The Manipulator (1971)
WRITER: Screenplay by Yabo Yablonsky
Based on an idea by John Durren
DIRECTOR: Yabo Yablonsky
STARRING: Mickey Rooney as BJ Lang
Luana Anders as Carlotta
QUICK CUT: Director BJ Lang has found his starlet, and begins to produce his magnum opus showing of Cyrano de Bergerac.
BJ Lang - A disturbed man who may or may not at one time been a director of movies, although that is never clear. He's gone 'round the bend, and is now determined to make his greatest picture yet.
Carlotta - BJ's captive audience, and captive star, and just plain captive. She's scared, but drive to survive, by any means necessary.
TRISK ANALYSIS:Welcome back, Triskelions! This week, I wanted to do something different, it was time to watch something from the pile of 50 packs, and The Manipulator leapt out at me. This MIGHT be a very different review, since this is literally just two people for 90 minutes. This could be very short, but very interesting. So let's get down to it!
The movie opens up with a solid 12 minutes of nothing but Mickey Rooney wandering around a vast, abandoned warehouse of old movie props and sets and mannequins. He spends all that time talking to them like they're real, and he's getting ready for a big movie shoot.
I'm honestly not sure how I feel about this lengthy chunk of monologuing, and yet its fascinating to watch.
This is, while slow, an amazing performance by Rooney, and I'm sure I'll get into that later. But he is giving his all, talking to no one, and this would be such an easy performance to phone in.
He starts rolling film, and things get flickery, dream like, and there are other people there, that aren't there, that only he can see. This is one acid fueled nightmare trip, and it's kinda awesome?
Rooney, as BJ Lang, shouts at the camera, directs his non existent actors, and swings wildly from normal to manic and back. He borders on being a raving loon, with just enough veneer of sanity.
He finally comes out of the craze haze when he whips back a curtain and reveals there IS someone else there, so at least this won't be a one man production. Visions of other people notwithstanding.
This is Carlotta, although I am positive that is not her real name. She's tied to a vintage wheelchair, and forced to endure his screaming tirades, as he preps her for her big scene.
She cries out repeatedly, "I'm hungry, Mr. Lang!" until he finally relents and feeds her. This should be the new, "I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille."
I wonder how long this has been going on? Is she a new acquisition, has she been there a few days, a few months, what? She seems just broken enough, and gets what's going on, and has little hope for escape. She goes along just enough to get through this.
With the solitary duo of actors, the visual nature of it, and the dreamlike quality it slips into, this is borderline an art film, isn't it?
Anyways, the role he's prepping her for is in a 'production' of Roxanne, with himself playing the Cyrano role. He will spend most of the rest of the movie with the classic long schnoz.
But first, he has to get Carlotta into her own makeup, while he has his own face painted up in an exaggerated feminine manner.
This unfolds like a play, and could easily be adapted to one, in many ways. I hear Yablonsky tried at one point and failed miserably. The big problem is, it would lose a lot of its more psychedelic acid fueled moments, as well as the literal in your face performance of Rooney, or whomever replaced him in any such endeavour.
Lang tries to get her prepped for a scene, runs through lines, and it alternates between the usual repertoire of screaming and more normal moments.
She gives just enough performance to get through it, barely emoting, but he does coax more out of her, as he becomes more threatening. And we get an up close, in your face look at Rooney looking down the camera. It's unsettling to view a movie that way.
Caroltta finally nails the scene, at least to BJ's satisfaction, and he hears applause in his head. Carlotta wisely plays along, and placates her captor.
Lang is suddenly surrounded by adoring fans, which he soaks up until it becomes overwhelming, and the vision turns dark.
He starts to mutter and when he gets out of his chair to set up the next scene, the movie breaks things up and moves things forward when he starts clutching at his chest. Lang collapses to the ground, much to Carlotta's genuine dismay.
She realises he's having a heart attack, or something equally dire, and starts to freak out that he may be dying. It's not that she cares, but if he dies, she doesn't know how she'll be fed, or escape, or anything.
It's a great scene, where her terror is palpable. It's also a great moment of inversion to give Luanna a chance to act, and let Rooney take a break.
The most he can manage to do is beg for his pills, which she can't really get to, being tied to the chair. He somehow manages to crawl over to her, and cut her free so she can help him.
Of course, she doesn't do that. Once she's free, she proceeds to curb stomp his face in, as best she can.
But he somehow survives the experience and gets back to normal, as he rolls the woman over and perches atop her, reasserting his dominance. Before things go too far though, she pushes him off and makes the run for it she should have done ages ago.
Unfortunately, the warehouse is a bit of a maze, and she can't find her way through the decades or props and sets. Lang probably knows the place like the back of his hand though, and easily keeps up with her.
The chase continues for a very long time, probably rivaling Rooney's opening wanderings for length, and it's accompanied by frenetic pseudo music and equally all over the place cinematography, perfectly capturing the madness inherent in everyone.
On the upside, BJ pauses and is fascinated by Carlotta's movement and escape, and goes into director mode to film her as she crawls amidst the catwalks.
We get a brief respite when someone else actually wanders into the movie, old drunk Charlie, just looking for some shelter from the storms. Unfortunately, he ends up at the wrong end of Lang's sword.
The chase resumes, and I get the suspicion that, seeing just how dangerous Lang can truly be, and he's not just a creepy man, but capable of actual horrible acts, she begins to snap herself, as the frenetic chaos of scenes only associated with Lang begin to be seen by her.
Lang's not doing much better though, and declares this a new game, letting her run, and giving chase after letting her have a ten second head start
Carlotta, if that IS YOUR REAL NAME, makes her way around the place, finds an elevator, and actually gets outside and into the rain. She finds a car, dives inside for shelter, and hoping to get it running SOMEhow, I'm sure.
BJ isn't that far behind though, and she lays on the horn, hoping someone will come running. He grabs a garbage can, and bashes against the window until it gives way.
He does finally break through, retrieves his prize, and takes her back into the labrynthine warehouse. She goes with him, almost in a daze.
The director confesses his love for his star, and she starts to laugh at the very notion of it all. This is what truly pushes him over the edge, the rejection from his star.
Her laughter echos and builds as 'everyone' in the cavernous space starts laughing along with her, making things even worse.
It's all too much for Lang to bear, and he takes his own life, ending his life, his torment, and her captivity.
As he dies, Caroltta finally hears the applause that only he could hear, and I dunno, I guess she's too far gone now, and taken in by his impassioned final words.
Video: It doesn't look great, and is definitely on the lesser side of things, even for a 50 pack. Everything is dull and grey.
Audio: Serviceable, and not much else.
Sound Bite: "That's what love is; madness." Truer words, and the core of BJ Lang.
Body Count: Not much, but on the other hand, 66% of the cast?
1 - 20 minutes from the ending, and Charlie gets stabbed
2 - BJ takes his own life with the sword.
Best Corpse: Oooh, tough choice, having only two, and they're kinda simple, since this was the 70s. But I'll go with BJ's death, since it has impact.
Blood Type - F+: It just escapes a fully failing grade since BJ does have some blood on him after making stabby.
Drink Up! Every time BJ Lang directs and rolls film.
Video Nasties: A short clip of BJ talking about fear
Movie Review: I mean, there's not much to say. It's a basic story. It's barely even a story, it's that basic. It truly is an art film. But I cannot say enough about Mickey Rooney's performance. This may well be the best thing I've ever seen him do. He's charming and terrifying and knows just when to flip that switch. This is a true tour de force, and a side of him I had never seen before. It's fascinating to watch, and I love it on that level. Four out of five rapiers.
Entertainment Value: I could not look away from this movie. It sucked me in very quickly, once Rooney started acting, and never let go. I knew it wasn't going to be the biggest story ever, but I wanted to know where it went, and how far down the rabbit hole we would venture. I would love to see a restored version of this, and learn more about it. The performances do get a bit shrill and too much at times, and yet they are still somehow real because of that, wrapped up in a panicked reality of it all. Four out of five wheelchairs.