apartment, Tony returns, chasing the other man away, staking his so-called claim on Theresa. His manner of controlling her is even greater now, after realizing she is not going to sit home and wait for him. Breaking the relationship off she finds that Tony will not go away, he stalks and angrily pursues her. She realizes, finally he could ruin her by reporting her use of drugs, so she flushes all her dope down the toilet, as well as her connections to Tony.
On New Year’s Eve she heads out to a bar, and encounters Gary (Tom Berenger) who hits on her and picks her up. Is he hitting on her or is she seeking to keep Tony at a distance? Taking him home, she finds he cannot perform, and realizes he is gay and has a pregnant wife in Florida. Though she tells him it is fine if they do not have sex (he cannot get an erection) he takes this as an insult about his sexuality and ability to perform and goes into a rage. Attacking her, raping her, he begins stabbing her, and in fact slaughters her on her bed.
Richard Brooks had a difficult job making the film because it ends with such power. Theresa narrates the novel, it is her voice we hear, and she talks as she is being attacked, her thoughts being what we read. As he stabs her, she is still narrating until, suddenly it just stops. Such a profoundly shocking way to end a book, but in every way perfect. Though it would not work on film, Brooks found the perfect solution, shooting the attack and rape as though we were in the apartment, up close and personal watching the attack. The knife becomes a phallic symbol as he stabs her with every thrust of his pelvis, a horrific manner to be killed. He captured the New York night life to perfection, the loud music pumping through the bars and clubs, the dancing, and the sexual heat captured in every frame. Along with In Cold Blood (1967) this was the finest film Brooks had ever made. The realism was paramount in making the film work, and this was the most intense realism of its kind.
Diane Keaton truly broke through in 1977, giving a superb award-winning comic performance for Woody Allen in Annie Hall (1977) which won her the Academy Award, New York Film Critics Award for Best Actress, and the L.A. Film Critics Award for Best Actress. But to be clear, Keaton won equal acclaim for her work in Looking for Mr. Goodbar, portraying a decent young woman with a sexual addiction before people knew there was such a thing. More than anything she wants to find love, and believes sex is the path to that love. She comes to need a partner every night, to feel love, if only for a few fleeting moments, to feel something instead of feeling nothing at all. It was a bold performance for the actress, asking her to appear nude or partially nude, the most intensely dramatic of her young career. No question, she could just as easily have won her Oscar for Looking for Mr. Goodbar, as it established her as one of the finest of her generation, and she has remained that for more than 40 years.
Richard Gere exploded into cinema with his energetic performance as the charismatic but vile Tony, Tuesday Weld was exceptional and Oscar nominated as her sister, Atherton very good as a decent young man with his own dark side, and the emasculated Gary was portrayed by Tom Berenger, a dead ringer for Paul Newman, and who established a dangerous presence the moment he was on screen.
The film is hard to find in North America these days as music royalties have tied up any DVD or Blu Ray release for more than 15 years. Rumours say it will hit Blu Ray next year, which has been said every year for the last five.
I keep hoping.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.