Norman Alden's acting career spanned fifty years and over 2,500 films, TV-shows and commercials, from guest appearances on MY THREE SONS, GUNSMOKE and HONEY WEST, to supporting roles in ED WOOD, BACK TO THE FUTURE and KANSAS CITY BOMBER. Plus let's not forget scientist/mentor Frank Heflin on Saturday morning's ELECTRA WOMAN AND DYNA GIRL! One of his more obscure gigs was this remarkable New York City-based independent drama -- an early feature by writer-director Richard C. Sarafian, who'd cut his teeth on 77 SUNSET STRIP and HAWAIIAN EYE, before helming features like VANISHING POINT and MAN IN THE WILDERNESS -- which not only gave Alden one of his all-too-infrequent starring roles, but contains one of his finest performances, as 40-year-old, mentally-challenged Andreas Cliadakis... or simply Andy... First seen wandering about the wintery city, innocently playing with children by the river and running into neighbors who enjoy his harmless eccentricities ("He's a weird one, god love him."), Andy is basically an easily-excitable, oversized kid who doesn't know his own strength or mean to cause trouble. Though capable of holding down a job shoveling coal, Andy's unpredictable behavior has become a growing concern for his loving, elderly, Greek immigrant parents. Frustrated dad Theo (Zvee Scooler) feels that there's only one possible alternative -- send their "crazy" son to an asylum. Unaware that he's to be picked up at 8 a.m. the next morning, Andy is slipped fifty dollars by his regretful mother (Tamara Daykarhonova) and urged to enjoy this final night of freedom. Visiting a neighborhood bar, Andy is ridiculed by the drunken, racist, asshole regulars, even as they take advantage of him for free drinks, with the place eventually erupting into a chaotic brawl that sends poor, overwhelmed Andy frantically running through the nighttime city streets. Confused, lost and alone, he takes in the jarring yet compelling sights and sounds of Manhattan -- Salvation Army musicians, a noisy arcade, a blind trumpet player on the subway, rummies warming themselves to a trash fire -- with his overnight adventure becoming increasingly strange and heartbreaking as dawn approaches... Filmed entirely in New York City, Sarafian (who also directed Alden in episodes of CHEYENNE and BATMAN) utilizes authentic locales — from cramped shitbox apartments, to Times Square after dark, to the seedier mid-'60s niches of the borough. His script is filled with moments that are touching, surprising and often depressing as hell, brought to life through Ernesto Caparros' (THE MIRACLE WORKER) vivid black-and-white cinematography and film editing by (future END OF THE ROAD director) Aram Avakian, the same year that he cut Arthur Penn's equally extraordinary MICKEY ONE. Andy himself doesn't say much, often making sound effects in lieu of speaking, with Alden tempering the character's oversized behavior and occasional outbursts with beautifully subtle little moments, such as a quiet talk with sympathetic barmaid Margie (Actors Studio alumnus Ann Wedgeworth, in her film debut), who hates how others treat him, or an eerie interlude with Triple Obie-winner Sudie Bond (TOMORROW) as a lonely, middle-aged woman who's just searching for some simple human contact. Never groveling for cheap sympathy, Alden delivers a highly physical, powerfully affecting performance. Although the film's final moments feel a bit inauthentic, this is a rewarding, sadly forgotten little gem.
© 2018 by Steven Puchalski.