' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: The Big Fix (1978)

Friday, June 14, 2024

Friday's Old Fashioned: The Big Fix (1978)

The title of Howard Hawks’s indispensable noir, and one of my all-time favorite movies, “The Big Sleep” (1946) refers to every person’s impending merging with the infinite. The title of Jeremy Kagan’s “The Big Fix” (1978), then, might refer to the inevitability of men’s souls being corrupted, or at least, corroded. Noir emerged as a kind of commentary on post-WWII America and so does this neo-noir based on a novel by Roger L. Simon emerges as commentary of post-60s America, following Moses Wine (Richard Dreyfuss), a one-time Berkeley radical who is now a private eye not so much down on his luck as divorced, indifferent, and tuned out to the larger world. He is drawn back in when his old girlfriend Lila Shea (Susan Anspach) knocks at his door one night and asks for help in uncovering who is setting up a candidate for governor of California with whom she is working, a variation on the femme fatale in so much as she tempts him with trouble by way of asking him to give a damn. At first, he takes it all as seriously as the game of Clue we briefly see him playing against himself, but when Lila winds up dead, things take a grave turn, in part, anyway, and Moses finds himself dragged through the various layers of political muck and mire, all pointing back toward a radical friend, Howard Eppis (F. Murray Abraham).

Like “The Big Sleep,” “The Big Fix” is as much about scenes, encounters, and quips as on solving the case. And it is all melded together by Dreyfuss playing a consummate smart-aleck but also unlikely master of disguise who never puts on a disguise at all, emblemized in the cast on his hand which becomes the source of recurring jokes, each one summarizing who at that moment he is sort of pretending to be. Moses resembles Ryan Gosling’s pithy PI of the 70s-set “The Nice Guys” but “The Big Fix” takes itself a little more seriously than that Shane Black comedy, maybe because the latter had a decided reactionary streak, pissing on idealists and radicals whereas “The Big Fix” mostly just wants to take the piss out of them. We rarely see the politician on which Lila and others pin so much hope, yet when we do, he sounds as bland and vacuous as any other politician, and when Moses finally tracks down the disappeared Howard Eppis, it turns out he is living in a fancy Los Angeles home with a pool, wielding a spatula at the grill like you imagine he once wielded a bullhorn. When they break into a singalong of the old protest song We Shall Not Be Moved, it comes across a little like an old counterculture band enthusiastically playing the hits on the free stage at a state fair. 

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