Mr Smith Goes to Town


THE TELEPHONE BOOK (1971) by Nelson Lyon Myers — this scene, near the opening, feels like it must have had an influence on CLOCKWORK ORANGE, right? Though the movies came out within a few months of each other. Still, I believe that if there were an influence, it was probably Lyon influencing Kubrick not the other way around, even though Kubes has a substantial filmography and Lyon has, basically, this one film.

Kubrick, through his contacts at Warners, probably got to see movies before they came out. And it’s interesting that his portrayal of the cat lady is a fairly substantial departure from Anthony Burgess’ source novel, which he’s otherwise fairly faithful to. In the book, the cat lady is a typical crazy cat lady. Making her run a health spa and have a large collection of erotic pop art was Kubrick’s idea. He also uses this to make her a shrill, middle-class lady and robs her of the pathos Burgess left her (which was never drawn attention to, you just felt it if you wanted to).

Also, Kubrick was kind of a phone freak (“Why should we spoil a perfectly good telephonic relationship by meeting?” he asked Boorman) and I think he’d have responded to the film’s creepy, impersonal brand of sex comedy.

Anyway, THE TELEPHONE BOOK is now available on a snazzy Blu-ray much more handsome than the ancient VHS rip I watched. Lyon has real cinematic flair and wit, and his sex farce is less obnoxious than comrade-in-arms and Kubrick connection Terry Southern’s. Although ditzy heroine Sarah Kennedy is constantly propositioned, obscene-phone-called or indecently exposed at, her innocence allows her to rise above it all. And she’s not stupid, just kind of space-y. And the movie doesn’t seem sadistic, it actually seems like it’s on her side.

(Kennedy receives the world’s greatest dirty phone call and spends the movie trying to track down the caller, one “John Smith”, convinced he’s the love of her life. Twisted, yes, but oddly good-natured. Misogyny is present, but it doesn’t seem imbued in the film, just floating around some of the characters, which is as close to realism as the film needs to get.)

Because it has a Warhol person (Ultra Violet) and is in b&w and has a sort of underground, Robert Downey counterculture vibe, it feels like a sixties film, until the naked ladies come on and then it’s, I guess you could say, timeless.

There’s also this, which is unmistakably Kubrickian, kind of the missing link between the droogs and that furry guy in THE SHINING ~


The Telephone Book (Blu-ray + DVD Combo)


7 Responses to “Mr Smith Goes to Town”

  1. It’s Nelson Lyon, not Myers. I knew him slightly. Interesting guy. And there’s more of a Warhol connection than Ultra violet in that the narrator is Ondine.

    Yes it does have a very 60s feel to it. A kind of hipster hangover.

  2. The IMDB says of him: “Blamed by many in the entertainment industry for the death of actor John Belushi. Lyon and Belushi were on a three-day heroin drug binge when Belushi died as a result of an overdose.”

    But like many IMBD items that’s to be taken with a grain of salt.

  3. Well, you can’t blame him for surviving — I guess if Belushi had lived and he’d died, we’d be blaming Belushi for his death but not many people would bother because Lyon wasn’t such a celebrity.

    Fixed the name — some kind of weird brain-fart, that.

    The movie has a similar suis generis oddity as Nothing Lasts Forever, but it’s slightly easier to figure how such a film could have happened in that climate. The Schiller movie seems just impossible!

  4. Here’s a trailer (Ondine appears in it briefly)

  5. Stephen H Says:

    “Twisted, but oddly good-natured” is a great way to describe it. What did you think of the animated sequences, David? (Davids!) I don’t remember enjoying those bits quite as much, for some reason.

  6. Deeply grotesque! I enjoyed them, though I’ve seen the job done better in some splurgy Canadian Film Board animation which I guess comes from a couple of decades later.

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