For a period in the late seventies and early eighties, Burt Reynolds lent his name to a number of films that could best be described as big budget home movies. These films, in particular those he made with Hal Needham, were over-indulgent messes lurching from one stunt to the next with little in the way of coherence. Indeed, it often seemed that the only things holding films such as The Cannonball Run and Smokey and the Bandit together were the actor’s ‘tache and grin. Thankfully, this style of filmmaking came to an abrupt end, though it has made a recent reappearance with Charlie’s Angels and its sequel which similarly present a mish-mash of set pieces over coherence when not concentrating on Cameron Diaz’s arse.
Nickelodeon is possibly the first of this run of films despite Reynolds only having a supporting role. The plot has the simplest of set-ups: unsuccessful lawyer Ryan O’Neal inadvertently ends up becoming a film director in the 1910s. From here on in, the film simply adds a few actors (Reynolds, Tatum O’Neal) as O’Neal’s cast and crew members and then seemingly has nowhere to go. Instead director Peter Bogdanovich offers a series of lucky coincidences and comic pratfalls as a way of maintaining interest, which for the film’s two hour running time simply doesn’t work.
The problem appears to be that Bogdanovich is too in love with his subject; D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation serves to underline the final scenes, and it is this film and others of its era that the director seems enthralled with rather than the one he is making. There are certainly good intentions present but because of the lack of an overall momentum to the piece, these come to nothing. The most notable is the way in which Nickelodeon apes the films of that era: there’s the piano accompaniment score; the use of iris’ and intertitles; there’s even tinier details such as the glasses O’Neal wears bearing an uncanny resemblance to those of Harold Lloyd. Bogdanovich has also chosen to retain some of the innocence of pre-Birth of a Nation cinema, yet once again this dulls any potential impact as it serves to keep any drama to a bare minimum.
Certainly, this wouldn’t be a problem if the big set pieces (co-ordinated, tellingly, by a certain Hal Needham) had a modicum of inventiveness. Yet whilst Bogdanovich is a keen film fan, he appears to have learnt nothing from the likes of Lloyd, Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin. Instead he offers slapstick at its most basic and buildings getting demolished during overlong fistfights. Indeed it is this general lack of conviction that places Nickelodeon more in the spirit of the Burt Reynolds films mentioned earlier rather than those Bogdanovich is aiming to emulate.
Likewise, there’s a similar disregard towards the actors. Reynolds does get a couple of good scenes at the very beginning, demonstrating a wonderful charm in the against-type role as a fresh-faced, naive Southern boy, though for the most part suffers the same problems as the rest of the cast; namely having nothing to work with. This is most damaging to Ryan O’Neal who, despite having the leading role, practically fades away; a great disappointment as Nickelodeon was his follow-up Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon.
Interestingly, Nickelodeon proved to be O’Neal’s final collaboration with Bogdanovich, as well as the director’s last studio financed venture for some time. It’s tempting to think what the film would have been like if this situation had occurred at any earlier date in his career. Perhaps it would have given the independent filmmaking angle at little (much needed) bite?
Picture and Sound
The presentation, both visually and aurally, is fine, though neither particularly striking. The picture, whilst never suffering any damage, looks a little too soft, though this may have been the result of Bogdanovich wishing the film to be released in black and white.
Only the original theatrical trailer is present, which emphasises the "hilarious, often daring, escapades", ie. lacklustre slapstick.
A poor film on a poor disc. Whilst Bogdanovich has occasionally produced some great works, Nickelodeon definitely isn't one of them.