JUST BE THERE (1973).
There's nothing inherently wrong with the idea of a Vietnam veteran struggling with personal issues and finding his place in the world, but this glum, Minnesota-lensed indie feature manages to screw up that concept in every imaginable way. Producer Michael Montgomery's search for a "Ryan O'Neal type" star concluded by casting himself in the lead role, along with a vapid, touchy-feely script by his wife, Kathy Fehn. The first and only feature from David Feldshuh (older brother of actress Tovah Feldshuh, and 1992 Pulitzer nominee for his stageplay "Miss Evers' Boys"), it was shot under the title "A Little Piece of Culture" and premiered in April 1973, only to eventually end up retitled SWINGING TEACHER for the drive-in circuit a few years later, slapped with an unjustified R-rating and a lurid ad campaign that had no connection whatsoever to the actual film... Montgomery (complete with Harry Reems-style home perm and bushy 'stache) plays Mitchell Adams, a Marine who returns to his hometown following an overseas stint and promptly leaps into bed with girlfriend Kathy, a groovy, guitar-strumming, elementary school teacher (Lynn Baker, previously seen as one of BILLY JACK's Freedom School hippies). But while Mitchell's conservative dad (retiring St. Paul Mayor Charlie McCarty) pesters his deadbeat son to accept a soul-crushing corporate job at the family's pork belly business, our newly-introspective vet would prefer to write a tell-all book about the horrors of war. The script is frustratingly vague about Mitchell's traumatic experiences though, and instead focuses on him getting a puppy, toasting marshmallows, waiting around the unemployment office, or golfing with his uptight ol' dad at the local country club. And while Mitchell continually whines about wanting to be a writer, he doesn't display any discernible aptitude for it and simply sits at a typewriter, surrounded by crumpled-up paper wads. More soggy melodrama ensues when broke Mitchell grudgingly puts on a suit and tie, accepts a gig at his pop's company and finds his values tempted by a ritzy high-rise apartment and flirtatious co-worker (local WCTN-TV personality and ex-Miss Minnesota, Nancy Nelson), with free-spirit Kathy concerned that he's turning into a "phony" and one of the "plastic people." Looking for more plot? Forget it! This is an excruciatingly tiresome 94 minutes and its final reel is a complete crock, with wishy-washy Mitchell taking a soul-searching motorcycle ride into the pastoral countryside, until an insightful, nine-year-old Native American boy (John Pike, Jr.) sets him straight. And yes, it's all as misguidedly idiotic as it sounds. Montgomery exhibits zero on-screen personality and we never care about his aimless character's ham-handed emotional problems, Baker (the sole non-locally-sourced cast member) is the only halfway decent actor in sight, while the rest of the performances never rise above the level of a Sid Davis industrial short. Gene Borman's cinematography captures plenty of Minneapolis, St. Paul and North Shore sights in long montages of Mitchell and Kathy aimlessly taking in the sights of the city or wandering picturesque fields. Though obviously a well-intentioned project for everyone involved, the sappy and insipid end result lacks insight, entertainment, or any discernible audience. No surprise, Montgomery and Fehn never made another film.
© 2017 by Steven Puchalski.