❉ Nick Clement on a 4/20-friendly obscurity that could only have come out of the 1970s.
Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues is one of my favourite recent obscure cinematic finds. This is a sly, strange, and totally cool movie that juggles genres and tones all the way up until the surprisingly nasty finale. Directed by Paul Williams (Out of It, The Revolutionary), Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues was released in 1972, and was based on the novel by Michael and Douglas Crichton, who wrote it under the shared pseudonym of Michael Douglas(!). The plot centres on a Harvard law grad student, played by the laconic and interesting actor Robert F. Lyons, who decides to smuggle a massive shipment of marijuana from Berkeley to Boston after doing numerous smaller-scaled jobs. It’s the chance to step it up in the game, and it’s now or never. And besides, when along for the ride is Barbara Hershey in all of her youthful, gorgeous splendour as the reluctant pseudo-girlfriend who wants to help with the big score, how can you say no? But, can she fully be trusted?
Produced by cinematic legend Ed Pressman (Conan the Barbarian, American Psycho, Walker, Blue Steel, Wall Street, Phantom of the Paradise), Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues has the distinction of having one of longest official titles in movie history, and in all honesty, it’s just fun to say out loud or type out; people think you’re joking when you tell them the name. It’s also one of those oh-so-70’s-movies that could only have come out of that particular period of film-making; sure, you could try and remake this movie, but it wouldn’t have the same overall vibe, and I doubt you’d be able to get away with the original ending. These days, a film like Pineapple Express – something I adore – is what was able to get the green light from executives, likely because of the overt comedic elements. Everything in Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues feels ambiguous and icy.
There’s also a nifty supporting cast including John Lithgow (in his film debut as a shifty pot dealer), Charles Durning as a shady cop, Paul Sorvino as a cabbie, and the prolific character actor Victor Argo. The jazzy and offbeat musical score by Michael Small contributed to the overall stoniness of the entire picture, bring an odd sense of casual edge and menace in key spots. It was also very well shot by versatile cinematographer Edward R. Brown (The Hot Rock, Lovin’ Molly), who gave the film a laid back visual atmosphere while still keeping things pictorially interesting. Funny, weirdly sexy, offbeat, and dangerous in spots, this is a unique item that would likely please many viewers who are looking for something totally unexpected.
❉ ‘Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues’ is available on DVD thru the Warner Brothers Archive Label.
❉ Nick Clement is a journalist for Variety Magazine and motion picture screenplay consultant, as well as a critic for websites We Are Cult and Back to the Movies. He wrote the introduction to the book Double Features: Big Ideas in Film, which was published by The Great Books Foundation, and is currently working on a book about the life and work of filmmaker Tony Scott. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and son.