Monthly Archives: August 2012

Johnny Cool (1963)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Top of crime world.

                Johnny Cool (Henry Silva) is really Giordano a man who grew to mythical proportions as an outlaw in a small Italian village after killing off some soldiers who tried to rape his mother. His exploits come to the attention of  Colini (Marc Lawrence) who has been exiled to Sicily because of his gangster past. He stages a fake assassination of Giordano in order to kidnap him and train him to go back to the United States and kill off the men that ordered his downfall. Johnny does this, but then becomes even more powerful than Colini was and soon he is both feared and hunted by the crime world.

The film, which was directed by William Asher, is nicely paced. I liked the fast, gripping action, the pounding music, and raw approach. The black and white photography nicely accentuates the gritty subject matter. Although it may seem a bit tame by today’s standards I still found most of it to be intense and uncompromising especially the ending.

Lots and lots of famous faces pop up everywhere, which is fun for a bit, but then takes you out of the story as it seems to become more like ‘spot the star’. Some of the cameos are small and pointless while others are more interesting. Sammy Davis Jr. has a tense scene playing a man with an eye patch who must role a specific number with the dice or be blown away by Johnny’s gun, which is aimed directly at his temple. Joey Bishop is funny as a fast talking used car salesman and his feeble attempts at making a play at the beautiful Dare (Elizabeth Montgomery). John McGiver is equally fun as a perplexed store manager who brings in a woman to his office after finding that she has been writing a lot of bad checks. The exchange he has with her is a perfect example of why sexual innuendos where a lot more interesting and creative back in the old days when the standard didn’t allow them to be as crass and vulgar as they are now. Here the lady states “I can make those bad checks good.” And McGiver responds after eyeing her figure “Yes, I think you can!”

Telly Savalas is wasted. The man is a great character actor especially as a villain. Playing a tough crime boss from Brooklyn is his forte and he could have really gone with it had they given him a bigger part. Marc Lawrence is equally evil as Colini and showing him only in one scene and then disappearing was disappointing. Jim Backus’s appearance was a mistake. A funny, talented man for sure, but I didn’t like that he did his Mr. Magoo laugh several times here as it did not fit the gritty mood.

Henry Silva has proven to be a great villain throughout his career, but in this role it just doesn’t work. His eyes have a weird type of stare that makes it look like he has been drugged. He delivers his lines in a monotone fashion. The character becomes overblown and some may find his use of the karate chop to be a bit cheesy. He kills a man on an escalator amidst a crowded airport and is able to get away. There are several other scenes where he is able to somehow get into a secure area and kill off people without any explanation for how he was able to do it.

Elizabeth Montgomery, who was at the time the wife of the director, is fantastic. She plays a brunette and does well with a multi-faceted character that goes from helpless victim to conniving double-crosser. She is shown in several scenes wearing no make-up and I liked the naturalistic quality. My only quibble is the scene where she gets roughed up by some gangsters, but the only mark left on her is a bruise on a shoulder even though a few bruises, scratches, and cuts on the face would have been not only more believable, but visually more effective.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 2, 1963

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: William Asher

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Netflix streaming

Silver Bears (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Investing in Silver Mine.

This is an engaging, lighthearted look at the complex inner-workings of financial institutions and markets and how a group of con-men try to exploit it. The plot is elaborate and although it is easy to follow as you are watching it, as long as you are paying close attention, it is hard and even convoluted to explain, but I will try my best.

The basic premise works like this: Doc Fletcher (Michael Caine) is hired by underground kingpin Joe Fiore (Martin Balsam) to open a phony bank which they can use as a front for their laundered money. When they get there they find that the building is some rundown offices on top of a restaurant. Prince di Siracusa (Louis Jourdan) then tells them of a silver mine in Iran that is run by his distant cousins Agha (David Warner) and Shireen (Stephanie Audran).  Doc decides the bank can invest in the mine and use the money to create a better building premises as well as attracting rich investors. The silver in the mine begins to flood the market causing a drop in value at the London Stock Exchange and forces Charles Cook (Charles Gray) to decide to buy out the bank that is funding the mine in order to then close the mine. To do this he contacts the President of the First National Bank of California (Joss Ackland) who is looking to expand his business in Europe. The bank president sends Donald Luckman (Tom Smothers) out to negotiate a sale of the bank with Doc, but without telling Doc the true reason why. This makes Doc suspicious and to find out their true motives he decides to seduce Donald’s beautiful and free-spirited wife Debbie (Cybil Shepard). Once she divulges their secret things really get going in a high-spirited fashion.

The catalyst of the comedy comes through the many different ‘negotiating’ sessions that take place throughout the film all of which prove to be quite amusing. The first is when Doc negotiates with Agha about a suitable deposit Agha must give to the bank in order to obtain a bank loan even though the bank has no money to give. The second is when Donald tries to bargain with Doc on a selling price for the bank and the third is when Doc tries to intimidate Crime boss Joe into not accepting Donald’s offer. The final one at the end is where all the characters chase Charles around his mansion in order to get settlements to their deals, which have by then soured.

The characters are charming and delightful. Caine is superb as always playing a man who would like to be a lot more ruthless and intimidating if he weren’t surrounded by a bunch of incompetents. Jourdan is suave as the Prince and the two leads share very contrasting personalities and styles, which makes their conversations and budding friendship interesting.

This movie is also a great chance to see Jay Leno in a rare acting role. I’d say being a talk show host is more his repartee, but he is energetic enough here to remain amiable and seeing him with a big mop of curly black hair is almost worth the price itself. Shepard is fantastic and the one thing that gives the film some zest. She is best known for her bitchy roles of which she is very good, but her she plays a fun-loving hippie type and is hilarious. Although this movie is a bit hard to find fans of Shepard should really seek this out as they won’t be disappointed.

Smothers is okay as the meticulous accountant who thinks he has all the bases covered until he gets an unsettling surprise at the end. Usually he is stuck playing characters on the dim-witted side, so it was nice to see him in something that was a slight change of pace. Although Balsam’s screen time is brief I still got a kick out of the way he would look at pictures showing the bloody corpses of the victims he had ordered killed while he ate his breakfast.

The film was shot on-location in such places as Switzerland and Morocco and although it does show some of the exotic topography of the regions it wasn’t enough and I wanted to see more. The musical score is terrible and resembles a show tune from the big band era that does not fit with the mood, or action of the story. I also didn’t find it enticing to have the film begin by focusing the camera onto the naked rears of a bunch of fat, middle-aged men as they get into a hot tub.

For those looking for a diverting, original comedy that emphasizes the subtle and dryly humorous exchanges between business partners then this little known gem should hit the spot.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 21, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ivan Passer

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS

Young Doctors in Love (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He tastes the urine.

This is pretty much what you would expect from Gary Marshall, Penny’s brother, and creator of such loud comedies as the TV-show ‘Laverne and Shirley’. Here though the majority of the jokes actually work. Yes it’s still juvenile and crude with nothing real amazing, but if you come in with moderate expectations you might be pleasantly surprised.

There are of course the expected bombs sprinkled throughout. The worst bit features Michael Richards as a hit man going after another patient who is a member of a crime family. Richards is always funny, sometimes just when he is standing there, however the gag gets stretched out too far. It becomes redundant and cartoonish almost like a poor man’s version of a Wiley E. Coyote cartoon.

The worst thing is that the comedy has no edge to it. It’s modeled after Airplane, but doesn’t have the same satirical jabs. It should have done to old medical TV-shows what Airplane did to disaster movies. Here it just tries to be cute with a vaudeville mindset that becomes too soft, good- natured, and one-dimensional and ends up leaving you with an empty feeling. This is too bad because old shows like ‘Marcus Welby M.D.  are just begging to be made fun of.

Michael McKean and Sean Young look much, much younger and make for a cute couple. This is before all of Young’s troubles and dismal direct to video movie roles. She was still considered the promising up and coming starlet and she looks pretty and has a terrific figure to boot.

Harry Dean Stanton is a real surprise. Usually he is given low key roles, but here he is a wacky guy that is hilarious especially in a very funny ‘urine tasting’ segment. Hector Elizondo is also in rare form playing a man disguised as a woman and just seeing him in a dress is amazing.

Dabney Coleman though is wasted. He is well cast, but having him go completely bonkers at the end seems dumb. The worst travesty is with former ‘Avengers’ star Patrick Macnee. At first it seems like inspired casting to have such a proper English gentlemen in the middle of complete chaos. However, after the first few minutes he pretty much disappears and this is a shame because they could have done a lot more with his character.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 16, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated R

Director: Garry Marshall

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD

4 for Texas (1963)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Frank and Dino vehicle.

            Sharp-shooter Zack Thomas (Frank Sinatra) and Joe Jarrett (Dean Martin) fight over a cache of money they come upon after fighting off Matson (Charles Bronson) and his gang from a stage coach attack. Eventually Jarrett takes the money and makes his way to Galveston were the two meet up again and continue their bickering. When Joe fixes up an old riverboat and proceeds to turn it into a casino Zack tries to take it over, but not until Matson tracks him down to seek revenge.

The movie opens nicely with a snappy segment between the quarreling Zack and Joe trapped all alone in the middle of the desert. Their banter is great and it makes the most of each star’s appeal. However, after this the movie proceeds to die and very long, slow death. Absolutely nothing gels and the fragmented story lacks any type of singular voice, or vision. The film is also devoid of much action. There is a fistfight that Zack and Joe have at the end, but from the longshots it is clear that stunt doubles are being used for both men, which kind of takes the fun out of it. There is some potential when the two decide to combine their forces to take on Matson and his gang, but this finale moves along too hastily and the action is as uninspired as the rest of the film.

Martin is engaging and he is one of the film’s few bright spots. Sinatra though is stiff and out-of-place and shows no flair for lighthearted comedy. Apparently director Robert Aldrich and Sinatra did not get along at all and it shows.

The female co-stars don’t fare much better. Anita Eckberg who plays Zack’s love interest Elya amounts to not much more than a tired walk-on. The character has little to say or do and minimal connection to the main plot. Ursala Andress as Joe’s girlfriend Maxine fares better simply because she looks great. I’d say she is more striking here than she was in her most famous role in Dr. No.  Her low-cut dress is tantalizing and her tan, curved features have never looked better. The problem though is that there are a few drawn-out romantic scenes between both couples that makes a slow movie drag even more.

Talented character actor Victor Buono is excellent as bank president Harvey Burden. I was impressed with how he managed to hold his own with the rest of the cast despite the fact that he was much younger than all of them. Bronson is effective in the bad guy role and he makes a more interesting villain than he ever did as a good guy.

The Three Stooges appear in a cameo and do their predictable shtick that is strained and forced. Jack Elam who is a veteran support player in many westerns and has a very distinctive cross-eyed gaze is shockingly killed off right at the beginning, which was stupid.

This movie is a perfect example of a big Hollywood production relying too heavily on the star power of its two leads without first having an interesting script for them to work with. The production values are high and it is watchable, but plays itself out in a meandering and pointless fashion.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1963

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Robert Aldrich

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

 

The Telephone Book (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: She likes obscene calls.

            Due to the recent death of writer/director Nelson Lyon on July 17th I felt it was time to dig up my old copy of this bizarre underground cult flick and give it another view. I stated in another review I made about this film that I considered it The Gone with the Wind of underground moviemaking and I still stand behind it. The film is hampered by its low budget and black and white photography, but I was impressed with it creative camera angles, editing, set design and music. Lyon showed a genuine vision and made the most out of what little resources he had. Even the content, which could be seen as pornographic by some, is presented in such a quick paced and diverting style that it becomes engaging and amusing.

The basic premise deals with Alice (Sarah Kennedy) an over-sexed young blonde living alone in an apartment with walls lined with wall paper that has hundreds of pictures of people in various sex acts. One day she gets a call from an obscene phone caller and she falls in love with him because it was the ‘most sweetest and most beautiful dirty call’ she had ever received and although she had received other obscene calls in her life this one ‘had class’. She becomes obsessed with meeting the man. He tells her that his name is John Smith and that he is ‘in the book’.  She goes through the telephone book to call him up, but because she lives in New York City she realizes there are a lot of John Smiths. The rest of the film deals with her encounters of all the various John Smiths that she meets as well as her climatic meeting with the real John Smith and the very weird conversation that she has with him.

The film’s structure is basically made up of a lot of vignettes all dealing with various forms of perversity. Some famous character actors appear in cameos and some of which prove to be quite outrageous and funny. Barry Morse best known for playing Lieutenant Gerard in the 1960’s TV-series ‘The Fugitive’ has one of the film’s best moments playing Har Poon ‘the greatest stag movie actor of all-time’. He has a scene where 10 naked ladies, at least that is how many I was able to count, all jump on top of him and begin sucking on his various body parts. There is Roger C. Carmel as a psychiatrist who enjoys exposing himself to ladies on a subway train, but when Alice decides to do the same thing in return he becomes shocked and repulsed. Character actress Lucy Lee Flippan makes her film debut here as a ‘reformed’ obscene phone caller who describes how when her husband was away at work and her kids where at school she would call up men at their jobs and talk dirty to them while masturbating  with a banana. There is also William Hickey playing a man suffering from a permanent and incurable erection.

The best appearance though comes from Norman Rose famous for narrating many films. Here he appears wearing a mask of a pig and playing the actual obscene phone caller. He describes how he calls 4 different women a night every week of the year except for two when he goes on vacation to ‘get out of the grind’. He also explains how he has perfected his obscene phone skills to the point that he could seduce the president of the United States if he wanted to, but doesn’t because he has ‘no political ambitions’. The conversation gets weirder including telling Alice about his foray into becoming an astronaut while he seductively washes her hair, but Lyon’s use of imagery during this segment keeps it interesting and even memorable. My only complaint would be that I wished he had taken off the mask so we could have seen what he really looked like.

The film ends with an eye popping animation segment dealing with a giant headless naked woman who squats down and has sex with a sky scrapper that needs to be seen to be believed. This is also the only part of the film that is in color.

Despite the fact that it was all done on a shoestring budget and with no character development I had few complaints although I didn’t understand how the obscene caller was always able to call up Alice and get a hold of her even when she was not at home and at someone else’s place. This was of course before cellphones, but I suppose demanding logic from a film that otherwise revels in the absurd would prove futile. The film did not do well on its initial run, but was rereleased in 2011 to much more positive reviews both here and in Europe. Through word of mouth it is expected to gain the cult following it deserves and maybe eventually a DVD or Blu-ray release.

Kennedy is delightful in the lead, but her appeal may depend on one’s personal tolerance. She looks and acts almost exactly like Goldie Hawn and was her replacement on the ‘Laugh-In’ show when Hawn left to concentrate on her movie career. I enjoyed Kennedy’s giddiness and child-like enthusiasm to all the perversions around her, but her voice sounds like she has sucked in helium and could prove annoying to some.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 24Minutes

Rated X

Director: Nelson Lyon

Studio: Rosebud Films

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray