In the November/December issue of FILM COMMENT, Maitland McDonagh describes 1973’s The Baby as “so stupefyingly offensive to 21st-century sensibilities that it looks as suggestively out of time as those ancient artifacts that appear to depict astronauts and flying saucers.” Bringing its own fresh perversities to the Seventies' diverse crop of exploitation flicks, the film is remarkable not only for its dark and twisted subject matter but for its overlooked director, Ted Post, who also directed a Dirty Harry sequel the same year. True to form, Film Comment Selects is giving Post his spotlight with this month's double feature. FILM COMMENT’s digital editor Violet Lucca spoke with the evening’s co-programmer, Jake Perlin, about the journeyman filmmaker’s appeal.

Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, “Silent Thunder”

So, why Ted Post?

My initial thought was the longevity of the career, or really, just Mr. Post’s longevity.  At some point, I discovered that he was born in 1918 and thought, “Wow, that’s a lot of history, not only as a filmmaker, but as a filmgoer,” as the trusty IMDb bio mentioned that he was an usher at a Loew’s moviehouse in Brownsville in the late Thirties. That’s a lot of change in American cinema to have witnessed.  Also, since his first TV credit in the Fifties, there is constant work until 1999, time to accumulate some amazing stories.

So, I wanted to contact Mr. Post, and as one does in these situations, I thought John Landis could help.  And John put me in touch with the DGA—who had done oral histories with Mr. Post—and we were able to contact his family, but then word came back he wasn’t able to make appearances or travel.  He was aware of the interest in trying to arrange a New York screening of his work, and then he passed away.

It was also the diversity of the career, particularly in the late Sixties and early Seventies, which is represented by the two films in the program. The Baby and Magnum Force were made the same year. The program is called “Ted Post: In Memoriam,” but it just as easily could’ve been “Ted Post: 1973.” One’s a Warner Brothers star vehicle, and the other one is a much smaller, stranger movie. The third film from 1973—and the one Gavin most wanted to include—is The Harrad Experiment, but it was unavailable. The Baby and The Harrad Experiment are interesting films to say the least, and in the same year as a big Eastwood star vehicle for Warners.

The Harrad Experiment trailer Magnum Force trailer The Baby trailer

Why do you think he was versatile?

I don’t think I’d call it versatility. He seems to be the quintessential journeyman filmmaker who was taking a crack at everything. All kinds of episodic television—seemingly every Western series broadcast, The Twilight Zone, and a lot of Peyton Place.  So it’s a diverse list of work.

But back to Eastwood: Ted Post also did Hang ’Em High. At that point, Eastwood was beginning to make films of his own, a masterpiece with Siegel, The Beguiled, and soon after that Eastwood maked a great film with Cimino. And for the Dirty Harry follow-up, Eastwood enlists Ted Post.  So how does it stack up? What makes it, as reputation would indicate, serviceable as opposed to great?

My interest with him really started with The Baby, a film that my friend Drake Stutesman had been telling me about forever, and when I finally caught up with it years later, I found it sort of staggering.  This is the same person who made Good Guys Wear Black? That’s just a reflex looking at the filmography. But then you start thinking about the films, and you can see—a bit cockeyed because of hindsight—yep, this seems to be the same filmmaker.  And then there’s a Planet of the Apes film for good measure.

It’s interesting to think about these directors who knock at the door of a more permissive time in filmmaking.  From working on TV at a time when a toilet could not be heard flushing to, well, The Baby.  It’s also a funny example of a movie that could be disturbing and bizarre, and be rated PG in 1973. I always think that could be a series: “That Was PG?!”

The Man Who Saw Tomorrow (81)

What else would be in that imaginary series?

There’s this Orson Welles–narrated documentary called The Man Who Saw Tomorrow that is something that terrified a lot of people of a certain generation, and was always on television. It’s a docudrama about Nostradamus. There’s some newsreel footage in it that’s disturbing, like the JFK assassination, and really wrenching footage from the night RFK was killed.  Stuff that shocks one to silence even now.  But it is also mixed in with just some generally horribly staged, creepy re-enactments. 

So it was arguing that Nostrodamus was right about everything? Or I should say, up until that point? He was wrong about the end of the world, and that’s the big one to get correct. 

True. And watch it now, it gets even crazier. But I feel like The Baby is something that played it sort of straight enough, which is a line the film treads. It manages to slip by as… what? I mean, it is insane, and there is really no way to see it as anything but that now, but there’s stuff going on in The Baby that is in John Waters’s masterpieces—adults in playpens, to name the obvious—and while I can’t say that The Baby is played totally straight, it also does not appear to be as in on its own joke as a Waters film is. But then how can it not be too? So, one film is PG and the other is an X-rated midnight movie, and both use that to their advantage to disturb in their own wonderful ways.

Come see The Baby in all its wrongness and Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force Tuesday, December 17, at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. They're both in 35mm!