One of the few Hollywood features to deal with the students revolution, while it was still going on, “Getting Straight” is a mediocre film, both critically and commercially.
Elliott Gould, then at the height of his popularity (“M.A.S.H.” “Bob, Carol, Ted & Alice”) plays Harry Bailey, a smart Vietnam veteran who goes back to school to get a graduate degree. While there, he gets involved with various students, all younger and more naïve than he is.
However, Harry is a sophisticated student who somehow believed that “getting laid is a radical act.” Indeed, the film gives the impression of correlating social protest with sexual politics. The climax depicts a university riot during which our hero finally gets laid.
“Getting Straight” was panned by the conservative critics, who thought the story, penned by Bob Kaufman from Ken Kolb’s novel, just hyped and sensationalized the students’ rebellion by focusing on sex.
However, in its good moments, the tale captures the students’ confusion about their values, reflecting the moral chaos of the larger society.
Thematically, the film depicts a conflict between the department’s head, Dr. Willhunt (Jeff Corey), who sees teaching as a profession and gainful employment, thus forcing Harry to teach remedial English, and the more idealistic Harry who still views teaching as a personal calling.
The female cast includes Candice Bergen, as Jan, Harry’s love interest, and Jeannie Berlin (daughter of writer-actress Elaine May) as Judy Kramer.
Richard Rush later became famous as the director of “Freebie and the bean” and the cult picture, “The Stunt Man,” starring Peter O’Toole.
Produced and directed by Richard Rush
Screenplay: Bob Kaufman, based on the novel by Ken Kolb
Camera: Laszlo Kovacs
Editor: Maury Winetrobe
Music: Ronald Stein
Art direction: Sydney Z. Litwack
Costumes: Gene Ashman