End of the Road (1970)
Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.
as Shirley (Receptionis...
as Dr. Carter
as Jake Horner
as Joe Morgan
as Dr. D
as School man
as Dog Man
as Sniperman/Mrs. Docke...
as Rennie Morgan
as Miss Banning
as Peggy Rankin
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I sought this obscure film for quite awhile for exactly one reason: the writing credit for Terry Southern ("Candy," "The Magic Christian," "Easy Rider," "The Loved One," "Dr. Strangelove") in his prime. However, the screenplay is adapted from a novella, so Southern's satirical touch is somewhat subdued beyond the broadly drawn roles of James Earl Jones and Harris Yulin.
Stacy Keach (with a noticeable lip scar that may explain why he spent most of his career with a mustache) is Jacob Horner, a troubled introvert who graduates from college as the story opens. His first move is to walk straight to the train station and motionlessly stand by the tracks for what seems like days. Symbolic of his lack of direction, presumably. Finally, he is approached by "Dr. D" (Jones), a quack psychologist who runs an asylum nicknamed "The Farm." Dr. D rouses Horner out of his catatonia and takes him back to his institute. Once there, he whisks Horner to an intense therapy room (oddball slides and films projected all over the walls) and "treats" him with intentional, baiting antagonism. Jones' mugging in these encounter scenes is so ridiculously over the top that he's hard to watch. Not one of the actor's proudest moments. The doctor eventually sets up Horner as an English professor at a small, woodsy college. Here, the plot takes an odd turn and becomes unsatisfying. Academia is ripe for satire, but the trials of Horner's position are barely explored at all (perhaps the book details this better). Instead, the pivotal event is that Horner enters an affair with the wife of another professor (Yulin, also overacting for effect), a secret kook who indulges bizarre fantasies of being a fascist soldier. This dull love triangle essentially eats up all potential for further commentary on psychotherapy or college life, and seems to serve no purpose beyond leading to a mercilessly brutal depiction of a medical procedure. This was presumably controversial in its day and killed the film's chance for commercial success.
Director Aram Avakian (who only directed four other films) indulges in plenty of dated New Wave-influenced montages, incorporating topical news footage and perversely colored renderings of the American flag. A jazzed-up Bach score is quite effective, though.
Hey Hollywood! Make more films like this. Keep us awake.
This is one the oddest films and one of the best films ever made. Stacy Keach is great in this, but James Earl Jones is AMAZING. I've never seen him in a role like this, and I probably never will again.
Muddled but interesting, the strengths and weaknesses of its nihilism are summarized by the pointed quote from Shakespeare: 'A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.'
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