THE GRASSHOPPER 1970 lecinemadreams.blogspot.com/2012/07/the-grasshopper-1970.html
I first saw The Grasshopper in 1979 at Filmex, the now-defunct Los Angeles Film Festival, at a special screening titled "Underrated American Films" (an event that also introduced me to Robert Altmanâ€™s masterpiece, 3 Women, and hosted, if memory serves, by Roger Ebert). Seeing The Grasshopper in a packed theater of film enthusiasts was the best possible way to see a film that, when initially released, was sold as an exploitation flick. I'd been wanting to see this flawed little late-60s gem since I first laid eyes on the film's soundtrack album back in 1970. Then just 13-years-old, I was drawn to the photo on this bi-fold LP jacket which offered, on the front, an image of star Jacqueline Bisset locked in a passionate embrace with co-star Christopher Stone. On the back, however, was this racy "reveal" of their tryst location being a shower stall and Mr. Stone marvelously, teasingly, naked. I'm sure fans of Ms. Bisset were disappointed (she would more than make up for the oversight in 1977 when her wet t-shirt poster from The Deep became one of the year's top sellers), but as for me; I was just thrilled that such an unexpected glimpse of naked male flesh (and it's really little more than a glimpse) had been made available to me in surroundings as wholesomely irreproachable as the local record store. Looking at the album cover today after so many years (below), I'm not the least bit surprised to find that it still packs a visual punch as a seductively potent erotic image. Tame, to be sure, by today's standards, but in those pre-internet days, we oversexed adolescents had to take our thrills where we found them.
I tend not to be overly fond of coming-of-age-films. Most I find to be interminably male-centric wish-fulfillment fantasies prone to leaning heavily on the callowness of youth as an excuse for indulging in a lot of puerile sexism and misogyny. On the other hand, female coming-of-age films, while rarer and seldom very well-known, are more to my taste (my absolute faves being 1961s A Taste of Honey and 1985s Smooth Talk). The female perspective is so infrequently explored in films in general, so any film attempting to offer insight into the inner lives of girls maturing into young womanhood is to me a much-welcome change. I especially appreciate when these films portray their heroines as active participants in their fates and steer clear of the clichĂŠd, woman-as-victim trap. Films in which women learn the ropes by being mistreated by a series of men always come across as the efforts of male writers who really don't know much about women.
Music to My Eyes This image is as evocative of my memories of the early '70s as that image from Midnight Cowboy of John Voight and Dustin Hoffman huddled in an alleyway. So enamored was I of this photo that I owned the soundtrack for over a year before I even bothered listening to it. As luck would have it, the songs by Brooklyn Bridge, Vicki Lawrence (The Carol Burnett Show ), and Bobby Russell (Mr.Vicki Lawrence for a time) are all pretty good. I now have the album on my ipod.
The '60s-era Las Vegas setting of The Grasshopper is one of my favorite things about the film
In attempting to dramatize the aimlessness of late-'60s youth while satirizing the swinging, anything for kicks attitude prevalent at the time, The Grasshopper at times feels like the crasser, less artful American cousin of John Schlesinger’s Darling. But despite the film's unsure footing (TV sitcom director Jerry Paris—best known as the neighbor on The Dick Van Dyke Show—has no real aptitude for drama) The Grasshopper does succeed in capturing the essence of a particular type of American woman at a particular point in time in our culture. Of course, the “American” woman I speak of in this case is the very British Jacqueline Bisset, serviceably, if unconvincingly, identified as Canadian for the film. (Ironic, given that the heroine of the little-known novel upon which this film is freely adapted—The Passing of Evil, by Seance on a Wet Afternoon author Mark McShane—s British, the story taking place in London.) The late '60s and early '70s offered dozens of American movies dramatizing the heroically romanticized plight of the misunderstood heterosexual white male as he struggled to find his identity in a society in flux and shifting beneath his feet. African-American females are perhaps still waiting for their own definitive coming-of-age-film (a good place to start: Ossie Davis’ woefully overlooked 1972 film, Black Girl, or Kasi Lemmons' brilliant Eve's Bayou), but for women in general, The Grasshopper provides a well-observed, adult portrait of a kind of spiritual restlessness usually only afforded movie males.
Jacqueline Bisset as Christine Adams
Jim Brown as Tommy Marcott
Joseph Cotten as Richard Morgan
Christopher Stone (in his film debut) as Jay Rigney
Corbett Monica (yes, THE Corbett Monica, Ed Sullivan fans) as Danny Raymond
Ed Flanders as Jack Benton
The Grasshopper was promoted with the tagline: “The story of a beautiful girl’s lifetime between the ages of 19 and 22.” And lest one assume the “beautiful” adjective was inserted solely for the purpose of a little sex-bait ad copy; rest assured, The Grasshopper’s Christine is one in a long line of movie heroines whose destinies are shaped as much by their provocative beauty as by their flaws of character. When Valley of the Dolls' Neely O'Hara bitchily comments on how Anne Welles got through life on a pass because of her "Damned classy looks," she is speaking of girls like Bisset's Christine. Girls whose looks open up so many doors for them that not until those looks begin to fade does it begin to dawn that those doors largely led nowhere.
As the film begins, 19-year-old Christine Adams (Bisset) has dropped out of high school in Kingman, British Columbia, left a note for her parents, and slipped away in the wee small hours of the morning in her beat-up convertible. Her destination: Los Angeles, where she has plans to shack up with Eddie (Tim O'Kelly) her high-school sweetheart. Her youthful optimism unfazed even when her car breaks down en route, idealistic hitchhiker Christine informs a friendly pick-up, “It’s very simple what I want to be; totally happy, totally different, and totally in love!” Of course, as soon as she says this, we all know she doesn't have a chance in hell of being any of them.
You're Gonna Make It After All In this age of "Boomerang Kids," the most startling thing about The Grasshopper is the idea of a teenager, with no money or prospects, actually looking forward to leaving home and starting out life on her own.
What is Christine over the course of the next three years? In no particular order: a bank teller; a mistress; a wouldbe actress, schoolteacher, flight attendant; real estate saleswoman; a Vegas showgirl; a high-class call girl; a discontented housewife; a sugar mama; a widow; a kept woman; and a prostitute. Only on occasion is she ever practical, introspective, or more than fleetingly satisfied. As you must have gleaned by now, the grasshopper of the title is Christine. The human embodiment of America’s "instant happiness" culture. In the land of plenty, happiness, like freedom, is a birthright; something one is entitled to whether or not it’s earned, appreciated, or deserved. If you don’t find it in your own back yard, America’s a big place with lots of back yards. All you need is a suitcase, a little resourcefulness, and who knows? Maybe happiness can be found in the one thing you haven’t tried yet.
Impetuous Christine falls for down-to-earth former quarterback Tommy Marcott Christine: Tommy, sometimes I envy you. Tommy: Why? Christine: You don't always have to be doing something. With me it's sort of a disease. I guess it's because no matter what I'm doing or how much fun I'm having, somewhere way back in my head I'm thinking somebody somewhere else is having more fun than I am.
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM The Grasshopper, in its sometimes over-earnest efforts to be now, relevant, and say something pertinent about the times we live(d) in, is a marvelous panorama of everything that was happening in America in the late '60s. So many controversial topics are covered and touched upon in the film’s scant 98-minute running time, Jacqueline Bisset seems at times like a tour guide through a new Disneyland attraction called Sixtiesland. We have rock bands, groupies, free-love, homosexuality, lesbianism, interracial marriage, nudity, drugs, prostitution, pedophilia, and physical abuse. It all sounds pretty incendiary, but to the film’s credit it does manage to present a great many of the hot-button social issues of the day in a refreshingly matter-of-fact manner, reserving sensationalism for things like scenes of unexpected violence.
Atypical for its time, gay couple Timmy (John David Wilder) and Buck (Roger Garrett) are presented sympathetically and as just another couple in Christine's circle of friends.
PERFORMANCES In the '70s, Jacqueline Bisset and Raquel Welch were the two (dubiously) reluctant sex-symbols most vocal over never being taken seriously as actresses. Raquel Welch had a point; she was pretty much offered one crap supporting role after another. Bisset on the other hand, was handed in succession, The Grasshopper and The Mephisto Waltz; two films which were, while by no means a Doctor Zhivago or Rosemary’s Baby, nevertheless
substantial and challenging star-vehicles requiring more of Bisset than to merely look good in a bathing suit.
Bisset is at her relaxed best in the brief scenes she shares with the alwayswelcome Joseph Cotten
Because I like Jacqueline Bisset so much, I wish I could say that she made the most of these opportunities, but as an actress, Bisset is something like a hot-air balloon; as the story around her heats up, she seems to get lighter. A vibrant screen presence with a stunning, if not particularly expressive face, Bisset is fine in scenes requiring wideeyed optimism or vague restlessness; but sheâ€™s a bit out of her depth when events take a more dramatic turn. And then again, perhaps it's really sitcom-trained Jerry Paris who is really the one most out of his depth, as he's rarely able to depict the dramatic elements of the story in ways more substantial than that of a sub-par '70s movie-of-theweek.
We're Gonna Make Our Dreams Come True The Grasshopper was co-written and produced by TV's Garry Marshall ( Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley). Here Garry casts baby sister Penny Marshall (Lavern herself, left, holding the ruler, pictured with Eris Sandy) as a member of the "Plaster Casters": groupies who make plaster casts of the genitals of rock stars.
THE STUFF OF FANTASY
Showgirls: 1970. In his autobiography Wake Me When It's Funny, producer Garry Marshall writes that the original leaping pattern for The Grasshopper was considerably more global (London, New York, Hollywood) but for budgetary reasons Las Vegas became the dominant location. I can't say I mind one bit. The shots of a long-gone Vegas Strip and the behind-the-scenes glimpses into those old-fashioned Vegas reviews are fabulously nostalgic.
The grasshopper perched first one place, then another...wherever she happened to land. And then she moved on. (Ad copy from the film's poster)
THE STUFF OF DREAMS While thereâ€™s no denying that The Grasshopper could have benefited from at least one female voice involved in its creation (the product of at least three male collaborators, the film suffers a bit from a sense that there are a few too
many over-the-age-of-30 male voices weighing in on what it's like to be a 19-year-old girl), Iâ€™m personally grateful for even this imperfect portrait of a complex female character in the male-dominated '70s cinema landscape. And, since women who seek to define themselves exclusively by the men in their lives are far from being an extinct species, there exists a contemporary relevance to the film which transcends its appealingly dated trappings.
The Grasshopper is definitely worth checking out, for while not as deep as it aspires to be, it's nonetheless a compelling look at the cost of a life lived without attachments. Oh, and lest we forget that glorious backside which sparked my interest in the first place...
Copyright ÂŠ Ken Anderson