John Schlesinger’s 1975 film The Day of the Locust, based on Nathanael West’s brilliant novel, was a commercial flop and most critics weren’t fond of it either. It’s now almost forgotten, but I happen to like it a lot. Whether you like this movie depends to a great extent on how you respond to Karen Black’s performance as Faye. Faye is both manipulative and vulnerable, innocent and corrupt. I think Black does a fine job. This is one of the great Hollywood dream/nightmare movies, along with Sunset Boulevard and Mulholland Drive. Does Schlesinger go overboard with the ending? Well yes, he does, but this is Hollywood that he’s making a movie about. Donald Sutherland as Homer, a bizarre innocent who raises sexual repression to an art form, and Burgess Meredith as Harry, Faye’s father who is a broken-down ex-vaudeville star, deliver virtuoso performances. In some ways William Atherton as Tod, the closest thing this movie has to a hero, has the most difficult acting job because his character is so colourless in comparison. In fact his character is more an absence of character than anything else.
This film looks very pretty, lots of soft focus, lots of eye candy. I think that gives the extraordinary ending even more impact. The Waterloo hill scene works superbly, I think. Not a move that everyone will like, perhaps, but I think it’s still worth a look. And you might end up loving it as much as I do.