Judge Clark Douglas tries to avoid drinking at the beach. Bad things involving sand and fish happen.
The Lost Roman Polanski Masterpiece!
Alcoholism has been the subject of many fine movies, from The Lost Weekend to Under the Volcano to The Verdict. It's a serious subject that has the weight and relevance to anchor a great drama. Alas, for every successful booze flick, there's another one that just misses the mark. A Day at the Beach is one of those unfortunate misfires, turning what should have been a fascinating meditation into a sluggish bore.
The film was originally to be directed by Roman Polanski, who had written a screenplay based on a novel by Dutch author Heere Heeresma. However, when Polanski's wife was murdered by the Manson family, Polanski decided to give up on the idea of directing the film. The directorial reigns were handed to Simon Hesera, who had never directed a feature film in his life and didn't do much of anything afterwards outside of a documentary about David Ben-Gurion. Perhaps Polanski could have turned this film into a gem, but I'm not so sure. The film's ultimate destination is evident very early on, and the journey there is a rather tedious series of passive-aggressive conversations.
Mark Burns (Stardust) plays Bernie, the film's alcoholic centerpiece. Bernie's life is in shambles at the moment. He hasn't got a job, he's always drunk, and he owes plenty of people money. For some reason, he is permitted to take his 8-year-old niece Winnie (Beatie Edney, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day) out for the day. Borrowing a couple of large bills from his brother-in-law, Bernie takes Winnie to the beach. Walking down the shore, he keeps stopping in at various beach side shops and establishments, all of which just so happen to sell alcohol. Downing dozens of beers over the course of the day, he slowly but surely becomes thoroughly toasted, constantly leaving Winnie's side in search of alcohol before desperately searching for her again and apologizing for his foolish actions.
The film fills most of its 84-minute running time with dreary conversations between Bernie and a series of dull individuals. He chats with a woman and her daughter at a local restaurant. He chats with a handful of bartenders. He chats with an old friend who loves quoting bits of poetry. They share drinks and make vaguely incomprehensible remarks to each other, lucidity coming and going like the breeze. One of the film's only lively moments comes when Peter Sellers (billed as "A. Queen" in the end credits) makes an appearance as a homosexual gift shop owner. The small pleasure of Sellers' appearance is more or less ruined by the very nasty manner in which Bernie treats one of Sellers' gay co-workers (played by Graham Stark). It's a thoroughly unpleasant film that seems absolutely determined to ensure that viewers have a miserable time. That's all well and good in a tragedy about an alcoholic, but the craftsmanship and the characters aren't strong enough to support the air of misery surrounding this dour and agonizing viewing experience.
Mark Burns does a reasonably solid job in the leading role, though there is a curious lack of consistency in the way he moderates his alcoholic descent. He's drinking more or less non-stop from start to finish, and yet there are quite a few moments later in the film in which he seems considerably more sober than he did earlier in the film. It's a somewhat erratic performance that constantly seems to be searching for just the right note. Young Beatie Edney does a rather fine job in the role of Winnie, but her character (symbolically and literally) gets left behind with increasing frequency as the film progresses. Most of the other actors aren't on-screen long enough to make an impression. The appearance of Peter Sellers is heavily promoted on the packaging, but Sellers only has a few lines in his 2-3 minutes of screen time.
The transfer is rather disappointing, offering a particularly blurry and poorly-defined image. Background detail is quite miserable, and there has apparently been very little effort put into cleaning up the film. Scratches, flecks, dirt, grime, and all sorts of other flaws mar the viewing experience. Of course, the film was regarded as "lost" for some 20 years or so. It didn't even debut theatrically around the time of its creation, but rather started slowly but surely making the rounds on the film festival circuit and in indie cinemas during the 1990s. The mono audio is perfectly acceptable, though some of the dialogue seems rather washed-out. The music has been reasonably well-preserved, sounding fairly crisp and clear. There are no extras included on the disc.
Diehard Polanski fans will want to give this one a look as an interesting historical item in the writer/director's career, but for most it will be a wearisome and unrewarding viewing experience. An ambitious failure, but a failure nonetheless.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Code Red
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