The Landlord is a politically conscious movie based on a novel. It stars Beau Bridges as a 29-year-old bored rich boy, Elgar, who can’t seem to get a life of his own, because he has no real goals and no ambition, and a mother who wants him to keep living in their large family estate. But now Elgar grows a pair, and wants to move out/run away from home, and so, being wealthy, he buys a dilapidated apartment block in a “colored neighborhood” of New York, planning to rebuild it into a huge mansion for himself. This premise is rather silly, but it’s there in order to make some interesting political points about race and class.
Where the idea rather loses its bite is that Elgar is actually, from the beginning, a nice, decent and liberal (if clueless) person, not at all a prejudiced and obnoxious aristocrat like the rest of his family and their friends. He practically immediately abandons his original plan, and instead is caught up in the lives of the low-income black tenants of the building. This, however, is acceptable to a great degree because it brings quite a bit of comedy with it.
Thus, the story chronicles his rude awakening from a naïve guy who’s looking for his own identity and to a socially conscious person who can’t stand the arrogance and racist attitudes of the rich. In the course of the narrative he accidentally impregnates one woman, and falls in love with another. He virtually turns into a hippie.
He encounters to black community at a time when it has become fashionable and a matter of pride to be black, which is a new thing for this previously oppressed group. Now they’re taking charge of their own lives in a new way, while proclaiming that “black is beautiful” – all part of the counter-culture movements of the sixties, which also gave rise to “blaxploitation” movies. Elgar’s girlfriend, Lanie, is played by the beautiful Marki Bey, who is a sort of mulatto that can pass for either white or black.
The movie is nicely acted and certainly seems realistic in some senses. Beau Bridges is quite good, and Lee Grant as his mother is an attractive character, giving a very good performance and turning out to support her son more than he thought she would.
It’s a movie that provides an interesting glance into the political ideas and social tendencies of the late sixties; a lovely 1970 snapshot.
The DVD has not extras. It was released in the UK on October 1.
Director: Hal Ashby
Cast: Beau Bridges, Lee Grant, Diana Sands, Pearl Bailey, Marki Bey and others.
Runtime: 105 min.