Landlord, The (1970):Hal Ahsby’s Directing Debut, Starring Beau Bridges and Lee Grant

Hal Ashby, who was an editor on some of Norman Jewison’s films, made an impressively poignant directing debut with The Landlord, a social satire about interracial relationships and tensions in New York City.

The adroit screenplay by William Gunn, based on the original novel by Kristin Hunter, centers on a mother-son relationship, played by Lee Grant (in an Oscar nominated performance) and Beau Bridges, son of actor Lloyd Bridges and elder brother of Jeff Bridges.
At 29, Edgar Enders (Beau Bridges), an exemplary WASP youth, forsakes the family’s North Shore in favor of a ghetto inner city tenement in Brooklyn’s Park Slope he has purchased, thus becoming a landlord of mostly black tenants.
Lee Grant plays a woman who has yet to understand that the Civil War had ended slavery. She gives an all-white costume ball for her favorite charity, at which her son, dressed as an Indian, has a confrontation with his father (Walter Brooke).
Vacillating between conscious liberalism and unconscious vanity, Edgar is the appalled victim of a monstrous family, for which he has only disdain.

To his parents’ dismay, Edgar romances not one but two black women.  The first is Lanie, a dancer at a local black club, who is racially mixed; her mother of Irish descent, and her father of African descent.

Their relationship is strained, when Elgar has an affair with one of his tenants, Fanny, and gets her pregnant. Her boyfriend Copee, a black activist with an identity crisis, is enraged when he finds out about the pregnancy, and tries to kill Elgar with an axe.

By turn subtly poignant and sharply funny, “The Landlord” boasts a new kind of American anti-hero, a handsome, sweet-spirited rich boy who asserts his independence of his ivory-white, sociallt-minded family by buying and operating an apartment house occupied by blacks in a Brooklyn slum.
Devastatingly comic, Lee Grant received her second Supporting Oscar nomination for playing an adorable monster to beat all mothers. As the son says to her, “Mother, you’re just another castrated liberated bitch American broad, but I love you anyway.”
Thematically, the film was bold, and its liberal politics very much of their times. It’s the feature’s satirical, shifting tone that might have been misunderstood.
Upon release, the movie was greeted with favorable response, but it didn’t play well with viewers.  The distributor declared it a commercial flop vis a vis its high budget ($1.95 million) by standards of the era.
Oscar Nominations: 1
Supporting Actress: Lee Grant
Oscar Awards: None
Oscar Context:
The winner of the Supporting Actress Oscar was Helen Hayes for the trashy disaster flick “Airport,” in a context that included Karen Black in “Five Easy Pieces,” Sally Kellerman in “M.A.S.H.”, and Maureen Stapleton also for “Airport.”
Elgar Enders (Beau Bridges)
Marge (Pearl Bailey)
Fanny (Diana Sands)
Copee (Louis Gossett Jr.)
Mrs. Enders (Lee Grant)
Walter Gee (Douglas Grant)
Professor Duboise (Mel Stewart)
Mr. Enders (Walter Brooke)
Susan (Susan Anspach)
Peter (Robert Klein)
Produced by Norman Jewison
Directed by Hal Ashby
Screenplay: Bill Gunn, based on the novel by Kristin Hunter
Camera: Gordon Willis
Editor: William A. Sawyer, Edward Warschika
Music: Al Kooper
Production design: Robert Boyle
Costume: Domingo Rodriguez
Running time: 112 Minutes

Release date: May 20, 1970

Production: Mirisch Company, Cartier Productions
Distributed by United Artists