Before I review the 1975 film Rosebud, allow me to tell you about how I first discovered the existence of this particular film.
The greatest used bookstore in the world is located in Denton, Texas. It’s called Recycled Books and it is three stories of pure literary goodness! (Plus, there are apartments on the top floor where I attended some pretty interesting parties but that’s another story….) When I was attending the University of North Texas, I used to stop by Recycled Books nearly every day. One day, I happened to be searching the Film and TV section when I came across a beat-up paperback called Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture.
This book, which was written by Theodore Gershuny, told the story of how the previously acclaimed director Otto Preminger attempted to make a film about terrorism. Starting with the attempts of Preminger’s son, Erik Lee Preminger, to come up with a workable script and then going on to detail how Peter O’Toole came to replace Robert Mitchum as the star of the film and ending with the film’s disastrous release, Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture proved to be a fascinating read.
After finishing the book, I simply had to see Rosebud for myself. Unfortunately, at that time, Rosebud had not yet been released on Blu-ray or DVD. So, I actually ended up ordering an old VHS copy of it. The tape that I got was not in the best condition but it played well enough and I can now say that, unlike the majority of people in the world, I’ve actually seen Rosebud!
Which is not to say that Rosebud is any good. It’s not the disaster that I had been led to expect. In fact, it probably would have been more fun if it had been a disaster, as opposed to being just a forgettable film from a director who was probably capable of better. Preminger started his career in the 30s and was considered, at one point, to be quite innovative. He directed Laura and Anatomy of a Murder, two great films. Unfortunately, there’s really nothing innovative about his direction of Rosebud. In Gershuny’s book, Preminger comes across like an intelligent and thoughtful man who was too set in his ways to realize that what was shocking in 1959 was no longer that big of a deal in 1975. (And, needless to say, it’s even less of a big deal in 2015.)
As for what Rosebud‘s about, it’s about a man named Sloat (Richard Attenborough), a former journalist who now lives in a cave in Israel and dreams of establishing a worldwide terrorist network. Under Sloat’s direction, terrorists storm a yacht named the Rosebud and take the girls on board hostage. The girls are wealthy and privileged. Their fathers are judges, senators, and businessmen. CIA agent Larry Martin (Peter O’Toole) is tasked with tracking down and rescuing the girls. If it sounds like an action film — well, it’s not. This is not a prequel to Taken. Instead, it’s a very talky film that has a few isolated good moments and performances but otherwise, is fairly forgettable.
That said, the film does have an interesting cast. Peter O’Toole seems bored by his role (and who can blame him?) but Attenborough briefly livens things up in the role of Sloat. As for the girls being held hostage, they’re not given much to do. One of them is played by a young Isabelle Huppert. Long before she would play Samantha on Sex and the City, Kim Cattrall plays a hostage here. The English hostage is played by Lalla Ward, who is now married to Richard Dawkins.
And then there’s the girl’s parents, who are played by an odd assortment of character actors. Raf Vallone, an Italian, plays a Greek. (His daughter, meanwhile, is played by the French Isabelle Huppert.) Peter Lawford, looking somewhat dazed, shows up as Lalla Ward’s father. (One of the sadder scenes in Gershuny’s book deals with Lawford’s attempts to remember his lines.) And than, in the role of Cattrall’s father, we have a very distinguished looking man named John Lindsay.
John Lindsay was the former mayor of New York City, a man who ran for President in 1972 and, three years later, attempted to launch a new career as an actor. Rosebud was his both his first and final film. (Rumor has it that Martin Scorsese attempted to convince Lindsay to play Senator Palatine in Taxi Driver but Lindsay turned the role down.) Lindsay is not particularly memorable in Rosebud. It’s not so much that Lindsay gives a bad performance as much as it’s just the fact that he has a very bland screen presence. That blandness probably served him well as a politician but, as an actor — well, let’s just say that John Lindsay was apparently no Fred Thompson.
And so that’s Rosebud. It’s a film that, much like Maidstone, you can only appreciate if you know what went on behind the scenes. I can’t really recommend Rosebud but, if you ever come across a battered old copy of Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture in a used bookstore, be sure to buy it!
Seriously, you will not be sorry.