Jul 6, 2014

[Movies] The Boys In The Band (1970)

A large basis for the LGBT movies that I try to watch are various lists found on the internet. No one list is absolute in this regard of course, so it helps to compare and contrast things as best as possible. Some movies are one-offs. Some appear across several lists. The top on one list is the bottom of another. you know the deal.

One movie that tends to come up often is The Boys in the Band. And until this week, I had never seen this movie before nor did I have any clear idea of what it was about. I just knew that it was a classic and it had managed to earn itself a special place his LGBT pop culture history.

Silly me, I didn't know that it had been based on a popular off-Broadway play before it had been adapted into film. Boo on me again, I had no idea that it was among the first movies to prominently gay characters in a central way.

And shame on me again, I had no idea that the movie was pretty great.

Synopsis: The Boys in the Band is a drama film directed by William Friedkin. The Mart Crowley screenplay was based on off-Broadway play of the same name that he had also written. And the movie also featured pretty much the same actors who had portrayed the same roles in the original play.

It's 1960's New York and Michael (Kenneth Nelson) is preparing a birthday party for a friend, Harold (Leonard Frey). And one by one, the friends start arriving as the event gets nearer. Donald (Frederick Combs) claims to be an underachiever. Emory (Cliff Gorman) is the somewhat stereotypical out and proud interior decorator. Hank (Laurence Luckinbill) is a teacher, in the process of getting a divorce. He's involved with Larry, who is a fashion photographer. Bernard (Reuben Greene) is a nice enough bookstore clerk. And there's Alan (Peter White), Michael's straight college roommate, who happens to come over since he states that he needs to come see Michael for some reason.

But the party doesn't go quite as planned - or at least it's not exactly a festive occasion. As the group waits for Harold, who is much later than expected, things continue to brew among the group. It doesn't quite get better when "Cowboy" (Robert La Tourneaux), Emory's "gift" to Harold arrives and eventually manages to set off Alan's temper. And when Harold does arrive, things don't get any better. And the revelations from their dialog is really where the movie's action is.

I was rather impressed how this movie didn't try to overly dress up the original story of the play. These days when a play is adapted into a movie, suddenly there's this obsession with expanding the story and illustrating every side-story in the original plot with a full scene that involves a change of location and all that fun stuff. This movie kept things focused on the important things - the stories of the individual characters.

And when viewed on paper, the characters don't seem all that impressive. There's no reason for all these individuals to automatically matter to us as viewers or even make an impact on how we view the world. But over the course of the movie, things are revealed one step at a time. And then by the end you're on the edge of your seat like everyone else.

I can concede that this movie probably won't appeal to everyone these days. It relies on a lot of dialog and tight shots of faces of everyone involved and all that good stuff. It has very minimal scoring and the action pretty much just takes place in a single apartment, just like in the original play. But I guarantee that you'll come out better for it once you sit through the whole thing.

The Boys in the Band is an important part of LGBT film history. But more than that, it's a good story told in a manner that is a little raw, a little rough around the edges, but ultimately very real. And so the movie deserves a good 4.5 snide side remarks out of a possible 5.

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