Category Archives: 70’s Movies

A Wedding (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Guests at wedding party.

Muffin (Amy Stryker) marries Dino (Desi Arnaz Jr.) at a wedding ceremony that is non-eventful. However, during the reception afterwards, held at the mansion of Dino’s family, the Correllis, everything begins to go wrong including having the family’s elderly matriarch, Nettie (Lillian Gish) promptly die just as the guests arrive. Snooks (Paul Dooley) and Tulip (Carol Burnett) are the parents of the bride, while Buffy (Mia Farrow) is Muffin’s jealous older sister. During the party Buffy lets Dino know that she’s pregnant with his baby, which sends the family into an uproar once word gets out. Meanwhile Mack (Pat McCormick), the cousin of the groom, makes it known that he’s ‘madly in-love’ with Tulip and wishes to have an affair with her. Tulip at first resists, but then devises a scheme where the two can meet in 2-weeks, at a location in Tallahassee, Florida under the ruse that Tulip will be going to visit her sister who lives there.

While director Robert Altman made some great movies and revolutionized movie-making with his over-lapping conversations technique, he did also produce a few duds. Most of them came during the 70’s when he was given too much free rein to make whatever he wanted in however way he wanted to do it, which culminated in a lot of over-indulgence. This one though, which came right in the middle of his down cycle, is one of his better efforts The idea came as an accident as he was tired of being hounded by a reporter asking, while he was still working on finishing up on 3 Women, what his next project would-be and he joked that he was set to ‘film a wedding’, which at the time had come into vogue for people to shoot the weddings of their family members in a home movie style. Later that night, after speaking with the reporter, he partook in a drinking session with the crew of 3 Women, where they discussed the possibilities of making a movie about a wedding where ‘everything would go wrong’ and by the end of the night he had already come-up with an outline for his script.

This film though, like with all of Altman’s movies, does come with its share of detractors. Gene Siskel in particular did not like the characters, who I admit are a cliche of the nouveau riche and too easy a satirical target. He also complained that there was no one likable, which is true, though films where one person in a large group somehow manages to rise-above-the-fray and being morally virtuous when all the rest aren’t, is unrealistic and having an amoral climate such as here where everyone gets dragged down to the same level as everyone else makes more sense.

The edginess of the comedy is dated as well as what was considered ‘pushing-the-envelope’ at the time, like introducing the characters who are secretly gay, smoke marijuana on the sly, have had multiple sex partners, or (gasp) had sex outside of marriage, is no longer even remotely the scandal, even amongst the most conservative, as it once was, so to enjoy the film one must put themselves in that time period to totally appreciate it. With that said, it still works beautifully. It’s amazing, when considering the massive amount of characters and intersecting story-lines, how well it flows and it’s never confusing, nor do you ever lose track of any of the characters, or their issues, even if they’ve not been shown for a while. The humor gets exaggerated just enough for comic effect, but always within the realms of reality, which is what I really enjoyed about it, is that this could easily remind people of their own real-life weddings, and wedding parties, that they’ve been through.

The cast is splendid and perfectly game to the script’s demands with many of them allowed to freely ad-lib. Howard Duff probably gets the most laughs as the chain-drinking doctor of a dubious quality and Viveca Lindfors as a caterer who becomes ill, takes a pill, and then breaks-out into a loud song during the reception. Burnett is superb as a middle-aged housewife looking for more excitement in her life while also juggling the difficulties of raising a promiscuous daughter and Paul Dooley is quite enjoyable as her brash, and never shy to speak-his-mind husband. I also got a kick out of Amy Stryker, who was cast on-the-spot simply because she wore braces and resembles a young Burnett in many ways and was therefore perfect to play her daughter. Though the ultimate scene stealer is Mia Farrow, who although well into her 30’s at the time, looks amazingly still adolescent-like and pulls off the part of a young daughter quite convincingly. She utters very few words, but makes up for it with her shocking topless scene (she looks great) and the bit where she openly tries to count everyone she has slept with to the stunned silence of the others, including her parents, in the room.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 12, 1978

Runtime: 2 Hours 5 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

The Projectionist (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Projectionist escapes into fantasy.

Chuck McCann plays a man named Chuck McCann who works in a projection booth of a New York theater. He spends his isolated days winding the film reels and putting them into the film machines so that they can be broadcast onto the big screen. He finds his job boring and he does not get along with Renaldi (Rodney Dangerfield) who is the head usher at the theater and routinely chews him out for minor infractions. To escape his mundane existence he imagines himself the star of his own movie playing the superhero Captain Flash who helps save a beautiful damsel in distress (Ina Balin) while also fighting-off the evil villain known as The Bat, which he sees as being Renaldi and his way of getting ‘back at him’ without having to do it in real-life.

Writer/director Harry Hurwitz, who appears as an usher who visits Chuck in his film booth, had some creative movie ideas during his career though most of the movies he made were hampered by a low budget and not fully realized enough to break-out and gain mainstream attention. This film, which was his first, is generally considered his best. It was shot in September-October of 1969, at the same time as Myra Breckenridge, with both movies being credited as the first to use superimposition of older movies, known as Hollywood’s Golden era, into the main story. Some of the clips, which features everything from old cartoons to news reel footage, is fun and even at times provocative. The Captain Flash segments, which are filmed in a grainy black-and-white to replicate the other older clips, are amusing and I really enjoyed seeing actual photographs of Chuck when he was younger, from infancy to a teen and then young adult, over the opening credits. There’s even some cool surreal moments where he walks out of the theater he’s working in and on the marquee is advertised the film we’re watching as well as a segment where Chuck the actor walks down the red carpet at the premiere of this film while talking about playing Chuck the character.

McCann, who’s probably best known for co-starring with Bob Denver in the 70’s children’s TV-show ‘Far Out Space Nuts’, reveals definite talent particularly his spot-on impressions of famous stars making you wonder with that much talent why does this character not make an attempt to go on stage at a local amateur night and show his stuff to an audience instead of hiding it away to himself. If the character has stage fright, or social anxiety, and that’s why he’s so shy and lonely then that needs to be brought out, which it isn’t, making the character poorly fleshed-out and in-turn makes the film less interesting.

The segments examining Chuck’s day-to-day activities, between the old film clips, are dull and have low energy. It’s like the production was completely dependent on the old footage to save it, which is not how a good movie works. ALL the scenes in a successful film need to be captivating in some way and a great number of them here fall flat. The character does not grow, or change in any way. In would’ve been fun to see Chuck confront Dangerfield in real-life instead of just fantasizing about it, or making an attempt to ask-out the beautiful woman instead of dreaming about her from afar.

Dangerfield, in his film debut, plays against type. Normally he’s the loser taking-it to the oppressive authority figure, but here he’s the heavy and helps keep it engaging. Ina Balin, on the other-hand, is beautiful, but I found it frustrating that she wasn’t given a single thing to say.

The story doesn’t evolve and ultimately comes-off as an experiment that fails to click. I was also surprised with the dark nature of  some of the old clips including bits with Adolph Hitler, Mussolini, the Klu Klux Klan and even one recreating the assassination of Lincoln, which didn’t have anything to do with the main theme and not sure why they were put-in.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 17, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Harry Hurwitz

Studio: Maron Films

Available: DVD-R

Rapists at Dawn (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen boys assault women.

Rubiales (Manuel de Benito), Quinto (Daniel Medran), Rafi (Bernard Seray), Cana (Cesar Sanchez) and Cana’s pregnant sister Lagarta (Alicia Orozco) roam the streets of Barcelona, Spain looking for young women to assault. The boys live on the poor side of town and are from abusive home lives with little future except working boring, low paying jobs. Feeling that society has ‘discarded’ them they they take out their hostilities on the pretty women that they meet. They pick their victims at random usually as they spot them getting out of their cars and go walking into their schools many times while in front of the victim’s family member who’ve just dropped them off. They then take the women to an isolated area and proceed to gang rape them while Lagarta acts as the look-out. The police are aware of the crimes, but seem helpless to do much about it. When they catch the boys in the act and try to arrest them the boys manage to escape making them confident that they can’t be stopped.

While films like I Spit on Your Grave and Irreversible get all the attention as being the ‘last word’ in rape movies, this one, if it was better known and more attainable, would trump those. The rapes here are graphic, prolonged and quite violent. Some will complain that it’s exploitative while others will argue that if you’re going to show rape for the violent crime that it truly is then it must be captured in all of its unpleasantness and toning it down for the sake of good taste does a disservice. Personally I found the brutal nature to be effective as I came away feeling really sorry for the victims, as it’s captured in such a real way you can barely see the acting and instead start to consider it more like a graphic documentary.

This movie also handles the aftermath in an interesting way by examining the debilitating effect the crime has on the victim psychologically and how they become like a different person. They’re outgoing and well-adjusted beforehand and then afterwards depressed, angry, and even ashamed. They turn sullen and anti-social to both their friends and family making it seem like they’ll never be the same again. The film also analyzes what happens when one of the women becomes pregnant, something that I don’t remember being touched upon in other rape films, and how the mother of the victim insist, due to religious reasons, that she keep the baby and not abort it, making her seem as cruel as the gang.

The thuggish boys are portrayed in an intriguing multi-dimensional way too. While they’re cocky when out and about they recoil and become like victims themselves when at home and dealing with their abusive fathers. I did like too that in their own twisted way they have ‘limits’ or  a ‘code of morality’ albeit a very weird one. A great example of this is when Lagarta becomes shocked when the boys continue to penetrate one of the victims even after she has clearly died. Normally Lagarta had no problem seeing them violently molest the women, but when one of them actually gets killed during the attack and the boys continue the assault it’s only then that she feels things have ‘gone too far’.

It’s hard to say what genre to put this one into. It’s not really a horror film as none of the women become Rambo-like by packing a big gun and going on a revenge tour against their assailants, which although emotionally satisfying isn’t realistic If anything it brings out how there are no easy answers, which makes it even more horrifying, but still thought provoking.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 3, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ignacio Iquino

Studio: Ignacio Ferres Iquino

Available: DVD-R

The Prize Fighter (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Boxer wins rigged fights.

Bags (Tim Conway) is a former boxer who lost all 20 matches that he was in and now helps his former trainer Shakes (Don Knotts) train new fighters, but neither of them is having much luck. Bags decides to go back into the ring during an amateur fight night and this gets the attention of local crime boss Mike (Robin Clarke). Mike is trying to build a convention center, but is stymied by Pop Morgan (David Wayne) who owns a gym on the block Mike wans to build on and he’s refusing to sell at any cost. Mike decides to rig the fights that Bags is in, unbeknownst to both Bags and Shakes, to the extent that it looks like Bags is ‘unbeatable’. He then will entice Pop to bet on the fight that Bags has with the The Butcher (Michael LaGuardia). Pops will be under the presumption it’ll be a ‘safe bet’, but this time Mike won’t rig it and presumably Bags will go down and Mike will be able to get his hands on Pop’s gym and tear it down for his new building. 

While Knotts and Conway had success with their pairing in The Apple Dumpling Gangthis foray, an attempted parody of Rocky, goes nowhere. Instead of being filled with a lot of gags and pratfalls, which is what you’d expect, it’s a slow story filled with every cringy cliche from a fight movie out there. Comedy is supposed to make fun of the cliches instead of propping them up, but unfortunately that’s the approach taken and it bombs massively.

Comedy movies should also have all the characters be funny in some way, but here most of them are not. Possibly that was for vanity reasons as Conway, who also wrote the script, didn’t want to be upstaged, but this forces the viewer to go through long periods of trite drama in every scene that he’s not in. The supporting characters are extreme caricatures of the 1930’s which the film is set in. Robin Clarke is particularly annoying (not necessarily his fault as that was just the way the part was written) as he attempts to channel Al Pacino from The Godfather while speaking like a poor man’s Marlon Brando. David Wayne is cast to resemble Burgess Mereridith who was in Rocky (ironically both men played villains in the 60’s ‘Batman’ TV-show with Meredith as the Penguin and Wayne as The Mad Hatter). Here though Wayne speaks, in an effort to sound like Meredith, in a gravely voice that makes him sound like a duck. I also found John Myhers, who co-wrote the script, put-on Irish accent to be equally irritating.  

Even Knotts gets wasted. Some enjoy the moment where he cracks a bunch of raw eggs in a glass and then tries to force Conway to drink it, but other than that he doesn’t elicit too many laughs. Yes, Conway is amusing at times, but his perpetually clueless shtick gets a bit old by the end. The only performer that had me laughing was Mary Ellen O’Neill who plays Mike’s senile old mother and who does some wildly bizarre things while in Conway and Knotts’ presence. She’s a scene stealer and should’ve been in it more and while she’s at the boxing match as she watches the fight with Mike she should’ve continued to do weird things while the fight was going on, which outside of swearing she doesn’t, and it was a missed opportunity.

I will give credit for the climatic bout, which is surprisingly well choreographed and effectively has a large crowd watching, which gives it an electric atmosphere, but everything else falls flat. The irony I suppose is that the film ended up being a money-maker and in fact was one of the most successful films released by New World Pictures, but I think this was mainly because a lot of people went to it based off the reputations of the two stars more than the movie itself being good. I remember I went with my dad and two siblings to see it at the local theater because we were fans of Conway and Knotts, but all of us, our dad included, were quite bored and went home unimpressed and it clearly hasn’t improved with age. 

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: November 16, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Preece

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD

 

The Hired Hand (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Returning to his wife.

Harry (Peter Fonda) and Arch (Warren Oates) having been wandering the American West for many years, but Harry has grown weary of it. He informs Arch and their younger companion Dan (Robert Pratt) that he plans on going back to his wife Hannah (Verna Bloom) whom he abandoned many years before. Arch is not happy with this decision and tries to talk him out of it, but eventually relents and after the untimely death of Dan decides to head back with him to Harry’s former homestead. When they arrive they find that Hannah is still working the farm with her young daughter Janey (Megan Denver). Hannah is not pleased to see Harry as she had informed Janey that her father had died many years earlier. Harry tries to make amends, but Hannah resists only allowing him to stay as long as he agrees to become a hired hand and help with the chores. Both Harry and Arch agree to this, but when Arch decides to eventually head west alone and then gets abducted by a crooked sheriff (Severn Darden) Harry leaves Hannah to help save his friend much to the anger of Hannah who feels he’s again abandoning her.

This film was the product of Universal Pictures’ new policy of allowing independent pictures to be made under the studio system as Easy Rider had done well with a low budget, and no studio meddling, so they hoped to replicate that success with more films like that one. Besides this one the other movies included: Silent Running, Taking Off, The Last Movie, and American Graffiti and were all made with each director given $1 million to work with and then allowed to use his artistic freedom to create the kind of film he wanted without studio interference.

Unfortunately this movie did not do well at either the box office, or with the critics. Variety labeled it as ‘disjointed’ while Time described it as ‘pointless’. With the bad press and poor profits the studio decided to end its ‘independent movie’ division and films like this were no longer made, at least under the Hollywood umbrella. While this movie sat in near obscurity it finally found an audience in 2002 when it was shown at the Sundance Film Festival and has since acquired many admirers.

What I liked about it is how it goes against the western narrative where life in the old west isn’t portrayed as being about gunfights and saloon brawls, but instead quiet and slow paced. Harry and Arch spend their time raising livestock and doing other farm chores as just keeping the crops growing and animals fed was a mighty challenge enough. The acting by the entire cast is superb, but the real stars are Bruce Langhorn and his wonderfully unique music score, Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography and Frank Mazzola’s brilliant editing where he mixes in a lot of montages and overlapping still photography.

There are a few gunfights, but unlike shoot-outs in the conventional westerns this isn’t about tough brave men with nerves of steel. Instead the gunfights are seen as happening when goofball idiots, much like today, get their hands on a weapon after being triggered over something insignificant and shooting wildly before killing himself. Most westerns will prolong these moments, but here it’s quick lasting only a couple of minutes, like in real-life, and when it’s over all you see are dead bodies lying about making it seem more like a needless waste of life.

Harry and Arch’s long travels together through the desolate, lonely west are what really stands-out. You get a true sense of what the world was like back then where you might not see other people, or homes for days on end. You also get a good understanding for why Harry becomes so attached to Arch and willing to risk is life at the end to save him because for such long periods during their travels Arch was, at least from his perception, the only other person on the planet with him and this then created an indelible bond.

When it got broadcast on NBC in 1973 a 20-minute deleted scene featuring Larry Hagman as a sheriff was edited back into the film. This segment had gotten cut-out when director Fonda felt, after viewing it in the editing room, it wasn’t needed and didn’t really help propel the story. The footage can be found on the 2003 DVD issues from Sundance as a bonus extra. I watched it and enjoyed Hagman’s performance as, like with everything else in this movie, goes against the grain of the conventional western. Most of the time sheriffs where portrayed as stoic figures, but Hagman comes-off as nervous and jittery and not completely in control of the situation. I would think most lawmen back-in-the-day with dangerous outlaws roaming the countryside and invading small towns would behave much more like Hagman does here, so in that respect I felt these scenes were insightful, but ultimately agree with Fonda that they didn’t add much to the story and the film flows better without it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 16, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Fonda

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Plex

Roseland (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Participants of ballroom dancing.

In 1976 director James Ivory, who had already collaborated with writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala on 5 other films, wanted to turn her short story ‘How I Became a Holy Mother’ into yet another movie. The story required one scene to be shot at The Roseland Ballroom, a dancing venue in New York City, that was originally built as a ice skating rink in 1922 and then converted to roller skating only to eventually become a popular retreat for ballroom dancers. When Ivory approached potential investors none of them liked the story, but did like the idea of shooting a movie inside Roseland. They agreed to give money to the project as long as the entire setting took place in that venue.

Ivory then had Jhabvala interview the people at the club to get a better understanding of the folks who went there and to help generate story ideas. It was through these visits that Jhabvala was able to come-up with three different vignettes that is based closely on real-life events that occurred with people who attended the Roseland throughout the years and most of the dancers seen in the background were actual members of the dance hall and not paid extras.

While the owners of the Roseland were happy to give permission to shoot there it did come with several stipulations. One was they could only shoot during the day on Wednesdays and could not alter any of the interiors in any way, which included the lighting. Despite these restrictions he was able to succeed pretty well though at the 30-minute mark it’s obvious in a scene where Christopher Walken and Geraldine Chaplin are supposedly in a room alone that there’s a cameraman there as you can easily see his reflection on the wall mirror. Ivory was also forced, much to his chagrin, to hire a scenic artist and art director onto his crew even though they were unable to make any changes to the set, but union rules required one must be hired anyways, and the teamsters union picketed the production outside the building until Ivory finally relented, which resulted in 2 extra people being brought onto the crew to sit around and do absolutely nothing, but still getting paid.

As for the stories they’re okay, though the first one, ‘The Waltz’ is clearly the weakest despite excellent performances by the two leads. It stars Theresa Wright as a widow named May who keeps seeing a reflection of herself and her former husband when they were much younger in a mirror in the ballroom as she dances with her new partner named Stan (played by Lou Jacobi). No one else sees this same reflection except for May and most think she’s going nutty. Stan wants May to get over her memories of her old husband and focus solely on him, but when she doesn’t he loses interest in her though May finally comes around when she realizes that the past is the past and there’s no going back, so why not instead live for the present. This segment, unlike the others, relies heavily on voice-over narration of Helen Gallagher, who plays Cleo, a dance instructor, it also enters in weird supernatural elements as it’s never explained why May keeps seeing these reflections, is she really going nuts, or is some ghostly phenomenon trying to speak to her from the afterlife? This never gets answered and hence is why the story really doesn’t amount to much.

The second story, ‘The Hustle’, is the best one and features a terrific performance by Chaplin. It involves Russel (Christopher Walken) who is seeing the much older Pauline (Joan Copeland) not so much because he loves her, but more because she pays him to be her escort and he likes the money. He then meets Marilyn (Chaplin) who has just gone through a rough break-up. He immediately becomes smitten. Marilyn is at first reluctant in getting into another relationship, but eventually falls for Russel only to learn that he’s not quite ready to give-up Pauline, or her money and seems to want to juggle the two, which Marilyn does not want. While this segment is quite captivating I would’ve like a better, more dramatic confrontation and less of an ambiguous conclusion.

‘The Peabody’ is the third and final segment. It deals with Ruth (Lilia Skala) an older woman with a strong personality looking for a suitable dance partner to win a competition. She meets Arthur (David Thomas) a meek elderly man who agrees to partner with her despite having a weak heart. Ruth takes his friendship for granted and is quite demanding of him only to learn to regret it when he’s no longer around. Skala’s performance, of which she got nominated for the Golden Globe, makes catching this part well worth it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 2, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: James Ivory

Studio: Merchant Ivory Productions

Available: DVD

The Sunday Woman (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Murdered by phallic object.

Based on the novel of the same name by Carlo Fruttero and Franco Lucentini, the story centers on the investigation of the murder of Mr. Garrone (Claudio Gora). Garrone is found bludgeoned to death inside his apartment by a giant penis statue. Garrone was a well known architect and a lecherous ladies man who couldn’t help but make unseemly passes at every woman he came by. Commissioner Santamaria (Marcello Mastroianni) is put in charge of the case, which has many suspects. Two of the biggest ones are Anna Carla (Jacqueline Bisset) and her platonic male friend Massimo (Jean-Louis Trintignant). Anna had written a note, found by her hired help the next day, stating her desire to ‘eliminate’ Garrone. Anna, who’s quite wealthy, insists that it was all a innocent misunderstanding and Massimo backs her up, but Massimo, who has an alibi, is reluctant to divulge it because it would require him to admit that he’s gay and at Lello (Aldo Reggiani) his lovers’ house. Santamaria begins looking into other potential suspects as does Lello who wishes to get his boyfriend cleared, but the deeper Santamaria gets into the case the more he connects with Anna and despite their age difference they begin to have a romantic relationship all while she remains at the top of his suspect list.

The film, on the technical end, is well done. Director Luigi Comencini nicely captures the visual beauty of the Italian landscape and the posh older homes of Turin a city in northwest Italy where it was filmed. The soundtrack by Ennio Morricone has a nice bounce that keeps the film moving along even while not a lot is happening. There’s an array of suspects and enough red herrings to keep it intriguing and impossible to guess who’s the true culprit.

The story has its share of offbeat moments though it’s disappointing that the funniest character, Garrone, ends up getting killed as he was amusingly sleazy enough to have kept things consistently comical. While the death by giant penis statue, if memory serves me correctly, had already been used in A Clockwork Orange, it’s still a novel idea and it’s funny how Santamaria visualizes each suspect he meets bashing Garrone over the head with it as he interviews them. Traveling to the shop where the statues are made and being surrounded with hundreds of them is certainly good for a chuckle, but outside of this there wasn’t all that much that stood out, or made this any better than any other murder mystery. The ingredients are good enough to keep sufficient interest, but nothing the makes it really memorable.

I was most disappointed that Bisset wasn’t in it more. She’s fabulous, as she is in most of her movies, and though I suspect that her voice, where she speaks fluent Italian, is dubbed, I still felt she gives a spectacular performance. Mastroianni on the other hand looks tired and worn-out and like his peak years of being a international sex symbol had passed. Yet when he’s together with Bisset it clicks and Jacqueline’s superior acting camouflages their extreme age difference making them seem more like a perfect couple than it should. The two should’ve investigated the case together and become a team, as every second Bisset is not seen it flatlines. Had the two shared the screen this might’ve been special, but ultimately it misses-the-mark and never fully gels.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Luigi Comencini

Studio: Fox-Lira

Available: DVD-R (dvdlady.com) (Italian w/English subtitles), Amazon Video (English subtitles)

The Money (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kidnapping kids for ransom.

Roland (Graham Beckel) is an out-of-work slacker who’s always looking for the easy-way-out. He’s dating Lucy (Regina Baff) who babysits for Richard (Laurence Luckinbill) and his wife Ellen (Elizabeth Richards). Despite living in a posh neighborhood Richard is having problems of his own. His business isn’t doing well and he needs a loan, but his wife, who does have a large sum stashed away, refuses to give him any financial assistance. When Roland goes with Lucy to look after Richard’s kids (played by the real-life children of the director) he comes up with the idea of kidnapping them for ransom as he mistakenly presumes Richard must be ‘loaded’. Once Richard realizes that his kids have been taken he instructs his wife not to call the police and instead convinces her to take out the money she has in savings to pay for the ransom. Richard though uses this money for the loan while offering Roland only a small portion of it. Roland refuses the offer and the two bicker while the kids remain locked inside a car outside in a parking lot with the temperature nearing a 100 degrees.

The mark of a talented director isn’t how good they are when given a big studio contract and all the money they need, but instead what they can do when on a shoestring budget. Make no mistake this thing on a technical level struggles, but much can be blamed on the extremely poor transfer that’s streaming on Amazon Prime where they apparently found a very grainy video print and made no attempt to clean it up. The result is faded, scratchy, and at certain points even shaky similar to back in the 70’s (if you’re old enough to remember) when a teacher would show a movie in school and film would begin to jump and the image onscreen would get blurry. Fortunately the shaking bit here is only temporary, but Amazon should’ve had better standards before they offer a film up for streaming. Granted it’s nice to see a hard-to-find obscure flick, but at least some effort should’ve been given to restoring it.

Anyways, if you can get past all of this, it does have its share of intriguing elements. I loved the way it captures the Jersey boardwalk scene of the era and juxtaposes between the rich and poor and how both sides seem to be desperate in their own unique ways. There’s no ‘good guy’ here. Everyone is screwed-up and filled with human foibles.  The amusement comes with seeing just how corrupt they can become without totally falling over-the-edge.

Beckel is excellent. This was only is third feature film appearance after debuting in The Paper Chase yet he comes into his own here and exudes the perfect caricature of a down-and-out, irritable young man who wants no part of the system and only looking for ways to cheat it. Luckinbill isn’t as strong and the ultimate confrontation between the two doesn’t work though you do get to see Danny DeVito in an early role as a bartender as well as George Hearn, who later became a big Broadway star in the play ‘Sweeney Todd’, as a bank manager. A young Josh Mostel, who later reunited with the director in the film Stoogemaniahas a really amusing bit as a wheel-of-fortune arcade operator who inadvertently lets down his guard and gets taken advantage of by Beckel.

Spoiler Alert!

What I didn’t like was the ending. The whole film, up until that point, was filled with a lot of delicious twists, but once it gets to the finale it had no idea where to go and falls completely flat. Granted having the kids die in a car from heat stroke would be way too severe for a playful dark comedy, but ultimately there’s no cause and effect. Intriguing ideas get entered in, but then quickly forgotten. At the end everything goes back to normal like everything we watched didn’t have an impact on any of the characters. In a good story the characters are expected to grow and change during the course of a movie and I really didn’t see that here especially with Richard.

Having Beckel act like he had now ‘made it’ simply because he’s got $10,000 in his pocket from the kidnapping was unrealistic. Even if you add in the gold watch and fancy car, which Richard also gives him, it would still not be enough to retire on especially with the way Beckel spends it. I was expecting to see him back in a desperate situation as he was clearly not going to be living high-on-the-hog for that long and having the movie stop while he’s ‘living-it-up’ is a cop-out. It’s also not clear if his girlfriend Lucy was in on the kidnapping plot, or not. During the movie it’s made to seem like she was a victim too as she’s found in the home tied-up, but then at the end she meets Beckel at the fancy hotel he’s staying-at. If she was in cahoots with him the whole time that should’ve, at the conclusion, been better confirmed as just having her show up at the hotel doesn’t mean she was a part of the plan and may have just went there because he told her that’s where he was staying.

Alternate Title: Atlantic City Jackpot

Released: June 10, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Chuck Workman

Studio: Independent-International Pictures

Available: Epix, Amazon Video

The Exorcist: Italian Style (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mayor’s family becomes possessed.

Mimmo Baldi plays a 10-year-old boy named Luigi who comes upon a small amulet lost in a field while playing soccer with his friends. He puts it into his pocket and then begins to behave in unusual ways including assaulting a young woman he meets while walking home. His father is Pasquale (Lino Banfi) who’s the mayor of the town and running for reelection. He and the rest of the family notice the increasingly odd behavior of their son and decide to call-in a doctor (Gigi Bonos), but when he’s unable to do anything they get desperate and ask for the services of a local demon hunter known as L’Esorciccio (Ciccio Ingrassia) who’s reputed to have an ability to exorcise demons, but in reality is a fraud. When he tries to do a fake exorcism on the child nothing initially happens, but when the amulet falls out-of the child’s pocket and onto the ground the child is considered ‘cured’. However, his older sister Barbara (Barbara Nascimben) then retrieves it and soon begins acting in the same dangerous way. Their father wants to keep this issue as far away from the press as he can for fear it will hurt his reelection chances only for him to eventually come into procession of the amulet himself where his wild and shocking behavior gets put on full display for everyone.

While this film has been seen in a better light in recent years it was considered when it first came-out as ‘the worst movie of all-time’ by the Italian public and lambasted as such even decades later. Ciccio Ingrassia, who was a much beloved comedian, who had been starring in comedy films for the past two decades, became shaken by the response and harsh criticism and vowing he’d never direct another movie again and while he did continue to star in them through the 90’s he kept  to his promise and never directed any others.

It’s hard to say where the film, which is clever at times, went wrong for the moviegoers as the comedy is there if you’re patient. I’ll admit the special effects are scant and not too impressive. The film tries to emulate the classic one of which this is a parody by putting-in most of what that one was known for into this story though it does compromise on some of it. For instance during the exorcism the bed that the girl is on begins to levitate, but the projectile vomit is not done. They do have her spit something at them, but in parody it’s always good to go overboard and the film missed a prime opportunity to do something visually hilarious like drowning the exorcist and his assistant in a mound of green muck that flies out of her mouth, or something to that effect. The swivel head doesn’t get done either, at least not with the girl victim, but instead it’s saved for later when the father becomes possessed, but the effects here look cheap and not believable.

In some ways this is a smart movie as it doesn’t just depend on a barrage of gags to keep it going, but instead creates an actual character driven story where they react to the craziness going on with a befuddled amusement, which to me was the best element. Banfi is very funny as the conniving husband/father who’s convinced that these satanic events are just something that his political opponent (Tano Cimarosa) is behind, so that he’ll lose the election. Ingrassia has his moments too and there were some parts that had me laughing-out-loud though the sped-up running, where the son chases the father around their yard looks cartoonish and should’ve been avoided. The soundtrack is also a problem as it’s blaring and doesn’t give-off a creepy vibe. Even if it’s just parody when it involves a famous horror movie it’s good to at least play along and give a spooky facade to it, which with the music selected here doesn’t do that.

Spoiler Alert!

The wrap-up where seemingly everyone in the town, while attending a public event, becomes possessed, at least for a few minutes, as they randomly pick-up the amulet that gets passed around from one person to another becomes dizzying and silly. Having the story center on the family characters was when it worked and that’s where it should’ve stayed. While certain segments could’ve been played-u more there’s enough here to be enjoyed as long as you accept it as a simple comedy done on a shoestring.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 11, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ciccio Ingrassia

Studio: Dear International

Available: DVD-R (dvdlady.com)

The Candy Snatchers (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen is buried alive.

Jessie (Tiffany Bolling), her brother Alan (Brad David) and their mutual friend Eddy (Vince Martorano) kidnap 16 year-old Candy (Susan Sennett) on her way home from school and then bury her alive inside a coffin that is connected with a pipe for air. They then call what they think is her father Avery (Ben Piazza), who’s a jeweler, and demand he deliver them jewelry in exchange for her safe return. The problem is that Avery is only her stepfather and has been looking for a way out of his hapless marriage to Candy’s alcoholic mother (Dolores Dorn) for some time. Candy’s set to inherit quite a bit of money once she turns 21, but in the event of her death Avery will receive half of that, so her early demise is something he relishes and therefore he refuses to pay the ransom. To further the complications a toddler named Sean (Christopher Trueblood) secretly sees the three bury Candy and tries his best to get her out and find her help.

This is the rare horror movie where it’s the writing that makes it interesting. Most horror films rely on atmosphere, scares, and gore to make it work, but here it’s the constantly winding scenario that keeps it intriguing. Writer/director Guerdon Trueblood had a background in writing scripts for TV-shows, such as ‘Adam-12′, before he broke into movies and his ability to come-up with clever and unexpected twists is fully evident and if anything it never gets boring.

The story was inspired by the real-life case that occurred on December 17, 1968 when Barbara Jane Mackle, the 20 year-old daughter of a wealthy real estate magnate, was kidnapped by a couple near Duluth, Georgia, who put her inside a fiberglass coffin that had an air pump, a battery powered lamp, and some food and water. They then buried the coffin in a shallow grave and held her for a $500,000 ransom. While there are many differences to the real-life event and the movie the one similarity is that there were unforeseen complications in retrieving the ransom money. The two were eventually caught and Barbara was found alive and freed. She went on to write a book about her experience that was made into a TV-movie entitled ’83 Hours Til Dawn’. Her kidnapper, Gary Steven Krist; also wrote a book about it ‘Life: The Man who Kidnapped Barbara Jane Mackle’.

While the plot is captivating the characters and their backgrounds are quite poor. I did enjoy the casting of Martarano, who got the part because he was a college buddy of  Trueblood’s and who looks like the spitting image of Ernest Borgnine and could’ve easily been either his son, or younger brother. A backstory though to their motives was needed. When did they come-up with this plan and who in the group though it up? Why did they choose this young lady to kidnap as there were hundreds of other kids of rich folks to apprehend, so why this one? Their nervous looking reactions and expressions doesn’t help the tension either because they come-off looking like amateurs in way-over-their-heads that are just waiting to screw-up versus cunning, cold-blooded killers who are a legitimate threat.

I will give actress Susan Sennett, who later went on to marry musician Graham Nash, credit for allowing herself to be put into a tiny box and then allowing dirt to be thrown over it, but her Candy character is too much of a sweet and innocent caricature. She should’ve been well aware that her step father didn’t love her and might not pay the ransom and alluded this to her captors. It’s also hard to believe that living in such a broken-home environment that she’d be so prim and proper. Most teens that come from a bad home-life become rebellious, angry and sometimes even anti-social, which is what she should’ve been more like.

Ben Piazza, who was married to Dolores Dorn in real-life, which is probably why he got the part, is completely miscast. He’s a competent character actor in his other roles, but here he looks too young and with his constantly pouty expression more like a spoiled rich kid straight out of college than a jaded, middle-aged adult. The part should’ve been played by someone looking well into his 50’s with a receding hairline, wrinkled, worn face that could visually give-off the impression of a man run over by the rat race and suburban life and searching for any way out.

Spoiler Alert!

Christopher Trueblood, who was the real-life son of the director, gives an amazing performance when you factor in that he was only 2 when it was shot. However, his inability to say anything, or show any emotion is problem, which keeps the viewer from fully being able to bond with him. The abusive things that his mother, played by Bonnie Boland, says to him is unsettling and the fact that he witnesses a rape is disturbing. I presume that his reaction shots were edited in later and he wasn’t really in the room when the sexual assault was played-out, but still having a kid see that, as the movie implies that his character does, would be very traumatic and make most kids scream and cry, which this one doesn’t. There’s also the issue that his parents both have brown hair while he’s a blonde making it look like he’s not really their kid.

The constantly shifting script goes a bit overboard to the point that it writes itself, no pun intended, into a hole with a ending twist that while being offbeat isn’t very satisfying. The majority of the characters are unlikable and the few that are sympathetic are seen too little. It’s basically a mean movie for the sake of meanness with no other point, or message to it. The ending is a bit confusing as well as we hear a gunshot go off, but don’t know what that represents. If it’s meant to intimate that the kid killed his mother then that’s something we need to see especially since she was such a nasty lady witnessing her going down would’ve been a dark payoff.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 16, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Guerdon Trueblood

Studio: General Film Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray