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USA 1970
Directed by
Robert Altman
104 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Brewster McCloud

Robert Altman is not a director for audiences wanting a straight-up three act narrative and even by his standards Brewster McCloud is an eccentric film, one that probably needs the context of its time to be properly appreciated.

Bud Cort who appeared the following year in another iconic 70s film Harold And Maude and then largely sunk from view plays a young man who lives in a fall-out shelter in the basement of the Houston, TX, Astrodome.  Under the guidance of the mysterious Louise (Sally Kellerman, who had played Hot Lips O’Houlihan in Altman’s previous film M*A*S*H and who looks uncannily like another Altman alumnus, Karen Black) who is perhaps a fallen angel, he is building a set of wings so that he can fly. The two are also involved in a series of murders that are all united by the presence of bird guano and which are being investigated by a celebrity detective, Frank Shaft (Michael Murphy).

This brief summary hardly does justice to Altman's free-associating riffing on a script by Doran William Cannon that might, given the counter-cultural context of the times, might broadly be described a kind of satirical allegory of the individual vs society struggle for liberation. Not that Altman is really interested in crafting a political or moral statement.  Quite the converse.  If Brewster McCloud is satire then it is in the Marx Brothers not the Marxist  manner.  There are some funny scenes including an amusing allusion to the famous car chase in Bullit (both were staged by the same person, Bob Harris) but the anarchic spirit tends to wear thin by the latter stages of the film, leaving little to distinguish this from much weaker conventionally slapstick films, although the ending, which morphs from Brewster’s attempting to fly to a circus parade, is a clever representation of shattered dreams and the indifference of the world at large and bespeaks the more intelligent sensibility generally at work here.




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