Many critics found the film off-putting, and it did not do well at the box office. Pauline Kael of The New Yorker said it had “no emotional center.” Although Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times loved Mr. Sutherland’s performance, he found most of the characters too clearly doomed to care about.
But Mr. Canby wrote in The Times that the film was “in many ways remarkable,” declaring its subject a metaphor for the decline of Western civilization and “second-rateness as a way of life.”
Judith Crist, then the acclaimed founding movie critic for New York magazine, praised “The Day of the Locust” in a full-page review. “So brilliant is” this film, she began, “so dazzling and harrowing its impact, so impotent are the superlatives it evokes” that you almost want to avoid looking at it directly, like a solar eclipse. She concluded, “To call it the finest film of the past several years is to belittle it.”
The National Board of Review named it one of the year’s 10 best films.
Jerome Hellman was born on Sept. 4, 1928, in Manhattan, the second child of Abraham J. Hellman, a Romanian-born insurance broker, and Ethel (Greenstein) Hellman. After high school, he served two years in the Marine Corps, then began his working life as a messenger in the New York office of Ashley-Steiner, a talent agency.
He rose through the ranks and founded his own agency in 1957, before he was 30. But he sold that business in 1963 and became a full-time movie producer, beginning with George Roy Hill’s comedy “The World of Henry Orient” (1964). Peter Sellers played the title role, a New York concert pianist who is trying to initiate an affair with a married woman but is being stalked by two adoring adolescent girls. The film was both well reviewed and a hit.
His other films as producer were Irvin Kershner’s “A Fine Madness” (1966), starring Sean Connery as a poet with writer’s block, and “Promises in the Dark” (1979), starring Marsha Mason as a doctor treating a teenage cancer patient. It was the only film that Mr. Hellman ever directed, and only because Mr. Schlesinger, who was scheduled to do so, had dropped out.