Color, 1969, 107 mins. 50 secs.
Directed by Jeremy Paul Kagan
Starring Richard Dreyfuss, Susan Anspach, Bonnie Bedelia, John Lithgow, Ofelia Medina, Fritz Weaver, F. Murray Abraham
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Twilight Time (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), ESC (Blu-ray) (France RB HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Hot off of winning his Oscar for The Goodbye Girl and starring in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Richard Dreyfuss veered in an unexpected direction by starring in 1978's The Big Fix, a goofy, PG-rated riff on hardboiled crime stories that slots in nicely with other films of the decade like The Late Show, The Long Goodbye, and Night Moves. Novelist Roger L. Simon adapted his own 1973 novel, the first in a series of four mysteries featuring pot-smoking Echo Park detective Moses Wine, bringing with it a vaguely burned-out sensibility that was lingering after the demise of the '60s counterculture.
The gubernatorial campaign of a prominent California politician could be in jeopardy thanks to a flyer going around tying him to a now-hidden Berkeley radical, Howard Eppis (Abraham), so one of the staff workers, Lila (Anspach), goes to old boyfriend Moses for help. Skittish campaign coordinator Sam Sebastian (Lithgow) is more focused on PR than untangling what turns out to be a tricky mystery involving Eppis' fellow radicals, which soon leads to murder, bomb threats, divided families, and long-hidden secrets.
Casting Dreyfuss in a story of '60s extreme activism mutating at the end of the '70s is a masterstroke that pays off here very well, and it's hard to think of too many other actors who could have pulled it off as well including some amusing bits toting his kids around town. This would actually make an interesting centerpiece in between Blue Sunshine and The Big Chill with its look at the willful domestication of youthful fervor, with Cutter's Way as a possible chaser, too. Of course, now it's also a prime opportunity to enjoy a ton of character actors in fine form including Lithgow (sporting a big beard), a very colorful Abraham, Fritz Weaver, and the always great Bonnie Bedelia as Wine's ex. Another recent Oscar honoree, Rocky composer Bill Conti, who provides an entertaining score that helps smooth over the sometimes rough transitions between quirky comedy and darker thriller elements. The Universal release would mark the second film for director Jeremy Paul Kagan (who's now dropped the "Paul" on his current credits) following a pretty solid dramedy the previous year for the studio, Heroes; this would be his last film of the decade, followed eventually by another Jewish-themed film, 1983's The Chosen. (After the financial debacle of The Sting II, he jumped over to Disney for the solid The Journey of Natty Gann.) As with his other work, he shows a particularly strong knack for creating a unique vibe, digging into the sociological aspects of his characters with the plot itself mostly serving as an excuse to spend time with these people and see what makes them tick.
Seemingly everywhere on VHS in the late '80s and '90s, The Big Fix seemed to drop off the face of the earth for a long time until it started popping up in a new HD scan on Cinemax around in the mid-2010s and a 2016 DVD-R in the Universal Vault series. Significantly, the DVD and later editions restored the original theatrical soundtrack which, in typical Universal catalog fashion in video's darker days, had been significantly altered due to music clearance issues. In 2019, Twilight Time bowed it on Blu-ray featuring that same solid Universal scan with only the trailer and an isolated score as extras; a no-frills French Blu-ray also turned up around the same time in France. In 2021, Indicator premiered the film on U.K. Blu-ray with a limited 3,000-unit edition featuring a booklet with a new essay by Andrew Nette ("The Big Fix, the end of the 1960s, and Cinema's New Private Eyes") about the film's place in the '70s crime canon, Dreyfuss' really good intro written for the 2000 reissue of the source novel, a '78 article about legendary costume designer Edith Head (this was one of her last films), an '86 interview with Kagan by Michel Sineux, and three sample critical reactions. The transfer here comes from the same scan and looks quite similar, albeit a notch darker and richer-looking in motion with all of that textured original film grain left intact throughout. The LPCM English 2.0 mono track sounds excellent throughout, and Indicator's commitment to providing improved and more accurate English SDH subtitles is once again to be applauded. A new commentary with Little White Lies editor David Jenkins is mostly analytical as he parses out the film's manipulation of mystery genre tropes, chats about the actors' backgrounds, and occasionally calls out aspects he feels don't quite hit the mark (such as Kagan's handling of action sequences). Nice little shout out comparison to Something Wild, too. It's a solid track, though there are many long silent gaps scattered throughout that might require a fast-forward button. In "The Big Self" (22m36s), Kagan first appears being interviewed by a Muppet version of himself(!) before launching into a lively account of his career starting off with film school, even though he didn't initially plan to actually become a filmmaker. Then you get "The Crime in Mind" (7m41s) with Simon explaining how he got into writing mystery fiction after reading plenty of hardboiled novels and coming up with a modern post-'60s character twist. Also included are two archival TV interviews with Dreyfuss (5m16s) explaining how and why he made the film (shot just before his Oscar win) and Kagan, Simon, and producer Carl Borack (6m49s) committing violent fashion crimes while chatting about working with friends and seeing the final result make it to the screen. Finally the disc rounds out with the open matte theatrical trailer, a TV spot, 96s of radio spots, and two separate galleries for promotional material and behind the scenes shots and storyboards.
Reviewed on August 23, 2021