Bobby Deerfield," Al Pacino's maiden attempt at an unabashed glamor-puss vehicle has led to the first landmark embarrassment of his career - its an uncoordinated tear jerker certain to double up cynics and touch only those fans who prefer their favorites lost in a narcissistic fog.
Pacino made such a strong impression in such a comparatively short time - only 3 1/2 years elapsed between the release of "The Godfather" and "Dog Day Afternoon," with "Serpico" and "Godfather II" in the interim - that it may be as difficult to keep a fiasco like this in perspective.
As the title character, an uptight Grand Prix driver who is supposed to loosen up under the skittish romantic influence of Marthe Keller's Lillian, a free spirit living on borrowed time. Pacino resembles an expensive, coddled property rather than an imaginatively engaged actor.
You keep expecting him to murmur, "Bring me a mirror."
Pacino is afforded a few opportunities to flash his blazing eyes and crupts in a rage, but one will search in vain for a dramatic justification for these specialties in "Bobby Deerfield." Screenwriter Alvin Sargent hasn't invented a context in which Pacino could act characteristically intense, vulnerable and impassioned without exposing himself to ridicule. The glares and hurts and outbursts that were expressive in other movies come out of nowhere in this picture, unless they can be said to come out of a star's bag of tricks. Director Sydney Pollack; aiming for heightened sensitivity but achieving only gaseous solemnity is no help either.
Bobby Deerfield, a character encased in a spoiled-rotten shell, seems a miserable excuse for a romantic [WORD ILLEGIBLE] if Sargent and Pollack really entioned the movie as an inspirational the story about an aloof man in a [WORD ILLEGIBLE]-defying job who is redeemed by afair with a doomer woman [WORD ILLEGIBLE] ardently and bravely to the life remaining to her. One can't be certain the filmmakers intended something this clear-cut and commercially promising, only to blow it. But perhaps they blew it much earlier, deluding themselves that the theme would be much more touching if they treated it abstractly and decoratively.
The character of Bobby is handicapped by more than his absurd vanity. He's required to play slow-on-the-up-take stooge to the heroine's quicksilver tease and fun-lover. The contrast, arbitrary to begin with, does nothing flattering for either Pacino or Keller. Her would-be adorable kookiness ought to provoke lighter responses than Pacino's morose and baleful glances.
I thought Bobby had finally articulated his first witticism when he discovered Lillian conversing with a native outside Florence and inquired, "Who's the guy with the salami?" Unfortunately, he was still playing straight man for Lillian, who catches him flatfooted with this devastating rhetorical volley: "Who's Bobby Deerfield?" Now and then Pacino may be detected translating Keller's more puzzling pronouciations - for example.She says "You're such a twuttle" and he replies helpfully, "A turtle?" - and I think this is an endearing notion, guaranteed to make Keller a star if it were exploited systematically in a romantic comedy context.
However, no one connected with this movie seems witty enough to capitalize on the occasional capital notion.
Inevitably, one is brought to the painful subject of Pacino's singing and clowning. The plot requires that Lillian break through Bobby's reserve, and the moment of truth arrives when he offers to do an impersonation of Mae West, a pathetic effort that leads him on to equally inspired caprices. This conception of emotional rehabilitation serves whatever threads of plausibility and dignity the film might be hanging by. If Bobby Deerfield can prove his humanity only if Al Pacino consents to make a laughing stock of himself, the price is a bit high.
Excruciating as they are, Pacino's crooning and impersonations are less maddening than another device Bobby must stoop to in order to demonstrate his love: copying Lillian's joke of telling an elaborate tall-tale about the death of a parent. Whose idea of a jolly touch of spontaneity does this despicable gambit happen to be?
Although "Bobby Deefield" is probably no more misbegotten than the Barbra Streisand version of "A Star Is Born," it's not the sort of self-aggrandizing romantic folly a male star is traditionally forgiven. The shock may be all the greater because Pacino has not appeared in a film for two years and because many of us will always fell reverberations from that last appearance. I think Pacino's performance in "Dog Day Afternoon" was the most powerful and stirring piece of naturalistic acting in American films since Marlon Brando brought Terry Malloy to life in "On brought Terry Malloy to life in "On the Waterfront." It may help to recall that Brando followed up "Waterfront" by bailing out of "The Egyptian" just in time to end up in "Desiree," but it doesn't help that much.
The only legitimate source of glamor in the movie is Henri Deca's ritzy color photography of the European locales. One comes away with a faint suspicion that this project may have appealed to everyone on the basis of a European vacation rather than the intrinsic truth and beauty of the story.