50 Years Ago Today: The Sidelong Glances of a Pigeon Kicker

This post comes to you through the due dilligence of my wife, who couldn’t help googling the crazy organ player lady in George White’s Scandals of 1945, Ethel Smith. Smith’s last screen appearance was in the film of which we now treat, Pigeons, a.k.a The Sidelong Glances of a Pigeon Kicker, released 50 years ago today.

I always obsess over fascinating obscurities, especially ones that are hard to see. At present, all that’s available of Pigeons is the trailer, which you can see on Youtube. It was released by MGM during the studio’s death throes, as an obvious reaction to its ill-fated “Lion Power” campaign which had released a series of duds apparently calculated to appeal to the all important “old fart” demographic in the late ’60s. With movies like Pigeons, they apparently got the memo about the youth market, and were now trying to replicate the surprise success of things like Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy. Director John Dexter was a MAJOR London theatre director, but he only made a couple of movies. The screenwriter Ron Whyte was primarily a playwright. The story is about an extraordinarly angry and alienated (though economically privileged) young Ivy Leaguer who chooses to drive a New York City cab for a living. The guy kicks pigeons — the very definition of an anti-hero! He begins a love affair with a similarly bohemian girl, and it doesn’t work out, so he moves to Iowa! That’s it! The point, one imagines, is the journey. I am especially fond of watching movies of this era for their documentary aspect. Cinematic footage of New York in 1970 — that’s all you need to promise to get me to watch a movie.

But in this case there’s also the cast. The main character is played by Jordan Christopher of the rock group The Wild Ones, who appeared in one of my favorite movies, The Fat Spy, which I wrote about here, as well as the jaw-dropping Angel, Angel Down We Go (1969). More on him in a subsequent post. Jill O’Hara, who played his love interest, was primarily a stage actress, nominated for a Tony for her performance as Fran Kubelik in the original Broadway production of Promises, Promises — and the daughter of 13 Street Rep’s Edith O’Hara. The rest of the cast are largely people whose names you may not recognize, but whose faces and work you most assuredly know (at least I do): Robert Walden (best known as Joe Rossi on Lou Grant), David Doyle (Bosley from Charlie’s Angels), Kate Reid (from The Andromeda Strain and the Dustin Hoffman version of Death of a Salesman), Lois Nettleton (who played loose women in movies like Dirty Dingus McGee, Butterfly, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas), and William Redfield (whom I first knew from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but who also often worked with Elaine May, almost like a Mike Nichols stand-in, for he much resembled her old partner). Also, in bit roles: Elaine Stritch, Melba Moore, and Sylvester Stallone (around the same time he did bit parts in Woody Allen’s Bananas and Neil Simon’s The Prisoner of Second Avenue — I guess people just liked his face).

At any rate, Pigeons got some good notices from powerful critics, but rapidly evaporated. The “outsider” gambit seems to have strayed TOO far outside. But the trailer does its job well now, even even if it didn’t do so hot then — it makes me want to see the movie! Watch the trailer here.

ADDENDUM: Thanks once more to savior James Bigwood for hooking me up with the film, which turns out to be, sadly, deservedly obscure, if interesting for many of the reasons enumerated above.