Monthly Archives: May 2014

Rabbit Test (1978)

rabbit test 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: The first pregnant man.

Lionel (Billy Crystal) is a lonely young man of 24 who lives next to his obtrusive mother (Doris Roberts) and has never been with a woman. When his friend Danny (Alex Rocco) comes home from the service they go out to a war veteran’s social where he has sex with actress Sheree North on top of a bowling pinball machine and inexplicably becomes pregnant. This creates an uproar in both the media and medical world and turns Lionel into an unwanted celebrity.

This was the one and only movie directed by Joan Rivers. Like with her personality it can be mildly funny at times, but is mostly abrasive and crass. The film lacks any cinematic style and was originally shot on video. The plot is limp and the whole thing seems more like a gag reel than a movie. Her attempts at recreating the comic style of Mel Brooks, Woody Allen or even John Waters fails miserably and the viewer is left with one big amateurish mess.

Ninety-nine percent of the humor is crude and stupid and deals heavily in racial stereotypes making one almost thankful for political correctness. Some of the worst bits include the portrayal of Lionel’s Mexican-American students as being utterly infantile and the only way to get rid of them is to yell ‘immigration’. There is also a segment where Lionel travels to Africa and watches a ventriloquist act where a black man has a dummy on his lap that is played by midget actor Billy Barty in blackface. The film also takes potshots at elderly people, fat people, people with disabilities and even Jews. None of the jokes are funny and are often cruel and in the poorest of taste.

rabbit test 1

Crystal in his film debut is the only good thing about the movie and is likable enough to help elevate it to some degree. Paul Lynde is amusing as a gynecologist and had he had more screen time it would have helped. Roberts score a few points in the caricature of a meddlesome mother as does George Gobel as the hick president. Michael Keaton also makes his film debut here, but it is in a non-speaking role as a sailor and if you blink you’ll miss him.

There is also never any explanation for exactly how Lionel becomes pregnant nor do we see the delivery or what type of baby it is which is annoying and dumb. It is almost like a bunch of twelve-year-olds got together to write the script and in many ways I think they could have done better. The film’s posters are funnier than anything you’ll see in the actual movie.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: April 9, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joan Rivers

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: VHS

The Boys in the Band (1970)

boys in the band 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: This party turns sour.

A group of gay men get together for an intended night of food and laughs as they celebrate Harold’s (Leonard Frey) birthday. Things begin to unravel when Alan (Peter White) appears who was an old college roommate of party host Michael (Kenneth Nelson). He insists that he is not gay, but Michael and the rest of the group intend to prove otherwise, which leads to many harsh and interesting revelations.

This film packs a wallop and is as relevant and daring now as it ever was back then. Director William Friedkin does a terrific job of making this story, which was originally an off-Broadway production seem cinematic. I loved the capturing of the apartment, which makes you feel like you are right there.

The performances are outstanding and all are the original cast from the stage production. Cliff Gorman as the flaming gay personality is a particular standout. The script by Mart Crowley is captivating from beginning to end as it brings out all the different personalities and myriad issues that make up the gay community and the whole thing is a tour-de-force on all levels.

My only complaint would be the character of the Cowboy played by actor Robert La Tourneaux who is the dim-witted, but good looking ‘gift’ giving to Harold for his birthday. I realize the intention is to make him a bit dumb, but it gets overdone. It’s one thing to be an ‘airhead’, but a complete other thing to sound so stupid it’s like he is from another planet. His character is the only one that does not get fleshed out at all and his utterly inane comments come off as hollow and annoying. Ironically La Tourneaux was unable to find many acting parts afterwards and became a gay prostitute in real-life by the late 70’s in order to make ends meet.

The characters are believable and the dialogue moving. It’s a compelling study of those feeling isolated from society and sometimes even themselves.  Even if you are not gay the film can still have a great impact and its quality viewing either way.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: March 17, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Friedkin

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD

Shadey (1985)

shadey

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: His thoughts onto film.

Oliver Sher (Anthony Sher) finds out that he has an amazing ability. Not only can read other people’s minds, but he can also transfer those thoughts onto film. He tells his secret to Cyril (Patrick Macnee) a wealthy businessman hoping he can use his unique ability for some purpose and thus pay him enough money for a sex change operation, which is his ultimate goal. His only condition is that his ability not be used for military purposes. Unfortunately Cyril disregards this and strikes a deal with Doctor Cloud (Billie Whitelaw) who does experiments for the military and sees Oliver as her next guinea pig. Soon Oliver finds himself and his ability being exploited, but gets his revenge by taking advantage of Cyril’s emotionally fragile wife Constance (Katherine Helmond) in a weird and interesting way.

This film is quite original and manages to hold up all the way through. Some of the caricatures are a bit predictable mainly in the way it portrays the older brass businessman and military, but otherwise it defies all genres. It has a nice cerebral quality to it as it moves between being sad and dehumanizing to sharp and satirical sometimes in the very same scene. The humor is laced with drool, dry British wit that makes it engaging and fun.

The old British pros really help here. Macnee with his perpetually stern expression and terse delivery is fantastic. Whitelaw is also good as always as she plays her cold business-like character perfectly.

The best performance though goes to Helmond. She is best known for play Jessica Tate on the 70’s sitcom ‘Soap’ as well as co-starring in the 80’s TV-show ‘Who’s the Boss?’ yet her appearance here may be her career highlight. She has always had a wonderful ability at conveying child-like qualities in adult characters and here that comes to great use. Her facial expressions are both touching, unnerving as well as humorous and the scene where she eats coal from a fireplace while crouching on the ground is unforgettable.

The script could have gone further with its intriguing premise, but manages to be provocative nonetheless. The points it makes are good as it shows how those that are exploited will eventually do the same to others and how you never really know or understand someone no matter how much you think you get inside their head as well as examining how the image can sometimes take on more importance than the reality. The interesting chase that takes place at the end where Shadey continuously rides an elevator from the top of a building to the bottom while the bad guys busily run up and down the stairs to catch him is just one of the many unique scenes in this movie that makes it worth catching for those with an offbeat frame of mind.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 18, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Philip Saville

Studio: Skouras Pictures

Available: VHS

Lover Come Back (1961)

lover come back

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: They all want VIP.

Jerry Webster (Rock Hudson) steals clients from other ad agencies by throwing them parties filled with a lot of liquor and loose women. When Carol Templeton (Doris Day) who works at a competing ad agency finds out about this she goes on the offensive by getting Rebel (Edie Adams) a woman who attended one of Jerry’s wild parties to testify against him at the ad council board, which she hopes will get Jerry severely reprimanded. Jerry though gets Rebel to soften her testimony by promising her that she will be involved in the advertising campaign for a new product called VIP. The problem is that there is no such product, but Carol thinks there is, which leads to a lot of confusion including having Carol start a relationship with Jerry under the misguided notion that he is the chemist working on the new product.

The film is fast and fun for the most part although there isn’t as much physical comedy as in some of Day’s other vehicles, but makes up for it with some sharp dialogue. Although Day’s films have always been considered family friendly the film probably has just as much sexual references and innuendoes as any other movie.  There is even a scene where Day takes the Hudson character out to a strip club and has a stripper shed her pasties right on him. Even more amazing is the scene where the Day character actually considers having sex with Hudson before she is married to him. She ultimately doesn’t go through with it, but the fact that she was about to and even takes out a revealing nightie to wear seemed shocking enough.

Day’s costumes, which were designed by Irene Lentz who just a year after this film came out jumped to her death from a 14-story window, are chic and heighten the film’s visual appeal. I especially liked the variety of hats that she wears some of which go humorously over-the-top. I also got a kick out of Hudson’s garish suit that looks like it got splattered by twelve different cans of paint. My only complaint here is the absurdity of Day going to work looking like she is dressed for an elegant dinner party.

Day is gorgeous as ever, but her performance seems a bit one-note and amounts to nothing more than a collection of exasperated and perturbed reactions. It is actually Hudson who is typically a weak actor that steals it. The cocky way his character tries to finagle his way out of everything and his interactions with Tony Randall are the best.

The film ends with the two characters getting married, which I am sure fans of Day’s movies like and expect, but it really doesn’t make a lot of sense and seems quite contrived and formulaic. The script’s original ending had the two characters getting drunk and then checking into a hotel room, but Day insisted the characters get married instead even though it is unlikely any judge or minister would marry two people in a drunken state. The Hudson character was a raging playboy who could get attractive women whenever he wanted and clearly viewed sex as a conquest. It is most likely that after a few years of marriage he would get the itch to fool around again, which would culminate in an ugly divorce and make this ‘happy ending’ not so happy after all.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 20, 1961

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Delbert Mann

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Brewster McCloud (1970)

brewster mccloud 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Flying in the Astrodome.

Brewster McCloud (Bud Cort) is a young man who lives and hides inside the giant Astrodome in Houston, Texas. He dreams of one day flying like a bird and secretly works on building a contraption that will help him do it while being aided by a mysterious guardian angel named Louise (Sally Kellerman). Meanwhile strangulations start occurring all over the city and the police become convinced that Brewster may have something to do with it. As he gets ready to ‘spread his wings’ and fly for the first time the police surround the place and try to arrest him.

This film is reportedly director Robert Altman’s favorite out of all the ones that he did and it is easy to see why. The quirky, offbeat script by Doran William Cannon nicely compliments Altman’s free-form, cerebral style. The film works on many different levels with every shot and scene being unique and a kind of story in itself. The dream-like quality is nicely balanced with harsh realities creating an interesting theme that touches a wide array of senses. Although this film is never mentioned in relation to car chases the one that is has is exciting and well photographed without any of the jump cuts that you normally see.

The city of Houston gets captured well and I liked the fact that Altman stayed away from the downtown and instead focused more on the neighborhoods and city streets. The filming of the inside of the Astrodome is the most impressive and the building becomes like a third character. It may seem hard to believe now, but at one time it was considered ‘the eighth wonder of the world’ and was the very first dome stadium in existence. Watching Cort fly around on the makeshift wings he creates gives off an exhilarating feeling especially with the way Altman captures it against the backdrop of the stadium’s ceiling filled with skylights. The best shot in my opinion though is the bird’s-eye view of seeing Kellerman walking the entire length of the field and out the exit.

The broad and amusing characterizations are fun and Altman gives his actors wide range to create them. Some of the best ones are Stacy Keach who is unrecognizable under heavy make-up as an elderly, cantankerous and greedy landlord who goes reeling down the city streets in nothing but a wheel chair. Bert Remsen is good as a corrupt and racist policeman who even beats and berates his own family. Michael Murphy is interesting as a narcissist, hotshot detective who ends up killing himself and Rene Auberjonois as the lecturer who slowly turns into a giant bird as the film progresses. There is even the aging Margaret Hamilton who says a few curse words and dies while wearing her ruby red slippers.

The film is one-of-a-kind and perfect fare for those looking for something offbeat and diverting. The kooky opening and ending title sequences alone make it worth it. My only real complaint would be the fact that supposedly a bird is committing all these strangulations, but we never see how. All the viewers see is the victims getting bird poop on them and nothing more. I realize this might have been technically difficult to film or visualize, but for such an otherwise creative movie this seems like a bit of a cop-out.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: December 5, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS, DVD