DVD: Cinderella Liberty (1973)

March 22, 2016 | By

CinderellaLiberty_bFilm: Excellent

Transfer: Excellent

Extras: Very Good

Label: Twentieth Century-Fox

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released: March 6, 2007

Genre:  Comedy / Drama

Synopsis: A marine on medical leave starts a relationship with a prostitute and her bi-racial son.

Special Features: Audio commentary by director-producer Mark Rydell / Isolated Mono Music & Effects Track / Vintage Making-of Featurette: “On Location: Mark Rydell: Director of Cinderella Liberty” (9:33) / Photo Galleries / Trailer / TV Spot.




In a peculiar stroke of luck, author Darryl Ponicsan managed to strike gold and have two films based on separate works produced and released in one year. Both deal with sailors in the U.S. Navy, but where Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail steered very gradually from comedy to drama, under the baton of Mark Rydell, Cinderella Liberty moves from overt comedy to melodrama, which isn’t necessarily a detriment to Ponicsan’s material.

Rydell was attracted to a section of Ponicsan’s novel dealing with a sailor who ultimately tries to leave the Navy after he falls for a hooker / pool hustler and her bi-racial son, largely because the character of John Baggs Jr. (James Caan) was a man tired of the Navy’s globe-trotting life and hungry for a family he could call his own after seeding some roots. It’s a very clear through-line that Rydell had Ponicsan maintain in his first screenplay, and perhaps because that goal is so vital to Baggs, it mandated an ending that seems too neat – the twist is far too convenient, improbable, and forced – but gave audiences a reward for sticking with the melodramatic vicissitudes as Baggs first encounters and slowly forces his way into the lives of Maggie (Marsha Mason) and Doug (Kirk Calloway), a fractured single parent family quite unaccustomed to strangers with big earnest hearts.

Liberty manages to balance comedy and melodrama largely because Ponicsan’s dialogue is so ripe with attitude, bawdiness, quick wit, and double-entendres, and the characters beautifully expanded by a cast who imply a lot of the hurt rather than explode and dribble tears. There are a few key explosive scenes, but they’re success is built around the strength of Caan and Mason whom the audience wants to succeed, and its perhaps that hunger which mandated an optimistic ending that offers every character a chance – quite different from the finale of Detail, in which the youngest central character is locked up for 8 years in a military prison with a slim chance of early release.

Where Detail was a road movie in which characters steered themselves to misadventures with oddball characters, Liberty has Baggs trapped in a surreal limbo when his temporary medical leave is indefinitely extended because of misplaced military records. With too much time, no money, and mounting tension from being a virtual non-existent person, he has no choice but to interfere with Maggie and Doug’s lives, hanging out with the boy and straightening out some rough edges, and forcing Maggie to consider himself a proper suitor instead of the johns she beds for income.

The finale’s twist is seeded when an old nemesis, Lynn Forshay (Eli Wallach), materializes, and their rapproachement is a prime example of how well Ponicsan script avoids being maudlin: it’s two tough guys who first duke it out, then laugh about truly brutal treatment of Baggs, and express their own tough situations over cheap wine – Baggs in limbo and in love, and Forshay being forced out of the only family he’s ever known all his life, the U.S. Navy. Their scenes have a great blend of energy, tragedy, and humour, and the connection the two men develop is believable because Baggs can see he doesn’t need to enact some payback: fate’s made Forshay a lost older man with no ability and desire to connect with anyone.

Both Detail and Liberty used casting agent Lynn Stalmaster, and the rewards lie in the near-perfect selection of character actors and newcomers who give the scenes a great deal of depth. Among the emerging faces are Burt Young (Rocky) as Baggs’ sympathetic superior, Dabney Coleman (Nine to Five) as a hard-line officer, Bruno Kirby (The Godfather Part II) plays a fellow seaman with an insanely large case of penis envy, Allyn Ann McLerie (The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd) is Maggie’s social worker, and Sally Kirkland (Anna) has a small scene as a bar floozie.

Rydell provides an ongoing commentary track on Fox’s 2007 DVD, and like The Rose (1979) track, he meanders and tends to point out the obvious in scenes and character instead of providing production details and more personal anecdotes of his own career, but it’s still listenable, and it’s clear the film’s performances were shaped by Rydell’s own skill with actors, giving them room to create and deepen even the smallest of parts. He has much admiration for Caan and Mason (who’s superb), and newcomer Calloway, whose own career lasted through a few TV appearances and the odd film until 1984.

Equally affecting are the often blue-collar Seattle locations where the characters live, and the outstanding set design by Leon Ericksen (McCabe & Mrs. Miller) for Maggie’s truly depressing apartment. John Williams’ score is hits the right tone with floozie jazz and bawdy lyrics by Paul Williams, and Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography is elegant and raw, opting to film the many night scenes on location using fast grainy stock.

Fox’s special edition also includes a mono music & partial sound effects track, a vintage promo featurette showing Rydell directing on location set to pompous narration and flattering off-camera comments by Wallach that sound canned, and a set of trailers that fail to largely capture the essence of the film but are more coherent than the awful trailer Columbia assembled for Detail.

Works adapted from literary works and scripted by Darryl Poniscan include The Last Detail (1973, Cinderella Liberty (1973), Taps (1981), Vision Quest (1985), Nuts (1987), The Boost (1988), School Ties (1992), and Random Hearts (1999).



© 2016 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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