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Your April 2010 Random Movie Club Results Are In!

Pizza: Royal Pizza

Tagline: His wife just left him for another man. And so did his boyfriend.

Preshow Entertainment: None


It was my birthday, so I decided to hold a birthday Random Movie Club. We almost broke the attendance record and certainly shattered the record for most cool people in one room (excluding me, natch). There was cake and l'il smokies and chips and dip and Red Vines and soda and, of course, pizza. What more can a boy want? Well, how about a delivery man that actually comes to the door? Yes, for the second time in RMC history a pizzaman couldn't find a parking space and wanted us to go to the street to get the pizza. Was this his first delivery? Had he not yet learned the fine art of double parking?

Anyway, the movie that was picked from the Random Movie Generator was Simon Gray's play-turned-film BUTLEY (1974). Though I would have rather had something more fun like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, I was fine with tonight's selection about an unhappy, bitter man who has an excruciatingly bad day.

We all love villains. From Goldfinger to Cruella. And we all love to see them get their comeuppances. So it's close to impossible to craft (write/act/both) a villain that after all is said and done, you actually feel sorry for, like Ben Butley. But just because you have a gift for words doesn't necessarily make you the smartest person in the room, even if the room only has two people in it. Sometimes smartness can lead to your own undoing. Let's face it, there is such a thing as a smart asshole. In point of fact; no one can match wits with Ben Butley, university English professor and T.S. Eliot nut. But can all his sharp-tongue-edness, whip-smartish-isms and wordsmith-ery save him from the fact that his wife has left him and his male lover is also all but gone?

BUTLEY begins with the sound of coughing. Then we see Butley, disheveled, frustrated when he discovers his only razor was used by his estranged wife, which in turn cuts his face. It's only fitting that his face is pricked, as this is the face of a prick, and it only takes the next scene, smoking on London's underground, for us to realize this.

But Butley's unfazed. As long as he has his words, he has the upper hand. And that's true, to an extent. What happens in the next two hours and change is Butley-as-lizard, thwacking his enemies with his tongue. From his lover Joey (Richard O' Callaghan) to another professor Edna (Jessica Tandy) to his ex-wife Anne (Susan Engel) to Joey's new man Reg (Michael Byrne), everyone is a target. And when people try to (physically) walk out on him, they seem to always come back. In point of fact; "Why don't they just leave?" asked one RMCer. Well, because that's all a part of Butley's manipulation. How long can he keep the ball in the air.
He's got Columbo's ability to keep people in the room and on the defensive, eventually having them confess to things by trapping them in their own words. And through it all, a picture of T.S. Eliot hangs in his office, watching over Butley, one of its corners flapping downwards as if to mock him.

I love how he picks up on Joey's new phrase - "in point of fact." Instead of Butley asking Joey where he snagged it, he toys with him by mimicking it (so we know), only to have it come directly from Joey's new boyfriend's lips later in the film. Then, he tosses it back at Joey like a mean-spirited child, never once overtly asking him about it, just letting him know he's onto him. And almost everything Butley says is subtextual. That is the genius of Butley (the character and the film), and the reason we root for him even as we want to punch his teeth out.


There's no real plot to BUTLEY other than the unraveling of a man. Halfway through the film, after receiving unwelcome news (all news to Butley is unwelcome, I gather), he retreats to the men's room where he removes the toilet paper that was affixed to his razor cut (which he wore like a badge), revealing a bit of blood (Joey will remove this for him later). It's verbal warfare (and brilliant and funny, at that) between Butley and everyone, but mostly Joey. Towards the end, they square off in a mirror-like shot of the two exes behinds their desks, facing off for battle.

Butley Bates and O'Callaghan

To Butley, everyone is a piffling soul, when in reality, it's just the opposite. He's like a cancer patient in denial. His life is as messy as his desk, and it's emotionally underdeveloped (his life, not his desk). Though he is clever and (incredibly) funny, and claims to be an expert on Eliot, it's actually fairy tales that give him pleasure; reading them and quoting them. And if he's not emotionally stuck enough, his office resembles a prison cell, made up of cinderblock and muted tones.

One thing that Ben Butley has, though you need to cut underneath his scaled skin, is a real emotional reaction after a break-up. While some simply walk away during a break-up, others will say things they don't want to. Well...Butley says everything he wants to. He's an impetuous child who needs to get the last word, and blame everyone but himself.

Though the writing is lean, mean and just plain terrific, BUTLEY's big gun is the stunning performance from Alan Bates, who originated the role on stage in London and then Broadway where he won the Tony for Best Actor. Bates is onscreen the entire time, a formidable task for an actor. It's a good thing this isn't the only movie he made, because if it was, I believe people would think he was really Ben Butley. Perhaps part of the reason is Bates himself was a married man who carried on homosexual affairs. This could be Bates' best performance, though I can't say for sure having seen only 9 of his 50-plus movies. Though I am here to tell you he was better in BUTLEY than in HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE.

They revived BUTLEY on Broadway in 2006, and in the title role? Guess. You can't? Oh, I should haven't made that a question. It should be - "You can't." And the reason why you can't is that the answer is Nathan Lane. That's the equivalent of casting Jamie Lynn Spears as Hester Prynne. Oh dear. I shouldn't have said that. Maybe Nathan Lane was good. In point of fact; a brief hop on the old internet-thing finds many good reviews for Lane. I shouldn't have judged something I haven't seen. Let me take that back. But not the Jamie Lynn Spears part.

Though Harold Pinter was a prolific stage director, BUTLEY is the only movie he directed. It's astonishing he hadn't done more, as BUTLEY's direction on the tech side, though subtle, was clearly a difficult task. The play and movie were written by frequent Pinter cohort Simon Gray (that sounds like he may be English). BUTLEY is SLEUTH without the mystery. NOTE: Pinter wrote the screenplay for the 2007 remake of SLEUTH. ANOTHER NOTE: Pinter and Gray died in 2008, four months apart.

I get the feeling Steve Gordon, who wrote ARTHUR, saw the play/movie BUTLEY and thought, "What if I took this story about a pathetic loser and make it a mainstream comedy instead of a black comedy?" I mean, Dudley Moore even looks (shaggy hair included) and speaks like Butley...and he's a limey.

A word of caution. BUTLEY is not for everyone. It's talky and long. Sometimes I like movies like this. Sometimes I hate them. This time, I totally loved it. It took me a while to adjust the settings in my brain to sync up with the film, but once I did I saw BUTLEY as a fascinating portrait of an embittered, self-destructive dastard. And this villain's comeuppance isn't James Bond shooting him, it's Butley shooting himself.

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