Directed by Don Owen
Written by Don Owen
Like many classic films, Nobody Waved Good-Bye (1964) began as something different. Don Owen was commissioned to create a television documentary about probationary officers, but expanded it into a fictional coming-of-age story. Producer Tom Daly liked the idea and ensured an increased budget: still, the final product only cost $75,000 Canadian, shot over three weeks in Toronto. The movie initially flopped in Canada, but became a sleeper hit in the United States and earned a BAFTA nomination in England. Over time, it became recognized as a landmark in Canadian cinema.
Nobody focuses on Peter (Peter Kastner), an 18 year old juvenile delinquent railing against middle class morality. He argues with his well-off parents (Claude Rae and Charmion King), who disown him after a traffic offense. He emancipates, drops out of school and moves into an apartment, working menial jobs. His girlfriend Julie (Julie Biggs) supports him but refuses to break with her family. Becoming a parking attendant, he’s nailed for shortchanging customers, taking drastic action to bail himself out.
Nobody Waved Good-Bye owes much to American juvenile delinquent dramas, along with contemporary British kitchen sink films. Like James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, Peter contends with a domineering mother and impotent father. Like Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye, he rails endlessly against adult phoniness. Like Tom Courtenay in The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, he commits a snowballing series of petty crimes. Unlike those characters however, Peter neither redeems himself nor achieves tragedy.
It’s often hard to sympathize with Peter, since his rebellion manifests itself in crimes committed because “nobody’s hurt.” After inveighing against bourgeois phoniness, he’s pointedly asked for his principles: Peter can’t answer. Despite his parents’ shortcomings, his existence seems comfortable, his delinquency hard to justify: he boorishly brushes off a probation officer (Sean Sullivan) and insults his brother-in-law (Ron Taylor). Owen contrasts him with Julie, whose rebellion seems more understandable. She’s young and confused, but hasn’t given up on life. Barely an adult, Peter’s stuck in a cycle of self-destruction.
Nobody‘s also set apart by Owen’s stark direction. He raggedly alternates between close-ups and long shots in dialogue scenes, framing Peter and Julie’s disconnect from reality. Shot in stark black-and-white, there’s a savage monochrome mise-en-scene, with Peter trapped in white and gray rooms, wearing similarly colorless outfits to match. Along with the ragged, unpracticed line readings and a wistful theme song, Nobody has a unique docudrama atmosphere.
Peter Kastner evinces a good-humored intelligence tempered by bitter resignation, making Peter compelling if not likeable. Kastner gained a respectable film and TV career (he was reportedly an early choice for The Graduate) but his career burned out by the ’80s. Julie Biggs underplays her girlfriend role, growing more assertive to contrast Peter’s increased desperation. The mostly-unknown cast play effectively: Charmion King’s blunt matriarch; Claude Rae, who bends over backwards to tolerate Peter; Sean Sullivan, understanding but tough. There’s also an early role for John Vernon, playing Peter’s crooked boss.
Nobody Waved Good-Bye has its drawbacks, from the familiar plot elements to a somewhat abrupt conclusion. But Owen’s studied nuance creates a story affecting for all that, capturing disaffected youth with a potency few films match.