May 18, 2007

Cinderella Liberty (Rydell, 1973)

Both the subject matter (the life of a navy man) and the pedigree (the screenplay is an adaptation by Darryl Ponicsan, from his own novel) of director Mark Rydell's film had me expecting something akin to Hal Ashby's The Last Detail (also based on a Ponicsan novel). The reality is that Cinderella Liberty is a far different, far more conventional type of film, and a lesser one as well. Gone are the latter film's enjoyably salty sailor speak and grittiness. In their place we get an attempt at realism and grit that ends up feeling far too manufactured and syrupy to be convincing. And James Caan's lonely sailor with a heart of gold is probably as far from the real world as one can get. And yet, thanks to the strong performances from Caan and especially Marsha Mason, (as the prostitute/single mother Caan's sailor falls in love with) the film merits a look. Both of them imbue their characters with a charm and likability that is hard to fault. However, this isn't the place to look for complex emotion and characterization. Rydell has crafted a film that functions predominantly to tug at the heartstrings, which isn't necessarily a terrible thing. Although in this case, since we have been so inundated with films of this type the formula is exceedingly easy to recognize. As a result, this early 70's effort feels less aligned with the daring cinema of the "New Hollywood" era than with the clich├ęd product Hollywood churned out so frequently in the 80's.