By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: Drugs are a trip.
This review was originally slated to post in February, but due to the death on Christmas Eve of Charles Durning I decided to post it now. Durning was one of the all-time great character actors who always brought an amazing amount of energy to every role he played and could do a wide variety of character types well. Although he has very few lines of dialogue in this movie he still manages to become the most interesting part of the proceedings and helps enliven an otherwise slow moving film.
The plot, based on a novel by Michael Crichton, pertains to Peter (Robert F. Lyons) who is a recent Harvard graduate hired by John (John Lithgow) to transport a suitcase full of marijuana from Boston to Berkeley, California. Peter is new at this and things do not go as planned, but he meets beautiful Susan (Barbara Hershey) along the way and the two fall in love. John next hires Susan to transport another suitcase of narcotics, but when she loses the luggage at the airport and then tries to go back and get it she is arrested by corrupt cop Murphy (Durning) who resells some of the recovered stash back out onto the street. In order to get Susan out of jail Peter plays an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse with the cop, which culminates in a violent showdown.
The story is done in a laid-back style similar to the approach taken by many European films. The emphasis is on mood and subtle nuance yet when the Europeans do it this style seems refreshing, but here it is more off-putting. I really had a hard time getting into it as the first hour is slow with too many scenes going on longer than it should. The set-up is too quick and there is not enough background, or history shown to the main character.
The second hour improves. Durning gives the proceedings some pizazz and Peter’s scheming is fun. The shootout done in the snow has flair and style.
The music by Michael Small is impressive. It is one of the most original scores I have heard and really fits the mood of the script. The best is over the opening credits.
Hershey is as always gorgeous and fans may like that she is shown topless. The part of a free-spirited hippy chick seems to be her forte and she excels. However, having her fall for a guy that is rather dull and ordinary didn’t make sense. Sure they make love right away, but I thought that was more just because it was a part of her lifestyle and she does after all go around in a dress without wearing any underwear. She just seemed to be diving into the free love atmosphere of the era. Obviously having Peter fall for her made sense because she is hot, but why would she go head-over-heels for this schmuck when there are so many other guys that would be more than willing to do it with her. The romantic angle was forced and hurt the credibility of the story.
Lithgow is okay in his film debut, but I had problems with the character. One minute he is cool, conniving, brash, and arrogant and then in the next instant he becomes scared, confused, and meek, which was too much of a quick transition.
The under-rated Lyons is excellent and makes for a terrific lead especially with this type of part. Despite being in his 30’s he looks and acts very much like a college kid from that period. His performance is nicely understated and believable throughout.
The on-location shooting in Boston is vivid and people from the area may like to view this just to see how much it has changed. The DVD transfer from Warner Archive is excellent with a nice clarity and vivid colors. The movie itself is slick, but it also has a detachment to it that doesn’t allow the viewer to get as connected with the characters, or the situations like they should and thus making it an interesting period artifact, but nothing more.
Also, Demond Wilson can be seen briefly as one of the drug dealers. He did this just before his signature role of Lamont in the hit TV-series ‘Sandford and Son’. Ellen Barber is real cute as Peter’s girlfriend and so is Joy Bang who later became a registered nurse. Normally I don’t like women with buck teeth, but with her it actually looks sexy.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: February 25, 1972
Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes
Director: Paul Williams
Studio: Warner Brothers
Available: DVD (Warner Archive)
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