by Greg Wroblewski, aka Uncle
Scoopy, aka Johnny Web
|Two independent young women are really
struggling to break even with a few chickens, a few
ducks, and one cow on a tiny farm they had decided to buy after
they graduated from college. With the onset
of a harsh winter, they find themselves essentially
isolated from civilization. At times they are even
unable to traverse the snowy, desolate roads to the
nearby village. Into their lives comes an itinerant
seaman, a strapping young man who visits the farm
because he grew up there. He came to visit his
grandfather, with whom he had had no contact in three
years, and thus did not realize that the old man had
passed on, and that the two women had purchased the
estate in an auction.
Since the sailor is only on a two-week leave from his ship, the two women offer him free room and board for that short time in exchange for his help in fixing up the portions of the farm which have fallen into disrepair. The sailor immediately falls in love with one of the women, and the other woman becomes jealous. She does not have sexual feelings for the man, but rather for her partner on the farm. It turns out that the partner is ambivalent about everything, including her own sexuality, and is willing to have sex with both of them. Melodrama ensues.
The Fox is a loose adaptation (and geographic relocation) of a D.H. Lawrence novella. Roger Ebert called it a "quiet, powerful masterpiece" and awarded his perfect 4-star rating. I must respectfully disagree, although I might have come closer to agreement if I had seen the movie in 1968, when he wrote his review, since the lesbian scene and Anne Heywood's naked masturbation scene were probably daring portrayals within the context of mainstream American culture and cinema in that time.
The Fox contains the full litany of excesses from the filmmaking of the late sixties and early seventies. The characters' motivations and actions are lacking in credibility, and every situation is imbued with far more melodrama than the conflicts should warrant. The acting is also quite poor, featuring two of the worst performers of that era: Keir Dullea is wooden and off-kilter, while Sandy Dennis's readings and reactions are, as always, too petulant and immature to represent a sophisticated, grown woman. At least we can be thankful that the other woman was not played by Kim Darby. That would have been the 1960s trifecta of bad acting. Two weak performances can be absorbed in some types of films, but they spell disaster for this movie, because it is essentially a filmed version of a three-character play, meaning that those two characters have about 2/3 of the screen time. Worse still, they probably have 90% of the dialogue because the other woman is the strong, silent type who only speaks when spoken to, and even then replies tersely, maintaining a great deal of emotional distance from the others. That hollow performing, when coupled with a heavy-handed score, excessive and obvious symbolism, a contrived ending, and a glacial pace, makes the film a real chore to watch now, about 50 years after it was released. The cinematography, however, is quite beautiful, atmospheric and evocative.
Although the film did little at the box office in its day, and is all but forgotten now, the director was Mark Rydell, who received a Golden Globe nomination for this picture and did many other films which were considerably better. He was nominated for the Best Director Oscar for On Golden Pond, and also helmed such successful films as John Wayne's The Cowboys, Bette Midler's The Rose, and Steve McQueen's The Reivers.
SPOILER: it must be the only film in history in which one of the characters apparently commits suicide by falling tree. She places herself deliberately in the presumed downward path of a tree which is being chopped down and she refuses to move when the other characters alert her to her danger.
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