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    Actor's Instinct

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    The story goes that 27-year-old Richard Dreyfuss, who had pleased moviegoers and impressed critics with his work as Curt in American Graffiti, Baby Face Nelson in Dillinger (both 1973) and especially the title role in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974), resisted 28-year-old writer/director John Byrum’s overtures to cast him as the Boy Wonder, the washed-up silent film director pursuing some sort of career redemption by making blue movies in the 1930 Hollywood of the notoriously racy chamber piece Inserts (1975). But the prolonged and chaotic shooting process for a certain seagoing thriller named Jaws convinced him that director Steven Spielberg’s opus would go nowhere at the box office, and Dreyfuss finally accepted the offer from Byrum, who was on the cusp of his first major screenwriting credit for the Diana Ross vehicle Mahogany. After all, a lead role is a lead role. Putting the question of the fallibility of actors’ instincts aside, the future Academy Award® winner for The Goodbye Girl (1977) was a good fit for both the scary blockbuster and the arty fantasia on sexual gamesmanship. United Artists enjoyed great success with two X-rated cinematic game-changers, Midnight Cowboy and Last Tango in Paris, so the studio took another roll of the dice with Byrum’s low-cost, one-set project that would be shot economically in London using production funds locked in England. Its poster billed Dreyfuss solo above the title and bore the tagline “A Degenerate Film, with Dignity.” It tried to put a different spin on the fascination several movies of the time had with the 1920s and 1930s. But like the manipulative boy-genius character Dreyfuss played, it fell into near-oblivion soon after it opened. Forty-one years later, Inserts still fascinates, and still has its partisans. Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader found it to be “wittily scripted and engagingly acted (by Dreyfuss, Jessica Harper, Veronica Cartwright and Bob Hoskins).” Vincent Canby of The New York Times judged it “a beautifully acted, tough-talking comedy that, at its wildest moments, manages to evoke the comedies of the late Joe Orton. It won't warm the heart, but its bleakness is almost buoyant.” Devin Faraci at has another interesting take on the movie here: Whatever your instincts dictate, consider the possibilities of a Dreyfuss double feature consisting of his Elliot Garfield, driven, obnoxious, artsy, occasionally horny, egotistical and ultimately empowered actor in The Goodbye Girl, and his Boy Wonder, driven, boozy, seductive, morally bankrupt, regularly horny, egotistical and ultimately disillusioned movie artist in Inserts. It’s called range, and Inserts (in its original 115-minute version) grippingly displays it on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray June 14. Preorders open June 1.