The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
Review Joe Mediuck
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is so good that you wish it were better; it`s so good that it overcomes weaknesses that would ruin a lesser film. Amongst those weaknesses are: an opening scene that`s crummy, a closing scene that falls flat, and atrocious stock music. In the first scene, Jack Warden (as Duddy’s father, Max) delivers a monologue about “The Boy Wonder” that just doesn’t work; Warden doesn’t sound like a taxi driver, he sounds like an actor delivering a monologue. But it`s not so much Warden’s fault as Ted Kotcheff`s – the whole scene is badly directed. As is the last scene where Warden, sitting in the same snack-bar, begins a monologue about Duddy. It`s anti-climatlc after a previous, much more dramatic, scene and the result is a contrived throw-away.
The awful music is probably the result of budget problems: the credits read “Music Supervision Stanley Myers, Standard Music.” Stanley Myers is a fine composer (Kaleidoscope, Ulysses, Night of the Following Day, etc.) and my guess is that he “supervised” the selection of the stock music as a favour to Kotcheff. Kotcheff should have returned the favour and left Myers’ name off the credits.
Now that the nit-picking is out of the way I should add that Duddy Kravitz is a dynamite movie and its faults probably stick out because the rest of it is so good. The first scene looks especially bad because the rest of the film is so well acted, and the last scene seems especially limp because Kotcheff milks every other scene for all it`s worth.
In fact, despite the general acclaim the film has received in Canada, I think Kotcheff has been overlooked while all of the praise is being heaped on the actors. He infuses the film with an incredible energy and makes the story so immediate that you forget it`s set in 1948. The film is as “authentic” as any of the other period pieces making the rounds, but unlike most of the others it avoids both condescending humour (“Ha, ha. Weren’t people dumb then.”) and mindless nostalgia (“Sigh. Wasn’t life simple then.”).
Not that the acting isn’t great. You expect Joseph Wiseman and Denholm Elliot to be good (at least I do), but Henry Ramer and Joe Sliver are terrific too, as are the younger actors: Randy Quaid, Micheline Lanctôt and (especially) Richard Dreyfuss. Somewhere else in this issue Bob Fothergill talks about how the women in Canadian films are all wonderful, warm, intelligent and long-suffering at the hands of the men who can best be described as schmucks. Duddy Kravitz is no exception, but Dreyfuss pulls off a near miracle: he manages to make Duddy both believable and likeable.
He’s given some help from Mordecai Rlchler’s script. Maybe Richler has mellowed in the 15 years slnce he wrote the novel, but his screenplay places much more emphasis on the motivations for Duddy`s callous, money-grubblng aggressiveness. (Hmmmmmm… I was about to say “pushiness”.) The motivations are in the book, but they’re in the background: in the film they’re brought to the foreground. The film’s Duddy so lacks the streak of maliciousness that`s in the book’s Duddy that it’s hard to believe that he’ll mature into the Duddy Kravitz whom Richler brought back in St. Urbain’s Horseman. (For that matter I found the Duddy Kravitz sections the least satisfactory part of St. Urbain’s Horseman.)
But enough about books; back to the silver screen. With the price of movie tickets escalating at an alarming rate (not to mention the price of popcorn) the most important criterion in the evaluation of any film has become “Is it worth three bucks?” Well, despite the crummy music, the weak opening and the limp closing, Duddy Kravitz is so well written, directed and acted and (like Duddy, himself) has so much vitality that I give it the highest accolade: Don’t walt for it to come back on a double bill. Go see it even if it does cost three dollars.
Also see: The Cast & Crew of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
This review of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Joe Mediuck appeared in the original Take One magazine that was published between 1966 and 1979.