Scorpion Releasing // 1970 // 93 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // October 12th, 2010
They touched each other and let go of the world.
Fools is one ugly movie about love. A defective film about a defective couple having a defective romance in a defective version of late '60s San Francisco; this one is a calamity from start to finish.
Matthew South (Jason Robards, Johnny Got His Gun) is a horror movie actor who cute-meets decades younger Anais (Katharine Ross, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) in a park. He's having a mid-life crisis, she's trying to get out of her marriage to an evil and powerful (but age-appropriate) lawyer. They fall in love for no apparent reason, frolic annoyingly, do cute and cloying things together, make arch and obvious observations about the sorry state of the world, and square off against a society in which they are the only two people who are actually "living." Then, somebody dies, and not a moment too soon.
Sort of a poor man's Petulia that lacks the wit, edge, insight, and memorable performances of Richard Lester's classic, Fools is nasty, manufactured goop, a teeth-hurting candy apple soaked in brine. I don't know if director Tom Gries -- who gave us some terrific TV movies, including The Glass House and Helter Skelter, as well as Charlton Heston's personal best, the underrated Will Penny -- and writer Robert Rudelson -- who did the screenplay for Russ Meyer's Vixen! -- were attempting to knock off Lester's film, which was unsuccessful critically and commercially in its 1968 release, but the similarities are evident.
* Both films feature an older man involved with a younger, married woman.
* Each of the women is married to a wealthy, abusive, but fey man named "David."
* Petulia gives us a discontent middle-aged man whose life is changed by a kookie young woman; Fools gives us a discontent young woman whose life is changed by a kookie middle-aged man.
* Both films are set in San Francisco and use the trappings of the city -- at the time, the counter-culture capital of America -- to comment on society as a whole.
* Both films offer melancholy -- and in the case of Fools, bleak -- endings, though the ending of Fools is also ludicrous and abominably tasteless.
Unfortunately for Fools, this is pretty much where the comparisons end; even more unfortunately, Fools suffers mightily by comparison, though in fairness, the film is so wretched, I could make a fairly extensive list of movies to which it "suffers" in comparison.
It's not really accurate to say that Robards and Ross are miscast, since I doubt any actors could make this dreadful script palatable, but it's certainly a career-low for them both. Their performances are so embarrassing, you actually feel bad for them. They are called upon to make unnaturally coy and cryptic utterances, subtext-heavy declamations, gooey amour fou declarations, and preachy, horribly delivered rants. The world around them is an unfeeling and evil place, where not only the government and straight "working Joe" types are clueless and insensitive, but even the usually benign movie hippies are contemptible brats. If we're to believe Fools, post-Summer of Love San Francisco featured a maximum-security prison-level of violence, and gentle iconoclasts like Matthew and Anais were routinely beaten, cursed at, harassed, maligned, abused, and shot at. No wonder Detective "Dirty Harry" Callahan called this place home. Of course, after spending more than 90 minutes with this pair, you might want to smack the snot out of them too.
Despite this inauspicious beginning, the '70s were a pretty great decade for Robards. He won back-to-back Oscars (All the President's Men and Julia), starred in a legendary Broadway production of Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten with Colleen Dewhurst (which was also filmed for television), and appeared in several high-quality TV movies, including The House Without a Christmas Tree and Washington: Behind Closed Doors. Ross didn't fare as well; the silly but iconic The Stepford Wives and the self-important but underwhelming Voyage of the Damned -- in which she was badly miscast -- were the highlights of a decade that also saw her appearing in horrendous stuff like The Swarm, The Betsy, and the bland TV movie revisit of her Butch Cassidy character in Wanted: The Sundance Woman.
Scorpion, which has put out some good releases of some not-so-good movies (The Girl in Blue and Say Hello to Yesterday come to mind), seems to have as little use for this film as I do: no supplements, save for a trailer and some previews, crappy looking transfer, flat audio.
Guilty as Hell.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Scorpion Releasing
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1970
MPAA Rating: Rated PG