Brewster McCloud (1970) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for language, drug references and sexuality (I'd rate it PG-13 by today's standards)
Running Time: 105 min.

Cast: Bud Cort, Sally Kellerman, Shelley Duvall, Michael Murphy, Rene Auberjonois, William Windom, Stacy Keach
Director: Robert Altman

Screenplay: Doran William Cannon
Review published February 18, 2004

Brewster McCloud Bud Cort 1970Brewster McCloud is probably an easier film to love than to like. It's definitely not to all tastes, as it is quite the oddity, with an almost stream-of-consciousness style of filmmaking typical of many other films made around the same era. While one of the most forgotten of Robert Altman's films, it does have a cult following among his fans, and even Altman (Gosford Park, The Player) himself supposedly regards it as his personal favorite. While it's hard to know just what to make of it, there's just something inherently endearing in seeing a movie with so many oddball story developments and a crazy sense of atmosphere. Hey, any film features a serial killing guardian angel who has birds crap on her victims before strangling is definitely one that has to be seen in my book.

The titular character is played by Bud Cort (Bates Motel), a reclusive lad who has made a home for himself in the fallout shelter of the Houston Astrodome. His entire goal in life is to fly, and he has been busy designing wings that will allow him to do just that, using his stolen camera to photograph birds to study their physics. Sally Kellerman (MASH, Back to School) plays his guardian angel of sorts, Louise, looking out for his best interests, even if that involves theft or murder. However, she doesn't approve of Brewster hanging out with a tour guide at the Astrodome, Suzanne, played by Shelley Duvall (Popeye, The Shining) in her motion picture debut. Meanwhile, the cops are after the culprit responsible for a series of strangulations throughout Houston, enlisting the services of one of the top detectives in the country, Frank Shaft (Michael Murphy, Manhattan).

Although Altman scored big in the same year with his breakthrough film, MASH, the studios were not enamored by his quick follow-up effort, and seeing the final product, one can see why. The storyline is almost incoherent, never really getting into a groove, although there are stretches where things seem to make sense. It's reported that much of the film was improvised on the spot, where someone in the cast or crew would think of something, and Altman would try it. Much of this has to do with the script reviser dropping out of the project early on, so Altman "winged it", so to speak. Reportedly, the original screenwriter, Cannon, was outraged at what they did to his original story.

Still, there are so many little moments of humor and brilliant oddness, that ultimately Brewster McCloud makes for a fascinating viewing, so long as you aren't expecting anything resembling greatness. From parodies of The Wizard of Oz and Bullitt, and other wonderful bits, the sum of all the little touches adds up to make this film better than it has any right of being. Altman gives it a loose, modernist treatment, and like Brewster himself, in the end, this film manages to soar despite everything going against it.

Qwipster's rating:  

©2004 Vince Leo