A dropout from upper-class America picks up work along the way on oil rigs when his life isn't spent in a squalid succession of bars, motels, and other points of interest.A dropout from upper-class America picks up work along the way on oil rigs when his life isn't spent in a squalid succession of bars, motels, and other points of interest.A dropout from upper-class America picks up work along the way on oil rigs when his life isn't spent in a squalid succession of bars, motels, and other points of interest.
Meanwhile, unfolding alongside the Dupea character, was Karen Black's tour de force performance as the big-haired clingy-dependent waitress girlfriend, Rayette, and doing it to a medley of apropos Tammy Wynette tunes. Karen Black's performance perfectly captured and spot-on nailed an almost ubiquitous sort of woman prevalent in that era, when the social changes wrought by the women's movement had not yet taken fruit.
As for the notorious diner scene, this one scene essentially dominates the whole movie. It is something that people who have seen the movie will bring up and talk about, even decades later. Yet the scene is in no way pivotal or important to the story. At most it once and for all permanently affixes in the viewers' minds that Dupea was an impulsively flippant and angry person, not one to meekly abide any of life's minor frustrations. But we were already getting that picture of him before this scene happens. And, courtesy of Dupea, the scene provides a snippet of gratuitous social commentary about inflexibility and the stupidity of mindless adherence to meaningless rules. Something for the viewers to cheer and say, "I can relate to that!" Those things aside, to me the real value of the scene was that it provided an entertaining contrast in a bleak drama, a needed change of pace. But regardless of whether it was a statement about Dupea's attitude, or a social comment about stupid rules, or a needed amusing interlude, no matter which of those it is, its lasting impression renders its importance out of proportion to the movie as a whole. Surely, as he made this film, director Bob Rafelson's never intended that 35 years later this particular scene be the main thing viewers took away and remembered about the film. In this sense, as entertaining as it is, the scene therefore must be viewed as being a bit of a story-telling flaw. In retrospect, it should have been toned down just a skosh. But, then, on the other hand, were it not for this scene, perhaps the film would hardly be remembered at all. It is already a largely overlooked masterpiece.
This movie pops up on the movie channels on a semi-regular basis, and when it does I always stop and am riveted. The cinematography is superb. The acting is superb. Nicholson turning in one of the performances from that era that made him the unhinged star in the first place, long before he became a parody of himself. But be warned, it is not a "happy" film. It is the product of an era that did not as a rule produce happy films. But it is nevertheless a film that must be seen.
- Sep 28, 2005