DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews
 
RABBIT, RUN (director: Jack Smight; screenwriters: based on a John Updike novel/Howard B. Kreitsek; cinematographer: Philip Lathrop; editor: Archie Marshek; music: William Lava; cast:  James Caan (Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom), Jack Albertson (Marty Tothero), Margot Stevenson (Mrs. Tothero), Carrie Snodgrass (Janice Angstrom), Sondra Scott (Miriam Angstrom), Anjanette Comer (Ruth), Marc Antony Van Der Nagel (Nelson Angstrom), Melodie Johnson (Lucy Eccles), Henry Jones  (Mr. Angstrom), Josephine Hutchinson (Mrs. Angstrom), Carmen Mathews (Mrs. Springer), Arthur Hill (Jack Eccles), Virginia Vincent (Margaret), Nydia Westman (Mrs. Smith); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Howard B. Kreitsek; Solitaire/Warner Bros.; 1970)

"Only remains watchable because James Caan runs with the slight story-line and gives it some appeal."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

John Updike's brooding novel might have been witty but the screen version as written by the producer Howard B. Kreitsek is not. Incidentally, Updike is from Reading, Pennsylvania, where the story is set. Jack Smight ("Damnation Alley"/"Midway"), who was pissed that Kreitsek re-wrote the screenplay and ruined it by making it facile, unsuccessfully attempted to have his name removed from the credits. Smight helms it as an uninteresting sex-filled soap opera that only remains watchable because James Caan runs with the slight story-line and gives it some appeal.

The small-town Reading, Pennsylvanian, Harry Angstrom (James Caan), a former high school basketball star nicknamed Rabbit, is now an unemployed and unskilled family man with a young son (
Marc Antony Van Der Nagel) and an alcoholic pregnant wife (Carrie Snodgrass) that he no longer loves.  Impulsively Rabbit runs out on his wife and visits his former coach (Jack Albertson), who is now a deadbeat. The coach introduces Rabbit to a hooker named Ruth (Anjanette Comer), and he shacks up with her. While living in sin, Rabbit is counseled by the friendly family Episcopalian minister (Arthur Hill).

The busy plot has Rabbit returning to his wife when she gives birth, but leaving her after she accidentally drowns their infant in the bath tub when reaching for her bottle. Rabbit returns to his pregnant hooker, who wants him to marry her. He promises he will, but the last we see of Rabbit is going for groceries but presumably never returning as he runs out of town on foot.

REVIEWED ON 7/19/2017       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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It took nearly 10 years to get John Updike's novel to the screen and it would have been better had they waited another 10, or maybe even 50. This is such a spotty picture--with scenes that waver from excellent to dismal--that it is never clear who should be congratulated or who condemned.

Director Smight was so enraged when producer-writer Kreitsek recut the movie that he tried unsuccessfully to have his name removed from the credits. Caan is married to alcoholic Snodgress, who is carrying a child neither of them wants. Why she drinks is never explained, but being married to Caan

is probably reason enough, since he is unskilled, never attended college, and lives in the memory of the day when he scored 28 points in the Big Game for Reading, Pennsylvania, High School. (This territory would be mined with greater effectiveness in Jason Miller's THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON.) Caan

and Snodgress have a quarrel, and he exits to visit with Albertson, his basketball coach, a man now living on the edge of poverty. Albertson's solution for Caan's dissatisfaction is to introduce him to semi-pro hooker Comer. Caan moves in with Comer, then the family Episcopalian minister, Hill,

tries to effect a reconciliation between Caan and Snodgress. Caan wants no part of it, but Hill thinks a job might change his mind, so he arranges employment for Caan with Mathews. Caan eventually leaves Comer and returns to Snodgress when she gives birth. He stops running around and she ceases

drinking, but their peace doesn't last long because she begins to deny him sex. Arguments follow and he leaves. Snodgress reaches for the bottle and "accidentally" drowns their infant in the bath. Although he returns home, everyone (including his only ally, Albertson, who has suffered a stroke)

blames Caan for the tragedy. With one baby buried, Caan goes to see Comer, who is now pregnant with his child, but she won't talk to him unless he agrees to divorce Snodgress and make an honest woman of her. Caan says he will, but the next time he leaves Comer's apartment, ostensibly to go to the

grocery, he takes off. Caan gives an assured but undistinguished performance; however, Comer is dandy and Snodgress (who was to score in DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE, which was made after this film but preceded it into the theaters) is wholly convincing. Foul language, explicit sex, and a lack of a

consistent point of view make this a loser on most counts. Two songs: "Anything Happening?" (Ray Burton, Brian King, M.K. Gregory) and "Gonna Love Me" (Burton, G.K. Michael, sung by Inner Sense).

In Reading, Pennsylvania, former high school basketball star Rabbit Angstrom is dissatisfied with both his failure to find a career and with his loveless marriage to Janice, an alcoholic who is pregnant with a child neither of them wants. Following an argument with Janice, Rabbit looks up his old basketball coach Marty Tothero, who is now living in squalor. Marty decides that Rabbit needs a woman, and he introduces him to Ruth, a part-time prostitute. When Rabbit moves in with Ruth, Jack Eccles, the family minister, tries to persuade him to return to his wife, but Rabbit refuses. Eventually, Rabbit also becomes disenchanted with Ruth, and when Janice has her baby, Rabbit goes to the hospital and effects a reconciliation. For a time, they live in relative harmony, but Janice's insistence on a less active sex life leads to bitterness, and Rabbit again takes off. Janice resumes her solitary drinking, this time with tragic results; while in a drunken stupor, she accidentally drowns the baby. Learning of his child's death, Rabbit returns home and finds that everyone holds him responsible. At the funeral, Rabbit responds to his parents' and in-laws' accusing glances by screaming his innocence. Fleeing from the cemetery, he goes to Ruth's apartment; but Ruth, who is now pregnant with his child, refuses to let him in unless he agrees to divorce Janice and marry her. Although he promises to do so, Rabbit is still unable to make a commitment to anyone and runs away again.


"Meet Rabbit. Rabbit Angstrom. Rabbit Angstrom is everyman. Every husband. Every father. Every son. Every guy whose marriage got bogged down in dishes and diapers, and found a way out with a woman" proclaimed the trailer for Rabbit, Run (1970). Unhappy and feeling trapped, former high school basketball star Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom (James Caan) leaves the house to buy his pregnant, alcoholic wife Janice (Carrie Snodgress) a pack of cigarettes and doesn't return. He just keeps on running into the arms of another woman - a part-time prostitute named Ruth (Anjanette Comer) in a fruitless search for happiness. Also in the cast were Jack Albertson as Rabbit's former coach, and Henry Jones and Josephine Hutchinson as Rabbit's parents.

Made for Warner Bros-Seven Arts, the film was directed by Jack Smight from producer Howard B. Kreitsek's screenplay, adapted from John Updike's 1960 novel. Updike had wanted to write the screenplay but the offer did not come, which disappointed the author, as he had deliberately written the novel like a film, in present tense. Rabbit, Run was shot on location in 1969 in Updike's home town of Reading, Pennsylvania, with many locals playing extras.

John Updike said in an interview at Moravian College that while he appreciated the money received from film adaptations of his work, he felt "embarrassment and extreme unworthiness that I've caused all these gifted people - handsome actors, gorgeous actresses, gifted directors and cameramen - I've put them all in this kind of box they can't get out of, the box being my little story, whose life on paper and from thence into the mind of the reader I tried to make as real as I could, but which in the film media, becomes kind of nonsense. I thought that Rabbit, Run was too faithful to the book. The book tries to deliver a very complex message. It tries to agitate the reader about these questions of morality and domesticity and flight versus sticking with it. [...] A movie cannot engage in this kind of debate.[...] [I]t had some good performers in it. James Caan went on to good things, and Carrie Snodgress made Janice much more appealing than Ruth, and made her so appealing you didn't know what the fuss was about. So it was a very uneven, I would say, adaptation."

Rabbit, Run premiered in Reading on October 28, 1970, but the audience reaction was so bad that Warner Bros. decided not to spend the money on a wide release - or even screen it in New York. James Caan later famously said that the film wasn't released, "It escaped." Updike retained kind feelings about the film; as late as 1973, he told the New York Times that he was sorry for Caan and Snodgress, who he thought were "terrific as Rabbit and his wife, and I always had a lingering hope that some day Warner might remake some of the weak scenes and then give the movie another push."

The failure of the film did not end Updike's saga. He would revisit the character of Rabbit Angstrom in other novels; Rabbit Redux (1971), Rabbit Is Rich (1981) and Rabbit at Rest (1990).

SOURCES:

De Bellis, Jack The John Updike Encyclopedia
Hischak, Thomas S. American Literature on Stage and Screen: 525 Works and Their Adaptations
The Internet Movie Database
Negley, Erin "Rabbit, Lost" Reading Eagle 18 Mar 07
Plath, James John Updike's Pennsylvania Interviews

By Lorraine LoBianco



Jack Smight Director
James H. Brown Assistant Director
James Caan Rabbit Angstrom
Jack Albertson Marty Tothero
Melodie Johnson Lucy Eccles
Henry Jones Mr. Angstrom
Carmen Mathews Mrs. Springer
Nydia Westman Mrs. Smith
Marc Antony Van Der Nagel Nelson
Josephine Hutchinson Mrs. Angstrom
Don Keefer Mr. Springer
Margot Stevenson Mrs. Tothero
Sondra Scott Miriam Angstrom
Carrie Snodgress Janice Angstrom
Arthur Hill Rev. Jack Eccles
Philip Lathrop Director of Photography
Howard B. Kreitsek Screenwriter
Joanne Deane Associate Producer
Archie Marshek Film Editor
Sonny Burke Music Supervisor
Frank Kay Mus coordinator
G. K. Michael Composer
M. K. Gregory Composer
Inner Sense Composer
Brian King Composer
Ray Burton Composer


A former high-school basketball star (James Caan) leaves his pregnant, alcoholic wife for a part-time hooker (Anjanette Comer)


A young married couple struggle with their personal problems and their union and the forthcoming birth oftheir unwanted child in this grim domestic drama. Much of the story centers on the husband, a former high school basketball star who is unable to leave the glory days behind and fashion a future for himself and his wife. Though pregnant, the wife is constantly drunk and the two constantly bicker. One night, they have row and the husband takes off to stay with his now-impoverished former coach thereby setting the stage for further turmoil and tragedy. The plot for Rabbit, Run is based on a John Updike novel.

A crude man is stuck in a loveless marriage. One day he decides to run away from his life and family. First he finds a mistress, but just because a man runs away from one disappointment, doesn't mean he won't run into another one.

Harry and Janice Angstrom of Reading, Pennsylvania, have a young adolescent son, Nelson Angstrom. An artificial stone siding salesman, Harry is still most defined as a star basketball player from his high school days, then when he was nicknamed Rabbit. On a Friday evening, Harry, based on events earlier in the day that made him quit smoking cold turkey to be a better person, decides, also on the spur of the moment, to abandon his job and the family, alcoholic Janice who he only married because she was pregnant with Nelson and who in turn doesn't seem to care about him or Nelson, except for the support she requires from him to survive. Him leaving is despite Janice being pregnant. With no plans, he hops in the car with nothing more than the clothes on his back. In the short term, he decides he wants to stay with a friend of a friend he meets the following night, Ruth Leonard, a party girl. What happens in the intervening months is that life around him still dictates what he does, his


Rabbit Run is the epitome of a dumb lug film.  In a dumb lug film, a male character finds himself living an unfulfilling life but he can’t figure out the reason.  Why can’t he figure it out?  Because he’s a dumb lug, with the emphasis on dumb.  Usually, the viewer is supposed to sympathize with the dumb lug because he doesn’t mean to hurt anyone and everyone else in his world is somehow even more annoying than he is.  Typically, the dumb lug will have an emotionally distant wife who refuses to have sex with him and who is usually portrayed as being somehow at fault for everything bad that has happened in the dumb lug’s face.  (Want to see a more recent dumb lug film than Rabbit Run?  American Beauty.)  Ever since the silent era, there have been dumb lug films.  In particular, male filmmakers and critics seem to love dumb lug films because they allow them to pat themselves on the back for admitting to being dumb while, at the same time, assuring them that everything is the fault of the wife or the girlfriend or the mother or the mother-in-law.

In Rabbit Run, the dumb lug is named Harry Angstrom (James Caan), though most people still remember him as Rabbit, the high school basketball star.  Harry’s life peaked in high school.  Now, he’s 28 and he can’t hold down a job.  He’s married to Janice (Carrie Snodgress), who spends all of her time drinking and watching TV.  He has a son and another baby is on the way.  One day, when the pregnant Janice asks him to go out and get her a pack of cigarettes, Harry responds by getting in his car and driving all the way from Pennsylvania to Virginia.

When he returns to Pennsylvania, Rabbit doesn’t go back to his wife.  Instead, he drops in on his former basketball coach (Jack Albertson) and begs for advice on what he should do.  The coach, it turns out, is more than little creepy.  He also has absolutely no practical advise to give.  He does introduce Rabbit to a part-time prostitute named Ruth (Anjanette Comer).  Rabbit quickly decides that he’s in love with Ruth and soon, he’s moved in with her.

Meanwhile, there’s all sorts of little things going on.  Rabbit gets a job working as a gardener.  Rabbit befriends the local Episcopal minister (Arthur Hill), even while the minister’s cynical wife (Melodie Johnson) tries to tempt Rabbit away from both his wife and his mistress.  Rabbit both resents and envies the sexual freedom of the counter culture, as represented by his younger sister.  And, of course, Janice is pregnant…

Rabbit Run is based on a highly acclaimed novel by John Updike.  I haven’t read the novel so I can’t compare it to the film, beyond pointing out that many great works of literature have been turned into mediocre movies, largely because the director never found a way to visually translate whatever it was that made the book so memorable in the first place.  Rabbit Run was directed by Jack Smight, who takes a rather frantic approach to the material.  Since Rabbit Run is primarily a character study, it needed a director who would be willing to get out of the way and let the actors dominate the film.  Instead, Smight overdirects, as if he was desperately trying to prove that he could keep up with all the other trendy filmmakers.  The whole movie is full of extreme close-ups, abrupt jump cuts, intrusive music, and delusions of ennui.  You find yourself wishing that someone had been willing to grab Smight and shout, “Calm down!”

(On the plus side, as far as the films of 1970 are concerned, Smight’s direction of Rabbit Run still isn’t as bad as Richard Rush’s direction of Gettting Straight.)

James Caan actually gives a likable performance as Rabbit, which is good because Rabbit would be totally unbearable if not played by an actor with at least a little genuine charisma.  There’s nothing subtle about Caan’s performance but he makes it work.  You never like Rabbit but, at the same time, you don’t hate him.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing subtle about the rest of the cast either.  Something rather tragic happens about 80 minutes into the film and, as much as I knew I shouldn’t, I still found myself giggling because Carrie Snodgress’s performance was so bad that it was impossible for me to take any of it seriously.  Even worse is Arthur Hill, as the minister who won’t stop trying to help Rabbit out.  I eventually reached the point where, every time that sanctimonious character started to open his mouth, I found myself hoping someone would hit him over the head and knock him out.  Among the major supporting players, only Anjanette Comer is allowed a chance to be something more than just a sterotype.  Like Caan, she does the best that she can but ultimately. this is James Caan’s movie.

It’s a disappointing movie but it did not put me to sleep.  Give credit for that to James Caan, who is the only reason to see Rabbit Run.