In the early 70’s films that explored the impact of racial prejudice and mixed-race relationships were still pretty thin on the ground but one unique exception was cult movie The Landlord.

Director Hal Asby, who both Judd Apatov and Wes Anderson cite as an influence, tells the story of a young, rich white spoiled mommy’s boy, Elgar Enders (a very baby-faced Beau Bridges), who becomes the landlord of an inner-city tenement, with the sole intention of evicting the present occupants and constructing a luxury home for himself. What he doesn’t anticipate is the opposition he faces from the current low-income, streetwise residents. In the course of their dispute he unexpectedly starts to become fond of them and abandons the development, instead planning on a restoration. This softening is possibly brought on by an infatuation for two of the tenants, Lanie (Marki Bey) and Fanny (Diana Sands). But his naivety creates unforeseen problems and raises the question of whether true harmony can ever exist between people of such diverse social and ethnic backgrounds. Elements of this is rather poignant as great swathes of our cities are encountering the very same thing today (give or take the infatuation) with large-scale social problems occurring once you realize that it’s all very well turning a Victorian school into luxury lofts but kids still need somewhere to get their education and it’s quite handy if it’s near their homes.

The Landlord is a mix of social satire, urban drama and high comedy with an outstanding ensemble cast which includes the late Diana Sands as Fanny, Louis Gossett Jr. as Copee, Fanny’s enraged husband, Marki, the resident fortune teller who introduces Elgar to soul food. And last but not least, Lee Grant who plays Elgar’s high society mother. Granted, it is of its time – but what an amazing time – and in parts it can seem a little silly in our modern, sophisticated view, but overall a great movie with an outstanding soundtrack by Al Kooper – if you’re not cuttin’ the rug from the off, you’re probably dead!

The Landlord
Out on DVD from Studiocanal October 1st 2012
Cert 12
Running Time 105 min
RRP £15.99

Words by Anna Bang


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