Smiles (1964) dir. John G. Avildsen
The first film by future Oscar-winner John G. Avildsen who would go on to make Year of the Month subject Joe and big crowdpleasers Rocky and The Karate Kid. We’ve enjoyed student films from future Hollywood directors before. Playing “spot the author’s signature” is a little tougher with a guy whose style was, depending on your point of view, either anonymous or versatile. I like to describe what I’ve seen – which is, admittedly, only his most-known later titles – as a journeyman’s style. This is a complement in my book, the realm of great directors like Sidney Lumet and Peter Weir who always bring strong choices that serve the material rather than upstage it.
Speaking of people serving the material, good to have further proof that Roy Scheider was probably born a world-weary middle-aged man. His face lighting up with a smile has a stronger impact that your average acting student with a free weekend. Otherwise this is pleasant stuff (other than its ear-splitting score), a “think about it, we’re all connected” story with some interesting trivia behind the scenes. Like the only onscreen appearance of Carl Lerner who would go on to be an editor of note (he cut 12 Angry Men, speaking of Lumet). There was also a young NYU student named Marty Scorsese assisting.
Maybe best is that the video is hosted on what appears to be the late Avildsen’s own YouTube channel. It’s listed with just a few other odds and ends including a trailer for his very strange and 60s-looking Guess What We Learned in School Today? His description below “Smiles” includes praise for its cast and crew with some updates on their later proclivities. He also explains “The production went smoothly. You’ll notice at the end of the short it says AN I.G.A PRODUCTION. Those were my Mom’s initials, Ivy Guilbert Avildsen. She put up the $5,000 to make SMILES. Thanks, Mom.”