Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Eiger Sanction (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Clint goes mountain climbing.

Dr.  Jonathan Hemlock (Clint Eastwood) is a retired assassin and mountain climber now working as a college art and history professor. However, due to his penchant of collecting rare paintings he is sucked in to doing hits from time to time by an obscure government bureau in order to help pay for his expensive collection of artwork. His assignment this time is to track down the Russian assassin who killed his old army buddy that at one time had saved his life while back in the war. The identity of this killer is not known, the only thing that is known is that the man walks with a limp and is a part of a team of mountain climbers set to scale the foreboding Eiger Mountain in the Swiss Alps.

Eastwood’s foray into the spy genre while entertaining enough to be considered passable still ends up being a misfire. Sure it is fun to see him go a bit against type especially with the accepted image of the spy. Here he wears glasses and actually turns down the advances of beautiful women at least when approached by an attractive student who states she is willing to do ‘anything’ in order to get better grades. It is even fun hearing him speak like a flaming homosexual when he disguises himself as a gay delivering man. However, the overall hokey premise does not suit Eastwood’s rugged persona and mentality. He seems stiff, out-of-place and unemotional most of the way and never believable. I also couldn’t buy into the idea that this paid assassin was actually a deep and philosophical man who abhorred the violence.  A person who becomes as good of a killer as this character is purported to being would have to have some deep dark passion for it in order to spend as much time doing it as he does.

The supporting cast does not fare much better. Dragon (Thayer David) who is head of the secret government bureau that recruits Roger is over-the-top and cartoonish as an albino man who must live in almost complete darkness in an underground temperature controlled room. George Kennedy gets another bland, thankless role this time as Ben Bowman the man who helps train Roger to climb the mountain. It seems like once he won the Academy Award for Best supporting actor in 1967 for Cool Hand Luke his career when straight downward. I also didn’t like the names given to the characters, which were supposedly done as an ‘inside joke’. The last name of Hemlock for the main character is too obvious and naming the black prostitute Jemima seemed even worse.

The only actor and character that comes off well here is Jack Cassidy as the gay man named Miles Mellough who walks around with a pet poodle named Faggot while playing a crafty game of cat and mouse with Jonathan. The character is both threatening and amusing and it was a real shame that he gets killed off in the middle as he could have made the tension more interesting had he stayed on until the end.

Most critics have described the pacing as ‘sluggish’ although I thought it was alright and it gets sprinkled so much with Eastwood’s amusing one-liners that it is always entertaining. The only real issue I had in this area is the first part, which seems unnecessary. It has Jonathan flying out to Switzerland to kill one of the killers only to come back and then fly out again to get the other one. This all becomes redundant and the scene involving the assassination of the first killer is poorly choreographed and edited.

The film’s main redeeming quality is the mountain climbing sequences, which is impressive. I loved the bird’s-eye view camera shots that captured the majestic landscape both in the scenes at Monument Valley as well as in Europe. The fact that Eastwood did almost all of his own climbing and stunts is equally impressive. There looks to be a lot of research put into the making of this film and the climbing segments are well shot and authentic looking. The climax atop of the Eiger becomes a bit drawn out and if anything I found the climb that Eastwood and Kennedy did on the ‘Tootem Pole’ in Utah in the middle of the movie to be more exciting and breath taking.

(Spoiler Alert)

The biggest, most glaring problem that I had with this movie comes at the very end with the ‘surprise’ identity of the killer, which turns out to be the Kennedy character who is finally seen walking with a limp. This though makes no sense because if the man had a limp how was he able to disguise it for so long during the many weeks that he spent with Jonathan during their training and how was he able to climb up the mountain with Jonathan in Utah. The fact that none of this gets answered and almost seems over-looked really makes this thing seem pointless and poorly thought out.

(End of Spoiler Alert)

Rod Whitacker who wrote the novel of which this movie is based labeled this film as being ‘vapid’ and I would have to agree. The story seems to borrow a lot of the same ingredients from other spy films without adding anything new or original of its own.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 21, 1975

Runtime: 2Hours 3Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Clint Eastwood

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Privilege (1967)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen idol is pawn.

A British pop singer by the name of Steven Shorter (Paul Jones) becomes a major hit with the young teen audience of the day and his managers realize they have a powerful and influential weapon on their hands.  They assign him to do an ad for apples and soon everyone is eating apples. They then use him as an example to support God and Country by making him sing a rock rendition of ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’.  With the help of some high-ranking church leaders they get him to introduce a Nazi type salute to everyone in order for them to show their allegiance.  Steven is aware of how he is being manipulated and is unhappy with it, but can’t seem to find a way out it.

This reminded me a lot of the Fonzi character on the old ‘Happy Days’ TV-show from the 70’s, a character with a rebel image who eventually became benign and unrealistic when the producers tried to turn him into a role model for his young audience. The film’s message is certainly a good one and as pertinent today as ever.   Unfortunately it is done in an extremely heavy-handed way that made this viewer feel like he was being hit over-the-head.

I became a fan of director Peter Watkins after seeing the pseudo-documentary Punishment Park where a group of hippies are thrown into the dessert and forced by the military to play a brutal game of survival.  That film featured some emotionally charged scenes that were amazing and the execution was so flawless that it seemed almost authentic.  This film takes the same documentary approach, but it is not as consistent with it nor as effective.  The result is a weird mishmash between the surreal and allegorical to the dramatic and satirical and it never comes together as a whole. It does contain a few moments of funny humor, but there needed to be more of it and most of it comes in film’s first half. The drama is awkward and at times clumsy. It ended up leaving me alienated with it.

I had equally mixed feelings with the lead character.  He was played by Paul Jones better known as the lead singer to the 60’s group Manfred Mann who did such hits as ‘Do-Wah Diddy’ and ‘Mighty Quinn’.  He certainly had the chiseled, boyish good looks that one would expect from a teen idol and resembled Jim Morrison from The Doors.  However, he seems passive to extreme with no ability to ever stand up for himself.  Although looks are certainly one element, a rock star also needs to have some charisma and this guy had none and I would think the public would quickly see that.  He allows his managers to almost completely dominate him and the constant shots of his pained and unhappy facial expressions become, like everything else in the film, way over-done.  I could never understand why a singer with millions of adoring fans would feel so powerless. I would think he would have a healthy ego and sense of empowerment and if was unhappy with his managers then he would simply fire them, which happens all the time in the music world.

I did think that the camera work and cinematography were excellent and probably has a lot to do with director Watkins background.  The scene at the assembly where there is a giant picture of Steven and then the actual Steven stands in front of it making it look like he is being devoured by his own image was effective symbolism.

The points that the film makes in regards to conformity, those in position of power, and the superficiality of pop idols are all right on target.  I just wished that the narrative and storyline were done in a little more sophisticated way and that the characters were more fleshed out. The works of British director Lindsay Anderson came to mind as I watched this film. A lot of his films had the same types of themes like If, Britannia Hospital, and O Lucky Man. However, those films were more cerebral and layered and the wit was more consistent and biting.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 28, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Peter Watkins

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD

The Fury (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Blow up the body.

Another Brian De Palma/Hitchcock wannabe, this one involving a sinister secret government agent named Ben Childress (John Cassavetes) who wants to use the amazing psychic abilities of a young college-aged man named Robin Sandza (Andrew Stevens) for his own nefarious purposes. While he is in Israel with the father and son he decides to stage a terrorist attack, which he hopes will kill the boy’s father Peter (Kirk Douglas) and allow him to whisk Robin away to an underground research lab where no one will find him. However, Peter manages to survive the attack and goes on a relentless pursuit to find his son. This occurs while a young woman named Gillian Bellaver (Amy Irving) with equally strong parapsychological traits starts to have visions of Robin and his whereabouts while attending a school that specializes in people with these abilities and eventually she teams up with Peter to help him in his quest.

I liked the opening sequence being shot on-location in Israel, which gives the film an exotic feel. The attack is well-handled and comes as a surprise without any set-up, but I felt there was a fatal flaw with the premise. This is namely the fact that with Robin’s amazing psychic abilities you would think he could figure out that his Dad was still alive and be able to find him while also outsmarting the people who are holding him.

The secret agency thing and what they are using him for is vague and we see only a few scenes with him there. I felt this should have been more detailed and less time spent with Gillian at the psychic school, which is not very compelling and rather draggy.     There are a few good action moments, but unfortunately they come at the beginning and end with a talky middle that lacks any real suspense.

However, Peter’s escape from some gunmen by jumping out of an apartment window and onto the ‘L’ tracks along Wabash Avenue in Chicago is amazingly well shot and nerve-wracking.  A scene where Robin tortures a female Dr. (Fiona Lewis) by using his telepathic powers to spin her around a room until  blood oozes from her body and sprays all over the walls and furniture deserves some merits, but I wished it had been more extended. There is also the exploding body that is the film’s final shot and possibly its best and it is shown several times at different angles. I also enjoyed the darkly humorous scene where Robin uses his powers to send a ride at an indoor amusement park out of control and throwing the riders through the window of a nearby restaurant.

De Palma’s trademark over-direction is in full gear. Sometimes it works, but other times it is a distraction. For instance he uses a lot of panning shots showing one person talking and then panning to the other person and then back again. During a funny scene where Peter breaks into an older couple’s apartment while looking for a disguise this really works, but De Palma continues to go to this well throughout and eventually it becomes annoying. There is also a foot chase that is done in slow-motion, which to me sapped the tension and excitement right out of it. He does have a few bird’s-eye view shots, which while not adding anything to the story, are still kind of cool.

Andrew Stevens, son of actress Stella Stevens, is well cast as the young man who starts out likable, but slowly becomes evil as the film progresses. Stevens has a good knack for this as he can go from nice to menacing very quickly and I first noticed this during a classic episode of Murder She Wrote. His clear blue eyes can give off a creepy stare as well.

John Cassavetes is an excellent bad guy.  He is best remembered as an independent film director with a unique vision, but with his dark features, cryptic glare, and intense delivery he can also be a very good villain. I don’t think the film made the most of it, but it was astute casting.

Although billed as the star Douglas does not have the most screen-time and there are long periods where he isn’t seen at all. This was really a vehicle for Irving, who is convincing and makes the viewer sympathetic to her quandary of having super-powers that she does not fully understand, cannot control and doesn’t really want.

It’s an interesting idea, but doesn’t go far enough with it. There weren’t enough twists to justify sitting through almost two hours. The pacing is poor and had it been trimmed to 90 minutes it would have worked better. The special effects are decent, but there needed to be more of them and they might not hold-up to contemporary standards. John Williams’s orchestral sounding score helps elevate what is really just bubblegum material.

This is a great chance at seeing some young stars in their film debuts including Darryl Hannah, Laura Innes, and James Belushi. There is also an amusing scene featuring Dennis Franz with a full head of hair playing a nervous and befuddled Chicago cop.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 10, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes

Rated R

Director: Brian De Palma

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Body Double (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sex through a telescope.

During the 70’s and 80’s director Brian DePalma, a fan of Alfred Hitchcock, made a lot of stylized thrillers using many of Hitchcock’s trademark devices.  He even storyboarded every shot that he did just like Hitch. Unfortunately a lot of these films had rather flimsy plots and characters and were over-directed, drowning out what little story there was. DePalma tried so hard to imitate Hitch that he ended up showing no original vision himself and made the viewer crave even more at seeing a genuine Hitchcock film.  This film, which I first saw when it was released 26 years ago, I felt was the best of DePalma’s Hitchcock imitations. Upon viewing it a second time many years later I found a lot more holes despite one clever twist and some good camerawork.

The story is about Jack Scully (Craig Wasson) who is a struggling out of work actor who is offered a place to stay by a man named Sam (Gregg Henry). The house is a very modernistic place looking almost like the Space Needle in Seattle.  Jack is offered the home on condition that he takes care of the place while Sam is away on business.  During his stay Jack becomes obsessed with the attractive neighbor lady named Gloria Revelle (Deborah Shelton) who he watches through a telescope.  She does an erotic dance in her bedroom each night at the same time while wearing a revealing negligee. The dance itself is not real exciting and would probably bore most people after a minute or two, but Jack becomes hooked on it and watches it endlessly night after night.  Eventually he starts following the woman around during the daytime and even tries to start up a relationship with her. He also begins to notice another man, who is very creepy looking, is also following her and eventually he witnesses him murdering her, but Jack becomes convinced there is more to it.  With the help of a porn star named Holly Body (Melanie Griffith), who he meets along the way, the two set out to try and solve the mystery.

Wasson makes for an incredibly weak male lead. This helps somewhat because the character is very weak, but it is hard for the viewer to relate or care about him.  His best scenes come during his endless auditions and rather thankless treatment he receives from directors, producers, and acting coaches.  These are one of the few scenes that the film gets right as it hits the nail right on the head showing just how degrading working as a low paid, nameless actor can be in Hollywood. The porn star character is also weak as she is too cliched and predictable making her more annoying than anything despite the fact that Griffith plays the part pretty well.  The character was based on real-life porn star Annette Haven who gets listed in the credits as a ‘technical advisor’. I did like Gregg Henry though who makes for a great sleazy villain as well as Dennis Franz in a small, comic relief type role as a brash, stressed-out B-movie director.

The film also has a lot of rather implausible elements that prevents the viewer from getting as involved in it as they should. One of the biggest ones is when Jack sees Holly Body performing in a adult video that he has rented and becomes convinced that she may be connected to the case when he sees her do the same type of dance that the neighbor lady did, so in order to meet up with her he auditions as the male lead in her next X-rated production. Now I’m not completely sure how casting in these productions work, but having some guy with no experience starring and having sex with the industry’s biggest female star at the time seems to be a bit of a stretch. I would also think that a guy who was not used to having sex in front of the camera and with everyone staring at him might get nervous and be unable to ‘perform’ especially in what was still the pre-Viagra age.

The porn scenes themselves aren’t too interesting, or exciting.  This industry is no longer quite as underground, or taboo as it once was, so the shock factor is gone.  The characters and situations are handled in such a placid way that the viewer is given no real insight into the business, or the people who work in it.  The industry has evolved a lot in the past twenty-five years, so the scenes here become irrelevant.

There were a few things that I did like.  The scenes where Jack follows Gloria around in the shopping mall are pretty well handled despite the fact that I think they could have had a little more action here and there also needed to be more customers in the background.  However, the bird’s eye view, which is another patented Hitchcock type shot, showing Jack following Gloria around who is also being followed by the killer is good.  This part also features the one definitive moment from the film that I remembered after all these years.  It involves Gloria throwing away her old panties when she buys some new ones and then having Jack fish through the garbage, retrieve the panties, and put them in his pocket as a sort of ‘souvenir’.

Some of the shots during the actual murder are also really innovative especially the way the camera captures the giant drill, which is the killer’s weapon.  Probably the best shot of the entire film occurs when the killer drives the drill into the victim, which then goes through her body as well as the floorboards and then pops out of the ceiling from the floor below.  Yes, it is rather gory, but I still thought it was a really cool shot anyways.  I also thought the innovative design to the house that Jack stays in had potential, but I wished they had shown a little more of the place from different angles and given us more of a feel of the inside instead of having all the action occur in just one room.

Overall the film is slick, but very shallow and superficial.  The neighbor lady especially seems like a male fantasy.  DePalma gets too hyper with the camera.  I really don’t like his ‘spinning camera’ shots.  He spun it around Jack and Gloria as they kissed and it was tacky and cliched.  Once, in the film Blow Out, he spun the camera around so much in one scene that it started to actually make me feel dizzy and nauseous. The film has a scene during the closing credits showing how a body double is used during a film production, which is amusing and interesting, but a bit out of place for a thriller.  You walk away from the movie wondering how much more entertaining it could have been had Hitchcock himself been able to direct it.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 26, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 54Minutes

Rated R

Director: Brian De Palma

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD (Special Widescreen Edition), Amazon Instant Video

Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Married to a jerk.

Director Frank Perry may not be a name one throws out when mentioning some of the top directors, but a lot of his early work that he did with his screenwriter wife Eleanor were definite forerunners of the independent film movement and ahead of their time. David and Lisa was their first and it dealt with the budding romance between two patients at a mental hospital. Ladybug Ladybug was their follow-up and it was the true story of what happens when an errant nuclear warning siren goes off and the staff and students of a small rural school think it is for real. There was also the critically acclaimed film Last Summer dealing with the brutal gang rape of a teen girl by her so called ‘friends’.  They also did the revisionist western Doc starring Stacy Keach as well as the brilliantly quirky Rancho Deluxe.  However, it is Diary of a Mad Housewife that I find to be their very best.

It is the story based on the best-selling novel by Sue Kaufman dealing with the character of Tina Balser.  On the outside she seems to be living the American dream. She is married to a up and coming lawyer, living in a swank Manhattan apartment, and the mother of two beautiful girls.  Unfortunately the husband is an obnoxious bore, the girls are spoiled and mouthy, and she feels lonely and depressed.  She decides to have an affair with a novelist, but he ends up treating her just as poorly and when she tells her troubles to a support group, they end up doing the same.

I have seen this film many times over the past twenty years and am always impressed at the fluid way it goes between satire and drama as well as the fact that it doesn’t seem dated at all. The scenes with Richard Benjamin as the jerk husband are hilariously over-the-top.  Yet the scenes involving Frank Langella as the lover who is bitter about his lagging writing career and repressed homosexuality and takes these frustrations out on Tina, are just as interesting, but in a much more subtle way.  In fact these scenes feature some great dialogue and character development and I find them more intriguing with each viewing.  Langella, in his film debut, makes a lasting impression.

The cinematography, editing, and color schemes are also first-rate. Perry does a great job in infusing the counter-culture movement of the time with the old values of marriage and family. The mod party that they go to is well staged with scantily clad mannequins in a provocative poses placed throughout.  The pretentious attitudes of the party goers is nicely captured.  This scene also features the Alice Cooper Band as well as giant pillow fight.

Carrie Snodgrass performance is what really makes this work.  She was nominated for the Academy Award and she should have won it. Her ability to display her characters feelings through such subtle methods as facial expressions, body gestures, and reactions is impressive.  The viewer can easily relate to the character and feel her pain.  Rock singer Neil Young was so impressed with her that he wrote her a fan letter and the two ended up getting into a relationship. Unfortunately because of this she dropped out of Hollywood and didn’t do another movie until almost nine years later.  When she returned all the top roles were no longer accessible and she was relegated to ‘B’ movies and small supporting roles until finally succumbing to cancer in 2004. This was a real shame because her talents were never fully utilized, but at least this was a perfect vehicle for her and one that movie fans today can really appreciate.

In the end though what makes this film so very good is that it makes a great statement on the fact that isolation is a part of modern day living and at some point everyone will have to deal with.  Getting married, having kids, even having a lover or a support group will not necessarily be an effective buffer and may actually only exacerbate it. The whole film kind of reminded me of a statement made by a character on the old ‘Ally McBeal’ TV-show “My loneliest times in life are when someone is lying in bed next to me.”

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: August 10, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes (Theater Version) 1Hour 35Minutes (TV Version)

Rated R

Director: Frank Perry

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS

A Soldier’s Story (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Murder at army base.

This film is based on the off-Broadway play that won the Pulitzer Prize for best drama in 1982 and was written by Charles Fuller. Many of the performers in the play ended up reprising their roles in the film including the stars, Adolph Caesar and Howard E. Rollins, Jr. Director Norman Jewison spent many years trying to get the green light for the project and ended up being rejected by just about every studio. Finally Columbia Pictures gave the go-ahead, but only after Jewison agreed to do it for no salary and all the performers agreed to be paid at the minimum union scale.

The story is actually pretty well written and I’m surprised that so many studio heads refused it by using the excuse that it wasn’t ‘commercial enough.’ The plot involves the murder of a black army sergeant (Caesar) and the subsequent investigation by a black army captain (Rollins) brought in from Washington. The period is around the end of World War II and the setting is an all black army base in the deep South, which leads to many expected racial tensions. What sets this story apart from others of its type is the fact that the racism and underlying tensions is not just white vs. black, but also, and more prominently, black vs. black.

Caesar plays a memorable victim. He is hated by his own men due to his harsh treatment of them. When he is killed everyone is a suspect and as his men recount their dealings with him, it is easy to see why. Yet this is also no one-dimensional character. The story does a very good job of letting us understand why this man has become the way he is. The viewer can’t help but come away feeling sorry for the man and genuinely sad for the way he ended up. The suspects are equally complex, so the film easily becomes quite riveting as it goes along.

Rollins gives an outstanding performance as the head of the investigation. It’s sad that his career, and ultimately his life, was cut short by his drug addiction because he makes a solid impression here. I liked the way he remained stoic throughout despite having to deal with a myriad of different personalities and at times overt racism. Denzel Washington is also very good in a pivotal role.

There were a few things that were thrown in that I felt were not necessary and ended up hurting the film as a whole. One of them is the musical score. It has a very bouncy, ragtime sound to it that would be good if this was a comedy. However, for a drama it seems completely out of place and at times is even jarring. The film has a few musical interludes as well. A couple of them are by Patti LaBelle, who I think is a great singer, but in this film she is out-of-place. It starts to take away too much of the grittiness of the story, which should be the central theme. I also found the use of slow motion to be distracting. It occurs twice. Once during the murder scene and another time during a baseball game between the soldiers.

Overall the film succeeds enough with its story and characters that the viewer is forced to think and feel, which is always a good thing. I can’t say that the resolution was anything shocking, but it does manage to keep you guessing. However, this is one rare case where I might have actually preferred seeing the stage version.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 14, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Norman Jewison

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix Streaming

Fathom (1967)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dental assistant becomes spy.

The spy genre became a big craze in the late 60’s with the success of the James Bond films.  Studios were busily either coming out with imitations of the genre, like the Matt Helm films with Dean Martin, or spoofs of the genre.  This film, starring the voluptuous Raquel Welch, is a combination of both.

The premise is slightly unique as the Welch character, whose name is the same as the film’s title, is not actually a spy. She is a dental assistant and part-time parachutist. This attracts the attention of the British secret service who want to use her parachuting skills to have her ‘drop-in’ to the island mansion of bad guy Tony Franciosa and plant a bug on his premises. They need this done so that they can monitor his conversations and find the whereabouts of a priceless Chinese dragon statue that they are after.

Initially I was intrigued with the idea of the Welch character being just a regular person who gets trained to be a spy from the ground up. However, this concept almost immediately falls flat and ends up pretty much ruining the whole film.  One of the problems is that the Welch character goes through no training to speak of and agrees to this potentially dangerous mission that comes out of nowhere without any conversation regarding her compensation.  She also ends up thinking way too quickly on her feet and behaving like a seasoned spy without any of the expected awkwardness. The character is also poorly fleshed out having no personal life, relationships, history, or even a few odd little quirks.  There are constant references to her beauty, but this quickly become tiresome.  Raquel’s typically one-dimensional performance doesn’t help.

The storyline becomes too convoluted and suffers from having too many plot twists. Reportedly even the cast members found the story confusing.  The good guys become the bad guys and then become good guys again with boring regularity.  A decent spy film needs one true bad guy who is evil and nefarious and seemingly unstoppable because that is what builds the tension.  This film has no tension whatsoever and the musical score sounds like Herb Alpert or Sergio Mendes, which would be better suited for a romance.

The one thing that did impress me was the stunt work.  There are a few that look genuinely dangerous and are shot and edited very well.  One involves Raquel trapped in a bull ring while wearing a red dress.  There is no question that it is a real bull and several shots have her stumbling to the ground while the bull stands right over her. The editing is so well done that I could not tell when the stuntwoman was put in, as usually I can spot this.  Even if a stunt person was used it still looked quite dangerous and very real.  Another good one features Raquel swimming away from a bad guy who continues to shot at her with a spear gun. Both the underwater and aerial photography in this segment are outstanding.

Alas, none of this is good enough to save the film as a whole.  The tongue-in-cheek humor and pacing is poor, and the film ends up being boring and contrived.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 13, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Leslie H. Martinson

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed? (1963)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Carol Burnett does striptease.

Every time I get annoyed by many of today’s Hollywood comedies that seem to be nothing more than a stretched out idea for an episode of a sitcom, one only has to go back into time to find that the comedies of yesteryear weren’t always much better. Of course there were some classics, but a lot of vapid ones in the mix as well. In fact this one is so trite that it becomes almost agonizing to sit through. It was considered in its time to be a ‘sex farce’, but fails to deliver on either.

The old adage ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know’ has never been truer in this instance. I have attended many screenwriting classes and seminars and can verify there is a lot of good stuff out there that hasn’t been read unfortunately because the authors don’t have the right connections. In this case the screenplay was written by Jack Rose who had previous writing success with such films as My Favorite Brunette, Houseboat, and The Road to Rio. Judging from its lack of creativity Rose probably wrote this real quickly to make some fast cash and the studio heads gave it the green light simply based on his past success without ever looking at it critically.

The plot, if you can call it that, has to do with TV-star Jason Steel (Dean Martin) who plays the part of a popular Dr. on a TV-series.  His TV character matches all the ideal qualities that women want in a man and thus he always has women chasing after him in real-life. He even has the wives of his friends coming on to him. With so many married women telling him how unhappy they are in their marriages he begins to fear that marriage may not be a good idea and thus calls off his impending engagement to beautiful Melisa Morris (Elizabeth Montgomery).  Melisa is devastated by this, so her goofy roommate Stella Irving (Carol Burnett, in her film debut) hatches up a kooky scheme in order to get him to reconsider.

This film gets tiring right from the beginning.  Jason goes out with his buddies every Thursday night to play poker, but then during the game he always gets a call from one of his buddy’s wives telling him they have to see him.  He leaves the game and meets them at his place and then fights off their advances. This silly scenario gets repeated four different times with all four of his friend’s wives and it’s like being told the same dumb joke over and over. This triviality ends up taking up the whole first hour before it moves into the scheme portion, which really doesn’t even measure up to a weak episode of ‘I Love Lucy’.

Out of the whole ninety minutes there are only two scenes that are mildly amusing.  One is when Jason pushes everyone into a pool and they fall in like dominoes and the other is when Stella goes to a strip club and is forced to go onstage and do a striptease when she can’t pay for her drinks, which makes great use of Burnett’s ad-libbing abilities.

Burnett and Montgomery make an interesting pair. Montgomery is a good straight-man to Burnett’s zaniness and with a better script this could’ve been ideal casting. Montgomery did this film just before she started her long running series ‘Bewitched’. She looks gorgeous and gives the film’s best performance.

There is a long list of excellent male character actors here including: Martin Balsam, Jack Soo, Richard Conte, Louis Nye, and Johnny Silver. All of them are wasted with very little to do. Except for the money I don’t know why any of them took their parts.

The satirical jabs at TV-dramas are too gentle and not even good for a chuckle.  If one is considering getting married then I would definitely not suggest it as the script takes so many potshots at the institution that it is liable to give anyone second thoughts.

Although this was made as a vehicle for Martin I feel even fans of Dino will be disappointed. It really doesn’t take advantage of his persona and he seems as bored with the material as the viewer and just going through the paces. Despite the interesting cast this is an all-around disappointment.

My Rating: 3 out of 10.

Released: December 25, 1963

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Delber Mann

Studio: Paramount

Available: Netflix Streaming

T. R. Baskin (1971)

tr baskin

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Out on her own.

T. R. Baskin (Candice Bergen) is a young woman who leaves the nest by striking out on her own in Chicago. Unfortunately she finds nothing but a lot of loneliness, dead-end dates, crummy apartments, and soul-sucking jobs. Our protagonist becomes so emotionally beaten down that when a traveling salesman named Jack Mitchell (Peter Boyle) calls her looking for a ‘good time’, as he mistakenly is given her number under the impression that she is a prostitute, T.R. accepts his invitation simply as a chance to connect with someone. The film then cuts back and forth between conversations that she has with Jack in his hotel room as well as her experiences when she first gets into the Windy City.

Although this film does have its share of faults I was really taken aback by its strong emotional impact. The film was directed by Herbert Ross who would later do Footloose, The Goodbye Girl, and Steel Magnolias. The screenplay was written by Peter Hyams famous for writing and directing Capricorn One, Narrow Margin, and 2010 to name a few.

The film manages to recreate the monotony and isolation of day-to-day living better than just about any other movie that I have seen. Some of the best scenes include T.R.’s job interview process at an accounting firm as well as a long camera pan showing all the rows and rows of desks in the office and T.R. looking lost in the middle. There is another part where she sneaks back into the office on a weekend day in order to make silly announcements over their intercom system and the images of all the dark shadowy desks looks just as ominous. Another moving moment is when she is shown pacing her lonely apartment as well as her phone conversation with her parents where she tries to convince them that she is doing ‘just fine’, but breaks down into tears the second it ends.

The film leaves you with a strong impression. The music that was selected was first-rate and fits the mood of the picture perfectly. It is a real shame that this sleeper has never been released on either VHS or DVD and has not been shown on television since December of the 1980 when it was broadcast on Cinemax. It is well worth seeking out and certainly deserves more attention.

Bergen is terrific in the lead. This is before she attained her acerbic persona from her ‘Murphy Brown’ days and here comes off as more shy and sensitive. Her delicate and attractive features help capture the viewer instantly.

Boyle is equally good and the introspective conversations that the two have nicely runs the gamut between funny and sad. James Caan, who for some reason appears unbilled, has a nice cameo as an attractive and intelligent man that T.R. falls for only to have him callously break her heart.

If the film has any flaw it is in the fact that it is a bit uneven. It starts out with some terrific dry humor including a hilarious scene when she goes apartment hunting, but eventually the movie becomes too much of a downbeat drama. There are certainly universal truths to many of the sad situations that she goes through, but I found it frustrating that we are never shown her eventual fate. All we see is a small period in her life and then a very abrupt and unsatisfying ending. It would have been nice if the story had cut to five, ten, even twenty years down the road and allowed us to find out if she ever found ‘Mr. Right’ and some happiness.

Despite being made forty years ago this film is as trenchant and timely as it was back then. People who avoid watching older films because they believe that they are ‘dated’ are being foolish. This film has more bearing in reality and the human experience than a lot of the movies out today.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 20, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: Paramount

Available: Amazon Instant Video

Targets (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He kills his family.

In 1967 producer Roger Corman gave fledgling director Peter Bogdanovich the green light to make any movie he wanted as long as he followed two stipulations.  The first one was that he had to use footage from Corman’s earlier film The Terror and the second one required that he use the acting services of Boris Karloff as Karloff still owed Corman two day’s work per his contract.  This movie is the result of that agreement, which kind of works and kind of doesn’t and seems more like two movies rolled into one.

The first story deals with a young, clean-cut man starting to have homicidal urges. The second scenario involves an aging actor played by Karloff, who decides he wants to retire despite the appeals of his agent and film studio. He plans to attend a showing of one of his films (The Terror) at a local drive-in where the sniper is waiting to shoot him.

I enjoyed the scenes involving the sniper and felt it helped elevate this film from the typical exploitation fare.  The character is based very closely on Charles Whitman, an All-American ex-marine, who on August 1, 1966, climbed to the top of the clock tower at the University of Texas in Austin and shot 32 people, killing 14. It was one of the very first mass-shootings in American history and it caused worldwide headlines.

Tim O’Kelly, the actor who plays the gunman, looks almost exactly like Whitman. What I liked about these scenes is the way it follows the character around and shows his interactions with his family. Like in real life there were no indicators, or violent past.  It is creepy watching him say grace at the dinner table, or having wholesome conversations with his wife when you know what’s going to happen.  The film goes into almost meticulous detail with the build-up and I found it gripping despite the fact that there is little action, or music.

The shootings are uniquely done.  Like in the actual incident, he shoots his mother and wife first and then puts a towel over their blood stains while carrying their dead bodies back to their bedrooms so it would look more ‘tidy’ when the police came.  This is all done with a docu-drama approach, which heightens the impact and realism.

The scenes involving the sniper shooting at people while they drive in their cars along a busy roadway are excellent as well.  It was done on an actual freeway and the viewer watches the action from the killer’s perspective through the telescope of his rifle, which is chilling. The cars veering off the road and people getting shot are vivid.  The only fault here is that Bogdanovich had the killer climb up on top of an ordinary tank at an oil refinery to do the shootings.  The clock tower in the actual incident was a very distinct structure and it would have been stronger visually had they found another one that was similar to it.

The parts involving Karloff are weak and tend to be cluttered with a lot of uninteresting dialogue.  Bogdanovich casts himself as the screenwriter for Karloff’s next proposed project.  I always thought it was a bit weird for a director, especially one that at the time was young and unknown, to cast himself in his own movie.  I know Woody Allen and Spike Lee, as well as others have done this, but it always came off as a bit narcissistic to me. However, I saw Bogdanovich in person a few months ago and he hasn’t seemed to have aged a day.

The climactic sequence in the drive-in is poorly handled. The dark lighting makes it hard to follow the action.  The final confrontation between Karloff and the killer is dull and unimaginative.  The only good points here is that it gives you a chance to see both Randy Quaid an Mike Farrell in their film debuts playing two of the sniper’s victims.

The film ends with a bird’s-eye view of the drive-in’s empty parking lot taken the next day with the sniper’s car being the only one left.  It was shot during the early morning hours so the sunlight gives it a surreal quality.  It also has a moody feel because the only sound is of blowing wind as the credits scrawl over, which I liked. However, the police would certainly have impounded his car and gone through it for clues and not have let it just sit there.

Under the conditions that he was given I think Bogdanovich did a commendable job. It is hard to know what category to put this film into.  At times it seems like a horror movie and then at other points it’s a drama. Some may even argue that it is a sentimental tale dealing with an aging actor moving into the final years of his life. Personally I wished it had gone all out as a horror film because the ingredients were there except that the tension was inconsistent. Fans of Bogdanovich may want to check this out because it is radically different from any of his later works.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 15, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video