The Landlord is a fairly unusual sort of film but then again it was made at a fairly unusual time; a time when the world and particularly America was struggling to come to terms with the new state and flux of interracial relations. In this setting, Beau Bridges plays naive rich boy Elgar Enders who is dissatisfied with his lot in life so takes the decision to buy a block of flats [complete with tenants] in a ghetto-heavy area of Brooklyn.
The Enders family are conventional for that time, in that they feel free to blurt out extremely prejudiced comments without so much as the raise of an eyebrow or an uncomfortable silence. Elgar is a little different. He has that almost-youthful thirst for new experience and that includes trying to get along with [and get off with] people who grew up without a nanny.
The film is primarily concerned with showing how he deals with his new tenants and their individual little quirks but also how his status in his very white and bonkers family changes. He grows up a little bit along the way, which is good because he has some tough decisions to face.
There are some things to like but also some other things you may not be so keen on. Beau Bridges as Elgar is adorable and, even as a naive rich kid with obvious flaws, you do want him to succeed. Lee Grant is very amusing as Elgar Enders’ mummy. The tenants are all a little bit as you might expect but still entertaining. They hit Elgar with their very best eccentricities and, at fraught times, chase him with weapons. Pearl Bailey and Diana Sands make their characters the most memorable of the tenants, in very different ways. On the least positive side, the ‘to camera’ and more wistful sections of the film could be either grating or charming, depending on your preferences.
Director Hal Ashby has created an interesting slice of life on a different side of the tracks, seen through the eyes of some very privileged individuals. There were many memorable moments but it did seem to drag on a little, remaining just on the acceptable side of two hours. Good performances and an ambitious subject mean that it’s worth a watch, 42 years after it first hit cinema screens.
Maryann has awarded The Landlord (1970) three Torches of Truth.