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Retro Review: BREEZY (1973)

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BREEZY
(US - 1973)

Directed by Clint Eastwood. Written by Jo Heims. Cast: William Holden, Kay Lenz, Roger C. Carmel, Marj Dusay, Joan Hotchkis, Jamie Smith Jackson, Norman Bertold, Lynn Borden, Shelley Morrison, Dennis Olivieri, Eugene Peterson, Lew Brown, Richard Bull, Johnnie Collins III, Don Diamond, Scott Holden, Sandy Kenyon, Buck Young. (R, 106 mins)

It remains a popular notion that Clint Eastwood wasn't taken seriously as an actor or a director until 1992's UNFORGIVEN established him as a genuine auteur and put him back on top after a string of box-office disappointments that found him in a major slump for the first time in his career. But anyone who'd been paying attention over the years already knew that Eastwood was doing more substantive and creative work that was commonly believed, whether it was 1971's influential proto-FATAL ATTRACTION psycho-thriller PLAY MISTY FOR ME, the same year's Southern gothic period piece THE BEGUILED, 1973's disturbing supernatural revenge western HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, or 1974's offbeat heist/buddy/road movie THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT. Eastwood was never afraid to tackle unusual projects outside of his comfort zone, and he was proving that in the years leading up to UNFORGIVEN, when he was forced to compromise and do junk like THE DEAD POOL, PINK CADILLAC, and THE ROOKIE in order to get a green light for personal passion projects like BIRD and WHITE HUNTER, BLACK HEART. The first real surprise of Eastwood's career after he became a superstar (unless you count PAINT YOUR WAGON), 1973's BREEZY was an odd outlier in his filmography, at least back then in the pre-BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY days when we weren't privy to his softer side. Just out on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber (because physical media is dead), BREEZY was his third film as a director, and the first where he was just the director (unless you count a fleeting Hitchcockian cameo where he can be glimpsed standing on a pier), and it's a low-key, sometimes overly sentimental May-December romance that plays like a conservative guy's idea of the era's counterculture scene.






Eastwood was 43 when he directed BREEZY, and it's surprising he didn't sit on it for another decade so he could play the lead role himself. Instead, he got the legendary William Holden to star as Frank Harmon, a successful Laurel Canyon real estate agent in his mid-50s who's divorced, aloof, and enjoys no-strings-attached evenings with blind dates and hookups he has no intention of ever calling back. He's introduced getting a cab in the morning for his lastest one-nighter, and can barely hide his eye-rolling disinterest when she gives him her phone number, which he immediately tosses in the trash the moment she gets in the cab. He's leaving for work when he sees a young woman hanging out at the end of his driveway. She's Edith Alice Breezerman, aka "Breezy" (Kay Lenz), a 19-year-old drifter from Pittsburgh who's been hitchhiking and free-loving her way out to California and going wherever the day takes her. Frank has neither the time nor the patience for this chatty hippie whose only possession is an acoustic guitar, but she cracks his hard-shell exterior and the "black cloud" around him gradually dissipates. They form an unlikely bond and eventually fall in love, and Frank feels happy and alive for the first time since his divorce from the bitter, sloshed Helen (Joan Hotchkis), though he's still second-guessing his decision to give the cold shoulder to Betty (Marj Dusay), a friend-with-benefits that he pushed away when she wanted to get serious, only to have her marry the guy she began seeing when Frank started giving her the brush-off.


Though he didn't write BREEZY (it was scripted his PLAY MISTY FOR ME scribe Jo Heims), it's not hard to imagine a well-documented serial womanizer like Eastwood seeing much of his current and future self in Holden's character. To that extent, he understands Frank and lets Holden really explore the psychology of a solitary man who wants things uncomplicated, wants to be untethered, and shuts people out to avoid the risk of getting attached. He's at first appalled by Breezy's carefree nature and cruelly accuses her of seeing him as a financially secure meal ticket, then very slowly falls for her once he gets to know her. That is, until he runs into his disillusioned, lives-vicariously-through-him, midlife-crisis buddy Bob (Roger C. Carmel) and his wife and some mutual acquaintances when he and Breezy go see a movie (HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, of all things) and he's visibly embarrassed about their discovery of his secret 19-year-old girlfriend. Bob's later remarks about how he'd feel like a child molester sleeping with a girl that young prod Frank into doing what he always does when he starts feeling close to someone: he pushes Breezy away by acting like a total prick. Holden is at his jaded, cynical, late-career best here (Bob: "I ran into your ex-wife the other day." Frank: "I hope you were in your car doing 80"), and Lenz is fine with what she's asked to do, which is essentially be a too-good-to-be-true Hollywood version of a hippie drifter. She's more of an early incarnation of the Nathan Rabin-coined "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" than anything resembling then-contemporary youth. She's perpetually cheerful, teaches curmudgeonly Frank some heartfelt life lessons, hangs out with other homeless hippies but is the only one who doesn't do drugs, and when Frank takes her to a swanky restaurant, she orders a Shirley Temple. It's almost like Eastwood was already an old soul looking to argue with a chair when he made this, because the only real emotional honesty comes in the film's depiction of Frank's side of the relationship and his mindset as his world is turned upside down by his infatuation with Breezy.



Clint Eastwood on set with
William Holden and Kay Lenz
Released by Universal in November 1973, BREEZY remains a relative deep cut in the Eastwood catalog that came near the end of a busy year for him, having HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER in theaters in April and MAGNUM FORCE out in December. But BREEZY fell through the cracks in a rare instance of a studio lacking confidence in him. A skittish Universal pulled the film from release after its limited NYC engagement bombed with critics and audiences. They shelved it for several months before doing some re-editing, eventually relaunching it in the summer of 1974, starting in Utah of all places, another sign that they still weren't seeing much commercial potential for it. It moved slowly around the country throughout the rest of 1974, eventually barely turning a profit, but Eastwood felt Universal never really gave it a shot and was offended by their treatment of it after he delivered huge hits as a star and director with PLAY MISTY FOR ME and HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER. Eastwood was dividing his time between Universal and Warner Bros. during this period, and their handling of BREEZY was but one instance of his escalating disgruntlement with Universal that led to him working, with rare exceptions, almost exclusively with Warner Bros. after 1975's THE EIGER SANCTION.

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