Bobby Deerfield (1977)

Dinner with a racer and a cancer patient.

The 1970s is considered by many to be the peak decade for Al Pacino, with movies like The Godfather (1972), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), and And Justice for All (1979). It would be reasonable to assume Bobby Deerfield, directed by Sydney Pollack, is a classic with Pacino riding on the heels of Dog Day Afternoon.

Bobby Deerfield follows the titular racer (Pacino) in the wake of his teammate’s death on the track. As the accident is investigated, he visits another racer at a hospital, and that is where he meets the terminally ill Lilian (Marthe Keller).

Bobby Deerfield was based on Erich Maria Remarque’s novel Heaven Has no Favorites. Having read that novel, I can see why it has gone out of print while All Quiet on the Western Front has not. It was frightfully boring. Despite Alvin Sargent having taken liberties with the story, Bobby Deerfield proved to be as dull as its literary basis.

As the wealthy but dying Lilian counts down to the day she passes, she adopts a policy known in 2012 as “YOLO!” Among other things, she screams in the car as Bobby listens, flies in a balloon with a man with salami, and tells Bobby a fictional account of her father’s death.

Bobby Deerfield was supposed to chronicle the transformation of its title character from this cold, unfeeling ass to someone who actually cares about things. I don’t know if it was to highlight his attitude, but a memorable scene early on is when Bobby sleeps with Lilian (in the most literal sense of the phrase) for the first time. He caresses her hair, and pulls a handful of it out by accident. He tries to just sort of put the hair back in place and doesn’t feel the need to ask her in the morning if she was feeling all right. Nonetheless, Bobby’s growth as a character did not prove to be particularly interesting. His sudden burst of caring felt very contrived, especially since Lilian seemed shipshape for most of the movie until a point where she suddenly remembered she was supposed to be dying and collapses in a porcelain shop.

The movie went from nowhere to nowhere. Al Pacino attempted to save the script, and Sydney Pollack filmed some absolutely gorgeous scenes in various locales across Europe. However, neither were enough to save the movie from Sargent’s writing or Keller’s acting. Swiss actress Marthe Keller spoke with a pretty strong accent, and it seemed like the script had Pacino repeat some of the things she said, such as when she called him a turtle, so the audience could understand what she was saying.

When all was said and done, and despite Al Pacino’s presence and some gorgeous scenery, Bobby Deerfield proved to be simply the most boring movie I have seen in a long time. The most interesting scene was when magician Norm Nielsen made his cameo and performed his floating violin trick. Gearheads should be warned that despite the movie following a racecar driver, the movie devotes a pretty minimal amount of time to the track. If you’re looking for racing action, you’re better off with Grand Prix (1966), or even the absolutely awful direct-to-video Drift Special: Beauty Battle.

Score: 2/4

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