Monthly Archives: May 2019

Save the Tiger (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Arson is the solution.

Harry Stoner (Jack Lemmon) seems to be the embodiment of the American Dream living in a large house in an exclusive neighborhood and driving a  fancy car, but underneath the facade he’s struggling. His apparel business is on the brink of financial collapse and he decides along with his business partner Phil (Jack Gilford) to torch the place so they can collect on the insurance money, but the closer they get to the date the more despondent he becomes.

The producers realized upfront that this was not going to be an audience pleaser  and therefore made it on a small budget with Lemmon agreeing to waive his usual fee and instead working for scale, which at the time amounted to $165 a week. The effort though paid off as this film is able to tell its story with unflinching honesty without having to make the usual compromises in order to gain mass appeal.

What I really liked is how the main character gets attracted to the tantalizing aspects of corruption just like the world around him as opposed to how it’s done in most other films where the protagonist somehow manages to rise above the fray and remains magically immune from the corruptible forces. What’s even better is that it shows how sometimes even good people can be driven to do bad things especially when up against a system that is cold and unyielding.

John G. Avildsen’s direction has a nice day-in-the-life feel especially the way it captures Harry’s routine at work and all the contrasting personalities and egos he must deal with as well as a hectic and seemingly never ending pace. I also enjoyed Harry’s hook-up with a hippy (Laurie Heineman) and how despite their vast age differences and perceptions they’re still able to form an interesting bond. How a transient woman who has worked no job could somehow get a house sitting opportunity at a dreamy Malibu pad is a good question, but the scene there between the two is one of the film’s best moments and Lemmon’s raw meltdown at that point is what most assuredly netted him the Oscar.

I enjoyed Gilford’s performance as well and was impressed seeing him in a rare dramatic role, but his character seemed more like a metaphor to Harry’s conscience than a real person and his constant yammering about arson being a federal crime becomes redundant. Harry’s mental breakdown onstage brought unneeded surrealism to a film that otherwise pushed hard for gritty reality and the result is jarring. Having him see images of his dead army comrades sitting in the audience looks inauthentic as their dead pale faces appear to be covered with nothing more than theatrical make-up.

It also would’ve been nice had there been some conclusion to the arson scenario. The viewer is left hanging with the idea that they will go through with it, but nothing is conclusive. I realize with the budget restraints that showing a burning building as the final image would’ve been difficult but helpful and giving us some sort of hint whether Harry and his partner were able to pull it off, or got caught would’ve been nice too. Besides Thayer David, who plays the arsonist, is so good in his role that he should’ve been in more scenes anyways.

Overall though I liked the cynical tone and how the script doesn’t pull any punches while it paints a terse, vivid portrait of the so-called American Dream and how those that appear to be living it aren’t always so happy.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: February 14, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John G. Avildsen

Studio: Cinema International Corporation

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Soul Man (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pretending to be black.

Mark Watson (C. Thomas Howell) has been accepted into Harvard Law School, but just before he’s ready to attend his father (James B. Sikking) states that he won’t help to pay for it forcing Mark to try and find other avenues of funding. He eventually decides to take some tanning pills, which makes his skin darker and then apply for a scholarship only available to African American students. After getting the money he continues with the charade, but encounters many problems along the way that he wasn’t expecting.

This is one comedy that hasn’t aged well at all. At the time of its release it wasn’t considered too great to begin with and I avoided it, but now almost 30 years later the blackface plot line has made it a bad stain on the careers of those involved particularly the producer, writer and director who were all white and apparently thought they were ‘woke’ and making something ‘socially relevant’, but really weren’t. However, even if you get past the politically incorrect scenario this is still a really bad movie either way.

The basic premise is the biggest problem as Howell never ever effectively looks black, Egyptian maybe, but more like some white guy wearing a tacky wig and who stayed under the sun lamp too long. The fact that anyone could believe that he was really black for even a second is patently absurd as his skin is more of a dark beige color and his other facial features never change, which makes the scene where his own parents don’t even recognize him all the more stupid.

The idea of having him intentionally overdose on tanning pills just brings up even more questions. For instance if he takes more than the recommended dosage wouldn’t that cause some dangerous side effect and how exactly is he able to turn white again at the end as overdosing on the pills would’ve most likely have caused some sort of long term health risk to either his system or skin.

The fact that he’s able to get the scholarship right away is pretty ridiculous too. Don’t applicants have to go through some sort of background check before they get accepted or do they simply get handed the money the minute they walk in and ask for it like it seems here and wouldn’t this background check then expose that he was really white?

This also has to be the dumbest guy ever to get accepted into Harvard. I’m not saying the character has to necessarily conform to the nerd stereotype, but the guy comes off like a world class slacker from the beginning who proceeds to say and do one clueless thing after another until you wonder if he’d ever be accepted into junior college let alone an Ivy League one.

James Earl Jones’ performance, where he channels the black version of Professor Kingsfield from The Paper Chase, is one of the film’s few bright spots. I also enjoyed Rae Dawn Chong who plays Howell’s potential love interest and who comes off as far more real and multi-dimensional than any of the other characters in the film to the point that she should’ve been made the star while scrapping Howell and his silly shenanigans completely.

Not only does the film fail to offer any true meaningful insight into race relations, but it manages to stereotype white people in the process particularly the two white male students who are constantly getting caught making racist jokes about black people. Is the viewer actually supposed to believe that this is all these two guys ever talk about as it certainly is made to seem that way, which is just one more example as to why this has to be one of the clumsiest, most unfunny and most poorly thought out satires ever made.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: October 24, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Steve Miner

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Black Hole (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Area of gravitational acceleration.

On their return trip to earth a crew of 5-people (Robert Forster, Yvette Mimieux, Joseph Bottoms, Anthony Perkins, Ernest Borgnine) on board the USS Palomino spot a large spaceship and are baffled at its ability to withstand the gravitational force of the nearby black hole. They decide to investigate the ship and find that it is being run by Dr. Hans Reinhardt (Maximilian Schell) who has been for the past 20 years the sole human survivor after the rest of the crew supposedly returned to earth, the members of the Palomino though are suspicious about this explanation since the robed android drones seem to strangely have human-like qualities. They become further alarmed when they learn that Reinhardt plans on taking the ship through the black hole, which they feel will lead to a sure death to all those on board.

For the most part the special effects look awesome  and one gets a true feeling of the vastness of space in this one with Reinhardt’s ship getting captured in a way that makes it look large and impressive. Even the interiors give off a sort-of mansion-like feel and that the characters are inside of a large scale vessel with many rooms as opposed to simply being sets on a soundstage.

Unfortunately the script lacks imagination and becomes just another formulaic madman in space scenario that offers no new twists to the genre. The tone is extremely downbeat and despite being produced by Disney doesn’t seem to be something aimed for kids at all. The story is also devoid of action and when there finally is some it’s short and fleeting and comes off like a second-rate laser shoot-out.

The characters don’t show enough contrasting personalities either and are too old. Usually pre-teens relate better to movies with performers around their same age range, but here everyone is middle-aged and in Borgnine’s case even well past that. Bottoms is the youngest and should’ve carried the film, but his acting is so transparent you end up wishing it he hadn’t even been in it at all.

It’s also a bit ridiculous that Mimieux could communicate with the ship’s robot via ESP even though mental telepathy cannot be substantiated by the scientific community and therefore should not be introduced into a sci-fi flick that is supposedly trying to taken seriously.  I did enjoy Perkins in his part, but he should not have been the one to turn around one of the drones and unmask them to expose a shriveled face underneath, which for trivia purposes was the film’s director Gary Nelson, since it will remind viewers too much of a similar reveal scene near the end of Psycho of which he famously starred in.

Schell as the resident nutcase is a complete bore in a performance that is so pathetically cliched that it borders on camp. He reminded me of James Mason’s character from 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, which was also produced by Disney and should’ve been enough to have Mason invited back to play the part here as he would’ve been far more interesting.

The robots outshine the humans in this one particularly Roddy McDowell and Slim Pickens, who strangely go uncredited, as the voices of the  ‘good guy’ droids. However, the army of villainous androids that try to stop the crew from escaping walk too stiffly almost like mimes playing into the cliche of how people perceive robots to move, but by the year 2132, which is when this story takes place, you’d think technology would’ve improved enough to have created androids that would’ve had more fluid-like motions. They are also a bit too easy to pick-off almost like sitting ducks in a shooting gallery, which saps the shoot-outs segments of any tension.

The ending though is the biggest disappointment as it never clearly explains what happens to the crew when the go through the black hole. There’s a lot of heavy-handed imagery including a cool hell-like visual, but nothing conclusive, which makes the whole thing just one big buildup to nothing.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 21, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gary Nelson

Studio: Buena Vista

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

One is a Lonely Number (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Adjusting to being single.

Amy (Trish Van Devere) is shocked to learn that her husband (Paul Jenkins) of 10 years wants to move out and get a divorce. She thought they had a happy marriage, but apparently he was seeing another woman on the side. Now she must learn to survive on her own and get a job despite not having any work experience.  She must also get back into the dating scene but finding quality men is tough as most are only interested in having sex while others pretend to be single when they’re really not.

David Seltzer’s script, which is based on the short story ‘The Good Humor Man’ by Rebecca Morris, is full of interesting insight on just how tough divorce can be on women particularly from that era where wives much more dependent on their husbands financially and not expected to venture into the work world as much as they are now. Mel Stuart, best known for directing documentaries as well as the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,  proves quite adept with the material making it seem almost like a documentary and I especially liked his use of the hand-held camera and the way it would glide through the different settings that Amy was in and making the viewer feel like they were right there with the characters.

Although her name has come back into the headlines in 2017 when she and her adult son were accused of imprisoning a teenage girl in their Malibu home against her will, Van Devere has otherwise fallen into complete obscurity having not appeared in anything since 1993. I have often wondered if her career would’ve achieved more prominence had she not gotten married to George C. Scott when she did, which obligated her during the 70’s to star with him in many of his film’s which were box office bombs and critically panned and tarnished her star power. Here though she’s excellent playing an even keeled woman who isn’t sterotypically emotional. Her only gaffe comes when she breaks down crying while inside a clothing store, which didn’t come off as genuine and should’ve been taken out especially since she ends crying later on in two other scenes.

Janet Leigh is equally good as Amy’s snarky, man-hating friend. I was also impressed with Jonathan Goldsmith, who goes by the last name of Lippe here, who is better known by today’s audiences as the ‘Most Interesting Man in the World’ from the Dos Equis beer commercials. Here he plays a creep who doesn’t look or act anything like his TV- counterpart, as a job coordinator who expects to be ‘rewarded’ by Amy for finding her a job.

The film’s only drawback is that it doesn’t analyze the marriage enough as we’re never given any understanding for why Amy misses her husband, or why she would’ve fallen in love with him in the first place since he pretty much comes off as a selfish, indifferent jerk every time he is shown. Having some flashbacks to when she was married might’ve helped flesh out the character’s personality by showing her at different stage in her life instead of just focusing on the one. Otherwise this is a solid sleeper that hasn’t dated too badly and is waiting to be discovered by a new audience.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 19, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mel Stuart

Studio: MGM

Available: YouTube

Nothing in Common (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father needs his son.

David Basner (Tom Hanks) is leading a happy life as a successful advertising executive yet he’s forced to put it all on hold when his parents (Jackie Gleason, Eva Marie Saint) of 36 years announce that they’re getting a divorce. His father also loses his job as well as being diagnosed with diabetes forcing David to give him round-the-clock care despite the fact that they don’t get along.

The best thing about the film are the performances of its two stars. For Hanks this marked his transition from comedy to more serious roles, but for the most part his charm still comes from his comic edge especially with the way he greets each of his co-workers when he returns to the office after a vacation. It’s really Gleason though, who was dying from cancer as he performed in this, that is the most compelling and he should’ve been in the movie more and better yet made the star as he literally owns every scene that he’s in and despite his cantankerous personality manages to elicit a lot of sympathy from the viewer.

Unfortunately the script doesn’t focus enough on the father/son relationship and instead goes off on many tangents like David’s struggles to come up with a creative ad for one of his clients, which isn’t as compelling or interesting. There’s also several running jokes that digresses the whole thing down to almost a sitcom level especially with Hector Elizondo’s, who plays David’s boss, desperate attempts to come up with a suitable hairpiece. The bits involving David’s pranks on an office receptionist in order to try and get her to laugh makes him seem more annoying than funny and she would’ve been justified to have him reported for harassment.

Dwelling into David’s love-life dilutes the story even further. Initially I thought his courting of Sela Ward had some spark as she played-hard-to-get and part of what makes potential relationships so interesting is the chase itself, but after putting up a cold front for a few minutes she then jumps into bed with him, which just takes the air out of everything. Bess Armstrong, who plays his former girlfriend, seemed more his type. However, the scene where he barrages into her apartment drunk late at night and hassles her and the new guy she’s sleeping with made him seem extremely obnoxious to the point that I was hoping he’d get punched in the face.

Saint’s character does nothing but add to the dramatic clutter in a bland role that  offers little to the story. It would’ve been more effective had she died instead of divorcing the husband, which would’ve offered more of a catalyst for Hanks and his father to get together.

The film ends where it should’ve began with Hanks deciding to move in with his father in order to help him with his health problems. Watching these two with very diametrically opposed personalities trying to get along inside this very cramped apartment could’ve been quite revealing and insightful and yet we see none of it. Instead we’re treated to a rambling narrative that offers generic drama and little else.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 30, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gary Marshall

Studio: TriStar Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Breezy (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hippie falls or businessman.

Edith Alice ‘Breezy’ Breezerman (Kay Lenz) lives the life of a hippie after losing both her parents to a car accident years earlier. Her transient lifestyle consists of one-night-stands and hitching rides from strangers. One day she jumps into a car owned by Frank Harmon (William Holden). Frank is a middle-aged man who went through a tumultuous divorce years earlier and isn’t interested in getting into a relationship especially with someone young enough to be his daughter and yet Breezy’s carefree ways begin to grow on him and despite his reluctance the two slowly form a bond.

The script was written by Jo Heims who also penned Clint Eastwood’s earlier hit Play Misty for Me. Originally she wanted Clint to play the part of Frank, but he felt he was too young for the role and decided he would direct instead although you can still spot him for a brief second leaning against a wooden rail during a scene at a boardwalk. Unfortunately his fan base  was expecting to see more of an action or western flick and not some laid-back counter-culture love story and much of his following gave it a-bad-word-of-mouth to others who then stayed away. After some bad reviews from an initial screening the studio decided to shelve it for a year before finally releasing it to select theaters with very little promotion, which caused it to tank at the box office, but this is definitely a movie that deserves a second look.

One of the things that I liked is that it tackles the controversial subject of relationships with a wide age difference something that is still sometimes considered ‘gross’ even by otherwise liberal minded people today. Yet the subject gets examined in a refreshingly non exploitative way where it is actually the man who is reluctant to get involved and even at one point outright rejects her while she continues to pursue it convinced that despite one of them ‘being on this planet a little bit longer than the other’ they still have the same wants and needs.

The film like its title has a nice ‘breezy’ pace too that reflects its Bay area setting quite well and allows the viewer to get to know the characters and their interpersonal dynamics without ever feeling that it gets rushed or is forced. The introspective script makes many key insights particularly with the Holden character and how his ‘old school’ upbringing and fear of being judged by others makes him hesitant to get involved despite the strong feelings that he has for her.

Eastwood shows astute direction as well. I particularly liked the scene where Holden writes down the phone number from a lady guest and then the camera follows the woman out of the house and remains focused on her through the front window as she gets into a cab while we also see the back of Holden’s hand who crumples up the piece of paper with the phone number on it and throws it into an ashtray, which shows us his disinterest in her visually without having it verbally explained and is a hallmark of good filmmaking.

The motivations for Breezy’s character particularly the reasons for why she falls so quickly for Holden isn’t clear. There is also a scene where Holden puts an injured dog that he rescued from the side of the road into his car, but it never shows what he did with it. Then an hour later that same dog comes back into play as we realize he had taken it to a vet., but I felt that segment should’ve been shown since it ends up being integral to the story otherwise this is a really well made sleeper looking to find new fans who can appreciate an intelligently done romance.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 18, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Clint Eastwood

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B), Amazon Video, YouTube

Simon (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: College professor becomes brainwashed.

An underground group of scientists who enjoy playing elaborate pranks decide to brainwash a college professor named Simon Mendelssohn (Alan Arkin) into believing that he is an alien from another planet. After he is successfully brainwashed he then escapes from the institution and gets in with a religious cult who have a transmitter that can block the TV airwaves and allow him the ability to be seen by the entire nation where he tries to reform American culture while also becoming a celebrity sensation.

This extremely odd comical satire  seems out of place for a studio backed film and more in tune with a independent project as it’s unclear what specific type of audience the filmmakers were hoping to attract as mainstream viewers will most likely find the humor off-putting. One could describe it as being ahead-of-its-time, but the banal potshots at such overused targets as TV and American consumerism makes it seem more dated instead.

The movie would’ve worked better had it remained focused on one intended target and then ravaged the hell out of it instead of soft jabs at various safe targets, which makes its overall message muddled and unclear. There are some funny bits including watching Austin Pendleton, who is the head of the research group, making love to a giant telephone receiver, whose voice is supplied by Louise Lasser. It’s also funny having a brainwashed person such as Simon trying to brainwash others via the airwaves, which could’ve been really hilarious had they gone farther with this idea.

There’s signs that writer/director Marshall Brickman hadn’t fully thought through the quirky story idea to begin with. For instance why would this underground group of scientists allow a video crew in to film what they are doing as the members are seen at the beginning talking directly to the camera and answering questions by some unseen interviewer. Wouldn’t this allow their secret to get out and get them into trouble? The army that takes over the institute is too incompetent as Simon and his girlfriend Lisa (Judy Graubart) are able to escape from it too easily and their inability to locate Simon’s rogue TV transmitter even after days of searching is rather pathetic. I realize this is meant to be ‘funny’, but even a comedy should have some tension to it to make it more interesting and the army’s extreme buffoonery isn’t humorous at all, but just plain dumb instead.

Arkin is the one thing that saves it. His unusual acting style makes him hard to cast, but here he really delivers especially during the segment where he plays out the evolution of man, but without using any dialogue although it might’ve been funnier and more of an interesting contrast had his character not been so kooky to begin with, but instead some stuffy intellectual only to become zany once he was brainwashed.

Judy Graubart makes for a good anchor as the one normal person in the whole movie. She was best known for her work on the children’s TV-show ‘The Electric Company’ and this was her live-action film debut, which should’ve lead to a long line of film appearances, but instead she only had brief bits in two other movies and that was it.

There are signs of a great movie trying to break out and the overall concept has brilliant potential, but this is the type of film where you’ve got to go full-throttle and Brickman seems either unable or too timid to do that making what could’ve been sharp satire into a transparent, benign mess that offers only a few chuckles, but not much else.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 1, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Marshall Brickman

Studio: Orion Pictures

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

Mister Buddwing (1966)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s lost his memory.

A man (James Garner) wakes up one morning to find himself on a bench in Central Park unaware of how he got there or who he is. He finds a crumpled up piece of paper in his coat pocket and when he calls it a woman by the name of Gloria (Angela Lansbury) answers, but talking to her makes him even more confused. He then spends the day wondering around the city while coming up with the name Buddwing after he spots the word Budweiser on a passing truck and then looks up into the sky and sees the wings of a jet plane. He bumps  into women who remind him of someone that he knows as Grace, but every time he meets someone it just leads to more dead ends and things get even worse when he gets mistaken as being an escapee from a mental hospital.

The film is based on a novel by Evan Hunter and initially holds some intrigue. I was impressed by the opening shot that’s done with a cinematic flair. I was hoping especially with its evocative black-and-white cinematography and jazz score by Kenyon Hopkins that this would have a strong cinema vertite feel, but any potentially artsy style gets lost by a draggy script that bogs down in Buddwing’s past romantic memories that amounts to nothing more than extended talky scenes that cripples the mystery angle until you end up not caring what the answers are.

Garner’s usual appeal gets seriously strained, which is probably why in his memories ‘The Garner Files’ he calls this “The worst movie I ever made” and then asks “What was I thinking?”. Normally I admire actors that are willing to go out of their safety zone, but his constant deer-in-headlights look becomes tiring and one-dimensional and the crying that he does while inside Lansbury’s apartment seems insincere.

The one’s that come off best are the four women that he bumps into as he wonders around. All are portrayed by famous leading ladies: the fore mentioned Lansbury as well as Suzanne Pleshette, Katherine Ross, and Jean Simmons who give outstanding performances and helps keep the otherwise rocky picture afloat. However, during the flashback sequences the different actresses all end up playing the same Grace at different times, which I found confusing and off-putting.

The explanation for Buddwing’s amnesia, which apparently ends up being just the result of having some stressful event occurring in his life, is highly suspect as I’ve not read of this happening to anyone in real-life, or if it does it is extremely rare. Not only does the credibility get pushed, but Delbert Mann’s direction, with the exception of the opening shot, lacks creativity, which makes this already flat story even more of a strain to sit through.

Released: October 11, 1966

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Delbert Mann

Studio: MGM

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

So Fine (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Jeans that expose ass.

Bobby Fine (Ryan O’Neal) is an English professor at a college waiting to get tenure who inexplicably becomes the head of his father’s clothing company, which produces women’s apparel, when his father Jack Fine (Jack Warden) is unable to pay off a debt that he has with a local loan shark named Eddie (Richard Kiel). Bobby knows nothing about the clothing business, but inadvertently strikes on a hot idea, jeans that look like they’re revealing a woman’s butt cheeks, which becomes a huge fashion sensation. Unfortunately Bobby also starts having an affair with Eddie’s wife Lira (Mariangela Melato) which jeopardizes not only his newfound success, but his life as well.

The film was written and directed by Andrew Bergman who was just coming off great success as the screenwriter for The In-Laws and was fully expecting this film to do just as well, but instead it had less than a 2-week run in the theaters. Much of this can be blamed on the humor, which is lowbrow and farcical while failing to give any new insights into the clothing business, or anything else for that matter. The jeans themselves don’t look sexy either as plastic gets used in replacement of the real butt cheeks where exposing the actual ass would’ve been far more provocative.

O’Neal’s affair with Melato is both unfunny and dumb. Why would such a good-looking guy, who could easily get women to fall for him,  fall suddenly head-over-heals to a wife of a mobster who will kill him instantly if he found out? This guy teaches at a college, so why not get into a sexual relationship with one of the coeds, who are most likely younger and better looking than this middle-aged woman and does not have the baggage of a marriage?

The climactic sequence, which takes place at an opera is when this thing really jumps-the-shark as it features Melato coming out of the audience and agreeing to replace the leading lady on stage when she falls ill, but how would Melato have known all the words to the music without having been to any of the rehearsals? This segment also features Kiel getting on stage and becoming a part of the opera as well where he sings in fluent Italian even though it was never established earlier that he knew the language.

It was fun seeing Kiel, who built a career by playing a lot of mindless hulks most notably in the James Bond films, being given more speaking lines than usual, but I noticed the very apparent lump on his forehead, which in his other films I didn’t. Maybe this was because in the Bond movies he was given metal teeth, which is what got the viewer’s attention and took away from the lump, which here I found became a distraction.

Melato, who was a big star in Italy particularly with the films she did with director Lina Wertmuller, gets completely wasted in a thankless, one-dimensional role of an over-sexed vamp that is neither funny nor interesting. O’Neal, whose best bit may just be the perplexed expression he conveys in the film’s poster seen above, is adequate, but upstaged by Warden who is far funnier and the movie would’ve worked better had he been the star.

The jeans angle, which features a TV-ad that has Anita Morris as one of the dancers, is brief and more of a side-story while the emphasis is on O’Neal’s fling with Melato that isn’t very inspired and no surprise why this ultimately failed at the box office.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Andrew Bergman

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), YouTube

The Molly Maguires (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Spy infiltrates secret group.

In 1876 a group of Irish immigrants form a secret society known as the Molly Maguires. Their aim is to retaliate against the cruel and unfair working conditions of the mining company that they work at by secretly sabotaging the company’s work site whenever they can. Police Lieutenant Davis (Frank Finley) hires undercover detective James McParland (Richard Harris) to infiltrate the group and find out who the culprits behind the vandalism are. He becomes friends with the group’s leader Jack Kehoe (Sean Connery) which puts into question whether he will turn them in or become a part of the protest.

The story is based on the real-life incident that occurred in 1876 in Reading, Pennsylvania and an actual James McParland who infiltrated a group of Mollies and brought them to justice after their actions ended the lives of several men. The term Molly Maguire comes from the name of an actual woman who lived in Ireland during the 1700’s and helped lead a revolt against rent collectors.

On the technical end the film is well done. The majority of it was shot in Eckley, Pennsylvania whose authentic buildings remained virtually unchanged from when they were built in the 1870’s making it easy for the filmmakers to recreate the period without much effort. The coal plant was built specifically for the film and still stands today, but what impressed me most was that director Martin Ritt allows the natural ambiance of the working conditions to permeate the soundtrack to the point that not a word of dialogue is spoken until 15 minutes in and Connery, who gets shown on and off, never speaks a word until the 40-minute mark.

Despite being made on a large budget of 11 million it managed to only recoup 2 million of its investment at the box office. Personally I feel this was a direct result of exposing the Harris character as an undercover agent right from the start. Usually movies try to keep this element a mystery, which then allows for a surprise reveal at the end, but here that gets ruined.

What’s worse is that the Harris character never changes in any way. He stoically sticks to his mission of turning the men in and betraying the trust that he had earned from them, which I found frustrating. As a viewer you start to bond with Connery and his men and connect to what they’re fighting against. Yes, they do commit crimes of vandalism, but for good reason as they were clearly being exploited by their corporate masters. You’d expect Harris to internally quarrel with this as he becomes friends with them, but he doesn’t and without any insight given to his background it becomes, despite the otherwise high production standards. off-putting and emotionally defeating to have to sit through.

Ritt later directed Norma Rae which dealt with the same subject of worker unions, but that film made unions the center point of the story. Here the union issue seems to be only a side element while Harris’ ongoing con game the main drama, which ultimately creates a nebulous point-of-view.  I walked away wondering what message if anything the film was trying to convey, which could be yet another reason why viewers never warmed up to it despite being otherwise well executed.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 27, 1970

Runtime: 2 Hours 5 Minutes

Rated M

Director: Martin Ritt

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube