Above: Ron Leibman, Beau Bridges
If I so chose, I could easily make this blog about nothing but American cinema of the 1970s (to say nothing of my publication). So rich was this decade that one can spend a lifetime discovering films from this golden age. As such, there are still untold numbers of 70s movies that have remained unseen for decades, and are deserving of re-discovery today. Your Three Minutes Are Up is such a film... one of those curiosities that have fallen off the radar, seen only thanks to (ahem) "collectors" who make this stuff available.
In ESR #10 (the "Summer in the 70s" issue), I had written an article entitled "Screw the System", suggesting that it wasn't merely the counterculture that resisted conformity. If anything, the counterculture opened the consciences of even those who still cut their hair and punched the clock. Films like Taking Off and Steelyard Blues offer scenarios of people escaping that button-downed world, often ending with sorry resolutions that no-one is truly free. If I had the opportunity to have seen this film when I wrote the piece in 2003, I surely would have included it.
This impressionistic "buddy movie" is a pungently funny fable that captures the free-wheeling nature inherent in films of the decade. Beau Bridges is straight-laced Charlie, who feels trapped in his dead-end job and his fiancee (Janet Margolin) who bugs him constantly about picking out furniture. It's no wonder he hits the road with his best pal Mike (played by Ron Leibman) who seems to live the carefree existence that Charlie desires. Even so, the viewer is more privy to Mike's world than Charlie, as he is on the run from collection agencies, and in one great scene featuring Kathleen Freeman he loses his unemployment insurance for showing up drunk at a job interview! The two hit the road, getting by on maxed-out credit cards and phony insurance claims, blurring from one scenario to the next. The central development throughout is the suggestion of Charlie's behaviour ultimately becoming more like Mike's. Can he truly be satisfied attempting to be as uninhibited as his friend?
The few people who have written about this film have commented with mixed feelings about the ending. If anything, I think it is perfect, showing how both men are really unhappy in their pursuit of a hedonisitc existence-- I just wish it could have been visualized instead of spoken. However, more disconcerting is the bizarre opening that hints at tragic events, which seems even more out of step once one sees the whole film.
While this film isn't perfect, it has a way of staying with you, and in fact, after a couple of days after seeing it, I am thinking back to moments. And like most of its brethren of that magical decade, who is to say that this film won't grow with repeated viewings?