Category Archives: 70’s Movies

Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Family plays weird games.

Sonny (Howard Trevor) and Girly (Vanessa Howard) are brother and sister who live with their mother (Ursala Howells) and nanny (Pat Heywood) in a large stately mansion in rural England. Despite both being adolescents they still sleep in cribs and behave as if they’re only 5. They enjoy playing what they call ‘The Game’, which is bringing home strangers, usually homeless men that they’ve met at a park, and forcing them to dress in a schoolboy’s outfit and compelled to behave like a child. If they refuse they are then ‘sent to the angels’.

The film was a product of famed British cinematographer Freddie Francis who wanted to make a movie inside the Oakley Court, which is a castle built in 1859 that overlooks the River Thames. He commissioned his friend Brian Comport to write the screenplay with the only condition being that the action had to take place on the Oakley Court property. Comport decided to revolve the plot around a play called ‘Happy Family’ written by Maisie Mosco, which dealt with a family that got involved with role playing games. Both Francis and Comport disliked the play, but were intrigued with the concept and decided to turn it into the genesis for a horror movie.

The film can best be described as experimental and has an intriguing quality to it, which holds your interest for the first 30-minutes, or so. One of the best elements is the alluring performance of Vanessa Howard, who’s able to mix her beauty with that of an evil mischievous nature. In fact the entire cast does an exceptionally fine job despite the material not offering much in the way of characterizations. The cast gives off an energetic zeal that keeps you compelled even as very little else happens. I kept thinking how sad it was that these actors put so much effort into a movie that fell into obscurity almost right away and this it turns out was the very reason why Howard left the profession just a few years later.

Outside of the acting there’s little else to recommend as the flimsy plot gets stretched far more than it should. There’s also no normal character that the viewer can relate to. Initially I thought it would be Michael Bryant, who plays a middle-aged male prostitute that they bring back to their place as one of their ‘new friends’, but he ends up behaving almost as weirdly as the rest. There should’ve been some outside force that intervened like a police inspector that would come to the castle to investigate the disappearance of one of the prostitute’s female clients, played by Imogen Hassall, that he and the two teens kill when they push her off a slide, which could’ve added tension and nuance that is otherwise lacking.

The film is also too skittish with the shocks. It’s supposed to be a horror movie, but there’s barely anything in it that’s all that disturbing. Sure, it does imply some dark things, but it doesn’t show any of it. The victims die too easily to the point that the death scenes aren’t any fun to watch. The part where a woman falls from a children’s slide at a playground and dies instantly is ridiculous as it wasn’t a high enough for the fall to have been fatal.  Another scene is the discovery of a severed head inside a boiling pot of water, but it never  gets shown, which comes-off as a total cop-out. I realize this was made in the 60’s in England where the culture was quite prudish to gore and violence, hence the creation of the infamous ‘video nasties’, which was a list of banned horror movies that came out about a decade later, but if you’re going to create a story that is dark and edgy, such as this one, then you should have the balls to push-the-envelope in order to give it a payoff, which this thing is ultimately devoid of.

Alternate Title: Girly

Released: February 12, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Freddie Francis

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporations

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The Toolbox Murders (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Handyman targets female tenants.

A man, haunted by memories of the death of his young daughter in a car accident years earlier, begins systematically killing-off women residing in an apartment complex who he believes are living sinful lifestyles. Laurie (Pamelyn Ferdin) is a teen who lives in the same complex just a few doors down from where the murders occurred. One evening while alone the killer sneaks into her place and kidnaps her. Since she resembles his deceased daughter he does not kill her, but instead ties her up to a bed where he talks to her as if she’s his daughter come back to life. As she remains imprisoned her brother Joey (Nicolas Beauvy), unhappy with the sloppy job done by the police, decides to do the investigating of his own with the help of Kent (Wesley Eure) who’s he nephew of Vance (Cameron Mitchell) who owns the building where the murders have been happening. Joey unearths clues, which leads him to believe he knows who’s responsible, but finds opposition in Kent, who wants to block him from finding out who the culprit is.

This film was just about the final word in graphic exploitation fare that permeated the era where every horror film competes to see how they could be gorier and more explicit than the others. This one is unusual in that it starts out right away with the killings, but then during the second and third act it slows way down and becomes a talk-feast with very little gore at all. I did though find it interesting where instead of intense, creepy music that usually gets played when a killer stalks his victim we instead hear laid-back country songs, which would’ve been even more inspired had they not all been by the same artist.

The identity of the killer is given away early, which is also different from other slashers that try to keep it a secret until the end. In a lot ways this makes it less intriguing though Mitchell’s performance still keeps it interesting. What I didn’t like was the stupid police inspector, which is poorly played by Tim Donnelly who was the brother of the film’s director, and his inept ability to figure out who the killer might be even though the viewer and other characters catch-on very quickly. I know some policemen aren’t always the smartest, but even the dumbest would’ve been able to pick up on the obvious clues that this one unbelievably overlooks.

The fact that none of the women scream, at least not during the first act, was rather bizarre especially when one of them (Evelyn Guerrero) walks into the crime scene sees her friend (Marciee Drake) lies in a bloody mess, but she doesn’t respond in a shocked way and just stares as if gazing at a picture on the wall. Having the police interview the neighbors directly over the nude, dead bodies of the victims, was a bit ridiculous too as the victims in most any other crime scene would’ve been covered in a blanket and taken away to a coroner and the scene secured before anyone else could be let in that could potentially tamper with the evidence.

The biggest thing that bugged me was that it’s never shown how the killer is able to so easily get into the apartments. I realize it’s because he has a master key, but that actually needs to be shown with a shot of a key going into the lock. The film though never does this, so instead we just see the door knob turning like these people have been dumb enough to leave their doors unlocked even as a killer lurks about.

The performances are the one thing that holds it together. I especially liked Ferdin and the genuine look of fright in her eyes and tears rolling down her face as she’s been held hostage. Her sincere expression of terror connects with the viewer and makes them even more concerned for her welfare. I’m also friends with her on Facebook and she’s posted about the final scene where she’s wandering around a parking lot barefoot and in her nighty, which was apparently shot in cold temperatures, so having her dressed like that in such freezing conditions and remain professional is commendable too. It’s also entertaining seeing Wesley Eure, best known for his work in the TV-show ‘Land of the Lost’, playing a psycho, of which he’s surprisingly effective.

While the denouncement states that this was based on actual events it really wasn’t. It was loosely inspired by some cases of serial killers using tools to kill their victims, but the characters and overall scenario was largely made-up. The story was remade in 2004, but much of the violence and explicitness of this one was taken-out and toned down while also making major changes to the plot.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 3, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Dennis Donnelly

Studio: Cal-Am Productions

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

Crash! (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Wife has occult powers.

Kim (Sue Lyon) and Marc (Jose Ferrer) are a married couple with a 30-year age difference between them. Initially they were a happy twosome, but then Marc got into a car accident that left him bound to a wheelchair and the passion between them lessened. Now Marc resents the fact that Kim no longer seems to love him and worries that his attractive and much younger wife will go off and find another suitor. He plots to have her killed by having his trained doberman jump into her car as she’s driving and attack her. While the dog does injure her it’s not enough to kill her. As she lies in her hospital bed Marc sneaks in and disconnects her from her intravenous tube, which he hopes will be enough to end her life, but he fails to notice that she’s clutching in her hand an artifact that she had bought earlier at a flea market, which gives her special psychic abilities. These powers allow her to terrorize Marc even when she’s not there by making inanimate objects, including both her car and his wheelchair, come to life and begin attacking him. 

This was the first feature length film directed by Charles Band, who has gone on to have a long career both producing and directing B-horror films some of which have been successful. This one reveals his producer mentality by keeping the flimsy plot moving by adding in a lot of action, in this case tons of car stunt footage, to the mask the fact that the story itself doesn’t have much going for it. To a degree the car crashes are well choreographed, but there’s too many shots of police cars getting destroyed, which is reminiscent of the car chase action comedies making this seem more like a silly comedy than a would-be horror film.

The most impressive thing is the driver-less car. This is similar to the concept used in cult flick The Car, but that automobile had a roof over it and darkened windows, so you presumed that a stunt driver was inside controlling it, but here this vehicle is a convertible and there’s no one sitting in it even as it careens down the road. How they were able to pull this off I don’t know, but this fact alone makes it far more interesting to see than the other one even though that one, for whatever reason, received more attention and fanfare despite both coming-out at around the same time.

I was willing to give this 6-points, but then Band makes the misguided mistake of repeating near the end the car crash explosions we’ve seen before making it seem like a ‘highlight reel’. I’m not sure for the reason other than alluding to the mysterious occult power communicating to  Kim about what has gone on while she was in the hospital bed, but it was unnecessary and comes-off like amateurish film-making to the extreme.

The eclectic cast of familiar faces who were once A-list stars, but now forced to accept B-grade material in order to stay busy, is interesting and helps save it a little. I was particularly impressed with Ferrer who gives a convincing performance and doesn’t just ‘phone-it-in’ despite the otherwise subpar quality of the script.

Lyon’s appearance here is intriguing as well as she shot to fame back in 1964 as the beautiful teen Lolita in the Stanley Kubrick film of the same name and was considered one of the most stunning stars of the decade, but here she plays a part that ends-up making her look quite ugly. Not only is her face bandaged up through most of it, but when they do finally come-off she is shown to be full of garish scars. There’s also scenes where her eyes are blazing red and resembling that of a demon. I’m not sure if she took this role to play against her beauty stereotype, which she reportedly was not a fan of anyways, or she just accepted the offer because she needed the work, but the things she does here is about as far removed from Lolita as one could possibly get, so watching this simply for that reason may make it worth it to some.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 24, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Charles Band

Studio: Group 1 International Distribution

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

The Redeemer (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Murdered for their sins.

Six people, who attended the same high school and graduated from the class of 1967, get invited to a reunion. When they arrive they find that the school has been shut down and the building abandoned, but are let in by a kindly janitor. Inside is a room set-up for a party including an array of delicious food and drinks. They partake in the meal, but still wonder why they were the only ones from the class that got invited. They then begin getting killed-off in violent ways and when the remaining survivors try to leave they realize they’ve been trapped inside, but none of them knows who’s committing the killings, or why?

This yet another proto-slasher made long before the release of Halloweenwhich has become the standard. Like with Savage Weekendwhich was reviewed here last October, this movie goes on its own tangents, unlike 80’s slashers, with deviations that make for a fun watch and are filled with a lot of weird twists and imagery.

The entire production was filmed on-location in the town of Staunton, Virginia in the summer of 1976. The Staunton Military Academy was the building used for the setting of the abandoned school. It was loaned out to the producers for one month by Layne Loeffler, who appears briefly near the beginning. He was hoping that by allowing the movie to film there that it would generate enough interest to allow the academy  to open back-up, but the movie didn’t gain as much attention as they thought causing it to eventually be torn down just a few years later.

As with most low budget films it has the expected trappings of an independent feature produced and directed by a bunch of first-timers including a grainy film stock, which detractors of the film used as an excuse to hate it. I felt though that the faded look worked in its favor as it made it seem more like viewing lost footage dug up from years in storage and thus witnessing carnage captured by a hidden camera.

Despite the majority of the cast never doing another movie after this one, which includes both the director and writer, I came away more impressed than disappointed. There are indeed some genuinely scary moments and the killings are surprisingly vivid. In fact they look more realistic than many of the ones done in bigger budgeted movies that came-out later. The pacing is handled much better too and doesn’t have the slow, awkward drama segments like in other horrors. Even the characterizations showing people’s need to impress others while simultaneously putting up facades to hide what they feel others will judge them harshly on, a common occurrence in most high school reunions, is well brought out.

Spoiler Alert!

Many only complaint is the ending that doesn’t offer any final twist. I was fully expecting that the character of the Redeemer, played by T.G. Finkbinder, would ultimately be exposed as a fraud since he did the killings over what he felt were various perceived sins committed by the others and yet the film acts like these brutal murders were somehow justified and the victims ‘deserved’ what they got, which is pretty warped. However, outside of its weird messaging, it’s still an interesting obscurity particularly for slasher film collectors.

Alternate Titles: The Redeemer…Son of Satan!, Class Reunion Massacre

Released: October 25, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Constantine S. Gochis

Studio: Dimension Pictures

Available: Blu-ray, Tubi, Amazon Video

Diary of the Dead (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two dead old ladies.

Stan (Hector Elizondo) is married to Vera (Salome Jens) while living in a house that’s owned by Vera’s mother Maud (Geraldine Fitzgerald). Maud and Stan do not get along and she uses the fact that Stan can’t find regular employment as a means to belittle him.  She also tries to convince Vera to leave him. Stan is aware of this, but can’t seem to do much about it. Then one day Maud’s friend Ethel (Kate Wilkinson) comes for a visit. She arrives while Maud is upstairs taking a nap, and is greeted by Stan, but since she had to walk all the way from the bus station to the house and suffers from high blood pressure, she promptly collapses once she gets inside. Stand decides to use this as an opportunity to get rid of Maud by claiming to the attending physician (Austin Pendleton) that the dead body is his mother-in-law, so when Ethel is taken away for cremation everyone thinks it’s Maud instead. Stan then buries Maud’s body, who he has killed on his own, in his backyard, but this catches the eye of his nosy neighbor Walter (Joseph Maher) who had always gotten along well with Maud and feels Stan’s explanation of what happened doesn’t add-up.

The story is based on the 1971 novel ‘One Across, Two Down’ by Ruth Rendell and while the plot has a sufficient amount of twists the direction, by first timer Arvin Brown, is lacking. It’s not liked it’s bad direction, but it has no finesse and seems meant of TV.  It’s no surprise that Brown ended up doing projects exclusively for TV after this one as nothing here is cinematic and approached in such a sterile way visually that it actually detracts from the proceedings.

Elizondo gives a feisty performance that perfectly captures a bitter man going through life with a chip-on-his-shoulder. His arguments and confrontations with Maud lend for some colorful dialogue, but a meddling, cantankerous mother-in-law is nothing new and if anything seems cliched making the material come-off as second-rate and formulaic.

The crime itself isn’t elaborate. In the ‘Columbo’ TV mysteries we’d see the bad-guy pull-off the murder in a way that was carefully thought-out, so the viewer becomes intrigued trying to figure out what flaw the killer overlooked that Columbo will jump on, but here it works in reverse. The crime is spur-of-the moment with a bunch of things that could easily go wrong that will instantly get Stan caught, which isn’t as interesting. Stan is also not a pleasant person, so the viewer is not emotionally invested in him escaping the clutches of the authorities,  If anything you remain ambivalent to what happens, which are ingredients that don’t make the movie interesting.

The film does feature a twist ending, but it’s not something one couldn’t have seen coming as it goes overboard telegraphing it. As an episode of ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ it would’ve worked better, but it gets stretched too thin for feature length. The should also not be confused with the George A. Romero film of the same name that came out 30 yeas later.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 20, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Arvin Brown

Studio: B.S. Moss Enterprises

Available: None

Telefon (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Spies hypnotized to kill.

Grigori (Charles Bronson) is a KGB agent ordered to investigate a rash of terrorist activities being done inside the US. All of the crimes are being committed by Russian sleeper agents who are hypnotized to carry-out acts via a call on a telephone where they are read a line from a Robert Frost poem, which  triggers them to act upon preordained instructions. The calls are made by a rogue agent named Nickolai Dalchimsky (Donald Pleasence) and it’s up to Grigori to stop him before it becomes an international incident. While in the US Grigori works with lady agent named Barbara (Lee Remick), who Grigori thinks is on his side, but she’s a double-agent ordered to kill Grigori once the mission is completed.

While Leonard Maltin in his review describes the plot, which is based on the novel of the same name by Walter Wager, as being ‘ingenious’ many others felt it was far-fetched. There actually has been one case in the history of crime, which occurred on March 29, 1951 in Copenhagen,  Denmark, where a man by the name of Palle Hardrup was apparently hypnotized by Schouw Nielsen to carry-out a bank robbery and this lead to two people getting killed. Both men were later convicted and the story was made into a 2018 movie called Murderous Trance. Since then though there has been no other cases on record of this type of thing occurring and many experts in the hypnotic field insist that it couldn’t making what transpires here highly speculative at best.

The issue of Grigori having a photographic memory and able to memorize the names and personal details of all the sleeper agents is questionable too. Many researchers say that this type of phenomenon is only temporary and cannot be retained over a long period. There are others that say the photographic memory is a myth altogether and like with the hypnosis angle, forces the viewer to complete shut off their skeptical side right from the get-go in order to have even a chance of enjoying the movie at all.

The only interesting aspect is Lee Remick and Bronson learning to deal with each other’s contrasting personalities, which makes great use of Chuck’s gruff and brash manner, but I felt Remick as an agent wasn’t believable. When she’s ordered to kill one of the sleeper agents inside a hospital by injecting him with a drug she gets quite nervous, but if she’s killed before, then I’d think it would be like second-nature to her and she’d be cool and calm under pressure. I also felt the film should’ve showed her fully carrying-out the killing instead of cutting away without ever seeing the actual injection.

I didn’t get why she would’ve fallen in love with Bronson as the two had nothing in common and really didn’t get along. The film seems to act off the theory that putting a man and woman together will automatically elicit romance and sexual tensions, but members of the opposite sex work together on jobs sometimes for many years where sex and romance never occurs, so having these two end up getting the hots for each other seemed forced and mechanical. Also, the fact that Remick is a double-agent and Bronson becomes aware of this would make me believe that he, being a professional spy, would never trust her enough to let down his guard to expose his softer side to begin with.

I was disappointed too that several scenes are supposed to take place in Texas, including the city of Houston, and yet ultimately all of  these get shot in either California, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Francisco, which was the same one used in High Anxiety, or on a studio sound stage. Yet there are plenty of other scenes that were shot on-location like New Mexico , Montana, and even Finland, so if they could make it to those places then why not to Texas too?

The climactic sequence, which takes place in a backwoods bar and features a humorous performance by Helen Page Camp, as the wife of the bar owner, gets wrapped-up in too tidy of a way and doesn’t take full advantage of Pleasence, who has been very creepy in his other villainous roles, but here doesn’t make much of an impression. While the film is entertaining on a non-think level it compares poorly to other movies in the spy genre and certainly does not come close to matching many of the better ones.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Don Siegel

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive)

Mouth to Mouth (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two teen girl runaways.

Carrie (Kim Krejus) and Jeanie (Sonia Peat) are two friends living in a juvenile detention center when one of them gets accused of stealing an item. Angered that they’ve been accused of doing something that they didn’t they escape into the night and onto the streets of Melbourne. They manage for find shelter in an abandoned factory building that also has an elderly homeless man named Fred (Walter Pym) living there whom they befriend. They find employment as servers in a cafe and that’s where they meet Tim (Ian Gilmour) and Sergio (Serge Frazzetto) who are two young men who have come to the city looking for employment. They girls bring them back to the factory building and the four create a makeshift home, but Carrie and Jeannie are not happy with the wages that they’re making nor having to shoplift on the side to make ends-meet. Carrie sees an ad in the paper for escorts and convinces Jeannie to join her as they’ll be able to make much more money doing that. Jeannie is reluctant at first, but eventually goes along with it, but after doing it for awhile Carrie becomes increasingly depressed, which eventually leads to her illicit drug use.

Initially I wasn’t excited to watch this as I’d seen many teen runaway movies before and failed to see what new perspective they could put on that would make it interesting, but I was surprised how very compelling it is. A lot of credit for this goes to writer/director John Duigan’s script, which has a nice conversational quality and the characters react the way real teens do where they never articulate how they really feel and go to great lengths to mask their true feelings. The setting, particularly the abandoned building is made all the more stark as a real one was used and not just some prop built on a movie set, which really hits home the kind of squalor some people will be willing to put-up with if their desperate enough and similar to the living conditions in the British film Rita, Sue, and Bob Too. 

Despite the actors having little or no acting experience they manage to give compelling performances and much of this was helped by having the cast room in a house for 2-weeks before the shooting started, which allowed them to bond with each other as well as refined their characters and rehearse their lines until it became almost natural to them. 

The script originally had more of a light-hearted tone, but after 14 rewrites it took on a harsher subject matter as director Duigan wanted to bring to life people that a middle-class movie audience only sees as ‘numbers on unemployment figures, or kids in juvenile court’ and in that regard it’s well-made. The ending is particularly gut-wrenching, but not surprising and yet I was very moved by it and it stayed with me long after it was over. 

On the complaints side it would’ve been nice to have had Fred come-up to their loft to either dinner with the four and see more how he interacted with them. The girls invite him, but he refuses, but for the sake of character development he should’ve agreed. The escort scenes only show Jeannie interacting with her client, but not Carrie with hers, which I found frustrating. Carrie is never seen visiting with her father either during the brief scene when she returns home as he’s not there, but having a conversation between the two could’ve been quite revealing. The film also features a great song entitled “The More You Love the Harder You Fall”, but no credits are given for who sings it, which is a shame.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 20, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated M (Australian Movie Rating)

Director: John Duigan

Studio: Victorian Film Cororation

Available: DVD (Region 0 Import)

Gator (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rubbing-out a friend.

Gator McKlusky (Burt Reynolds) is back living in the swamp lands of southern Georgia with his Father (John Steadman) and young daughter (Lori Futch) with no interest of working for the police again. Then one day federal agent Irving Greenfield (Jack Weston) comes by in his boat asking Gator to work with them as an undercover agent to get incriminating information that can be used in court to convict local mob boss ‘Bama’ McCall (Jerry Reed), who just so happens to also be one of Gator’s former buddies. Gator at first resists, but eventually agrees. Bama seems excited to have Gator onboard with his team and even hires him as one of his collectors, but Gator gets turned-off by Bama’s penchant for drugging underage girls and then using them as prostitutes.  Bama eventually lets Gator leave his organization, but this only strengthens Gator’s resolve to put Bama behind bars, which leads the two former friends into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse.

The film was written by William W. Norton, whose colorful life,  was far more interesting than many of his banal scripts, which include such stinkers as I Dismember Mamaand in fact when Norton was on his deathbed in the hospital a nurse asked him if she knew of any of his movies and his response was “I don’t think your IQ is low enough”.  Despite Norton having written the script for the first film, White Lightningthat this movie was a sequel to, Reynolds was initially not interested in doing it and referred to the script as being “terrible”, but when the studio offered him the option to direct it he called it “wonderful”.

Like with many first-time directors the film has many long takes, but overall I felt Reynolds’ virgin effort behind the camera wasn’t too bad. The best part is the opening boat chase shot at the Okeefenokee State Park in southern Georgia that nicely captures it’s picturesque swamp topography as well as some exciting stunt work. Unfortunately after this bit the film goes downhill.

Much of the reason is the script’s inability to keep a consistent tone. The appeal is the spunky humor and action, but by the second act this all disappears and it becomes too serious and slow until it almost starts to resemble a drama. There’s also a few moments of jarring violence that completely losses sight of the playfulness that it had at the beginning.

Reynolds doesn’t seem into his part either, maybe because he was spending so much focus in directing, but in either case he walks through the role and phones in his lines. He also sports a mustache even though in the first installment he didn’t and for consistency he should more or less look the same as he did in the original. The mustache and wavy hair make him look older and the country boy charm that made his character so infectious in the first one is missing here.

Jerry Reed on-the-other-hand is great and shows the necessary energy to keep the scenes that he’s in interesting. Jack Weston is quite funny as the clumsy and constantly exacerbated agent and I was disappointed that he wasn’t in it more as the movie required him to be with Reynolds at all times in order to keep it engaging. I’ll even credit Alice Ghostley as the eccentric cat lady, but Lauren Hutton as the love interest is all wrong. She at least makes fun of the gap in her teeth, which I liked, but the romance angle comes-off as forced and unnecessary and does nothing but bog down the pace, in movie that’s too slow and choppy to begin with.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 25, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Burt Reynolds

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Hustle (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father searches for killer.

Phil (Burt Reynolds) is a police lieutenant who’s in love with a beautiful French prostitute named Nicole (Catherine Deneuve) and the two live together in Phil’s swanky hilltop Malibu home. Unfortunately Phil can’t handle that Nicole continues her business practice even as the two are in a relationship and this threatens their love affair. As this goes on Phil also gets embroiled in a police investigation when a group of school children find a dead body of a 20-year-old woman washed up on the beach. The victim’s father (Ben Johnson) insists it was murder even after the autopsy says it’s a suicide. Phil and his partner Louis (Paul Winfield) are ready to close the case, but when the father starts his own investigation the two  decide to pursue it further, which leads them to many unsettling conclusions including that the daughter starred in several porno films financed by the sleazy Leo Sellers (Eddie Albert) a rich older man who also happens to be a client of Nicole’s.

This film was the second collaboration between Reynolds and director Robert Aldrich as the two had just completed the highly successful The Longest Yard a year earlier. While that film met with critical acclaim this one received only a so-so reception. There were certain elements that I liked, but I did find Reynolds’ presence to be a detriment. His boyish looks where he doesn’t have the mustache or the wavy hair, which always made him look like he was wearing a wig, is a plus, but his character is too detached. It’s only after repeated cajoling by the father that he even agrees to look into the case more and the movie would’ve been more compelling had it revolved around the father from the very beginning.

Reynolds’ relationship with Deneuve is boring and the scenes between them aren’t sexy or provocative as intended. We should’ve seen how they became a couple from the start as their attachment brings out all sorts of questions that never get answered. For instance, where did they first meet? Was it during a sexual rendezvous where Burt paid for her services, or possibly a cop raid? Why did she fall for Burt as this woman had been with a lot of men, so what made him special over the others and why would a cop think getting serious with a woman who routinely sleeps with other men be a good idea, or even work?

The movie tries to be chic by creating a character who’s initially ‘open-minded’ about prostitution, but then contradicts itself by having him turn around and demand she must give it up. If this were truly a modern thinking guy he would’ve liked the fact that she was financially independent and slept with other men because she gave herself for free to him while she made the others pay. He might even get-off watching her having sex with others, as there are some husbands/boyfriends who do, and the fact that the film doesn’t think to go into this area makes it far less ‘hip’ than it thinks it is.

There’s also a very violent moment where Reynolds refuses to let her leave, physically slaps her, and even refers to her as a ‘bitch’ several times. He then pins her to the bed and forces himself onto her. While she initially resists he continues to do it until she finally gives-in and acts like she’s enjoying it. Today’s audiences will be rightly turned-off by this and it will make Reynolds, the intended ‘good guy’, look much more like an abuser. It also might allow some men to think that being violent with women is ‘okay’ as they’ll ultimately give in and ‘learn to enjoy it’, which is the wrong message to be sending.

As mentioned earlier Ben Johnson’s character is the only thing that keeps it interesting. The scene where his eyes tear-up after watching his daughter, played by real-life adult film actress Colleen Brennan, perform in a porn film is similar to the one in Hardcorebut far more impactful here. I was amused why he even took the part as he had complained about being in The Last Picture Show, which is the film he won the Oscar for as Best Supporting Actor, because of the ‘foul language’, but then he ends up swearing quite a bit in this one. In either case I’m glad he took it as his presence raises the storyline above its otherwise seedy level and even helps give it a few memorable bits.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1975

Runtime: 2 Hours

Rated R

Director: Robert Aldrich

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Coma (1978)

coma2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who’s killing the patients?

Susan Wheeler (Genevieve Bujold) is a Dr. working as a surgeon at Boston Memorial Hospital, who learns that her best friend Nancy (Lois Chiles) fell into a coma at the hospital while having routine surgery. Susan is convinced that there must be an answer to what went wrong as Nancy was young and had no underlying health conditions. While reviewing the hospital records she finds that a high number of other patients at the hospital ended up having the same fate and all were of a similar age and body type as Nancy. Susan also notices that the patients had surgery in the same operating room and once they became comatose their bodies where shipped off to a remote facility known as The Jefferson Institute.  Susan’s boyfriend Mark (Michael Douglas), who also works at the hospital, tries to convince her it’s all a coincidence, but the more Susan investigates the more determined she is to uncover the truth even if it means putting her job and even her life on the line.

The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Robin Cook. Cook, a physician, decided to dabble in writing on his off-hours and in 1973 got his first novel, ‘The Year of the Intern’, published but it was a financial failure. While that book had been more of a drama he came to realize that thrillers was the genre that had the most commercial success. He studied how, in his words, ‘the reader was manipulated by the writer’, in the thriller novels that he had enjoyed and then listed these techniques on index cards and made sure to use them in ‘Coma’, which lead to that book being a best-seller. Michael Crichton, who had met Cook while he was working on a post doctorate at La Jolla’s Salk Institute, agreed to sign on as the director where he hoped to create a film that would delve into people’s fear of hospitals the way Jaws had connected to people’s phobias about sharks and swimming.

The result is a nice compact thriller that moves along at a brisk pace and takes advantage of both the director’s and author’s medical background to help keep the scenario both realistic and enlightening to the inner-workings of a hospital. There’s a couple of cool foot chase scenes with one occurring between Bujold and actor Lance LeGault inside the hospital while another happens at the ominous looking Jefferson Institute with both being quite intense.

Bujold, despite being different than the protagonist in the novel, who was described as blonde and 23 while Bujold is brunette and 35 at the time of filming, was still a perfect casting choice. I loved her French Canadian accent, which gives her character distinction, but she does appear at times to have reddish nose and cheeks making her seem like she had a rash or cold. What I didn’t like was that the feminist angle of the character, which had been so prominent in the novel, gets played-down here. In the book Susan did not know Nancy and simply took on the case through her own personal initiative to prove herself in an otherwise ‘man’s world’, which was more compelling than the pedestrian way here where she investigates the case simply because she’s heartbroken over the loss of a friend.

It also didn’t make sense to me why she was the only one upset over the deaths of these patients. The patients most likely had family and friends, so why weren’t any of them demanding answers to what happened? We live in a sue-happy culture and medical malpractices are the most prevalent lawsuits out there making me believe this racket wouldn’t have been able to survive too long as lawyers and private investigators, who would’ve been hired by the grieved family members, would’ve been on the case demanding answers from the hospital long before Susan ever even got involved.

The Susan character has the same issues as James Coburn’s did in The Carey Treatment where we have a medical professional with no background in investigating suddenly showing amazing instinct on-the-spot that you’d only expect from a seasoned detective. Having a group of people, like the grieved relatives, working together to solve the case would’ve had more interesting banter and camaraderie, which is missing here. While seeing an individual take down a mighty criminal system is emotionally gratifying it usually takes a strong team of people working in tandem to accomplish that.

Spoiler Alert!

I did find the film’s climax where Susan goes under the knife and risks being another comatose victim, to be quite suspenseful, but I found it strange why this woman, who had done all the legwork to uncover the crime, would then just hand-it-over to the creepy hospital administrator, played by Richard Widmark, to finish the job instead of her going to the police with her findings. The Widmark character displayed a lot of red flags from the start, which is obvious to the viewer, so why is Susan, who had been so super savvy the rest of the time, so dumb at the end and trust a creep like him to do the right thing?

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: January 6, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Crichton

Studio: MGM

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