Monthly Archives: June 2012

Zig Zag (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Framing yourself isn’t good.

            Paul Cameron (George Kennedy) is an insurance agent and family man who learns that he is dying from a brain tumor and has only a few months to live. In order to provide money for his wife and children he sets himself up as the kidnapper of a wealthy businessman in an unsolved case that offered a $225,000 reward for anyone leading to the conviction of the culprit. After he is found guilty at his trial he faints and the doctors there decide to do experimental laser surgery to remove the tumor. The operation proves to be a success forcing Paul to go on a battle to prove his innocence, or risk spending the rest of his life in jail for a crime he did not commit.

Although he has done well in supporting roles Kennedy proves to be quite weak as a leading man as he shows almost no emotion in any of his scenes. When he is told of his tumor he takes it in a very matter-of-fact way without getting upset at all, which seemed unrealistic. His performance is dull and the few times that he does get upset it comes off as forced. His presence hurts the film and a more engaging, eccentric actor could’ve made it more interesting.

Eli Wallach as Paul’s attorney is terrific and the one thing that injects some energy. He is dynamic throughout and is fun to watch even during the slow parts. It was nice to see him doing a scene with his real-life wife Anne Jackson. As of this writing the two have now been married for 64 years, which has to be one of the longest marriages in Hollywood history.

The supporting cast features a long list of familiar character actors making it like spot-the-star. They include: Dana Elcar, Douglas Henderson, Steve Ihnat, William Marshall, Joan Tompkins, Robert Sampson, Leonard Stone, and Walter Brooke in an interesting duplicitous part.

Richard A. Colla’s direction is impressive. The film opens with a diverting cinema verite-style scene showing Paul going through the examination process before entering the prison, which seems unusually elaborate touch for what is otherwise just a gimmicky script. Another innovative part is when Paul is shown planting evidence at the scene of the crime and only the sounds and ambiance of the locale is heard without any music, which is more effective.  Unfortunately the direction and story become much more conventional towards the middle and it is not as interesting. The film tries to be too many things and does not come together as a seamless whole. The courtroom scenes were too extended for my tastes as we know Paul is innocent, but wants to be convicted anyways, so his many prolonged conversations with his exasperated lawyer who does not know of his scheme seem rather pointless. However, when Paul is cured and then goes on a mission to find the real killer it becomes exciting as the mystery itself proves to be complex and intriguing.

The twist ending did not go over well with audiences at the time of the film’s initial release. It’s a downer for sure, but after seeing so many tacky happy Hollywood endings in my lifetime I can’t say I totally hated it. As a budding screenwriter I enjoy irony and the ending here certainly has that. It’s slickly handled and although I saw it coming others may be genuinely surprised by it. My only complaint is that it’s a bit abrupt and could’ve and should’ve been extended in some way, or given a more effective closure.

If you like a movie with a lot of twists then this film may be worth seeking out. The legendary Roy Orbison sings the title tune during a party scene and it sounds like some of his best stuff. I am surprised it didn’t chart and I wished they had allowed the viewer to hear the complete son before cutting away.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 11, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard A. Colla

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS (as False Witness), DVD (Warner Archive) 

Weekend at Bernie’s (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dead body causes problems.

Larry and Richard (Andrew McCarthy, Jonathan Silverman) are two young executives that find an accounting error that could save the company two million dollars. They show their arrogant boss Bernie (Terry Kiser) the findings. He decides to reward them with a weekend at his beach house on the Hampton Island. However, unbeknownst to them Bernie also has mob connections and the mob decides to off him just as they get there. Antics ensue as the two young men must pretend that their dead boss is still alive.

It sounds rather mindless and I braced myself for the worst yet, at least at the beginning, it is surprisingly tolerable. The two leads are likable and have distinctive personalities. They mesh well and even have a few good exchanges. The pacing is decent and without the usual 80’s sloppiness or crudeness. It even culminates with a party that nicely satirizes the trendy, affluent set.

However, it collapses after this. The second half becomes stretched and one-dimensional and the action gets silly and cartoonish. There is a potential at making it slapstick, but like in the boat scene, it is not extended out enough. It seems almost amazing that such a simple and routine comedy could have been written by Robert Klane the same man who wrote Where’s Poppa?, which was so original and groundbreaking.

Silverman was a good choice for the lead. He has the perfect composure and attitude for frantic comedy. McCarthy gives his part a lot of energy, but his face looks like it never reached puberty. Recycled supporting player Terry Kiser is fun as the arrogant boss, but having him become such a patsy to the mob seems disjointed. His best work actually comes when he is playing dead. Trying to remain motionless and unresponsive to everything happening around you is much harder than you think. It’s also fun to see a cameo by talented director Ted Kotcheff half- naked in his underwear playing Silverman’s dad.

If you are looking for fluffy, undemanding comedy then this should do the trick. However, others will find it vapid and lacking in any type of depth, or distinction.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 5, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Hail, Hero! (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Michael Douglas film debut.

Okay all you Michael Douglas fans out there, you know him, you love him, and you’ve seen all his movies, but what was his film debut?  I say this because I have known other fans of stars who are a bit vague when asked about early films of their favorite actors. I remember one lady who was in her 20’s, who I knew from work and professed to be a ‘huge’ Jack Nicholson fan, but when I asked her about some of his early films, which I had enjoyed including Five Easy Pieces, and King of the Marvin Gardens, she drew a complete blank. In fact she was not aware of any of the movies he did before The Shining. I had a similar experience with another lady friend I knew from a different job who professed to be a big Goldie Hawn fan and yet had no idea what film she had won the Academy Award for, which was in 1969 for Cactus Flower a movie that she hadn’t even heard of.  So I was curious how many Michael Douglas fans are actually aware of some of his early work. In fact this film, which was his first, was released when his future wife Catherine Zeta-Jones was only 11 days old.

It is the story of Carl Dixon (Douglas) who is an idealistic, peaceful young man that joins the army simply to please his conservative father (Arthur Kennedy). The film is a pleasant, even touching look at a someone learning to face the difficult and complex issues of adult life and realizing there are no easy answers. The movie doesn’t try to make any type of statement while carefully examining both sides of the issue. There isn’t any ‘bad guy’ here. The characters are real and multi-dimensional. The conversations and debates that they have are ones that went on in many households across the country at that time.

Douglas looks expectedly younger and initially I didn’t even recognize him. His hair is long, at least initially until his father cuts it, and his eyebrows are bushy and his voice much higher pitched. His performance is excellent and the  character his likable and engaging especially with the way he treats everyone with respect and is so generous that he gives his entire suitcase of clothes to a poor family in need.

Kennedy is perfect as the old-school father and my only complaint here is that I wished he had been in more scenes. Theresa Wright, as Carl’s mother, is okay, but she is not given enough screen-time either. She is also caught having an affair, but the film does not delve enough into this, but should have. Louise Latham is terrific giving one of the best performances of her career as a hermit-like woman living alone in a cave alongside the skeletal remains of an Indian baby.

There are some good scenes including Carl’s visit to a senior home where he comes face-to-face with the difficulties of aging as well as when he finds himself ready to strike someone at a party whom he does not agree with and realizing that violent tendencies lurk within anyone even those purporting to be pacifists. Yet the film fails to leave any lasting impression. The ending is weak and the story does not progress enough. The viewer is left feeling almost cheated because we are never shown how these characters evolved. In my opinion the material was insufficient for a feature film.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 4, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated M

Director: David Miller

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: VHS

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: They want sex slaves.

During the end of WW II in a northern city of occupied Italy a group of bourgeoisie men and women round up a group of teenage boys and girls and take them to an isolated mansion where they are forced to become sex slaves. They are also inflicted with cruel tortures in this story based on the writings of Marquis De Sade.

The film is interesting, but only up to a point. Director Pasolini’s natural lighting fetish really works here and he makes it into an art form. His ability to find the perfect moment in the day to shoot the scene and be able to frame the action within the shadows is amazing and along with the color schemes gives it a very distinctive look and an unusual atmosphere.

The acting by the adults is amazing as they project evilness without flaw. The perverted stories they tell in some ways is more shocking than the actual scenes and the casual way they go about their sick behavior achieves an unprecedented level.

The story itself has some good insights. It shows the veneer of civilized behavior and how the passive nature of the victims and society as a whole only helps to allow evil to flourish. There’s also the main point which is that evil is truly a part of the human make-up and hides itself in everybody and can come out if provoked including the victims themselves.

Yet the film makes its point and then hammers it home without pause. The non-stop perversity becomes excessive and the redundancy eventually makes the shock value and message meaningless. Showing the background of these captors might have helped given it more of a balance.

I have nothing against those who wish to ‘push the envelope’ and there is nothing that says movies need to be tasteful, or even entertaining, but I couldn’t help but wonder if Pasolini simply used the material as an excuse to explore his own dark fantasies. Of course DeSade’s actual writings were far more twisted and unsettling then anything you see here and the film is a significantly toned down version.

Actual teenagers were used and there is an abundance of nudity and perversity. Something like this could never have been made here in the states and exactly how it ever got made is more interesting than the film itself. If there was ever a movie begging for a “Making of…” documentary it’s this one. It is also interesting to note that Pasolini was mysteriously killed by a hit-and-run driver just a few days before the film’s official release.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 22, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated NC-17

Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (The Criterion Collection)

Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Jason likes to kill.

(This review contains spoilers, but it is such a bad movie, so who really cares.)

A new campsite near where the massacre from the first film took place and still on Crystal Lake opens for business. Soon the counselors begin receiving the same type of bloody fate.

I was a bit surprised how incredibly derivative this movie was. In many ways it is almost exactly like the first one even to the point of having them killed at night during a thunderstorm. My opinion is that if it says ‘Part 2’ in the title then that should mean some sort of story progression, or evolvement, but instead it’s just the same formula getting repeated. The only real difference is that the young counselors aren’t the only ones who get killed as Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney) ends up being one of the killer’s victims as well. Although I thought his murder looked a bit fake, I was still glad to see it as the idea of having to hear him say “You’re all doomed” for another ninety minutes seemed more horrifying.

It might have been more intriguing had the story centered on Alice Hardy (Adrienne King) the sole survivor from the first film who is now living by herself many miles away. The film starts out with her, but she is then immediately killed and then it’s back to the campsite for the same old, same old. I also found this opening sequence to be a bit baffling.  Here is a woman living alone and still suffering from nightmares of the attack and yet it is only after she wakes up from one of these bad dreams that she decides to lock her front door and close her kitchen window, which has no screen and wide enough for even a large person to crawl through, even though I would’ve thought she should’ve done that from the very start.

One plus to the movie is that the cast here is more attractive than in the first one. Amy Steel as Ginny Field is pretty and looks great in a bikini. I liked how her face has a very natural quality to it, but still quite appealing without any excessive make-up. Kirsten Baker, who plays another counselor named Terry, is really hot and can been seen fully nude from the front and back. For the female viewers I’d say the male cast has more hunks as well. I also found it interesting how the character of Mark (Tom McBride) who is confined to a wheelchair is still portrayed as being sexy and appealing to the other female characters, which is good. Also, for the trivia buffs, McBride was the first actor to portray one of the counselors to end up dying in real-life.

The killings are a letdown. At times it seems that director Steve Miner is trying to put a satirical spin on the bloodshed, but then pulls back at the last minute. For instance when Mark gets ‘the axe’ he is seen in his wheelchair rolling down a long flight of steps and I thought this may be an amusing homage to the classic Battleship Potemkin where a baby carriage rolls down a long flight of stairs while a battle rages all around it. Instead we see the victim and wheelchair go halfway down and then the shot freezes and cuts away without the expected pay-off. Another part that is similar to a famous scene in Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve where a couple has a spear go through them while they are making love. Here Jason attacks the couple, but all we see is the end of the spear going through the bottom of the mattress and touching the floor, which seemed unrealistic. It was hard to believe that there would be a spear long enough and a person strong enough to push it through two bodies and what would probably have been two mattresses to get it to reach the floor.

This also brings up the issue of the Jason character. Supposedly this is a ‘mentally and physically challenged’ individual with limited thinking and social capabilities. Yet in the scene where he murders the couple in bed he then removes their bodies, which would be rather difficult as supposedly they have a big spear going through them, and places them somewhere else in the room so when Ginny comes in he is the one lying in the bed where he then jumps out and attacks her, which seemed too sophisticated and elaborately thought out for someone of his supposed mental state. Also, the opening sequence where he kills Alice doesn’t make sense either. How is Jason, who has been living in a ramshackle shed in the woods most of his life able to track her down and figure out where she is? Also, I would think anyone living alone in the woods would be very intimidated and confused coming to a big city, or any populated community for that matter. There is also the fact that with his deformity, even if he is wearing a mask, he would have called a lot of attention to himself, and it is very unlikely that he would have gotten away with her murder undetected. In addition there is the matter of his mother’s decapitated head, which he keeps on top of a candle lit altar in his shack, but even in a shriveled up state it still doesn’t look anything like actress Betsy Palmer who played the role in the first film.

This is the type of film that gives slasher movies a bad reputation. It is very mechanical and unimaginative. There are a few shocks here and there, but I saw them coming and there is no sustained tension at all. Of course at the very end you do get to see what Jason looks like unmasked and my response to that is ‘whoop-te-do’.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 1, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated R

Director: Steve Miner

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix streaming

Ice Station Zebra (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: It’s cold up there.

Commander James Ferraday (Rock Hudson) is assigned to head a submarine crew up to the North Pole to rescue stranded members of a weather station called Ice Station Zebra. He is told that there is another reason for the mission, but that is top secret and it will not be disclosed to him until he gets there. In addition to the crew he will be bringing along another man named David Jones (Patrick McGoohan) who is aware of the secret details. When they arrive at the location they find themselves amidst a major international crisis.

The photography is outstanding. This movie marks the first ever continuous filming of a submarine dive and the footage is breathtaking. The scenes showing the submarine trapped beneath the ice is incredible and some of the best stuff in the film. This was also done on an actual sub and the shots showing its interior are interesting. I had no idea how very roomy they can be and found it fascinating to realize how many different compartments there are. My only quibble here is that when Boris Vaslov (Ernest Borgnine) gazes at the nuclear power that propels the sub the viewer only sees the reflection of the orange glow that it gives off. The camera should have been pointed straight down, so the viewer could have witnessed the same thing as Boris.

The scenes taking place at the North Pole are impressive as well, but flawed due to the fact that it was all clearly done on a sound stage.  The snowy artic formations look like they were made from ceramic. The men are shown outside not wearing any hoods and it that bitter climate it would have mean instant frostbite. I didn’t notice it at the time, but other viewers have called to attention that their breath is not showing and in cold weather it always will. Still I was willing to forgive these small oversights because overall the production design is imaginative. The bird’s eye view of the weather station amidst the icy landscape is sprawling and the longshot of parachutes dropping from the sky is exciting.

Hudson would not have been my choice for the lead. He managed to give one really great performance, which was in Giant, but otherwise he is just a good-looking well-built guy with limited acting abilities. He always says his lines with hollow sounding voice and never any emotion. Pairing him with McGoohan, who is a much more creative performer and stronger personality, doesn’t work.

Legendary football player Jim Brown is great as Captain Leslie Anders. He may not be the best actor, but you have to love his badass stare. It has to be the best badass stare of all-time and helps give the proceedings an extra point. However, the character he plays is a bit of letdown especially when he loses in a confrontation to Borgnine, which seemed a little pathetic. Borgnine, who speaks in a Russian accent here, is fun as always.

The plot, based on the novel of the same name by Alistair MacLean, is nicely complex. The viewer is kept in the dark about the secret, which helps with the intrigue. There are some exciting moments, but it is never riveting. The movie is overlong and could have been trimmed substantially, which would have helped with the pacing.  Viewers should still find this enjoyable, but as a whole it is average at best.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 23, 1968

Runtime: 2Hours 28Minutes

Rated G

Director: John Sturges

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Convoy (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The song is better.

Trucker Martin ‘Rubber Duck’ Penwald (Kris Kristofferson) battles corrupt Sheriff Lyle ‘Cottonmouth’ Wallace (Ernest Borgnine) by getting his fellow truckers to band together and form an unstoppable convoy that stretches for miles and soon creates a national media frenzy.

The film’s setup is weak and the ending even weaker. It has all the good-ole-boy/trucker clichés without adding anything new in the process and makes Smokey and the Bandit look brilliant and inspired. Kristofferson is much too laid back for a leading man role and cannot carry the picture. Borgnine’s character is portrayed awkwardly. At the start he is made to look like a real jerk of a sheriff who overacts to a minor contrivance that starts the whole thing rolling. Then at the end he turns more sympathetic and even secretly sides with Kristofferson, which doesn’t work at all. In either case Jackie Gleason is a much better actor for this type of role. The worst part about the movie though is director Sam Peckinpah’s attempts to throw in a ‘serious message’ into this silly action flick that does nothing but slow it down and bomb in the process.

The only good scene in the whole film is the fight sequence inside the truck stop restaurant. Peckinpah puts a funny spin to his trademark ‘slow motion’ violence and the result is amusing. Unfortunately he starts putting all the action into slow motion, which eventually becomes tiring. Ali McGraw as Melissa an attractive woman Martin picks up along the way is always a pleasure to look at, but unfortunately she is given very little to say or do.

If you’ve read the synopsis then you have essentially ‘seen’ the movie. The hit song by C.W. McCall that this movie is based on is pretty good and I would suggest listening to that instead and saving yourself 108 minutes of your time. This is all shockingly uninspired stuff for such an otherwise maverick director.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 28, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Friday the 13th (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t reopen the campsite.

(This review contains spoilers. Lots of spoilers)

Twenty-two years after two counselors were brutally murdered Camp Crystal Lake reopens, but as the young staff tries to get the place ready they are killed one-by-one by an unknown assailant.

I first saw this film back in 1986 and thought it was alright. I presumed I would dislike it this time, but instead came away entertained and although certainly not a perfect film it does deserve its classic status. Director Sean S. Cunningham shows more flair than a lot of critics give him credit for. I liked the idea that all the murders take place during one stormy night at a remote location. Every murder sequence has its own beginning, middle, and end and filming it at an actual campsite gives it a lot of flavor. In fact I believe that is the main element for why this film became such a big hit because it reminds everyone when they went to camp as kids and tried to frighten each other by telling ghost stories around a camp fire.

Some of my favorite aspects of the film are what most might consider minor stuff, but stands out for me. For instance when Brenda (Laurie Bartram) goes to the archery range during the storm and the killer turns on all the lights and she becomes blinded by them is an interesting visual sequence. It is just unfortunate that she was not slayed with a shooting arrow as this would have corresponded to an earlier scene where she was almost hit by one shot by Ned (Mark Nelson). They were apparently planning to this, but then for whatever reason changed their minds. I equally liked the part where the killer shuts off the power and the viewer can see the lights slowly fading from the campsite at a distance, which has a nice foreboding quality. The part where Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney) rides off on his bicycle after warning the staff the they are doomed creates an eerie image because there is no music and the lake is amazingly still proving that sometimes less is more when creating an intended impact. Having shots from the killer’s point of view watching the staff from a distance is creepy.

I watched the film closely thinking that there would be a lot of errors due to its low-budget, but found surprisingly little, or at least none that would create any type of major distraction. I know Betsy Palmer, who played Pamela Voorhees and is exposed as the killer at the end, only participated in a few days shooting. The hand that you see that represents the killer’s during the first half of the film was not Palmer’s, so I presumed that seeing a big ring on the third finger of the left hand would prove a mistake, but when Palmer does finally appear a ring is indeed there and the filmmakers prove to be astute. I know some people consider the scene where Alice (Adrienne King) has trapped herself inside a cabin and piling all sorts of stuff in front of the door to keep the killer out is a mistake because the door pushes out instead of in. However, I don’t agree because in her panic she would not be thinking straight and putting chairs in front of the door gave her a false sense of security, which at the time she may have needed emotionally. About the only real annoying mistake I saw is the fake lightning. Clearly it is a bright yellowish light coming from a flashlight that was shown on the performers from a stagehand that was just off- camera. The effect looks stupid and when are filmmakers ever going to realize that thunder and lightning rarely occur at the same time. You will always see lightning first and then the sound of thunder will usually occur several seconds later.

Too much time at the beginning is spent on the crew getting the campsite ready. These scenes don’t build any tension, the characters are vapid and clichéd, and the dialogue is trivial. I also found Ned to be incredibly irritating as the ‘comedian’ of the group whose attempts at humor where lame to the extreme. I found it funny how his murder is one of the few you don’t see and I think that was because the filmmakers feared that viewers would end up enjoying it too much. A little more nudity during this segment would have helped it along. I found it ironic that the one cast member that does end up going topless, Jeannine Taylor, was in real-life a graduate from a conservative Christian college. There is also a part here where they kill an actual snake and it deserves some mention because it is rather gory and has hints of Cannibal Holocaust where the viewer starts to think ‘if they are willing to kill actual animals in front of the camera what’s to stop them from doing it to the people’.

I like Betsy Palmer and the final climatic segment where she terrorizes Alice who is the last remaining survivor is in many ways the best part of the whole film. However, Estelle Parsons had been their first choice and I was a bit disappointed because Parsons has a unique acting style and a more distinctive face, which could’ve given the character more depth. Still, upon my third viewing I must say that Palmer does well. The close-ups of her face are great as is her gray sweater.

The music of course is another plus. I always thought it sounded like ‘chi,chi,chi; ma,ma,ma’, but it is actually supposed to be ki,ki,ki; ma,ma,ma’ and used to reflect the voice of Jason that Pamela hears inside her head instructing her to ‘Kill her Mommy’. Composer Henry Manfredi actually said ‘ki’ and ‘ma’ into a microphone before using sound effects to get the intended distortion.

Despite the film’s reputation the killings seem rather quick and uneventful. The slitting of the throat is a Tom Savini specialty, but was starting to get old even here. The machete through the head is one of the better ones, but the shot of it is too quick. The decapitation of Pamela is far and away the best. I liked how her hands continue to move even when she is headless. Apparently this is unrealistic and would not happen in real-life, but it is a cool visual nonetheless.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 9, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sean S. Cunningham

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix Streaming

Skidoo (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: They were on LSD.

Jackie Gleason plays family man Tony Banks with mob past who is now trying to go straight yet gets sucked back in by a gangster leader named God (Groucho Marx). He orders Tony to disguise himself as a prisoner so he can infiltrate a prison system and knock off another prisoner and rival named George ‘Blue Chips’ Packard (Mickey Rooney). While in prison Tony mistakenly takes some LSD and goes on a wild drug induced trip.

Story wise it is limp. The humor is weird, but not altogether funny. It tries to satirize a lot of things yet none of it comes together. There is no singular voice or vision let alone cohesion. The pacing is poor and haphazard. It becomes so sloppy and nonsensical that you almost wonder if renowned director Otto Preminger was the one taking the LSD stuff.

The idea of mixing old school comedy with the mod hipness of the day was not new. Many films (and TV shows) of that period tried it with limited success. Yet few went to the extremes as this one. It is still a complete disaster yet odd enough to grab your attention and hold it. In some ways it’s enjoyable and even entertaining if viewed as an oddity and relic of its era.

There are a few good scenes. One involves a weird hippie speech by actor John Phillip Law where he professes a need to be ‘nothing’ which will somehow make him ‘everything’ and ‘anything’. There are also some quirky commercial spoofs at the beginning, a brief glimpse of Packard’s prison cell ‘office’, and the ‘the family tree’ of a crime syndicate. Gleason’s LSD trip really isn’t that funny, but it is still weird enough to stand out.

A lot of talented character actors are wasted with boring bit parts. Gleason though still comes through as his bombastic self. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Groucho. He looks old and well past his prime. He mouths his lines with little or no energy. His conversation with actress Alexandra Hay seems particularly strange as he ‘talks to her’ but never once actually looks at her. Instead he looks off into another direction in a not so subtle attempt to read his cue cards. He does this in other scenes too. Some may still get a kick out of his presence because at the end he dresses as a hippie and even takes a puff of the weed. You also gotta love his mistress and her very low cut dress.

Austin Pendleton gives the best all- around performance playing the first in what has become a long line of nebbish, bookworm type characters. Carol Channing is a real surprise. She sings and even gives each one of the hippies a shampoo in her kitchen sink. There is also a freaky scene where she does a striptease and then lies half naked on Frankie Avalon’s bed. Her presence also gives Gleason a chance to write her a little love letter where states that how he misses her “even that voice of yours”.

Harry Nilsson’s music in Midnight Cowboy was perfect, but all wrong here. However hearing him sing EACH AND EVERYONE of the credits at the end is a goofy delight.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 19, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated M

Director: Otto Preminger

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD 

Heavy Traffic (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A world without women.

            Animated feature with some live-action scenes dealing with a lonely 24 year old artist named Michael who is still living with his parents in a rundown New York City apartment and aspires to be an underground cartoonist.

The film seems compelled right from the beginning to shock and offend as many viewers as it can. Violence and blood, lots of blood, seems to spurt out of characters heads and bodies every few minutes. Breasts pop out of female dresses with just as much regularity and there is even a segment dealing with spousal abuse that gets rather nasty.  Racial stereotypes abound and the N-word is used liberally by the white characters. Some may consider this groundbreaking while others might think it was done by someone who has been sitting alone in his studio too long and needs to seek professional help.  I can appreciate the no-holed-barred approach and the idea that cartoons don’t have to be just for kids, but the edginess is no longer as potent these days since Family Guy, American Dad, and South Park come quite close to what you see here and in some ways are even more outrageous.

The story is too free-form and lacks focus. It took quite a while before I could get into it and the beginning comes off like a lot torrid, wild images thrown at you without cohesion, or direction. The characters are vulgar, gross, and unlikable. Michael, as the protagonist, as some appeal, but he is too detached.

There were some scenes that I found to be quite funny, but they all come in the second half. The scene where Michael describes a new fantasy comic he wants to create to a very sickly, old publisher is great and nicely symbolizes how the old guard is out of touch with the tastes and ideas of the younger generation. His idea deals with an apocalyptic world that has no women, so the men have sex with a pile of garbage instead only to have a real woman appear and then be taken away by God who wants her for himself. This sequence is by far the funniest and most imaginatively perverse of the whole film and I wished that this had been the main premise.  Another segment has Michael’s father bringing home an obese prostitute for Michael, which in a gross sort of way is highly amusing. Another similar scene has Michael trying to have sex with another woman on the rooftop of a building, but inadvertently knocks her over the side wall and she spends the rest of the film dangling naked by a telephone wire. The Godfather who eats a hearty meal of spaghetti while in front of a row of urinals deserves mention as well.

The film is certainly not for all tastes. The animation may not hold up to today’ s standards and the live action segments are not as interesting. The ending falls flat and gets extended longer than it should. Supposedly the initial idea was to have it end with a climatic car chase with images of penny arcade pinball machines flashed across the sky, which would have been better, but due to budget restraints was scrapped.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 17Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ralph Bakshi

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD