Daily Archives: December 31, 2011

Lady in a Cage (1964)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lady trapped in elevator.

Olivia de Havilland, who as of this writing is the last surviving cast member from the film Gone With the Wind, plays a upper-middle class woman by the name of Cornelia Hilyard who gets stuck in her household elevator when the power goes out. A homeless man (Jeff Corey) becomes aware of her predicament and with the help of his sleazy girlfriend (Ann Southern) tries to rob the place. When they sell some of her items at a pawn shop a trio of juvenile delinquents (James Caan, Jennifer Billingsley, Rafael Campos) follow the two back to the place where they spend the rest of the film terrorizing Ms. Hilyard and ransacking her house further.

As a concept the film has some interesting ideas and imagery. The stark black and white photography looks great and helps accentuate the plot’s grim reality. The opening sequence is pretty good with an announcer reading off various startling news reports that are coupled with troubling images like a young girl on roller skates kicking at a homeless person lying in the street. There is also the fact that this all occurs within a large home amidst an upscale neighborhood that is right next to a busy street, which makes for some intriguing symbolism.

However, as a thriller it ends up being quite dull.  There is very little action and much too much talking that seems to go nowhere. There are no twists of any kind and the climax is forced, unimaginative, and unexciting.  Any violence that does happen is conveniently done out of view. The bad guys are portrayed as being dumb, careless, and just waiting to screw up. It is probably due to the period it was made in, but this potentially brutal subject matter seems way too restrained to the point that there is never much tension. There is also the issue of the elevator, which isn’t all that high up. Cornelia could have dropped herself out of it, which she eventually does, but had she done it earlier none of this would have needed to happen.

De Havilland does a good job here, but at times comes close to over-acting especially with her scared facial expressions, which some might find unintentionally funny. This marked James Caan’s film debut.  He is a great actor with an impressive career, but his performance here is lacking.  He seems uncomfortable in the role as the antagonist and he never manages to reach the level of being menacing. The final shot of his demise though is very graphic especially for the time. Jennifer Billingsley is probably the best thing about the film. She is attractive and gives a solid performance as the most jaded member of the gang.

Normally I always say these one-note thrillers that get stretched too thin at feature length would work better in one of those old horror anthology series like “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour”, however even there this story would be pushing it. Basically, in this instance, if you have read the synopsis then you have essentially ‘seen’ the film.

The trailer for the film and movie poster as seen above is actually much more entertaining than the film itself.  An announcer sends dire warnings that this film is ‘extremely shocking subject matter’ and ‘should not be viewed alone’.  It is pretty funny and even funnier when you see how lame the movie actually is.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 8, 1964

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Walter Grauman

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

John and Mary (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sex and then relationship.

Considered provocative at the time this film detailed the new phenomenon of the one-night-stand, a fad in the late 60’s early 70’s that quickly went out of style upon the release of Looking for Mr Goodbar in 1977.  The story here details a rather nondescript man and woman (played by Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow) who meet at a singles bar and then go back to his place for sex.  The rest of the film involves them considering whether it can grow into a relationship.

The first ten minutes are pretty good. It nicely analyzes all the expected awkwardness one must have of waking up the next morning and not sure who you’ve been sleeping with. I liked how the John character secretly goes through Mary’s purse to find out more about her while Mary does the same with his telephone messages. Unfortunately after this segment Director Peter Yates unwisely decided to put in voice overs of their thoughts. This adds nothing to the proceedings and ends up being heavy-handed. It also takes away one of the fundamental points of good film-making, which is learning about characters through subtle visual observation.

The film is also no where near as sophisticated or daring as I think the film-makers would like us to believe. I expected, and would have like, the male character to have been a life-long swinger who has had many of these flings and now suddenly finds himself attracted to this woman and wants to go in a different direction. Instead we get a Hoffman character portrayed as being someone who has never done this before and only does so at the coaxing of his much more liberated friend.  This leads him to act all shy and unsure and coming off like an extension to the character he played in The Graduate. The end result is getting a very boring, bland person who responds to things in all the predicted ways instead of giving us a fresh new perspective by delving into the mind of someone living a lifestyle many of us have not experienced.  I also got a strong feeling that the film-makers had done very little research into this topic, thus giving the viewer no new insight whatsoever.  It ends up coming off like one of those trendy ‘statement movies’, but with no idea of what statement it actually wants to make.

There is no chemistry between Hoffman and Farrow at all.  Nothing is shown that would indicate why these two would want to pursue this thing any further. I actually found the scenes involving the side-story of Farrow’s affair with an older college professor (Michael Tolan) to be more interesting and filled with stronger more snappy dialogue.

In the end this ‘provocative drama’ deteriorates into being an uninspired love story. It concludes with the tired, cliche ridden scene of having John madly driving around the city of New York looking for this mysterious woman who he is convinced he is in love with despite the fact that he still does not know what her name is.  It is easy to see how, in Hoffman’s very distinguished career, why this film remains one of his lesser known efforts.

On the technical side this film is actually well done.  I liked how it inter-cut between the present day and the past as well as analyzing the previous relationships of the two characters. This film also offers a nice chance to see a young Tyne Daly as Farrow’s roommate.  Cleavon Little from Blazing Saddles fame appears briefly as a would-be film director.  Olympia Dukakis  has an amusing, non-speaking bit as Hoffman’s activist Mother.  This also marks the film debut of character actress Marian Mercer.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Yates

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD