"Lifeguard" 1976 A Movie a Day Day 19

For all my friends from Torrance, here’s one for you. This movie was filmed at the beach in your hometown. Maybe you will recognize it or maybe even better, you will remember them doing the filming and have some comments to post about that. I looked all over the place for a trailer for the movie and could not find one. Even the DVD does not provide a trailer. Also, it appears that prior releases of the film on home video and television have left out the original songs that were written by Paul Williams for the movie. The above clip contains the most effective use of the song in the movie and it gives you a much better sense of what the tone of the film is then the poster which you will find below.

There is only one reason to see the movie, and that is Sam Elliot. Not that there isn’t a pretty good slice of life story and that it is done poorly. Quite the opposite is true, but the selling point and the whole reason the movie matters is Sam Elliot as the star. This guy should have been the biggest movie star in the world. He is not necessarily a great actor but he has charisma to burn, and frankly is better looking than just about anybody you or I ever met. There is a line in the movie where his character is discussing with an old girlfriend, some options he has, and she reassures him by saying, “You could always get everyone to like you”, truer words about a character were never spoken. He is not always admirable in the movie. He casts aside a sexy blond he has been sleeping with pretty casually, and he gets involved with a girl who is underage. Still, despite the fact he is a scoundrel, he is a likable one that we understand.
This is a low key movie. There are only a couple of memorable events that you hang a story on, most of it is character based and very quiet. Elliot’s character Rick, is facing a fork in the road. How long can he go on doing a job like his, and feeling like life has not passed him by? There is a very good sequence set at his 15th High School Reunion, that gives us a chance to see how conflicted he is about being a lifeguard, when the rest of his classmates appear to be more accomplished. Of course if you watch the first fifteen minutes of the movie, you will understand his dilemma because his job is great. He gets to go to the beach everyday, watch gorgeous women in skimpy swimsuits, work on a fantastic tan, and then go home and have beautiful women throw themselves at him. Is he refusing to grow up or has he grown up and no one else recognizes it?

There was only one scene that seemed a little false to me. He goes home and has dinner with his parents. They seem to have a very good relationship and there is a lot of warmth. Over the course of the dinner, his brother’s research and new job are mentioned and his dad suddenly jumps on him about his lifestyle. Based on what came earlier, it just seemed like a plot point, not something that grew out of the story or character. A similar shift in tone occurs when he goes to interview for a job selling Porsche s, only here the switch in attitude better fits the situation and the character.

The movie is only an hour and thirty seven minutes, but it is a leisurely trip. I can’t imagine this movie being made today by a major studio. Even independent films are more focused on plot than a character study like this. From the poster you can tell the studio was selling this as a comedy, and there are a few funny lines (Watch Rick at the bar, talking to a blond receptionist who doesn’t get any of his jokes), but if you go into this expecting a sex comedy, you will be disappointed. It is a drama about a man, faced with his own questions about his life. Maybe all of us can see ourselves in this situation, wondering what it all adds up to and hoping that we are going to be OK. I know when I see myself confronting those questions however, I’d feel a lot better if I looked like Sam Elliot.

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