Category Archives: 70’s Movies

A Town Called Bastard (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Where is rebel Aguila?

In 1895 a rebel leader named Aguila (Robert Shaw) massacres a small Mexican town. Ten years later he resides as a reformed priest in a town run by the corrupt Don Carlos (Telly Savalas). One day a beautiful widow named Alvira (Stella Stevens) arrives looking for the man who killed her husband during the massacre from 10 years earlier. Don Carlos agrees to help her despite having no idea who the killer is, or that it might have something to do with the priest. Things get more complicated when the army colonel also arrives determined to seek out justice by finding the elusive Aguila.

The film has many issues most of which is it comes off as a spaghetti western wannabe that has some of the entertaining elements of those films, but put together in a clumsy fashion. The town really doesn’t resemble an actual place, or a destination that people would live in since there only seems to be about 4 buildings, a church, a salon, and a couple of shops, making me wonder where all the townspeople that are seen milling about resided. There’s also an overuse of dubbing. Al Lettieri, who can be a spectacularly great villain especially in his unforgettable performance in The Gatewayand while he plays another bad guy here, but he gets wasted since his voice is dubbed with a high pitched one that takes away from his menacing quality. Even Robert Shaw has his voice dubbed from time-to-time, which is quite disconcerting.

The narrative is confusing as it jumps back and forth from the present to the past, but doesn’t make it clear that it is doing this, so you’ll see scenes with Shaw at the beginning as a rebel leader and then suddenly he’s a priest without explaining how the two are connected. The Fernando Rey character and the actor playing Alvira’s husband look too much alike making me think, especially since the story jumps between different time periods, that the characters were one and the same with one being slightly younger with the scenes done 10 years earlier though that ends up not being the case.

The cast does help particularly Savalas who seems to relish playing the bad guy and although he’s done this type of part a few too many times is still perfect, but his character gets killed-off too quickly and way too easily, which is a big letdown since his presence helps drive the movie. He gets replaced in essence with Landau, who plays a sociopath in the same over-the-top way, but a good film needs only one crazy not two men playing the same character in the same type of way until it becomes like a caricature.

Shaw is of course quite good though his character for the most part hangs back and doesn’t do much until near the end. The opening scene where he leads the attack on the village has energy, but the shot of a long line of spit oozing out of his mouth as he shouts orders left an icky lasting impression. Stevens is quite beautiful in a natural way without the help of make-up and this was the last film where she had a youthful look as she appeared increasingly more middle-aged after this one.

The nasty subtext was the one thing that makes it fun. There’s a lot of stuff shown here that they just couldn’t do today like the opening bit where the townspeople are viciously gunned down inside their church and the gunmen than laugh and celebrate while the dead, bloody bodies lay at their feet. The scene where a desperate man gleefully hangs his own, innocent wife in an attempt to save himself is memorable and it’s this type of element that keeps it interesting because you just don’t know what it’s going to show next and in the process reflects the ugly savagery of the true, old west.

Alternate Title: A Town Called Hell

Released: June 17, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Parrish

Studio: Benmar Productions

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Import Non-English), Amazon Video, Plex

Diamonds (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Testing a security system.

Charles and his twin brother Earl (both played by Robert Shaw) share an intense rivalry that comes-out during their judo karate contests. Charles wants to top his brother at everything including getting the better of him at his own expertise, which is that of security specialist who has created a vault in Tel Aviv that holds a cache of diamonds and is supposedly impenetrable. Charles is determined to rob it and uses the help of expert safe crackers Archie (Richard Roundtree) and Sally (Barbara Hershey).

While the film has some great location shooting of Israel making it seem almost like a travel log of the region and the final third where the three try to pull off the elaborate robbery does get a bit intense, though it’s nothing special, the movie on the whole falls flat. A major reason is that it was directed by Menahem Golan, who along with his cousin created the notorious film production company The Cannon Group, which produced a lot of cheesy, bubble gum action flicks during the 80’s. This film works very much like those with poor character development, in fact there’s really no development at all, and a plot that steals all sorts of elements from other and better heist movies.

Overall it’s pretty much the same storyline as $, Perfect Fridayand to a lesser extent Topkapibut all of the things that made those movies so much fun to watch goes missing here. The lack of interplay between the characters is the biggest issue. Shaw, Roundtree, and Hershey are all great actors, but they’re not given anything interesting to say. The twin brother concept does not get played-up enough and Charles’ twin is seen just a few times with the only difference being a shaggy wig that Earl wears as opposed to Charles crew-cut, but both brothers have the exact same mole on the left side of their mouths and while identical twins can have many similarities, skin blemishes isn’t one of them. Shelley Winters also pops-up sporadically as an American tourist, but her part is completely inconsequential and not needed at all.

The heist itself does involve some sophisticated maneuvers including having them walk on the ceiling by using a suction-cup type contraption, but the film fails to show any of the preparation. In the other heist films seeing how the crooks rehearsed the robbery and working through their disagreements and divergent personalities was half-the-fun, but that all goes missing here. How Shaw goes about meeting Roundtree and company is pretty flimsy too as he catches them during the middle of an attempted safe cracking and then hires them on-the-spot supposedly because he’s been monitoring them for 5 years and feels they’d be a perfect match for his scheme, but why should it take him so long to come to this conclusion and these safe crackers must not be as cunning as they seem if they’ve been watched closely for 5 years and not had any hint that it was going-on.

Spoiler Alert!

The crime itself gets pulled-off way too easily and there’s no moment where a crucial mistake gets made, or some sort of unexpected slip-up, so things never get as intense as it could’ve. There’s also an added character that gets thrown-in who kidnaps the son of the security guard in order to get the guard to give-out the combination to the safe, but no scenes are shown for how Shaw and company met this kidnapper, or what deal he made with him in order to get him to agree to along with their plans.

The finale has a very anti-climactic feel as Roundtree is able to retrieve the diamonds, but then Shaw forces him to put them all back, so they come away, after all that effort, empty-handed. Ultimately Shaw does hand him a $100,000 check, but this was paltry compared to the $10 million they would’ve gotten with the diamonds making the viewer feel like the film wasn’t worth sitting through if the characters just end up in the same situation that they were in when it began. While no movie that has Robert Shaw in it can be completely bad as his presence alone can elevate even the most inept material this one unfortunately does come close.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 22, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Menahem Golan

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD-R

A Reflection of Fear (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: His daughter is disturbed.

Marguerite (Sondra Locke) is a lonely teen girl living with her mother Katherine (Mary Ure) and grandmother Julia (Signe Hasso). Through her alienation she creates an imaginary world with her dolls including one named Aron who she routinely has conversations with, but who also argues with her from time-to-time. Marguerite’s estranged father (Robert Shaw) comes to visit in order to ask Katherine for a divorce, so that he may marry Ann (Sally Kellerman). He also starts to rekindle things with Marguerite though Ann feels the two are getting much too close and fears they may be forming an incestuous relationship. Soon after both Katherine and Julia turn-up dead having been bludgeoned to death by a mysterious intruder, but who did the dirty deed? Was it an angry Marguerite, or her father, or was it the doll named Aron, who Marguerite insisted spoke to her even though no one else believed her.

The only reason to catch this obscurity is for the performance of Locke who’s absolutely brilliant. Despite being 27 at the time, she still looked like a teen and her attempt at speaking in an English accent is effective and I almost thought it had been dubbed, but it wasn’t. Her presence completely dominates the film making the supporting players seem almost non-existent and it convinced me that her relationship with Clint Eastwood, in which he according to her autobiography wouldn’t allow her to do any other projects that he wasn’t involved in, was a big mistake as she was clearly, as evidenced here, a highly gifted actress that never got her full due.

With that said I was kind of surprised to see Shaw in a film that didn’t allow him to shine and forced him to take a backseat. I can only imagine the reason that he did it was so he could work with his wife Ure, whose alcoholism had relegated her to only supporting parts toward the end of her career and in fact this was her last film before she was discovered dead in her dressing room at the young age of 42 from an accidental drug overdose. The two, for what it’s worth, do work well together. The hateful looks that she gives Shaw here seem authentic and you’d never know the two were a couple in real-life.

The story, with a screenplay co-written by Lewis John Carlino and based on the book ‘Go to Thy Deathbed’ by Stanton Forbes, has potential, but never gels. The scenario seems like it would’ve been better for a half-hour episode of the ‘The Twilight Zone’ and stretching it to a 90-minute length offered in too many slow spots where nothing much seemed to happen. The only time there’s any action is during the murder sequences, which could’ve been played-up more, otherwise it’s a lot of talk that fails to build-up the suspense or mystery in any interesting way.

Spoiler Alert!

The main problem that I had was that it was obvious to me that the doll was just a projection of Marguerite’s repressed anger, so the big reveal where she’s found to be the killer was not a surprise at all and in a lot of ways just a letdown. Had the filmmaker’s made an attempt to show the doll actually speaking instead of only been glimpsed in a shadowy way, which made it clear that he was just a figment of her imagination, then maybe there would’ve been more suspense because the viewer might actually have been made to believe that he was real, but the way it gets done here is not intriguing.

Having Shaw find out at the end that his daughter was actually a boy just made things even more confusing. Some have lauded this has being the first film with a transgender theme and a precursor to Sleepaway Camp, which is great, but what’s it all supposed to mean? Was Marguerite’s transgender issues the reason for her anger and why she lashed out into murder? Was this also the reason why her mother and grandmother kept her locked away and cut-off from potential friends, or was this instead Marguerite’s choice? None of this gets answered, which ultimately makes the film a pointless excursion.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 15, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: William A. Fraker

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Blu-ray

Zandy’s Bride (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: A mail-order bride.

Based on the novel ‘The Stranger’ by Lillian Bos Ross the story centers on Zandy Allan (Gene Hackman) a rancher living in the remote frontier of the American west during the late 1800’s. He finds living alone while maintaining a ranch to be an arduous challenge and thus puts an ad in the newspaper for a bride. The inquiry catches the eye of Hannah (Liv Ullmann), a Swedish woman living outside of Minneapolis. She arrives in Zandy’s hometown, but Zandy is initially not pleased as she’s 32 instead of 25 and he feels she’ll be too old to bear him a son. Begrudgingly he takes her on the long horse ride back to his ranch while informing her there’ll be ‘no turning back’. Their relationship starts out rocky as Zandy expects to be able to order her around and have sex with her at will and is routinely abusive, but complains to his mother (Eileen Heckart) that he cannot understand why she doesn’t like him. Eventually the two, after many years and many fights, form a tenuous bond.

The film was directed by Jan Troell a Swedish director and cinematographer whose films The Emmigrants and The New Land gained international acclaim and won him a contract to direct a Hollywood film. Despite the presence of Ullmann, who had also starred in Troell’s other two films, and having the same frontier setting this one did not do as well either with the critics or the box office and culminated in making Troell’s foray into Hollywood filmmaking, which he said he didn’t like since union rules didn’t allow him to man his own camera like he had always done while making movies in his homeland, a short one.

A lot of the reason for this could be that it starts-off with a brutal rape scene, though not as graphic as in some other films, is still quite unpleasant particularly with Ullmann’s pleading blue-eyes and Hackman callously shouting that he ‘has a right’ as he violently strips off her clothes. While one can appreciate the film’s stark reality, as I’m sure in the remote frontier this sort-of thing could’ve easily happened, it still leaves a bad vibe since Hannah softens to Zandy despite his continually arrogant behavior too quickly. Most women would hate a man forever after that, so for the film to take the approach that love could still blossom is a bit hard to fathom. It should’ve at least taken the entire duration for this to occur instead of entering it in already by the second act.

Hackman is fantastic particularly for taking on such a unlikable role. Most other actors who’ve gained leading man status will rarely do this as they’ll feel it will affect their image, so it’s great to see an actor willing to stretch his range no matter the results. Ullmann is quite good too and it’s almost surreal hearing her speak English when I’ve seen so many films of her speaking in her native tongue. Her character though needed better fleshing-out. With Zandy we can see why he behaves the way he does when he visits his parents (Frank Cady, Eileen Heckart) and witnesses the poor way his father treats his mother, which clearly gives him the mindset that treating women that way is ‘normal’, but we get no such backstory with Hannah. Why did she choose to be a mail-order-bride when she’s so beautiful and you’d expect she’d find many suitors back where she lived? There’s no hint of her family history, or why she ended up in the situation that she does. I also felt she was too assertive too quickly and would’ve liked more of an arc where she starts out shy, but after going through the rigors that she does gains an assertiveness that she didn’t think she initially had.

Spoiler Alert!

The film ends on a hopeful note. Whether one feels this has been earned, or deserved is up to one’s subjective perspective though I was happy to see some redeeming qualities from Zandy as sitting through it watching him behave badly and never learning anything from it would’ve been too unbearable otherwise. I couldn’t help though but wonder during the many times that Zandy abandons her for months on end that one of the men from town wouldn’t have proposed to her in the process. In either case this ends up becoming the first and quite possibly only movie that could be categorized as a love story without any romance.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 19, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jan Troell

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

All That Jazz (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Overworked choreographer battles exhaustion.

Joe (Roy Scheider) is a dance choreographer who’s busy staging his next play while also editing a film he has directed, which the Hollywood studio is demanding get completed. These pressures cause him to take his anger out on his dancers as well as his ex-wife (Leland Palmer), who’s helping to finance the play, as well as his live-in girlfriend Katie (Ann Reinking). As the deadline for both approaches he begins seeing visions of the angel of death (Jessica Lange) whom he has a running conversation with. Eventually he starts to have chest pains, which cause him to be sent to the hospital even as he continues to drink and smoke over his Dr.’s objections. When he finally does have a heart attack he’s whisked into surgery where he directs extravagant musical numbers inside his head while the producers of the play hope for his demise as their insurance proceeds will not only help them avoid a financial loss, but even make a net profit.

The film is based in large part on writer/director Bob Fosse’s own experiences. He started out as a dancer who eventually became a choreographer who shot to fame in the 50’s with such musicals as The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees. By the 70’s he had become an award winning film director and it was while he was staging the Broadway musical Chicago in 1975 and also completing the editing for the film Lenny that much of what happened here got played-out. The biggest irony though is that Cliff Gorman, who starred onstage as the comedian Lenny Bruce of which the film and play Lenny is based, plays the star of the fictional film that Joe is editing even though in real-life Gorman lost out on the starring film role to Dustin Hoffman simply because Hoffman had a more bankable name, which is a shame because from the clips seen here you can easily tell that Gorman was an edgier Lenny that would’ve made that movie stronger.

As for this movie it’s directed in similar style as Frederico Fellini’s 8 1/2. The art direction and editing, which both won an Oscar, come fast and furiously as it constantly jumps back-and-forth from reality to dream-like sequences. While this type of non-linear narration could prove distracting and confusing in most other films here it actually helps. The script does a good job of revealing the stressful and competitive nature of the dance business, but it doesn’t show us anything that couldn’t have been presumed already making these scenes less impactful and the dance numbers, some of which are provocative, more entertaining.

Some complained that Scheider, who by this time was better known as an action star, was miscast, though I came away impressed even with his pale complexion and thin frame (he lost weight to help replicate a sickly/exhausted appearance) that became a bit difficult to watch. It’s the character that he plays that I found to be the biggest issue as the guy is a complete jerk sans the few scenes that he has with his daughter, played by Erzsebet Foldi, who is the one person he treats nicely and I wanted to see more moments between them. The dance number that she and his girlfriend put on for him inside his apartment is the film’s brightest moment while the reoccurring segue of Joe getting up each morning and putting visine into his blood shot eyes before looking into a mirror and saying “It’s showtime, folks!” become redundant and annoying.

On the technical end it’s near brilliant, but as an emotionally impactful character study it’s a total flop. The protagonist is too selfish for anyone to care about and shows too little redeeming qualities, nor much of an arc, to make it worthwhile. Ultimately it’s an exercise in extreme self-loathing that will leave the viewer as detached from the proceedings as the characters who are in it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1979

Runtime: 2 Hours 3 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bob Fosse

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection)

The Killer Elite (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Betrayed by a friend.

Mike Locken (James Caan) and George Hansen (Robert Duvall) are two longtime friends and hit men working for a private agency affiliated with the CIA to carry-out covert missions. During their latest assignment Mike is shocked to see George turn on him by shooting him in the knee and elbow. While Mike is able to survive the incident he is forced to go through a long and painful rehabilitation and due to the injuries is no longer considered employable as a hit man. Mike though refuses to concede and goes through martial arts training were he learns to use a cane both for protection and offensive action. He assembles his old team while vowing to get revenge on George, but fails to realize that there’s someone else behind the scenes who’s pulling-the-strings and far more dangerous.

By the mid-70’s director Sam Peckinpah had achieved a strong following of admirers with his ground breaking action films that took violence and the way it was portrayed in films to a whole new level. While he had his share of critics his movies did well at the box office, which should’ve been enough to get him any assignment he wanted, but his notoriously cantankerous behavior on the set and alcoholism made him virtually unemployable. Mike Medavoy, the head of United Artists, decided to give him a reprieve by hiring him on to direct his next project, but it was under strict conditions that allowed the studio to have final say over all aspects, which in turn made Peckinpah’s presence virtually null and void. The film lacks the edginess of his other more well known pictures. The action really never gets going and much of it was intentionally toned down in order to get a PG-rating. The tension is also lacking and great majority of it is quite boring. There’s even brief moments of humor, which only undermines the story and makes it even more of a misfire.

I liked the casting of Caan, who has disowned the film, which he gives a 0 out of 10, and Duvall, this marked their 5th film together, but the script doesn’t play-up their relationship enough. I was hoping for more of a psychological angle like why would a loyal friend suddenly turn on his partner, which doesn’t really get examined. Duvall has much less screen time and there’s no ultimate confrontation between the two, which with a story like this should’ve been a must. The drama also shifts in the third act to Caan taking on Arthur Hill, who plays a undercover double-agent, which isn’t as interesting or impactful.

Caan’s shooting gets badly botched. I will give Peckinpah credit as the surgery scenes including the removal of the bullet is quite graphic, but how Caan is able to find help after he is shot is never shown. The assault occurs in a remote location, so technically he could’ve died without anyone knowing, so how he was able to find his way out and get the attention of a medical staff needed to be played-out and not just glossed-over like it is.

The introduction of Ninja warriors was another mistake. This was courtesy of Stirling Silliphant who had been hired to rewrite the script and wanted this element put-in since he and his girlfriend Tiana Alexander had studied martial arts under Bruce Lee and felt this would offer some excitement. The result is campy though a one critic, Pauline Kael, like it as she considered it a ‘self-aware satire’ though I was groaning more than laughing.

Some felt that Peckinpah had sold-out and this movie really made it seem like he had. Nothing gels or is inspired though I will at least credit him with the building explosion at the beginning, which was an actual implosion of an old fire house that he became aware was going to happen and quickly revised the shooting schedule, so he’d be able to capture it from across the street and then use it in the film, which does help though everything after it falls flat.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 17, 1975

Runtime: 2 Hours 3 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Tubi, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Whole Shootin’ Match (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to get rich.

Frank (Sonny Carl Davis) and Lloyd (Lou Perryman) are lifelong pals who’ve never been able to get over the financial hump. Both harbor starry-eyed ideas of getting rich, but Lloyd’s inventions never attract the interest of any investors. Then one day while driving his car through the local car wash Lloyd is inspired to create a type of mop that he coins the ‘Kitchen Wizard’. They’re able to sell the rights  and make a thousand dollars with the promise that more money will be on the way, but when the patent gets stolen by an unscrupulous company it sends the normally stoic Frank over-the-edge in which he begins to ponder suicide as the only answer to his despondency.

This film, produced on a minuscule budget where the cast and crew agreed to work for free, became the forerunner of the modern-day indie film movement that not only inspired cult director Richard Linklater to get into movie-making, but also gave Robert Redford the motivation to start-up the Sundance Film Festival. Director Eagle Pennell, who was born as Glenn Irwin Pinnell, even attracted the attention of Hollywood studios after the film’s release, which lead to him getting a development deal with Universal, but when this failed to get any of his movie ideas produced he came back to the Lone Star State feeling as disillusioned as the characters in this movie. Eventually it lead to alcoholism and homelessness where he ultimately died while living on the streets of Houston at the age of 49.

This movie works much like Jim Jarmusch’s 1984 indie hit Stranger Than Paradise, which was also filmed entirely in black-and-white and featured mainly static shots of people having extended conversations. While some of the scenes are funny there are also a few dramatic ones particularly Frank’s dealings with his wife Paulette, played by Doris Hargrave. There are also some moments that don’t work at all. The one featuring Frank and Lloyd conversing while supposedly riding inside a pick-up is particularly problematic as it’s quite clear to the viewer, despite Pinnell’s attempts to camouflage it by editing in shots of traffic, that the vehicle is stationary. The dream sequence where Frank has a nightmare about going back to the company that stole their mop idea is interesting, but then ultimately gets defeated by repeating it almost exactly in real-life, which gets redundant and the music becomes intrusive as we’re unable to hear what anyone is saying as they confront each other.

The characters are not appealing especially Frank who’s quite controlling and possessive towards his wife despite cheating on her. The two lead’s personalities flip-flop near the end where Lloyd, the perpetual optimist, suddenly turns dour while Frank manifests into Mr. positive, which to me didn’t seemed earned, or believable.

For patient viewers the third act is a payoff as it takes place in the Texas Hill Country where the foliage of the forests are quite different than those in the Midwest with trees unique only to central Texas and thus giving the sequence a surreal vibe like the two have traveled off to a strange and exotic place. I also liked the fact that the phony sound effects used in most other movies are non-existent here. This comes into play when a crotchety old man, played by James N. Harrell, shoots at the two from his porch with a rifle, but instead of a loud cannon sound like in most films, it’s more of a realistic fire cracker noise. The fight inside a bar works the same way as there’s not that annoying loud smacking sound when the punches hit their target making this tussle seem more organic.

This also marked only the second movie to be filmed in Austin, Texas with the first one being Outlaw Blueswhich was released 2 years earlier. If you’re an Austinite, such as myself, living in the city now you’ll not recognize the old Austin that gets shown here. No tall buildings, or cosmopolitan look. In fact after watching it you’d be convinced Austin was just a back woods cow town without even a hint of the bustling metropolis that its become.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 19, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Eagle Pennell

Available: DVD, Fandor

Wanted: Babysitter (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A babysitter gets kidnapped.

Michelle (Maria Schneider) is an artist who works part-time as a babysitter and is roommates with Ann (Sydne Rome) who’s an aspiring actress. Ann is upset that her career isn’t taking-off as quickly as she’d like and her frustrations cause her to get involved with her co-star Stuart (Robert Vaughan) who schemes to kidnap the 8-year-old son, Boots (John Whittington), of a wealthy food mogul (Carl Mohner) and then hold him for ransom. He hires Ann to disguise herself as Michelle while taking on a babysitting assignment of looking after Boots. She enters the place wearing a wig that resembles Michelle’s hairstyle and then forces Boots to drink something that will put him to sleep. He is then taken to another location where Lotte (Nadja Tiller), who is also in on the plan, pretends to be the boy’s mother and hires Michelle to babysit. When Michelle arrives at the alternative address she’s completely unaware of what’s going on, but soon finds herself trapped by the criminals forcing her to work with the distrustful boy to find a way out.

This was the final film directed by Rene Clement who did many acclaimed movies throughout his long career, but towards the end focused on kidnapping stories that had an offbeat touch like The Deadly Trap and And Hope to Die. This one is similar to those as it features in elaborate scheme that gets presented in fragmented style requiring the viewer to piece it all together. For the most part it works particularly with Clement’s use of eccentric characters and moody atmosphere though it’s not a complete success.

Although just few years removed from having done Last Tango in Paris Schneider looks much more mature here and I liked seeing her in such a different setting even if Leonard Maltin, in his review, complained about her acting, which he described as ‘abysmal’.  I didn’t find her performance to be as bad and in a lot of ways it works particularly her expressive eyes that helps convey an innocent pleading look in an environment where she’s surrounded by otherwise sordid types. Maltin also criticized the casting of Renato Pozzetto, who gained fame in Italy as a stand-up comedian. I found his presence interesting as his pudgy body type went against the chiseled features that most men who play a love interest in a movie have and his unpolished thespian skills meshed with his confused and dim-witted character.

Vic Morrow scores as the short-fused kidnapper though he’s played this type of role a bit too often. Vaughan is okay as the sinister mastermind and the kid, whose only acting role this has been, is quite endearing. Yet out of everyone it’s Rome, an American born in Akron, Ohio who came to Italy in the late 60’s to break into showbiz and never left, that’s the standout. She’s probably better known for her modeling, singing, and early 80’s aerobic videos, but here she’s quite diverting as a desperate young thing ravaged with insecurities and whose wide-eyed, breathless delivery hits the bullseye.

Spoiler Alert!

The plot is intriguing up to the scene where the ransom gets paid-out, but the wrap-up is unsatisfying. Michelle had gotten tricked into making it look like she was a part of the scheme, she really wasn’t, but to an outsider it would seem that she was, so the fact that she doesn’t get questioned by the police about it was confusing. Having her go back to her boyfriend’s art studio and then having him arrive with a locksmith while she’s inside wasn’t clear either. Was he going to change the locks on the door and trap her in there without knowing it? If so this should’ve been explicitly shown and not just eluded to.

Alternate Title: The Babysitter

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 15, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Director: Rene Clement

Studio: Cite Films

Available: DVD, Tubi

L’Immoralita (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Child falls for killer.

Simona (Karin Trentephol) is a lonely 12-year-old who lives with her mother (Lisa Gastoni) and her wheel chair bound step father (Mel Ferrer) in a secluded home on the Italian countryside. One day while walking through the forest that’s near her place she comes upon an injured man named Federico (Howard Ross), who has been shot in the arm by the police for being a dangerous child killer at-large. While he was able to escape the ambush the authorities continue their search, so Simona offers him sanctuary in a small coach house behind her home. It is here that she grows fond of him,but Simona’s mother finds out who she’s been hiding and tries to entice him to kill her invalid husband. Simona,who’s relationship with her mother is already strained, becomes upset that she can’t have Federico all to herself and plots a revenge on both of them.

This film is notorious for its depiction of child nudity and simulated sex. Back in the 70’s Italian filmmakers were on the front lines of shock cinema in their effort to push-the-envelope and attract curiosity seekers looking to see how far the next controversial film would go. This one, while dull and generic story-wise, definitely goes to the extreme at the one hour mark, when a naked Simona jumps out of the tub and then lies on the floor begging for Federico, who’s in the bathroom with her, to ‘make a baby’. While an adult stand-in was then used for the simulated sex it’s still an explicit moment that will disturb most viewers and likely will never get a DVD/Blu-ray release here though in Italy it has.

If you take out the controversial moment, which wasn’t needed and could’ve been implied, the film is otherwise quite sterile. There were a few things I did like including the subtle yet haunting score by the incomparable Ennio Morricone and the film’s faded color. I’m not sure if this was intentional, or just the print of the DVD, but the off-color nicely reflects the immoral characters who seem normal initially, but quickly reveal their twisted natures underneath. Trentephol, whose only film appearance this is, is outstanding. I don’t know where the producers found her, or quite frankly how they got her paent’s permission to play such a difficult role, but she lends an amazing presence particularly her piercing blue eyes that clearly conveys her character’s inner disdain for those around her.

Gastoni, who was quite prolific in Italian films during the 50’s and 70’s, but then went on a sabbatical after doing this one and didn’t appear in another movie until 2005, is good too as an aging, jaded woman where nothing it seems is too vile to upset her. The conversations she has with her daughter are truly warped, but still something you might hear in a family that was as dysfunctional as this one. Even the aging Ferrer, who at one time was a budding star, but relegated to finding work in overseas productions when Hollywood quit calling, gets an intense moment where he angrily points a rifle to his chest and then challenges his wife, who he knows wants him dead, to pull the trigger.

The story’s weakest element is Federico. While we see him dig the grave of one of his victims at the start, we never witness him killing anyone, which hurts the tension as he’s not volatile and threatening enough. Instead he’s overly passive while being lead around by both Simona and her mother. Maybe that was the point, to show how women ultimately control men even the dangerous ones, but it’s not handled in a way that’s interesting. Everything gets played-out in a heavy-handed fashion including a climax that offers little punch.

Alternate Title: Cock Crows at Eleven

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 20, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Massimo Pirri

Studio: Una Cinecooperativa

Available: DVD (Import Region 2)

What the Peeper Saw (1972)

peeper1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Child could be killer.

Elise (Britt Ekland) marries wealthy author Paul (Hardy Kruger) and then after the nuptials comes into contact with his 12-year-old son Marcus (Mark Lester) still grieving over the death of his mother 6 months earlier. Elise had the understanding that the mother, who died from drowning in her bathtub, was accidental, but as she gets to know Marcus she suspects that he may have had something to do with it. She then speaks to his school’s headmaster (Harry Andrews) and learns that Marcus has been having disciplinary issues including that of torturing and killing animals. When Elise tells Paul of her suspicions he refuses to believe it, which pits her against both the father and boy.

While the story may have intriguing elements, though it does sound too much like The Bad Seed, the execution is poor. It starts out right away with Elise meeting Marcus, no backstory scenes showing how Elise met Paul are shown, and right away he acts weird and creepy. There’s no nuance or layers to the story, just one long ‘is he a killer, or not’ scenario that ends up being highly talky with no real thrills. The producers, apparently realizing the proceedings needed some spicing up, hired Andrea Bianchi to come in and add some sexually tinged moments including a scene where a nude Lester, sitting in a bath tub, begins fondling Britt’s breasts, who is sitting outside the tub fully clothed. If that wasn’t shocking enough there’s another scene later where she strips fully naked in front of him, but neither of these moments, as sleazy as they are, makes this otherwise tired and placid plot any more intriguing.

The film’s only real selling point is to see child star Lester playing against type. He shot to fame in the starring role in Oliver!, but all of his roles after that couldn’t capitalize on his talents and like with this one were weak and pedestrian that didn’t give him much to do. Watching him play an evil kid, instead of the angelic lad like we’re used to seeing, is interesting to some extent and he does it surprisingly well, but he’s not in it enough.

As for Britt she’s quite beautiful and the camera focuses on her lovingly, and the male viewers certainly won’t mind her nude scenes of which there are plenty, but her character is poorly fleshed-out. It’s hard to understand why she married Paul as he treats her in a callous way and clearly favors the kid over her, so why stay in a relationship if she’s just going to be the spare tire especially with a psycho kid that’s just going to put her life more and more in danger? Any sensible person would pack-up and leave and the fact that she chooses to stay in such a bad and uncomfortable situation makes her seem as nutty as the rest.

Things pick-up during the final 10-minutes which gets filled with a lot of wild imagery though some of this should’ve been sprinkled though out the film, which is too cardboard otherwise. The final twist is a bit of a surprise, but the whole thing could’ve been better paced. Everything hinges too much on the provocative overtones while the characters are one-dimensional and fail to resonate and thus causing the viewer to remain pretty much detached emotionally from everything that goes on and the twists that do occur fail to deliver any punch.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 14, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Directors: James Kelley, Andrea Bianchi

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray