Color, 1974, 121 mins. 6 secs.
Directed by Ted Kotcheff
Starring Richard Dreyfuss, Micheline Lanctôt, Jack Warden, Randy Quaid, Joseph Wiseman, Denholm Elliott
Fun City Editions (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Alliance (DVD) (Canada R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
In between his ascension as a major young name to watch thanks to American Graffiti and his star-making role in Jaws, Richard Dreyfuss hopped over to Canada just before the tax shelter cinematic explosion to make a milestone in that country's movie history. Based on a well-received 1959 novel by Montreal author Mordecai Richler, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz had already been adapted once for television when the director of that first stab, Canadian director Ted Kotcheff (Wake in Fright, First Blood, North Dallas Forty), mounted this big screen version with Dreyfuss headlining several American and British stars to give it more international cachet than the average homegrown production at the time. The result became a game changer in Canada, boosting the popularity of Richler's novels (in which Duddy and other characters recur) and leading to a pair of musical stage adaptations down the road. Despite being picked up by Paramount for U.S. distribution, the film largely fell into oblivion after its run on cable TV and VHS until its much-needed revival on Blu-ray in 2023 from Fun City Editions.
Motivated by perceived slights within his family including his rich uncle Benjy (Dr. No's Wiseman) and motivated by his grandfather's slogan that "a man without land is nobody," young Montreal Jewish man Duddy Kravitz (Dreyfuss) gets a job as a waiter at a hotel where he butts heads with some of his coworkers but, inspired by an outing with new girlfriend Yvette (Lanctôt), gets the idea to buy and develop land around a nearby lake. The fast-hustling Duddy dives into a string of business endeavors with a lot more energy than sense, including an attempt to buy pinball machines over the border from Virgil (Quaid) and arranging bar mitzvah films with eccentric, alcoholic filmmaker Friar (Elliott). Ultimately what moral compass Duddy has gets tested by his dedication to owning some land at any cost, something that will put all of his connections to other people in jeopardy.
At the time it came out, Duddy Kravtiz seemed very much in line with the waves of uncomfortable coming-of-age Jewish dramedies like Portnoy's Complaint and Goodbye, Columbus, with its outrageous avant-garde bar mitzvah movie at the halfway point not only recalling the outrage comedy of Where's Poppa? but prodding both the overt and more suggested antisemitic imagery common in pop culture. Today the film's self-sabotaging, ultra-motivated main character can't help but draw comparisons to later, more extreme cinematic cases like The Wolf of Wall Street and Nightcrawler among many others, with Dreyfuss' natural charisma making him at least palatable among a sea of very welcome character actors enjoying their colorful roles. The fact that it's Canadian gives this a bit of a different spin though, setting the stage for a wave of major productions with imported stars that would become worldwide theatrical fixtures for several years.
Given that this film doesn't have much of a home video history outside of VHS and an iffy Canadian DVD, it goes without saying that the Fun City Editions Blu-ray is by far the best it's ever looked with a solid HD master here bringing out a lot more texture and detail than ever before. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 English mono audio is also in good shape and features optional English SDH subtitles. The disc comes with a booklet featuring a new essay by Nathan Holmes about the film as adaptation and Canadian milestone, while the one extra on the disc is a new audio commentary by Adam Nayman. Watch the volume as he coughs loudly into the mic many times, but it's a solid, substantive track that starts off noting his great-grandfather was an (unspottable) extra in the opening before going through a reading of the film as a kind of bildungsroman tale, a snapshot of Canadian and Jewish culture at a very particular point, and a conjunction of multiple talents including details about Kotcheff's varied, frequently surprising career.
Reviewed on February 8, 2024