Here is a movie that is supposed to be about a newspaperman--a
columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, in fact--who is like no newspaperman I
know, but exactly like every newspaperman would like to be. In my opinion, that
makes it accurate. "Continental Divide" stars John Belushi as the
journalist, obviously inspired by Mike Royko. He likes to walk along the
lakeshore with the towers of the city outlined behind him against the lonely
sky at dusk, a notebook stuck in his pocket and a cigarette stuck in his mug,
on his way to rendezvous with stoolie aldermen and beautiful women.
The movie takes this character, played by Belushi with a
surprising tenderness and charm, and engages him in an absolute minimum of
newspaper work before spiriting him off to the Rocky Mountains for what the
movie is really about, a romance with an eagle expert. The movie opens as if
it's going to be a tough Chicago slice-of-life, with Belushi getting tips from
an insider about city graft and payola, but then the columnist is beaten up by
a couple of cops on an alderman's payroll. The managing editor suggests this
might be a good time for Belushi to spend a few weeks out of town, and so the
columnist heads for the Rockies to get an interview with a mysterious and
beautiful woman (Blair Brown) who has generated worldwide curiosity by becoming
a hermit to spy on the habits of bald eagles.
whole center section of the movie takes place in the mountains, and if nothing
very original happens there, we are at least reminded of several beloved movie
cliches that seemed, until this film, to belong exclusively in the comedies
that Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy used to make together. After the city
slicker Belushi crawls wearily up a mountainside (losing his booze and
cigarette supply in the process), he meets the beautiful birdwatcher and falls
instantly in love. She's having none of it. She's one of those independent
women who marches from crag to aerie in her L.L. Bean boots and designer
Belushi's grizzled mountain guide already has disappeared down the mountain,
the two of them are destined to spend the next two weeks together in a cabin.
This sets up a classic situation in which the girl talks tough but starts to
fall for the big lunkhead. And there are the obligatory switches on male-female
roles as Brown climbs mountains and Belushi stays home and makes goulash.
Occasionally, a mountain lion attacks.
all sounds predictable, of course, and yet this movie's predictability is one
of its charms. It's rare these days to find a film that is basically content to
be about a colorful man and an eccentric woman who are opposites and yet fall
madly in love. It is even rarer to find a movie cast with performers who are
offbeat and appealing and do not have obvious matinee-idol appeal. Belushi's
character in this movie is quite unlike his self-destructive slob in
"National Lampoon's Animal House" it shows the gentleness and
vulnerability that made him so appealing in some of Second City's quieter
is also a revelation. She has been in several other movies without attracting a
great deal of attention, but here she is unmistakably and wonderfully a star, a
tousled-haired, big-eyed warm person who does not project sex appeal so much as
warmth and humor. In other words, she has terrific sex appeal.
of Belushi's special qualities was always an underlying innocence. Maybe he
created his Blues Brothers persona in reaction to it. He's an innocent in this
movie, an idealist who's a little kid at heart and who wins the love of Brown not
by seducing her but by appealing to her protective qualities. That's the secret
of the character's appeal. We're cheering for the romance because Belushi makes
us protective, too, and we want him to have a woman who'd be good for him.
about the movie's view of journalism? It's really just a romanticized backdrop,
“The Front Page” crossed with "Lou Grant" and modernized with a
computerized newsroom. The newspaper scenes in the movie were shot on location
in the Sun-Times features department, and one of the quietly amusing things
about "Continental Divide's" view of newspaper life is that in the
movie it's more sedate and disciplined than the real thing. In the
"real" Sun-Times features department, there's a lot of informality
and chaos and good-natured confusion and people shouting at one another and
eating lunch at their desks. In the movie, the extras (recruited from the
Sun-Times staff) forget about real life and sit dutifully at their video
display terminals, grinding out the news.
newspaper's managing editor is played by Allen Goorwitz, a gifted character
actor who usually plays manic overcompensators, but who this time is
reasonable, calm, civilized, compassionate, and understanding, just like my
boss. The movie's city of Chicago is populated by colorful old newsstand
operators, muggers who apologize before taking your watch, and city council
bosses who make sure their shady deals don't get into the official transcript.
The newsies and muggers are fiction. The movie itself is fun: goofy, softhearted,
fussy, sometimes funny, and with the sort of happy ending that columnists like
to find for their stories and hardly ever find themselves.