PG, 1975, 103 min, MGM/UA Home Video, $59.95.
This is one of the most enjoyable, most neglected films of the '70s, and its release on video is a real occasion. Set in Hollywood in 1929, this eccentrically charming comedy about the early days of the movies stars Jeff Bridges as a callow midwestern youth, a writer of "western prose" who sees an ad for a writing program on the back of a matchbook and heads out to California. The school is a fraud -- one of its staff tries to conk him on the head in his sleep -- and through a series of chaotic events he winds up as stunt man with a fly-by-night film company making low-budget westerns. The director of these cheapie oaters is a manic loon, complete with swagger stick and jodhpurs, played by Alan Arkin, and gathered around him is a crowd of lively cranks and dreamers including Andy Griffith as a fading cowboy star and Blythe Danner, who gives a blissful, cloud-banked performance as the company script girl. Working from a Rob Thompson script, director Howard Zieff gives his cast of characters full reign, but Bridges, his writer's brain in perpetual motion, is the movie's smooth-stroking engine. This is a small film, but it's immensely pleasing, and in its own offhanded, casual manner, it captures the way a writer thinks, his way of taking in the world, as well as any film I've ever seen.