Surely it is happenstance that Richard Nixon took the reins of the Presidency the same year Mr. Freedom was conceived and released. Most likely a criticism of the Lyndon B. Johnson era, but even then, it works as an uber-patriotic mess. “We’ll always beat ‘em / with star-spangled freedom” does play off the tongue like a manic Dick Nixon quip. Something he would slather onto his posters to knock the wind out of Hubert Humphrey. That’d teach him and his stance against the star-spangled freedom that Mr. Freedom (John Abbey) embodies. He is red, white and blue through and through, conversing solely in American wit, which is blunt and limited.
“The French are the white man’s burden.” Indeed. Dr. Freedom (Donald Pleasence) speaks the truth. Mr. Freedom is tasked with destroying all of France, just in case Communist forces take over. Mr. Freedom is haunted by visions of his former comrades. He will never forget them. Apparently. His task of stopping the Communist forces takes him through Paris, karate-chopping and robbing tourists, starting fights in elevators and just generally being a horrid, crass American. That is, effectively, the point of it all. Mr. Freedom is not an overarching or responsible commentary on the Americanisation of Europe, but a fear that America’s cultural influence was waning.
While the war in Vietnam waged on, the overtones and inevitable dialogue that relates to this are unconvincing. The real humour comes from Abbey, who chews so much scenery he chokes on the daft nature of the story. Some of these moments are certainly cause for concern. Mr. Freedom holds a French maid at gunpoint and forces her to strip and eat his breakfast. It is strange, and one of the many examples throughout the piece where the film loses its way, doesn’t quite know what it’s meant to be doing, and destroys audience interest. What is the point of this leading man, if not for criticising the brute-like attitude of America and its inability to accept its waning influence? It takes more digging than it should to realise this, and Mr. Freedom never makes it much of a concern. They are too focused on violent imagery that hopes to provoke out of general randomness than actual, nail-biting satire. A sad shame.
Clumsy, sloppy and a budget the size of a small savings nest, Mr. Freedom is the sort of satire that sounds incredible on paper but is amateurish upon release. Its titular hero is the fine, flamboyant mockery of American patriotism. “My father worked in the sewers. But then, the depression came, and they closed down the sewers” is one of the many, many beautifully constructed lines found within Mr. Freedom. Its criticism of American capitalism is earnest, thick and dumbfoundingly silly. Most of it works, little of it causes uproar or riot. The best satire is biting and insulting, but the zany approach William Klein takes with his direction misses out on tapping into the core of the “human drama” they continually mention.