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Plot Details: This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Tinsel Town Debacle

The Day of the Locust (1975) on IMDb

Plot Overview

In the Great Depression of the 1930s, Yale grad Tod Hackett (William Atherton) arrives in “Holly­wood­land,” aspiring to be a set designer. He starts off as a story­board artist working for producer Claude Estee (Richard A. Dysart.) At the San Bernardino Arms where he stays, he meets a dress extra, beautiful Faye Greener (Karen Black.) He quickly falls in love with this “dumb blonde” who for her part is “saving myself” for a step up the ladder of success. She has about as much luck with that as would Roosevelt with his pledge to keep the U.S. out of the looming European war. When she tries to have her cake and eat it, too, Holly­wood is set on fire and Tod's art takes a dark turn.


In a sarcastic tone endemic to this picture of Hollywood, Claude Estee says, “Some­times I wonder what we're doing here … grown men making mud pies to sell to the great unwashed.” Strangely, that fits the imagery of the dumb blonde's story she wrote: There once were twin sisters, one good and one bad. The good one was getting married, and the bad one was envious, so the bad one fed the good one poisoned pan­cakes for break­fast on the day of her wedding. When she was out of commission, the bad one took her place at the altar. Then the good one walked into the church claiming she was the bride-to-be, not the other. To settle the matter, the groom had to kiss them both to deter­mine whose kiss was as he remembered it.

There is in fact a rousing church scene in this flick, featuring Geraldine Page as “Big Sister” reminiscent of Aimee Semple McPherson a famous and well-loved evangelist. Only in this sarcastic flick, the emphasis seems to be on getting donations (“Dial for Jesus! It takes money to save souls for Jesus.”) It there­fore behooves us to look at what Jesus actually said about riches: (Mark 10:17-22)

And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the command­ments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell what­soever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.

The characters in this movie aren't nearly as good as that running man: There was adultery, fornication, and a Lesbian liaison. One kid was killed in the street, and actors' lives were endangered on set. The insurance company was defrauded when the claim was misrepre­sented, and a flimflam artist lied about his “miracle” product (“Magic is what I'm selling.”) Faye was more concerned about a pimple on her face than about her ailing father. Every­body was out to make money, it seemed. When a dedication ceremony out­side Grauman's Chinese Restaurant degenerated into a riot, the mustachioed emcee took on the visage of Hitler and the crowd his fanatics on kristall­nacht destroying the shops of the Jews. That brings us around to the question of how the minorities were treated. There were some black soul sisters featured singing in the choir.

When one of the characters at the San Bernardino Arms does some mild swearing, he is reprimanded with, “Mind your tongue. There are Christians living here.” His rejoinder is, “Who am I, a nigger?” using an ‘n’ word as an epithet. We're all set to peg that as a bad word, but later on it's used as a good word when Faye critiques the over­dressed attire of her beau Homer Simpson (Donald Sutherland): “God, only a nigger could wear an outfit like that!” It is the “nigger” who is dressier than the White. That has good historical foundation. Historian Kenneth Stampp writes of, “The elegantly dressed slaves who promenaded the streets of southern towns and cities on Sundays … the domestic servants of wealthy planters or towns­people. … ¶“Most domestics were proud of their … hand­some clothing. … ¶“They dressed in bright-colored holiday clothes … each holiday” (289, 337, 365). Erst­while slave and contact of the Under­ground Railroad Margaret Peters says that fine dress carried on into their liberty, describing “the brother who … done conducted more fugitives to Canada than any other conductor. He done crossed the bridge over Niagara Falls so many times in a buggy with them he dressed in Sunday clothes he consider the border guards members of his flock” (447). Nigger as a good word or a bad word is the problem of the twins, and it takes looking at history to solve it.

This movie came out in 1975 and sarcastically depicts Hollywood in the 1930s. In between, civil rights advocate Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) had once complained of: “when your first name becomes ‘nigger’.” Taken at face value, that's not so much about the use of ‘nigger’ to describe a black man, as it was using it in place of his given name when one knows it. In this movie there's a scene being shot with various dignitaries presented including “[So and so] Prince of Zanzibar.” Here his name [that I didn't write down] is presented along with his title. It would have been an insult not to use his name, when the others were used in the procession. That would be worthy of a complaint. But that doesn't mean ‘prince’ is a bad word when referring to royalty in general. It is the very popularity of princesses that brings Disney, for instance, to bring out another "Cinderella" movie. A complaint about substi­tuting nigger for Martin does not make nigger a bad word in and of itself.

The ‘n’ word in English comes from nègre French for ‘black’ as also Negro is Spanish for ‘black’ (and similar words in Italian and Portuguese.) They both derive from niger that is Latin for ‘black’. It's in the Bible, (Acts 13:1) “Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as … Simeon that was called Niger.” Researcher Bodie Hodge confirms that “As a general trend, Ham is the father of many peoples in Africa” (122). Dr. Ide adds, “Ham sired four sons: Cush (translates as ‘black’) … and Canaan the youngest” (62). These have their origins, (Gen. 6:10) “And Noah begat three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.” These three sons of Noah fathered the whole human race alive today. From Shem came White Europeans (and others). Ham's descendants settled largely in Africa becoming the black races. Researcher Mark DeWayne Combs posits that, “Although Jasher specific­ally references the births of Japheth and Shem, there is no such reference to the birth of Ham. … that Ham may have been much younger than his brothers and that he may have had a different mother” (389). (See my review of “Project Almanac” for a fuller explanation.) Combs also observes, “Fathering a child, particularly a son, through a hand­maiden or servant girl would not have been an uncommon or forbidden practice in that time period” (165). Stampp remarks that “Apologists for slavery traced the history of servitude back to the dawn of civilization and showed that it had always existed in some form until their own day” (14).

After the Flood there was an incident, Gen. 9:20-22, where Noah got drunk on wine and was exposed in all his glory to his son Ham who brazenly viewed him so. Noah's other two sons, Shem and Japheth, covered him up, Gen. 9:23. Ham had violated him in some way, Gen. 9:24. Noah's curse puts Ham's youngest grand­son Canaan in a position of servitude, Gen. 9:25. Noah's other two sons Shem, Gen. 9:26, and Japheth, Gen. 9:27, were blessed by Noah. Writer Bodie Hodge (134) quotes “Bible Questions and Answers,” The Golden Age (July 24, 1929): p. 702.

Question: Is there anything in the Bible that reveals the origin of the Negro?

Answer: It is generally believed that the curse which Noah pronounced upon Canaan was the origin of the Black race. Certain it is that when Noah said, “Cursed be Canaan, a servant of servants shall he be to his brethren,” he pictured the future of the Colored race.

Of course that idea was pretty well understood in the 1930s. By 1975 orator MLK had displaced it with the idea of racial equality. “The Day of the Locust” forces us to take another look at which of the “twin” ideas is the legit one as determined from history. The Lord's saying to the rich man to let his wealth go in order to gain heaven is seemingly echoed by Noah, the savior of the ante­diluvian world, telling the (black) descendants of servant Ham not to cash in that "equality" check MLK makes such a big deal about in his "Dream" speech. In “Locust” it is the (black) shoe shine man happy and content in his servant position who seems the most likely candidate for heaven.

Production Values

“The Day of the Locust” (1975) was directed by John Schlesinger. His success with the 1969 movie, “Mid­night Cow­boy” guaranteed him carte blanche to do what he wanted with this one. As a result nobody told him to cut, so it ended up 144 minutes long. Good footage but it could have been done with less. The screen­play was written by Waldo Salt, based on Nathanael West's 1939 short story, Day of the Locust. It stars Donald Suther­land, Karen Black, and Burgess Meredith. The acting is fairly good. Donald Suther­land and Karen Black give the most notable per­for­mances in tough roles. Black was a natural. If any­thing the actors were too good in this satire to convey the criticism implied in the content.

It's rated R. The cursing seems confined to taking the Lord's name in vain. Some of the sex scenes are pretty explicit. Conrad Hall's cinema­tog­raphy was deservedly nominated for an Academy Award, as was Burgess Meredith for Best Supporting Actor.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

The satire of Hollywood is angry/bitter/accusatory. This is the opposite of a feel-good movie, it will leave you on edge. It's good for a change of pace, though, if you're tired of trite unrealistic fare. I recommend seeing it with a friend so you may remain grounded.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Edge of your seat action. Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: Good for Groups. Suspense: Don't watch this movie alone. Overall product rating: Four stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture quoted from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Combs, Mark DeWayne. End the Beginning. USA: Splinter in the Mind's Eye Pub., 2014. Print.

Hodge, Bodie. Tower of Babel: The Cultural History of Our Ancestors. Green Forest, AR: New Leaf Pub., 2013. Print.

Ide, Arthur Frederick. Noah & the Ark: The Influence of Sex, Homo­phobia and Hetero­sexism in the Flood Story and its Writing. Las Colinas: Monument Press, 1992. Print.

King Jr., Martin Luther. Letter From Birmingham Jail. 1963. Print.

Peters, Margaret Ross Steward w/E.M. Anderson. Home, Miss Moses. Higganum, CT: Higganum Hill Books, 2006. Print.

Stampp, Kenneth M., Professor of American History at the University of California (Berkeley).
   The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South. Vintage Books, 1955. Print.