Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5
USA, 1970. Belafonte Enterprises. Screenplay by Bill Gunn, Ronald Ribman, based on a story by Bernard Malamud. Cinematography by Richard C. Kratina. Produced by Chiz Schultz. Music by Zdenek Liska. Production Design by George Jenkins. Costume Design by Domingo A. Rodriguez. Film Editing by Carl Lerner.
Zero Mostel walks into the welfare office to tell his case worker that God has abandoned him, he has rejected his Jewish faith and he is ready to go on the dole. He can no longer work as a tailor because his back has given out, his devoted wife of many decades (Ida Kaminska) is bedridden with a bad heart and his daughter is cut out of their lives after marrying a no-good Italian bum. Mostel is struggling to make ends meet, barely able to keep food on the table while supplying his wife’s medicine and is in danger of the phone being turned off, but that all seems like nothing compared to what he finds when he goes home and finds Harry Belafonte waiting for him in his kitchen. A petty thief who Mostel saw steal a woman’s fur from a store earlier that day, Belafonte tells Mostel that he is actually an angel who has been sent by God to perform a miracle, which of course convinces Mostel that he is a psychopath who is going to murder him. Refusing to leave, Belafonte instead brings a fresh wind of change into the house, helping Mostel get his wife’s pills without having to pay for them and, without provocation, Kaminska gets out of bed and announces she is feeling fine. We know that Belafonte has a few earthly concerns of his own when he picks up the phone to bring his girlfriend Gloria Foster over so that they can try and save their ailing relationship. Confined for the most part to the one apartment set, this film, which is the Hollywood debut of Shop On Main Street Oscar-winning director Jan Kadar, is heavier on character than it is on diverting narrative or spirited dialogue, the circumstances that bring the two protagonists together feel flimsily constructed and don’t pay off in a way that feels like any significant change or discovery has occurred. In its last third it actually slows down and becomes downright dull, but the performances are all inspired, Kaminska brings an elegant fragility to her character’s confusion before she miraculously emerges from the cocoon of her bedroom to put dinner on the table, while Foster is sexy elegance as she performs the simmering rage in her confrontations with her co-star. The two leads have a marvelous time swinging each other around, but it’s a shame the material they’re working with is obscure and reaches too few points of wisdom or poignancy.