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The Landlord

The Landlord

Director:Hal Ashby
Cast:Beau Bridges, Lee Grant, Diana Sands, Pearl Bailey, Marki Bey, Louis Gossett Jr.
Release Date:1970
Genre:Comedy, Drama, Classic

By Christopher Skokna | Posted 6/4/2008

This debut movie from Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude) shouldn't work. The Landlord feels as dated as its radical politics and circa-1970 fashions, and its tale of a rich white young man buying an all-black apartment house in the Brooklyn, N.Y., ghetto and learning lessons comes awfully close to Dances With Negroes territory. But its creators--among them producer Norman Jewison and cinematographer Gordon Willis--and performers imbue it with such open humanity and wicked satire that we get a movie that is as deep as it is playful. Elgar Enders (Beau Bridges) is the dopey yet warm-hearted scion of a family that "is tobacco." Trying to break ties, at age 29, he buys a brownstone, planning to make it his bachelor pad. Instead, he falls in love with its eccentric residents--a sly fortuneteller (Pearl Bailey, wonderfully cantankerous), a Black Power professor (Mel Stewart), a flirtatious homemaker (luminous Diana Sands)--and starts making other kinds of ties. The Landlord bursts with moments that you can hardly believe are happening--a somewhat crazed black radical (Louis Gossett Jr., barely recognizable) ranting about poisoned barbecue sauce, a costume ball with Robert Klein in blackface--and sometimes this vaudevillian style and Ashby's vertigo-inducing cuts and montage nearly trample everything else. But Bridges, in what must be his best-ever performance, the rest of the cast, and the script (by Ganja and Hess' Bill Gunn) keep it grounded.

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