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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

SYNANON (1965)

This sordid little film tries to make the case for the long defunct Synanon Organization, a kind of self-help communal living experiment of the ‘60s & ‘70s for addicts trying to get clean. It always smelled more like a cult than a recovery program and is now gone the way of EST and other L.A.-based crackpot fads. (Could SCIENTOLOGY go next?) Edward O’Brien plays the founder, under financial & legal pressure to measure up and keep his gang on the straight & narrow. But the main drama is played out between three recovering heroin users (Stella Stevens, Chuck Connors & Alex Cord) in a series of conflicts that will leave one dead. Director Richard Quine has trouble establishing a tone and the script forces him to fake his way thru too many basic questions about the program. Like . . . how is the money raised? What do these people do all day? Why is Synanon structured as a Corporation? What’s the point of the signature ‘synanon’ straight-talk group sessions? On the other hand, Quine does pick up a nice, specific feel for the lingo, customs, clubs and jazzy sound of L.A.’s down-at-the-heels beach scene of the time with some great location shooting from lenser Harry Stradling, Jr. on his first film credit. And there’s a swell perf from tv actor Richard Evans as Alex Cord’s weaselly little pal, Hopper.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Richard Quine, whose career was on a similar career trajectory to Blake Edwards (this film isn’t so far from Edwards’ fine alcoholic tale DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES/’62), suddenly found himself out of favor after this one. Unlike Edwards, Quine never clawed his way back on top.

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