Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Nickelodeon (1976)

A loving, spirited tribute to the rough-and-tumble early days of picture-making, Peter Bogdanovich's NICKELODEON is a flawed but interesting and often entertaining film based partly on the colorful experiences of pioneering filmmakers Allan Dwan and Raoul Walsh.

Ryan O'Neal stars as a Chicago lawyer who gets mixed up with an independent motion picture company and reluctantly takes over as director of their latest production shooting out west, and Burt Reynolds as a jack-of-all-trades who reluctantly becomes the company's new star after being sent by the Patents Trust to shut the production down. The fine ensemble cast includes Tatum O'Neal, Brian Keith, John Ritter, Stella Stevens, and Jane Hitchcock.

The film drags in spots, not helped by some laboriously-executed slapstick scenes that go on too long, but overall it's a great deal of fun, clearly made with a great deal of affection and knowledge of the period. The bittersweet ending, taking place at the premiere of The Birth of a Nation, beautifully encapsulates the emotional rollercoaster of the filmmaking process. After witnessing such a brilliant film, O'Neal is simultaneously enthusiastic about the artistic triumph it represents, and dejected by the realization that he will never make anything as good himself. But just as soon as he's contemplating giving it all up, he witnesses a film company making the movie, and the excitement all comes back to him. Not quite up to the standards of Bogdanovich's best films of the early '70s (particularly The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon), NICKELODEON is nonetheless an admirable and ambitious effort, and certainly one of the best films-about-filmmaking.

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