Redford’s back and Pollard’s got him! Or is it Lauren Hutton? Sidney J. Furie fully earns his shaky reputation with this motorcycle buddy picture. Most of the energy seems to have gone into the deal, not the movie. Great cinematography, but it’s for fans that want to look at a shirtless Sundance Kid. I know you’re out there.
Little Fauss and Big Halsy
1970 / Color / 2:35 widescreen / 99 min. / Street Date October 18, 2016 / available through the Olive Films website / 29.98
Starring Robert Redford, Michael J. Pollard, Lauren Hutton, Noah Beery Jr., Lucille Benson, Ray Ballard, Linda Gaye Scott, Erin O’Reilly.
Cinematography Ralph Woolsey
Film Editor Argyle Nelson Jr.
Art Direction Lawrence G. Paull
Songs Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Carl Perkins
Written by Charles Eastman
Produced by Albert S. Ruddy
Directed by Sidney J. Furie
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
I purposely didn’t look up reviews for Little Fauss and Big Halsy before writing my own, and felt relieved to find that its initial notices and overall reputation more or less match my reaction: there’s not much of a movie here beyond what diehard fans of Robert Redford would want to see. Redford’s career was finally on a roll. He had just come from the very popular Downhill Racer, Michael Ritchie’s incisive skiing drama that counters the media-driven illusion that all Olympic athletes are marvelous human beings striving to advance the human spirit. Redford has always looked great while lacking warmth, and thus he made a great All-American SOB. Little Fauss and Big Halsy casts Redford as a motorcycle bum who scams everyone he meets and treats the women who sleep with him terribly. He has no personal code except expediency and relies on his looks and smile to get what he wants. Charles Eastman’s screenplay gives Redford no clever banter, and director Sidney J. Furie just lets the actors do whatever they want. Given that choice, Redford seemingly does next to nothing.
The story is a relaxed series of episodes in the life of Halsy Knox (Redford), a dirt track and cross-country motorbike racer who has been disbarred and is trying to find his way back into the game. He latches upon mechanic and wannabe racer ‘Little’ Fauss (Michael J. Pollard), a trusting fellow who’d like a little excitement and attention. Fauss feels entertained by Knox, even when the handsome rider hangs around only to freeload. Fauss admires Knox’s ability to pick up the unattached women that hang around the tracks. Since this is a Hollywood picture, these groupies are naturally beautiful enough to be glamorous actresses and models, i.e., women with options. They instead allow themselves to be treated like bimbos. Halsey can always snag sleeping companions, even after he ditches them and calls them whores.
Against the wishes of his retired parents ‘Mom’ and Seally (Lucille Benson & Noah Beery Jr.), Little Fauss goes on the racing circuit with his new friend, allowing Knox to race under his name. Ever-boasting about his prowess on the track, Knox continues to lose races, always blaming something or somebody else. Little Fauss doesn’t mind the constant parade of gorgeous women, although he beds none of them himself. The worm turns when he becomes jealous of Knox’s latest casual conquest Rita Nebraska (Lauren Hutton), a statuesque, independent and possibly mentally impaired vagabond hippie. The two buddies break up, but both know Knox will come crawling back when he runs out of options. When he does, he finds that Little Fauss is no longer a good-natured smiling doormat — he wants to race under his own name again.
Male Buddy pictures have been around forever in one form or another, but success of the lively and funny Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid launched several decades’ worth of films pairing male stars. If Little Fauss and Big Halsy wants to comment on male relationships, the message doesn’t come across. The two characters don’t like each other much, and although Pollard’s underdog is sympathetic, his experiences only make him more like Redford’s Knox, abusive of women and resentfully ruthless. The spirit goes out of the movie when Little finally beds Moneth (Linda Gaye Scott), one of Knox’s former easy lays. Ditching her in the morning, Little is more abusive than Knox ever was. Whatever the movie thinks it is saying, its definition of manhood is that real men use and discard women – they’re just there to have something on which to project one’s frustrations and insecurities.
Redford spends about a quarter of the film minus a shirt, which does nothing for this reviewer and makes Little Fauss and Big Halsy seem even more like an empty exercise. Add a bowler or cowboy hat, and Halsy’s ‘ain’t I cute?’ image becomes downright insulting — Robert Duvall snatched the look for Apocalypse Now. The women are for decoration, and are most memorable when undressed. This is the third film for the reasonably accomplished Lauren Hutton, and her ‘kook’ characterization never comes together. Her Rita Nebraska is introduced sprinting naked through the desert (not recommended for one’s feet or legs). He meets Halsy just by planting her rump in his pickup truck. Most of Rita’s conversation with Knox is non-sequitur oddball talk and the occasional faux-philosophical observation; there’s little or no real interaction between them. Rita is something of a ‘magic hippie’ character, who apparently eventually goes back to her parents. The whys and wherefores are skipped as irrelevant. Redford made a lot of sharp pictures but when he miscalculated his appeal he could be way off base. If he thought his noodling dialogue here was hip or amusing, he needs to explain why. In context, the line, “Uh uh! Once is cool, twice is queer” barely connects. If taken literally, it means that Fauss and Halsy had some kind of homosexual contact… but none is directly indicated.
The direction of Sidney J.Furie keeps things moving and little else. Gestures at eccentric comedy, such as with the cloud of flies that ruins Lucille Benson’s picnic lunch, just don’t work. Ms. Benson is odd but never endearing; she’d make a better impression as the Snake Lady in Steven Spielberg’s Duel. The movie avoids its own dramatics so thoroughly that when a semi- major character dies off-screen, nobody has anything to say about it. Several songs sung by Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins have lyrics that tell an alternate story of comradeship across a mix of good and bad times. Is it meant to counterpoint the lack of same in the movie we’re watching?
Redford’s Halsy is to this viewer an almost total calculation. In Downhill Racer we slowly realize that his handsome skier is really not a very nice guy. Halsy Knox is a bastard from the get-go and doesn’t change from the pattern… in his relationship scenes with Rita Nebraska, we get a thick slice of ‘nothing happens.’ Michael J. Pollard drops his cute moron act for this show, although his Fauss is still a bit slow-minded. Pollard is one of those character actors that can score big with a clever script, which doesn’t happen here.
If fans of motorcycle racing see something in the show, I don’t know what it would be. We learn nothing about the bikes and not much more about the makeshift social life on the racing circuit. One expects the racing scenes to compensate somewhat, but they’re not exciting either — the racers barely register the fact that the braggart Halsy Knox never wins. Finally, the way the picture finishes with, we don’t feel that their relationship has expressed anything coherent, let alone come to a resolution. I can see the editor Argyle Nelson Jr. slapping a freeze frame on Redford’s dusty face, just to get it over with.
Lauren Hutton didn’t score as a major actress but acquitted herself well in featured roles. I feel more sympathy for Linda Gaye Scott, a beauty with a disarming smile. She’s the type to be cast as a ‘girl with a figure’ in things like TV’s Batman, yet her line deliveries show that she has more to offer. Little Fauss and Big Halsy is more interested in having her display various body parts and whine that she’s being mistreated. After ten years of what I hope was a fun ride, Ms. Scott made a memorable appearance in the Westworld feature and then retreated from credited film roles.
Ralph Woolsey’s cinematography is good in a movie that plays more like a deal than a show anybody cared about. The IMDB says that matte painter and optical effects expert Jim Danforth was on the effects crew; if his trickwork is used in the film it must be good because I didn’t notice any.
When I became an usher at the National Westwood in 1972, I saw the list of movies the theater had shown in its first 16 months. Just about the only film that did good business was Mike Nichols’ Carnal Knowledge. The National’s premiere feature Catch-22 did poor box office after its first week, as did the multi-channel Concert for Bangladesh. And then there was a long list of major failures, and I think Little Fauss and Big Halsy was among them… or it might have been Gene Hackman in Cisco Pike. But I believe I remember the manager expressing dismay that he had nabbed a big Robert Redford picture, that turned out to be a bomb. Redford would of course bounce back with scores of major hits.
Robert Redford completists rally ’round — Olive Films’ Blu-ray of Little Fauss and Big Halsy is a beautiful HD rendering of a picture that plays out almost exclusively in desert exteriors, and the shacks and abandoned buildings where Knox, Fauss and their parade of babes crash at night. When the location shifts to somewhere near San Francisco, there still seem to be few green trees in sight.
The film elements seem to be in great shape. The disc shows off the desert hues to advantage and the women always look attractive. We never really find out how these nomads take baths or wash their clothes. Lauren Hutton arrives starkers naked and carrying nothing but soon has trendy little cutoff jeans and makeshift tops to wear. Not to mention her great hair and a washed face.
Robert Redford’s jerk of a hero looks great too. Halsy is your regulation desert bum who must keep a platoon of makeup folk and hairdressers just off screen. Maybe I’m down on Halsy because he reminds me too much of an old college roommate, a good-looking clod who bragged about using his girlfriend, cheated on the rent and stole half of my interesting books and magazines — no more complete early collection of National Lampoons. These &@^# guys can be charming in the movies, but not Halsy Knox. Did the filmmakers even care?
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Little Fauss and Big Halsy Blu-ray rates:
>Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Reviewed: October 29, 2016
Text © Copyright 2016 Glenn Erickson