Review: WUSA DVD

STUDIO: Olive Films | DIRECTOR: Stuart Rosenberg | CAST: Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Anthony Perkins, Laurence Harvey, Pat Hingle
2/8/11 | PRICE: DVD $24.95
SPECS: NR | 115 min. | Drama | 2.35:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 1.0

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

WUSA movie scene

Paul Newman takes to the airwaves in WUSA.

WUSA is a strange one.

The second of four Paul Newman (Road to Perdition) films directed by Stuart Rosenberg (their relationship kicked off with 1957’s Cool Hand Luke), the 1970  film offers a lesser whiff of the kind of Hollywood-produced, politically/socially charged fringe cinema that was launched with such films as Easy Rider and Medium Cool.

WUSA concerns a jaded  drifter named Rheinhardt (Newman) who becomes a dee-jay at WUSA, a right-wing radio station in New Orleans. Courtesy of an agenda dictated by its good ole boy owner (Pat Hingle), WUSA begins to stir up some serious anger and hatred in the community that Rheinhardt is seemingly too apathetic to care about, though he’s the one spewing out the vitriol over the airwaves. Things begin to get uglier for those around Rheinhardt, particularly the angelic hooker he has taken up with (Joanne Woodward, The Fugitive Kind), his phony preacher con man buddy (Laurence Harvey, Summer and Smoke) and the freaky social worker across the way (Anthony Perkins, Psycho).

Though WUSA is clearly an allegorical indictment of reactionary thinking, false leaders and the idea of the masses falling prey to those who talk the most (a radio dee-jay and a phony preacher), it’s all spread a bit too thin in its presentation. And Newman, for me, was a little too old school Hollywood for this particular role. The movie delivers for a little while, but by the arrival of a climactic race riot and political assassination (which foresee similar sequences in Alan Pakula’s The Parallax View and Robert Altman’s Nashiville), the initial punch has faded.

Still, WUSA is a time-capsule film worth checking out, if only for the solid cast of players (which includes Don Gordon and Cloris Leachman) and for the tidbit that it’s a movie that was reportedly quite close to co-producer/star Newman’s heart.

It’s a shame the DVD has no special features, but this film is what’s of most interest.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.