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Connoisseurs of obscure New York movies will likely tilt an eyebrow in the direction of The Sidelong Glances of a Pigeon Kicker, a picture that screened briefly in 1970 and then disappeared, returning under the less colorful (and less pretentious) title Pigeons. Ron Whyte's screenplay, from the novel by David Boyer, contains many ingredients that percolated in the vaguely counterculture film fare flooding theaters in the wake of Easy Rider. Spirited, well intentioned but lacking in fresh ideas and real wit, Pigeon Kicker compensates with a lively New York cast, including a number of notable faces in their salad days.
Much of the story is given a sarcastic voiceover narration by the leading character, Jonathan (Jordan Christopher). Unable to commit to a career, Jonathan works as a taxi driver, much to the consternation of his mother (Kate Reid) and stepfather (William Redfield). Jonathan certainly has enough distractions in his life, as he's pursued by the cute girl next door Jennifer (Jill O'Hara), a passionate acquaintance, Mildred (Lois Nettleton) and Naomi, a borderline nymphomaniac (Boni Enten). Jonathan's best friend Winslow Smith (Robert Walden) is a veteran but also a virgin, and frustrated that he can't seem to score. Jonathan takes Jennifer home to the suburbs, only to become more aware of his parents' pathetic relationship. What will make Jonathan commit?
To justify its title, The Sidelong Glances of a Pigeon Kicker begins with Jonathan and Winslow chasing hated pigeons in the park. Winslow shoplifts groceries (a signature counterculture activity in movies of the time) while Jonathan courts friendships with various New York types. The film's big party is thrown by Oliver (Riggs O'Hara), a gay interior decorator surrounded by an entourage of young men, The script subscribes to the cliché that a prime function of gays is to provide needed emotional support for straight people.
Jonathan has a smart remark for every occasion and develops a defeatist attitude at the first sign of difficulty. Unable to kill the ants beneath his sink, he dumps a box of cookies around them so they'll be happy. Fed up with a complaining passenger when his taxi becomes stuck in traffic, Jonathan simply abandons the vehicle and walks away. He calls his dispatcher to tell him where the car can be picked up. Shockingly, this does not end our boy's career as a taxi jockey ... perhaps the filmmakers unwisely moved the scene from the end of the picture to the beginning?
English director John Dexter emulates Richard Lester in a few scenes. Jonathan, Winslow and Jennifer smoke dope on the roof and then go on a lighthearted spree pulling off some pretty miserable and petty pranks. They steal salt and pepper shakers from every food stand and cart they can find, and then hand them out to passers-by. None of this comes off as inspired.
Some acting and dramatic scenes are very good, however. Jill O'Hara is consistently charming; she originated the Fran Kubelik role in the musical Promises Promises. Robert Walden (Lou Grant, All the President's Men) is excellent in every scene, and much more memorable than leading man Jordan Christopher. It was Walden's first theatrical role. Jill O'Hara is cute in sort of a Cindy Williams way. Her Jennifer is a hippie with a steady support check from home, yet she seems a dear. Lois Nettleton is excellent as an attractive female predator, who coldly drops Jonathan just when his defenses are down. Not that Jonathan shows the women in his life much in the way of mercy. Little respect is afforded Boni Enten's Naomi. She corners Jonathan in Oliver's swank bathroom, and strips for action. When Jonathan slips away, she simply wanders naked into the party proper, to look for him.
Kate Reid and William Redfield are excellent in rather narrow, unfairly conceived roles. She's frustrated that her sonny boy Jonathan isn't on the path to success, while Redfield's passive stepfather gets drunk at a party and goes home with another woman. Mom has no choice but to forgive and resent.
Also visible, if not properly exploited, are a pre-fame Melba Moore as a party guest and David Doyle as a host of a straight let's-all-get-crocked Christmas party. Kristoffer Tabori is one of Oliver's lovely young things, while Elaine Stritch is immediately recognizable by her aggressive attitude. When the movies put out the call for New York acting troops, the winning personalities quickly rose to the top.
The Sidelong Glances of a Pigeon Kicker is well edited but its attempt to be fresh can't quite overcome its lame voiceovers. To pad out street scenes and create conversations where nobody is really talking, the filmmakers have superimposed plenty of New York-speak chatter, as did Richard Lester in the influential The Knack... and How to Get It. The problem is that all of these dialogues sound as if they were recorded in a professional audio booth, and the mix doesn't make them any more natural. The voices all sound dead, inert, like voices in a cartoon. It hurts the tone of the picture.
The Sidelong Glances of a Pigeon Kicker could be called The Post-Graduate in that its counterculture heroes are all pushing thirty, and no longer qualify as green kids. The movie's quota of sex scenes seems formulaic as well. Jonathan's "three girls for every boy" arrangement reeks of the exploitation setup of titles like The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart or Three in the Attic. It's a bit much to propose that the picture is a pre- Taxi Driver, however. Jonathan is too much of a jellyfish to do anything as bold as take a stand on some personal issue.
Scorpion's DVD of The Sidelong Glances of a Pigeon Kicker is an acceptable enhanced transfer of what may be a rare surviving intact print of the movie with good color. Actually, the print on view is the re-titled version Pigeons, which is a full fifteen minutes shorter than the original Pigeon Kicker. I have a feeling that the missing 1.5 reels probably should have been trimmed from the start. The audio track is in very good shape, so hearing all the dialogue is not a problem. But hearing-impaired viewers are out of luck, for there are no subtitles.
Scorpion's packaging has found five good images for the back of the box, which is five more than I could find on the web. And that includes the photogenic Jordan Christopher.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Sidelong Glances of a Pigeon Kicker rates:
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T'was Ever Thus.