Wednesday, 28 May 2014
The Manipulator (1971)
Mickey Rooney is pretty much the main reason to watch this film. He's on screen for almost all of the 80-some minute runtime. He plays BJ Lang, a make-up artist from the studio era of Hollywood. Old BJ isn't playing with a full deck. He believes himself to be a film director, ordering around a host of underlings as he films his version of Cyrano de Bergerac. Of course, the 'underlings' exist only in his mind: when they do answer, it's BJ himself providing their voices.
But BJ is not entirely alone in his fantasy world. He has a leading lady for his film: an actress he's kidnapped and held for some time. He keeps this young woman tied up in a wheelchair, and rolls her out for Roxanne's scenes. With considerable reluctance, she indulges his manic demands.
The actress playing the actress (ooh, meta) is not given much chance to shine: her delivery of her lines as Roxanne are pretty bad, but then she has little reason to want to turn in a good performance; just one that keeps her alive. When she is not being Roxanne, she merely gets to be petulant and whiny until she finally manages to escape the wheelchair (because c'mon, you knew she had to at some point).
Unfortunately, the plot of the film doesn't stretch to anywhere near the run time, and it sags pretty badly after about half an hour or so. Not even Rooney's manic performance can hold your interest indefinitely when it has so little else to complement it. If you watch the first ten minutes, you've pretty much seen everything the movie has to offer.
The movie does have pretty nice cinematography, and some suitably surreal scenes when we see what's happening in BJ's mind, but they're a case of style over substance, and substance is something the film is sadly lacking.