Retro: The Unquiet American


Steven Spielberg
USA 1979
118 min

One of Steven Spielberg’s most underrated films is not only a virtuoso piece of filmmaking but a flagrant piece of mean-spiritedness and teenage irreverence that underlines aspects of his work that his more ­popular and commercially successful works tend to either disguise or rationalize. Both of these qualities are partially the contributions of cowriter Robert Zemeckis – who exhibits these traits more independently on such later features as <![CDATA[<i>]]>Used Cars<![CDATA[</i>]]> (1980) and <![CDATA[<i>]]>Forrest Gump<![CDATA[</i>]]> (1994). But there’s also a strain that one might ­associate with the more progressive and Tashlinesque reflexes of a Joe Dante, helping to explain why John Wayne not only refused indignantly to play in this comedy but also tried to persuade Spielberg that making such a movie was tantamount to spitting on the American flag. In Spielberg’s hands, much of the comedy here seems to derive from a desire to see large sets destroyed as if they were ­Tinker toy ­constructions, complete with tutti-frutti mixtures of splattered paint, and without the messy inconvenience of either deaths or morals. But there’s also a smaller-scale, notational form of comedy at play here. Like me, Spielberg grew up on “Mad” when it was still a comic book, and the hallmark of its 1950s ­pictorial style, which he’s clearly emulating here, is to stuff wisecracks that scoff at authority figures into
the edges of the frames. There’s also a cartoonist ­tradition harking all the way back to Rube Goldberg (1883–1970) in which monstrously complicated machines perform simple tasks in strangely convoluted ways. And much of the cast here is seminal: John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, John Candy, Robert Stack, Toshiro Mifune, Christopher Lee, Warren Oates, Slim Pickens, and even Sam Fuller.

This film is screened together with <filmlink id=\"3124\">Two Tars</filmlink>.

  • Christopher Lee - Saruman
  • Ned Beatty - Bobby
  • Dan Aykroyd - Gus Trenor
  • Toshiro Mifune
  • John Candy - Danny Muldoon
  • Warren Oates - Hollys Vater
  • John Belushi
  • Lorraine Gary
  • Slim Pickens
  • Robert Stack
Buzz Feitshans
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