BR: Big Fix, The (1978)

May 23, 2019 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Good

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  March 19, 2019

Genre:  Neo-Noir / Suspense

Synopsis: Middling private detective Moses Wine is hired by an old flame to investigate a radicalist’s possible influence of a looming gubernatorial election.

Special Features:  Isolated Stereo Music Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and




There are some cynics who might regard Richard Dreyfuss’ decision to play a middling gumshoe in Jeremy Kagan’s The Big Fix right after his Best Actor win for The Goodbye Girl (1977) as part of the dreaded Oscar Curse, but that’s not being fair to an already odd film which even studio Universal had trouble selling. Trailers are often a raw illustration of studio marketing departments trying to distill a film into an easily identified genre, but The Big Fix never stays in one tone even when things get dire for its hero.

Roger L. Simon adapted his novel and probably retained the same tonal shifts which suggest both the author and director Jeremy Paul Kagan wanted to play with the private detective formula while sticking with L.A.-based locales and the classic P.I. running from everyone when he’s implicated in a murder that’s possibly part of an elaborate plot.

Simon’s script has newly-separated Moses Wine (Dreyfuss, sporting the worst perm of his career) living in a converted shop, and enjoying custody of his two sons when it’s his allotted time, and whenever flakey wife Suzanne (Bonnie Bedelia) places her meditation sessions with live-in nut Randy (hilariously obnoxious Ron Rifkin) as the day’s top priority. Moses dumps the kids on his aunt Sonya (scene stealer Rita Karin) at a decrepit inner city senior’s home, but most of the time he takes them on the job, whether it’s (literally) counting chickens or meeting clients.

Moses’ chicken counting days seem over when old college flame Lila (Susan Anspach) knocks on his door in need of a private dick to verify if an activist from their Berkeley days is poised to ruin a candidate’s potential win in an upcoming gubernatorial election. Her boss & campaign leader Sam Sebastian (John Lithgow, with hair!) feeds him miscellaneous leads, but things become muddy when there’s a murder, and Moses is hassled by the cops, the feds, Spanish activists, and the challenges of quality daycare.

The film’s first third is largely character, with slowly layered plot hooks, whereas the middle involves Moses getting hassled and chasing leads through busy city sections, and trying to entice a potential suspect in a lucky poker challenge.

The humour does at times run contrary to the looming tragedy, but there’s several ideas in play: tweaking the private eye formula for 1970s audiences now accustomed to wise-cracking little guys who have familiar bad marriages and childcare issues; exploiting real locations for colour and a docu-like feel; and most importantly, linking Moses, Suzanne, and several vital characters to their own college activism.

A telling moment has Moses looking at old newsreel footage of Howard Eppis (F. Murray Abraham, playing his scenes with big energy, and a big perm) and reacting emotionally to shots of violence and swirling tension – a quick cut to a bayonet being slipped onto a rifle is deeply unsettling – but the characters’ youthful activism also addresses whether the past is past, and whether the most committed figures were earnestly committed or easily won over by corporate salaries. Eppis’ shift and ability to survive in plain sight seems a stretch, as does the disaster-styled finale in which a chunk of a freeway is set to explode – the mastermind’s use of MacGyvered technology is a little rich – but Kagan’s film seems fitted to both update the private eye formula and perhaps pay homage to the thriller-disaster genre which studio Universal had already exploited fairly recently, especially the stadium-shooter thriller Two-Minute Warning (1976) and the amusement park bomber thriller Rollercoaster (1977); you could even tie-in Paramount’s bomb-in-a-Goodyear-blimp thriller Black Sunday (1977).

That’s perhaps why the film’s trailer is so problematic: Universal had a comedic genre update with a disaster-thriller finale, but made on a budget, so what to stress and tease audiences with?

The Big Fix isn’t a tough sell, but its shift from wry to sweet to genteel, tragic and tense isn’t perfect in spite of sharp editing from Patrick Kennedy (Cinderella Liberty, Airplane!) and atmospheric cinematography from Frank Stanley (Breezy, Magnum Force, 10). Bill Conti’s score is a weird amalgam of upbeat pop-jazz, perky yet polite urban fusion – an odd choice when there’s little grunge or edge except in two moments when Moses faces serious danger and shock.

Dreyfuss, who also co-produced, is uniformly strong, as is the supporting cast, including Fritz Weaver as a slimy, dryly funny businessman with political connections, Ofelia Medina as fetching Alora, character actors Nicolas Coster and Harry Caesar, and Many Patinkin in his film debut has a blink-fast bit part as a goofball pool cleaner.

Twilight Time’s release of a Universal catalogue title is a really nice surprise, as the studio’s horror, disaster, and thriller slate is largely being handled by Shout! Factory, and many smaller titles have yet to enjoy Blu-ray or even DVD editions. It’s a clean HD transfer that preserves the film grain without obvious DNR (something Fox still applies now & then), and the original mono mix is quite punchy with a solid bass range that flatters Conti’s already bass-friendly score, especially the finale. (Conti’s previously unreleased score is also isolated in crisp stereo on a separate track.)

Julie Kirgo’s essay is poignant and needed, bridging the gap between the generation depicted in the film – Berkeley grads, with social reformist goals and distrust of duplicitous government departments in middling jobs that either pay poor, or well enough to live a life radically different from their radicalist youth – and the film does have a touch of melancholy; it’s perhaps the most palpable emotion, and one that will continue to resonate among filmgoers because of the wide gap that forms as grads are tugged towards middle age, and different battles become priority one.

Cited by some critics as the third in Kagan’s ‘1960s Trilogy,’ the set includes the TV movie Katherine / The Radical (1975), and the features Heroes (1977) and The Big Fix (1978).

Roger Simon’s three Moses Wine novels are The Big Fix, Raising the Dead, and California Doll, and his scripts include Bustin’ Loose (1981), the Oscar-nominated Enemies: A Love Story (1989), and Scenes from a Mall (1991).



© 2019 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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