‘Looking For Mr Goodbar’ Revisited

❉ One of the most muddled films ever, released at the height of Disco.

One of the most muddled films ever, Looking For Mr Goodbar isn’t sure what it actually IS.  Released at the height of the Disco boom, like a dark-side riposte to the already dark Saturday Night Fever, it battles with itself for its own identity.

With Diane Keaton miscast as a fresh-out-of-college Catholic school-teacher (she’s at least ten years too old) whose Irish-Catholic family weigh her down and whose congenital childhood Scoliosis and subsequent operation scar have made her decide not to have children, the film is immediately skewed by the lack of credibility of its lead.  But her sister, played by the brilliant Tuesday Weld (improbably nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this) is equally out of kilter, giving a performance which is pure melodrama: “Here lies love (sweeps hand Grange Hill-style) and lies…and LIES…Stay loose Baby”, and which suggests a soap-on-dope. She WAS in the middle of her marriage to Dudley Moore at the time though, so her confusion may be understandable.

Theresa (Keaton) embarks on a night-time cruise of New York’s bars, looking for one-night-stands whilst teaching deaf kids by day. One of her pick-ups, in his first featured role, is Richard Gere. Gere is incredible in this: percussing convulsively with his hands, broodingly erotic, aggressive, funny  and, in the scene featuring him in Theresa’s apartment in just a jock-strap, wielding a fluorescent flick-knife, kicking and jumping in the air like a buzzed Bruce Lee before terrifying her and prompting her to try to  kick him out, genuinely disturbing.  He finds her coke stash; Theresa had bought the coke in a disco from a dealer who asked her for a dime then grabbed a handful of dollars before giving back the dime with the immortal line: “In case you got to call Jesus”. Theresa has never actually taken any coke and, as Gere chops it out, she asks him “What does it do?”

“Makes America beautiful!”

It’s this mixture of flamboyantly memorable dialogue; brilliant disco music; the presence of William Atherton as Theresa’s hated-but-acceptably-Irish squeeze, James, the social worker, giving a demented performance in which he turns out to be crazier than anybody else in the cast for no perceptible reason; the appearance of Tom Berenger as a cow-poke country boy putting in a stint as a gay hustler before going crazy because Theresa has picked him up but he can’t GET it up (“I ain’t a fuckin’ faggot”) before the fatal denouement to the flashing of a strobe-light (those EVIL Discos!) together with the wonky performances, which makes this film so compelling.

But what is it?

A Disco movie?  A soap opera?  An anti-feminist tract (if you sleep around, with Donna Summer playing in the background, you deserve to get murdered)? An Irish-Catholic family drama?  A post-Vietnam tale of decadence?

It doesn’t really matter.

It probably had the wrong director, who may just have been the right director: Richard Brooks was in his mid-sixties and his best (Elmer Gantry, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, In Cold Blood) was behind him.  But there is something about LFMG which captures our fantasy of ‘70s New York City (even though shooting apparently took place in Chicago).  Every time it has been scheduled for a TV showing in recent years it seems to have been cancelled, presumably because of the excessively violent conclusion, which genuinely shocks in terms of both the narrative and the implicit, queasy misogyny.

It’s a real curiosity so do try to see it if you haven’t already (You can watch it on YouTube). Some love it, some find it unacceptable, the author of the book from which it’s adapted hated it and, just to add to the confusion, Madonna based her Bad Girl video on it. Madonna often makes things go all meta, especially here with the help of Christopher Walken.

I love it though, having first seen it at the cinema and feeling dirty, shocked, violated and guilty by the end, while simultaneously wanting to go out and buy all the disco and soul records included in the film. That’s entertainment!

Here’s the hard-to-beat soundtrack:

  1. “Theme from Looking for Mr. Goodbar (Don’t Ask to Stay Until Tomorrow)” – Carol Connors and Artie Kane
  2. “Don’t Leave Me This Way” – Thelma Houston
  3. “Lowdown” – Boz Scaggs
  4. “Machine Gun” – Commodores
  5. “Love Hangover” – Diana Ross
  6. “She Wants to (Get on Down)” – Bill Withers
  7. “Theme from Looking for Mr. Goodbar (Don’t Ask to Stay Until Tomorrow) [Reprise]”– Carol Connors and Artie Kane
  8. “Theme from Looking for Mr. Goodbar (Don’t Ask to Stay Until Tomorrow) [Vocal]” – Carol Connors and Artie Kane; vocal by Marlena Shaw
  9. “She’s Lonely” – Bill Withers
  10. “Try Me, I Know We Can Make It” – Donna Summer
  11. “Back Stabbers” – The O’Jays
  12. “Prelude to Love” – Donna Summer
  13. “Could It Be Magic” – Donna Summer

❉ ‘Looking For Mr Goodbar’ (Director: Richard Brooks, 1977) is currently unavailable.

❉ About the author: Jim Owen is an amateur chorister and Disco enthusiast. Looking to fuse the two. Former cinema-goer now prone to narcolepsy in darkened auditoria. Party-for-one celebrant. Current mood: tipsy. Five-year plan: light cookery and alcohol.

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