Wrapping Up the Imaginary Summer Book Club: Looking For Mr. Goodbar (Richard Brooks, 1977)

(Click here for information on the 2012 edition of Molly’s Imaginary Summer Book Club Featuring Classics of Women’s Literature. As each of the titles for 2012 have a filmed adaptation, this year we will also be looking at each movie version as well. This week, the September selection, Judith Rossner’s Looking for Mr. Goodbar.)

There’s a chill in the air:  municipal Christmas decorations are already up on Myrtle Avenue, the local newscasters are prattling on about the terrifying winter-Frankenstorm that is expect to hit the city early next week, and the Lana Del Rey album I bought back in July is starting to feel a little embarrassing. Clearly, the summer is long over, but I still have a little unfinished business called Looking for Mr. Goodbar to deal with. Well, on with it then.

As we all know, any single woman who goes to college and seeks to live on her own and hold down a meaningful job is basically just asking to be horribly murdered. We know this from the opening pages of book and menacing opening montage of the movie, which conjures a seamy, be-shadowed, smooth-jazz version of 1970s New York City…

…which betrays the fact that the movie was filmed in Chicago and Los Angeles. Either way, no good is going to come to our heroine, a sheltered and naïve young woman about to take her first job as a kindergarten teacher. The only question is which of the men in her life is going to snap and finally do her in? Will it be her smug professor Martin Engle (played by Allan Feinstein, but looking so much like Tony Roberts that the first part of the movie plays like a Bizarro World version of Annie Hall)? Will it be volatile and drug-addled gigolo Tony (Richard Gere, out-Travolta-ing Travolta)? Will it be pushy Nice Guy James, who takes advantage of Theresa’s father’s cancer scare to ingratiate himself into her life and then spends months lurking outside her building and stalking her after she turns him down? No? Not even when I say that he’s played by William Atherton? Still no? But he shows up unwelcome on Christmas with a gift of a strobe light! Come on, how is he not the murderer!?!

The movie version really plays up the dual nature of Theresa’s life in New York: by day she is a dedicated teacher to deaf children in Harlem; by night she picks up men in the bars and discotheques of the East Village and brings them to her apartment for all manner of unwholesome activities. Seriously, I could have lived my entire life without seeing Richard Gere doing one-armed push-ups while wearing nothing but a jockstrap.

This characterization is something of a departure of how Theresa is portrayed in the book, which puts much more emphasis on her relationship with her repressed (of course), Catholic (duh!) family, including her Archie Bunker-ish father, glamorous older sister and goody-goody younger sister. In the novel Theresa is also a lot less sympathetic: raised in the confines of the Irish section of the Bronx (because that was still a thing), she’s never interacted with non-white people before and is frankly terrified of her Black and Puerto Rican kindergarten students.

While the movie presents several surreal dream-sequences, in which Theresa fantasizes about living a guilt-free, sexually liberated life, the book sends her off on a series for-really-reals escapades that read like a cartoon nightmare of life in the big city.

Finally, on New Year’s Eve, Theresa picks up the last wrong man in a long line of wrong men. In the movie, Theresa decides that she’s going to turn over a new leaf in the new year, and heads down to her neighborhood bar for one last pick-up. She ends up going home with a nervous young man who freaks out and stabs her when he thinks she’s questioning his sexual orientation. Because the Gay Panic! It will get you! As she lays dying, she thinks that her father was right all along and she should have married James, because really, who could turn down a self-righteous stalker with emotional problems and a strobe light? That is almost as good a present as a gun rack!

And that concludes the 2012 edition of Molly’s Imaginary Summer Book Club Featuring Classics of Women’s Literature. We’ll see you next year, unless the Frankenstorm washes the New York Metro Area out to sea next week.

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2 Responses to Wrapping Up the Imaginary Summer Book Club: Looking For Mr. Goodbar (Richard Brooks, 1977)

  1. Cee says:

    Oh God, this novel. I had to throw it away (which I NEVER DO with books), I found it so incredibly depressing. Especially how her last thoughts were that she welcomed death–like, ALL ALONG SHE WAS COURTING DEATH, the ol’ lie that always gets trotted out when women are horribly murdered (see, Elizabeth Short, aka the Black Dahlia). Only a man would write that crap. You know this was based on a true story, right? They actually didn’t change that much.

    • mondomolly says:

      Both book and movie were such a drag- seriously, creepy stalker and his stupid strobe light are supposed to be a suitable boyfriend? Gross.

      I know that there was a later TV-movie about the case that is more of a true-crime thing, but I’m not really inspired to go looking for it.

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