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  Manipulator, The Hey Mickey
Year: 1971
Director: Yabo Yablonsky
Stars: Mickey Rooney, Luana Anders, Keenan Wynn
Genre: WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: It's raining heavily tonight, and a small figure emerges from the darkness to enter this warehouse where a selection of forgotten movie props are kept, gathering dust and cobwebs. The man is B.J. Lang (Mickey Rooney), who used to be in the business but now... well, now he would like to revive those days of Golden Age Hollywood, though the methods he uses are unorthodox to say the least. At first he wanders the warehouse until he gets into the spirit of his ambitions and begins barking out orders as if he were a film director, seeing visions of a naked, white-painted middle aged couple waltzing around and becoming convinced they are laughing at him. But Lang is not alone in the building...

When Mickey Rooney died a few years short of his century, many were quick to pay tribute to his considerable achievements as a youthful star when he was one of the most famous actors (and song and dance men) in the world. But while he never stopped working even into his nineties, the quality of that work was not exactly of the same high profile, or even of the same high standard. Not that Rooney ever gave anything but one hundred and ten percent, but some of his choices, presumably out of necessity rather than choice, were some distance away from his days of brightening up the globe alongside Judy Garland, and none were further away than The Manipulator.

Precisely what writer and director Yabo Yablonsky was getting at here was not entirely clear - in fact, it wasn't remotely apparent at all - but it did present his leading man with an opportunity for a tour de force of out there thespianism where perhaps even he did not know what he was trying to put across. There is dialogue, but it is so oblique that there are no clues as to what Lang has in mind, and by the end of ninety minutes of stream of consciousness nonsense it's unlikely you will be in the small minority on their feet, applauding wildly with yells of "Bravo!", though there are some who are able to attune themselves to the film's wavelength and find worth in it. Everyone else, assuming they make it to the bloody finale, will be muttering that dreaded word "pretentious".

Rooney was not alone in his endeavours, this was no one man show, as cult actress Luana Anders, who had a knack for appearing in works with counterculture appeal, also showed up as Carlotta spending almost the whole hour after her introduction tied to a wheelchair and having such indignities as being spoonfed apple baby food inflicted upon her character as she, one assumes, seeks a chance to get away. The only other credited actor was Keenan Wynn who appears later on and no sooner than he has is stabbed to death by Lang at the point of his rapier, since by that stage the madman has adopted a plumed hat and funny nose and is giving us his full on Cyrano de Bergerac, though Cyrano de Maniac might be more appropriate in light of his eccentric behaviour.

There were other people as the hallucinations of Lang and Carlotta, but their names have been lost in the mists of time, including a baby who shares a scene with Rooney and a bunch of other roisterers in a baffling party scene. But a lot baffled here: why, for example, did Lang continually break into song, mainly The Chattanooga Choo-Choo, when he patently doesn't know the words? Why did he paint himself up as a woman, with bright red lipstick, blue eye shadow and rouge on his cheeks, and act "camp" in the process? Why was Carlotta often seen running through a slaughterhouse - was that really happening or was it a metaphor for her situation? But probably it was best not to dwell on the details, as The Manipulator was more of a phantasmagorical experience which did not necessarily have to make sense, just as well when it indubitably did not. Maybe the oddest thing was that in spite of being a real endurance test, it was just weird enough to make you stick with it to the bitter end, similar to its oddball contemporary Rhinoceros, though that had literary pedigree. Bleeps and bloops by Gill Melle.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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