Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Landlord

31 Days of Oscar is winding up on TCM tonight, including a movie I thought I'd blogged about before but apparently havent: The Landlord, at 10:00 PM.

Beau Bridges plays Elgar Enders, the adult son in a wealthy family that has its estate somewhere on Long Island. Wanting to rebel, Elgar takes some of his money and buys a brownstone in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn. Nowadays, the area has seen the effects of 40 years of gentrification, with the result that it's turned into one of the more desitable, hip(ster?) sections of Brooklyn. I wouldn't know myself, since I'm not a New York City type, but I've read and heard so from people who know New York a lot better than I do. The movie was released in 1970, however, so back then Park Slope most certainly wasn't hip. Instead, it was a predominantly black section of the borough, with residential buildings that were seriously in need of being fixed up. So as you can imagine, Elgar's parents, notably his mother (Lee Grant) don't take well to his idea to move in to such an area. (As I understand it, the movie was made right around the time when all that gentrification was beginning.)

It also goes without saying that the residents of the building Elgar's bought don't particularly care for him either, but eye him with suspsicion. After all, Elgar's original plan called for him to renovate the whole place, which would have meant evicting the tenants, and who wants that? Besides, they've only known absentee landlords who clearly are only in it for the money. (To be fair, many of the tenants are well behind on the rent, and the building can't maintain itself for nothing.) Elgar, however, is at heart well-intentioned, and and so tries to make peace with the tenants, while only taking the basement apartment as a residence for himself. Marge (Pearl Bailey) is a sort of matriarch of the building, introducing Elgar to Fanny (Diana Sands), another tenant. Fanny and Elgar seem to get along well, but there's a problem, in the form of her boyfriend Copee (Louis Gossett Jr.), who is one of those 1960s militant types who obviously doesn't like the idea of a white guy owning his apartment.

And so it goes. Elgar's mom tries to show that she really can be tolerant by visiting her son, meeting his tenants (especially Marge), and offering to help with the decorating, but she only shows just how clueless she really is. Elgar, for his part, falls in love with Lanie (Marki Bey), a mixed-race woman, as if he's attempting to show that he really is liberal. But things get complicated when Fanny discovers that she's pregnant, and has pretty good reason to believe that Elgar is the father of the child. That is a complication.

The Landlord is entertaining enough, although in many ways its a product of its time that probably couldn't be made today. That being said, it's also a movie that's probably easier to watch today than when it came out in 1970, since the issues covered: issues of race and class, as well as social change not only in race relations, but those brought about by gentrification, would mostly have been more fresh and raw back in 1970. But the issues are handled more deftly and gently than in a film like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, which is also a big plus. The Landlord is not flawless, but it's more than successful in what it does.

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