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Monday, January 5, 2015

My Old Man's Place (1971) review



Arthur Kennedy (Walter Pell), Mitchell Ryan (Sergeant Martin Flood), William Devane (Jimmy Pilgrim), Michael Moriarty (Trubee Pell), Topo Swope (Helen)

Directed by Edwin Sherin

The Short Version: One of the earliest, and most provocative of the 'Disturbed 'Nam Vet' sub-genre is this little discussed psychological drama-gedy armed with a cast worth the price of admission alone. Far from peaches and cream, this downer ensemble harbors a lot of intensity, misogynist behavior, and calamity that are all found at MY OLD MAN'S PLACE.

Two friends, Trubee and Jimmy, return to the United States after tours in Vietnam and head out to Trubee's dads farmhouse for some rest and relaxation. Meeting up with a deranged Sergeant named Flood, Trubee thinks he and his dad, a former WW2 veteran, will have lots in common and that he should meet him. A quiet, peaceful respite out in the country sounds appealing to them all. Almost immediately upon their arrival, tempers begin to flare, building to a violent rage once a pretty girl enters the picture. By the end, lives are both changed and lost at the title residence.

The 'Disturbed Nam Vet' sub-genre was a multifaceted style of movie covering the emotional gamut from tense drama (THE DEER HUNTER) to horror (DEATHDREAM), action (FIRST BLOOD), and exploitation (THE NO MERCY MAN, MY FRIENDS NEED KILLING). All of them intended to shock, poke and prod at one's brain in some way. Some were thematic mixtures difficult to categorize. MY OLD MAN'S PLACE is a character study that builds tension bit by bit till its not entirely unexpected shock turn at the end. Prior to that there's a lot of male bonding, doses of misogyny, and thought provoking diatribes. Of the lot, director Sherin's movie shares much in common with Richard Compton's searing 'Nam Vet shocker, WELCOME HOME, SOLDIER BOYS (1972). 

However, the violence in MY OLD MAN'S PLACE is far more subdued than Compton's film, but goes a bit further in getting inside the damaged heads of our trio of former soldiers who, through no fault of their own, bring the war back home with them. One of the more cerebral films of its type, each of the performances are as varied as they are similar. 

In real life, Michael Moriarty is often thought of as certifiably crazy. Ironically enough, his big screen debut in MY OLD MAN'S PLACE is very laid back, with only subtle nuances that the war has scarred his mind. He's more disappointed, really. His dad being a war hero that inspired Trubee to enlist in Vietnam (or as he put it, "lied him into it") only to discover it wasn't the John Wayne movie he expected. That he killed a woman left a deeper scar on his psyche than any knife or bullet wound. Each man takes something away from the film, and Moriarty is the most emotionally distraught, and sympathetic of the bunch.

Much like in Compton's movie, there's reflection between Vietnam and prior excursions with the older generation, and the differences in treatment to those who came home. In SOLDIER BOYS, this is used as a lighted fuse leading to an explosion. In Sherin's film, this device is utilized to give more insight into who these characters are, and how their lives have changed through these devastating experiences. This is where Trubee's dad, the old guard, the WW2 vet, comes into play.

Arthur Kennedy (THE MAN FROM LARAMIE, BARABBAS, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA) is Walter Pell, the owner of the title abode, and he too shows signs of ruination; but less to do with his war exploits than the wedge combat has driven between him and his son. Both Walter and Sgt. Flood bond as Trubee said they would, but Trubee's reason for introducing them is for deceptive purposes that become clear as the picture draws closer to its downbeat conclusion.

Kennedy had a major Hollywood career, but winded down in many European genre pictures throughout the decade; these include LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE (1974), THE ANTICHRIST (1974), and ROME ARMED TO THE TEETH (1976).

Mitchell Ryan (THE HUNTING PARTY, HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER) is both unsettling and unpredictable as the unhinged Sgt. Flood. He's the one character we learn the least about; and in that way, it makes him the most frightening. The audience is left with the notion that his derangement may not be the result of the PTSD afflicting the others, but something residing within him well before he went to war. You learn some things about Flood during the violent climax that changes the meaning of things he states near the beginning of the picture. Flood not only brings the war home with him, but he seems content with carrying on with it.

William Devane is the most memorable of the round table of war heroes. Nam Vet movie specialists will naturally know him from the CITIZEN KANE of the genre, ROLLING THUNDER (1977). Both pictures make a striking double feature to compare Devane's performances between them. Viewers will surely find more reasons to appreciate the thespian's skills in how diametrically opposed Pt. Jimmy Pilgrim is to RT's Major Charles Rane. Pilgrim never shuts up, has a mouthful of catch-phrases ("I bought tha' gas.... filled it right up to tha' top!"), and for a running gag, repeatedly takes punches to the face.... and still he never shuts up. Harmless, but clearly bonkers, Pilgrim stays in a near constant state of excitement, talks to himself often, and suffers from perpetual horniness throughout.

Aside from all the drama-gedy over the course of this films 93 minutes, there's an air of misogyny running through it. For Trubee and Jimmy, the first thing they want to do is get laid. They try a number of times and none of the women they encounter are turned on by a man in a uniform; they seem repelled by it. Once they rendezvous at the pictures main locale, Trubee and Flood (minus Jimmy who has the first of a few fat lips) decide to look up an old acquaintance named Bubbles who was always eager to put out. Things don't go as planned, though, as Bubbles makes it clear things have changed in the years since he's been gone. Both Trubee and Flood turn and leave in dissatisfaction that Bubbles refused to be their sperm bank. Things take a more drastic turn once a beautiful young flower girl named Helen enters the picture. 

Helen (as played by Topo Swope) is a hippie, one of the anti-war types, working in a facility with an Uncle Sam sign defamed with the phrase, "Have YOU had your pill today?" Helen is the most transformative of the series of characters in the film. She's a free-spirited woman at the start, but by the end she's taken on this role of Suzie Homemaker once she's fallen in love with Trubee. It acts as the perfect therapy for the two of them, yet it's short-lived. It's here that the film, which up to this point is headed for greener pastures, suddenly runs into severe turbulence. And we'll just leave things at that.

As for the tenure of the pictures theatrical life, it was greeted with a similar indifference the returning veterans received. Re-released under a few different titles, the marketing attempted to sell the film in a variety of ways. The most exploitable seemed to be in the advertising for the picture as THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HELL. In that trailer (on this disc), there's stock Vietnam War inserts and additional nudity during one of the rape scenes not present in this DVD version.

Based on the novel by John Sanford, Edwin Sherin's stimulating motion picture will likely not be the sort of fix for those seeking out another WELCOME HOME, SOLDIER BOYS (1971), or a ROLLING THUNDER (1977); it's not that type of Nam excursion into insanity. It has a lot in common with those, but this is a character study first, and brooding thriller with a violent aftermath second. If you appreciate the talent involved on this extremely well acted, and well written film, there's a lot of cinematic substance to be found at MY OLD MAN'S PLACE.

This review is representative of the Code Red DVD. Extras and specs: Interview with Mitchell Ryan; three different trailers for the film; other trailers; 16x9 1.78:1 widescreen; 93 minutes.

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