Directed By: John Byrum
Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Jessica Harper, Bob Hoskins
Tag line: "A degenerate film with dignity"
Trivia: Movie industry names are dropped throughout the film, starting and ending with (pre-fame) Clark Gable
1974’s Inserts is a movie that, quite frankly, I’d never heard of before, but with its premise (a 1930’s-era Hollywood director who, after the advent of sound, has been reduced to making porno loops) and impressive cast (Richard Dreyfuss, Jessica Harper, Bob Hoskins, and Veronica Cartwright), I admit I was more than a little intrigued.
Originally given an X rating (it’s since been changed to NC-17 in the U.S.), Inserts is the story of The Boy Wonder (Dreyfuss), an alcoholic movie director who was once the hottest commodity in Hollywood. In fact, word around town is that an up-and-comer named Clark Gable wants The Boy Wonder to direct his next picture. But having had his fill of “regular movies”, The Boy Wonder now spends his days turning out stag films, which are shot in the confines of his spacious mansion. The regular “star” of these films is Harlene (Veronica Cartwright), a former actress and current heroin addict who works not for money, but for drugs, which are supplied by Big Mac (Bob Hoskins), a wealthy businessman and the financier behind The Boy Wonder’s movies. While in the middle of shooting his latest opus with Harlene and a newcomer named Rex (Stephen Davies), Big Mac stops by to introduce everyone to his fiancé, Cathy Cake (Jessica Harper), who, like most in Hollywood, has dreams of becoming a star. Before the day is out, those dreams may come true.
Inserts takes place on a single set (The Boy Wonder’s decaying mansion), and its story plays out in real-time (the course of a couple hours), giving it the look and feel of a stage production. And while Inserts is, at times, a bit too stagy for its own good, the superb cast manages to keep our attention throughout. Both Cartwright and Davies are solid as the stars of The Boy Wonder’s film (especially Cartwright, who takes what could have been a stereotypical character, aka the washed-up starlet, and infuses her with warmth and humanity). As Big Mac, Bob Hoskins is as boisterous as ever, a loud-mouth Neanderthal whose wealth has brought him respectability (it’s one of Hoskins’ first major screen roles, and he handles it like a seasoned pro). The two standouts, however, are Dreyfuss and Harper, who dominate the entire second half of the film. As the strung-out director, Dreyfuss gives us an early preview of the manic characters he’d portray throughout the ‘70s in movies like Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, giving The Wonder Boy an angry edge that sometimes leads to violent outbursts. Tired of the so-called “glamour” of Tinseltown, he now wishes to be left alone. On the other side of the spectrum is Harper’s Cathy Cake. When in the company of Big Mac, Miss Cake is a shy, demure beauty, content to sit quietly in the background. Once alone with The Boy Wonder, her true colors shine through, and their give-and-take leads to some of the film’s best moments.
Considering its cast of relatively well-known actors, I was amazed how explicit Inserts was at times (both Cartwright and Harper spend a fair portion of the film in their birthday suits), and while the sex scenes never cross into hard-core territory, they’re risqué nonetheless. Yet even the nudity and sex takes a back seat to the characters and their story. Providing a glimpse into Hollywood’s not-so-illustrious past, Inserts was a genuine surprise, and thanks to the excellent performances of its small cast, it’s also a movie I’ll not soon forget.