The comedy of impenetrable paranoia, the artist rattling in the showbiz cul-de-sac, clear as day. "I couldn't be funny if my life depended on it. And it did." A surprising reversal of The Miracle Worker, the Detroit motormouth gets tongue-tied in Chicago—the stand-up comic (Warren Beatty) on the lam, one nightclub and junkyard after another. Threats vague and real, the identity discarded in the pyre is revived at Rent-a-Man, Inc., just somebody to take out the trash. Brother Rat and the mob henchmen, "a nice girl" (Alexandra Stewart) along for the fragmentary ride. "Of what are you guilty?" "Of not being innocent!" Angst and trampolines in Arthur Penn's existential funhouse, as they say the film of a free man. The shtick-slinger at home nowhere but on the peepshow stage, a giant metal claw hangs over his head in an uproarious literalization of Kafka's machinations (The Trial and Amerika, chiefly), a stuttering Jeremiah. Audition time at the Xanadu Club, old Hollywood faces (Hurd Hatfield, Franchot Tone) like skulls in the shadows while a white-hot spotlight bears down on you. Pianos and garbage cans for the self-destructive art-house contraption, the creator (Kamatari Fujiwara) is a Felliniesque matto played by a Kurosawa mime, fireworks and foam consume the image. (Skolimowski is contemporaneous with "the Polack Noël Coward," with jazz and jokes of his own.) The American New Wave is still a few years off, the neurotic Seventies even further down the road, and here's Penn "shooting craps drunk" with the studio system. "Do you know what 'organic' means?" Oppressive whiteness suffuses the screen à la L'Eclisse before a dissolve to the panoramic nocturnal punchline, Cassavetes takes it from there (The Killing of a Chinese Bookie). Cinematography by Ghislain Cloquet. With Teddy Hart, Jeff Corey, and Donna Michelle. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce