Color, 1971, 89 mins. 52 secs.
Directed by Herbert Ross
Starring Candice Bergen, Peter Boyle, James Caan, Marcia Rodd
Fun City Editions (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Via Vision (DVD) (Australia R4 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
At least when it came to Hollywood, actress Candice Bergen was someone who couldn't seem to catch a break for the first five years of her career. Seemingly destined for stardom, she instead wound up in offbeat but fascinating films that few people saw, such as The Hunting Party, The Day the Fish Came Out, Getting Straight, or The Magus, or starring in big-budget films that offended huge swaths of the audience like The Adventurers or Soldier Blue. However, things changed in 1971 when she had the one-two punch of Mike Nichols' Carnal Knowledge and her first true starring vehicle, T.R. Baskin, both of which provided showcases for the breadth of her acting abilities after her strong prior work in France on Claude Lelouch's Vivre pour vivre. A character study that seemed to confound more than a few critics when it came out, T.R. Baskin was quickly consigned to the neglect of so many other early '70s films and was maddeningly difficult to see for decades apart from its tiny handful of TV airings. Eventually Paramount provided a new HD scan for streaming in early 2023 (a mediocre SD one was around before that, as well as an okay Australian DVD if you could import it), which was quickly followed by the film's first official, much-needed home video release, a Blu-ray special edition from Fun City Editions.
Arriving in Chicago on a business trip, married salesman Jack Mitchell (Boyle) reconnects with fraternity brother Larry (Caan) at a bar and asks where he could find some female companionship. Larry refers him to T.R. Baskin (Bergen), who may be a prostitute but sure doesn't seem like one, and she's more than a bit relieved when he isn't up for sex and instead wants to hang out and talk. From there we see in flashback how she made her way in Chicago and dealt with the frustrations of job hunting and office life, with her restrained and deadpan personality masking how she feels about the choices on the table for her. Refusing to settle for marrying a sexist pig just for life security, she eventually crosses paths with Larry and comes to a realization about more options ahead of her.
The many cinematic pleasures of T.R. Baskin include its extensive, invaluable coverage of early '70s Chicago, as well as the unusual script by a young Peter Hyams who would make more Windy City films later as a director and would go on to titles like Busting, Capricorn One, Outland, Running Scared, and some very entertaining Jean-Claude Van Damme films. Also serving as the producer, he was a new kid on the block at the time having sold this script just after moving to L.A.; it was also an early directorial credit for onetime choreographer Herbert Ross, who had just helmed The Owl and the Pussycat and the musical version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips. His career was a truly unpredictable one with highs including Steel Magnolias, Footloose, The Goodbye Girl, and The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, and it's fascinating to see him trying something a little more unorthodox and edgy here than what would come later.
Fun City's release of T.R. Baskin, including a limited slipcover edition with art by Pip Carter and an insert booklet with a perceptive essay by Kat Sachs, looks excellent with the recent HD scan provided by Paramount thankfully leaving the original gritty, grainy look of the cinematography fully intact. The 1.85:1 framing is also dead on and satisfying, much better than the weird open matte framing on its TV airings that threw all the compositions out of whack. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 English mono track is also in fine shape and features optional English SDH subtitles. A new audio commentary by Ben Reiser and Scott Lucas touches on a lot of topics including identifying some of the Chicago locations, pointing out some sly in-jokes in the camera placement and geography of the office scenes, and noting how the prejudices of certain critics at the time probably influenced how the film was received upon its release. "Get in the Tent" (14m39s) is a new video interview with Hyams, who talks about working as a CBS anchorman and having an art school background before moving to the film world and cutting his teeth via documentaries. It's a very funny and enlightening piece as he sketches out the path to writing this script for this film and how pleased he was with the casting choices, including a lifelong friendship with Bergen and of course using Boyle later in Outland.
Reviewed on November 25, 2023