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DVD SAVANT

The Grasshopper
Warner Archive Collection


The Grasshopper
Warner Archive Collection
1969 / Color /1:85 enhanced widescreen / 96 min. / Street Date March 23, 2009 / available through the Warner Archive Collection / 19.95
Starring Jacqueline Bisset, Jim Brown, Joseph Cotten, Corbett Monica, Christopher Stone, Ramon Bieri, Ed Flanders.
Cinematography
Sam Leavitt
Production Design Tambi Larsen
Film Editor Aaron Stell
Original Music Billy Goldenberg
Written and Produced by Jerry Belson, Garry Marshall from the novel The Passing of Evil by Marc McShane
Directed by Jerry Paris

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Television directing legend Jerry Paris also directed some half-remembered feature comedies, but this 1969 vehicle for the talented beauty Jacqueline Bisset may be his only attempt at a theatrical drama. It was written and produced by Jerry Belson and Garry Marshall, TV writers-turned-producers that capped a consistent record of success with an empire-making hit in TV's Happy Days, which incidentally was directed by Jerry Paris. Clearly undertaken to investigate the possibilities in the new Jack Valenti MPAA rating system, The Grasshopper tackles a racy subject with R-rated nudity and situations. Thanks to Ms. Bisset's committed performance the film never turns into abject trash, yet there's something definitely unsavory about its tightrope walk between legit drama and T&A exploitation.

In short, The Grasshopper is about a naïve country girl who dives head first into the excitement of the fast life in Las Vegas, and quickly sheds her values. It's taken from the book The Passing of Evil, a title that might suggest the teaching of a sober moral lesson. The answer is a little bit "yes" but mostly "no". Showgirl Christine Adams' fall from grace is delineated with a directness that wouldn't have been tolerated under the old production code.

British Columbia girl Christine Adams (Bisset, fresh and freckled) runs away from home with the object of joining her boyfriend in Los Angeles, having a baby and going straight to a happy future. She's instead rerouted to Las Vegas, meeting a fast talking comic Danny Raymond (career Vegas 'opener' Corbett Monica) and briefly talking to Tommy Marcott (Jim Brown), an ex- football star helping to open a special room in a casino. When Danny tries to take her to bed, Christine continues on to L.A. and lives chastely with her boyfriend, a bank teller with ambitions to become a financial winner. Christine tries to do bank work as well, but finds life in an L.A. apartment to be dull and can't take things seriously. She goes back to Vegas and for a while becomes Danny Raymond's casual lover. She then talks her way into a showgirl position with casino manager Jack Benton (Ed Flanders, in his first movie). Becoming a dancer in the nude stage show, Christine gets in with a fast crowd and takes up with musician Jay Rigney (Christopher Stone). That's when she meets Tommy Marcott again. Tommy is upset that Jack Benton won't give him real responsibilities, and just uses him to greet guests in the new gambling room named after him. Benton doesn't respect Christine either -- he does nothing when the grotesque "businessman" Roosevelt Dekker (Ramon Bieri) tells Christine he wants to help Tommy's career -- by inviting her to a private dinner in his hotel suite. After that fateful night, things go from bad to worse.

The Grasshopper is a rags-to-riches showbiz story about an impressionable girl in over her neck. Christine Adams dashes thoughtlessly from one bad decision to the next, and seems incapable of realizing how venal and ruthless people can be. From the outside, the film it most closely resembles is the Paul Verhoeven / Joe Eszterhas sleaze-fest Showgirls from 1995. In that movie we wanted to clop Elizabeth Berkley over the head with a shovel to put her out of her misery, or perhaps to melt her down in an oven and recast her as some less offensive vinyl object. The Grasshopper is also about crass values, but it's not a crass abomination, like the Verhoeven picture.

Christine Adams' personal problems derive from her immaturity and her bad luck. She seems incapable of taking things seriously and is easily bored. She hands a hold-up note to a customer at the bank, and only later realizes what a dumb move she's made. She blacks out her front teeth to perform in one of the glitzy stage numbers and gets a big laugh. But unlike Flo Ziegfeld in Barbra Streisand's Funny Girl, the Vegas show people aren't amused. Christine doesn't fall victim to the usual ills of liquor and drug use, but she does get deep into casual sex at all-night Vegas parties. At one point in the movie, she says, "I can't stand thinking that other people are having more fun than I am". This aimless pursuit of gratification leaves Christine vulnerable to no end of pain. She has little self-control. Tommy Marcott asks her to think hard about marrying him instead of deciding on the spur of the moment, but Christine impulsively blurts out a quick yes anyway.

The audience I saw The Grasshopper with in the summer of 1969 became very uneasy as the movie grew more grim. The abundant nudity was a new thrill (hey, is this what the new ratings are all about?) but it wasn't fun to see the essentially harmless Christine cheated, tricked, beaten, raped and discarded. After a terrible tragedy with Marcott, the doors once open to Christine start closing. She becomes unemployable in Vegas due to bad blood with Jack Benton. She returns to Los Angeles to find that her old sweetheart is now married and has a child. Christine then becomes a special kind of "arm candy" escort for rich gamblers, a racket that doesn't necessarily require her to sleep with anybody and can pay off with lavish gifts. But it's still a gilded form of prostitution.

Christine finds a sugar daddy in the nearly geriatric Richard Morgan (Joseph Cotten), a wealthy (and married) businessman who installs her up in a swank West Hollywood apartment with all the trimmings. Looking for better sex, Christine is soon "keeping" her old musician buddy Jay. But when her fancy arrangement with Richard collapses, Jay suggests that she turn tricks to earn the grubstake for a ranch home. By this time Christine respects herself so little that the idea makes sense to her.

The Grasshopper is a bit more than a primer on what happens to foolish girls in the big city. It strikes a blow against the prevailing 60's media image that assumes that beautiful people have no problems in life. Were this a film noir, it might end like The Naked City, in which a despairing mother wails, "Oh Lord, why couldn't she have been born ugly?" Christine bargains for the things her body will get her, and between bad judgment and bad luck comes up a loser. Unlike women in the movies forever finding happiness in Mr. Right, we understand that Christine won't be "rescued" by an off-the-shelf Nice Guy, rich or poor. She rejected the rich old coot without qualms. No matter who she went with, Christine would become bored after a while and go back to some creep like Jay. Face it, Christine Adams is terminally shallow.

Jacqueline Bisset does very well with what had to be understood was a truly risky role. We understand Christine throughout her ordeal, mistake by mistake. Director Paris and producers Belson and Marshall must have labored quite a bit over the nudity issue. Topless showgirls are seen everywhere but seldom trotted out for sensation alone. Bisset frolics undressed with several men and wears a revealing show costume of her own, but carries herself in such a way that dignifies the proceedings and withholds The Grasshopper from the ranks of full-on exploitation. It's far above Ms. Bisset's previous picture The First Time, a cheap "sensitive" comedy about young boys looking for sex. I'll guess that Bisset needed an attention-getting role that would propel her rising star a bit faster. As it turned out, that recognition came two years later whith her unlucky stewardess in the lumpy disaster soaper Airport.

This is perhaps Jim Brown's best non-action role. I remember the 1969 audience - a non-big city audience -- being rather shocked by Brown and Bisset's partial nude scenes together. Tommy's concern about his employment opened my 17 year-old eyes to valuable new ideas -- black people need dignity in their work, too. The writing for the lesser characters isn't as strong, although Ed Flanders is good as the venal casino manager. Joseph Cotten is given wads of bad dialogue describing how he's turning into a fossil. Heck, the actor was only 64 ... drag her into the bedroom, Joe!

To let you know how naïve this reviewer was at age 17, The Grasshopper was also the first time I confronted an uncoded homosexual character, a rare item under the old production code. Christine's most loyal friend through her travails, providing emotional comfort when she's down and band-aids when she's beaten up, is Buck Brown (Roger Garrett). Danny and his fellow gay show dancers hug the nude showgirls at a Christmas party without apparent physical effect. I'm sure the convention had been around for a long time, but only after The Grasshopper did I notice that suffering "modern" beauties in showbiz movies very often have these sexually unthreatening pals around for moral support.

The movie has a convincing Las Vegas setting, and stages a glamorous, attractive "Folies Bergere"-style stage show. Making a bit-part appearance in two short scenes (with one line, no less), is producer Garry's sister Penny Marshall, who eventually catapulted a featured guest role in Happy Days into a full-on career as a TV star as well as directing and producing. I once had lunch in a Studio City deli where Garry, Penny and other family members and crew were happily filming some kind of interview, with ordinary patrons going about their business all around them. Definitely a family business, there.


The Warner Archive Collection DVD-R of The Grasshopper is a very good enhanced transfer of what was originally a production of National General Pictures.  1 Attractive colors and the wide screen will be good news to girl watchers as well as fans of film trends -- I'd call The Grasshopper a definite "let's see if the ratings system really works" picture.

No trailer is included. If the photo of Ms. Bisset on the package isn't all that attractive, it's because it represents Christine Adams at a relatively depressed part of her story arc.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Grasshopper rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Very Good ++
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 26, 2010

Footnotes:

1. Gee, if Warners purchased the National General Pictures library, it would be nice also to see Archive editions of Darker than Amber and The Todd Killings. This is an example of Savant Wishful thinking ... the logical explanation is that the rights for these pictures have migrated elsewhere ...  3
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2. Somebody call Kip Doto! During an all-night after-show orgy in a Vegas apartment, Jay and Christine watch color scenes on TV from A.I.P.'s goofy monster romp Reptilicus. The first two shots shown are the flying scenes cut from the American version. What does this say, exactly? Fans of monster movies can attest to the fact that girlfriends usually don't mind being "distracted" from them while watching on late-nite TV. Instead of putting down monster movies in general, the script dubs new monster-fighting dialogue into Reptilicus with vague sexual connotations. Hey, another reason to respect The Grasshopper!

3. A Response from Chris D., 8/28/10:

Hi, Glenn, Hope you're good. Regarding your footnote after The Grasshopper review on other National General fare: Thought I'd throw a tiny ray of illumination on Darker than Amber. Though, unfortunately, the illumination doesn't offer much light on the subject. While still working at the American Cinematheque, I tried to track down a print and rights of Darker than Amber back in 2005 or so. It was impossible to find. The Academy had an IB Tech print that was mint -- except they were missing one of the middle reels! Talk about frustrating (on par with UCLA having been donated a mint print struck in late 1990s of End of the Road -- but with no sound on the last reel!! which we didn't find out till an hour before screening -- even UCLA hadn't known -- we screened the last reel from screenwriter/fan Larry Karaszewski's VHS!! I digress...)

Anyway, Warners doesn't have the rights to Darker than Amber. I actually got as far as emailing Rod Taylor, who as you know was a co-producer on the pic, who responded very warmly to the interest. But he confessed even he did not know who owned the rights anymore. That is as far as I was able to get, as we were already at our deadline for the series (of hardboiled 70s action films).

I believe Warners do own the rights to The Todd Killings, as well as Allied Artists pix like Frank Perry's Last Summer, the great underrated classic Face of Fire and entertaining over-the-top sleaze horror The Hypnotic Eye. With some of the other minor titles Warner Archives have released from NG and AA, not sure why these titles have not surfaced yet. Hopefully they are on the short list to see the light of day soon. -- Best, Chris D.
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2010 Glenn Erickson

See more exclusive reviews on the Savant Main Page.
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Also, don't forget the 2010 Savant Wish List.
T'was Ever Thus.

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