WUSA (1970) Starring Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Anthony Perkins, Pat Hingle, Wayne Rogers, Clifton James, Don Gordon, Bruce Cabot, Cloris Leachman, Jesse Vint, Leigh French, Bruce Cabot, Moses Gunn, David Huddleston, Diane Ladd, Paul Hampton, Tol Avery, Kristin Andersen, Skip Young, B.J. Mason, Hal Baylor, Zara Cully.
Directed by Stuart Rosenberg.
Runtime: 115 Minutes.
Rating: R (Sexuality, Violence, Coarse Language, Drug Use)
“I’m part of a pattern in somebody’s head”
Middle-aged alcoholic drifter Rheinhardt (Newman) is a journeyman conman who has worked a lot of different scams in his day. What ties them all together is his ability to tell people what they want to hear and recognising that they want to hear different things at different times.
Long past believing in anything after he gave up on his dreams of being a musician he is the type that has sold hot watches on street corners, preached gospel to the converted, done commercial voice-overs for the most disgusting products imaginable, been a disc jockey playing top forty, done weather reports etc.
To him it is pretty much the same and provides him with subsistence along with a steady supply of hard liquor which further numbs him to a world he regards with snivelling contempt. When the trend of a new fad runs dry he usually gets canned if he hasn’t drank his way out before then.
Down on his luck in New Orleans he is turned on to the new scam that could be his meal ticket for the next while. At the local patriotic radio station WUSA they don’t necessarily want him to tell them what they want to hear. They want him to tell a mass audience what they want them to hear i.e. patriotic platitudes.
Putting his brand of charisma behind whatever product they’ll pay him to peddle Rheinhardt has doubts this time. He doesn’t mind riding a fad out for an outfit trying to make money which is what he thought his employers were at first. They have a much more ambitious agenda with an extreme objective. Not only is he getting uncomfortable with the message they want him to transmit, he is a little scared of what they might do to him if he doesn’t co-operate.
It was called the ‘New Patriotism’ when it began in the mid-1960s. It grew out of Goldwater conservatism and the theories of right-wing philosophers like Leo Strauss. It was a reaction to the New Deal policies brought in by FDR to fight the Great Depression born of the frustration that came out of massive urban crime waves, protests and riots.
But the fictional idea presented here is that the new intellectual conservatism was actually a front for white supremacists which it was not. The familiar defense that this was a work of fiction not intended to resemble real-life persons or events…And so on and so forth…Blah blah blah is a flimsy argument in favor of the propaganda that Hollywood limousine liberal Newman and the production team here crafted.
I’d like to think it was the implausibility of the story that made this production such a flop. In fact it was more likely the dullness of the narrative, lac of proper pacing and uneven performances that made for such a poor show.
Adapted from the Robert Stone novel “A Hall of Mirrors”.