Based on Nathanael West’s 1939 novel of the same name, The Day of the Locust is an oft-forgotten entry into 1970s filmmaking obsessed by the past. Starring William Atherton, Karen Black and Donald Sutherland, it’s a bizarre, panoramic exploration of show business folly.
Based on a series of vignettes about an aspiring starlet (Karen Black) and the men in her life, the film engages with the has-beens, never-weres, wanna-be’s and hangers-on living on the fringes of the film industry in Los Angeles.
While employed at a movie studio and hoping to rise through the art-direction ranks, Tod Hackett (William Atherton) moves into an apartment complex and becomes fascinated with his sexy neighbour, actress Faye Greener (Black).
Loud, opportunistic, and teasing, Faye accepts Tod’s affections while denying his love, even though Tod befriends Faye’s drunken father, a clown-turned-travelling salesman named Harry Greener (Burgess Meredith).
Meanwhile, Faye meets and seduces painfully shy accountant Homer Simpson (Donald Sutherland), who foolishly believes he can domesticate Faye. The storyline also involves a hard-partying dwarf, a borderline-sociopathic child actor, a lecherous studio executive, and loathsome movie extras who stage illegal cockfights.
Using diffusion filters and camera angles that let golden sunlight deflect off characters and objects within the frame, The Day of the Locust is one of the most beautifully photographed films of the 1970s, and Conrad L. Hall received one of its two Oscar nominations, for Best Cinematography.
Jackie Earle Haley