Cynical, alcoholic ex-musician Paul Newman arrives in New Orleans with barely a cent to his name. Following a tip from scam-artist preacher Laurence Harvey, Newman lands a job as a DJ for WUSA, an extreme right wing/white power propaganda radio station. Newman has no patience for his employers’ message, but he’s happy to take the money and drink himself into an apathetic stupor. Acting as the unwelcome voice of his conscience are the scarred hard-luck woman he has taken up with (Joanne Woodward) and the twitchy, anxious liberal (Anthony Perkins) who is about to discover that the survey work he has been doing in the city’s ghetto is, in fact, in the service of Newman’s dark masters.
Very much a reflection of, and commentary on, its turbulent times (1970), this is a film that is messy in its construction but ferocious in its convictions. The plot meanders more than is good for it, the script takes some rather pretentious flights into poetry, and Newman’s character changes too little to be very interesting, with the result that the final scene lacks the kick that it clearly wants to have. Perkins, however, is magnificent in his painful, tortured sincerity, and the climax – a WUSA rally that becomes a hellish riot – is a knockout.
The print is in near pristine shape, with none of the damage one often sees in films of this vintage, even during the credits. The colours are vibrant, the contrasts and blacks excellent. There is no visible edge enhancement, and the grain is minimal. The image is sharp, and the presentation is the original 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. All told, the transfer gives us a movie that looks as good as the day it premiered.
For the most part, the mono track is almost as good as the picture, blessed with fine clarity and warm tones. However, there is sometimes a bit of static, problems crop up during the climax. Individual effects – the jangle of trick-shooter’s spurs, the applause of a single pair of hands – are detached from the rest of the sound mix, sounding distinctly odd and distracting. Furthermore, Newman’s speech in the midst of the chaos – a speech as biting and bleak as any I can think of in American cinema – is almost lost in the noise of the crowd.
A flawed but committed film, and one whose flaws are themselves fascinating. A startling piece from one of the most creative periods in Hollywood history, and certainly worth seeing.