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Your Three Minutes Are Up
(1973)
 

Director: Douglas N. Schwartz                      
Cast:
Beau Bridges, Ron Liebman, Janet Margolin


Whenever I come across a really great movie in my watching of unknown movies, it makes me very happy. I feel like I've come across a hidden treasure, sort of like a treasure hunter who has spent countless time sifting through rubble and then finding that jewel. (My rubble being movies like Fallen Knight and Amanda And The Alien) It makes whatever is found more satisfying. But at the same time, I feel a little sad. Let me explain that with Your Three Minutes Are Up - here is a movie with great performances, interesting characters, a very perceptive (and occasionally hilarious) script that really captures life as it was in the '70s, and even now. I don't think I can say it's one of the 10 best movies of the '70s, but it without doubt belongs in a list concerning the ten best sleepers of that decade. And that's what's so sad about this movie - next to nobody knows about this movie, even after 27 years have gone by. It is my hope that at least one person will seek out and watch this movie because of this review.

The strange thing about Your Three Minutes Are Up is that it's also funny and sad at the same time. Even during its lighter moments (and there are plenty), there is always something that prevents us from being completely amused. Take, for example, a sequence later in the movie when friends Charlie (Bridges) and Mike (Liebman) encounter two pretty women at a drive-in. Mike goes into a hilarious rave, completely untrue, about how Charlie is a great director and he is his producer ("His first film won seven awards -  I produced it! 4-hour documentary studied all kinds of decay - moral, structure, tooth...") We are laughing at his utter bull, but there's something uncomfortable as to how he is blatantly lying to these women - and that they are falling for these lies. Later in the movie, all four go out to a fancy restaurant, and Mike hustles Charlie and himself out of the back way after they go to the washroom, leaving the women with the bill. They and we think they are clever, and laugh about it, but then the director takes us back into the restaurant where we see the astonishment and hurt of the women who have been stuck with the gigantic tab. We're not laughing now.

The story of these two men actually starts a day or so earlier in Los Angeles. We're first introduced to Charlie, an insurance worker engaged to be married to his girlfriend Betty (Margolin). It soon becomes clear Charlie is not a very happy man - for one thing, his girlfriend is the kind of woman who will spend hours calling the hospitals and morgues if her fiancÚ misses an appointment, and now seems more interested in the lifestyle aspect of the relationship rather than why they got engaged in the first place. To make matters worse, she works in the same office as he does, so he can't get away. But other things are bothering Charlie as well. "There's got to be something better than working your butt off to pay for a house full of furniture," he bemoans to Betty. Betty then replies, "You're thirty years old, Charlie - that's all there is."

It soon becomes clear that a lot of Charlie's dissatisfaction in life comes with his hanging around with his best friend, Mike, who he has been spending more time with lately. Mike seems to have beat the system - he doesn't work, lives in a fancy apartment, and gets to sleep with stewardesses. He seems to have it made, knowing what to do when any crisis comes up. When a billing agency threatens to sic a collection agency on him, he confidently tells them he knows full well no collection agency will go to the trouble to collect a lousy 87 dollars. But eventually the system does catch up - when the agency issuing unemployment checks finds out Mike went to a scheduled interview wearing a sweater and Bermuda shorts, they cut off his checks - the same day his car gets repossessed. Seeing the system closing in, Mike decides to try his luck in San Francisco, and phones Charlie at work to ask him to drive him to the airport. That's what the plan is for both of them at the beginning, but events along the way find them taking a long journey, in more ways than one.

Although second billed, Ron Liebman is the real star of this movie, giving a performance that should have been nominated for an Oscar. His constant fast talking has you actually believe he has been able to live off the system for so long. When a Western Union guy comes to his door to get his credit cards, he immediately blurts out, "[Robinson] Junior or senior? Listen pal, you can't just harass every Robinson in the telephone book! There are laws against that!", and hustles the bewildered man out of the door. Several times in the movie he gives great complements to people, but his heart isn't in it, saying to Charlie after getting the expected pleasant reactions, "The best things in life are free!" But Liebman also put in some excellent subtle acting, giving his character a vulnerable edge and not without sympathy. Even though we get a perverse pleasure out of seeing his car get towed away, the hurt look in his eyes and mumbling of, "They've got me..." is devastating. The same hurt look in his eyes can be seen whenever Charlie talks about Betty, even when Charlie asks him to be his best man. It's no wonder Mike clings onto Charlie, because his lifestyle really is a lonely, adolescent one.

And it's also no wonder Charlie clings onto Mike. He is a dull man - his apartment has no fancy furnishings at all, and he is lost at work, one of tens of people working on the same floor on identical desks. Mike is his one avenue of excitement, and Charlie knows Mike won't nag him, and will always accept him. Though throughout the movie we see whenever a decision concerning the two to be made, Mike always decides. Sure, Charlie manages to say he doesn't like the clothes he's being offered at the clothing store, but at the subsequent dinner, Mike does the ordering for him. At one point, Charlie complains, "Everyone is always telling me what to do!", but we clearly see that without that, Charlie would be stuck whenever he is to be given a decision. On the road trip, despite his engagement having soured somewhat, he keeps stopping to telephone Betty - though he is with Mike, it's obvious that he still needs Betty. At least he does seem to realize that a lot of what Mike is doing is wrong, but instead of saying so, he says it as a timid question ("Have you thought of the people involved....?"), which Mike manages to quickly brush off.

It's fascinating to watch these two characters together on their journey, finding out more about them as they travel. Also because we are shown from the start a clue that something drastic is going to happen to them before the end. What does happen I won't say, except I found the buildup and the eventual execution both painful to watch - not because it was bad, but because I had really gotten involved into these characters and their activities, and I was able to share what they were experiencing. As the credits rolled, I felt absolutely overwhelmed, thinking about what I had just seen. It's a powerful, emotional ending, though it's not perfect. For one thing, much of it involves Charlie's behavior - the first time I watched the movie, I couldn't understand why he was doing these things. The second time I watched it I had a better understanding, but Charlie's actions seemed way out of character, even considering what made him do these actions.

Your Three Minutes Are Up was obviously done on a low budget, though since this is a movie shot in real locations and involving mostly everyday kind of interactions, it doesn't suffer as much as other low budget movies. However, there were a number of times I could see the shadows or reflections of the cast or equipment, which was distracting at times. The sound sometimes has absolutely no background noise at all, so even when the characters are talking in their car cruising down the street, all we hear are their voices. (I saw the TV print of this movie, and the dubbing done to replace the foul language was quite obvious as well.) Some scenes (most notably the restaurant sequence) have some very awkward editing, such as switching from a close-up to a wider view with the camera in the same place. But in a way, I kind of welcomed seeing this shoddiness, because it somehow gave it a more natural feel to the movie. It's rough, but it's real; slickness would have made it phony. The merit of this movie is so good, you'll be willing to forgive and forget its flaws. That is, if you can find this movie - currently, it's only shown on commercial TV on stations that have purchased syndicated packages of unknown movies. Consequently, it's so rarely broadcast, I had to make a copy for the reviewer who has written the only other full-length review currently on the Internet. This movie deserves a video release (Are you reading this, Anchor Bay?) Until then, be sure to tape it if it comes on TV in your area. Not just to save as a rarity, but to watch again - I guarantee you that the second time you watch it, you'll see many things you missed the first time.

Check for availability on Amazon.

Also: Bad Company, Seven Hours To Judgment, Skateboard Madness

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