The Competition (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pianists fall-in-love.

Paul (Richard Dreyfuss) is a gifted, but frustrated pianist. He has entered many classical piano competitions, but has always come just short of winning first prize. He wants to take one last stab at it, but his parents (Philip Sterling, Gloria Stroock) push him to settle down with a regular job and consistent pay. Paul though decides to forge on with his hopes at receiving a medal by entering a contest that will allow for a financial grant and 2 years of concert engagements for the winner. It is there that he meets Heidi (Amy Irving) who is also competing for the same prize. She immediately becomes smitten with him having met him a couple of years earlier at a music festival. She tries to get into a relationship with him despite warnings from her piano teacher (Lee Remick) who feels it might soften ‘her edge’ and allow him to attain the award instead of her.

The film does a masterful job at recreating a realistic atmosphere of a piano competition including showing the judges meticulously following each note on the sheet music they have at hand as the contestant performs while also taking studious notes of each performer afterwards before finally settling on a winner. The viewer is given a broad understanding of all six contestants involved helping to give the movie a fuller context on the human drama that goes on behind-the-scenes in these types of competitions while also showing how parents and instructors can at times be great motivators, but also crippling nags.

Watching the actors mimic the playing of a pianist is another major asset. Usually films dealing with pianists will never show the actor’s hands on the keys, but instead shoot them from behind the piano while editing in close-ups of a professional pianist’s hands later. Here though the actors, with the help and training of music consultant Jean Evensen Shaw, convincingly move their fingers along the keys in tandem with the music. How they were able to later effectively edit in the sound to stay on track with the finger movements and vice-versa is an amazing thing in itself, but watching the actors literally ‘play the piano’  helps to heighten the film’s realism and make watching the concert footage, which gets amazingly drawn out, quite fascinating.

The film has a terrific supporting cast as well including Lee Remick as Heidi’s no-nonsense instructor who looks at Heidi’s budding relationship with Paul with immediate cynicism and isn’t afraid to bluntly speak out about it either. Sam Wanamaker has the perfect look and demeanor of an orchestra conductor and the scene where Paul decides to ‘show him how it’s done’ by taking a stab at conducting is the film’s highlight.

The weakest element though is the romance and the movie would’ve worked better had this been only a side-story instead of the main focus. The idea that Heidi has to do all the sacrificing and at one point even considers dropping out of the competition because it’s ‘more important to him that he wins it’ is sexist. Woman can be just as competitive as men and sometimes even more so. The story would’ve been better served had they both been portrayed as fierce competitors who deep down have mutual feelings for the other, but remain guarded and slowly shows a softer side as the contest progresses and then only when it is finally over does the romance really blossom.

Having Heidi constantly chase after Paul, who is extraordinarily arrogant, is ridiculous. After his initial rebuff she should’ve quickly moved-on as she was pretty and there were plenty of other men for her choose from instead of having her literally throw herself at him like she were some dimwitted groupie. It was bizarre as well that when Paul finds out that is father is dying that Heidi is the first person he decides to turn to for comfort and solace. This is well before a relationship was established and the two had only spoken to each other in passing, so why does Paul consider her a trusted emotional confidant and shouldn’t he most likely have other friends that he would’ve known longer that he could go to instead?

The film has a side-story dealing with a Kazakh performer (Vicki Kriegler) whose instructor (Bea Silvern) decides to defect to the U.S. during the competition, which takes the film in too much of a different direction that distracts from the main theme and should’ve been cut out completely. I also thought it was odd that the music played over the closing credits is a disco sounding song. We’ve just spent 2 hours listening to classical piano music, so shouldn’t the music at the end have been kept with the same theme/sound?  Otherwise this is still a terrific study showing the emotional and mental sacrifices that go in to achieving success and how staying too focused on a central goal can sometimes affect a person’s relationships with their friends, family and lovers.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 3, 1980

Runtime: 2Hours 6Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joel Oliansky

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Wild Seed (1965)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Runaway falls for drifter.

Daphne (Celia Kaye) is a 17-year-old who runs away from her foster parents (Woody Chambliss, Eva Novak) in order to meet her biological father (Ross Elliot) who resides in Los Angeles. On her journey from the east coast to the west she meets up with Fargo (Michael Parks) a drifter who teaches her the ropes of surviving on the streets. As their trip progresses so does Daphne’s feelings for Fargo who resists her advances despite having feelings for her as well.

This black-and-white mid ‘60s drama has too much of the same trappings of the teen runaway films that came both before and after it. There’s just nothing that particularly distinguishes it from the others, which hurts the ability of the viewer from getting into it because you think right from the start that you’ve essentially ‘seen it all before’. The film also has very little action and Daphne who at times acts with extraordinary naiveté could’ve had far worse things happen to her than what does giving the film a sanitized feel in regards to the runaway experience.

Kaye, who later went on to marry famous writer/director John Milius, lacks visual appeal and fails to seem all that ‘wild’ despite what the film’s title suggests. Much of the time she comes off as someone who is quite sheltered and timid about things and not anyone who would even consider going out recklessly into the world without much ‘street smarts’ to go with it. Her character shifts from being overly paternal about certain things, particularly the ‘lectures’ that she gives to Fargo, to acting incredibly naïve making her character lack any type of real center. She also fails to display a vulnerable side just a crusty defensive one. Instead of being someone the viewer cares for she replicates a pesky nag nobody would want hanging around.

Parks, in his film debut, channels James Dean a bit too much while his character remains an enigma that we learn very little about. The fact that he resists Daphne sexual advances, at least initially, was confusing as usually it’s the man that makes the first move. I kept figuring there had to be some reason for it that would come out later, like for instance he was secretly gay or insecure about his ability to perform, and yet no explanation is ever given.

The second-half improves as this is the type of film that grows on you if you’re patient. I enjoyed some of the long shots showing to the two from an extreme distance making them look like tiny little ants on the landscape, which nicely accentuates their place in the world as a whole. Bringing in the parents, both the biological and foster ones helps add to the drama and fills in the holes of the story, but having a relationship develop between the two leads didn’t seem authentic. Spending so much time trying to survive on the outer fringes of society doesn’t allow for much else most of all a romance. The film would’ve been more interesting had it expanded its timeline and shown how things ended up for the two 5 or even 10 years later and whether the relationship had remained, or whether they were even still alive at all.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 5, 1965

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Brian G. Hutton

Studio: Universal

Available: None at this time.

The Right Stuff (1983)

 

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The American space program.

Based on the 1979 best-selling novel by Tom Wolfe, the film explores the history of the American space program starting in 1947 when test pilot Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepherd) successfully broke the sound barrier and then moving into the selection and training of the men who would lead the exploration into space culminating with John Glenn’s historic orbiting flight of the earth on February 20, 1962.

The film was a darling of the critics, but did poorly at the box office and I suspect this is due mainly to over reliance on comedy that eventually becomes off-putting. When doing a film dealing with historical events I don’t mind some comedy as real-life can always have its fair share of funny moments, but writer/director Philip Kaufman becomes obsessed with squeezing every ounce of humor that he can from each and every scene, sometimes even going off on tangents with it, until it seems like that’s more of the film’s focus. At the start there’s an okay blend, but then it gets out-of-control wacky, which creates a surreal world that seems to mock the events instead of tell them. The viewer also has to question whether the filmmaker’s, in their zeal to get a laugh in any way that they can, are really showing us something that is accurate or whether that was even a concern.

There’s also too many characters and they all possess the same clichéd all-American-fearless-good-ole’-boy charm that makes them indistinguishable from the other. The film should’ve had only one central character that the rest of the story revolved around. Supposedly the Chuck Yeager character (the actual Chuck Yeager appears briefly as a bartender) was supposed to do this by having him reappear throughout, but he is gone for so much of the time that you essentially forget about him.

This also becomes a problem when dealing with the story thread of Gus Grissom (Fred Ward) who supposedly ‘panics’ when his spacecraft splashes down. Because we never really get to know any of these characters on any deep level we have no clue why he behaves the way that he does. The scene where he supposedly explodes the hatch’s bolts, which in turn sinks the craft is disputed in its accuracy anyways, but it hurts the film’s pace either way. Spending virtually three hours being comical and then throwing in a highly dramatic element almost out of nowhere is jarring and then just as frustratingly it drops it without any suitable conclusion or exploration as to what might’ve really happened or why.

The production values are excellent, which is why I couldn’t hate it, but the movie also has tendency to one-up itself with each and every progressing scene and thus making John Glenn’s orbiting flight, which should’ve been the film’s highpoint, get lost in the shuffle. There’s also too much of a flag-waiving mentality that almost resembles a government produced propaganda film and helps give the movie an overblown, overreaching feeling when it’s over.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 21, 1983

Runtime: 3Hours 13Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Philip Kaufman

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Mr. Majestyk (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t touch his watermelons!

Vince Majestyk (Charles Bronson) is a Colorado watermelon farmer who gets into a conflict with Bobby (Paul Koslo) who wants to force Vince to use unskilled drunks to harvest his crop instead of migrant workers. When Vince successfully forces Bobby and his crew off of his property Bobby then goes to the police with assault charges, which lands Vince in jail. It is there that he comes into contact with Frank Renda (Al Lettieri) a notorious hit man. While the two are being transferred by bus to another prison Renda’s men attack it in a shootout, but when the driver is killed Vince takes control of the bus and drives it off into the Colorado wilderness. There he holds Renda hostage while trying to broker a deal with the police where he’ll ‘trade’ Renda for his freedom, but things don’t go quite as planned.

Many people don’t realize that during the ‘70s Bronson did quite a few offbeat films with St. Ives and From Noon Till Three being his two biggest, but this one comes in as an honorable mention. I’ve watched a lot of movies in my lifetime and can usually guess where they’re going, but this one kept me genuinely intrigued most of the way. The script is enlivened with its vivid on-location shooting done mostly in La Junta, Colorado, which includes a well-staged shootout done in the center of town as well as a car chase that takes advantage of an area with scenic rock formations.

The biggest surprise though is Bronson. Sometimes he comes off as stiff and wooden, but here he’s engaging and even reveals a playful side. His character also makes a few miscalculations, which helps him seem more human as opposed to the standard rugged good guy who is always able to think-on-his-feet and constantly able to achieve miraculous split-second decisions.

I was disappointed though with Al Lettieri. He was so effectively nasty in The Getaway that I didn’t think it could be topped or even attempted and yet just two years after that one he again gets cast in virtually the same type of role making it seem like typecasting to the extreme. I was hoping that he would expose a softer side to his persona at some unexpected moment, but it never occurs and he just proceeds to being one mean, angry s.o.b. which quickly becomes boring and one-dimensional.

Lee Purcell though is terrific as his girlfriend. She had played only rural, country girl types before this, so it was great seeing her portray someone more sophisticated and despite her young age, only 26 at the time, she shows great composure alongside her much older male co-stars. Her cool, collected manner makes for an intriguing contrast to Lettieri’s hyper one and should’ve been explored more.

Linda Cristal as Bronson’s love interest is less impressive. Playing a feisty Hispanic woman comes off almost like a cliché and their relationship is forced. She does come in handy as the getaway driver, which I feel is the only reason her character was put into the story to begin with.

Despite the unpredictable touches the beginning is quite contrived, which includes an opening title sequence better suited for a TV-show. The script was written by Elmore Leonard, which made it disappointing as I was expecting there to be some sort of subtext to it, but in the end it’s rather run-of-the-mill with the offbeat elements not enough to make it anything more than a transparent diversion.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 12, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Fleischer

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Only When I Laugh (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Actress is an alcoholic.

Georgia Hines (Marsha Mason) has just been released from a 12-week alcohol rehab program and returns to her Manhattan apartment looking to readjust to civilian life with the help of her two friends; Jimmy (James Coco) a gay unemployed actor and Toby (Joan Hackett) a woman unhappy at turning middle-aged. To Georgia’s surprise Polly (Kristy McNichol) her 17 year-old-daughter shows up wanting to move in with her and ‘patch things up’ from their tumultuous past. Georgia isn’t sure she’s emotionally ready, but forges ahead and things start out okay, but then the demons from the past rear their ugly head forcing mother and daughter to face some harsh realities both about themselves and each other.

The film is based on Neil Simon’s Broadway play ‘The Gingerbread Lady’ that starred Maureen Stapleton and ran for 193 performances. It was not considered a success and when adapted to a film Simon made changes to the story, but to me it all seemed like every other Neil Simon dramedy that he’s done before. Both this film and The Goodbye Girl that also starred Mason featured male characters that were struggling to become professional actors. Both this film and Chapter Two, which again starred Mason, had characters who were playwrights going through writer’s block. His films always take place in New York and have characters who see analysts, and can apparently make enough to afford them. I realize there’s the old adage ‘write what you know’ and that’s exactly what Simon is doing, but it would be nice if he’d get a little bit out of his comfort zone as nothing that gets shown here seems fresh or original.

The first hour is way too serene and I would’ve expected much more of a frosty relationship between mother and daughter, but instead for the most part they get along great, at least initially. There are some passing references to previous drama, but I felt this should’ve been shown and not just talked about. The second half improves significantly with some strong scenes, but I’m afraid that with such a lifeless beginning most viewers will have fallen asleep before it even gets there.

McNichol is excellent and every bit Mason’s equal, but this exposes another of Simon’s weaknesses, which is that although he’s good at writing character parts for adults he seems unable to do so for anyone younger. In The Goodbye Girl the Quinn Cummings character seemed too infantile for a 10-year-old and here McNichol is more like a 20-something and the intended mother-daughter drama more like just two girlfriends rooming together.

Coco and Hackett are excellent and help hold things together and the movie does manage to deliver, at least in the second-half, but I couldn’t help but feel that Simon had gone to this well too often and was starting to lose his edge. You can also spot young Kevin Bacon as a college dude trying to pick and Mason and McNichol as they eat at a café.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1981

Runtime: 2Hours

Rated R

Director: Glenn Jordan

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available:  DVD-R, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Cat from Outer Space (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cat alien seeks assistance.

Jake (voice of Ronnie Schell) is an alien who closely resembles a cat that lands his disabled spaceship on earth and is unable to get help from his mothership to return back to his planet. Using his powerful collar that allows him to speak telepathically he seeks the assistance of Frank Wilson (Ken Berry) a lab assistant who seems smart enough to understand Jake’s dilemma. Before they can do anything though the army comes in and takes the spaceship and stores it inside a warehouse under tight security forcing Frank and the cat to break into the building in order to retrieve the ship and get the cat back to his planet.

I admit that when I was 9-years-old I watched this movie and came away thinking it as ‘pretty cool’ and for a kid I suppose this could still seem passable, but for any discerning adult it’s nothing more than mumbo-jumbo sci-fi. The biggest issue is the collar, which allows the cat way too much power.  He, or anyone else touching it, can do virtually anything even flying through the air or moving other objects through mind control. The thing is so powerful that you hardly feel that the cat is in any type of real danger, which hurts any potential tension. The plot has one caveat, which is if the collar is ever taken off of the cat then he is helpless. Yet this rarely occurs and when it does he, or somebody else, is able to retrieve it quickly making this plot-point a mute issue. The collar even allows him to fly a disabled plane making me wonder why then he couldn’t just use it to do the same thing to his disabled spaceship.

Spoiler Alert!

The film is different from other Disney films of that era in that it doesn’t end with a climactic car chase, but instead has a hair-rising finish in the air with Berry standing on top of an airplane wing trying to rescue his girlfriend Sandy Duncan who is trapped on a helicopter that has no pilot. The stunt work for this is quite impressive and exciting, but I kept wondering how long a helicopter could go in the air without a pilot before it would spin out-of-control and crash. Of course this finally does occur once Duncan is conveniently rescued, but I kind of felt in reality it would’ve happened much sooner.

The film’s final scene involves the cat getting sworn in as a United States citizen, which is pretty loopy since he’s still allowed to go around wearing his collar, but how could the government trust anyone with that since it would virtually allow them to do just about anything? And wouldn’t it attract foreign powers looking to steal if for their own nefarious means making the film’s ending seem more like just a beginning to a far more complex subplot.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The cast is unusual for a typical Disney film too in that there’s not a single child or teen present even though it’s a movie aimed for kids. Instead it has Berry who is so utterly benign he becomes offensive in his inoffensiveness. McLean Stevenson as his sports betting pal is fun and Harry Morgan is quite amusing playing another one of his blustery overly-authoritative characters. Schell, who speaks for the cat, gets a small role as one of the members of the army, but has his voice dubbed. James Hampton, who appeared with Berry in the TV-show ‘F-Troop’, can be spotted in a small role as well.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 9, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated G

Director: Norman Tokar

Studio: Buena Vista

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Podcast: An Enemy of the People (1978)

Listen to me discuss with Todd Liebenow from Forgotten Films the movie ‘An Enemy of the People’ a really obscure 1978 film starring Steve McQueen in an atypical role as a scientist living in 1800’s Norway. Todd fills his podcast with a lot of old commercials and movie clips as well.  My written review of the film will follow later in the week.

https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/forgottenfilmcast/episodes/2018-04-10T18_48_20-07_00

The Concorde … Airport ’79 (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Missile targets passenger plane.

A corrupt arms dealer, Kevin Harrison (Robert Wagner), has his deadly surface-to-air missile system target a Concorde airplane while it’s in the air when he finds out that one of the passengers on board, a news reporter named Maggie Whelan (Susan Blakely), has incriminating information on him that she plans to report on once the plane lands. Captain Joe Patroni (George Kennedy) uses his superior piloting skills to avoid the missile, but then learns Harrison has installed a device on the plane that knocks-out its cargo door causing the plane to literally rip apart and forcing a dangerous emergency landing in the Alps.

This terrible idea for a movie came from its producer Jennings Lang who greedily wanted to squeeze out a story from an already tired formula if he felt it could continue to make a profit. Sometimes it’s best to get out while you’re ahead, but Lang, who wrote the story for this one, didn’t see it that way and ended up making a clunker that’s even worse than Airport 1975, which was already notorious for being one of the worst disaster flicks ever made. The plot here has all the trappings of being written by someone more interested in turning a profit than creating an actual movie as the characters are one-dimensional and the situations contrived.

The espionage undertone makes it seems more like a James Bond flick with most of the action occurring on the ground than in the airplane. Watching the plane trying to avoid the missile isn’t exciting because the unconvincing special effects clearly look like images being matted onto the screen. The scenes showing the passengers screaming as the plane turns upset down become laughable and get shown with a boring regularity. The part where Eddie Albert’s chair goes through the floor is the film’s unintentional comic highpoint particularly when he states “I thought I had the best seat on the plane.”

Yet the craziest element in the story is the fact that the plane, after the passengers spent the whole flight being terrorized by incoming missiles, lands in Paris and the people spend the night in a hotel. Then the next day they all happily board the plane again, which simply would not happen as there is no way that anyone anywhere would get back onto a plane, especially so quickly if ever, after what they had just gone through.

George Kennedy gives a solid performance and helps to give the film some minor credibility in what would turn out to be his last major film role as he would be relegated to minor supporting roles and B-movies afterwards. The rest of the cast though either gets wasted; particularly Mercedes McCambridge who only gets a few speaking lines, or become just plain irritating.

Jimmie Walker is the most annoying playing a goofball who boards the plane while still carrying his saxophone, which would never be allowed in reality, and even starts playing it creating worse noise pollution than the singing nun did in Airport 1975 and should’ve been enough to have had him thrown off the airline…while it was still in the air. Tacky B-celebrity Charo appears briefly as a nutty lady who tries bringing her dog on board. Fortunately she gets booted off before the plane takes off because otherwise I would’ve been rooting for it to have crashed.

The only interesting aspect about the movie is the plane itself. The Concorde was the fastest commercial jet built that had maximum speeds that were twice the speed of sound. I thought it was cool the way the plane light up signs informing the passengers once they had reached Mach 1 and made me wish I could’ve flown on one, but sadly the Concorde ceased operations in 2003 even though flying in one was quite safe. Ironically the only crash that occurred during its 30 year history happened with the plane that was used in this film, Flight 4590, which crashed minutes after take-off on July 25, 2000, killing all 109 on board.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 17, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated PG

Director: David Lowell Rich

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Ironweed (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life on the streets.

It’s the 1930’s and Francis Phelan (Jack Nicholson) has been living on the streets for over two decades. At one time he was a promising baseball player with a bright future, but then he accidently dropped his infant son and killed him. Dealing with the guilt and shame of it turned him into an alcoholic who roams the cold streets of Albany, New York looking for odds jobs and handouts when he can. He seeks out his lover Helen (Meryl Streep) for companionship and the two share a bottle of booze and their bitterness at the world that is ambivalent to their desperate situation.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by William Kennedy, who also wrote the screenplay and is directed by Hector Babenco who received wide claim for directing Pixote a film that dealt with homelessness in Brazil. This film is without question one of the best to tackle the lives of street people. Most films tend to treat the subject rather timidly and only analyze the topic from a distance (i.e. having a side character who is homeless, or maybe a main character who is temporarily on the streets), but this film engrosses the viewer completely into the homeless lifestyle while supplying absolutely no letup to their bleak existence. The result is a fascinating and revealing journey that shows how complex and multi-dimensional these people actually are while exposing every facet of the homeless experience including the indignities and dehumanization that they must face on a daily basis.

The casting is interesting particularly for the fact that both Nicholson and Streep had just starred together in Heartburn a year earlier playing a couple on the completely opposite side of the socio-economic scale. I commend Nicholson for tackling a challenging role that goes completely against his persona as normally he plays flamboyant types with over-the-top personalities, so it’s great seeing him take on a humble one who feels and acts like a complete miniscule to the world around him. However, the scenes where he interacts with the ghostly visions of people he has murdered in the past does not come off as successfully as it could’ve. The imagery is interesting, but the fact that he had played a character already that dealt with similar types of ghostly visions in The Shining causes the viewer to think back too much to that film and takes them out of this one.

Streep is outstanding and her constant ability to completely submerse herself into her characters and take on different accents with an amazing authenticity never ceases to amaze me. She really looks the part too by not only wearing no make-up, but having her teeth stained and darkened to effectively give off that decayed look. I’m genuinely floored at how many times most films neglect to do this. Actors portraying characters in destitute environments, or from the old west, may convey the down-and-out or rugged look physically, but their teeth still always look great when in reality they should’ve been in as bad of shape or worse as the rest of their bodies.

The supporting cast is good but they have little to do, which includes Fred Gwynne who appears briefly as a bartender. Carroll Baker though is excellent as Nicholson’s ex-wife. She was a blonde beauty that burst onto the scene in the ‘50s and was billed as the next Marilyn Monroe, but her acting ability quickly became suspect and by the ‘60s she was relegated to low budget B-movies and European productions, but in the ‘80s she made a Hollywood comeback in supporting roles and her appearance here was clearly her best performance and proves that she really could act. Margaret Whitton is also a standout as she takes part in one of the film’s few lighthearted moments as an eccentric woman who is prone to histrionic fainting spells and walking outside without any clothes.

The film though does suffer from a few too many dramatic peaks, which includes having two of Nicholson’s homeless friends die almost simultaneously, which only helps to lessen the effect by squeezing out more drama than it needs to, but overall this is a top notch effort where every scene and utterance rings true.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1987

Runtime: 2Hours 23Minutes

Rated R

Director: Hector Babenco

Studio: TriStar Pictures

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

Airport ’77 (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Plane crashes into ocean.

Rich tycoon Philip Stevens (James Stewart) invites his high society friends to his home in Palm Beach, Florida by flying them over on his luxury jet. Unfortunately a gang of hijackers have decided to use this opportunity to steal some expensive artwork, which is also on the plane, by rigging the venting system with sleeping gas, which temporarily knocks-out the Captain (Jack Lemmon) along with all the passengers. Then as everyone sleeps the thieves steal the artwork while the co-captain (Robert Foxworth), who is in on the crime, pilots the plane, but while going into some heavy fog the plane grazes an offshore oil rig that sends the craft and everyone on it into the ocean forcing the panicked people to figure out some way to signal those on the ground that they need help.

Although Airport 1975 did well at the box office it was critically maligned and producer Jennings Lang wanted to come up with some way to keep the theme fresh and inventive. In most ways the film succeeds and can be considered an admirable sequel as the silly humor from the first two is taken out and the audience gets left with a high adrenaline disaster flick that is convincing and compelling.

Unfortunately the first 35 minutes almost kills it as the film is too intent on setting up contrived soap opera-like storylines for all of its characters. The lovesick gaze that Kathleen Quinlan gives to blind musician Tom Sullivan as he plays a romantic tune on the piano is sappy enough to make some viewers want to turn the movie off completely. The side-story dealing with Lemmon’s relationship with head stewardess Brenda Vaccaro was not needed, although the way he rescues her at the end is quite cool, and is too similar to one between Dean Martin’s and Jacqueline Bisset’s characters in the first film. Lee Grant can play a bitch with a capital ‘B’, but here it gets over-the-top making her so unlikable I didn’t care if she lived or died. I was hoping that, through the course of the film, her character would be forced to show a sympathetic side at some point, but she never does.

If you can get past the clunky beginning then you’ll be rewarded with a genuinely exciting and tense second-half. The special effects are well done and watching the cast, who bravely did most of their own stunts, get doused with gallons of rushing water inside the plane is a tense and impressive moment.

Lemmon is excellent and his presence helps elevate it from just being a cheesy disaster flick. Christopher Lee is good in an uncharacteristically sympathetic role making me believe that maybe he should’ve played more of these types of parts in his career. Foxworth is also effective as the duplicitous co-pilot. He’s played bad guys before, so watching him become evil wasn’t a stretch, but I enjoyed how the camera cuts back occasionally to show his guilt-ridden face as he watches the others struggle to survive.

Screen icon James Stewart is wasted in a part that gives him very little to do other than standing around with a perpetually concerned look on his face and it would’ve been more interesting having him on the plane with the others. George Kennedy gets his token appearance as Joe Patroni the only character to appear in all four Airport films, but it hardly seems worth it. His caustic, brash personality that made him so engaging in the first movie is completely lost here making him dull and transparent and virtually pointless to the main story.

While it does seem a bit too similar to The Poseidon Adventure it still has some great underwater footage particularly when the rescue naval crew puts balloons underneath the craft in an attempt to lift the plane out of the water, which is unique and not shown in any other movie and makes this worth catching just for that.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 11, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jerry Jameson

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube