Sunday, 29 January 2023

Hippy-hippy shakes... The Happening (1967)


Well... this one starts of like so many sixties teensploitation films with a really annoying group of students/youngsters with questions, boring ennui and rebelliousness without much due cause, but ends up redeemed by an outstanding performance from Anthony Quinn who stares down the  barrel of an empty life and taking it all on the chin is ready for anything. Quinn positively explodes into action half way through this caper when his character realises that his life is an empty sham and no one else can keep pace with the intensity and momentum he builds. It is genuinely moving.

There’s one exception and that’s Faye Dunaway who makes her film debut making the most of a diffident character and adding some depth with her ability to build uncertain momentum, a wildness that’s far more convincing than the young man with a gun and an ability to deliver a line as if it’s a threat. At the end of the film she simply says “I’m hungry…” and that is very eloquently expressed as a summation of an attitude to life after all they have seen and been through, it’s time to take life by the basics…

Back to that irritating start… it’s perhaps harder now to take men in white jeans as seriously as in the so-called Summer of Love; there were many counter-cultural voices at this time but nothing in the clothing, expression or dialogue of the young male characters rings true. They’re bored, they’re the chairmen of the bored, and are goofing around looking for some action which, in this case, involves borrowing a motor boat and then waging war with a group of middle class kids playing soldiers. That’s about their level, play acting, like children.

Faye Dunaway and Michael Parks
 There’s the wise-cracking Sureshot (Michael Parks) who, for some reason, wakes up in the morning after a party with the stunning Sandy (Faye Dunaway), and the two engage in free-love type casualness about names and the lack of ties that bind. They’re accompanied by the nervy Herby (Robert Walker Jnr, who always carries an unsettling energy) and the aggressive Taurus (George Maharis) who is indeed like a large animal in a china shop.

Their larking on the boat and with the kids leads them to tumble into the house of a Mr Delmonico (Quinn) who seems like a fairly typical American middle manager with his trophy house and his trophy wife, Monica (Martha Hyer) not to mention those lovable kids with their plastic guns…

There’s some annoying posturing from Sureshot and Taurus who are affronted by the sheer convention and “straightness” before them; they may not have a thorough socio-economic future state planned out but they know uncool when they see it. One of two things lead to another and, led by Taurus, the blue-collar outsider next to the Sandy and Sureshot’s middle class students, an alpha with the gun to prove it. They bundle Monica into a cupboard and race off with Delmonico in the boot, intending to ask for a substantial ransom.

Anthony Quinn and Martha Hyer

At this point we’re not sure what to make of Delmonico, he’s going along with things but as Taurus notes, he’s just not frightened enough considering the situation and his gun. Delmonico’s attitude is soon to change as he calls Monica to ask her to raise the ransom payment of $200,000 only for her to decide that, as he’ll be killed anyway, there’s not much point. Impeccable logic but not really what he’s expecting having told his kidnappers all about his perfect life.

The next shock is when he calls his business partner, Fred (Milton Berle) for the money only to find it hard to get his attention away from the nightly duties at their restaurant. Dispirited Delmonico calls the mafia boss who helped set him up, Sam (Oscar Homolka) who also turns him down. No one seems to want to pay him his due, it’s a soul-searing moment and Quinn is up to it, desperately lunging at a circle of telephone booths as the four hang back astonished at the cruelty of his life… Even his own mother rebuffs his please with a string of platitudes… anything is possible if you start with a smile… apparently.

Delmonico is destroyed and Sandy can’t bear to look. Now there are hard decisions, and they take him to a remote shack where Taurus tries to build up the courage to shoot him… only now, after absorbing the rejection of his family and friends, and Monica’s probably affair with Fred, does Delmonico come roaring back to life. And it is the most exhilarating moment of the film.

Now Delmonico measures out the perfect revenge on all of his tormentors and he takes charge of the group to achieve his aims… it’s a show of force from someone who is finally realising his potential but who is also fully aware of all the wasted time. Delmonico is the one who is truly free and whilst the humour never leaves the film, it’s a very satisfying ride over the closing section as some justice is done and reality is accepted with full-blooded grit.

Dusty verdict: I only knew this film from The Supremes hit song The Happening, as interpreted by Herb Albert… and whilst it’s a mildly distracting comedy caper, efficiently directed by Elliot Silverstein, Quinn raises it to something truly still worth watching. Dunaway also gives hints of the range and screen impact she would soon use to great affect in Thomas Crown and Bonny and Clyde; she’s too good for this film and it shows apart from when Quinn is on screen.

The Happening is not readily available on home media which is a shame. The music from Frank De Vol is funky, and it’s bright and breezy save for Quinn’s dark moments. This is not his beautiful house, nor his beautiful wife… my God, how did he get there? As the poet sang.


Gratuitous Faye publicity still



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