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REUBEN REUBEN

         

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 22, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: After being out of print for years, this dark comedy-drama was recently revived by Olive Films with a new Blu-ray release. This review was published in the Deseret News on April 20, 1984.

To say “Reuben, Reuben” benefits from Tom Conti’s performance is a bit like saying Steven Spielberg had something to do with “E.T.”

Conti is simply remarkable as Gowan McGland, the drunken Scottish poet who revels in his reputation as a penniless, disheveled womanizer but who hasn’t written a line of verse in five years, and whose caustic wit is always on the attack.

That is not, however, meant to slight the script by Julius J. Epstein (an Oscar-winner for “Casablanca”), which is, three-fourths of the way, a brilliant, often hilarious amalgam of witty dialogue and poignant drama. But by that last quarter it turns sour, even a bit cruel — and I must admit to being particularly annoyed by the ending

“Reuben, Reuben” keeps you involved with both laughter and tears, then tries to be terribly ironic with a contrived, “poetic” ending that is more likely to invoke anger than anything else, which is a terribly wrong note on which to leave a film.

Despite that drawback, however, “Reuben, Reuben” is a rich character study most of the way, and Conti does great justice to McGland, described in press information as a cross between Dylan Thomas, Robert Burns and Brendan Behan.

The story has McGland on an American speaking tour, forever wearing a rumpled suit, his hair uncombed, his face unshaven and always with a glass of whisky in his hand. Oh, yes, he also steals tips left by others in restaurants. Somehow, though, he is constantly pursued by the ladies — particularly the dissatisfied married ladies.

      

            Tom Conti, Kelly McGillis, 'Reuben Reuben'

He settles temporarily into a small New England town and there he is attracted to a much younger woman, a college student named Geneva (Kelly McGillis). Then, to the chagrin of her family, save her grandfather (Roberts Blossom), Geneva falls in love with McGland. (The title character, by the way, is a dog named Reuben, owned by the grandfather and also quite attracted to McGland.)

The storylines are simple enough, with several subplots revolving around McGland as he kicks around this small town, awaiting his next engagement. He has affairs with married women, eventually devotes himself for two weeks to Geneva, records his thoughts for his wife’s biography of him and has a lot of teeth and neck trouble. Those meager plotlines, however, are merely devices for the humor and insight, and most of the time the film delivers. Although there are a couple of twists, again at the end, that seem pointless.

Conti, who won a Tony on Broadway for originating the role of the paraplegic in “Whose Life Is It Anyway?” and who co-starred with David Bowie in “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” last year, is a consummate actor, most deserving of the Oscar nomination received for this film. Though primarily a stage actor, those of us far removed from Broadway can only hope he devotes at least some of his future time to films. He’s an incredible talent.

             

Blossom is also excellent, as a small New England chicken rancher, and McGillis is quite good as the young woman who is wronged by McGland.

Though rated R, “Reuben, Reuben” is a mild R at best, for profanity. There is also some partial nudity and implied sex, and a bit of violence.

The trick here is to forget how frustrating the ending is as you walk out of the theater. Concentrate instead on how much you laughed and generally enjoyed yourself before that.