BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC Tonight Andrew’s Video Vault unearths to very different New York stories for tonight’s double feature at The Rotunda. The 1975 made for TV feature Hustling gives us a view of the city in its mid-1970s seedy glory courtesy of Joseph Sargent, the director of the classic New York thriller The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 (which can be seen during the film on a theater marquee). The screenplay, written by Fay Kanin and adapted from a book by Gail Sheehy, is surprisingly uninterested in the titillation factor of the profession but instead focuses on the in and outs of being a working streetwalker. It follows journalist Fran (Lee Remick) and her subject Wanda (Jill Clayburgh), who has been on the New York City streets for four years. Remick is her usual beautiful, earnest self but Clayburgh, a year before her breakthrough in the Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder comedy Silver Streak, is a revelation in a role of Wanda. Lacking the sort of liberated, educated veneer she brought to later roles, Clayburgh is extremely moving as the tough but vulnerable streetwalker Wanda, who is attempting to shake the pimp for whom she has been working . Dodging the shallowness that can afflict so many TV movies, Hustling also dares to see the similarities between the female journalist and the prostitute, a conversation that makes Fran’s boyfriend visibly nervous and surely shocked the housewives who tuned in to ABC during this film’s original run
The Wife is less specifically a New York film yet with its New York-based cast, its caustic dialogue and its genesis as an Obie Award-winning play, the film feels like it could not have come from anywhere else. It’s the second of two well-received film written, directed, and starring Tom Noonan, a hulking character actor most famous for playing the serial killer The Red Dragon in Michael Mann’s Manhunter. Noonan’s first film , What Happened Was, was a stylish and claustrophobic look at a blind date gone wrong. In his follow-up black comedy The Wife he doubles the cast and multiplies the possibilities for lingering discomfort. Reminiscent of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Wife throws two mismatched couples together to find that they share assorted pathologies. Noonan plays Jack, a smug psychologist who works in group therapy with his wife Rita (Airplane‘s sweet-voiced Julie Haggerty). The couple’s retreat to their barn-like second home is crashed by Cosmo, one of their patients played by the great playwright and character actor Wallace Shawn. Cosmo has also brought along his wife Arlie (the under-rated Karen Young,) an angry former stripper who feels alienated from a trio as they have discussed her in length during her husband’s group therapy. Arlie is the loose cannon that stirs up this impromptu dinner party, she is openly dismissive of her husband, who hates it when she calls their dog “Cosmo’s brother.” Jack sadistically goads her on, but we know this is the type of dinner party where no one will go away unscathed. The Wife is one of those films that has a mean-streak too deep for mass appreciation, but its wit and humor satisfies like a good night out at the theater. Noonan does a lot to hide the film’s stage origins, but this sort of slow-building screenplay, with its well-timed revelations and witty arguments, will be best appreciated by those who enjoy the stage. Noonan made one more film called Wang Dang, which was either never finished or released, and has since gone back to writing for the stage. The economy may have stunted Noonan’s directorial career, but not before he got the chance to release a couple of small gems.