maggoty meat (Adam and Eve expellednfrom Paradise?), and head fornthe book depository because that’s notna place that Albert is likely to frequent.nWhat terrible degradations can anyonenimagine performing with a book?nThis departure from the restaurant’snimmediate precincts is the film’s weakestnsection. The usual idea that moviemakersnhave of opening up their worknfrom the confinement of the stage tonshow lots of exteriors can be effectivenin a naturalistic film, but here thenstrategy is a mistake. The world of thenrestaurant is special, with its own rulesnand its own bizarre logic, which isnanother way of saying that we accept itsnbizarre distortions of experience. Outside,nin the universe we all share inncommon, we have a right to expectncommon sense to prevail, and itndoesn’t. We want to call out to thenfigures on the screen that they oughtnnot lend books with identifying booknplates to the pot boy who has broughtnthem take-out food from the restaurant!nBad things will happen. Albertnwill find you. The pot boy will bentortured and forced to eat his ownnbelly-button, and you will be killed —nwith your books stuffed into yournmouth and up your bloody nostrils sonyou smother to death. It is, not tonbelabor the point, a very bad idea. Butnthere they go, doing just that dumbnthing we wanted to warn them against.nSometimes there’s just no talking tonpeople.nOn the other hand, just as one hasnbeen about to give up on the movie fornits sophomoric pretentiousness, it relaxes,nreturns to the restaurant, gives usna really fine scene between Georginanand the mysterious chef, and recoupsnmuch of what it has lost with a Jacobeannrevenge fantasy so gaudy andnghastly as to have earned the movie annX rating — which the distributor rejected,npreferring to go into the marketplacenunrated. What the allegoricalnsignificance may be of the cook’s preparingnof Michael’s corpse en croutenand wheeling it in for Albert to benforced at gunpoint actually to eat is notnclear. Probably the allegory has beennby this time abandoned (and a veryngood thing, too, say I) as the film getsncaught up in its proper business of thenexploitation of its dramatic and sensationalnpossibilities. It isn’t MarconFerreri’s Le Grand Bouffe that is in­n54/CHRONICLESnstructive any more, but those old RogernGorman romps more or less based onnstories or poems of Edgar Allan Poenthat now enliven — or revive — thenmovie.nMichael Roemer’s film, The PlotnAgainst Harry, is a minor triumph ofnsubversive charm with a spectacularnperformance by Martin Priest as HarrynPlotnick, a small-time gangster whosenturf has betrayed him. It isn’t just thatnthe Italians, blacks, and Puerto Ricansnhave been giving him trouble; thenmore serious fact is that the neighborhoodnhas changed, that the Jews havenmoved out and moved up, and that, innthis altered ecology, Harry is an endangerednspecies. The fun of the filmncomes from the grotesque triumph ofnrespectability over Harry’s life as he isnsuckered into legitimate business dealsnand middle-class ceremonies. At weddings,nbar mitzvahs, circumcisions, andnfunerals we see him nudged and badgeredninto conformity, and we watchnhim assume the posture of paterfamiliasnas eventually he lets them take himnover. Through a mistake at the emergencynward of a hospital to which henhas been taken, he believes he has anbad heart and may die at any moment,nbut it is his loneliness and his lack ofnany deep-seated meanness that makenhim vulnerable. One bizarre ritual followsnanother until we get a glimpse ofnhis abject surrender to his sad-sacknbrother-in-law who puts him up as anninitiate into some deranged and (verynslightly) funnier version of the Shriners.nHarry even finds himself contributingnto worthy causes and, by the timenRoemer has finished with him, we getnto see him stagger across the set, havingnwhat looks like a coronary behindnsome dreadful tenor doing his numbernat a Heart Disease telethon.nRoemer shot this in 1969 butncouldn’t get it released. It was only inn1989 when he was having the filmntransferred to videotape for his childrennthat the laughter of the man doing thenvideotape transfer suggested that thentime might have arrived for anothernperfunctory effort or two on behalf ofnthe abandoned work. Roemer submittednit both to the New York andnToronto film festivals and both acceptednit the same week.nIt is by no means a landmarknachievement of modern cinema, but itnhas an elegant and intelligent charm asnnnwell as a modesty and restraint somensmall French films used to have butnthat one seldom sees in Americannpictures. Priest is a kind of genius, ancross between Fernandel and Keaton,nbut Jewish. Or, one might say, MyronnGohen but with more appeal. The filmndepends on his languid charm as henrepresents Plotnick’s desire to be likednand admired. If Harry can’t get respectnas a gambler and gangster, he will settienfor the ceremonial respect that isnshown to the father at weddings and tonthe grandfather at circumcisions. If hencan’t be a Godfather, he’ll be a goodnfather, and from that weakness comesnhis undoing.nPriest’s career has been less than anresounding success. I couldn’t helpnwondering about what it would havenbeen like if this film had been shownntwenty years ago and had been asnsuccessful then as it has been now. Inwondered, indeed, if Priest was stillnalive. It took a couple of phone calls,nbut I found him — out in Galifornia,nwhere he has been living for just over anyear, during which time he has beennup for seven different roles in picturesnbut hasn’t landed any of them. “You gonand you read, and you do your best,nbut somebody doesn’t like the waynyour left ear lobe hangs.” Before that,nhe said, he’d been doing theater backnEast. “In New York?” I asked. “InnVermont and Delaware,” he said, but,nknowing how that sounded, he tried tonredeem it a littie with a first magnitudenname: “I did some Ghekhov pieces innDelaware.”nFor those of us who go to the moviesnfor diversion, this is a lovely little filmnthat has had a peculiar history. For thenmoviemakers, though, the peoplenwhose livelihoods depend on suchnthings, these little quirks are matters ofnlife and death. Priest has been in 75nTV shows and has appeared in 15nfilms (including Roemer’s Nothing Butna Man, in which he played a rednecknSoutherner), but if things had beennonly a littie different, who can say whatnhe might have been able to do besidesnsitting out there in Palmdale, waitingnfor the phone to ring?nDavid R. Slavitt is a poet and novelistnwhose most recent book is Lives ofnthe Saints. From 1963 to 1965 henwas a film reviewer for Newsweek.nHe lives in Philadelphia.n