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Stuart Rosenberg
Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Anthony Perkins, Laurence Harvey, Pat Hingle, Don Gordon, Michael Anderson Jr.
Writing Credits:
Robert Stone (and novel)

A picture for our times.

Paul Newman served as co-producer of this allegorical drama and stars as Rheinhardt, a opportunistic drifter who ends up in New Orleans and hits up his old friend Farley (Laurence Harvey), a con man-turned-phony preacher, for a job. Farley is able to get Rheinhardt hired on as an announcer at a local radio station, WUSA, but the station is a right-wing propaganda mill that devotes its air time to venomous tirades against political and social progress. Rheinhardt is happy to be making decent money, and he makes the friendly acquaintance of a local working girl, Geraldine (Joanne Woodward), so he refuses to look his gift horse in the mouth. However, when he finds out that WUSA is actually involved in shadowy political actions, he is at a loss for what to do, especially after a naïve and troubled social worker (Anthony Perkins) is tricked into starting a race riot. Robert Stone wrote the screenplay, adapted from his novel "A Hall Of Mirrors".

Rated PG-13

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1/16X9
English Monaural
Not Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 115 min.
Price: $24.95
Release Date: 2/8/2011

• None


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

WUSA (1970)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 21, 2011)

Given the political climate circa 2011, it felt like a good time to revisit 1970’s WUSA, a flick that dealt with the influence of talk radio. Rheinhardt (Paul Newman) and Geraldine meet in a New Orleans bar. Both came to town looking for money, though they pursue different paths. She ends up resorting to attempted prostitution, while he seeks bucks owed to him by a buddy named Farley (Laurence Harvey).

After they cross paths, Rheinhardt and Geraldine become a couple, and he gets a gig at WUSA, a conservative radio station. There he goes from DJ to commentator who simply shoves out what his bosses tell him to say, even though their viewpoints differ from his. This leads to a crisis of conscience when liberal do-gooder Rainey (Anthony Perkins) points out how the suits at WUSA are attempting to run poorer residents out of town.

Unlike 1976’s Network, WUSA doesn’t get many points for prescience. In this day and age, its look at conservative talk radio’s influence acts as its calling card, but the movie doesn’t do much with it. Instead, it alternates between Tennessee Williams-style character piece and shrill liberal-leaning slice of cynicism about the death of the American dream.

Neither side works particularly well, though the political elements fare the worst. That’s because WUSA lacks a particularly concise cause around which to rally. If anything, its notion of rich white folks’ attempts to get rid of poor dark-skinned people should add even more contemporary flair to the project; granted, today’s issue revolves around immigration, not welfare, but the similarities remain.

Unfortunately, WUSA renders the subjects and schemes in such a muddled way that the viewer rarely gets what the film attempts to explore. The movie desperately wants to deliver something of social importance, but it meanders so much that it flops in that regard.

Indeed, “meandering” might be the best term to describe WUSA. For a movie about political/social subjects, it takes a long time to develop any of these. Oddly, we hardly ever see Rheinhardt at work. The story wants to invest in the discrepancy between his private beliefs and his public pronouncements, but we rarely get to hear Rheinhardt deal with the latter. We briefly see him on the job, but not enough to deliver much content.

Instead, the movie tends to lollygag through its character relationships. We watch a lot of the curiously dull partnership between Rheinhardt and Geraldine, and we check out Farley as he does his thing. The flick’s at least half over before any of these events feel like they go anywhere, and even then, they barely make an impact.

WUSA does boast an uncommonly good cast, though I’m not sure any of them can do much with their roles. It reunites Newman with Cool Hand Luke director Stuart Rosen, and Newman tends to play the role in a way reminiscent of Luke. He’s as cool as ever, and his underplaying almost adds luster to the part, but Rheinhardt remains too underdeveloped.

As for the others, they’re less successful, as most emote too much. Harvey seems hammy, and Perkins essentially just makes Farley a do-gooding version of Norman Bates. More notables turn up in small parts – look for Cloris Leachman, Wayne Rogers, Pat Hingle and others – but the simplistic nature of the film means they also fall pretty flat.

At its heart, WUSA has potential. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t explore its social commentary well. It comes across as dull and rambling too much of the time.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio D+/ Bonus F

WUSA appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I didn’t expect much from this transfer, but it was reasonably good.

Sharpness usually seemed positive. Wide shots tended to be somewhat soft, but most of the movie exhibited pretty solid definition. No issues with jagged edges or haloes appeared, and only a little shimmering materialized during shots of striped coats.

Colors could be a bit dense, but they were generally nice. The movie favored a warm palette and gave us hues that were usually full and rich. Blacks appeared tight, and shadows were decent; they could be a little dense, but they mostly seemed clear.

WUSA lost most of its points due to source flaws. Throughout the film, I noticed instances of specks, marks and blotches. These weren’t severe; though they caused distractions, they weren’t excessively intrusive. Overall, this was a satisfying enough presentation for a “B-“.

Unfortunately, the film’s monaural soundtrack came with notable problems. When loud – such as at the WUSA rally – the audio tended to become rough and distorted. When quiet, the balance seemed off. For instance, I found more than a few low-key scenes during which minor effects almost drowned out dialogue. Since these were intended to be conversational character scenes, it was a definite problem that I found it difficult to understand what the actors said.

At its best, the track seemed average. When properly balanced, speech was still somewhat thin and tinny, but the lines were intelligible. Music actually seemed moderately robust on a few occasions, though the score and songs were usually mediocre. Effects were the same; when not too loud or distorted, they offered average clarity. Even when I accounted for its age, this ended up as a flawed soundtrack.

If you’re anxious for some good extras, hang your head: the DVD lacks any bonus materials. We don’t even get a trailer.

With a story that seems timely today and an excellent cast, WUSA should’ve turned into a dynamic social tale. Unfortunately, it rambles too much and lacks much bite. The DVD presents pretty good picture quality but suffers from weak audio and lacks any supplements. This one ends up as a disappointment.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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