The Big Fix

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THE BIG FIX has a dedicated fan clique, yet while it did fairly well when it came out back in 1978, it pretty much slid into a memory blank zone for decades, which makes rediscovery or a first-time stumble a genuine pleasure. A smart, funny and bittersweet find.

Former 60s radical ‘Moses Wine’ (Richard Dreyfuss), divorced, with two small boys, and fond of bong hits, hasn’t completely mortgaged his soul, even though he’s toked enough reality to scrape by working as low-rent private investigator in Los Angeles. A girlfriend from the wild & good old days smiles him into uncovering who’s behind a smear campaign against a liberal (sell-out variety) candidate. The labyrinthine case trail leads to volatile figures from the past and gets progressively more dangerous. “Teach your children well…”

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This is one of those happy instances were everything clicked into place, a fortuitous blend of material, cast, crew, timing and execution. Dreyfuss, 30, coasted in on a wave generated by Jaws, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and the previous year’s The Goodbye Girl, where his Oscar win as Best Actor made him the youngest recipient of that award. His hair frizzed-up to look passably hipper (in the forlorn non-cool way old hippies often sport), he sensibly plays it low-key, stowing any self-aware excess, using an ingratiating mix of pluck, irony, self-deprecation, sadness and resolve. Fittingly enough for the F-the-Man character, Dreyfuss had been a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War.

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The flint-sparking screenplay by Roger L. Simon came from his own award-winning 1973 best-seller (it’s gone through more than 30 editions), the first of 8 Moses Wine mysteries. Director Jeremy Paul Kagan, who’d just scored with Heroes, keeps it brisk and focused, with a sharp eye for casting that compliments a large string of keenly observed types in a wide range of settings, a believable (and unforced) cross-section of L.A. back in the day. Each and every bit player adds color to make it ring true. The humor devolves from everyday strange normality rather than manufactured farce.

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Helping or hindering Wine/Dreyfuss are telling contributions from Susan Anspach (the alluring old flame), John Lithgow (a slick/phony political consultant), F. Murray Abraham (an Abbie Hoffman-like firebrand-turned-ad-copy darling), and Fritz Weaver (conservative businessman missing his vanished revolutionary son). Everyone gets a chance to shine. The appealing Anspach (flower girl with some common sense) returned to the screen at 35, after a voluntary 5-year absence following her early winning streak with Five Easy Pieces, Play It Again Sam and Blume In Love. 

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The release timing coincided with a number of 1978 pictures sharing generational lament for glory days gone by: American Hot Wax, Big Wednesday, The Buddy Holly Story, Grease, and I Wanna Hold Your Hand. Though not a big hit, ranking 46th for the year, it easily polished off its modest $3,800,000 cost with a take of $15,500,000. Then, it vanished, “like the purple microdot that dude said he left in the VW by the park…”

With Bonnie Bedelia, Ofelia Median, Larry Bishop (good slimy bit as the government interrogator), Nicolas Coster, Ron Rifkin, Rita Karin. In his first feature film, Mandy Patinkin, 26, has a quick goofy moment as a pool man. In one of her last film appearances, Miiko Taka, 52, who started her career at 31 in 1957 as Marlon Brando’s interracial love interest in the hit Sayonara, here has one brief shot and a handful of lines. 108 minutes.

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