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Movie Review: 'The Manipulator' (1971)

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The Manipulator

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There are few actors with less nuance than Mickey Rooney. Acting ever since the Vaudeville era, Rooney comes from the school of acting where you blare and bluster through a part, full of manic expressions and wide eyed energy.

This works in his earlier work, before more naturalistic acting styles came into fashion. But ever since the 70's, his over-the-top performances can be unintentionally comedic.

Which leads to us to 'The Manipulator', as oddball a piece of cinema that's ever come from anyone associated with the Golden Age of Hollywood. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean it's any good.

Rooney plays B.J. Lang a Hollywood makeup artist who's also clinically insane. He has a secret; he keeps a young actress hostage, forcing her to act out parts from older films while putting her in wardrobe choices of his taste.

In particular he's obsessed with Cyrano De Bergerac, and dons a prosthetic nose while he and his captive Carlotta (Luana Anders) act out the play.

Rooney dances a sped-up jig, wears creepy clown grease paint, and true to his style, goes so over the top that his backstory becomes incoherent. This brings out the unintentional hilarity.

His co-star however, has no such charisma, and has such a nagging, dull, repetitive delivery, that she becomes completely unsympathetic.

The game of cat and mouse gets lost in a sea of psychedelic weirdness, with director Yabro Yablonksy more interested in trippy slo-mo flashbacks to Lang's garish Hollywood past (likely entirely imagined) and quick, nearly subliminal cuts.

The problem is, for all it's supposed weirdness, it's not very compelling, and it's made-for-TV-movie production values do it no favors. Plus its flimsy, supposed shocker of an ending, is about as anti-climactic and grating as it gets.

Lovers of odd 70's cinema and those who enjoy seeing classic actors branching out in their declining years (think Bette Davis in the far superior 'Whatever Happened To Baby Jane'), might find 'The Manipulator' of interest, but it's obscure forgotten status is mostly deserved.

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