Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Not so Bad Ronald

Robert DeNiro never played a polio-afflicted magician. Al Pacino never played a son coming to terms with his dad's homosexuality. Gene Hackman never played a bad seed with an Oedipus complex. And Clint Eastwood never played a fantasy obsessed nerd who takes refuge behind his mom's pantry. Nope, those guys are all rank amateurs compared to one of my favorite actors of the seventies. His name is Scott Jacoby, and here are five of his best film roles:

Rivals (1971) 

Synopsis: A mother's young, disturbed son and her new, obnoxious, somewhat rapey boyfriend vie for her attention. Bad times ensue.

This film had to have set on a shelf for at least a couple of years (for good reason) as Jacoby looks no older than ten or eleven. It's a horribly mangled character study with two surprisingly good acting performances. Jacoby is excellent in his very first film, and Joan Hackett brings her A-game as well playing his mother. Everything else about the movie is terrible, especially the writing. All the stereotypically bad, early 70's film missteps are on full display including psychological flashbacks, a ridiculous Freudian subtext, and a weird quasi-pedophiliac scene. Robert Klein's boyfriend character is a complete jack-ass that no woman would come within a mile of in real life. The fact that Hackett's character falls for him, is only the beginning of numerous unbelievable story developments. Jacoby's character is written as intelligent, precocious and mature beyond his years one moment, than a tantrum throwing manipulator the next. Despite this, he delivers a really good performance especially given his young age and big screen inexperience. The writer/director, Krishna Shah, does a horrible job of shooting New York City, it looks down-right ugly throughout the film. The musical score and songs range from inappropriate to wildly inappropriate. The ending of the movie feels totally forced and contrived and I actually shouted "aw c'mon!" at the screen at one point.

The Jacoby factor - It's a huge credit to both Hackett's and Jacoby's superior acting skills that they could elevate a colossal train wreck like this from the bottom of hell's deepest pit and make it halfway watchable. The rest of the film is dreck, but they somehow pulled out two game-saving performances and that's quite an accomplishment considering the inferior material. 

Overall score 5.5

That Certain Summer (1972)

Synopsis: Gay dad's unaware, naive 14-year old son comes to visit him in Sausalito. Complications ensue.

First off, if your dad lives in Sausalito…….just sayin'. For a film that was made-for-TV in the early 70's, I was surprised at how un-heavyhanded it was. Part of the credit goes to the script by Richard Levinson and William Link which doesn't contain any blatant false notes, and for the most part, stays away from After-School-Special territory. However, there is a "Do you know what the word homosexual means?" speech. It still may seem like a tempest in a teapot by today's standards, but for the time, it was pretty risky material for middle America. 

Hal Holbrook plays the dad in a quiet, un-melodramatic way with a young Scott Jacoby as his son. Martin Sheen puts in the best performance as Holbrook's dignified, perceptive partner, and Hope Lange does a decent job as Holbrook's ex. With all the limitations that the network must certainly have thrown on the movie (and I'd love to see the notes from that meeting), it still came out pretty darned good. As an added bonus, there's a lot of nice on-location shots of San Francisco thrown in that the characters are actually in, rather than the stock establishment shots that are usually used for the Bay Area.

The Jacoby factor - Unfortunately Scott's role was written as a relatively generic kid, so he was limited somewhat by this. He does emote quite nicely toward the end though and picked up an Emmy for best supporting actor.

Overall score 7

Bad Ronald (1974) 

Synopsis  Ronald Wilby is bad and has to hide behind the pantry in his house.

Made-for-TV movie that was one of the best of the seventies. It begins as campy fun, but by the end, it turns into something that is creepily riveting. Kim Hunter is totally believable as the over-protective mom, and Jacoby is top-notch as Ronald. To watch Ronald slowly sink further into his fantasy world of Atranta is chilling, and really fleshes out what could have been a two-dimensional story. Also effective was Ronald's growing, um, funkiness, some of which rubs off on poor Cindy Fisher at one point - a nice little smudged make-up effect that most TV films wouldn't have followed through on. 

The pace is very quick, with the initial set up in the first ten minutes, and the rest briskly playing out in the last hour. Some people have a problem with the quick resolution, but I kind of liked it, as there really wasn't anywhere else to go in the story at that point.

Casting note of interest - Both real-life Eilbacher sisters, Lisa and Cindy, play the two older sisters of the family that move into the Wilby place. Dabney Coleman plays the dad.

The Jacoby factor - If you doubt the Prince of Atranta's acting ability's, watch this back to back with The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane - Jacoby goes from a completely creepy, pathetic nerd, to an amiable guy who can charm Jody Foster. I doubt most actors have the range to go from believable heel to believable hero at this young an age.

Overall Score 8.0

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)

Synopsis: A young teenage girl vows to remain independent at all costs.

This is an all-time favorite of mine because it's so low key and thematically strong. Even though I was a teenage boy when I first saw it, I related a lot to Rynn and her desire not to "play their game". The movie is a very, very subdued mystery thriller that focuses mostly on the three main characters. Jodie Foster is incredibly good as Rynn and is well matched by Jacoby's likable Mario. Martin Sheen gives a mega-creepy but subdued performance as the town predator Frank Hallet. 

The script was written by the books author, Laird Keonig, who did a spot-on adaptation. Unfortunately, the film looks like it was shot on the cheap, which is too bad because their are some really nice New England location shots. The classical Chopin music on the soundtrack works great, but it occasionally dips into a crappily generic 70's synth funk sound which clashes mightily and dates the film. The other components are so high quality though, that the flaws can be ignored for the most part. 

The Jacoby factor - When an actor can share the stage with Jodie Foster and Martin Sheen, and not get outclassed, it's very impressive. Jacoby's charm and charisma really help sell the whole story quite well.

Overall Score 8.5

Our Winning Season (1978)   

Synopsis: A  high school track star hangs out with his pals, gets a girl and attempts to win the big race.

Above average coming-of-age story set in the mid-sixties with Jacoby in the lead role and Dennis Quaid, Joe Penny, Jan Smithers and PJ Soles in supporting roles. Also stars a '65 Corvette, a '57 Bel Air and a '67 Mustang. Better than most films of its genre and has a poignant side as well. Contains the obligatory montage training scene in which Jacoby does more running than Franka Potente, but its a pretty decent teen underdog flick. 

Overall score 6.5

Additional Note: I wanted to re-watch Baxter! which features another strong performance by Jacoby, but I couldn't track it down anywhere. I still want to throw it out there as a recommendation because he's excellent in it as well. 

If you're a fan of seventies TV and film, you're probably already aware of Scott Jacoby. If not, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane and Bad Ronald are essential films of the decade to check out that have the added benefit of seeing a great young actor at work.


  1. I haven't watched Bad Ronald since I was a kid. I keep meaning to revisit it. One of these days...

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Just watched Bad Ronald tonight. Excellent performance by the young actor, whose other work I've seen is only The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane. I'll track down the others. Thanks again.

    1. Thanks DG. It looks like Baxter! was released a few years back in the UK on region 2 dvd. I'm going to try to track down a copy from an importer as I remember it being a strong drama with another good performance by Jacoby.