The Life and Times of Charlie Putz

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The Adventures of a Sad Sack Working Stiff 
Charlie loses his job but finds love ( Newsday )
By John Anderson, Staff Writer

Low-budget, uneven, but wildly ambitious story of sad sack with an angel's voice who finds love. With Michael Townsend Wright, Clara Bengino, Michael Frawley, Mollie Tarranto. Written and directed by Robert Rothbard. 1:37 (some profanity). At Anthology Film Archives, Second Avenue and Second Street, Manhattan.***

A FILM THAT combines screwball comedy, poignant human drama, social commentary, romance, a musical production number (one tuxedo) and a mummers parade deserves some kind of recognition, perhaps the Audacity Achievement Award. That it does even some of what it does well is an even bigger surprise.

And Robert Rothbard's "The Life and Times of Charlie Putz"  -  whose producers claim to have accomplished all of the above for the low, low price of $40,000  -  does do some of what it does well, though it works best
simply as an offbeat comedy about working-class oddballs in South Philadelphia.

Chief among them is Charlie Putz, as sad a sack as has hit the screen in many years. Michael Townsend Wright as Charlie has a lovely voice  -  when he sings, he's transformed  -  and an original style. But while he may become a little tramp in the course of the film, he lacks the Chaplinesque quality of transcendent, universal pathos. Charlie Putz may evoke sympathy, but not empathy.

Recently fired from his job as an elevator operator, Charlie is in love with the overweight Melody (Clara Bengino), who loves him and lives with her foul-mouthed mother (a hilariously unhinged Mollie Tarranto), who hates him. Also in the household is Melody's brother Marty (Michael Frawley), a bad-tempered pseudo-stud who's best friends with Charlie, and a large butcher named Joey Bag a Donuts (Greg Lipari).

Everybody's crazy or unhappy, except the childlike Charlie, until his father throws him out (in his pajamas) and he quickly becomes homeless.

Charlie's adventures in unemployment involve selling Sux-a-Lot vacuum cleaners, being interviewed by a traumatized shoe salesman and having several fantasy sequences before his luck changes. Melody, meanwhile, goes on a diet. If all is not well, or sane, in the world of Charlie Putz, it's tidy, even if  Rothbard's shifting from the wacky to the weepy and back again shows more daring than deftness. He has a good cast, though, some good ideas and even if he tries too hard most of the time, the scene of Charlie getting handouts in a diner on Christmas Eve is a guaranteed tear-jerker.

Copyright 1994, Newsday Inc.

John Anderson, The Adventures of a Sad Sack Working Stiff Charlie loses
his job but finds love., Newsday, 05-20-1994, pp B09.

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