Thursday, November 20, 2014

#1,557. Heavy Traffic (1973)

Directed By: Ralph Bakshi

Starring: Joseph Kaufmann, Beverly Hope Atkinson, Frank DeKova

Tag line: "Heavy Entertainment!"

Trivia: Ralph Bakshi lists this as his favorite among his own films

As he did in his previous film Fritz the Cat, animator Ralph Bakshi explores the sleazier side of human nature in Heavy Traffic (only this time around, he uses actual humans to do so).

Twenty-something underground comic artist Michael Corleone (voiced by Joseph Kaufmann) still lives with his parents. His Italian father Angelo (Frank DeKova), a minor figure in organized crime, fights day and night with his wife (and Michael's mother), the very Jewish Ida (Terri Haven), resulting in an uncomfortable, yet always interesting home life. Usually short on cash, Michael uses his drawings to coax free beers out of local African-American bartender Carole (Beverly Hope Atkinson). Following an argument with her boss, Carole quits her job, and on the way out is harassed by Shorty, a legless bar patron who’s taken a liking to her. In an effort to discourage Shorty’s attentions, Carole lies and tells him she and Michael are involved in a committed relationship. As a result, Michael (who’s been secretly in love with Carole for some time) invites the former bartender home with him, only to be told by his father that blacks aren’t welcome. With nowhere else to go, Michael and Carole try to raise some money to move to California, at one point even going so far as to have Carole pose as a prostitute (whenever she brings a potential “customer” home with her, Michael beats the guy up and steals his money). Little do they know that Michael’s father, still fuming over his son's romance with a black woman, puts a contract out on Michael's life, and the only person he can get to do the job is the boy's romantic rival, Shorty!

Though an animated movie, Heavy Traffic occasionally utilizes actual footage of New York City (aside from the opening scene set in a pinball arcade, several sequences use real-life images of city streets as their backdrop), giving the film a convincingly urban feel and providing the perfect setting for its story of prostitutes, criminals, and transvestites. Like Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic features over-the-top characterizations that would be at home in most animated movies (Angelo’s and Ida’s arguments usually turn violent, though the damage they inflict upon one another is very cartoon-like), but at the same time doesn’t shy away from more serious subject matters like sex (Angelo hires an obese hooker to service his son) and violence (Snowflake, a transvestite that frequents the bar where Carole worked, is brutalized by a guy who initially thought he was a woman).

A humorous, often unflinching motion picture that tackles racism, domestic violence, and crime head-on, Heavy Traffic takes a long, hard look at life on the seedy side of town while also giving us plenty to laugh about.

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