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Brewster McCloud (1970)

The Houston Astrodome is a great place to shoot a movie. It’s big, it’s round, and the translucent roof lets in plenty of light. As a set, it cries out to the filmmaker, “use me”.

In 1970, Robert Altman (who directed M*A*S*H) wasted the Astrodome, lots of money, and 90 minutes of the viewing audience’s time.

Owlish Brewster McCloud (Bud Cort) is a long-haired homicidal psychopath who lives illegally in the fallout shelter beneath the Houston Astrodome and spends his days studying avian physiology while building a pair of mechanical wings. He is obsessed with birds and determined to fly.

Hope (Jennifer Salt) is a groupie who visits Brewster’s lair and climaxes while watching him exercise. Suzanne (Shelley Duvall, in her first movie) is a spaced-out Astrodome tour guide who becomes Brewster’s accomplice and lover. A blind girl called Louise (Sally Kellerman) – who may be a hallucination or an angel or his fairy godmother – helps him kill people.

Other significant characters include wheelchair-bound Abraham Wright (Stacy Keach), who makes his money charging merciless rents to seniors at rest homes and Frank Shaft (Michael Murphy), a cop investigating a series of murders that may or may not have been committed by Brewster and/or Louise. (Each of the victims is marked by bird defecation on the face.)

Rene Auberjonois has a recurring part as “The Lecturer” – a weird professor who speaks directly to the audience about bird behaviour while slowly transforming into a bird.

The film is edited briskly so it moves along at a good pace: Cops chase Brewster around Houston. Girls chase Brewster around Houston. He makes his solo flight. He flies. He falls and dies.

There are a couple of nice bits in the movie, both in the last five minutes. The first nice bit is Brewster’s flying sequence, which is beautiful with heart-stopping shots of Brewster soaring gracefully around the roof of the Astrodome.

The second nice bit is in the end credit sequence, which comes right after Brewster falls to his death. It’s done as a Fellini circus and the entire cast gathers in circus garb to take their final bows.

Each of the actors, in turn, steps out of character and takes a curtain call, but when it’s Brewster’s turn the camera cuts to a close-up of him lying on the ground, broken and dead. I have no idea what it’s supposed to mean, either.

Brewster McCloud
Bud Cort
Sally Kellerman
Frank Shaft
Michael Murphy
Sheriff Haskel Weeks
William Windom
Suzanne Davis
Shelley Duvall
René Auberjonois
Abraham Wright
Stacy Keach
Police Lieutenant Alvin Johnson
John Schuck
Daphne Heap
Margaret Hamilton
Jennifer Salt
Police Lieutenant Hines
Corey Fischer
Police Captain Crandall
G. Wood
Policeman Douglas Breen
Bert Remsen
Mrs Breen
Angelin Johnson
Eugene Ledbetter
Dean Goss
Bill Baldwin
Professor Aggnout
Keith V. Erickson
Ronnie Cammack

Robert Altman