Bobby Deerfield (1977)


Bobby Deerfield
Dir. Sidney Pollack
Premiered September 29, 1977

Al Pacino might have been one of the biggest stars of the 1970s, but his filmography from the period is surprisingly sparse. Today, big name actors typically appear in three movies in a year, but in 1977, Pacino hadn’t been in a movie in two years, and wouldn’t be in one for two more. Needless to say, he was a big get for Bobby Deerfield, but God knows what he saw in it.

Based on Erich Maria Remarque’s 1961 novel Heaven Has No Favorites, the film stars Pacino as the titular race car driver Deerfield who, during a race, witnesses a horrific crash that kills one of his teammates and seriously injures a colleague (Stephen Meldegg). It is visiting this colleague in Switzerland that brings Deerfield into the orbit of Lillian Morelli (Marthe Keller), a flighty, unpredictable Florentine with an unexplained fixation with hot air balloons who, unbeknownst to Deerfield, is dying from an unnamed and apparently symptomless disease.

Lillian catches a ride to Italy with Deerfield, and while they initially can’t stand each other– though maybe Deerfield, already alienated from his family and girlfriend (Annie Duperey) is merely put off by Lillian’s random weirdness masquerading as a lust for life– they eventually enter a supposedly touching romance; all the while Deerfield investigates a mechanical failure he believes to have caused the crash.

Although Bobby Deerfield is by no means aggressively obnoxious, and veteran director Sidney Pollack does fine visual work with what he has, there is nothing appealing about the film. Meandering lazily from one scene to the next with an absence of rhythm amplified by a typically sleepy, awkward Dave Grusin score, the film is so unfocused that one can’t tell what the film is about until at least halfway through, around the same time that the crash investigation plot thread, and any reference to auto racing, are suddenly abandoned.

Although marketed as an acting showcase for Pacino, the character of Deerfield is dead-eyed and taciturn, a passive protagonist; and Marthe Keller as Lillian never warms to Pacino or the audience the way she’s supposed to– though even the script refrains from truly kindling their romance until the movie is nearly over. A romantic melodrama with little romance or drama, Bobby Deerfield is dull and pointless, with far too little character to serve as either the bittersweet tragedy or populist slice of life that the filmmakers clearly believe it to be.

Signs This Was Made in 1977
“Homo” is used so nonchalantly as to appear to be the standard term for a gay man. Not necessarily in a judgmental fashion, either.

How Did It Do?
Bobby Deerfield grossed $9.3 million against an unknown budget. Critics trashed it as an inane embarrassment on the part of Pollack, Pacino, and screenwriter Alvin Sargent earning a 20% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes.

Next Time: Citizens’ Band


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