Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Worst movie ever made.

Husband and father Michael (played by the film’s writer/director Harold P. Warren) takes his wife Margaret (Diane Adelson) and their young daughter Debbie (Jackey Neyman) on a trip. Along the way they become lost in the middle of the west Texas desert and after driving around for hours finally come upon an isolated building in the middle of nowhere. Standing guard outside is a strange man named Torgo (John Reynolds) who invites them inside. Feeling they have no choice the family agrees to go in unbeknownst that the place is managed by an evil devil worshipping man known as The Master (Tom Neyman) who is already married to six wives and looking to add another to his ‘flock’.

This film came about as a bet between insurance salesman Warren and award winning screenwriter Stirling Silliphant who was in the El Paso, Texas area scouting locations for his next movie. Warren met him by chance at a local café and then proceeded to tell him that ‘anyone’ could make a movie and bet him that he could successfully do one without having any prior experience or budget. Warren even wrote the majority of the film’s screenplay on his napkin at the restaurant before the two had even left. He was then able to secure $19,000, which even for the time period wasn’t very much as well as a hand-held camera that could only shoot 32 seconds worth of film at a time. He rounded up some actors from a local theater for the cast and unable to pay them upfront promised that they would receive reimbursement for their efforts once the film was released and made a profit, which never happened.

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The result of all of this is a film that many critics and viewers consider to be the worst ever made. The film’s biggest problem is that there was no sound recorded during the filming and it all had to be dubbed in later causing it to come off like a silent movie with music used throughout the whole thing in order to help ‘narrate’ the mood and scene much of which is jazz sounding that doesn’t really connect with the horror genre to begin with. The takes go on waaaay longer than they should including a long stretch at the beginning where we see nothing but passing scenery of a barren Texas landscape that goes on endlessly.

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The filmed bombed upon its initial release and was only seen at a few theaters in the El Paso area before being forgotten completely. When Jackey Neyman attended collage during the early 80’s and told friends that she had at one point been in a film as a child her friends set out to find a copy and were unable to. It wasn’t until 1993 when this film was shown on an episode of ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ that it garnered the cult following that is has now including a Blu-ray release that is set to come out on October 13th of the this year that will have as a bonus not one, but three featurettes included, which I guess proves that these days bad is now the new good.

For my part I liked the general premise, which if put in more competent hands and with a better budget might’ve been interesting. I also enjoyed Adelson as the wife who is beautiful and went on to have a career as a model. The twist ending is also kind of neat, but without some sort of rifftax attached this otherwise boring thing is not worth catching.

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My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: November 5, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 14Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Harold P. Warren

Studio: Emerson Film Enterprises

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Release date October 13, 2015)

The Great Waldo Pepper (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Flying the unfriendly skies.

Waldo Pepper (Robert Redford) makes a living traveling the Midwest during the 1920’s and giving rides on his biplane to the eager public of the small towns that he goes through as well as doing airplane stunts at aerial shows. He misses his years during WWI when he was a fighter pilot trying to take on the German flying ace Ernest Kessler (Bo Brundin). Later when Pepper is grounded and can no longer fly legally he gets a job as a stunt man in Hollywood. It is there that he meets Kessler who is now working as a consultant on a movie about his flying days and the two agree to relive their war battle by having a duel to the death in the skies.

The aerial footage is the film’s greatest asset and it is amazing particularly since the actors did all their own stunt work and without any type of protection. When we see actor Bo Svenson walk out onto the wing of the plane while in midair and even fall through it it’s all real and it makes you hold your breath. The scene where Redford flies his plane underneath another one in an attempt to save Susan Sarandon who has walked out onto the wing and then unable to come back is equally nerve-wracking.

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The film’s biggest fault and probably the reason why this big budgeted picture became an unexpected box office flop is because its unable to retain the breezy fun loving atmosphere of Redford’s and Hill’s two earlier collaborations. The film starts out amusingly enough, but then becomes quite serious when it features two deaths. The first one is good because it is completely unexpected and hits home the fact that stunt flying can have a dangerous side, but then the film has another death occur just 10 minutes later and it’s far more gruesome and drawn out while sucking all the lightheartedness out, which it’s never able to recover from.

I’ve never been overly impressed with Redford as an actor. Sure he’s great looking and competent at times, but he always has too much of a laid back persona and unable to ever show any intensity even though he did manage to grow on me more as the film progressed. The supporting cast of Svenson, Philip Bruns and a young Susan Sarandon fare better and help keep the film afloat.

The third act where Waldo meets his idol only to find that the man isn’t quite as successful or exciting when he is on the ground as he was in the air is where the film gels as it makes some strong points about our culture’s need for hero worship and their climactic aerial duel is both thrilling and amusing.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 13, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated PG

Director: George Roy Hill

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Why Would I Lie? (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s a compulsive liar.

Cletus (Treat Williams) is a compulsive liar although he says they are simply ‘fabrications’ and tells them because it is his sincere belief that people don’t want to hear the truth and the lies are much more interesting. He gets a job at a welfare agency and gets involved with a young boy named Jeorge (Gabriel Macht) and trying to return him to his mother. The task turns into an uphill battle as the mother is nowhere to be found and relies heavily on Cletus’ lies to get him out of jam after jam. Whenever he does gets caught in one of his ‘fabrications’ he will always say ‘why would I ever lie about a thing like that?’ which quickly becomes the film’s catchphrase.

This goofy movie, which has never been released on DVD or VHS and had only a limited run during its initial release in August of 1980, seems unable to figure out what it wants to be. It starts out as a weird character study before moving into a quirky comedy and then ultimately devolving into a sudsy soap opera.  It’s unique for being filmed on-location in Spokane, Washington and even opens with a roaming, bird’s eye view of the city’s skyline, which has to be both a first and last.

The supporting female cast is the film’s biggest weakness as the characters are poorly written and defined. Valerie Curtain, who plays Cletus’ boss, decides to hire him for the job despite the fact that he clearly says some outrageous lies during the interview. When she becomes aware that he may be doing something improper in regards to the adoption process, she threatens him with legal action, so then Cletus pretends to romance her, which is so corny that it is an insult to any woman that the female character here could ever fall for it. He then meets Kay (Lisa Eichhorn) who after only knowing him for a few minutes invites him back to her place for sex, which even for the swinging ‘70’s seems outrageously forward and reckless. Then later when she no longer wants to go out with him because she’s not into any type of serious relationship Cletus advises her that he is ‘in love’ with her even though he’s only known her for a few days and like a hypnotist snapping his fingers this tacky line is somehow enough to get her to make a 180 degree turn and agree to move in with him.

The film also suffers from some very shallow logic. For instance Cletus is told that the boy’s mother may be in either Boston or Philadelphia, so using that little information he decides to take a trip to both cities in order to ‘search’ for her, which makes me wonder  how was he planning to do that. Will he knock on every door in each metropolis until someone with her name finally answers? I also thought that having the woman he is dating turn out to magically be the mother he is searching for and that she was simply living under a different name was too much of a cutesy coincidence and put this whole thing in the category  of a fluffy TV-movie if even that.

Williams manages to play the title role well enough that he keeps it watchable and even somewhat likable. The real scene stealer though is Macht in his film debut who goes by the name Gabriel Swann here. The kid is really adorable and his scenes with Williams are the best moments in the film.

The supporting cast is interesting, but essentially wasted although Jocelyn Brand (Marlon’s sister) has an amusing moment at the end. Severn Darden is good too as Cletus’ psychiatrist who does crossword puzzles while listening to his patients and then panics when he thinks one of them has jumped out the window. There is also a moment in the film where B.J. Thomas sings a song called ‘Me, You and You’, but unlike ‘Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head’, which was famously done in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid this song is not memorable and does not help the film at all.

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My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Larry Peerce

Studio: MGM

Available: None at this time.

Desperate Characters (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A marriage without love.

Sophie and Otto (Shirley MacLaine, Kenneth Mars) are stuck in a marriage that has fallen into a real rut. They no longer are able to communicate. Sure they ‘speak’ to each other, but neither one listens or seems to even care. Sophie has had a past affair, which Otto became aware of, but forgiven. The two now try to march on like nothing has happened, but the cracks clearly show even when they both deny it. Sophie looks for some answers from her friends, but finds that their marriages aren’t any better and that there may not be any solution other than just sticking with it.

The film to a degree has a provocative flair and seems almost cutting edge for its day. There is no music and the background sound is made up of the ambience of everyday, big city life. The opening shot consists of the camera slowly zooming into the couple’s New York loft with only the distant sound of children playing, which not only helps the viewer feel very integrated to the city that the characters live, but their quiet isolation as well.

The film also has very little action. The only real moment where things happen is when Otto chases a stray cat through their apartment in order to box it up and take to a vet to test for rabies after its bitten Sophie, which for what it is worth is quite interesting. The rest of the film deals with dialogue, but handled in a more sophisticated way than most as it has a consistent conversational tone that not only makes it more genuine, but something that the viewer must ‘read into’ in order to understand. Frank D. Gilroy’s script, which is based on a novel by Paula Fox, never once ‘tells’ the viewer what to think or feel. Instead we are shown regular people with everyday issues discussing the same things that real people do and it’s all left up to the viewer to interpret what it means, which in many ways I found highly refreshing.

Mars gives an outstanding performance in what was apparently his personal favorite and quite atypical from his other body or work, which mainly consisted of over-the-top comic characterizations. Even more surprisingly is that he gets featured in a nude scene from the back. MacLaine is also exceptional in what many fans consider her best work. She is usually effective with strong characters, but here she’s quietly vulnerable while being featured in a rare nude scene for her as well and her case from the front.

The film’s greatest weakness is that it comes off as rather cold and distant. It would’ve been more revealing had it shown even in flashback when the couple was happy and when or what seemed to happen to turn things for the worse. The film also has the philosophy that there is no alternative to their situation and that being in a ‘bad’ or unhappy marriage is better than being alone as it doesn’t even bother to ever touch upon the benefits of single life or an alternative lifestyle, which in the end makes this film seem old fashioned and dated despite its otherwise Avant-garde approach.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 22, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated R

Director: Frank D. Gilroy

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Penn & Teller Get Killed (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: A killer targets Penn.

During an interview segment on a nationally televised talk show magician Penn Jillette jokes that it would be interesting to have someone out to kill him. After the show is over strange things begin to occur, but he initially thinks its practical jokes done by his partner Teller. Eventually he becomes aware that someone really is after him who even switches his identity so that he resembles Jillette. The two lay low and even hire an attractive lady cop (Caitlin Clarke) to protect them, but things are never quite as they seem in a film that features one crazy twist after another.

For the most part the film works well despite an unconventional structure that may take a while for some viewers to get used to. The script was written by the two stars and I enjoyed the surreal tone and the sort of mind games it plays with the viewer as one is never quite sure what’s real and what isn’t. The humor is offbeat and funny. I enjoyed their opening act that they do while hanging upside down and how the killer (David Patrick Kelly) tries to reenact it at the end of the film while using himself in Penn’s place. The segment where Teller keeps throwing coins at a man inside a casino was my favorite and I also got a kick out of Penn’s conversation with Teller inside a taxi cab after he is stabbed.

Penn seems like a natural in front of the camera and just like with their stage act does all the talking. Teller though gets a lot of screen time and is surprisingly engaging despite his silence. He finally does speak at the end, which I didn’t like as it broke the mystique of the character and really wasn’t all that clever or amusing. The late Caitlin Clarke gives solid support in the dual role as Penn’s girlfriend and the tough talking Officer McNamara. If you look closely you will also briefly spot Jon Cryer as a frat boy, Tom Sizemore as a mugger and famous atheist James Randi as the ‘3rd rope holder’.

Spoiler Alert!

The only real issue that I had with the film is the ending in which all the main characters end up dying either by being shot or committing suicide. I’m sure this may have seemed clever on paper, but it comes off as maudlin and overdone as well as hurting the film’s otherwise playful tone. I also didn’t get why the two characters after having been shot didn’t have bullet holes in their bodies or any type of blood coming out of them. These guys use blood quite liberally in their stage act and it gets used in other parts of the film, so why not have it when it really counts at the end? The female character kills herself by jumping out the window and yet in the very next shot two men are seen walking on the sidewalk just outside of the apartment, but there’s no dead body on the ground, which doesn’t make sense. Penn’s closing narration helps save it a little, but the segment still seems like they wrote themselves into a hole that they couldn’t get out of.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 22, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Arthur Penn

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video

Pardon Mon Affaire (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Married man wants hottie.

Etienne (Jean Rochefort) is a mild mannered, middle aged man who has lived a practical lifestyle both with his marriage and career and then one day goes absolutely gaga over a beautiful model named Charlotte (Anny Duperey) that he spots by chance in a parking garage. He goes to great, tireless lengths to meet her with no regard to how it is upsetting and even destroying his once quant and secure life.

This is the French version of what was later Americanized in The Woman in Red starring Gene Wilder. For the first five minutes the two films are almost identical as the opening scenario plays out in exact same fashion frame-for-frame, but then after that there are some distinct differences with this version being far superior to the remake. The disintegration of Etienne’s friend Bouly’s (Victor Lanoux) marriage is much funnier here as the philandering character gets upset when his wife leaves him we will realize its more because of his inflated, deluded ego thinking that somehow he is such a ‘great’ guy that his wife will tolerate his misgivings and when the harsh reality hits him that she won’t it’s a genuinely amusing meltdown to see. I also liked that the film cuts to a reaction shot of the main character as he observes his friend’s meltdown, which helps tie the scene more into the central plot and something that the Wilder version did not do.

I also liked how this film digs to a deeper level in regards to Etienne’s relationship with his male friends showing how competitive they are at times with each other, which is something that occurs even in the best of friendships, but when it counts they are still there to help their friend out of jam which came off as being very natural and real. The side story dealing with the homely female office worker which is played by Gilda Radner in the remake is also better handled. In the American version like with this one the character mistakenly thinks that Etienne is in love with her and not the model and when he doesn’t show up to their ‘dates’ like she expects she gets quite upset and trashes his car, but here Etienne attributes her outrage to the idea that she is aware that he wants to fool around with the model and thus does these things to defend his wife’s honor, so therefore he does not retaliate when she destroys his property for fear she will then go to his wife and tell her. In the remake this is never explained, which makes the main character’s reluctance to retaliate after his property is damaged seems strange and confusing.

This movie also has a side-story dealing with the daughter’s boyfriend hitting on Etienne’s wife something that only gets slightly touched upon in the remake. Here it gets played out more and the scenes watching this 17-year-old kid clumsily try to come on to this much older woman who has no interest in him are some of the most amusing moments in the movie.

The acting here is far better as well. The Charlotte character seems more like a real person instead of a one-dimensional sex object as LeBrock did. Rochefort is much funnier than Wilder and sports a brown mustache, which makes him seem very Inspector Clouseau-like. The American version, in an apparent attempt to make the protagonist more ‘marketable’ to a mass audience, conforms more to mainstream values by being portrayed as constantly guilt-ridden, but the character here is not shackled with such restraints and the way he recklessly chases after the woman even as it causes him more stress is what makes the movie so funny. It also has some very astute observations about marriage, middle-age, sex and the male animal while the remake is just vapid, silly escapism.

I presume the reason why the nuances of this one didn’t get transferred to the Hollywood version is because the producers felt that American audiences would not be ‘sophisticated’ enough to pick up on them, which is why I tell everyone who considers themselves to be a film lover to be sure to stay abreast of the foreign films that are out there. In most cases they are much more original, creative and observant to the human condition than anything that’s come out of Hollywood and the main reason for this is that they are treated more like an artistic endeavor with the director given full control while here the films are forced to work within a studio driven formula and treated more like a business byproduct made to give a profitable return on their investment and nothing more.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 22, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Yves Robert

Studio: Gaumont

Available: VHS

Goldstein (1964)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Prophet emerges from lake.

An old man (Lou Gilbert) emerges from Lake Michigan and wanders the streets of Chicago making friends and enemies along the way. His aurora captures the imagination of a local artist (Tom Earhart) and he seeks the old man out for advice and inspiration, but then loses sight of him and spends the rest of the movie trying to chase him down, but becoming more lost in the process.

This film’s biggest claim to fame is that it is the directorial debut of Philip Kaufman who along with co-director Benjamin Manaster penned this tale that is supposedly a loose, modern-day interpretation of the prophet Elijah. The film has an engaging cinema verite style that is enough to hold some interest, but story wise it is vague and confusing. Too much is thrown in that seems to having nothing to do with the central character or theme. Much of it was clearly ad-libbed, which creates a certain freshness, but also allows it to go even more on a tangent that it ultimately cannot recover from.

The best moments come from the scenes involving Gilbert’s character who surprisingly doesn’t have as much screen time as you’d expect despite being supposedly the central point of the story. The scenes where he comes out of the water and then befriends a homeless man and wheels him down a busy street while holding up traffic is funny I also loved the part where he takes a bath in an apartment and is unable to work the faucet knobs or even know what they are for. His foot chase through a meat plant is nicely captured and edited as is his shadow dancing along the shores of Lake Michigan, but he disappears too quickly and the movie is weak and directionless without him.

This movie also marks the acting debuts of several famous comic character actors including Jack Burns who was part of a comic team with George Carlin for a while and then later with Avery Schrieber before becoming famous as the voice for the crash test dummies. Here he has an amusing bit as an ambivalent desk sergeant. Severn Darden and Anthony Holland are both seen on the screen for the first time playing a sort-of Laurel and Hardy-like traveling abortionists who perform the operation on one woman (Ellen Madison) inside an empty apartment that is quite edgy, explicit and darkly humored for its time period.

The on-location shooting in Chicago is great especially with the way it captures the Marina Towers, which are two residential buildings resembling corncobs that sit in the downtown and had just been completed when filming took place. The flimsy, wide-eyed story though cannot equal its creative execution making this interesting as a curio only.

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My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 4, 1964

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Philip Kaufman, Benjamin Manaster

Studio: Altura Films International

Available: DVD

Can’t Buy Me Love (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Geek dates hot cheerleader.

As a small tribute to Amanda Peterson who unfortunately died recently at the young age of 43 after many years of battling with drug addiction and even spending some time behind bars, I decided to review this film. Even though she was in 5 movies during the 80’s and starred in two TV-series including the short-lived, but critically acclaimed ‘A Year in the Life’ her part her as Cindy Mancini has become her signature role.

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The plot revolves around Ronald (Patrick Dempsey) a high school nerd who secretly has a crush on class beauty Cindy, but realizes that she is way out of his league. Then one day while attempting to buy a telescope that he has saved up for by spending the summer mowing lawns he comes into contact with her at a mall as she is attempting to replace a dress that she borrowed from her mother (Sharon Farrell) without her permission and then accidently ruined. She doesn’t have the money to buy a new one, so Ronald offers to use his telescope money to buy it, but under the condition that she pretends to be in a relationship with him and act as his girlfriend for one month. Cindy reluctantly agrees, but finds to her surprise that she starts to grow fond of him, but when the month is over and their pseudo-relationship ends Ronald uses his new found popularity to jettison to the top of the social scene while becoming quite obnoxious in the process. Cindy tries to rekindle the romance, but Ronald has found new conquests and has no time for her, which gets her angry enough that she eventually tells everyone about their secret deal.

This movie, which was filmed on-location at the Tucson High School in Tucson, Arizona, is a gem especially for an 80’s teen comedy and making it one of the better ones from that decade and quite easily one of the best teen romances of all time. Part of the charm is that it lives out the dream of every geek young and old who has ever fantasized about going out with the hottest girl in school, but then takes this wish fulfillment fantasy and puts it inside a realistic scenario. It also makes a good comment as to just how fickle and shallow the high school popularity game really is. The characters are much more multi-dimensional than in most teen comedies especially Cindy’s and I also liked the way the film keeps things real, but still manages to maintain the innocence of that age without ever seeming overly sanitized.

Dempsey is great and he manages to get you to empathize with his sad, geeky quandary without ever making it seem too pathetic.  The part where he stays up late one night and counts up all the days he had to go through before finally seeing a naked female breast is the funniest part in the movie. However, by-and-large this is Peterson’s vehicle and she is splendid. I loved how her character starts out as being just another superficial teen girl, but slowly evolves into becoming much deeper and introspective and exposing a lot of class along the way.

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Normally I hate bratty little brother characters, but a young Seth Green makes the one here quite enjoyable. I also liked how the parents are not portrayed as being overly authoritative relics of bygone era, but human beings as well and Cindy’s relationship with her mother where half time she seems more like the mature one is fun.

Of course the film does suffer from a few shortcomings. Ronald’s impassioned ‘why can’t we all just get along’ speech that he gives near the end may have merit, but comes off as too melodramatic and corny.  I also thought these kids who were all supposedly seniors behaved too much like they were still in middle school where the teen social caste system is much more rigidly followed, but becomes less important and more phased out as they enter the senior high. It is also inconceivable how anyone even an out-of-it geek like Ronald could ever mistake a PBS show dealing with Africa tribal dances with ‘American Bandstand’.

Despite being an 80’s movie it doesn’t seem all that dated and I think teens today could still relate to it. Sure the characters don’t have smartphones or the other technological gadgets of today, but the foundation of teen life is still there and the movie does a great job of speaking to them on their level without ever seeming like their talking down to them.

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My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: August 14, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Steve Rash

Studio: Buena Vista Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

10 Rillington Place (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He enjoys strangling women.

This film depicts the true life account of John Christie, played here by Sir Richard Attenborough, who strangled eight women, had sex with their corpses and then hide their bodies in his London flat at 10 Rillington Place. The story begins with Christie having already murdered several women when Timothy and his wife Beryl (John Hurt, Judy Geeson) arrive looking for a place to stay and decide to rent a room from Christie who immediately takes a fancy to Beryl. When she confides in him that she is pregnant and looking for an abortion he uses it to his advantage by pretending to be a former Dr. who can secretly perform the procedure. He then strangles her after giving her some anesthesia and tells Timothy that it occurred during the abortion and threatens him not to go to the police since it was an illegal operation at the time and Timothy was aware that she wanted it done, which would have made him an accessory. However, after moving out his suspicions continue to nag him and he eventually goes to the police, which culminate in a dramatic trial with both men accusing the other of being a liar.

The film comes off as being quite authentic to the actual events with the dialogue taken straight off of the court transcripts. The exteriors were filmed at the actual flat were the murders occurred while the interiors scenes where shot at an apartment house that was just three doors down from Christie’s real life one. Richard Fleischer’s direction is low-key with emphasis put on keeping things real almost like a documentary instead of trying to sensationalize it. The music is used sparingly and has a certain quite tone of loneliness and detachment to it almost like it is representing the feelings and mood from Christie himself.

Attenborough and Hurt give strong performances and the diametrically divergent personalities of the two characters are what drive the film. Attenborough accepted the role without even having read the script. He wore a skin-like skull cap for the part, which gives him a very pronounced bald head and a creepy alien-like quality. I also really liked the scene where he looks at himself in the mirror just before he commits the murder with his eyes conveying a frightened and ashamed look like even he himself is horrified at the murderous out-of-control obsession that drives him. Geeson does well as the sympathetic victim and Pat Heywood is memorable in an understated role as Christie’s wife Ethel who initially believes her husband to be innocent, but then slowly becomes aware of what a monster he really is.

The film would have been stronger and a more multi-faceted had it shown even in brief flashback more of Christie’s background including the fact that he was dominated by his mother and older sisters and raised by a father who showed no emotion for him as well his lifelong struggles with impotence, which all could’ve helped explain why he became the way he did. It also might have allowed for more tension had the story started with the court case and leaving it a mystery to the viewer at the beginning as to which of the men was telling the truth instead of having the narrative done in a very matter-of-fact, by-the-numbers way. In either case the film is still quite strong and great example of how a true-life crime story should be done.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 10, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Richard Fleischer

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Instant Video

W. W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Conman promotes country band.

Burt Reynolds plays a good-natured, fun-loving conman who travels the south robbing gas stations as well as conning anyone out of their money in any way he can. He comes into contact with the Dixie Dancekings a struggling country band trying to make it big. W.W. initially sees this as another con-game by pretending to be a big time manager, who can use his influence to bring them to Nashville and send them straight to the top, but eventually he takes a liking to them and them to him and they begin working together to make it big while robbing banks along the way.

The film  is  fun and breezy and quite entertaining at the start. Reynolds’ charm practically propels the thing the whole way and manages to almost make up for its other shortcomings. His glib non sequiturs and boyish grin are on full display making this one of his better comical vehicles. I also loved the creative scene transitions and the playful digs at southern culture. It all comes to a head near the midway point when the group robs a bank with Polly Holliday playing the teller that makes great use of its cartoonish props and overblown action.

Unfortunately Thomas Rickman’s script fails to introduce any type of third act. The story coasts too much on its playful humor until it becomes old and tiring. There is not enough momentum or conflict and no discernable tension at all. The band members have no individual personalities and come off like faceless lemmings that are there to support Reynolds’ spotlight and nothing more.  Art Carney has a few interesting moments cast in an atypical role of the heavy in this case a police detective who is also a religious zealot that tracks the group down, but the dumb way that their final confrontation gets resolved is dull and disappointing.

It’s great to see country singer Jerry Reed making is acting film debut as he and Reynolds  would later go on to star in three more films together, but his character is not given enough to do, which ultimately makes is presence pointless.  Conny Van Dyke gets cast as the female lead, but shows little pizazz. The part was originally offered to Dolly Parton who would’ve been far superior, but she unfortunately turned it down.

John G. Avildsen’s direction is at times creative, but the plot and characters needed more layers as it all regrettably adds up to being nothing more than forgettable fluff.

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My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 21, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John G. Avildsen

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: None at this time.