Mister Freedom

Director: William Klein              
John Abbey, Delphine Seyrig, Donald Pleasence

Special guest review!

By Michael Sullivan

Most directors from the '60s either succumbed to mediocrity like Otto Preminger and Robert Downey, or dove head first into obscurity like Michael Sarne, Alessio de Paola, and William Klein. Sarne and de Paola He certainly gets that "F" for costume designclearly deserve their one way tickets to oblivion (for unleashing Myra Breckinridge and Cher's Chastity on the world.) But Klein doesn't, mainly because there aren't too many directors quite like him. An American expatriate and former fashion photographer, Kelin's mostly known for his incisive documentaries on the Vietnam war, the Promise Keepers, and even Little Richard. But what really sets Klein apart from other directors are his three feature films: Who Are You Polly Maggoo?, Le Couple Temoin, and Mister Freedom. The latter of which is filled with biting satire and an incredible visual style which suggests the world of Sid and Marty Kroft filtered through the eyes of Stanley Kubrick.

Admittedly, Mister Freedom is at times pretentious, wrongheaded, and about as subtle as a jackhammer to the forehead. But it's also a sometimes hilarious and unpredictable satire of imperialism in the guise of a superhero movie. It sometimes plays like an issue of Captain American written by Rush Limbaugh.

The opener is a real jaw-dropper. During a street riot, a stereotypical southern sheriff wanders over to a closet that's hidden behind a giant American flag (which should give you an idea of the subtlety at work here) to change into his alter ego, Mister Freedom (an alter ego that's basically just a red, white, and blue umpire's outfit with All the Donald Pleasence you wanted, and more!an optional cape.) After growling, "Freeeeedommmm" in the mirror, our red, white, and blue bastard barges into the home of an innocent black family, shoots off his guns, and sings his theme song ("F-R Double E, D-D-O-M spells Boom Boom!")

All of this wackiness is interrupted when Dr. Freedom (Donald Pleasence, who actually bothered to act for once) requires MF's presence at Freedom Inc. Apparently, the villainous Red China Man (who is in reality a giant balloon) is threatening to turn France into a communist country, and since the previous Freedom operative, Capitaine Formidable, was brainwashed and subsequently killed, it's up to MF to save the French from going commie.

While he's in France, Freedom meets up with his contact, Marie Madeline (Delphine Seyrig, who wears a ridiculous red afro and still manages to look sexy), a freedom advocate and the leader of a group of call girl spies. Freedom also sets in motion his plan to establish democracy in France while simultaneously weeding out the communist influences. Although Freedom makes some noble attempts to save France (like mowing down a crowd of people with a machine gun, and cutting off Paris' electricity), the French just want this jingoistic ditto-head to leave them alone. But Freedom isn't going to simply, "leave them alone", especially after enduring a betrayal and witnessing the brutal slaying of singer/actor Serge Gainsbourg. Eventually, MF gives up on France and takes the final steps towards its utter annihilation.

But that's not all. Sprinkled throughout the main story are numerous unrelated vignettes, like Freedom showing a pro-American film at a French pep rally which shows how great America is by mixing in scenes of In the subway, Mister Freedom finds the inspiration for Weird Al Yankovic's "Fat" videourban blight and violence with advertising imagery, visiting the American embassy which looks incredibly like a supermarket, has run-ins with Super French Man (another giant balloon), Moujik Man (Phillip Noiret), a commie version of himself, and everybody's favorite savior, Jesus H. Christ (Sami Frey)! However, even though these detours are both bizarre and funny, they're also distracting and unfortunately the film nearly gets lost in its own digressions.

Mixing pop art with MAD magazine style satire, Mister Freedom is filled with larger than life costumes and sets, purposely overheated dialogue, and cartoonishly over the top characters. Because of this, it had the potential to turn into something shrill and obnoxious. But thankfully, Klein balances out the campier aspects with searing social commentary, and the cast knows when to rein themselves in and avoid becoming pathetic Charles Nelson Reilly clones.

Aside from the Roy Lichtenstein-like set design, the most memorable aspect of Mister Freedom is John Abbey's crazed performance in the titular role. Abbey truly threw himself into this character, and almost seems to relish doing things like beating up Red China Man thinks he's a threat? Ha! He's full of hot air!French tourists (and robbing them), forcing a maid to strip at gunpoint, and spouting hilariously nonsensical pro-American speeches ("You want a piano? Here you go. Want two pianos?") Although Abbey's performance is far from perfect (his southern accent comes and goes), Abbey manages to give this one-note character a personality, and during the end when MF's empire is crumbling, gives the character some much needed vulnerability. Abbey was an unknown when he was cast for this role, and sadly remained unknown after this was made. Too bad; Mister Freedom was a break-out role for Abbey, and should have made him a star.

(Interesting fact: Peter Falk was so impressed with Klein's Who Are You Polly Maggoo? that he heavily lobbied for the role of Mister Freedom. Klein, however, felt that Falk was completely wrong for the role, but offered him the starring role in a still unmade porno comedy. Falk declined.)

Overflowing with psychedelic silliness and the kind of introspective navel gazing you could only find in '60s filmmaking, Mister Freedom is a kitschy and entertaining trip into (ir)relevancy.

UPDATE: Daniel Kibler sent this information:

"I just read your Mister Freedom review, and saw something very familiar in the costumes that the screenshots showed. It turns out that Beck has seen the movie and created the exact same costumes for his
"Sexx Laws" video. I knew this wasn't a coincidence when you quoted the dialogue: "You want a piano? Here you go. Want two pianos?" At the end of the "Sexx Laws" video, Jack Black says: "You want a viola? You got one! You want two violas?" Anyway, keep up the great work, as usual."

Check for availability on Amazon.

See also: 99 And 44/100% Dead, Give Me My Money, Skidoo