The Telephone Book (1971)

Article 2228 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-22-2007
Posting Date: 9-18-2007
Directed by Nelson Lyon
Featuring Sarah Kennedy, Norman Rose, Roger C. Carmel

When a woman receives an unusually effective obscene phone call, she becomes intent on tracking down and meeting the man. All she knows is that his name is John Smith and he lives in Manhattan. She begins calling all of the John Smiths in the telephone book to find him.

First of all, let’s get the fantastic content out of the way. The only content of that sort here is found in the animated sequences that pop up during the climax of the movie; they’re outrageous and could certainly be classified as obscene to some. For a while, I wondered if the movie was going to slip into science fiction when the phone caller, while telling the story of his life, begins to talk about having trained to be an astronaut, but such is not the case. I also thought the movie could turn towards horror before it was all over; after all, it’s quite possible our obscene phone caller could be a serial killer as well, but such is not the case.

To be quite frank, this movie hovers on a strange border between art film, comedy and softcore pornography, and walks it surprisingly well; it actually manages to succeed somewhat as all three. In this context, it’s a little surprised to see names I was familiar with; Roger C. Carmel is known for playing Mudd in a couple of “Star Trek” episodes, and Barry Morse was a regular on “Space 1999”. The Carmel sequence is the funniest in the movie; as an exhibitionist analyst who gets an unexpected comeuppance, he is quite hilarious. Norman Rose plays the obscene phone caller, and his performance is quite impressive, too; given the fact that we never see his complete face (unless he is one of the obscene phone callers who are interviewed during the movie, as there is one who could well be him), and that he wears a pig mask throughout all of his scenes with Sarah Kennedy, he manages to somehow avoid coming off as a repellent creep and instead catches our interest as a human being, which is no mean feat. I was surprisingly taken with this movie, though it is certainly not for everyone. It has plenty of nudity and some simulated sex, but I think, for all that, it manages to avoid being mere exploitation. The movie also features Jill Clayburgh in a small role, and Andy Warhol regulars Ondine and Ultra Violet.



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