Monthly Archives: April 2021

Crazy Joe (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gangster’s rise and fall.

Loosely based on the real-life exploits of a New York gangster named Joe Gallo (Peter Boyle) the story centers on Joe’s rise in the underground criminal world and his challenging of Mob Boss Falco (Luther Adler) as well as Don Vittorio (Eli Wallach) the head of all crime families. When Joe and his brother’s agree to carry out a hit for Falco, but are only paid $100 each for the crime they feel rebuffed and plot revenge by storming Falco’s mansion and taking member’s of his family hostage. Through Don, who acts as an intermediary, they’re able to settle the dispute, but later Joe finds that he’s been double-crossed, which sends him to jail during a sting operation. While in prison he makes friends with Willy (Fred Williamson) an African American. The two form an uneasy alliance where he agrees to help Joe settle his score once they both get out.

With all of the gangster movies that came out during the early and mid 70’s it gets harder and harder to tell them apart, or have much in the way to say about them since they all tend to be alike with very little variation. This film is a clear example to cash-in on the Francis Ford Coppola classic by quickly producing this cheapie, which was shot in the U.S. with American actors by an Italian production company, which in essence makes it a foreign film. While the plot and action lack anything original I did find the opening sequence where they carry-out the hit by shooting a man and his cronies while inside a restaurant to be captivating. The action itself isn’t what’s interesting, but seeing the men singing and joking around inside the car, both as they drive-up to the place and then again as they leave it, to be fascinating in a disturbing sort of way where no matter how viscous the act they feel no guilt and happily go back to being their playful selves almost instantaneously.

Boyle’s performance helps a lot. He was in another film just 4 years earlier with a similar title called Joe where he played a violent right-wing extremist and he got so turned off by the fan mail he received with people telling him how much they enjoyed watching the ugly acts that his character did and said in that movie that he vowed never to appear in another violent film again and yet just a few years later that’s exactly what he did, but I’m glad. He exudes a great amount of energy and liveliness into the role and helps keep the movie entertaining to the point that it’s only interesting when he’s in it and a complete bore when he’s not. Effort is made to humanize him as it see-saws between moments where he’s killing people and then other points when he’s saving them particularly when he goes into a burning building to help some children get out.

The supporting cast is strong especially the always reliable Wallach and Williamson whose angry gaze melts right through the screen. I also really enjoyed Adler as the arrogant crime boss who feels he’s ‘all-powerful’, but physically is quite old and frail and eventually into the helpless position of being put inside an iron lung while still callously giving out all the orders and demanding full compliance. Louis Guss is equally amusing as a tough guy killer who when kidnapped immediately folds by wetting his pants and begging for his heart medication.

Unfortunately Henry Winkler, in his film debut, is not as effective as his demeanor is too refined and gentile and does not reflect the savagery of the others almost like he walked in on the completely wrong film set. Rip Torn is badly miscast as well. While the other actors appear to be genuinely Italian and speak with authentic accents Torn doesn’t. Instead he keeps his Texas draw intact, which is totally out-of-place, and while a good supporting player in other movies sticks out as a completely sore thumb here.

Ultimately though the poor production values sink it. To some extent it helps on the violent end as the killings are done in a more graphic and raw way, much like an Italian horror film, which makes it more real than The Godfather where it was handled in a lyrical fashion, but the plot has nowhere much to go. You know where it’s headed right from the start with an ending that’s completely predictable and has no impact. Doesn’t particularly help either that the film’s promotional poster gives away the final scene.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 8, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Carlo Lizzani

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: Available through Non-Standard DVD (Public Domain).

Midnite Spares (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for his father.

Steve (James Laurie) returns to his hometown of Sydney to team up with his dad to be a part of a sprintcar racing team. However, when he visits the towing company that his dad owned along with his business partner Tomas (Max Cullen) he cannot find him and is told that he mysteriously disappeared weeks ago without a trace. After further investigation he becomes convinced that it has something to do with a local car thief ring headed by corrupt cop Howard (Tony Barry) and uses the help of tow truck drivers Wimpy (Bruce Spence) and Rabbit (David Argue) to reel them in while also falling for a local girl named Ruth (Gia Carides) much to the chagrin of her conservative mother ( Tessa Mallos).

On the one hand this is a well set-up comedy with all the necessary ingredients to have been a top-notched funny movie. I really enjoyed the character actors who are in top form especially Bruce Spence, probably best known for his starring role in the cult film Storkwho plays a happy-go-lucky mechanic who always has greased caked-on his face no matter where he goes even when off the job and out in public. Tony Barry gives an interesting performance as well. Just a year before this film was shot he in starred in the New Zealand cult classic Goodbye Pork Pie that’s one of the best road movies ever made. In that film he played the nonconformist running from the cops while here plays the obnoxious oppressive authority figure and he’s able to play both types of roles quite convincingly. I also enjoyed the set pieces, which resembles very much the dingy, grimy look of a car repair shop as well as the distinctive score that has a creepy tone to it, which helps accentuate the late-night, underground vibe of the story.

There’s also a few very engaging moments as well including a segment where a guy hijacks a mobile hot dog stand and drives it around the track with the perplexed staff still inside while the sprintcar race is delayed due to an accident, which is pretty funny. I also loved the scene where the thieves steal a car, bring it into their shop and in a matter of literally seconds are able to completely dismantle it piece-by-piece until only its bare shell is left much like the famous scene in The French Connection where a car gets taken a part in the search for drugs, but here it’s done even more quickly and thoroughly.

What I didn’t like was the editing, which is done in too much of a choppy style. It’s very hard to get into the characters when their scenes and conversations are limited to only a couple of minutes and a few lines of dialogue before it quickly cuts away to another scene somewhere else. It would’ve worked better had it slowed the pace down a bit and allowed the elements to percolate instead of having this rushed feel. There’s also a some storylines that had potential, but aren’t followed through enough including the conservative mother of James’s girlfriend, which could’ve been ripe with far more confrontation than it ultimately does.

The action gets captured in too fleeting of a way and there isn’t as much of it as you’d expect despite its reputation as being an action movie. The climactic car chase showdown is too brief though it does feature some good camera angles that makes the viewer feel like their a part of it, but this also ended up taking the life of one of the cameramen, David Brostoff, who got too close to one of the cars and ended up getting run over. (The footage that he shot was left in while the movie is dedicated to his memory)

As crazy as it sounds it also would’ve been nice had it come with an English subtitle option. While the language is in English the Aussie accents are strong and it’s not always completely clear what they’re saying. I felt like I was missing a few words here and there especially with its quick pace where an actor would say a short line and then there’d be an immediate cut to something else.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 17, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Quentin Masters

Studio: Roadshow Films

Available: DVD-R (Domestic Import Region 0)

The Last of the Knucklemen (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Isolated miners living together.

A group of miners, some of them with criminal records and no other means of employment, survive together in the remotest area of the Outback as they make a living working for Tarzan (Gerard Kennedy) who leads the team and gives them their paychecks. At night they sleep via bunkbeds in a small tin shack where they also play card games, drink, and occasionally brawl. Pansy (Michael Preston) is the de facto leader, who uses his quick temper and husky build to intimidate anyone who challenges his authority. The only one he doesn’t fight is Tarzan, but only because he’s the employer. Then a new man arrives named Tom (Peter Hehir) with a mysterious past. He has karate skills that allow him to take-on Pansy’s fist-fitting ability, but Pansy has a secret weapon of his own when he brings in Carl (Steve Rackman) from a nearby town who’s a huge guy with very few teeth, who he feels can beat Tom in a fight and everyone else in the camp takes bets on who they think can win.

The film is based on the stage play of the same name written by John Powers who himself had never worked in a mining camp, but had always been intrigued with the ruggedness, wildness, and overall isolation of them after growing up hearing bawdy tales from his Uncle Harry who had been employed at one of them. 20 years after hearing his uncle’s stories he then decided to turn those rustic tales into a play while also incorporating it with the adventures of Ronald Biggs who was a train robber who managed to evade the authorities for many years. Pitting a known criminal trying to just hide-out at a remote camp with the gruff nature of the men who worked there he felt would make for an interesting dynamic and the play, which opened in 1973 in Australia and 10 years later in the U.S. where it starred Dennis Quaid, was met with rave reviews.

Director Tim Burstall was looking to do a male bonding pic and had a choice between doing this one or The Odd Angry Shotwhich was reviewed last week, and came to the determination that this was the better fit. He particularly liked the outback setting and became focused on finding the most remote town to film it in and eventually chose the itty-bitty one of Andamooka, which at the time had only 316 people living there and today has even less. While the town certainly met the rustic quality it had no police and the inhabitants, much like the characters in the story, had previous criminal records forcing the producer to sleep with a gun at his side and the production’s payroll under his pillow. It also at times caused interruptions with the filming when one day one of the locals threatened to blow up the set with a stick of dynamite, which sent the cast and crew running, until the special effects man realized the stick had no detonator.

The interior scenes were done on a soundstage in Melbourne, though it’s so impressively camouflaged you’d never know it. My only complaint with the outdoor shots is that filming took place during September and October, which is Springtime in Australia where temps aren’t as hot, and in fact they were quite chilly, so that intense hot Outback feel, which is the whole basis of the story, never really comes through.

As for the story, it’s surprisingly engaging despite the fact that there’s really not much of a plot and everything hinders on the interactions of the characters. Fortunately the characters are so well defined that you enjoy and are even intrigued at how they all relate to each other and the love-hate relationship that they share. One of the most gripping moments has nothing to do with the climactic fight, but instead on an intense poker game between Pansy and the elderly Methusela (Michael Duffield), where each tries to bluff the other while also raising the money stakes to drastic heights.

The fight itself, which you wait through the whole movie to see, wasn’t as exciting, or captured in as intense of a way, as I was expecting. The animosity between Tom and Pansy wasn’t played-up enough either and only comes to a head during the third act while I felt it should’ve been brewing from the very start. Tom as a character is quite dull and is seen a lot less than Methusela who’s the scene-stealer. The sequence between Tom and Carl’s battle is surprisingly quick while the big showdown between Tarzan and Pansy gets captured from a distance and shown over the closing credits, which I found quite disappointing. There’s no answer to who ultimately wins the fight either, which despite the film’s other good qualities, is a big letdown.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 11, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Tim Burstall

Studio: Hexagon Productions

Available: DVD (Import Region 0)

The Seduction (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Anchorwoman stalked by photographer.

Jamie Douglas (Morgan Fairchild) is a successful Los Angeles news anchor in a long-term relationship with her boyfriend Brandon (Michael Sarrazin). Living close-by is Derek (Andrew Stevens) a photographer who has become obsessed with her after viewing her from afar through his binoculars. He begins giving her unwanted phone calls that soon turn into menacing fan letters. He follows her where ever she goes and even breaks into her home, but nothing seems to scare him away and the police are unable to do anything about it. When his behavior becomes even more threatening Brandon buys Jamie a rifle and advises her to use it, but Jamie is initially not thrilled with the idea.

This is writer/director David Schmoeller’s second feature film after doing the highly overrated Tourist Trapwith this thing, despite a much bigger budget, being not much better than that one. Casting Fairchild in the lead is one of the bigger problems as she has too much of a cold, bitchy persona about her, even when she’s not trying to, that just doesn’t make her the type of person a viewer can warm-up to, or want to root for.

Derek, as the psycho, is a poorly fleshed-out character where it’s never clear why he’s propelled to stalk Jamie in the first place. Why is this good-looking guy, who seems to be making good money, and owns a nice house, so obsessed with a blonde news lady when there’s already a good-looking blonde named Julie (Wendy Smith Howard) whose shown an interest in him? Some may argue, as it gets alluded to near the end, that Derek is impotent, but if he can’t get it up for other women then why would he be able to do it with Jamie? If the answer is that he can only achieve erection through violence and control then there needs to be an explanation for what traumatic experiences in his life, or personality quirk, have brought him to become that way.

It’s also really annoying how Derek is able to constantly break-in to Jamie’s house and into her place of work without ever being impeded, or caught. You’d think with the amount of harassment he’s given her she’d make sure to bolt every door and lock every window and yet he’s able to somehow continually pop-in all the time without any hassle. It’s like he’s Barbra Eden from ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ and can just blink his way in as that’s pretty much what it comes-off looking like.

Schmoeller’s inept direction ruins any suspense. Case-in-point is when Jamie is inside her home reading a letter and the camera zooms into a broken trinket sitting on her beauty stand that had been clearly placed there by Derek earlier. Instead of allowing the tension to simmer, by leaving the viewer in the dark as to whether Derek was still in the house or not, Schmoeller instead cuts right away to show Derek hiding in the closet, so when he does finally jump out and frighten Jamie the viewer is not startled at all because we’re already expecting it. Same thing happens when Jamie is live on-the-air and reads a creepy message written by Derek on her teleprompter. It would’ve been far more of a shock to the viewer had we not seen Derek sneak in to write the message earlier and instead shared Jamie’s point-of-view and seeing it for the first time as she reads it.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is where it jump-the-shark when Derek somehow stabs Brandon, who is in a hot tub, in the back with a kitchen knife used to cut apples. Hard to believe that type of knife would be sharp enough to stab someone with and even harder to imagine that Derek was able to do it by standing on the edge of the tub and throwing it through the air towards Brandon with such perfect aim and impact that it penetrated his back and kills him instantly.

He then allows Jamie to get out of the tub, she was in it when Brandon got knifed, and get dressed while Derek goes off to bury Brandon’s body, but why does he feel the need to bury the body and why isn’t he afraid that while he’s away she’ll use this time to either call the police, or escape to a neighbor’s house? Having Jamie finally use the rifle and attempt to shoot Derek with it leaves open a few plot holes as well as she made clear earlier that she didn’t like the idea of the gun making it seem that she had never used one, so when she finally does you’d think she’d be unable to correctly work-it.

The original ending had the police chief, played by Vince Edwards, coming in at the last second and blowing Derek away, but the studio didn’t like this version so it got changed to where Julie kills Derek instead, but I didn’t like this either. Derek is Jamie’s problem, so it’s up to her to finish him off. My version would’ve had Jamie immediately run into the house and grab the rifle after Derek kills Brandon and then while still nude chase Derek, with rifle in hand, back to his house where she would finally riddle him with bullets. The final shot would’ve had her sitting nude on Derek’s sofa smoking a cigarette while Derek’s dead body lay at her feet. A voice-over of her reading the news story as an anchorwoman of what had occurred would then be heard.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: January 22, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Schmoeller

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

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

The Hospital (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: An incompetently run hospital.

Dr. Herbert Bock (George C. Scott) is the chief of staff at a teaching hospital in New York where patients routinely die due to misdiagnosis and other blunderings. There’s also a protest by a group of tenants from a nearby apartment building that’s been annexed by the hospital to make room for a drug rehabilitation center. Bock not only must deal with these issues, but also his crumbling personal life which has turned him to both alcohol and thoughts of suicide. His only ray-of-light is meeting the beautiful Barbra (Diana Rigg) who has come to the hospital to seek treatment for her father (Barnard Hughes), but just as Bock starts to come out of his depression the place becomes terrorized by an unseen assailant who begins killing both the patients and staff.

In 1969 after his wife had received poor care at a local hospital Paddy Chayefsky set-out to write a script exposing what he felt was the corruption and incompetence going on inside the American medical institutions. He managed to get full control over his screenplay and final say over any proposed changes, which was a good thing since initially the studio felt it was filled with too much medical terminology that would go over many viewer’s heads. I’ll admit there’s an excessive amount of lingo, both with the dialogue between the doctors and staff as well as the opening voice-over narration by Chayefsky, that’s done at a rapid-fire pace and I really didn’t understand it, but I still kind of liked it. I have no medical background myself, so I and most viewers aren’t going to get the ‘medical speak’, but leaving it in helps make it sound more authentic. It also impresses the viewer with how much research was put into it and you basically trust what’s going on because it ‘sounds intelligent’.

Another complaint was the shift in tone where things start out in a darkly-humorous slap-dash fashion only to end up during the second act becoming quite serious. Normally this would’ve been a big problem, but I liked the shift here. I think the reason is because underneath the comedy there’s still life-and-death consequences going on and if you’re going to make a statement movie, which this is attempting to do, then at some point things have got to slow-down and get serious in order for that statement to get out, which this thing ends up successfully doing.

While I enjoyed the fluid pace that manages to encompass not only satire and drama, but even shades of horror without ever losing its realism I did find that it spends an inordinate amount of time telling us about all of the problems without bothering to give us any solutions. There’s no focus on what the underlying causes are nor any balance by showing an well-run hospital in comparison. One might start to believe that all hospitals are like this and become afraid to ever go into one even if they are really sick, which isn’t exactly a good thing. This may have been the reason why Chayefsky himself died at the relatively young age of 58 from cancer because he feared Dr.’s would “cut me up because of that movie I wrote about them” and thus refused surgery that might’ve saved his life.

Spoiler Alert!

There’s a few issues with the casting as well. Overall, I was impressed with the performances particular Scott who got his second Oscar nomination for his work here. Rigg is also quite good, in a part that seemed better suited for Jane Fonda, who was the studio’s choice, but Rigg’s British accent and terse style makes for an interesting dynamic. You can also glimpse young soon-to-be-stars in small bits including: Nancy Marchand and Robert Walden, who later went on to co-star with each other in the TV-show ‘Lou Grant’ as well as Stockard Channing, in her film debut, and Frances Sternhagen as an exasperated medical clerk. The main problem though comes with Barnard Hughes, who appears for some strange reason in two completely different roles. He is very funny as the surgeon who finds he’s been operating on the wrong person, but then later he reappears as Rigg’s father, which didn’t make much sense. Since the father turns out to be the mysterious killer many people thought the scene with Hughes as the surgeon was meant to be the father in disguise, but that was not the intention. Again, if there’s no specific/underlying purpose story-wise for an actor to play two different parts in the same movie then don’t do it. There’s no lack of actors out there clamoring for work, so one of the two parts could’ve easily have been filled by someone else and thus avoided confusing the audience for no good reason.

It’s possible that the reason Chayefsky had Hughes playing dual roles was to help explain how the killer was able to get away with his crimes for so long. While the killer is always shown off camera, so the viewer does not know the identity, the Dr.’s and nurses do seem to recognize him as being a colleague and are put at ease just before he kills them. Of course the odds of a patient entering a random hospital and looking similar to one of the staff is astronomically low, but if this was the underlying concept, and it very well may have been, then the film should’ve eventually made this clear by having a split screen scene where Hughes the surgeon bumps into Hughes the killer.

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My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: United Artists

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