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Butley Movie Review

bates simon alan porter

It's hard to imagine a story in which a man loses both his wife and his best friend in the same day could possibly be slow-paced. But it IS, and only Alan Bates’ powerhouse performance in the title role keeps Simon Gray's attenuated structure from falling apart. If Jimmy Porter, the angry young man of the late John Osborne's Look Back in Anger had made it past the 1950s and gone on to be a university professor, he might have become just such a man as Butley. True, Butley does not have Jimmy Porter's savagery; he has replaced that with a humorous attitude that is both appealing and aggravating. He has become A Difficult Bloke to Understand. He's too pathetic to be truly comic, and too lacking in irony to be truly tragic. Nor does he have the richness of character that might at least make him a tragicomic figure. He stumbles through life, anyway, annoying the hell out of everyone in such a charming way that it is hard for anyone to leave him. But leave him they do, and this is what Butley is all about. There's not much else here: one dull office setting, people walking in and out. We meet these people only briefly, and we see them chiefly through Butley's eyes. We also hear far too many discussions of characters we only catch a glimpse of, or worse, never meet at all. Through it all, Bates injects passion into every one of his lines. Butley may be sloppy, lazy, and frustrated, but he is also filled with an intellectual vitality, and Bates makes the struggles of this man, lugging around both a liquor bottle and his long-unfinished book about T.S. Eliot in his briefcase, wholly worth two hours of our concern and attention. The late Jessica Tandy (1909–94) plays Edna Shaft, the only other role of any length. (Butley won the Evening Standard award as Best Play and was a 1973 Tony nominee for Best Play. Bates won the Tony for Best Dramatic Actor. Butley was released theatrically overseas in 1976.) An American Film Theatre production.

1974 127m/C GB CA Alan Bates, Jessica Tandy, Richard O'Callaghan, Susan Engel, Michael Byrne, Georgina Hale, Simon Rouse, John Savident, Oliver Maguire, Susan Wooldridge; D: Harold Pinter; W: Simon Gray; C: Gerry Fisher. VHS

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