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The Revolutionary

The Revolutionary
MGM Limited Edition Collection
1970 / Color / 1:85 enhanced widescreen / 100 min. / Street Date July, 2011 / 19.95
Starring Jon Voight, Seymour Cassel, Robert Duvall, Collin Wilcox Paxton, Jennifer Salt, Alexandra Berlin, Julie Garfield, Alan Tilvern, Lionel Murton, Bill Nagy, Kenneth J. Warren, Reg Cornish, Daniel Richter, Jeffrey Jones, Kenneth J. Warren.
Brian Probyn
Film Editor Henry Richardson
Original Music Michael Small
Written by Hans Konigsberger from his novel
Produced by Edward R. Pressman
Directed by Paul Williams

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

The Revolutionary arrived right in the middle of Jon Voight's initial wave of big-screen film appearances: Midnight Cowboy, Catch-22, Deliverance. It was the second of two low-budget films Voight and director Paul Williams made for the beginning film producer Edward R. Pressman, who would soon be associated with key films for Brian De Palma and Terrence Malick. The first film was 1969's Out of It, an odd comedy about a high school nerd competing with the school's top jock for the affections of a teen queen. The Revolutionary stands apart from a rash of trendy early '70s movies about revolution, that dealt mostly with oppression on college campuses: The Strawberry Statement, Getting Straight, Antonioni's Zabriskie Point. Hans Konigsberger adapted his own novel for this story of a frustrated young radical unable to find a satisfactory method of changing society. The film has been screened so infrequently that most on-line synopses get its story wrong.

In an unnamed city in the free world (which looks like industrial London but the accents are all American), young philosophy student "A" (Jon Voight) attends campus protest meetings. The group is disorganized and unclear on its goals, and "A" has difficulty expressing his revolutionary theories. He receives support from his companion and lover Ann (Collin Wilcox-Horne of To Kill a Mockinbird) but tends to associate her with his frustration. Jailed at a protest, "A" is further incensed when he's let free without a chance to recite a statement he's written in his jail cell. He makes contact with Helen (Jennifer Salt), a carefree daughter of the wealthy, but cannot fit into her circles. Helen's conversations seem petty in contrast to "A"'s seriousness but she remains a friend. Ousted from the University without official cause, "A" seeks out a union organization seeking to shut down a munitions factory. Organizer Despard (Robert Duvall) allows "A" to write and distribute strike propaganda but refuses to take any initiative, in deference to instructions from higher up. Ann leaves to marry another man and have a conventional life. "A" falls in with the anarchistic loose cannon Leonard II (Seymour Cassel), who gets his kicks with stunts like burning money in public. Leonard joins with "A" to break into a pawnshop and give away property to whoever asks for them. After a violent confrontation at the munitions factory makes him a wanted man, "A" lies low by obeying his draft summons, He deserts basic training to warn a group of strikers that the army will be blocking off the entire munitions factor district and searching it for radicals. Hiding in Helen's garden greenhouse, "A" falls in with Leonard II's plan to strike back at the system. Waiting outside the courthouse for a judge to appear, "A" must decide whether to cross the line into violent resistance.

Without a guidebook in hand I'd have to say that The Revolutionary aims to present a portrait of the Eternal Young Radical, a type that hasn't changed in a couple of hundred years. The man with the Kafka-like name "A" always speaks in earnest and is always dissatisfied. The cause is no joke to "A". He can't abide the college group that treats organizational meetings as a social opportunity. He also loses patience with the professional socialist Despard, who criticizes "A"'s insistence that action is needed, that they "must" do something. Ann is a loyal partner but is also too independent for our radical hero, who doesn't appreciate having his ideas questioned. The cute and trusting Helen is more to "A"'s liking. He might call her a silly bourgeois but she supports him without question. She's rich, too, which helps: the raggedy bookworm suddenly has real hand-me-down clothes to wear.

A genuine social misfit, "A" stumbles around the cobblestoned industrial streets looking like a real bum. His room is a grim horror from a Dickens novel. "A" isn't fast with words. He dresses up to bribe an official to let a comrade out of jail, and is so bad at talking that the official has to carry both halves of the conversation. He's much too easily intimidated by the bureaucrat that sneeringly informs him that he has been suspended from school. Jon Voight handles "A"'s stammering indecision very well. His physical characterization may have been influenced by movies like Henning Carlsen's Hunger. Voight may also have been inspired by Dustin Hoffman to distinguish his character with a strange walk. "A" galumphs along with an awkward gait, feet pointed outward. It's almost as extreme as something Walter Brennan might do. In the very first scene "A" sprains his ankle falling down some steps. It almost looks as if he loses control because of this crazy walk idea.

The Revolutionary co-stars Seymour Cassel, the Oscar-nominated star of John Cassavetes films, and Robert Duvall before his breakout in The Godfather. Collin Wilcox-Horne was probably suggested by Duvall from their Mockingbird connection. This movie "introduces" Jennifer Salt (Sisters) although she'd just come from small parts in three Brian De Palma films and Midnight Cowboy. Ms. Salt is the daughter of the once blacklisted Waldo Salt, the screenwriter of Midnight Cowboy. Elsewhere in the film we can see the bright red hair of Jeffrey Jones; it's the actor's first film. Actors Bill Nagy and Lionel Murton often played Americans in British films. Finally, actress Julie Garfield can be seen in a couple of the student meeting scenes. She's the daughter of John Garfield, an actor also associated with the blacklist. Compared to some of the lame comedies and pretentious campus riot foolishness of big-studio "revolution" films of 1970, The Revolutionary at least has a solid pedigree.

"A" begins as an idealistic theorist but his desire to "do something" ends with him carrying a bomb like an ordinary anarchist. As with Out of It, The Revolutionary was screened almost nowhere and became an immediate obscurity (although it was a frequent bill-filler at the Fox Venice in Los Angeles). Voight's starring role in Philip Kaufman's experimental, scattershot comic book aberration Fearless Frank (1967) is better known.

The MGM Limited Edition Collection's DVD-R of The Revolutionary is an acceptable transfer of a color feature that makes little attempt at an attractive surface. Skin tones are accurate so the seedy documentary look is probably correct. Some of the dialogue can be difficult to hear, but overall the track is well recorded. One is hardly aware of any soundtrack music until the final scene, where Michael Small's ominous tones take over.

The disc has no extras. The film remains an honest show, if not a particularly moving drama. Fans familiar with the actors involved will be intrigued. Cassell, Duvall, Wilcox-Horne, Salt -- they all have plenty of good scenes. Jon Voight has become such a reactionary lately that his convincing performance as The Revolutionary is interesting in itself.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Revolutionary rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Good
Sound: Good
Subtitles: none
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 8, 2011

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2011 Glenn Erickson

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