1 December 2003 | rosscinema
After 33 years things have certainly changed but this film still touches on issues that were very controversial back then and even now some of the events that take place are subject to debate. This story is about a young white entrepreneur named Elgar Enders (Beau Bridges) and he buys a New York tenement in a ghetto with plans on having the tenants move out so he can renovate it into his own place to live. He moves in and meets Marge (Pearl Bailey) who tells him about the people that live there and he finds out that many of the tenants owe back rent for several months. Elgar also meets Franny (Diana Sands) and they both seem to like each other but she is in love with Copee (Louis Gossett Jr.) who doesn't like Elgar and is always threatening him. Elgar gets a lot of flack from his parents and his mother Joyce (Lee Grant) who doesn't understand him says she will help him with new curtains. Elgar meets a light skinned black woman named Lanie (Marki Bey) and he falls in love and wants to marry her but Franny shows up at his door one day and tells him that she is pregnant with his child.
This film was directed by the great Hal Ashby who makes his directorial debut after spending many years working as an editor. Ashby had worked on some of Norman Jewison's films and the two had become good friends. Jewison wanted to help Ashby on his first film and he was one of the producers. The script is sharply written and each character is very well detailed so that by the end of the film the viewer has a good understanding of each of them. The script does tackle racism and its look at on both perspectives of whites and blacks. Ashby uses colors to make points like the all white house and white clothing that the Enders have while the run down tenement that is occupied by mainly black residents has mainly gray tones with some of the interior shots having red. Along with the sharp script and direction this film has several very good performances in it. Lee Grant picked up an Oscar Nomination for her funny role as Bridges mother and the scene with her and Pearl Bailey is a classic. Bailey was making a rare film appearance and she would only appear in one more film until her death. Arguably the best performance comes from Sands. She shows so many layers to her character Franny and if a role ever deserved an Oscar Nomination it was this one. She's terrific here and sadly she would pass away from cancer only 4 years later. Bridges was still a very young actor when he was cast and even though he hadn't yet developed into the fine actor that he is today his performance is still sincere. Several up and coming actors appear in small roles like Susan Anspach, Robert Klein, Gloria Hendry, Trish Van Devere and Hector Elizondo. After all the time that has passed this film still comes across as poignant and pertinent.