Blu-ray Review: T.R. Baskin [Fun City Editions] | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, December 9th, 2023  

T.R. Baskin

Studio: Fun City Editions

Nov 09, 2023 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

You have to imagine that cutting trailers is a pretty thankless job. Not enough credit is given to the poor schlub who spent countless hours toiling away over the Steenbeck, splicing together pieces of film in an attempt to distill a feature-length movie into a two-to-four minute commercial. Do the job well and audiences will be enticed to see your film. When it’s done poorly, the trailer will be misleading or worse: forgettable. T.R. Baskin (1971) is an example of a film with a bad, bad trailer which mispresents it as an acerbic comedy about a working girl, while the film itself is a stirring portrayal of spiraling depression.

Though told out-of-sequence, the story begins with T.R. Baskin (Candice Bergen) shoving her way through a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd to retrieve her luggage at O’Hare airport. Her departure from her home in Findlay, Ohio was evidently very abrupt; she arrives in Chicago with neither social ties nor a concrete plan. Before long she finds a job as a typist in Kafka-esque office tower and settles into a fleabag apartment. She prefers to spend her nights alone, and bristles when others try to bring her out of what they likely perceive as her shell.

First and foremost, T.R. possesses a quick tongue and acidic wit. These qualities color almost every sentence that comes out of her mouth: it’s nearly impossible for anyone to talk to her without being subjected to a biting comeback. We’re on her side when the barb’s target is some deserving bozo, but her humor just as often comes at the expense of someone who only means her well. T.R. can come off as condescending. She can also be mean. Yet, her corrosive retorts are so persistent that they feel involuntary, and they may just be her way of coping with a world that consistenly fails to live up to her expectations.

“You know what scares me more than anything else in the world? I’m afraid that if you keep on getting disappointed, you wind up expecting less.”

“I guess it all depends on how disappointed you get.”

There are a rare handful of moments in T.R. Baskin where our heroine lets on how she really feels—and perhaps unsurprisingly, they come most often when she doesn’t open her mouth. The first time we see her in the film, it’s on the receiving end of a telephone call, when a traveling catalog salesman (Peter Boyle) calls her up under the false pretense that she’s a prostitute. She barely speaks as he awkwardly propositions her, and we watch her face as she registers pain in this moment. When she finally responds, it’s not to correct or insult him; she agrees to come to his hotel room, and the events that led to their meeting unfold in flashback over the rest of the film.

Bergen does some of her best acting in T.R. Baskin when she’s not speaking. Another such scene plays out during a double date, when her friendliest coworker (Marcia Rodd) sets her up with a real pig of a fella. The camera focuses on T.R.’s face as this blowhard fills the foreground, slowly rolling a joint while spewing chauvinist drivel and racist remarks about poor neighborhoods. During this long take, it’s not entirely anger which we see boiling in her eyes. It’s more as if she’s feeling let down that people honestly see the world from his point of view.

We are shown what T.R. prefers over a night out on the town during a long montage where she cooks a TV dinner, meanders around her apartment, and finally passes out as the network broadcast cuts off its signal in the wee hours of the morning. The TV drones on aimlessly, competing with the noises of her building and the surrounding neighborhood. There’s no purpose to her evening; she does very little as the hours pass. She looks lonely—but no more or less lonely than she looks when she’s surrounded by other people.

James Caan plays a brief but consequential role in the film as a wealthy, divorced man who seems to share T.R.’s underwhelmed perspective on the world. They meet in a coffeehouse, and his wit proves as sharp as her own—their banter is like a knife fight. They go back to his place, and these two kindred souls open up to each other in ways they probably haven’t in a long time, if ever. At long last, it seems as if T.R. has finally clicked with someone who understands the way she feels. When it turns out that he doesn’t understand her or the situation at all, it’s absolutely gutting. T.R. Baskin is about how a person can feel lonely without being alone.

The movie was almost universally panned on its release, often by critics who wrote about it as a failed comedy… which, it really isn’t. As a character study, we found it very well-done: T.R.’s someone you won’t necessarily like, but can’t help but wonder about. What brought her to this point? Will she give in and accept compromise, or will she continue to let life’s disappointments consume her?

T.R. Baskin is available on a new Blu-ray from Fun City Editions, who have included a nice booklet essay by Kat Sachs, an on-camera interview with writer Peter Hyams, and an exclusive commentary track by the hosts of the 70 Movies We Saw in the ‘70s podcast. The film itself looks great here, and it’s far better than its poor reputation. After 52 years, we’d say it’s overdue for reappraisal. Highly recommended.



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