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Drive, He Said (1971)


LuckyDan
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Jack Nicholson co-produced and wrote some decent movies early in his career. I'm thinking of The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind which he made back-to-back in 1965. Those movies show pre-planning and great care in presentation and story telling. Drive, He Said, from 1971, which he also directed, is less careful.

Nicholson's co-writer was amateur athlete turned journalist then speechwriter and novelist, Jeremy Larner, who studied at Brandeis where he knew Abbie Hoffman and who would go on to win an Oscar for his original screenplay The Candidate. Their source material was Larner's 1964 novel of the same title, which won a prize as a first novel and presaged college campus rebellion. The title is itself, as we learn quickly, taken from contemporary poet Robert Creeley's poem, "I Know A Man."

The opening scene shows us a basketball game in progress interrupted by what promises to be a terrorist attack. Somehow no one notices the armed guerillas skulking about the arena before the lights go out and the P.A. is hijacked. Pandemonium ensues and a gun is put to someone's head. Scary stuff! But no, it's just the college theater kids making a point about Vietnam. The lights go back up, the band resumes, the cheerleaders lead cheers like nothing ever happened, and you get the idea. This is going to be crap.

The movie depicts a chapter in the lives of two college roommates, one a basketball star named Hector Bloom, played by an actual basketball playing actor named William Tepper, who is having an affair with a professor's wife, or live-in girlfriend, Olive played by Karen Black; and the other a punk hippie named Gabriel, played by Michael Margotta, who is afraid of being drafted and takes a stand not so much against the war but against the possibility of being killed in it. Points for honesty to Gabriel as far as that goes, but his means of avoiding the draft is simply to act crazy, and I'm not sure by the end, after he has terrorized Olive among other things, if he is just acting. The two stories never really converge and neither is all that compelling. Hector comes to see little meaning in playing pro basketball, though he has not shown any great depth of character by the time we learn this, while Gabriel, destined to become cannon fodder, is less worthy of sympathy than most young men facing the same prospect. In fact, some military discipline might do the little bastard some good.

Bruce Dern's turn as Coach Bullion is the best thing about it, and I would recommend it to Dern completists, if there are any such people. He does all the Bruce Derny stuff we know Bruce Dern for, but as a basketball coach. And it fits. Perfectly.

We see Robert Towne, author of two future Nicholson-acted screenplays, The Last Detail and Chinatown, play Olive's not entirely reluctant cuckold, Richard. We see Henry Jaglom as a college professor of the type a certain class of student considered cool, if the kids were saying cool then, otherwise "with it" will do. Being Jaglom, his scenes appear to be improvised. There's a shot of cute young Cindy Williams as the team manager's girl in the gym, and according to one review, a disguised Nicholson can be seen somewhere but I must not have been looking. David Ogden Stiers, losing his hair, can be seen and heard in his natural voice years before we met him on M*A*S*H. An actor named Gittes is credited as Second Announcer, and we can assume he or his name made an impression on Towne. (Maybe Jack called him Gitts at one point, only to be corrected.)

There is also nudity of the frontal male variety which I've read was edited down, mercifully, in a locker room scene, but we get the full Monty in the penultimate sequence involving Gabriel in a lab filled with caged critters. An early sex scene between Hector and Olive is more explicit aurally than visually, courtesy of Karen Black's vocalizations. Gabriel's girlfriend, Sylvie, played by June Fairchild, appears without wardrobe a couple of times, making us wonder not only how Gabriel and Hector are friends, but why a girl as lovely as Sylvie allows such an annoying goof to see her naked. 

It was shot on the University of Oregon campus using students as extras. The University was not pleased to see it's identity revealed in the film, contrary to an agreement made prior to shooting, according to an IMBd reviewer who played trombone in the band. The students did not get to see the finished product, he said, due to it's having been banned in Oregon.

Contemporary critics, including Siskel and Ebert, were much kinder to it than it deserves, though the audience at Cannes, perhaps less keen on the protest movement in the U.S., shook their fists at Nicholson after it screened there. The basketball scenes, which could be forgiven for a lack of clarity, are very crisply and clearly presented, even if much else is disjointed and uneven. It is an independent piece very much of it's time, filled with late 60s/early 70s counter-culture values, and youthful, often energetic, sometimes reckless self-indulgence.

drive4.jpg

Streaming on Tubi and Vudu.

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On 8/2/2022 at 1:25 AM, LuckyDan said:

Jack Nicholson co-produced and wrote some decent movies early in his career. I'm thinking of The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind which he made back-to-back in 1965. Those movies show pre-planning and great care in presentation and story telling. Drive, He Said, from 1971, which he also directed, is less careful . . .

Your review whets my appetite to revisit Drive, He Said, about which I remember very little.

Though a failure it might be, Drive, He Said kindles within me a nostalgia and deep longing for low-budget,  transgressive, "independent" movies during the early 1970s -- before the dominance of "summer blockbuster, escapist entertainment" forever transmogrified American cinema.

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9 minutes ago, Eucalpytus P. Millstone said:

Your review whets my appetite to revisit Drive, He Said, about which I remember very little.

Though a failure it might be, Drive, He Said kindles within me a nostalgia and deep longing for low-budget,  transgressive, "independent" movies during the early 1970s -- before the dominance of "summer blockbuster, escapist entertainment" forever transmogrified American cinema.

I've learned a little more about the source novel and therefore the character of Gabriel since I wrote that review. He is actually more sympathetic than the film allows us to know.

Let me know what you think if you see it. 

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On 8/4/2022 at 4:37 PM, LuckyDan said:

I've learned a little more about the source novel and therefore the character of Gabriel since I wrote that review. He is actually more sympathetic than the film allows us to know.

Let me know what you think if you see it. 

I revisited Drive, He Said on Tubi.

It held my interest.

I've actually got a copy of the movie on a Criterion Collection Blu-ray Disc (as part of its America Lost and Found: The BBS Story compilation) so I'd watched it once before. The plot, to me, is unmemorable and forgettable. This is one of those flicks that will always be "new" to me -- which is either a testament to Jack Nicholson's genius as a filmmaker or a delightful "benefit" of senility.

William Tepper, to me, somewhat resembled William Campbell, while Michael Margotta evoked Dean Stockwell.  In my (Ahem!) medical opinion, Margotta's character, Gabriel flips out due to self-induced psychosis. His bull goose loony ruse  is, by story's end, no longer an act -- he's genuinely nuts! You state that the character in Jeremy Larner's novel is "more sympathetic." So I'll chalk up Nicholson's-Larner's-Margotta's cinematic presentation of Gabriel to script-economizing (for budgetary reasons) or just plain ol' poor filmmaking.

I watched Drive, He Said on the heels of watching Alice's Restaurant (on TCM) -- another relic from the brief Hollywood-counterculture era (spanning from the late 1960s to the early 1970s) with scenes of young men determined to avoiding "the draft." I can dig it. Was there, did that.

I love Tubi.

While searching for Drive, He Said thereon, I happened upon Hi, Mom!, co-scripted and directed by Brian De Palma. Another time capsule of the revolutionary Sixties, De Palma's sequel to Greetings foreshadows Taxi Driver. Robert DeNiro stars as a mentally unbalanced Vietnam vet who -- with a little imagination -- could be "Travis Bickle." For me, the highlight of this episodic black comedy is the simultaneously hilarious and unnerving segment Be Black Baby!

Also available on Tubi: De Palma's feature film debut, Murder à la Mod , which I've never seen and which I eagerly look forward to seeing.

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On 8/6/2022 at 6:48 PM, Eucalpytus P. Millstone said:

William Tepper, to me, somewhat resembled William Campbell, while Michael Margotta evoked Dean Stockwell.  In my (Ahem!) medical opinion, Margotta's character, Gabriel flips out due to self-induced psychosis. His bull goose loony ruse  is, by story's end, no longer an act -- he's genuinely nuts! You state that the character in Jeremy Larner's novel is "more sympathetic." So I'll chalk up Nicholson's-Larner's-Margotta's cinematic presentation of Gabriel to script-economizing (for budgetary reasons) or just plain ol' poor filmmaking.

I caught the Dean Stockwell resemblance myself.

I learned more about the novel from a podcast I stumbled upon called "You Don't Know Jack" by a Nicholson fan girl, Sarah DiMeo. She read the novel after seeing the movie and learned that Gabriel had had a troubled upbringing though his parents were wealthy. He'd gotten into religion deeply and underwent psychiatric evaluation at his mother's request, which adds some meaning to the last line.

The unlikely friendship between the two stemmed from their sharing of the very odd living quarters which the novel describes but the movie merely shows, darkly, with no explanation. They are living not in a dorm or some off-campus flop space, but beneath the gym floor. Gabriel apparently had the job of maintaining the gym - which explains his guerilla theater troupe's easy access in the opening scene - and therefore simply roomed in what amounted to the custodian's quarters. Hector's devotion to the game, fickle as it turned out to be, drew him into the same space.

I can't imagine that making any of this clearer would have been more difficult than simply adding a few explanatory bits of dialogue. Sometimes what is clear in a writer's mind doesn't make it to the page and isn't missed until time has passed and a re-reading reveals it. Maybe Larner and Nicholson were in a rush, or else they simply left it to the viewer to decipher. 

As for other counter-culture films of the era, I tried with no success to search out The Strawberry Statement, of which I've seen only what I think is the final scene, also in a gym, where the students are having a sit-in and singing "Give Peace a a Chance." 

 

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47 minutes ago, LuckyDan said:

. . . As for other counter-culture films of the era, I tried with no success to search out The Strawberry Statement, of which I've seen only what I think is the final scene, also in a gym, where the students are having a sit-in and singing "Give Peace a a Chance." 

The Strawberry Statement (in English with Russian subtitles) is available on the Russian website OK. The presentation is a recording of a TCM broadcast. Picture and sound quality are good.

https://ok.ru/video/2863099611846

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20 minutes ago, Eucalpytus P. Millstone said:

The Strawberry Statement (in English with Russian subtitles) is available on the Russian website OK. The presentation is a recording of a TCM broadcast. Picture and sound quality are good.

https://ok.ru/video/2863099611846

Thank you! 

I was just editing my above reply. I'd included some bad info. Gabriel's mother did not die. Plus I wanted to link the podcast I'd heard, which is here.

The pod mentions an inside joke that Nicholson liked to use. "H.D. Stanton" can be seen in both Easy Rider and Drive, where it is written as graffiti on the wall Hector stands on.

 

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21 minutes ago, LuckyDan said:

Chick talks funny. When she says Stanton she leaves a beat of silence where the "nt" should be. 

I listened to the Drive, He Said and Head podcasts. Ms. DiMeo kinda, sorta got the point of Head, one of my all-time favorite flicks. But overall, I found her P.O.V. rather annoying . . . and ignorant. She mentions the scene with The Monkees as "dandruff on a person's head" . . . and that person was Victor Mature.

I guess you had to be there (alive during the '60s and "Monkeemania").

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27 minutes ago, Eucalpytus P. Millstone said:

I listened to the Drive, He Said and Head podcasts. Ms. DiMeo kinda, sorta got the point of Head, one of my all-time favorite flicks. But overall, I found her P.O.V. rather annoying . . . and ignorant. She mentions the scene with The Monkees as "dandruff on a person's head" . . . and that person was Victor Mature.

I guess you had to be there (alive during the '60s and "Monkeemania").

Yeah I wasn't knocked out by her myself. When she said one should always read the book to understand a movie I thought, no, the scriptwriter should never make such a demand on his viewer. He should answer any questions his script may raise himself, not refer me to his source material. 

I never got Head. (Oh my. What the... No. I'm going to leave it.) I tried but, like Easy Rider, it just isn't for me, so I think you're right. You had to be there. 

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