High Anxiety (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s afraid of heights.

Dr. Richard Thorndyke (Mel Brooks) is hired as the new resident psychiatrist at the Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very, Nervous where he is to replace another Dr. who died under suspicious circumstances. While there he becomes aware of many odd things occurring making him believe that the people running the hospital, Dr. Charles Montague (Harvey Korman) and Nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman), have a scheme going on where they take in rich patients and pretend their conditions are worse than they really are, so that they can keep the patients hospitalized for indefinite periods and thus bilk the patient’s rich families for large sums of money. Richard, together with Victoria (Madeline Kahn) who is the daughter of another patient that is being held there against his will, become determined to expose the scheme, but his adversaries use nefarious tactics to try and stop him by taking advantage of his extreme fear of heights.

Per an interview that Mel Brooks gave with NPR in 2013 he revealed that he wrote a letter to Hitchcock in 1976 telling him that he wanted to do a parody of his movies and was interested in getting his feedback. Hitch wrote back saying that they should get together in his office to go over ideas. In fact it was Hitch’s suggestion to have the scene involving the birds pooping on Brooks. When the film was completed he got his own private screening and afterwards he sent Brooks a case of expensive French wine with the note: “A small token of my pleasure, have no anxiety about this.”

Two of my favorite moments include a Psycho parody where a bellhop (played by a young and soon-to-be famous director in his own right, Barry Levinson) who stabs Brooks with a newspaper while he’s in the shower. The afore mentioned Birds parody is good too with the bird droppings made up of mayonnaise and chopped spinach, but because a helicopter was used during the segment it scared a lot of the pigeons causing real bird do-do to get mixed in with the fake stuff.

I enjoyed the bits involving a parody of the ‘gliding camera’ a technique used in many films where a camera shot begins on the outside of a building, but then somehow ‘glides through’ a wall and goes inside a place without any barrier. Here the camera shatters the glass as it tries to ‘glide through’ the window of the hospital, but Brooks almost ruins the moment by having the characters react by looking up to where the noise occurred, but then going back to their conversation, which makes no sense. If a camera operator has just crashed through a window, most people would get up from their seats and inspect the damage, which would’ve overplayed the joke, so they should’ve just had the characters not respond to the crashing noise at all. This same issue occurs at the end where the camera operators are heard talking just before they crash through a wall, but the scene would’ve played better without the banter.

The plot, as thin and goofy as it is, has some interesting moments. I especially enjoyed the segments done inside the lobby of the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco and the way it takes advantage of the glass elevators there. The scene involving actor Ron Carey blowing up a picture that he took there in order to solve a crime is cool because it goes back to the old way of developing film, which will be a good education for today’s younger viewers who are more used to digital.

The performances are first-rate with Brooks in an uncharacteristic straight part though he still gets in a few zany moments including a segment where he’s a baby who falls from his high-chair. Leachman though steals it in a brilliant send-up of Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In fact it’s her contorted face with no make-up and a faint mustache that leaves a lasting impression. She has stated that she disliked doing the role, but it’s so hilarious that I wished her part had been given a wider storyline.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mel Brooks

Studio: 20th Century Fox

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

Smokey and the Bandit II (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Elephant in a truck.

Truck driver Cledus (Jerry Reed) becomes enticed by an offer brought to him by Big and Little Enos Burdette (Pat McCormick, Paul Williams) to haul some secret cargo from Florida to Dallas for $200,000, which later gets upped to $400,000. Cledus readily accepts, but finds that Bandit (Burt Reynolds) is in no shape to make the run as he is holed-up in a seedy hotel and drunk over his break-up to Carrie (Sally Field). Cledus solves this issue by getting the two back together and then getting Bandit back in shape. Yet when they finally get to where the cargo is stored they realize it’s an elephant that is pregnant and transporting her to another state becomes a logistical nightmare especially with Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) on their tail the whole way.

To some degree I’ll give this film credit because unlike most other sequels it doesn’t try to replicate the formula of the first. There’s definite attempts to instill different ideas into the plot that were not in the first one, which is commendable as so many other sequels come-off like just a vapid redo of what we’ve already seen. Unfortunately it goes too far with it becoming too campy and surreal for its own good.

Hauling the elephant in a truck through 4-states is particularly problematic as no mention is made about what the animal will eat on the way there. This is a big creature that will most assuredly need a lot of food and yet it’s never brought up nor anything shown about getting the elephant water while it’s stuck in the hot truck for many hours, or the massive mess it would most likely make inside the truck when it has to poop and pee.

Reynolds is the best thing about it as he keeps each scene he’s in engaging in an almost effortless way. The opening bit of him drunk in a hotel is quite amusing as is his confrontation with an unappreciative fan that comes about later on at a gas station.

Field’s presence though isn’t as interesting and she has stated in a 2016 interview that she considers this to be the worst movie that she’s ever done. I don’t mind having a sensible character present during all the absurdity, but why would she want to marry Junior (Mike Henry) the son of Sheriff Justice. It’s one thing to be slightly dim-witted, but Junior is so clueless it’s like he should be institutionalized, so why would this otherwise sensible woman want to get into a relationship with him especially if it meant dealing with a cantankerous father-in-law? It’s stupid logic like this that really kills the enjoyment of the movie quickly.

Gleason is certainly good for some laughs especially his running commentary about everything that he comes into contact with. That fact that he constantly has a cigarette in his hand even while driving I found funny too, but having a Sheriff chase around the Bandit far outside his jurisdiction gets a bit ridiculous. The scriptwriters should’ve had him become a part of the highway patrol if he was going to do that, but they don’t. His car wrecks become too cartoonish as well. Where is he finding all of these brand new police cars to drive in while the other ones get completed totaled including having one submerged with water when it falls into a river?

The film’s biggest transgression though it that there isn’t enough car chases, which is the sole reason audiences came to see this movie. There is one at the very end, but it’s done in an enclosed area and features hundreds of police cars playing a game of chicken with hundreds of trucks, which is too over-the-top and silly. The only other car chase occurs in the middle part and features Sheriff Justice chasing Bandit underneath a an old roller coaster, which by using footage of the destruction of the Greyhound Coaster being torn down in Atlanta, Georgia, they inadvertently destroy.

There’s a plethora of famous faces showing up in bit parts including Terry Bradshaw with a full head of hair, the stuttering Mel Tillis, and country music legend Brenda Lee. You can even spot Chuck Yeager the man who broke the sound barrier who is seen at a party, but with no speaking lines. However, non of these cameos are interesting or make watching this film worth it.  Even the blooper reel that gets shown over the closing credits, which became a staple of Hal Needham movies, is flat and dull.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 15, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Hal Needham

Studio: Universal

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

Death in Venice (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Man obsesses over boy.

Based on the Thomas Mann novel of the same name, the story centers around Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) a composer in the decline of his career and suffering from ill health. To recuperate he travels to the Grand Hotel des Bains in Venice, Italy, but finds his relaxation cut short when he becomes infatuated with Tadzio (Bjorn Andresen) a 15-year-old Polish boy who’s staying with his family. Gustav can’t seem to keep his eyes or mind off of him, but never physically approaches the teen or makes any attempt to communicate with him. While his fixation grows so does the cholera epidemic that is gripping the city, which may end up taking both of their lives.

Like with most of director Luchino Visconti’s films the pace may be too slow for some viewers, but I found it to be fascinating right from the get-go. One of the aspects that really stood out is Visconti’s ability to recreate a period atmosphere. Nothing seems stilted or rehearsed. Visconti wisely pulls the camera back and allows things to happen naturally. The people in the background don’t seem like film extras at all, but real people going about there lives that Bogarde just happens to be in. It’s also really cool that it was shot at the Grand Hotel des Bains where author Mann stayed in 1911 when the real incident that the story is based on occurred.

I liked too that Gustav does not play-out is mental fantasies and remains at a comfortable distance from the boy at all times. Too many other movies give off this impression that everyone who obsesses over somebody else immediately goes after the person they’re attracted to when in reality many don’t. For some they realize things would never work out with whoever they’re attracted to as well as the legal ramifications, or because of the fear of rejection they prefer to keep it at a fantasy level. While they may still figuratively stalk the person, or observe them intently, it never goes beyond this point. In fact the ones that do aggressively go after their target are more the exception than the rule although in the movie world you’d think the opposite was true, so it’s nice to have at least one film that takes this topic in a different direction.

The fact that its based on a true story that Mann eventually fictionalized in his novel makes it all the more interesting. According to Mann’s wife Katia in a 1974 memoir she describes how her husband kept staring at a young boy he saw at the hotel whom she described at being 13 and was portrayed in the movie as being 15, but in reality was only 11. She stated that he kept gazing at the boy the whole time and always thought about him during their vacation.

The actual source of Mann’s attraction was later discovered to be Baron Wladyslaw Moes who was on vacation with his three sisters and had no idea that he was being observed. In fact Moes only became aware that he’d been the inspiration for the book when he saw the film upon its released in 1971. The biggest irony is that Moes looked nothing like the Tadzio character in the movie as evidenced by the below photo of him (blue circle) taken in 1911 the same year as when Mann spotted him.

The biggest issue that I had was seeing Tadzio making eye contact with Gustav like he’s aware that he’s being watched. Initially when I saw this in the theaters many years ago I took this eye contact thing to being a point-of-view fantasy of Gustav, but upon second viewing it seems the intention was different. Personally I don’t like this idea because at the age of 15 I don’t believe the teen would’ve been able to handle this behavior from an older man and would’ve either confronted him about it, or told someone else. Maybe if Tadzio had been older, like in his 20’s, and use to being seen as an object then maybe, but since he was so young this would’ve been all new to him and thus making him very uncomfortable very quickly and causing him to ultimately unravel.

Andresen’s performance is rather poor to boot. There were other good looking young actors who could’ve easily played the part in a more interesting way, but apparently Visconti was looking for a very specific type of look, but Andresen  appears uncomfortable throughout and has stated in interviews that his experience on the set was not a happy one. Bogarde in turn does quite well as he’s able to create a riveting performance despite having very little dialogue.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 5, 1971

Runtime: 2 Hours 10 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Luchino Visconti

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Xanadu (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Artist falls for muse.

Sonny (Michael Beck) is a struggling artist finding it impossible to make a living on his own forcing him to go back to working for Airflow records where his creative aspirations are squelched by business demands. He then starts bumping into Kira (Olivia Newton-John) and begins falling for her hard unaware that she isn’t human but instead a muse sent from another galaxy to help achieve his true artistic vision. She sets it up where he meets Danny (Gene Kelly) a former big band musician. Together he and Sonny work out a plan to turn an old empty building into a live music venue.

One of the bigger problems of this flamboyant concoction is that it doesn’t seem like hardly a movie at all as the story is threadbare and features a lot of banal dialogue and sterile characterizations between the musical numbers. The chief reason for this, at least according to Olivia on the DVD commentary, is that the script was written on the fly as the filming took place almost like something a bunch of amateurs would do. There is a rumor though that producer Joel Silver early on did lock one of the writers into a room for a couple of days and refusing to let him out until he ‘delivered’ a ‘great script’, which if that were the case then the writer should still be stuck there because that great script clearly never came about.

Fans of the movie will admit that the acting and plot are poor, but insist that the songs and set pieces make up for it, but it really doesn’t. A few of them were okay like the battle of the bands segment where at one end of the warehouse a 40’s band plays while at the end there’s a hard rock 80’s band only to eventually have them both merge. Overall though I found a lot the musical numbers to be surprisingly bland and uninspired with the best ones, which include Kelly dancing alongside Olivia and an animated segment, all getting added in after the primary filming had already completed.

Olivia is quite beautiful and I love her effervescent smile, but she’s no leading lady. Her singing is excellent, but has an actress her talent seems limited to playing only perky characters, so while this film was meant to jettison her career it instead only stifled it. Kelly, whose last film role this was, is engaging in support even though he pretty much just spends most of the time smiling and not much else.

The real surprise is seeing Beck. He had just come off his strong portrayal of Swan in the mega cult hit The Warriors and was at that point a hot commodity poised to be a Hollywood leading man for years to come, but instead pissed it all away by choosing this stinker as his follow-up. Since this thing bombed badly at the box office the subsequent offers he got were of the TV-movie and low budget variety.  I’m just not sure what he was thinking. It couldn’t have been the script that attracted him since there really wasn’t any. I can only presume he thought with Olivia on board and with the success she had with Grease that this would be a big hit like that one, so he took a calculate gamble and jumped-in, but it was clearly a big mistake.

The great actor Jack Lemmon once said only take movie roles if you’ve read the script and like it never just because you think it will be a hit because you’ll usually be proven wrong and I guess Beck had to learn that the hard way. He now makes a living solely by attending fan conventions where he signs autographs, but he never talks or promotes his appearance here just his work on The Warriors. I can only presume he’s embarrassed by it and he should be. It’s one thing to be in a lousy movie, but still give a strong performance, but his acting here is just as bad as the film and was enough to get him nominated for the Golden Raspberry Award as worst actor of 1980 though he ended up losing out to Neil Diamond in The Jazz Singer. 

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Greenwald

Studio: Universal

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

Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Messiah in the desert.

Based on the rock opera of the same name by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice, the story centers on the last days of Christ (Ted Neeley) and his interactions with one of his disciples named Judas (Carl Anderson).  Judas does not agree with the direction that Jesus is taking the group and the two share a falling out. The next day in Jerusalem Judas visits the Priests (Bob Bingham, Kurt Yaghjian), who have already made the decision that Jesus must die for the sake of the nation. Using money to bribe him they get Judas to reveal where Jesus will be staying. Then on the next night Judas arrives with guards who arrest Jesus where he’s then taken to the Priests home and sentenced to death.

This film is very similar to Godspell, which came out the same year and was also based off of a Broadway musical. In my opinion they should’ve combined the two into one as there’s not that much of a difference between them. Probably the biggest contrast is that one was filmed in New York City while this one was shot on-location in Beit Guvrin National Park in Israel.  While the extreme heat of the desert forced the cast to take breaks from filming every 20 minutes to hydrate it’s a definite plus cinematically since this was the location where the biblical stories took place and because few people from the US have ever been there, so the landscape holds a distinctive appeal.  Director Norman Jewison takes full advantage of the unique caves that were dug there centuries ago to create many interesting shots.

The cast of characters show a little more distinction and aren’t all dressed like free-spirited vagabonds from the early 70’s like in Godspell although they still act like hippies. Jesus in this film looks more like the accepted artist’s rendition of him as opposed to a clown, but he gets seriously overshadowed by Anderson’s flamboyant performance as Judas to the point that the whole movie would’ve been better served, and more interesting, had he been made the main character.

I enjoyed Yvonne Elliman’s ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’, which later became a chart topper, and ‘King Herod’s Song’, which gets performed with campy gusto by Josh Mostel. The film though makes the same mistake as the other one in that there’s no dialogue in-between songs it just goes from one musical number to the next, which gives it a dizzying quality. If you’re really into musicals, or its spiritual message, then you may enjoy it, but anyone looking for conventional type of storytelling will be put off from the very beginning.

I didn’t get why all the anachronisms that get thrown-in either. It starts out with everyone arriving to the scene on a bus like they’re present-day performance artists putting on a show, but then shifts into them becoming the parts that they’re playing until you can’t tell the difference. Several scenes feature army tanks and even airplanes, which were never a part of the actual time period, so why have them? If this was all done to make it ‘hip’ for modern audiences then it doesn’t work and for many will come-off as ridiculously kitschy, which it is.

The one thing it does do well (since I presume everyone, believer or non, knows the story I feel I don’t need to put a ‘Spoiler Alert’ on this one) is the crucifixion, which gets played-out in a far more intense way than in Godspell where he died on an electrical fence that lasted for less than a minute. Here it gets dark and genuinely disturbing and during the ’39 Lashes’ moment forced Neeley’s mother, who had attended the film’s world premiere, to walk out of the theater as she found it too intense.

From my vantage point it’s well produced, but shallow though Jewison did show the film to Pope Paul VI who proudly proclaimed “I believe it will bring more people around the world to Christianity than anything ever has before.” However, it was not without it’s share of controversy including from religious groups who accused it of being both blasphemous and anti-Semitic. Jewison even admitted, in response to the criticisms, that it was never meant to be anything authentic or deeply theological.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 7, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Norman Jewison

Studio: Universal

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

Cops and Robbers (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cops become the robbers.

Tom (Cliff Gorman) and Joe (Joseph Bologna) are two New York City policemen who are tired of their jobs and want to retire from the working world, but can’t because they need to support their families. They decide the only solution is to commit a heist by working with a local mob boss (John P. Ryan) to rob a Wall Street brokerage firm out of  bonds that cannot be traced. The two come up with an elaborate scheme  to pull it off during the day while the place is still open and they’re still in uniform. At first things go smoothly, but then two other cops show up forcing Tom and Joe to destroy the bonds they’ve just gotten their hands onto in order to avoid getting caught. While this helps them out of their immediate jam it still gets reported to the press that the place was robbed making the crime boss believe he has been taken advantage of and compelled to get revenge.

What stands out is how different this is from the conventional cop flick. Instead of having a loud, pounding score the music here is soft and tranquil like the breezy, warm climate of a tropical island, which is where both Tom and Joe wish they were. The cops aren’t portrayed as being authority figures either or compromised victims of a corrupt system, but just regular suburbanites trapped in a dead-end job like many people and looking for a way out.

The crime is done differently too. Usually, in most other cop flicks, once the robbery gets going you’ll see the pace speed up with fast edits, but here it gets played-out in real time, which actually makes it more intense. I enjoyed the camera cutting back and forth from showing things from Tom and Joe’s point-of-view as well as from the black-and-white monitor seen by the security guards. The authentic office atmosphere has many of the employees not even knowing a robbery is going on while the two main people who do realize what Tom and Joe are up to, well played by the elderly Shepperd Strudwick and a much younger African American actress named Ellen Holly, display odd reactions and facial expressions that doesn’t conform to the situation, but eventually gets explained by the big twist that comes later.

Gorman gives an awesome performance, which is made all the more impressive when you realize just 4 years earlier he was the highly effeminate gay character in The Boys in the Band, but here he’s a macho heterosexual. I kept waiting for him to reveal mannerisms of his past role, but instead he successfully pulls off being two diametrically different people with no connection to the other a feat not every actor, even some of the good ones, are able to do.

Bologna goes against type too. Usually he’s loud and brash, but here more quiet and nervous. In the Kino Lorber DVD bonus section he recounts a funny incident that happened to him during the production when he was forced to make a call home to his wife (actress Renee Taylor) in real-life. Since there were no such things as cellphones at the time he had to go to a nearby phone booth while still wearing the cop uniform of his character. It was there that he noticed a thug beating up a victim on the sidewalk and he shouted at the man to stop it. Since the man presumed Bologna was a cop it was enough to get him to run away, but then the other pedestrians started to harass Bologna for not chasing after the bad guy and arresting him. He tried to explain that he was just playing a policemen in a movie, but no one believed him.

The film’s final segment, which takes place in Central Park, is well choreographed and features a unique car chase.  It’s just a shame that Aram Avakian who burst onto the film scene with the provocative, ahead-of-its-time cult favorite End of the Roaddidn’t go on to direct more movies as he did only one more, 11 Harrowhouse, after this one before retiring to become the head of the film department at the State University of New York where he worked until his death in 1987. His approach here makes all the difference as he relies not on the typical cop formula action, but instead on the nuance.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: August 15, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Aram Avakian

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD

Garbo Talks (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: A dying mother’s wish.

Gilbert Rolfe (Ron Silver) is a grown man trying to hold down a full-time job, maintaining a marriage with Lisa (Carrie Fisher), and also keeping his social activist mother Estelle (Anne Bancroft) out of trouble. He soon learns though that his mother is dying of a brain tumor and her last wish is being able to meet Greta Garbo, the elusive movie star, in person. Gilbert doesn’t know how he’ll be able to find her, but spends most of his time diligently trying, which causes problems with both his job and marriage.

For the first hour the concept of trying to mix-in fable-like storyline with the bleak realities of day-to-day living actually works. Silver deserves top credit for making what could’ve been a very bland part as a schmuck that wasn’t too interesting or funny into an engaging character that the viewer feels more and more empathetic towards as the movie progresses. The sub-storyline though dealing with the breakup of his marriage and his subsequent relationship with his co-worker Catherine Hicks, who came across as being too kooky to be believable, I didn’t find necessary.

Bancroft gives a compelling performance as well and is particularly funny in the scene where she lectures a group of male construction workers in regards to the catcalls they give to the women walking past them. I found it disappointing though that the side-story dealing with her motivating one of the nurses, played by Antonia Rey, to demand that her union give them a higher pay rate at their next bargaining session was never played-out to its full conclusion. Having her ex-husband, played by Steven Hill, arrive at the hospital for a visit, but then not hearing them get into any type of conversation I found frustrating as well. There’s also a discussion that she has with Gilbert about how the cancer treatment will cause her hair to full out, but then that never happens, so why bring up something if it doesn’t ultimately connect with the plot?

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s biggest downfall though occurs at the end when a half-hearted attempt to use a double, played by Betty Comden, in place of the real Garbo. Apparently some efforts where made by the producers to see if Garbo would be willing to make a cameo appearance, but they were never able to make direct contact with her, so if a multi-million dollar film studio can’t adequately locate her how is some ordinary schmuck going to do it?

The way Gilbert is finally able to meet her, which ends up being at an outdoor flea market no less, is rather cheesy. He’s also only able to ‘recognize’ her from the back of her head, which is all the viewer pretty much ever gets to see too, so how would anyone know that was the right person just from that? The excuse he gives her to get her to come along with him to the hospital to see his dying mother would’ve been considered by most people in the same situation as just an excuse from a stalking fan to get her into his car, so he could kidnap her . Many celebrities must deal with obsessive fans all the time so how could anyone blame her for flatly turning him down, which is what she should’ve done and most likely would’ve occurred in reality.

Once Garbo does arrive at the hospital it’s Bancroft that does all of the talking making Garbo seem like a transparent ghost and not a real person. The film would’ve worked better had Gilbert given up on his attempts to find her and just hired an actress to pretend to be her, just like the movie itself ended up doing. This might not have satisfied everybody, but it at least it would’ve avoided becoming as hokey as it does.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 12, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The World’s Greatest Athlete (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Better than Jim Thorpe.

Sam Archer (John Amos) is the hapless head coach of the sports teams at Merrivale College where none of them have managed to win a single game in the 4 years that he he’s been there. He blames the problem on the inept student athletes and travels to Zambia with his assistant coach Milo (Tim Conway) to get back to his African roots. It is there that he comes upon Nanu (Jan-Michael Vincent) who possesses an amazing athletic ability. Sam is able to get Nanu to travel back with him to the US where he hopes he can place him on his many teams to get them to win, but finds an obstacle in the form of Gazenga (Roscoe Lee Browne) an African witch doctor who raised Nanu and has different ideas about what he thinks Nanu should become.

This film lost me right from the start with its inane and completely unbelievable plot. While I realize this was aimed at kids I still think it’s important to get a child to build a good logical foundation even in their early years and in that respect this film fails pathetically. The idea that all the sports teams at one school would be unable to win one single game in 4 years defies all laws of probability. Yes, there are many bad teams out there in both the pros and amateur level, but they can usually win a couple of games per season and the fact that none of them could here seems almost impossible.

Besides, isn’t it the coach’s responsibility to get the players to perform better and if he couldn’t shouldn’t he be blamed and not the players? Coaches are also in charge of recruiting prospects to come to the school, so if all he can bring in are inept stooges then that should be on him too. Most teams would’ve fired a coach with such a dismal record and yet in this film John Amos resigns when a school administrator puts ‘pressure’ on him to start winning even though 4 years should’ve been enough time to turn things around and anyone else in the same situation would’ve been given the boot long before.

The comic segments involving the athletes exaggerates their ineptness in an extreme way. One bit has a football players (played by David Manzy who later went on to star in the title role in the cult hit The Baby) hand the ball off to a player wearing the opposing team’s jersey and not realizing this was a stupid thing to do even though any first grader would know it was. For the comedy to be funny it has to have some bearing in reality and the ‘hilarious’ moments of sports bloopers that take up the film’s first several minutes don’t come even close.

On the plus side I did enjoy seeing Dayle Haddon in her film debut. While her character doesn’t have all that much to do or say I still found her youthful beauty nice to look at. Jan-Michael Vincent is at his attractive peak here too as this was fortunately filmed years before his self-destructive tendencies got the better of him. However, the character he plays, which is a lame parody of Tarzan, is incredibly dull. It would’ve been more interesting had he had some weakness that he had to overcome instead of just being super great at everything, which gets boring real fast.

Amos is quite amusing for his funny facial expressions alone and Conway has some engaging moments as well. I particularly liked him in the scene where Amos gives a televised interview and the camera zooms into him while Conway  desperately tries to get his face into the picture. The segment where Conway is shrunk to miniature size features some impressive special effects.

Some may enjoy Howard Cosell essentially playing himself as an obnoxious sportscaster who won’t allow his on-air partner, played by Joe Kapp, to say anything. However, this same bit was redone just 3 years later in the movie Gus where Bob Crane played the same type of egotistical announcer, but he was much funnier at it.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 4, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Robert Scheerer

Studio: Buena Vista Distribution Company

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Kiss Me Goodbye (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Her dead husband returns.

Three years after the death of her husband Jolly (James Caan) Kay (Sally Field) decides to move back into the house where her husband met his untimely fate when he fell down the home’s marble staircase. As she and her mother (Claire Trevor) get the home prepared for the arrival of her fiance Rupert (Jeff Bridges) she suddenly sees the vision of Jolly’s ghost in front of her. Only she can see, or hear it, which causes a great deal of confusion to those around her who all think she’s gone completely crazy.

The film is a loose remake of the Brazilian hit Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, which in itself was based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Jorge Amado although this one does not have the erotic edge that made that film so famous. The comedy takes too long to get going, is a bit heavy-handed at times, and puts no new interesting spin on the ghost theme making it seem like just another modern updating of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

The introduction of the ghost should’ve occurred after the couple was already married instead of before as it offers both Rupert and Kay too much of an easy out and the stakes needed to be higher. Kay still seemed very much in love with Jolly as she had a complete shrine of him in one of their rooms, so it would seem once the ghost of him arrived she’d have second thoughts of going through with the marriage even though that’s not what happens. As for Rupert it would’ve made more sense had he just walked out of the situation altogether since all the red-flags where there even before the ghost came about that she wasn’t completely over her first marriage and unable to give Rupert the full attention that he  wanted.

The cast is game for the most part although I felt Bridges looked much too boyish here almost like he was still in high school. Caan though is quite engaging and the one element that holds it all together even though he apparently disliked doing it. It’s also great seeing Claire Trevor in her first film appearance in 15 years and the outfits and hats that she wears look quite chic. Paul Dooley has a good funny bit at the end playing a former priest who tries to exorcise the ghost out of the home, which he mistakenly thinks possesses Kay’s dog (Shakespeare).

Much to my surprise I ended up laughing much more than I thought I would. Two of my favorite moments occurs when Rupert and Kay go traveling to a country lodge and stop off at a cafe where Rupert pretends to have a conversation with the ghost much to the confusion of a young boy (Barret Oliver) sitting at the table next to him. The fight that the two have later on while at the lodge, which causes the break-up of another couple (Alan Haufrect, Maryedith Burrell), who start to take sides, is quite good too.

Spoiler Alert!

I was laughing so hard at points I was ready to give this a 7 or 8 rating, but then it gets ruined by the stupid ending. The idea that the ghost would agree to just leave and never come back again was too convenient. Why would he have bothered to come back to this life at all, if he was going to be gotten rid of so easily?

Having Rupert slip down the same staircase that took Jolly’s life looks cheesy and unintentional funny. Jolly’s death was cheesy enough, but to do it a second time with someone else was dumb and what’s worse is that Rupert, even when he smashes his head onto the hard ground, comes back to life with no injuries. Why even have this scene at all if there was no point to it?

A better ending would’ve had Rupert killed the same way as Jolly and then come back as a ghost just like Jolly and then Kay could’ve enjoyed the two men at the same time. Possibly even have the menage a trois that had been tapped into in the first film, but nixed here because it was deemed American audiences would’ve been too prudish to accept.

I also thought it was a bit unbelievable that Jolly had all these affairs behind Kay’s back while he was alive and she seemed to have no clue it was going on. Most married people usually have a sense something isn’t right even if they can’t prove it. Having Kay’s friend Emily (Dorothy Fielding) admit to fooling around with Jolly and Kay not be bothered by it and just go on being friends with her didn’t jibe with me either.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 22, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Mulligan

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

The Mirror Crack’d (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Poison in her drink.

A Hollywood production company arrives in a small English village, where Miss Jane Marple (Angela Lansbury) resides, to film a costume drama. The film will star two actresses, Marina Rudd (Elizabeth Taylor) and Lola Brewster (Kim Novak), who are also bitter rivals. A reception is held to allow the villagers to meet the celebrities. During the reception Marina speaks with Heather Babcock (Maureen Bennett) a devoted fan who tells Marina about having met her years earlier backstage.  While she bores Marina with the details she also drinks a daiquiri cocktail that was laced with poison causing her to die and propelling Miss Marple, who is bedridden with an injured foot, and Inspector Craddock (Edward Fox) to investigate the case.

If there is one reason to checkout this otherwise so-so film it’s to see Taylor and Novak go at it as rival actresses. This was Taylor’s first feature film appearance in 4-years and, if you don’t count her cameo appearance in The Flintstones as well as 1987’s The Young Toscanini, which was never released in the US, the last one of her career. Her standout performance, which amounts to being a mixture of camp and poignant drama, more than makes it worth it and Novak is in top form as well playing-up the comic wickedness to a delicious level. Even Rock Hudson, who was reunited with Taylor 25 years after having done Giant together, does quite well as Marina’s exasperated husband.

Unfortunately Lansbury gets miscast as she was only in her mid-50’s while Marple was considered an elderly woman in her 70’s or 80’s. They dye her hair white in an attempt to make her appear older, but it still doesn’t quite work. It’s also a letdown not to have her in the majority of scenes like you’d expect. While I never read this Agatha Christie novel I have read some others as well as the movies that have been made from her works and all of them had the head detective taking an integral part in the investigation and not shackled up in her home doing nothing to propel the potentially engaging banter that she could have had with the suspects as she interviewed them. Ultimately the supporting cast gets more screen time than she, which was a waste.

The glossy cinematic element that was so apparent in other Agatha Christie movies like Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile is totally lacking here. Some of the on-location shooting does take place in what would be considered large mansions, but the interiors resemble rooms seen in any old building and convey no flair or distinction. Director Guy Hamilton admitted to not liking Agatha Christie’s books nor thinking much of the script, which he openly stated to the producers during the interview and yet they decided to hire him anyways,  but the result, with the exception of the kitschy film-noir opening bit, is mechanical while relying solely on the veteran cast to keep it interesting.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 19, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Guy Hamilton

Studio: Associated Film Distribution (AFD)

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