Brewster McCloud (1970)

Bud Cort, Shelley Duvall, Sally Kellerman, Michael Murphy,
Brewster McCloud is a movie starring Bud Cort, Shelley Duvall, and Sally Kellerman. An introverted loner living in the bowels of the Astrodome plots to develop - with the aid of a mysterious guardian angel - a pair of wings that...
  • 7.0 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Doran William Cannon, Writer:
  • Robert Altman, Director:
  • Lou Adler, Producer:

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10 / 10

Bud Cort takes flight in "Brewster McCloud"

This is one of the most interesting films I have ever seen! I own a copy on VHS and had the pleasure of seeing it 4 times at the Film Forum in New York City a couple of years ago.

After having seen Robert Altman's "M*A*S*H," his next film about the story of a young man who is building a winged contraption in the basement of the Houston Astrodome intrigued me. I had to see how the cast came together in their varied segments in this film and I wasn't too disappointed.

Robert Altman saw something in Bud Cort after seeing him in a NYC comedy revue, and then gave him a role in "M*A*S*H*, and was so impressed with him in the scenes he had in that film that he gave him is first leading film role. Altman couldn't have found a better actor to portray the lead in this film! I am a huge fan of Bud Cort's, and he kept me interested throughout in what was happening to the quiet and introverted Brewster, who dreams of flying away in a marvelously-made, flying machine. He lives a sheltered, and somewhat lonely life, other than the company of his lovesick friend Hope, who brings him food, and Louise, a strange woman who is like a mother-figure to him. Brewster doesn't say much in the film, but after a certain door is opened in his life, he becomes very talkative, and that talkativeness leads to a situation that jeopardizes his flight plans.

I thought the opening with Margaret Hamilton was funny, as well as the scenes Bud Cort had with Stacy Keach, made up as old man Abraham Wright, Brewster's former racist and mean-spirited employer.

I loved Sally Kellerman as Brewster's enigmatic and protective mother-figure, Louise, and Michael Murphy as the 'Bullit-esque' Frank Shaft, in Houston, via San Francisco, to help the police solve some suspicious bird-related murders.

The rest of the cast is fine, with the Altman touch of fine ensemble acting from the likes of John Schuck, G. Wood, and Corey Fischer. However, I found Shelly Duvall, who I've liked in other films, very annoying in this one, her film debut. She plays Suzanne, a girl who works at the Astrodome and becomes Brewster's love interest. I had rather seen Brewster become involved with Hope (Jennifer Salt), than the shallow and chirpy Suzanne. I find that most of her scenes, except for the one where she seduces Brewster, slow down the film.

Look for a delightfully strange comic turn by Rene Auberjonois, as the "Narrator" of the film.

10 / 10

Quite unlike anything you'll ever see!!!

This oddball Altman film came out in the same year as M*A*S*H, but the two movies are stylistically very different. BC employs a conventional plot structure, whereas M*A*S*H featured an episodic style. Also, the latter film is best defined by its irreverent humor and hedonistic characters. Brewster McCloud, on the other hand, is more of a zany fantasy inhabited by bizarre characters who are not as sympathetic as the M*A*S*H characters.

Differences aside, the two films do have some traits in common. Many of the same players are in both films (Bud Cort, Sally Kellerman, G. Wood, Michael Murphy, John Schuck, Rene Auberjonois, and Corey Fischer). Also of note, BC is the debut of Shelley Duvall and marks the first of her many projects with Robert Altman. Moreover, both films have a detached narrator-type device which creates a middle ground in between the viewer and the main characters. In M*A*S*H, it was the camp PA system; in BC, it's the eccentric ornithologist/lecturer character. Lastly, both films make subtle statements about certain flaws in modern America. In M*A*S*H, this can be seen in the incessant ridiculing of the US military and US foreign policy. In BC, use of civil rights era gospel music and pithy references to Spiro Agnew and Nixon poke fun at American hypocrisy and ignorant conservatism.

The Houston Astrodome is without question a major character in BC. The protagonist (played by Cort) has one ambition in life: to take flight with a pair of wings he himself constructs. He lives in the bowels of the dome and spends his time there designing and building the instrument of his dream. He's always in danger whenever he leaves his "home" and the protection of his guardian (Kellerman). Whether he goes to the zoo or to a dome tourguide's apartment, he is in danger of being harmed by bigoted, violent people. In a sense, Brewster is not a member of the human race, but rather a bird trapped in human form. He finds haven in the Astrodome, but this is temporary and confining. He ultimately wants the freedom that "real" flight will provide him.

The themes of freedom and temptation are important in this film. Brewster longs for freedom, but is hindered in his realization of his dream by various characters and personal mistakes. Brewster can potentially "fly away", but there is one important condition. He can never have sex with a woman. If he does, he won't be able to achieve flight because his female guardian (Kellerman) will no longer protect him. But in typical human fashion, he falls for a girl. This character (Duvall) is his eventual downfall - literally! In the end, the film conveys the message that humans are never truly free. We are always controlled or confined by something, be it other people or our own desires or even the roof of the Astrodome. The dream of achieving flight is a metaphor in this film for man's incessant but futile wish to be free.

If you have no interest in these plot or thematic elements, Brewster McCloud is still worth watching just because of its bizarre humor, recurring jokes, and odd characters. Listen carefully, for there are many subtle jokes and satirical remarks. The trademark Altman audio style is used consistently throughout and if you listen carefully, you're bound to hear something funny or witty. When watching this one on video, be sure to crank the volume up high so that you clearly hear all the layers of Altman's "thick" sound mix. The ending - the final ten minutes of the film - is very memorable and provides a great finish to all the previous events. Unlike so many films, this movie's ending is neither anticlimactic nor corny, but rather profound and dramatic. You won't forget it!

Robert Altman created an absorbing, humorous, zany, and profound film in BC. To succeed in all these areas is no small feat. This film is a breath of fresh air when compared to the tripe Hollywood churns out on a weekly basis in 1999. I praise the work of Robert Altman. He's one of the few American directors in the past thirty years who's made interesting, unconventional, challenging, and highly entertaining films on a consistent basis and with his own unique style. It's a shame that only a few of his films (invariably M*A*S*H, Nashville, The Player, and Short Cuts; very rarely McCabe and Mrs. Miller) can be found in video stores. The obscure gems like Brewster McCloud (Thieves Like Us and Three Women also fall into this category) are nearly impossible to see, unless you buy the videos off the internet. Considering all the garbage produced by Hollywood nowadays, I advocate a revival of all the Robert Altman films made between 1969 and 1977 ("A Wedding" (1978) marks the beginning of the decline of his work, some might say). Oh, well. It never hurts to dream. Every once in awhile, a great Altman flick is shown on premium cable. I guess that is as good as it will get.

7 / 10

Obscure wonder! Wonderful film.

This film, televised in Denmark in the mid-seventies, made a great impact on me. The story of Brewster and his dream of flying was wildly funny and poignant. And why it has become so obscure makes me wonder. I have been hoping for an opportunity to see it again. It is truly a great film as is the instructor Robert Altman!

7 / 10

Ultimate "lunatic" comedy from Robert Altman

Brewster McCloud is a delightful early comic `trip' of one of the best living American directors ? Robert Altman. It was made the same year as Altman's masterpiece MASH and got somehow overshadowed by it and probably deservedly so, though Brewster McCloud undoubtedly is one of the most `lunatic' or weird, but at the same time most original Altman's films.

The film's story is centred on a very peculiar young boy Brewster McCloud (Bud Cort) who lives in a fallout shelter of a Huston's Astrodome and whose main passion in life are birds, an obsession that came so far that Brewster dedicates most of his time to developing of wings that will allow him to fly like a bird. He is regularly visited by a pretty young girl, who is in love with him, but because of Brewster's obsession with his dream project, she gets much less attention from him than she deserves, the fact that makes her go on her own sticking to imaginary sexual intercourse every time she visits him.

Meanwhile a chain of strange murders occurs in the city with all victims found with birds' droppings on them. In order to investigate it a police officer (Michael Murphy) who seems to be very obsessed with his looks, arrives from San Francisco, joining the group of peculiars that is already there. The scene is set for the most bizarre, hilarious and very entertaining black comedy. 8/10

8 / 10

Not for everybody

Bud Cort plays Brewster McCloud. He's a very strange young man who lives in the Houston Astrodome and is building a huge set of wings so he can fly. The movie is about him and his VERY odd assortment of friends and family. And how about the killer running around Houston strangling people and leaving bird droppings on them?

As you can see this is a very strange film. It's unlike anything director Robert Altman has ever done. The film isn't perfect--it's too long, the weirdness wears you down at times, some of the humor is real sick and there are characters that are just disgusting (Stacy Keach) or too flat out weird, even for this movie (Jennifer Salt)! And what's with the circus ending (entertaining as it is)? Still I love this film.

The story rambles all over the place but I was able to keep track of it. Altman packs the movie with plenty of bird imagery and references. He also pays homage to other films also--most notably "The Wizard of Oz" (right up to having Margaret Hamilton in the cast and check out how Salt is dressed at times). This really doesn't pull together in any way but it IS fascinating to watch. Also the cast is great--with one exception--Michael Murphy. He's miscast and looks miserable. But everybody else is perfect. Particular standouts are Cort (very good in a difficult role), Shelley Duvall (who usually annoys me to no end) and Sally Kirkland (looking absolutely stunning). Also there's a very cute injoke--there's a quick shot of the poster for "MASH" in Duvall's apartment!

This film was overshadowed by Altman's "MASH" in 1970. Also, the studio hated it and threw it away. Now, however, it is rightfully considered one of the best films of its decade. I highly recommend this--but not for everybody. If you like a linear plot and easily defined characters, stay away.