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Tuesday
Sep232014

Retro Quickie: Cinderella Liberty (1973)

File Under: I have had this Netflix disc out for so long and it really has to be returned to unclog my queue. -Nathaniel

You got a terrific knack for being nice and a prick all at the same time.

Have any of you ever seen Cinderella Liberty? Back when we were doing our 1973 celebration, I rented it since it was the sole Best Actress nomination I hadn't seen from that year. Marsha Mason plays a prostitute with a heart of... well, not gold exactly. But she's got one. She's raising Doug, her biracial teenager (Kirk Calloway nominated for Best Newcomer at the Golden Globes) on her own but she's doing a pretty shit job of it. Enter: James Caan, fresh off the double whammy star-making years of Brian's Song (1971) and The Godfather (1972), as a sailor named John Baggs Jr. who hooks up with her. In actuality it's Baggs' story and Maggie is missing for good stretches of the movie. Seemingly on a whim, this goodhearted sailor decides to stick around and decides to fall in love with her. That's the one thing that's most clear and most enigmatic about the movie. 

I found it a fascinating watch primarily because, though Mason is just fine as a moody blowsy hooker who can't manage her life towards something better, it was Caan's masculine reserve and softly shaded performance that drew me in...

-I'll come by tomorrow
-I might not be here 

He doesn't spell out much about Baggs' internal life but he's somehow deeply sympathetic and fully realized all at the same. This sailor didn't strike me as an unstable spontaneous fellow so much as a wanderer, fully committed to quit wandering and anchor down even if he didn't quite realize it until this moment; this port of call will do. As a leading role it's a marvel of minimalism but of course it was Mason, purposefully vulgar, sexy, vulnerable and loud, that won Oscar's attention. Eli Wallach, who won an Honorary Oscar before his death, co-stars as a friend of Baggs Jr's and it's something of a surprise that he wasn't nominated here in kind of a letter-perfect role for what the Academy likes in the Supporting Actor category.

As a time capsule Mark Rydell's (On Golden Pond) adaptation of the then-popular novel, is totally worth seeing both to be reminded that in many ways we regressed as a society after the 70s (topics like abortion, promiscuity, open relationships and biracial families aren't even blinked at but just part of life) but we also progressed (doctors smoke during check-ups, and Doug loves using gay slurs against his would be step-dad who he pretends to resent but clearly wants to stick around) . As an added bonus there's all that 70s grain courtesy of legendary cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (who is still working at 84 - next up: Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks starring Gena Rowlands). I love how freaking gritty the movies looked back then (see also: Cabaret).  

-that’s a nice ass
-yeah, well so’s mine
-[not listening] yes it is
-mine’s better than hers.
-yes it i…
-my legs are better than hers, too
-ye…
-in fact my whole body’s better than hers! WHERE ARE YOU GOING?

P.S. There's a brilliant SALLY KIRKLAND cameo as another prostitute who tries to pick up Baggs before he ditches her for Maggie! A pinch of Sally Kirkland is always always a plus.

 

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Reader Comments (17)

Nathan, thank you, thank you for this sweet writeup! I am a huge fan of both Marsha and James in this one. The age-old story of a sailor and a hooker gets a fresh, gritty look--and pays off in surprising ways. This film is a small miracle. Great Seattle locations. Added bonus--the Oscar nominated song written by Paul and John Williams, Nice to be Around.

Quote--MAGGIE: I don't got nothing worth $50. BAGGS: Don't you?

Marsha would have been my runner-up that year for the Oscar.

September 23, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I think Caan is very underrated.

September 23, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

I didn't really care for the film but thought the actors did an excellent job with the material provided.

September 23, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Everytime I see a brookesboy comment I want to gouge my eyes out due to its purposeful use of "Nathan," which literally no one else calls our wonderful host.

September 23, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterack

ack: I have called Nathaniel Nathan on occasion. Nathaniel is a very formal name. Every time I say it, or write it, it feels upright, uptight and proper.

September 24, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

everyone - i prefer Nathaniel but if it must be shortened, Nat is the way to go.

NOW ABOUT THAT CINDERELLA LIBERTY!?

September 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I have always found Marsha Mason's career fascinating-how she utterly dominated the 70's in terms of nominations, scoring almost every time at bat, and then disappeared from stardom and the public consciousness. Every decade there seems to be one person that does this (Joan Allen for the 90's, perhaps Amy Adams fairly soon?).

September 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

Nathaniel, sounds good! (That does have a ring to it!)

You nailed it when you said the straightforward treatment of graphic subject matter was really ahead of its time. Also, the realistic, crude dialogue added a lot to the movie's impact. The scene that always gets me is her response to him touching her pregnant belly. The two actors capture just the right tone in this tentative relationship.

John T., I realize that Marsha is a very divisive figure, but I am one of those who believe she deserved all of her AA nominations. She has often been called one-note, which is puzzling because she has been terrific in a variety of roles. If that's one-note, then I'll take that single note over most actresses any day. Marsha brings a unique sense of humanity to her performances, and that's something you just can't fake, even when you're acting.

September 24, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I've never seen it! I would love to because I like James Caan and golden-hearted prostitutes.

I like Marsha, but her last two nominations were category fillers

September 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Marsha Marsha Marsha. I don't know if the two had anything to do with each other, but when her marriage to Simon fizzled - so did her film career. Having seen all 5 BA nominees in 1980 - i would say it would be a toss-up between Marsha (Only When I Laugh) and Diane Keaton - certainly not Hepburn - augh. "Nah-mahn!!! The Loons!!!" Mason, Jill Clayburgh & Faye all just disappeared from the film world after 1980 - victims of the women-getting-older thing, I guess. Why was getting older not detrimental to Streep and Keaton??? Streep continues to do quality work. Keaton brings home a paycheck year after year for playing the fashionable wife is some horrible movie. I loved Mason in "Frazier" and the Judy Garland tv bio movie in which she player Garland's monster mom. Miss her.....very appealing, charming....I always rooted for her.

September 24, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjimmy

jimmy, it's truly astonishing to me how quickly her fall was. It was very saddening for a wonderful talent such as hers. I think a key factor can be found in this interview from 1985:

http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20090945,00.html

September 24, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Marsha Mason also was terrific in the underrated 1983 movie, Max Dugan Returns. I'd have nominated her for that picture vs. Only When I Laugh.

She killed her final scene(s) with Richard Dreyfuss in The Goodbye Girl, too: "I have it, sweetheart. Have a safe trip. I love you!"

September 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Mareko, cosign! She is so wonderfully winsome in Max Dugan. And she and Matthew Broderick really were like mom and son. What a charming flick with the perfect cast!

September 24, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

not to be mean, because i love her - but Marsha also got tubby....a HUGE no-no in Hollywood. Ala Kathleen Turner. Kathleen Turner or Marsha would have been perfect in the lead role in last year's "Osage"....but all the good stuff always gets tossed to one person - Meryl Streep. Hollywood should realize, tubbiness exists among the masses.

September 25, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjimmy

Turner got sick which is quite different.

September 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

jjimmy, I have also envisioned Marsha as Violet, and I think she would have absolutely killed it. She was chilling as Judy Garland's mother in the HBO biopic opposite Judy Davis. The character was not as overt a monster as the mother in AOC, but Marsha definitely could have gotten into the guts of that woman.

Hollywood is so sexist in its double standard. Women are expected to stay thin, no matter how old they are, but Jack Nicholson can get fat and remain a star. It ain't right.

September 25, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I have always loved Marsha Mason. I would love to see her on the big screen again.
She is fully deserving of Oscar. I loved "Only When I Laugh." Marsha, James Coco and
Joan Hackett were all nominated for Oscars in that film. I think Marsha took a lot of heat
for doing roles given to her by then husband Neil Simon. I still wonder if she lost out due to
this bias against her. There are many current day films I would love to see her in, but they all
go to Streep, Keaton or Burstyn. All these ladies are great, but Marsha needs to be in this mix.
...again. Sandra Bullock gave Betty White a boost with "The Proposal." It would be great if Sandra could bring Marsha on board for a future film. A star and actress of Sandra's caliber could bring Marsha some needed exposure to new audiences.

November 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMTN

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