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CONTINENTAL DIVIDE

        

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday,Jan. 22, 2021

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s common knowledge that John Belushi died in 1982 of a drug overdose at the age of 33 and that his last film was ‘Neighbors,’  a box-office success that nonetheless divided (and continues to divide) critics and fans. But Belushi’s penultimate film — released just three months before ‘Neighbors’ was ‘Continental Divide,’ a little gem that is generally forgotten today, a light comedy that offers Belushi in a more modulated performance. Now, however, it’s been resurrected by Kino Lorber for a new Blu-ray upgrade. My review was published in the Deseret News on Sept. 24, 1981, and the last line suggests Belushi had a long career ahead of him, which, sadly, was not to be.

 

John Belushi as a romantic lead? A la Cary Grant or Clark Gable??? More like Spencer Tracy but still a stretch of the imagination.

 

Yet, in “Continental Divide,” John Belushi does a convincing, three-dimensional turn for the first time, in an attempt to step away from the cartoon-like characters he has played in “Animal House,” “1941” and “The Blues Brothers.”

 

“Continental Divide,” yet another old-fashioned movie script by Lawrence Kasdan (“Body Heat,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “The Empire Strikes Back”), is a delightfully witty social comedy, of the type Tracy and Katherine Hepburn turned out several years ago — the headstrong, independent woman with a vital career meets the gruff, aggressive male who is marshmallow on the inside. The setting is her territory, the meeting is anything but friendly, and you know that sooner or later they will fall in love.

 

Though there are a few modern-day elements thrown in, Kasdan essentially has captured the style and flow of those old Howard Hawks, Preston Sturges and Frank Capra comedies, and director Michael Apted (“Coal Miner’s Daughter”) contributes with a few images of his own.

 

        

 

      Blair Brown, John Belushi, 'Continental Divide' (1981)

 

Belushi is Ernie Souchak, a fictional clone of Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mike Royko — so much so that the Sun-Times is used, and Souchak’s column runs on the inside cover where Royko’s actually runs, and much of the film was shot in the newsrooms of the Sun-Times building in Chicago.

 

Because Souchak’s City Hall corruption-busting columns are threatening his life, his managing editor (Allen Goorwitz) sends him to the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming to do a story on a reclusive government ornithologist (Blair Brown) who studies and protects the endangered American bald eagle.

 

To say that Souchak is out of his element is to understate and Kasdan takes full advantage to include all kinds of jokes about smoking in thin air and Souchak’s cityfied ways contrasting with nature. There are some great lines here and a few memorable sight gags.

 

When the assignment and their affair are over, Souchak returns to Chicago so lovesick that he can’t work. Then, when a tragedy occurs with his City Hall contact, he’s inspired to get the old typewriter fire roaring again.

 

The lovesick scenes are probably the least convincing but all of “Continental Divide” is very broad comedy; this is an audience picture and those who go just intending to have a good time and laugh will enjoy it.

 

        

 

      Blair Brown, John Belushi, 'Continental Divide' (1981)

 

The Belushi fans who go hoping to get another glimpse of his “slob” persona may be disappointed and I dare say that those who don’t care for him because of his past performances will have an even harder time accepting him here. But it’s well worth the effort, and my guess is that by the time the end credits roll Belushi will have sold you on the character.

 

Blair Brown, who co-starred in “Altered States” and “One-Trick Pony” is very good and Allen Goorwitz as Souchak’s frustrated boss shines in another winning character role.

 

Tony Ganios is good in a surprisingly twisted view of Mountain Men that works on a high comic level; Carlin Glynn, as Goorwitz’s wife, is also solid support.

 

Though far from a perfect film (the ending is particularly weak), “Continental Divide” is a good romantic comedy with some very inventive humor.

 

It also shows that Belushi can do more than cartoon comedy. We can only wonder what will be in store for him next.