Sony // 1970 // 125 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // March 12th, 2009
"Oh, say, by the dawn's early light, can't you see,
You're shafted from the cradle to the grave."
-- "Getting Straight," sung by P.K. Limited
Harry Bailey (Elliott Gould, M*A*S*H) is a tenacious college student, older than the others since he's the proverbial "drop in." Having served an unspecified tour of duty in 'Nam, Harry is now in dogged pursuit of his Master's Degree, so he can make the noble ascension as a teacher himself. Harry's biggest obstacle, besides the dilapidated jalopy he drives, his scheming draft-dodger friend, and his perpetually empty pockets, is that he's still caught in a psychological limbo between the teaching "establishment" and the rebellious youth culture. The other students often defer to Harry for his opinions though he sometimes seems more attuned to not have to weigh in on the socio-political quandary of any given moment. He has this matter of his loins, too, charged by his girlfriend, Jan (Candice Bergen, Starting Over). Unfortunately, she often finds herself unwitting recipient of Harry's mercurial manner, passionately adored in one setting only to be viciously derided in any social setting that spurs his need to castigate her for her desire to join the established ranks of the "tract home" sellouts. Harry wants what the world has to offer but despises the suit-and-tie set that has funded the soapbox upon which he spouts his vitriol against them. Someday, Harry may grow up to become the sort of teacher that can make a difference to the next generation of young people but by the time that happens, he might have joined the over-thirty crowd that he regularly wags his finger out. What will Harry do?
Yeah, Getting Straight is schizophrenic in its sensibility. Having come just around the peak of the youth rebellion, this 1970 indulgence gives the young crowd who swooned at Woodstock and recoiled at Easy Rider something else to get fired up over. The narrative is all over the map and, largely filmed in a manner that puts us in Harry's point of view, we see the dichotomies that surround Harry, try to consider what we might do or say, then sit by as Harry unloads his verbal angst. Photographed by the late Laszlo Kovacs (Steelyard Blues,Paper Moon), the film has a very 1970s look vis-a-vis extreme closeups and heavy-handed focus pulls. To that end, it's an engaging artifact of the 70s decade but, from a narrative standpoint, it wavers all across the board much like Harry's own sensibility. In the end, it never quite know what it wants to say -- does it want to support the on-campus rebellions against the faculty or does it want to join the establishment to make a difference from within the very system it seeks to change? It's non-committal in pronouncing its resolve, identical to the way Harry his unable to commit to his beloved Jan in upholding her personal aspiration of marriage and family rearing. In the end, Getting Straight plays out like a mediocre 1960s drama of the day, which is fitting since director Richard Rush had previously brought us Psych-Out and an episode of The Mod Squad. It's not particularly bad but it's not particularly good, either. Oh, and watch for a very, very young Harrison Ford in a bit part as Jan's apartment neighbor.
Presented by Columbia Pictures as part of their "Martini Movies" imprint, Getting Straight is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen in a transfer that's remarkably clean and colorful. The source materials are surprisingly free of significant dirt or damage and, on that level, the DVD gets high marks. The audio comes by way of a serviceable Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix that lacks dynamics of any sort and, beyond preserving intelligible dialog, it pretty much fails to uphold the remainder of the aural information (including Colgems recording trio P.K. Limited's folksy ditties that occasionally drift in and drift out, hardly to be noticed). There are no extras on this disc save for a couple of useless "Martini Minutes" that work to promote other Martini Movies features.
Getting Straight isn't the worst thing to recall from 1970 but it's likely not the sort of film you'd want others to refer to in summarizing the decade of transition.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 125 Minutes
Release Year: 1970
MPAA Rating: Rated R