Bad Timing (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He needs to control.

Alex Linden (Art Garfunkel) is an American psychiatrist teaching at a Vienna University who falls for a free-spirited young lady named Milena (Theresa Russell). Despite still being married to the much older Stefan (Denholm Elliot) she decides to leave him and move in with Alex, but their relationship soon becomes rocky. Alex gets jealous of her flirtatious ways and wants to control her, but she resists. Their constant fighting sends her into a depression and she begins to abuse both drugs and alcohol. One night Alex finds Milena’s comatose body inside her apartment apparently the victim of an overdose. She gets rushed to the hospital, but the police detective on the case (Harvey Keitel) isn’t so sure that Alex is being completely honest with him about how the events unfolded and through a fragmented narrative the viewer slowly becomes aware of Alex’s very dark and possessive side.

This movie, which was labeled by its distributor as being “a sick film made by sick people for sick people”, still remains as fresh and provocative as when it was first released. The possessive boyfriend theme was at the time a new concept and thus thankfully avoids the annoying clichés we now see in today’s movies while still coming off as groundbreaking and edgy instead. Yale Udoff’s script nicely weaves a complex texture between examining the dark psychological undercurrents of its characters to also creating an intricate and original mystery that keeps you on edge until its final and still quite shocking ending.

Director Nicolas Roeg crafts a mesmerizing visual design with each shot and edit and I especially liked the way he intercuts between showing Milena unconscious inside the emergency room to scenes of her and Alex making love. Their cluttered apartment is interesting as well and tends to be messier when the two are at odds and more organized when they’re apart. Roeg employs a wide range of music styles instead of just choosing one and playing it over and over like in most other movies.

The film’s main defect is Garfunkel’s presence whose acting talent is limited. His character is interesting particularly with the way he majored in psychiatry and yet seemed to be suffering from many of the same problems that he was studying making it seem almost like people who get into that line of work do it not so much to help others, but instead as a sort-of self-analyzation for themselves. However, his performance is wooden and his only memorable bit is when he and Milena hitch-hike a ride with some farmers and he gets stuck in the back of their pick-up with the goats while she rides up front with the two guys and he jealously looks in on them from the rear window.

Russell, who went on to marry director Roeg after this film was completed, goes in the exact opposite direction by overplaying her character until it becomes almost campy. Why this beautiful woman, who gets lots of attention from just about every guy she meets, would fall for such a dull dope like Alex makes no sense nor does her need to constantly try and win him back every time he mistreats her.

The best performances come from the supporting players. Keitel nails it as the cunning detective and Elliot has a great moment where he continues to casually eat his lunch while Alex harangues him on the other end of the telephone receiver.

Despite the miscasting of its two leads and the fact that the movie saw only a limited engagement when it was first released the film has still managed to gain a strong cult following. Much of this can be credited to Roeg’s artsy direction as well as the dark ending that still packs-a-punch.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 21, 1980

Runtime: 2Hours 2Minutes

Rated R

Director: Nicolas Roeg

Studio: Rank Film Distributors

Available: DVD (Criterion Collection), Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video

Class of ’44 (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hermie goes to college.

In this sequel to Summer of ’42 Hermie (Gary Grimes) and Oscy (Jerry Houser) graduate from high school and begin attending college while their friend Benjy (Oliver Conant) joins the army and goes off to war. Hermie takes part in a wide range of college adventures including starting up a relationship with headstrong budding feminist Julie (Deborah Winters) as well as learning to cope with the untimely death of his father.

As sequels go this one is unnecessary. The story in the first one had a perfect slice-of-life plot that needed no further exploration of the characters. Everybody seems out-of-place here as we keep expecting to hear the background noise of the crashing ocean waves, which was a strong element from the first film as well as an explanation as to what ever happened to Dorothy who never gets mentioned even in passing.

The boys look too young to be attending college particularly Hermie who still resembles a pre-teen not quite out of puberty while Benjy is seen only briefly at the beginning and then essentially forgotten. The scenes dealing with the death of Hermie’s father aren’t particularly compelling because in the first film the father was never shown or mentioned, so it seems like a story arch thrown in for cheap emotional dramatics and nothing more.

Unlike the first film this script by Herman Raucher is not based on any actual events in his life and comes off more like a broad generalization of what can happen to just about any student who attends college with the particular time period of the 1940’s not carrying much weight. The plot is episodic and not story driven, but there are still several enjoyable scenes including one where Hermi and Oscy and several other boys try to cram themselves inside a phone booth as part of a fraternity initiation.

The performances are good and I enjoyed seeing Hermie grow into a mature young man as well as William Atherton as a snotty fraternity brother in a part he seemed born to play. Winters though steals it as a headstrong young lady who shows shades of insecurity at the most unexpected times.

The production values are an improvement and the story has a nice comedy/drama blend. Those that attended college may take to it better, but overall it’s a generic excursion that leaves one with a flat feeling when it’s over.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 10, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Bogart

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video

Summer of ’42 (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Boy loses his virginity.

During the summer of 1942 Hermie (Gary Grimes) vacations on Nantucket Island with his two friends (Jerry Houser, Oliver Conant) along with their parents. He soon becomes smitten by a neighboring lady named Dorothy (Jennifer O’ Neill) whose husband has just gone off to fight in the war. One day he offers to carry her groceries as well as help her out with other chores around her home. When her husband gets killed Hermie finds that he can be of service to her in other ways too.

The script was written by Herman Raucher and based on his real-life experiences while growing up as a teen on Nantucket Island. He had originally written the script in the 1950’s, but at that time no one was interested. It wasn’t until he met with director Robert Mulligan that the project got off the ground and even then the studio was reluctant to pay him anything up front and promised only to give him a percentage of whatever the film grossed. The film though ended up becoming a huge hit and made Michel Legrand’s melodic score almost synonymous with romances everywhere.

I enjoyed the film immensely when I first saw it back when I was in college, but now many years later I have certain issues with it and much of it is due to the Dorothy character. I felt she was was too naïve as she brings this 15-year-old boy in the form of Hermie into her home, but apparently no clue that boys at that age can have raging hormones and that he could quite possibly be viewing her in a sexual way. I felt that Dorothy should’ve shown a little more awareness to the situation and created boundaries from the start and been just a little more defensive than she was. Some may argue that she may have been attracted to the teen despite his age and secretly open to him coming on to her, but if that was the case it should’ve been made clear. In either event the character is too much of an enigma and playing off more like a fantasy figure than a real person.

These same issues continue during their eventual consummation, which ends up being the film’s most well-known scene. On a purely cinematic level I loved the moment because it nicely recreates a dream-like quality of a teen boy’s fantasy particularly by having no dialogue and only the background noise of the crashing ocean waves. However, the woman has just committed an intimate act with a minor that could get her into a lot trouble if it was ever found out. The next morning as the two are lying next to each other in bed she looks over at him and I would’ve expected some expression of guilt, confusion, or even fear, but none of that is conveyed. Also, the idea that getting news that her husband has just been killed would be enough to ‘disorient’ her and get her to submit herself to a teen boy who just randomly walks in is a bit far-fetched.

In the real-life incident Raucher describes it as occurring much differently. There Dorothy was highly intoxicated and yelled out her dead husband’s name several times. He also caught up with the real Dorothy many years later and she told him that she had been ‘wracked with guilt’ over what she had done long after it had happened. All of this makes much more sense and although it would’ve ruined some of the romantic elements it still should’ve been added in as it would’ve helped both the characters and movie become more multi-dimensional and believable.

The setting is another liability. Due to budget constraints it was not filmed on Nantucket, but instead Mendocino, California and the differences are glaring. The landscape is very dry and brown, which is something that would not occur on the east coast, which routinely gets more rain than the west. The voice-over narration states that they had “9 days of rain” that summer, so the foliage should’ve been green and lush.

On a completely superficial level the film still works. The performances are excellent and there are a few really funny scenes including Hermie’s visit to a drug store where he reluctantly tries to buy some condoms as well as his subsequent visit later that night to the beach.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 18, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Mulligan

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube

The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: The Heavy Metal scene.

Director Penelope Spheeris returns to the L.A. music scene this time chronicling heavy metal bands and looking at the lifestyles of those who are in it. This film has a bigger budget, less of a grainy look, and more irreverent than the first installment.

The interviews are again what make the film interesting and I liked how Spheeris brings in a broad scope of people to talk to, which includes members from bands desperately trying to break-in as well as veterans who’ve made it to the top and their many groupies and fans. There’s even an interview with a parole officer talking about the ‘evil influence’ the music has on teens and their attempts at ‘deprogramming’ them, but even then she breaks into laughter when Spheeris asks her about Ozzy Osbourne and his dangerous ‘satanic’ message.

There’s also an interview with a bubble-headed beauty queen at a sleazy strip bar whose name is Cindy D. Birmisa and who talks about wanting to get into modeling and ‘actressing’ and made such a strong impression at being the perfect caricature of a dim-witted blonde that she became the inspiration to Christina Applegate’s character in the hit series ‘Married With Children’. The film’s most notorious scene though deals with W.A.S.P. lead singer Chris Holmes doing an interview while in a pool and completely drunk, but what he says and does isn’t half as interesting as seeing his Mother’s reactions to it who sits poolside.

Like in the first film the living conditions of some of these bands is less than glamorous including seeing several members and their groupies cramming themselves into a small camper, which was their sole ‘residence’. I also enjoyed the segment that cuts back and forth between band members discussing how they take advantage of their groupies while these same groupies talk about how they do the exact same thing to the guys in reverse. Hearing all these wannabe’s discuss how they ‘will succeed’ as rock stars and ‘failure is not an option’ is tarnished only by the fact that we can’t see where they are now and how time most likely has forced them to adjust their outlooks.

I was also fascinated by the fact that the tone in this one had shifted drastically from the first one where anger and rebellion permeated every scene. Outside of their wildly over-the-top ‘80’s hairstyles, which makes the film enjoyable to watch just for that, there really isn’t all that much nonconformity from these participants, or if there is it’s in the most shallow of contexts . Their mission here seems more on becoming ‘rich and famous’ and reaping the benefits of system instead of exposing its many flaws. The theatrics are certainly there, but the essence of what underground rock was truly meant to be about seems to have gotten lost on white suburban kids who simply want to exploit the medium as a quick shot to fame.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 17, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Penelope Spheeris

Studio: New Line Cinema

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: The Punk Rock Scene.

A fascinating and surprisingly intimate look at the L.A. punk rock scene of the late ‘70s. The film starts out by showing footage of several concerts with fans jumping up and down like they are on a pogo stick and getting into violent clashes with other fans by physically attacking each other unprovoked. Shots of various band members in garish make-up, outfits and behaviors are also shown, which could give one the feeling that the state of humanity is truly on the decline, but then the film cuts away and we are treated to interviews of the people involved where we start seeing them as actual multi-dimensional human beings who are simply unhappy with the establishment and fighting to have a voice.

The interviews are the best part and I was impressed with how candid many of them were and the introspection some of them showed with one stating that punk rock was simply an excuse to ‘make an ass of himself and get away with it.’ The most shocking moment comes when you see the sleeping quarters of one of the bands, which was in the closet of some dingy, cramped, graffiti laden room that wasn’t much bigger than a storage closet and housed all the members for a mere $16 a month, which was all they could afford.

Another memorable moment deals with Darby Crash, who died from a heroin overdose before the film’s release, and watching him play with a tarantula spider that he allows to crawl all over him. The final segment dealing with Lee Ving the lead singer of the group Fear spitting at his audience who then spit back before they charge the stage and physically attempt to attack him is vivid.

When John Doe and Exene Cervenka sing the song ‘We’re Desperate: Get Used to It’ you know that they are speaking straight from experience, which is what ultimately makes this excursion so impactful. These aren’t rich rock stars from the ‘burbs with million dollar contracts spouting about hardships they’ve never had. Instead we get people that are at society’s bottom speaking to others who feel the same way and who are desperately looking for an outlet for their aggressions and anger. The interviews with some of the fans are equally enlightening and helps shed light on many of their troubled lives.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Penelope Spheeris

Studio: Spheeris Films Inc.

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Alien Nation (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Newcomers integrate into society.

Sam ‘George’ Francisco (Mandy Patinkin) is an alien who along with 300,000 of his kind land on earth near the Mojave desert in the year 1988 and become known as newcomers. After initially being quarantined they are let out in 1991 and become a part of everyday society. Matt Sykes (James Caan) is a cop whose partner is killed during a shootout with some criminal newcomers. George and Matt then team up to investigate the crime as well as a similar one that seems to be linked to Warren Harcourt (Terence Stamp) a successful newcomer businessman. Matt initially does not trust George and even shows an open bias towards him, but eventually the two form a bond.

The concept is unique in that unlike most sci-fi films the actual spaceship landing becomes only a minor part of the story and just briefly touched on in film’s first couple of minutes before quickly moving into the main theme of seeing how the humans and aliens learn to coincide. The idea of using this to then further examine racism and bigotry may have been a noble one, but it ends up not getting played up as much as I thought it would. The fact that the aliens have assimilated into society as quickly as they do (only 3 years) makes it seem like even if there is resistance to it by some it’s of a small level and for the most part the aliens have it pretty good.

There’s also a myriad of questions that never get addressed. Why exactly were these aliens sent here and will more come along later? Which planet are they from and if they were conditioned to be efficient workers who are highly adaptable then why are there so many seen on street corners and apart of gang that do no work at all. Nothing from their culture is retained and outside of their strange appearance that looks like burn victims with skin grafts there is not all that much difference between them and their human counterparts. They even end up bleeding red blood when they get shot.

The film’s most interesting part is George’s and Matt’s relationship, which starts out rocky, but slowly evolves and even at one point has a humorous moment where Matt tells George a ‘really funny’ joke that George, much to Matt’s frustration, can’t seem to appreciate. Both Caan and Patinkin give excellent performances as the characters go through a wide array of emotions with George seeming at times to be more human-like.

The criminal investigation and mystery dealing with a drug called Jabroka I didn’t find to be as compelling and the final showdown between Matt and Harcourt was to me a yawner. The alien angle comes off more like a thinly disguised attempt to make what amounts to being just another formulaic cop action pic seem unique and ‘profound’ when it really isn’t.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Graham Baker

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), YouTube

Gus (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mule becomes a kicker.

The California Atoms are the worst team in football and their owner Hank Cooper (Ed Asner) is desperate to try anything in order to get them winning and fans back into the seats. His secretary Debbie (Louise ‘Liberty’ Williams) reads an article about a mule living in Yugoslavia that is able to kick soccer balls at a long distance. He decides to have the animal and its owner Andy (Gary Grimes) shipped all the way from there to the United States where they hope to have the mule try out as a field goal kicker for the team. Since the rule book never specifically states that the players must be human they figure they can get away with it and do. The team starts to win again and Gus is a fan favorite, but mobster Charles (Harold Gould) doesn’t like it and hires two bumbling crooks (Tom Bosley, Tim Conway) to kidnap the animal, so he won’t be able to show up when the team plays in the all-important Superbowl.

Although as a kid I found this film to be enjoyable as an adult it comes off as boring and lacking. The idea that simply adding in a mule to kick long field goals would be enough to turn around a team’s dismal fortunes is highly suspect. For one thing a long distance field goal kicker will kick the ball at a much lower trajectory in order to get it to travel farther and thus the potential to block those kicks is much higher and yet for some reason that never occurs with any of Gus’s kicks, but most likely would. Also, just having a good kicker who can make field goals does not improve the defense that still must stop the other team from scoring. This team was described as getting blown out of every game that they were in, so how then does the defense start magically keeping the other team’s offense in check, so that the games remained manageable and Gus’s field goals would mean something?

The viewer never gets to see Gus kick an actual field goal anyways. What we see instead is the animal kick the ball and then the camera immediately cuts to a superimposed ball floating in the air with a corny sound effect tacked on and then another cut showing it gliding through the goal posts, but never an unedited long shot, which proves most likely no animal would be able to do the feat in real-life or able to do it in a consistently accurate way.

The comical elements aren’t too great either with the two best moments coming from a chase through a hospital as well as another one inside a grocery store, but even here there are problems. For one thing the super market chase, where Bosley and Conway try to corral the animal, goes on way too long and most likely the security or police would’ve been called in long before many of the antics that do occur would’ve happened. There’s also a tacky ‘life lesson’ thread thrown in dealing with Andy learning to have self-confidence, which does nothing but make the film seem even more contrived than it already is.

This marks Grimes’s last film to date as he ended up retiring from movies at the young age of 21 even though his career started off so promisingly with his starring role in Summer of ’42. He stated that the roles he was being offered were no longer up to his standards, but most likely studios were realizing that his acting abilities were limited and it was either get into another line of work, or be relegated to B-movie hell afterwards and his transparent presence here more than proves that.

Asner is the real star and has a few funny lines. I also enjoyed football legend Dick Butkus playing the role of a jealous boyfriend. His acting isn’t exactly good, but his constant expressions of aggravation are fun. Bob Crane in a brief bit manages to be a scene stealer as an obnoxious sportscaster who won’t stop talking until he finally loses his voice.

Kids may take to this more, but even then I’m not so sure as many of them may find it dated in a film that unfortunately can’t stand up to the test of scrutiny or time.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 7, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated G

Director: Vincent McEveety

Studio: Buena Vista Distribution Company

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Cinderella Liberty (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sailor falls for prostitute.

John Baggs (James Caan) is a sailor who checks into a Seattle, Washington naval base medical facility for a check-up and while there has his files lost and is unable to receive pay or new orders until they are found. While the navy tries to find them they give him a ‘Cinderella Liberty’ pass, which allows him to come and go from the base as long as he returns before curfew. During his excursions into the city he meets up with Maggie (Marsha Mason) a prostitute and goes back to her place for sex. It is there that he meets her biracial son Doug (Kirk Calloway). Despite the tremendous odds John finds himself falling-in-love with Maggie while trying earnestly to make a better life for Doug.

This is one of those films I enjoyed quite a bit the first time I saw it, but could not get into it as much the second time around, which is a shame as it does have a lot of good things going for it. Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography and the way he captures the seedier side of the city is one of the film’s chief assets particularly the vivid look at Maggie’s squalor of an apartment that no studio could possible recreate quite as effectively. Trying to mix romance with gritty reality while getting away from the soft focus and idealized view of love, which permeated a lot of romance films of the ‘70s is a noble and interesting effort. I also really enjoyed John Williams’s ragtime sounding score and the bouncy opening tune sung by Paul Williams.

The performances are excellent. For Caan this may be the best performance of his career and the role that most effectively works into his acting style. Mason is equally good and deserved her Oscar nomination alone through the strained facial expressions that she shows during the delivery of her child. The supporting cast is great too and includes Dabney Coleman, who wears a wig, as Caan’s crass, blunt superior and Eli Wallach as an old timer in the naval system who seems genuinely shell shocked at the prospect of having to survive as a civilian.

The film’s main fault is that I just could never buy into the idea of why John would ever want to get into the situation that he does. There might be some cases out there where a prostitute and one of her customers do fall for each other and start a relationship, but I would think they’re few and far between and usually doesn’t last. If anything it couldn’t be as extremely bad of a situation as it is here where the woman is a complete emotional mess living in squalor with a delinquent son and pregnant with another.

Several characters throughout the film keep asking John why he would want to get involved in something like this and his answer of ‘because it makes me feel good’ is not sufficient. A good relationship needs a healthy dose of give-and-take, but here John is doing all the giving. There isn’t much to love with the Maggie character anyways as she is extraordinarily irresponsible as a parent and at one point even abandons her son with not much more than a second thought.

Had the film emphasized John’s bonding with Doug and made this the focal point then I could see him wanting to have some limited involvement with the mother in order to help the kid, but the romance angle in this situation given the circumstances bordered on the insane and prevented me as a viewer from fully getting into it.

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 57Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark Rydell

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Night of the Comet (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Comet wipes out humanity.

A comet passes by earth, which kills off everyone that was outside watching it. The only people that survive were those that remained inside rooms incased by steel. Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart) and her sister Samantha (Kelli Maroney) are two of the survivors. As far as they know they are the only remaining inhabitants, but then a secret group of scientists track them down pretending at first to be their friends, but in reality they are after the two for their blood as the researchers were inadvertently tainted by the comet’s effects and now need a fresh blood supply from those that were not exposed in order to remain alive, but will the two sisters catch onto their ruse before it’s too late?

This film, which has become a major cult hit, starts out sharply and could’ve been a really great picture had it kept the dry, quirky humor that it has at the beginning. Unfortunately it devolves too much into a drama that loses its momentum and becomes draggy. I enjoyed the scenes showing Los Angeles as a deserted wasteland and these moments were apparently shot in the early morning hours during the minutes when the cars where stopped at traffic lights, which made it all the more impressive and I wished the movie had more of these scenes as it gives the film a surreal quality.

The two female leads are fantastic. Stewart is not only really beautiful, but her acting is excellent and I liked the fact that when she gets attacked by a zombie she doesn’t break out into a scream like is the clichéd reaction of most female characters, but instead keeps her composure. The film would’ve been far stronger had these two remained the sole cast as the implementation of the Hector (Robert Beltran) character does not help things and in fact weakens it as it makes it seem that a man is necessary in order to save them since apparently females are not strong enough or smart enough to do it themselves. The evil scientists are uninteresting as well and outside of seeing Mary Woronov playing a more serious role their time on the screen is quite boring.

The story does not take enough advantage of its quirky concept and misses the chance for a far more original scenario. Adding in zombies is a downer as there are already way too many zombie flicks out there and this one adds nothing to the mix. Seeing two valley girls learning to ‘toughen up’ and survive by solely using their own wits would’ve been the best story angle.

The film is also too tame. When the Hector character does appear Samantha becomes jealous when he chooses Regina over her, but why couldn’t they just do a ménage-a-trois? Since there is no other people around, or very few, that means societal conventions no longer necessary, but for some strange reason the characters here become more ‘civilized’ as the story progresses when in reality the exact opposite would likely occur.

There are also too many logic loopholes that never get addressed. For instance why does the electricity remain on when most likely employees working at the power plants would’ve disintegrated along with everyone else? If the power goes out how are they going to store food in order to keep it fresh or cook it for that matter? These questions along with a variety of others helps knock down what is initially a great idea and impedes this cult flick from living up to its reputation.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 16, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Thom Eberhardt

Studio: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Man on a Swing (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Psychic knows too much.

On one sunny afternoon Maggie Dawson (Dianne Hull) goes out shopping and never returns. 24-hours later her strangled body is found on the floor of her car. Police detective Lee Tucker (Cliff Robertson) heads the case, but finds few clues. After all leads dry up they turn to Franklin Wills (Joel Grey) who purports to be a psychic who can help them find the culprit. Initially the police are quite impressed with his abilities, but Franklin begins to show too much knowledge about the crime and the victim making them believe that he may be the actual killer.

The film is based on the novel ‘The Girl on the Volkswagen Floor’ by William A. Clark, which itself is based on an actual incident that occurred on June 12, 1968 in Kettering, Ohio. In the real-life event a young 23-year-old school teacher by the name of Barbara Ann Butler went shopping at a discount store one day only to end up being found murdered later. Police were, like in the movie, baffled and eventually ended up using the services of a psychic named Bill Bosheers, who goes under the pseudonym of Norman Dodd in the book. Like in the film Bosheers seemed to know an extraordinarily high amount of unauthorized info about the case including the fact that the victim used prescription glasses for just one eye. Bosheers also predicted another similar crime would occur in the near future, which it did and police have long suspected that the two were done by the same person.

What makes this film interesting is the way it meticulously follows the police investigation and keeps everything at a real level including having them pursue what turns out to be a lot of false leads, which other Hollywood movies rarely tackle. Nothing gets overblown and in fact the film’s strength comes from keeping everything on a nice creepy, low-key level with the focus on Robertson’s interaction with Grey. I also liked that there is very little music and the only time that there is some is when Grey is onscreen and even then it’s quiet and nonobtrusive accentuating the creepiness without over doing it.

Although he gets stuck with a non-flamboyant part I felt Robertson does quite well and I enjoyed how his down-to-earth sensibilities continually clash with Grey’s more flighty ones although the scene where the Robertson’s character discusses the case with his wife (Dorothy Tristan) at home didn’t really mesh. The character is also seen drinking constantly to the point of being a full-fledged alcoholic and this should’ve been touched on, but isn’t.

Grey, who ironically starred in a TV-movie called Man on a String just before doing this one, is outstanding and the whole reason to watch the film as he commands every scene that he is in. The way he goes into his psychic ‘trances’ is riveting and the part where he makes his entire face turn dark red, without the use of any makeup, is genuinely startling as is his drooling after he passes out. The film is also littered with many familiar faces of up-and-coming stars too numerous to mention here, but worth spotting at seeing what they were doing before they were famous.

I enjoyed the on-location shooting done in Milford, Connecticut which takes full advantage of the small town locale and helps make the story seem even more vivid. There are several uniquely memorable moments including an exercise that Grey is forced to take to measure his psychic ability as well as his visit to a pair of psychiatrists, which is wonderfully played by Elizabeth Wilson. However, even with all these good elements the ending is a letdown as it leaves to many questions unanswered and plays like an intriguing mystery that ultimately goes nowhere.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 27, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Frank Perry

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video