Monthly Archives: November 2017

Blue Thunder (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: A technologically advanced helicopter.

Frank Murphy (Roy Scheider) is a LAPD officer still suffering from flashbacks from his time in Vietnam while working now as part of the air patrol division where he mans a helicopter at night and gives assistance to the cops on the ground.  Due to his expertise he is given the chance to helm the first advanced helicopter called Blue Thunder, which has abilities to fight crime like no other machine before it. As he tests out the new product with his partner Richard (Daniel Stern) he overhears a conversation, through using the machines built-in microphones that can pick up voices from inside buildings, talking about using Blue Thunder for nefarious means. Frank records the conversation and then gets hounded by the bad guys who are led by his lifelong rival from his army days F.E. Cochrane (Malcolm McDowell). To escape their clutches Frank boards the helicopter and flies all over the city of L.A. while waiting for his wife Kate (Candy Clark) to get the incriminating tape to a TV-station where it will be broadcast for the public to hear, but Cochrane, who is an expert pilot as well, gets into another helicopter and tries to shoot Blue Thunder down.

The script was written by the prolific Dan O’Bannon who also wrote the scripts for Alien and Total Recall. He got the idea for this one while living in L.A. and constantly having a police helicopters routinely fly over his neighborhood at night. The original script was darker in tone and portrayed Frank as a psychotic who steals the helicopter and terrorizes the city until he is finally shot down, but that idea got nixed and like with most big-budgeted Hollywood projects got toned down to help appeal to a wider audience.

Personally I would’ve found the original idea more interesting as it also contained political overtones that get completely washed over here. The story here is pretty generic with one-dimensional villains and situations simply thrown in to create cheap conflict and nothing more.

What impressed me though was the modern visual style and effects. It hardly seems like a mid-80s movie at all let alone one that was actually filmed in late ’79 and early ’80. The overriding sentiment has a trendy feel and the cinematography is vivid and colorful. The helicopter action is the film’s biggest selling point and no matter how dippy the story gets the exciting aerial footage more than makes up for it. I loved the way director John Badham captures all sides of Los Angeles from its glitzy skyline to its more grimy and rundown working class areas. It’s also nice to have a REAL helicopter REALLY flying in the air over the city instead of computer generated effects, which makes many of today’s movies look fake and cheapens them while still keeping many of the ‘80s action flicks superior.

Scheider has never been a leading man that I’ve found particularly impressive as his presence seems transparent. However here his laid-back demeanor nicely contrasts with McDowell’s hyper one and makes the bad guy seem even more vindictive. Stern is engaging as Scheider’s partner and it’s too bad this wasn’t made into a buddy movie with Stern’s character staying on for the whole time. Clark is also enjoyable particularly with the wild look that she elicits with her eyes and the car chase that she has with the cops in an abandoned lot of a drive-In theater.

This also sadly marks Warren Oates last project. It was filmed in 1980 and he did a few other films after this one, but this was released last. Oates is one of the most distinctive character actors to ever grace the screen and even in a bland supporting role like the one here he still finds a way to enliven it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 13, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Badham

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Comes a Horseman (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ranchers battle for land.

Recently widowed Ella (Jane Fonda) must struggle to run her ranch in the middle of the desolate west by herself. Frank (James Caan) is her neighbor who is being harassed by Jacob Ewing (Jason Robards) to sell his land and Ewing has also made a strong play for Ella’s property as well. Both refuse his offers and then band together to defend themselves and Ella’s ranch from Ewing and his men who are willing to do anything it takes in order to get what they want.

The film’s main charm is its stunning cinematography by Gordon Willis who captures the expansive western landscape in breathtaking fashion and this is indeed one film that must be watched on the big-screen, or in widescreen to be fully appreciated. Director Alan J. Pakula instills a wonderfully slow pace with a minimum of music, which gives the viewer an authentic feel for what life out in the country during the 1940’s must’ve been like.

I also really liked the fact that Ella and Frank didn’t immediately fall-in-love and jump into bed together. Too many times films made during the post sexual revolution depicted characters from bygone eras as being far more liberated than they really were and here they’re authentically reserved and in fact they don’t even show any affection for one another until well into the story and when it does happen it seems genuine instead of just sexual.

Jane gives an outstanding performance. Usually she commands the screen and gives off a sexual allure, but here she literally disappears in her role of a humble farm woman until you don’t see the acting at all. Former stuntman Farnsworth at the age of 58 makes an outstanding film debut in a supporting role that will emotionally grab the viewer.

The story, which was written directly for the screen by Dennis Lynton Clark, lacks depth and has too many elements stolen from other similar films. Stanley Kramer’s Oklahoma Crude, which came out 5 years has almost the exact same plotline, but done in a darkly comic manner. Both deal with a man moving onto a woman’s ranch to help as a farmhand. The woman initially rebuffs the male’s advances, but eventually softens. Both deal with an oil company pressuring her to sell her land and harassing her when she doesn’t and they both have a memorable scene involving a windmill.  The oil subplot, particularly in this film seems rather unimaginative and like it was thrown simply to create more conflict while Ella’s past relationship with Ewing and the dark secret that they share should’ve been more than enough to carry the picture.

The one thing though that really kills the picture is the ending where Ella and Frank find themselves being attacked and in an effort to build up the tension loud music similar to what’s heard in a modern-day thriller gets thrown in. This had been a movie that had been very quiet up until then and it should’ve stayed that way. The actions seen on the screen was more than enough to horrify the viewer and no extra music was needed. Hearing nothing more than the howling wind on the prairie would’ve made it more effective as it would’ve reminded the viewer how remote the location was and how no one else was nearby to help Frank or Ella. For a movie that tried so hard to recreate the feel of a past era only to suddenly go downright commercial at the very end is a real sell-out.

The fact that all the night scenes were filmed during the day using a darkened filter is another letdown. There have been many films that have been shot in actual nighttime darkness so why couldn’t this one? If you want to see a film set during the same time period with equally captivating visual approach, but stays more consistent in theme then I’d suggest Days of Heaven, which was also released in 1978.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 25, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 59 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Alan J. Pakula

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, You Tube

Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He eats too much.

Max (Robert Morley) is a famous food critic who writes an article for the food magazine The Epicurist titled ‘The World’s Most Fabulous Meal’, which described four dishes cooked by four of the world’s top chefs. The problem is those chefs are now turning up dead. Natasha (Jacqueline Bisset) was the chef famous for creating the dessert called the bombe, which was also written about in that same article. Since the other chefs have already been murdered Natasha fears she may be next, so she works with the police to find the killer while also being a suspect since she was with each victim just before they died.

The film is based on the novel ‘Someone is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe’ by husband and wife writers Nan and Ivan Lyons, which came out two years earlier and had more erotic overtones while also detailing the specific recipes of each gourmet dish described in the story. Ted Kotchef’s excellent direction focuses strongly on the food element and each exotic meal is nicely captured and crafted by an actual cuisine chef named Paul Bocuse. Not only do you see the cast eating the stuff, especially Morley’s character, but preparing it as well including a detailed, drawn out segment showing Natasha creating her world famous desert.

The on-location shooting, done in three different European countries, is vivid and the dialogue is quite amusing. The denouncement is interesting because you think for sure it’s one person only to genuinely get surprised when it turns out to be someone completely unexpected. The plot though is too leisurely paced and the side-story dealing with Natasha’s ex-husband (George Segal) trying to rekindle their relationship is unnecessary and could’ve been cut, which would’ve helped shorten the runtime, which is overlong for such otherwise trite material.

Morley is a scene-stealer with everything he utters being hilarious. Bisset is great too and should’ve received top-billing as she’s seen the most while Segal’s presence comes off as downright intrusive. It was nice having a beautiful woman in a lead that was not sexualized and it would’ve made the film a bit ahead-of-its-time had she carried it alone, which she easily could’ve without Segal as a sort of male sidekick.

For light entertainment it’s enjoyable, but I was surprised at seeing how things have changed as there are several throwaway bits that at the time I’m sure were considered innocuous but would be deemed quite controversial by today’s standards. One scene has Bisset speaking with an Italian chef (Stefano Satta Flores) who openly pinches her twice on the rear without her permission. She protests it the first time, but he boldly does it again later and she lets it go, continues to casually talk to him and even agrees to meet him later for dinner. The film seems to play the whole thing off as a ‘boy-will-be-boys’ scenario coupled with the Italian male stereotype that this is simply ‘a part of their nature’.

In another part she refers to a French chef (Jean-Pierre Cassel) as a ‘fag’ and she visits a processing plant where thousands of chickens are housed in tight little cages and barely able to even move which doesn’t seem to bother her at all. I’m sure these scenes back in 1978 went completely over-the-heads of the viewers and most likely were quickly forgotten even though now these same moments would most likely elicit outrage, protest and headlines.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 5, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive)

Just Tell Me What You Want (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rich tycoon gets dumped.

Max Herschel (Alan King) is a rich and successful businessman who’s used to getting what he wants. He’s rude and crude and doesn’t mind displaying his anger or contempt for others at a moment’s notice. After 14 years Bones (Ali MacGraw), his mistress, has decided she’s had enough. She leaves him for a much younger man (Peter Weller). This enrages Max who does whatever he can to win her back, or at the very least ‘punish’ her for leaving him.

The film, which is based on a novel by Jay Presson Allen has a delicious New York flavor with the majority of the action taking place at the Old Westbury Gardens estate that fronts as Max’s home. The interiors of the stately mansion are at times more interesting than the conversations and the exteriors coincidently were also used in Love Story, which was another MacGraw vehicle. Director Sidney Lumet gives the dark comedy a classy air with a rousing, distinctively jazzy score by Charles Strouse, which I wanted to hear more of and wouldn’t have minded if it had been played all the way through the movie.

The story has sharp dialogue and a deliciously acerbic edge, but becomes preoccupied with Max’s business dealings, which most viewers may find too complex to follow and aren’t that integral to the story. The first hour is spent focused on Max, whose obnoxious ways quickly become off-putting and tiring. The catalyst is his love-hate relationship with Bones and more scenes should’ve been shown with them together while having her break-up with him come much sooner.

King was a comedian known for angry monologues and that emotion gets channeled into his character. I’ll give them props for creating an unlikable lead and not holding anything back as too many times films create abrasive people only to soften them too soon or not go all-the-way with it. Here it gets pushed to the limit, but I was still hoping for Max to have more of an arch and was disappointed that he remains for the most part a callous jerk to the very end.

MacGraw’s restrained approach works well off of King’s flamboyance and the highlight is when she corners him at a luxury department store, which was filmed on-location at the Bergdorf Goodman, and tackles him while destroying everything in sight. However the character’s nickname of ‘Bones’ I did not care for especially with no explanation for why she was given it. Was she called this because she was thin, or was it for some other reason? An attractive female should be given a pleasant name not something that sounds demeaning.

Legendary actress Myrna Loy, who had been around since the silent film era, plays Max’s long suffering secretary and earns her pay here. Loved the scene where King cries right into her bosom while she holds his head and acts like his mother, but also the part where he shouts directly into her face even throws out the C-word and she doesn’t flinch. Keenan Wynn is likable and speaks with an accent in a sympathetic role as a Russian businessman and Dina Merrill’s emotional breakdowns as Max’s mentally fragile wife are impressive and could’ve been extended.

Spoiler Alert!

Overall though it fizzles and it’s not because it’s filled with a lot of extraneous dialogue and scenes that should’ve been cut, but more because it plays itself as this sort-of anti-romance only to sell-out at the end. There is simply no way anyone could truly fall-in-love with Max because there was nothing about him to love. Having him do one nice thing shouldn’t erase all the other bad things he did before. Bones had already spent 14 years with him which should be more than enough time to realize things won’t be any different moving forward. Having them reconcile by working together as business partners maybe, but a marriage is simply a disaster waiting to happen. Just because audiences long for the ‘happy ending’ doesn’t mean that’s what you give especially by having two people magically find love for each when none had ever existed before.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 18, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube

Malone (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hit-man saves town.

Richard Malone (Burt Reynolds) is a former CIA hit-man who decides that he’s had enough of the dirty business and wants to retire. He uses his savings to leave the profession and travel the countryside. On the way his car breaks down and he’s forced to push the vehicle to the nearest small town service station, which is run by Paul (Scott Wilson). Since the parts to repair the transmission will take several days to arrive he stays at the place and befriends Paul’s teen-age daughter Jo (Cynthia Gibb). He also becomes aware of a plot by billionaire Charles Delaney (Cliff Robertson) to buy up the town and force everyone to sell and if they don’t they end up dying. Despite his initial reluctance Malone ends up getting involved in the dispute and becomes Delaney’s number one target in the process.

The movie is based on the novel ‘Shotgun’ by William P. Wingate, which in turn was modeled after the formula from the western Shane. It reminded me more of High Noon particularly the way Malone single-handedly takes on not only Malone, but all of his cohorts during a gun battle at the end, but without that film’s strong emotional impact. The story and characters are highly uninspired and this thing is aimed towards those that like their action flicks on a very simple and predictable level.

Reynold’s presence is the only interesting ingredient. This was during the downside period of his career where he was desperately trying to get back to the tough guy action roles that had made him famous. However, during the 70’s his action guy persona worked more in the humorous vein where his character would always approach the situation with a twinkle in his eye and funny side-quip, but here he’s all stiff and serious. To a degree this proves he’s a good actor in that he can play either type of role effectively, but the funny-Burt is far more entertaining than the serious one. Either way it’s doubtful that this middle-ager would’ve been able to run so vigorously and climb onto the rooftop of buildings as he does when he gets onto Delaney’s estate and I’m pretty sure a stunt double was used since we only see him doing this from a distance.

An element of the film that audiences today may take issue with is his relationship with the teen girl who starts to admire him to an emotional extreme. Clearly she represents the Brandon deWilde role from the Shane film, but the fact that she is underage and starts to have a romantic interest in the 50-year-old and he in her and even kisses him on the mouth may make certain viewers uncomfortable.

As for the villain he is as dull and transparent of a caricature as it gets and Robertson plays him very poorly by conveying no menace on the screen and creating zero tension. It would’ve worked better had Kenneth McMillan, who plays the sleazy sheriff would’ve been cast in the Delaney part as he’s an actor with genuine panache and owns whatever scene he’s in no matter how big or small the role.

The ironic thing about this otherwise mindless excursion is it’s all about this far-right nutty guy who wants to take over the government to ‘save the country’ and even requires all his followers to say a corny patriotic-like pledge and yet it wasn’t even filmed in the US, but instead British Columbia, Canada. Even more frighteningly is that given today’s political climate it doesn’t seem quite as farfetched and over-the-top as it once did.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 1, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Harley Cokeless

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Carny (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Runaway joins the carnival.

Bored with small town life and an overly-protective boyfriend (Craig Wasson) Donna decides at the age of 18 to break-free of her restraints and travel the countryside by working in a carnival. She befriends Frankie (Gary Busey) who works as a clown and she gets a job as one of the strippers before eventually working the string joint booth while slowly adapting to the shady ways of the gypsy-like lifestyle.

The carnival atmosphere is well-recreated and was directed by Robert Kaylor who years earlier helmed the documentary Derby, which was a behind-the-scenes look at life on the roller derby circuit and this film works much the same by fully immersing the viewer into the dark aspects of a tough environment while also exposing the personalities of the people who work in it. The revealing story manages to be both hard-hitting and intriguing.

The tone though stays too much on the negative side until the viewer feels almost bombarded with one unpleasant situation after another. There’s never anything redeeming and you’re made to feel tense waiting for the next uncomfortable twist to come about, which gets overdone. Certainly there had to be some good times and bonding that occurs and the film lightly touches on this at the very, very end, but I felt more of that should’ve been sprinkled in throughout.

There’s also too many con-games and underhanded shenanigans making me wonder if all carnivals were really this bad , or is it simply playing-it-up for dramatic purposes. The ending in which everyone works together to pull off an elaborate con on a meddling crime boss (Bill McKinney) comes off too much like a poor rendition of The Sting. Some potentially intriguing storylines get dropped; like what happened to Donna’s psycho boyfriend when he finds out that she has left him? I was fully expecting him to come back into the picture at some later point once he tracked her down, but instead he gets forgotten.

Robertson is a famous songwriter and musician whose been around since the ‘60s, but he grew up working in the carnival circuit and helped put his real-life experiences and insights into the script. His performance is okay, but the soundtrack he composed for the film is too upbeat and does not jive with the dark, moodiness of the plot.

The performances are the best thing. Foster usually plays characters that are confident, but here she is someone who is unsure of herself only to acquire an edge as the story progresses. Kenneth McMillan is engaging as the nervous, stressed-out owner and Meg Foster is good as a woman who’s become hardened from being on the road too long. Gary Busey is a standout too even though he sometimes gets mocked today for his weird behavior off-screen, but this guy was at one time considered a serious up-and-coming star and his presence here shows why.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 13, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Kaylor

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube

Star Spangled Girl (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Norman obsesses over Amy.

This film is based on a Neil Simon play, which despite his tremendous success on Broadway became his only critical and commercial failure and was inspired by a political conversation/debate he overhead at a bar between writer Paddy Chayefsky and a very conservative housewife. The plot here deals with Amy (Sandy Duncan) a very old-fashioned young lady from rural America who moves to the big city of L.A. and meets up with two young men named Andy and Norman (Tony Roberts, Todd Susman) who publish an underground newspaper expounding radical/liberal ideas. Norman immediately falls for Amy and becomes so obsessed with her that he can no longer concentrate on writing for the paper. In order to allow the paper to meet its deadline Andy convinces Amy to come work for them to act as a muse for Norman, but Amy resists as she not only doesn’t agree with the paper’s politics, but she can’t stand Norman either.

The film’s biggest downfall is that it never touches on the political element. Had there been some substance, it might’ve worked, but the political issues are completely glossed over in the broadest way imaginable. The film really isn’t aimed for young adults anyways, but instead romantic diehards in need of an old-fashioned sugary romance where love somehow solves all problems, even when the two sides are at complete opposite ends of the political spectrum, making this thing severely contrived and dated even for its own era.

Roberts, who was already over 30 at the time, was too old for the role as the college kids of the day, who were the true radicals, felt anyone over 30 was the ‘enemy’ and a part of the ‘establishment’. The two men should’ve had long hair, beards, love beads and joints. Outside of one hanging picture showing the peace sign, their home decorations don’t look much different from a family home in Kansas and true radical guys from that era would’ve had posters on their walls of rock groups, naked women, Woodstock and maybe even Timothy Leary.

The Norman character is quite annoying and the way he obsesses over Amy by going through her garbage each day and following her around would get him pegged as a stalker and in serious trouble these days. What’s intended as a humorous take on a ‘love smitten guy’ is done so broadly that it gets dumb quick and eventually comes off like a mentally ill looney in serious need of some meds.

Sandy Duncan, who resembles an elf with a high pitched-voice, isn’t exactly the kind of gal that a guy suddenly goes ga-ga over anyways and it would’ve made more sense had Ali MacGraw or Cybill Shepherd been cast instead as they were more the conventional type of beauty that guys would normally get excited about. Unfortunately they both declined the role after being offered it. Having Norman get so excessively aroused over Amy simply because of the way she ‘smelled’ is pretty pathetic and equates love/romance to mindless urges controlled by animalistic scents similar to that of rodents attracted to the odor of rotted food in a dumpster.

Saying this film would’ve been better suited for an episode of ‘Love American Style’ which was a weekly anthology series that aired during the early ‘70s and focused on cute, comical love stories is not that far off-the-mark since the film was co-written by Arnold Margolin who was that show’s producer. The film even has a similar garishly colorful opening with background vocals sung by Davy Jones.

Overall it’s an embarrassing waste of celluloid with no bearing in reality whatsoever. Elizabeth Allen can be spotted briefly as the landlady wearing an ill-advised blond wig with ponytails that makes her look like the blonde lady seen on the Swiss Miss cocoa products. She never says a single word and is basically just on-hand to force the two men do go with her on all sorts of daring stunts, like parachuting, in order to help pay the rent since they lack the necessary monetary funds otherwise, which like everything else in the movie is just forced humor at its worst.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: December 22, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Director: Jerry Paris

Rated G

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Extremities (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: She traps her attacker.

Marjorie (Farrah Fawcett) decides to grab a snack late one night at a convenience store. Since she plans on being in the store for only a minute she neglects to lock her car, which is enough time for her would-be rapist Joe (James Russo) to sneak into the vehicle and hide in the backseat. When she returns he attacks her, but she is able to break free and runs out. Unfortunately she leaves her purse behind and he’s able to find her address from her driver’s license. A few weeks later he attempts to attacker her again at her home, but she fights back and is able to turn-the-tables on him by tying him up and trapping him in her fireplace. She then plans on killing him by burying him in her backyard as she’s afraid she won’t get a fair trial, but when her roommates (Alfre Woodard, Diana Scarwid) return home from work they try to convince her otherwise.

The film is based on the 1982 off-Broadway play written by William Mastrosimone and starring Susan Sarandon, who eventually got replaced by Fawcett and then later by Lauren Hutton when the play opened in Los Angeles. The play was notorious for its intense violence where the stars would routinely get injured while going through the motions of their parts and audience members would become so upset by it that they would sometimes storm the stage in an attempt to protect the actress. The stage version is also different from the film one in that it doesn’t show the backstory, but instead starts right away with the Marjorie being attacked in the home and then the later aftermath.

The film was directed by Robert M. Young, whose best known effort previously was his film version of the stage play Short Eyes about a child molesters experiences inside a harsh prison. While that film was excellent this one isn’t as he approaches it too much like it’s a thriller with way too much loud, pounding music getting played when Joe attacks Marjorie inside the house, which actually takes the viewer out of the scene. The approach should’ve been more on the gritty drama side with no music and a handheld camera used to capture the action, which would’ve given the viewer a voyeuristic feeling like they are watching this from some hidden camera.

The scene where Marjorie ties up her killer and then hops into her car to go to the police only to have the vehicle mysteriously not start is ridiculous. This cliché has been used in movies way too many times and should be outlawed forever. Had she been in a cold climate we could’ve attributed it to the weather, but she wasn’t. Or if it had been mentioned earlier that her car has had problems starting then it might’ve worked better, but having it conk-out for no reason when it drove just fine before is a total cop-out and a sign of weak writing.

I was also disappointed that no backstory is given to James Russo’s character. Earlier in the film we are shown that he is actually a family man with a daughter, so I was intrigued to see what drove him to have this Jekyll and Hyde personality and how being a father and husband he could justify what he does and yet no explanation is ever even touched on, which I found highly disappointing.

Fawcett is good particularly with her big blue, expressive eyes. I also enjoyed Scarwid’s nervous persona and how she becomes torn at how to approach the dilemma at hand. The conversations between the three women are strong and should’ve been extended, but the film as a whole misses-the-mark and isn’t as penetrating, or groundbreaking as it could’ve been.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 22, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert M. Young

Studio: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Cactus Flower (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pretending to be married.

Julian (Walter Matthau) is a dentist who enjoys duping the women he sees into believing that he is married, so he can have the benefit of fooling around with them without the commitment (a sort of ‘friends-with-benefits’ scenario before it became in vogue). Problem is that his most recent girlfriend Toni (Goldie Hawn) wants to get married and threatens to kill herself unless he divorces his wife. Julian readily agrees, but Toni wants to meet his wife first, so he gets Stephanie (Ingrid Bergman) who works as his receptionist to pretend to be his wife. Things though don’t go smoothly as Stephanie has feelings for Julian and Toni realizes this, which makes her reluctant about pursuing her marriage plans with him.

The film is based on the hit Broadway play by Abe Burrows, which in-turn was based on a French play by Pierre Barillet. The plot may sound funny, but it’s actually rather dumb. There’s plenty of men who pretend not to be married when they are in order to have the excuse to fool-around and they’re women who pretend to be married when they really aren’t in an effort to ward off a guy who’s hitting on them, but a guy pretending he’s married to get women to go to bed with him seems pretty strange and I really didn’t get the logic. From his perspective I get it, sex without-the-strings, but what exactly is the woman getting out of it?

Had Toni been using Julian just like he was using her it would’ve made more sense by having her get into the relationship to benefit off of the money he was willing to spend on her, but Toni actually wanted commitment and marriage! Besides that why is she suddenly so concerned about the wife’s feelings now as she’d been having a relationship with Julian for a whole year before and not worried about it then?

There’s also the issue of why this swinging bachelor who’s commitment-phobic already is going to want to get tied-down by a ditzy lady who threatens suicide every time she doesn’t get what she wants. Better for him to dump her now and find some other chick to dupe.

I had problems with Bergman’s character too. For one thing I wanted to see more of a character arc. Having her portrayed as a sexually oppressed, cold, bitchy lady at the start who only softens at the very end once she finally finds ‘true love’ would’ve been more dramatic, but Bergman plays the part too nicely and the bitchy side gets underplayed. Lauren Bacall originated the part on Broadway and I was surprised she was that she wasn’t given the opportunity to reprise the role for the film because if there is one woman who can play a bitch to perfection it’s her.

Gene Saks’ lifeless direction is another detriment. The sets are dreary and unimaginative. The scene at the club is boring because the place has no pizazz. This was the late ‘60s and they should’ve attended some far-out psychedelic place with heavy rock music and people strung-out on acid. Toni could’ve felt comfortable being there while Julian and Stephanie wouldn’t be. This then would’ve given the opportunity to focus on the generational gap between the two as Julian was 25 years older than Toni, but the film really never touches on that.

Hawn’s Academy Award winning performance is excellent especially the close-up shot where her big blue eyes well up and a single tear trickles down her face. The scene at the club where Bergman comes up with ‘the dentist dance’ that everyone else imitates is funny. Otherwise the trite plot is too superficial to be either believable or interesting.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1969

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated M

Director: Gene Saks

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Stone Killer (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Tough cop is relentless.

Lou Torrey (Charles Bronson) is an old-school cop baffled by a rash of homicides that initially seem like random hits, but really aren’t. As Lou investigates further he uncovers a plot orchestrated by a Mafia Don (Martin Balsam) to use a group of Vietnam Vets to avenge the death of some Mafia families 42 years earlier.

Director Michael Winner, during his later directing projects, became synonymous with stale, cardboard B-pictures and after the year 2000 he dropped out of the movie business completely and became a celebrity food critic in the UK writing in a weekly newspaper column called Winner’s Dinners. Here though he shows signs of being a young talent on the rise looking to make his cinematic mark. He captures the lesser seen areas of L.A. with a flair and the shot selection has style that manages to seamlessly connect the film between its talky moments and action.

Bronson though can’t really act as his facial expressions rarely change and he says his lines in an unemotional way making him seem almost like a computer, but his hard-headed personality in real-life carries over to the big screen making him a perfect fit personality-wise to the character. John Ritter is good as a young cop caught making a lot of rookie mistakes. It’s also interesting seeing Stuart Margolin here as he has an important sequence in the desert, which connects with his appearance  in another Bronson hit Death Wish that also had him in the sandy landscape.

The story, which is based on a novel by John Gardner entitled ‘A Complete State of Death’ comes off as flimsy and just an excuse to tie-in a lot of loosely related action sequences. The plot is hard-to-believe and the villain is more like a caricature and barely seen.

There’s some enjoyable moments including Bronson’ relentless chase in a car of a police suspect, played by Paul Koslo, who tries to evade him by tearing through the city streets on a motorbike. Watching Chuck drive through park tables with people trying jump out of the way,  going into oncoming traffic and even storefront windows is impressive on the surface, but ultimately makes the character come-off badly. In real-life a cop barreling his vehicle through areas with so much foot traffic would make him irresponsible and a menace to society as he puts too many people in direct danger simply for his pursuit of one person.  In most cases there would’ve been casualties and Bronson’s character could’ve easily been fired or sued.

The mass assassination of all the Mafia Dons has pizazz, but ultimately it’s just one giant marketing ploy as it borrows many elements from other hit movies of that time including Dirty Harry and The Godfather then blends it together with over-the-top action and a farfetched plot.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Blu-ray