Once upon a time—back when just about every Hollywood movie was a manufactured fairy tale that could have begun, “Once upon a time ..." -a fellow named Frank Capra turned out a string of hits that reaffirmed the American Dream. In Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, in Meet John Doe and It 's a Wonderful Life, Capra presented the spectacle of a good-hearted schlimazel thrust into the limelight by accident, manipulated by cynical city slickers, humiliated publicly, branded a traitor and finally redeemed by an act of heroism or divine intervention. The critics called this Capracorn, and it was about as believable (not very) and persuasive (very) as any well-told fairy tale. But, whipped to a froth by Capra and played to the hilt by stars like Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, Jean Arthur and Barbara Stanwyck, these movies made for entertaining cinema.
Capracorn went into hiding for a decade or two, as Hollywood examined the nightmare side of the national dream; but recently it has returned with a vengeance, with heroes like Rocky Balboa, Kermit the Frog, the boys of Breaking Away and that all-time schizophrenic schlimazel, Clark Kent. Now John Ritter, a true all-American boy (son of cowboy star Tex Ritter, former student body president at Hollywood High, veteran of the Disney studios), has a go at it. In Hero at Large he’s an out-of-work actor who’s hassled by his landlady, ignored by his agent (whose telephone an-
swering tape says, “Hello, this is Marty Fields. You want to know if you got any work? The answer is no”) and bruised every day by Manhattan’s over-sized cold shoulder. But his back-home good nature overcomes all and when— dressed in a red cape and tights to advertise a movie called Captain Avenger—he thwarts a grocery robbery, he becomes an instant hero fighting crime, social injustice and tooth decay. From then on, the A.J. Carothers script (he used to write Disney films) is pure Capracorn—extra butter, please, and no salt.
Anne Archer, who is herself the daughter of Hollywood actors (John Archer and Marjorie Lord, who played Danny Thomas’ TV wife), is our hero’s city-wise girl-friend. She has about 67 dimples and laugh lines around her mouth and works every one of them to death. Otherwise, the cast does what it’s supposed to do: manipulate you into feeling okay. Ritter, who as the star of Three's Company mugs and sputters more than all of the Three Stooges, is under control here—an engaging, inventive comic-romantic star. And a gang of familiar supporting actors (Bert Convy, Kevin McCarthy, Harry Bellaver) fills in the dots of a picture any moviegoer could complete for himself. Hero at Large elicits a few laughs, a thrill or two and a climactic bucket of tears. The experience is like going to a massage parlor and finding that your hostess actually enjoys her work.
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