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The Day of the Locust is a 1975 American drama film directed by John Schlesinger, and starring William Atherton, Karen Black, Donald Sutherland, and Geraldine Page. The screenplay by Waldo Salt is based on the 1939 novel of the same title by Nathanael West. Set in Hollywood, California just prior to World War II, it depicts the alienation and desperation of a disparate group of individuals whose dreams of success have failed to come true.

The Day of the Locust
Poster of the movie The Day of the Locust.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Schlesinger
Produced byJerome Hellman
Screenplay byWaldo Salt
Based onThe Day of the Locust
by Nathanael West
Music byJohn Barry
CinematographyConrad L. Hall
Edited byJim Clark
Long Road Productions
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • May 7, 1975 (1975-05-07)
Running time
144 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$17,793,000



The film offers a dark, cynical look at Hollywood in the late 1930s and tells the tales of several of the residents of the dilapidated San Bernardino Arms: Faye Greener, a trashy wannabe actress with limited talent, and her father Harry, a former vaudevillian working as a door-to-door salesman; sexually repressed accountant Homer Simpson, who desperately loves and is fanatically devoted to Faye; and East Coast WASP Tod Hackett, an aspiring artist employed by the production department of a major studio, who also fancies Faye.

The film contains many unusual and often bizarrely disturbing images: a middle-aged man sits in an untended garden staring at a large lizard that stares back at him; a young woman is transported into the film she's watching and finds herself portraying a harem girl in old Baghdad; a dwarf strokes a rooster, bleeding and dazed from a cock fight, then tosses it back into the ring to its death; an androgynous child standing on the sidewalk beckons to a man through a window and performs a grotesque imitation of Mae West once his attention has been caught. These brief vignettes do little to advance the basic plot, but they serve to comment on the sleaziness of Hollywood and its varied inhabitants. Spectacle fills the screen - a set of the Waterloo battlefield collapses on the extras during the making of the film within the film, and in the film's climax, a world premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theater evolves into a horrific riot culminating in gruesome tragedy.


Critical receptionEdit

In his review in The New York Times, Vincent Canby called it "less a conventional film than it is a gargantuan panorama, a spectacle that illustrates West's dispassionate prose with a fidelity to detail more often found in a gimcracky Biblical epic than in something that so relentlessly ridicules American civilization... The movie is far from subtle, but it doesn't matter. It seems that much more material was shot than could be easily fitted into the movie, even at 144 minutes... It is reality projected as fantasy. Its grossness — its bigger-than-life quality — is so much a part of its style (and what West was writing about) that one respects the extravagances, the almost lunatic scale on which Mr. Schlesinger has filmed its key sequences."[1]

Jay Cocks of Time said; "The Day of the Locust looks puffy and overdrawn, sounds shrill because it is made with a combination of self-loathing and tenuous moral superiority. This is a movie turned out by the sort of mentality that West was mocking. Salt's adaptation... misses what is most crucial: West's tone of level rage and tilted compassion, his ability to make human even the most grotesque mockery."[2]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called it a "daring, epic film... a brilliant one at times, and with a wealth of sharp-edged performances," citing that of Donald Sutherland as "one of the movie's wonders," although he expressed some reservations, noting that "somewhere on the way to its final vast metaphors, The Day of the Locust misplaces its concern with its characters. We begin to sense that they're marching around in response to the requirements of the story, instead of leading lives of their own. And so we stop worrying about them, because they're doomed anyway and not always because of their own shortcoming."[3]

In the Chicago Reader, Jonathan Rosenbaum described the film as "a painfully misconceived reduction and simplification... of the great Nathanael West novel about Hollywood... It misses crucial aspects of the book's surrealism and satire, though it has a fair number of compensations if you don't care about what's being ground underfoot - among them, Conrad Hall's cinematography and... one of Donald Sutherland's better performances."[4]

Channel 4 calls it "fascinating, if flawed" and "by turns gaudy, bitter and occasionally just plain weird," adding "great performances and magnificent design make this a spectacular and highly entertaining film."[5]

The film was shown at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival, but wasn't entered into the main competition.[6]

Awards and nominationsEdit

Academy AwardsEdit

Nominated: Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Burgess Meredith Best Cinematography – Conrad L. Hall

Golden Globe AwardsEdit

Nominated: Best Motion Picture Actress – Drama – Karen Black Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture – Burgess Meredith

BAFTA AwardsEdit

Win: Best Costume Design – Ann Roth

Nominated: Best Supporting Actor – Burgess Meredith Best Art Direction – Richard Macdonald

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ New York Times review
  2. ^ Time review
  3. ^ Chicago Sun-Times review
  4. ^ Chicago Reader review
  5. ^ Channel 4 review
  6. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Day of the Locust". Retrieved 2009-05-04.

External linksEdit