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Film / Brewster McCloud

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It is most definitely "something else".

Brewster McCloud is a 1970 Black Comedy/fantasy film directed by Robert Altman. It was his follow-up to M*A*S*H.

Brewster (Bud Cort) is an odd young man living in the fallout shelter beneath the Houston Astrodome, who—under the guidance of the mysterious Louise (Sally Kellerman)—is in the process of building a contraption that will enable him to fly. Meanwhile, the city of Houston has been terrorized by a string of murders. Lt. Frank Shaft (Michael Murphy), a hotshot detective, is brought in from San Francisco to investigate, and seems to be closing in on Brewster. In the middle of all this, kooky Astrodome tour guide Suzanne (Shelley Duvall, in her acting debut) strikes up a relationship with Brewster, complicating things for all involved.

"White feather Tropes, gracefully flying":

  • Accidental Misnaming: Capt. Crandall can't get Officer Hines' name right (calling him Hanes or Hames).
  • Actor Allusion: Daphne Heap is wearing ruby slippers when she dies. She's played by The Wicked Witch of The West herself, Margaret Hamilton.
  • Angel Unaware: Louise. She seems to have some magical abilities and there are scars on her back where wings might have been attached.
  • Animorphism: The Lecturer (played by René Auberjonois) slowly transforms into a giant bird with each new appearance.
  • Asshole Victim: Everyone who gets killed in the movie is a sorry excuse for a human being. Until Shaft and Johnson, anyway.
  • Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: The entire Houston Police Department, to the extent that they sabotage Shaft, who's on the verge of cracking the case.
  • Bird-Poop Gag: A recurring plot point. The murder victims all get targeted by birds before their deaths, and the presence of the feces around the body is how the police know the murders are tied together.
  • Call-Back: Several to M*A*S*H, starting with six members of that film's cast showing up here. A M*A*S*H poster also shows up in Suzanne's apartment.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: Numerous radio news bulletins in the first act set up the murder investigation plotline for the audience.
  • Credits Gag: The opening credits stop and restart along with Daphne Heap stopping and restarting her national anthem rehearsal. At the end the entire cast (except Bud Cort, who's lying on the field dead as Brewster) comes out dressed in circus outfits and are introduced one-by-one by William Windom (Haskell Weeks in the film and the ringmaster for this scene).
  • Dirty Cop: Officer Breen, who plants drugs on Brewster in an attempt to extort his camera from him.
  • Dirty Old Man: Abraham Wright
  • Don't Call Me "Sir": Lt. Frank Shaft insists on being called Frank, which thoroughly confuses Officer Johnson.
  • Driven to Suicide: After a horrible car crash, Frank Shaft is stuck and so badly injured that he commits suicide while still in the car
  • Dumbass DJ: A notable early Real Life example of this trope, Hudson & Harrigan on Houston's KILT, are featured in the early part of the film as the show Brewster listens to when he's chauffeuring Abraham Wright.
  • Evil Mentor: Louise.
  • Expy:
    • Frank Shaft is a very blatant copy of Frank Bullitt.
    • Captain Crandall is just G. Wood reprising his General Hammond from M*A*S*H and swapping out uniforms.
  • Fake Shemp: Stacy Keach and Margaret Hamilton weren't available for the final scene so they used stand-ins. Hamilton's replacement has her face covered by a flag, and since Keach was in heavy makeup anyway, it's not as noticeable.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: A quick shot of a handwritten dedication in a book in Abraham Wright's library gives The Reveal that Abraham was a sibling of The Wright Brothers.
  • Greek Chorus: The Lecturer, who doesn't narrate the story per se, but punctuates the action by comparing the behavior of birds to the behavior of the film's characters.
  • Hyperlink Story: In true Altman fashion. There are two main threads (Brewster's flight quest and the murder investigation) that come together at the end, plus some peripheral characters and subplots.
  • Icarus Allusion: Basically the entire film counts as one.
  • It Always Rains at Funerals: It does at Officer Breen's.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Suzanne
  • Meet Cute: Brewster and Suzanne meet when he tries to steal her car. Turns out the car belongs to someone else anyway
  • Motifs: Practically every single scene has some sort of reference to birds or flying.
  • Non-Residential Residence: Brewster lives deep inside the Astrodome, and has thus far eluded detection.
  • One-Book Author: Several cast members were Houston locals who never made another film. William Baldwin (Bernard) (no, not Alec's brother) was a college newspaper reporter who went to interview Altman and got cast in the film instead.
  • Pop-Star Composer: John Phillips (The Mamas and The Papas), who also co-produced the film.
  • Romancing the Widow: Officer Hines gleefully pursues Mrs. Breen after her husband's death.
  • Spiritual Successor: This and writer Doran William Cannon's previous film, Skidoo, are two of the strangest comedies ever made by well-known directors for major studios.note 
  • Stoic Spectacles: Brewster's glasses emphasize his studiousness and seriousness, but in the eyes of Hope and Suzanne they make him attractive.
  • Tuckerization: Bernard was both Robert Altman's middle name and his father's first name, so presumably that's why Weeks' aide has that name.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Suzanne, toward the end of the film.
  • Widow's Weeds: Breen's widow is all decked out in black at his graveside service.