Sunday 5 October 2008

Breezy (1973)

Breezy is a young lady who certainly lives up to her name as a free spirit. She starts the film by getting out of the bed of someone who doesn't even know her name, then she hitches a lift from someone who makes no secret out of the fact that he's planning to rape her. She escapes and runs away, but because he took her up into the hills instead of down into the valley, she ends up jumping in someone else's car to get back down again. He's Frank Harmon, whose house she's ended up outside, and she doesn't know him from Adam, but it only takes about five minutes for to ask something like, 'Do you think God is dead?'

He fully intends to drop her off as a good deed and to get her out of his hair (and his front yard), but nothing ever seems to turn out as you'd expect with Breezy. Sure enough, after running away because they pass a dog in the gutter and she doesn't think he wants to help it, she ends up back again. There's always a reason, beginning with the fact that when she ran away she left her guitar in his car, but soon the reasons don't come down to needing somewhere to sleep for the night. While they're wildly different in character and age, they find that they have something that the other needs, even if they didn't realise it.

The leads are excellently cast. Breezy is Kay Lenz, who manages to be completely believable as a free spirit without ever succumbing to hippy stereotype, finding good in everything and seeing life with fresh eager eyes. This was her first lead, after a bit part in American Graffiti, and she'd go on to a to more films, even more TV shows and a marriage to David Cassidy. Frank is William Holden, who is equally believable both as someone who is contented being alone as an old divorced man in the hills and someone who can be brought back to life by a young free spirit. He had a knack of looking older than he actually was yet appear younger than he looked. Here he was 55 to her 20, and the film's biggest success to me is the fact that the two of them are believable together even with such an age difference.

This film came out in 1973, a pretty unique point in time for American film: the Production Code was dead and gone and the golden era studio execs had finally admitted that they didn't have a clue any more. Filmmakers had an awesome opportunity to reinvent what could be seen on the screen, at least for a few short years until Jaws introduced the world to the modern blockbuster and the execs found a new understanding. This isn't a revolutionary film in the way that so many other films of 1973 were, but I remember so many earlier films that cast an old male star and a new young face in a romantic story (how many of them featured Fred Astaire?) and they all felt wrong. They felt disturbing and wrong, like some sort of child porn, even if the girls were in their twenties and there was no sex. This doesn't: Breezy and Frank give rather than take and Holden doesn't feel like a child molester.

There are people here beyond Holden and Lenz to recognise (such as Roger C Carmel, better known as Harry Mudd from the original Star Trek), but the other major name is the director: Clint Eastwood. He was well established as an actor in 1973, with Dirty Harry and the Man with No Name already on his credits, but he was new as a director. He debuted with Play Misty for Me in 1971 and followed it up with High Plains Drifter and this film in 1973, this one being the first one he didn't also star in. He wouldn't do that again until Bird in 1988.

It's an interesting film, subtle and subdued even when not compared to the many excesses of early seventies cinema, but it feels very Eastwood. He's always walked that line between establishment and free spirit himself. He also throws in a few self references: at one point Breezy and Frank go to see High Plains Drifter and Eastwood does a Hitchcock-type cameo as a man on a pier leaning on the fence as the leads walk past him. He's very recognisable but he turns his head away as if in a distinct and deliberate attempt to say, 'hey, I'm here, but don't watch me'. I don't think people got that in 1973. It took another couple of decades for that concept to really take hold. Now, of course, we see those four Oscars he has to his name and realise that none of them are for acting.

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