THE BOOTLEG FILES: MOVE

BOOTLEG FILES 412: “Move” (1970 comedy starring Elliott Gould and Paula Prentiss).

LAST SEEN: We cannot confirm the last public exhibition of this film.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: A film that seemed to fall between the cracks.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE:  Lord, I hope not!

Most bad films are strictly mediocre affairs – minor distractions that are quickly forgotten after the closing credits run their course. Some bad films, however, are so wonderfully misguided that it is easy to fall in love with their ineptitude – the Ed Wood canon, for example, or any number of so-bad-they’re-good anti-classics that offer endless hours of unintentional laughter.

But sometimes – not often, but on rare occasions – there are bad films that are so painfully awful that they leave a sense of numbness with the viewer. Indeed, it becomes a challenge to comprehend how so many people could come together and spend so much money in creating a work that fails at every imaginable aesthetic level.  That is the case of a 1970 film called “Move.”

If you’ve never heard of “Move,” you should consider yourself lucky. Though it is somewhat strange that this film has all-but-disappeared from the cinematic culture: this 20th Century Fox release was directed by Stuart Rosenberg (best known for helming “Cool Hand Luke”) and starred Elliott Gould at the peak of his popularity early 1970s popularity. But as longtime movie viewers have come to realize, a deep-pocketed studio and star power on both sides of the camera is no guarantee that the resulting film will be watchable. And I dare anyone to sit through “Move” without impatiently checking the time or angrily hitting the fast-forward button.

Gould plays Hiram Jaffe, a would-be playwright who cannot get a crumb of interest from any theatrical producer. He supplements his income by writing pornographic fiction and walking the dogs of his neighborhood’s wealthier residents. It would seem that he is only able to maintain a one-room apartment in New York’s Upper West Side because his wife Dolly (Paula Prentiss) has a steady job as the receptionist for a psychiatrist. An oversized St. Bernard named Murphy serves as Jaffe’s companion when he faces his daily frustrations – most egregiously from a sourpuss mounted patrolman in Central Park who is constantly ticketing Hiram for some inane infraction.

For no clear reason – after all, Hiram is barely making money and Dolly does not seem to have any additional source of income – the couple is able to secure a larger apartment elsewhere in their neighborhood. They have their lives packed up in moving crates and are eager to relocate. However, the moving man they’ve hired proves to be elusive – and repeated telephone calls to get him to offer the services he’s been paid to perform are met with delays, excuses and evasions.

To escape from the tedium of his existence, Hiram finds himself escaping into weird fantasies where he gets to strip off his clothing. Whether the sight of Gould’s hairy nakedness is supposed to be sexy or funny is not clear, but he usually winds up yelling and performing weird tasks, such as painting his new apartment while nude. This escape from reality eventually brings him in contact with a hot blonde with an open mind and open legs (Genevieve Waite, a South African model/singer who would later marry John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas).

“Move” can be described as an unholy mix of Neil Simon and Federico Fellini, although I fear that would make it seem much more interesting than it is. The Felliniesque touches begin in the opening credits, that find Gould walking down Manhattan’s streets while the rest of the pedestrian traffic walks backwards. Gould then gets his feet stuck in asphalt while a steamroller drives directly into him – and, then, over him, creating a cartoonish flattened image.

More Fellini-inspired nonsense involves Hiram’s overbaked sexual fantasies, and “Move” took full advantage of the early 1970s’ free-wheeling spirit by pushing its R-rating with flashes of bare breasts and shots of Elliott Gould’s naked backside. But the effect is puerile and sophomoric, and what little shock exists quickly evaporates as the film progresses.

As for the Neil Simon element, “Move” is the type of film where the characters speak in wisecracks and sarcasm instead of normal conversation. For example, an exasperated Hiram bemoans his dog walking duties by proclaiming he was a “grown man coaxing dogs to move their bowels!” When Dolly starts showing evidence of wanting a family, Hiram snaps “Gee, Dolly, what’s this insane passion to bring babies into the world?” And those are the film’s funnier lines!

Much of the blame for “Move” belongs to Gould, who gives a terrifically bad performance. Granted, he had little in the way of clever dialogue, but Gould’s obnoxious and overbearing emoting makes the bad situation worse. The only time that “Move” becomes tolerable is when reliable scene-stealers like John Larch (as the mounted patrolman) and Joe Silver and Mae Questel (as Hiram’s neighbors) turn up and outperform Gould. (A pre-“Superfly” Ron O’Neal is briefly on screen in an amusing bit part.) Roger Greenspun, the New York Times’ movie critic, probably said it best: “[Gould] descends to a program of discreet but desperate facial mugging to get through a performance of very ordinary dimensions.”

In terms of its production, “Move” was a somewhat bittersweet experience for two reasons. First, it marked Paula Prentiss’ return to film acting after a five-year absence. Prentiss was given very little to do except look on patiently as Gould hammed up his role – which is a shame, since she was a wonderful comic actress who rarely had the opportunity to show off the full depth of her talent.

“Move” was also the final film produced by the legendary Pandro S. Berman, who was responsible for some of the greatest RKO and MGM films from Hollywood’s golden age. It was a shame that his illustrious career ended on such a sour and off-key note.

“Move” failed commercially during its theatrical release and was quickly withdrawn from circulation. Gould raced beyond the flop (he had three other films in release in 1970, most notably “MASH”) and most people forgot about the film – including 20th Century Fox, which has kept the film out of sight for many years. It was apparently broadcast on cable television at least once – a bootleg copy that I obtained is a pan-and-scan version of less-than-pristine second generation quality – but, to date, there has been no commercial home entertainment release. The trailer is online via a collector-to-collector operation.

But, quite frankly, sometimes it isn’t so bad if a crummy film remains under a dusty blanket of obscurity. In this case, the boring and annoying “Move” is best left out of sight. Keep moving, folks, there’s really nothing here worth seeing.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free shits and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!




Posted on January 27, 2012 in Bootleg Files, Features by
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