Release Date: December 21st, 1976 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Peter Bogdanovich Actors: Ryan O’Neal, Burt Reynolds, Tatum O’Neal, Brian Keith, Stella Stevens, John Ritter, Jane Hitchcock, Brion James
ickelodeon” proves that director Peter Bogdanovich has a passion for film history. But his decision to tell the story through the use of rapid-fire dialogue and zany slapstick isn’t as affective as if he’d opted for a straightforward, dramatic biopic. Using fictional characters to represent the personal experiences and careers of early filmmakers (specifically Raoul Walsh and Allan Dwan), constant Keaton-esque chaos is supplied, which overshadows the interesting methods of moviemaking used during the early 1900s’ production company wars and the origins of American features.
Leo Harrigan (Ryan O’Neal), an unsuccessful defense lawyer, literally stumbles (with cartoonish shoe-in-a-bucket mayhem) into a job as a screenwriter for the Kinegraph company. Through a series of mishaps he is promoted to director for a shoot in Cucamonga, and must combat egotistical actors, an unstable script, a lack of physical coordination, and zero preplanning; later, he battles crazed fans and unexpected nonsensical editing decisions that hinder his newfound accomplishments. During his attempts to match the works of the legendary D.W. Griffith, he must defend his crew against the efforts of the Patents Company, a collection of big producers who have hired Buck Greenaway (Burt Reynolds) to violently disrupt the filming of the little independent “blanket” companies. Along the way, Leo and Buck alternate joining forces, fist-fighting one another, and wooing the same clumsy girl (Jane Hitchcock).
“Has everyone gone crazy today?” fumes Harrigan, as everything that can go wrong inevitably does. It’s only natural that a film about filmmaking shows unheralded complications, constant disorganization, and utter chaos – but it’s overkill to tack on as much slapstick as Bogdanovich opts for. With characters repetitiously falling down, switching suitcases, and ripping their clothing in blundering fashion, the excessive amount of physical gimmicks leaves the overall comedy element tragically flavorless. Impulsive wackiness isn’t always funny, even if the mood is consistent – a sentiment lending to “Nickelodeon’s” unanimous, negative critical reception.
The characters are over-the-top and caricatures of actors acting; it’s stylish but silly and wears thin a little too quickly. There’s an informative historical component not without value, a mediocre love story, and a couple of noteworthy supporting role concepts (the performance itself is average, but a character whose only dialogue is to interject “sumbitch” every so often imparts a memorable humorousness). Although it’s a commendable homage to the beginnings of the film industry, “Nickelodeon” is overlong and immoderately carpeted with slapstick. However, the central idea that Harrigan accidentally captures decent footage, haphazardly cut together into a success, is inspiringly innovative.
– Mike Massie