Category Archives: 70’s Movies

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Police Chief kills prostitute.

Dottore (Gian Maria Volante) is the police chief in the homicide division of his department. He is by all measures a man above suspicion and decides to one day put this to the test by killing his mistress (Florinda Bolkan) who was also a prostitute. To make the challenge even more interesting he plants obvious clues, which should lead to his indictment, but they don’t. Instead the police inspectors come up with a maddening array of warped reasons why the police chief is not the killer even when the evidence clearly points to the fact that he is.

This film, which won the Academy Award for best foreign film of 1970, touches on an issue rarely seen in American cop movies outside of maybe The Fugitive, where the police get a tunnel vision on who they think the suspect is, in this case the woman’s gay husband, and tune-out all other potential angles in their zeal to ‘get their guy’.  This is something that happens in real-life cases much more often than people realize where inspectors, in an effort to get the case solved and move-on, will make the evidence fit their own preconceived narrative instead of vice-versa.

The story also analyzes how having a rigid protocol system can be dangerous. What on the surface may seem ‘orderly’ can underneath be covering up all sorts of corruption. Everyone is so afraid of keeping their jobs and saving the reputation of the police department that all sorts of corrupt acts are allowed to pass through unhindered as everyone becomes ingrained with the yes-man mentality. Even having some of the most cutting edge police technology in the world doesn’t help if it falls victim to human overseers whose subjectivity only allows them to see what they want to see.

Gian Maria Volante, who in real-life was known as a left wing radical and was arrested many times during the 70’s by police for taking part in political demonstrations, is excellent as the reactionary authority figure. His piercing stare is more than enough to own every scene that he is in and ironically he played just three years earlier in the film We Still Kill the Old Way  done by the same director, a character is on the opposite end who fought corruption to get to the truth over a murder.

Elio Petri’s direction is nothing short of excellent and had his life not been cut short by cancer he most assuredly would’ve gone on to become one of the greats of Italian cinema. Ennio Morricone’s distinctive score is terrific too. Normally I tend to prefer as little music in films as possible, but the soundtrack here helps accentuate the film’s stylish presentation and gives it a real attitude and should’ve been played-up even more including over the film’s opening credits, which are strangely silent.

The film’s only defect is the fact that since we already know who’s committed the crime there’s not a lot of tension. It might’ve worked better had the police chief not been the main character and the perpetrator of the crime remained a mystery until later on. One of the lead investigators could’ve been made the protagonist who follows the evidence, which eventually leads to the police chief, but then he finds stiff resistance to his findings from the department, which could’ve been more impactful, but the film still has its share of strong scenes including its surreal-like ending.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: February 12, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Elio Petri

Studio: Euro International Film

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Video, YouTube

Oh, God! (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: An atheist meets God.

Jerry Landers (John Denver) is a married man with two kids (Moosie Drier, Rachel Longaker) who works as an assistant manager at a local grocery store. He doesn’t consider himself to be religious nor does he attend church (he most likely could be called an atheist, but I assume that term was considered ‘too toxic’ of a label to put on a protagonist that mainstream audiences of the day were expected to like, so he’s just given the much softer description of being a non-believer.) One day he receives a letter in the mail stating that God would like to interview him at a certain location, but Jerry considers this to be a practical joke and throws it away, but when the letter keeps popping up at the most unlikely places he finally decides to take it seriously. He goes to the location and meets God (George Burns) who at first he does not see, but only hears, but eventually the almighty takes the form of an old man. He tells Jerry to spread the word that he exists, which Jerry does only to have it all snowball against him when everyone thinks he’s crazy and even his own family becomes embarrassed to be seen with him.

The film is based on the 1971 Avery Corman novel of the same name though the book had more of a satirical tone and the protagonist was a journalist. The film though manages to retain the same jaded sensibilities of the modern-day public, which is what makes it so amusing and for the most part quite on-target. Denver, who was known more as a singer and did very little acting both before or after this, is quite good here, but only if you can get past his bowl haircut. Burns is excellent as well and I always felt this is the performance he should’ve won the Academy Award for instead of the one in The Sunshine Boys as it easily became his signature role.

The script though by Larry Gelbart is full of incongruities. For instance the God here claims to be a non-interventionist who sets the process in motion and then lets things happen without getting involved. Everyone is given free will and he doesn’t intervene to stop suffering or ‘bad things’ from occurring because that would upset the ‘natural balance’, but then turns around and admits that he had a hand in such superficial things as helping the 1969 New York Mets win the pennant. He is also forced to become a ‘side show magician’ by performing what amounts to being magic acts, like doing a tacky card trick in front of a judge, in order to prove to Jerry and others that he really is the almighty. Yet he then becomes shocked to find that Jerry’s simple word-of-mouth as well as having Jerry pass out God’s ‘calling card’, which is nothing more than a white card with the word God on it, as not being enough to somehow convince others of the same thing.

There’s also a weird conversation, which I found loopy even as a child, where God tries to prove a point by explaining to Jerry that people only dream in black-and-white, which apparently was an accepted belief a long time ago. This idea has later been found to be incorrect, which is good as I’ve always dreamed in color, but it’s still off-kilter to have this supposedly all-knowing God argue a talking point from a debunked myth.

The performances by the supporting cast help  and in fact I consider this to be Teri Garr’s best role as I found her character arch to be more interesting than Denver’s. The aging Ralph Bellamy is good as an aggressive defense attorney and I also like Barnard Hughes as the overwhelmed judge. William Daniels is amusing as Denver’s snippy boss and a type of authoritative character he’d put to perfection years later in the TV-show ‘St. Elsewhere’. Paul Sorvino gets a few laughs too in a send-up of an over-the-top TV evangelist.

The only one that I had a problem with was Donald Pleasance who gets fourth billing, but only 2 lines of dialogue. With such a versatile talent as his you don’t want to waste it by giving him such a small role and unless a lot of his work here ended up on the cutting room floor I’m genuinely surprised why he even took it.

The film is mildly entertaining, but ultimately quite benign and nowhere near as ‘profound’ as some considered it. Nonetheless it was a big hit and even knocked Star Wars out of the top spot for 1-week. It also spawned 2 sequels as well as a TV-movie called ‘Human Feelings’ where Nancy Walker plays a female God set to destroy Las Vegas with a flood unless Billy Crystal, who plays an angel, can find 6 virtuous people that live there.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

…tick…tick…tick (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: New sheriff faces racism.

Citizens of a small southern town get on edge when the current sheriff (George Kennedy) gets voted out and replaced by a black man (Jim Brown).  As the new sheriff Jim faces stiff resistance even from fellow members of the black community, but he forges on. When the son of a rich white man from a neighboring town runs over and kills a young white girl while he was driving drunk, Jim has him put into jail, but the young man’s father demands that he be released and when Jim refuses it creates the beginning of a potential race riot that forces the white citizens of the town to make a hard choice; do they continue with their racist behavior, or join the black sheriff in defending their town from corrupt outsiders?

The film starts out on the cheesy side by showing up close an egg frying on a sidewalk. The problem is that I tried this last year in Austin, Texas when the temp was 110 (actual temp and not a heat index figure), but I couldn’t get it to work even though I did it on asphalt and in direct sunlight. Some say that the egg has to be put in a frying pan and then have the pan put on the cement and maybe so, but that’s not how the film shows it and what’s worse is that it looks like the egg is already in a fried state even before it hits the pavement.

It’s also annoying that despite having the Deep South as the setting it was actually filmed in Colusa, California where the topography looks much different. I also had to wonder why everyone is constantly glazed over in sweat even when they were in bed at night and only small, little fans to cool them. The story’s time period is the present day (1970) and air conditioners were invented in 1902, so why the hell doesn’t anyone in this hot southern town own and use one?

The soundtrack features loud, poorly sung songs that not only get played over the opening and closing credits, but during a lot of the film as well, which gives the entire production a very B-level movie feel. I also got tired of hearing the sound of a clock ticking in the background that permeates just about every scene during the first 30 minutes and becomes heavy-handed and annoying.

The only thing that saves it is Jim Brown who’s really good here and looks better and younger without his trademark mustache. Kennedy on the other hand doesn’t seem up to the challenge with many of his scenes, particularly the one were he accosts a young man who was harassing him, coming off as unintentionally funny.

It’s sort-of fun seeing Frederic March playing a goofy mayor as well as Mills Watson, in his film debut, playing a racist deputy a decade before playing his most famous role as the bungling deputy Perkins in the ‘Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo’ TV-show.  I also liked how Clifton James and Anthony James (no relation) who had both played racist southern types in other films get roles here where they’re more level headed and help suppress the racist behavior of others instead of stoking it.

The film gets marginally better as it goes along and the ending is okay even a bit unique for this type of genre, but overall it’s just a cheap imitation of In the Heat of Night, which was much better. The only really surprising thing about the movie is that it received a G-rating despite having the N-word spoken throughout by several of the characters.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 9, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Ralph Nelson

Studio: MGM

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

The Electric Horseman (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Aging cowboy steals horse.

Sonny (Robert Redford) used to be a championship rodeo star, but those days are long behind him. Now he works as a spokesmodel for a cereal company and his next gig has him in Las Vegas where he’s set to ride a horse on stage while he wears a string of flashing lights. Sonny though has become disillusioned with the business as well as upset to find that the horse has been drugged, which propels him to ride off with it while the authorities and an aggressive TV reporter (Jane Fonda) are hot on his tail.

The story can best be described as a lightly comical variation of Lonely are the Bravebut without any of the strong dramatic impact. The biggest problem is that it reveals its cards too quickly making it too obvious what Sonny is planning to do, so when he finally does y abscond with the horse it’s not surprising or even interesting. I was intrigued at how he would get it out of the casino and past security, but the movie cheats this by cutting from him inside the casino one second to showing him outside on the street in the next frame, which takes away from potential action and excitement of having him fight his way out.

The chase inside a small town where Sonny and his horse outrun a mob of police cars and cops on motorbikes is fun, but it ends up being the only exciting moment in the film. Everything else gets toned down too much where even the bad guy, played by John Saxon, is boring because all he does is sit in a office while getting reports from others as to Sonny’s whereabouts instead of having him actively chase after the renegade cowboy himself, which would’ve heightened the tension.

Fonda’s character comes off like an unwanted house guest who tries to take over the place even when they weren’t invited. Her character is too abrasive and while everyone else is laid-back she comes of as being quite aggressive and otherwise out-of-place with the tone of the movie. Valerie Perrine, who has a much smaller part as Sonny’s ex-wife, does a far better job here and is more in step with the unglamorous, rugged western theme. Had she been the one to chase after Sonny then the romantic side-story that develops would’ve been cute and engaging, but having Fonda become the love interest just makes the whole thing seem forced.

Had the action and humor been  more jacked-up than it might’ve been a winner as Redford himself is quite good. I was a bit surprised too because I initially didn’t think this was the right fit for his talents, but his subtle country accent and brash attitude is fun and Willie Nelson, in his film debut, is quite good in support. Unfortunately the plot never catches its stride and in fact the more it goes on the boring it gets.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1979

Runtime: 2 Hours 1 Minute

Rated PG

Director: Sydney Pollack

Studio: Universal Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2)

Pete ‘n’ Tillie (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Marriage and then tragedy.

Tillie (Carol Burnett) is a 33-year-old secretary still looking for ‘Mr. Right’. Her friend Gertrude (Geraldine Page) sets her up with Pete (Walter Matthau) a lifelong bachelor. The two don’t hit-it-off initially, but the other prospects are so dim they decide to make a go of it, so they get married and have a kid (Lee H. Montgomery) only to then be faced with terrible news.

On the onset this may seem like a misfire. The viewer expects, especially with these two stars, a very broad comedy of which this is not. Instead the script, which is based on the novel ‘Witches’ Milk’ by Pete De Vries, relies heavily on dry wit particularly through the dialogue, which on a low key level is quite funny. The attempt to create a sort-of unromantic romance that goes completely against what we’ve come to expect in most other romantic films is commendable and for the first hour or so it kind of works.

Matthau again shines by managing to make an unlikable character likable and even downright engaging while Montgomery is fun as the kid by playing a child that seems far more mature and sensible than his two parents. Burnett’s performance though doesn’t work as well. She’s known for her hammy performances from her TV-show and yet here plays a more serious part that barely has much comedy to it at all. The scene where she  screams up to the sky in a fit of rage over her son’s death is her best moment, but overall her appearance here is largely forgettable.

Her character’s motivations are confusing as well particularly with the way she jumps into marriage with a man she really doesn’t like and who would repel most other women and then she decides to stay with him even as it becomes painfully clear that he’s cheating on her. It just seemed that a reasonably attractive woman such as herself should have other male suitors to choose from, so why she sells-out for this one and sticks with him when others would run is not clear and the movie should’ve done a better job at answering this.

Geraldine Page’s character seems completely out-of-sync with the proceedings. She’s personally one of my favorite actresses and even though she was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance here I didn’t see what her presence added to the story. Having her pass out at a courthouse simply because she doesn’t want to reveal her age gets rather exaggerated. The physical altercation that she has with Burnett afterwards does not fit the tone of the rest of the film, which tried to be low-key while this bit becomes over-the-top slapstick and completely out of place.

Had the film focused entirely on the courtship phase this thing could’ve been a winner as it has a nice dry offbeat touch. Even the melodrama of the second act I could handle, but the crazy antics of the third act don’t work at all and the ending leaves no impact at all making this an interesting experiment that ultimately fails.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 17, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Martin Ritt

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD-R (Universal Vault Series)

Where the Red Fern Grows (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid raises two hounds.

Billy Colman (Stewart Petersen) is a 12-year-old boy living on a farm in rural Oklahoma during the depression. He becomes obsessed with owning a coon hound which he can train to hunt raccoons. His family is too poor to buy him one, so he spends his summer doing a number of odd jobs until he’s finally able to buy two Redbone Coonhound puppies, which he raises and trains into becoming championship hunting dogs.

The film is based on the 1961 novel by Wilson Rawls, who provides the opening voice-over narration and the script here closely follows the action of the book. It was directed by Norman Tokar, who seemed to specialize in stories of young boys bonding with their pets as he also directed the film versions of Big Red and Rascal. The production was clearly done on the low budget side, which is distracting at first, but eventually meshes with the stark, rural, and economically challenged setting quite nicely.

While the story seems believable enough and may open some viewer’s eyes, such as my own, to the sport of coon hunting, which still thrives today in certain parts of the country, I found certain elements of it to be hard to believe.  For instance Billy decides to walk all the way from his lonely farmhouse to the town of Tahlequah, which is 30 miles away and apparently able to do it in one day. I was also not sure how he would be able to find the town since he did not travel along any type of highway or road, but instead trudged through open fields and without the benefit of either a map or a compass.

The scene where Billy intentionally trips a nasty boy by the name of Rubin (Rex Corley) which causes the kid to fall on the ax that he is carrying and dies seemed questionable from a modern day viewpoint simply because everybody believes the story that Billy tells them and no charges were made. The film and book, which I remember reading in the 6th grade and in fact this is the only part of the story that I remembered, portray this as being an unintentional accident, which it was. However, these days the kid could potentially be put on trial for manslaughter charges especially since there was clearly bad blood between the two, but maybe it is a testament of simpler times that everyone, including seemingly the victim’s parents, believe the story he tells them without question, but in any other era that might not have been the case.

I found it interesting to see Beverly Garland, whom I first became aware of when she played Fred MacMurray’s second wife in the TV-show ‘My Three Sons’ and who looked quite middle-aged then, but for some reasons gets cast here as a young housewife and manages to somehow pull it off despite nearing 50 at the time. Petersen though, who got cast after a long auditioning process of over 500 candidates, is only adequate, but doesn’t quite hit the mark especially with his inability to convey anything other than one facial expression. I also thought the coonskin cap that he ends up wearing made him come off looking like a Davy Crockett or Daniel Boone Jr. although maybe back in the day that was considered ‘cool’.

Certain animal right’s activists of today may not take kindly to what was once considered just a ‘charming’ coming-of-age tale. Although no actual killing of any animal is ever shown it is certainly heavily implied. It got to the point where I started to feel sorry for the raccoons particularly during the hunting competition where night after night different hunters would go out into the forest to see how any many they could catch and then come back with the numerous pelts that they skinned from them making me wonder if there could possible be any raccoons left to kill.

Spoiler Alert!

The film though does manage to end on a strong note although even here this gets botched because as the family goes to the dog’s grave to see this magical red fern growing on top of it we also see a big boom microphone hanging down from the top of the screen , which completely sucks all the magic right out of the scene. This same story was remade in 2003 and in 2018 a 45-minute documentary was released showing behind-the-scenes footage/stills of the movie as it was being made and also featuring interviews with the actors.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 21, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Norman Tokar

Studio: Doty-Dayton Releasing

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Tunnel Vision (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lame parody of television.

The year is 1985 and due to a new Bill of Rights an uncensored television network has been created, which causes many viewers to become hooked on its content watching it for hours while neglecting their other responsibilities. The head of the network, Christian A. Broder (Phil Proctor) is brought in for a senate hearing where the network’s programs are examined by a government panel to see if it should be allowed, or if censoring it would be the better option.

What was considered ‘pushing-the-envelope’ in its day would now barely pass as a blip on the radar of the average seventh grader. I was honestly expecting much more sex and nudity here, but ultimately the film offers very little and nothing is worse than smug filmmakers thinking they’re making something ‘edgy’ when they really aren’t. I also got tired of seeing a close-up shot of a plastic eyeball popping out of a woman’s lipstick laden lips, which I suppose might be considered by some as being sort-of sexy looking, but after it gets shown over and over again it becomes annoying.

The overall tone is too inconsistent. Certain provocative bits get lumped in with a lot of goofy, mindless ones, which creates a casual chuckle every 20 minutes or so but then coupled mainly with a lot of groans in between. The film also never cuts away to show any reaction shots of the conservative committee who are supposedly watching these ‘shocking’ clips, which could’ve added in an extra layer of humor. The viewer is also required to be highly familiar with mid 70’s programs and commercials as otherwise many of the in-jokes will go completely over their heads especially to those born at a later time.

The film was written and directed by Neal Israel who managed to have one hit Bachelor Party in 1984, but overall his other output conveys the same mindless, lame comedy as this one and whose talents seem limited. Had there been some visual flair it might’ve helped, but everything looks like it was filmed inside someone’s suburban home using low-budget home movie-like production values. Also, for a film that was supposed to be a peek into the future it certainly doesn’t have much of a futuristic design and instead reeks of mid-70’s sensibilities.

Of course there’s a lot of politically incorrect bits here too, which includes a parody of ‘All in the Family’ that features a Romanian gypsy family that spouts every conceivable ethnic slur, but this segment like so many of the others are just not that funny or imaginative. The only interesting aspect about the film is that, besides showing some young up-and-coming stars at the beginning of their careers, it also features many behind-the-scenes announcers whose voices you’ll immediately recognize, but not their faces, so seeing them in front of the camera for a rare time like Donny Darko who portrays a newscaster named Steve Garvey is kind of cool, but otherwise this thing is nothing more than a dated dud.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: March 3, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 7 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Neal Israel

Studio: World Wide Pictures

Available: DVD

For Pete’s Sake (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Can’t make ends meet.

Henrietta ‘Henry’ (Barbra Streisand) struggles with hardly any money in the bank as her husband Pete (Michael Sarrazin) works a low paying job driving a cab while he tries to finish college. Then Pete gets a tip from a fellow driver telling him to invest in potbellies as they are expected to have a huge gain in the market, but to do so he will need $3,000. Since he does not have this Henry decides to do some jobs that will pay her quick cash including prostitution and hauling stolen cattle, but everything that she does just gets her further into trouble.

Part of the fun of watching films from decades past is seeing how things have changed and in certain circumstances how they haven’t. Here you get to see virtually the same struggles that a young couple of today face and how the companies and banks joyfully screw them over if it means helping them either save or make a buck. Some of the segments at the beginning where she argues with representatives of these companies over either bills or loans are funny and helps give this otherwise innocuous comedy a bit of an edge.  It also allows for a great chance to see Anne Ramsey in an early role playing a rep at a phone company who not only looks way younger than from her better known role in Throw Momma From a Train, but even marginally attractive and with a much softer sounding voice.

Barbra is great in the lead that takes advantage of her rambling, fast-talking manner which she gets whenever she’s exasperated with the best bit being the running joke where she is constantly calling a distant relative in Dallas begging them for money while also updating them on her latest calamity. It’s also great seeing her play against her Hollywood celebrity image by effectively portraying a very drab everyday person sporting short hair, which was a wig created for her by her romantic partner at the time, hair stylist Jon Peters. It’s also interesting seeing this very liberal icon in a very anti-PC moment when she hands a box of Fruit Loops to an effeminate store clerk (played by Vincent Shiavelli) and tells him “I’m sure you’ll love these.”

The comedy has consistent laughs although the first hour works best and I particularly enjoyed the interplay that she has with the male customers she brings into her apartment while working as a prostitute and I wished this segment had been extended more. She also gets in a few juicy jabs towards Estelle Parsons, who plays the snotty, rich wife of Pete’s brother (William Redfield), that are delightfully savage.

Unfortunately the final third gets a bit too silly and exaggerated making the story lose its footing by becoming too frantically dizzying.  There’s still a couple of good bits here like watching the stolen cattle crash through a movie screen that is showing a film with a herd of cattle on it. I also enjoyed The French Connection parody where Babs plays the same cat-and-mouse game on the subway that Gene Hackman did with Fernando Rey only she does it with a police dog. However, some of the other bits including the appearance of Bill McKinney in a weak tribute to Deliverance are sterile  and helps to deflate an otherwise sparkling Streisand vehicle.

The script also suffers from illogical loopholes. Like the fact that despite having financial difficulties they still employ a housekeeper (played by Vivian Bonnell), but why would a young couple struggling with money and living in a tiny one bedroom apartment with no kids and a wife who stays home all day need hired help?

Pete gets exposed as having some major chauvinistic traits too by forebiding his wife from working full-time because ‘his ego couldn’t take it’, which doesn’t make him seem like a ‘great catch’ at all. Forcing his wife to stay stuck in the kitchen/home because that’s where he feels ‘she belongs’ while he’s unable to provide for her with his own job makes him seem like a total dud that’s not only not worth helping, but, especially in today’s world,  have him deservedly kicked to the curb in no time.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 26, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Yates

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

A New Leaf (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Marrying for her money.

Henry Graham (Walter Matthau) has been living off of his vast inheritance for years only to find that his overspending and has now made him broke. Since he has no work history and no interest in getting a job he decides the only other alternative is to marry a rich woman. He finds his target in the form of Henrietta (Elaine May) who is an heiress to a massive family fortune. She is also quite homely, socially inept, and very into botany. Henry decides to ask for her hand in marriage and then once they are hitched kill her off and acquire her fortune for himself, but nothing goes as planned.

The plot is based on a short story ‘The Green Heart’ by Jack Ritchie and is full of many ingenious twists that helps propel the dark comedy along at a very even tone. Director May’s use of dry, subtle humor comes in perfectly for this type of material. So many other Hollywood comedies feel the need to bombard the viewer with broad, in-your-face gags so it’s genuinely refreshing to have a film take a more restrained approach by allowing the humor to peculate more. Instead of a rapid fire, gag-a-minute pace the film stretches the comical bits out for several minutes allowing the actors to play up the scene to a full crescendo with Henrietta’s inability to wear her evening nightgown properly on their honeymoon being quite possibly the funniest.

The characters are made up of extreme caricatures and in less talented hands could’ve been a detriment, but Matthau manages to play his part so astutely that the viewer ends up liking him anyways and his arc, where he reluctantly and quite unexpectedly ends up helping Henrietta out of several jams that she wasn’t aware of, is quite satisfying. George Rose, who sadly and ironically ended up having the same fate that almost befell the May character here when in 1988 in an attempt to get his hands on Rose’s fortune the teenage son that he adopted killed him while trying to make it look like a car accident, lends great support as Matthau’s wise and loyal butler.

Like with May’s other projects including the notorious Ishtar this film suffered many cost overruns and production delays most notably the 10 months it took to edit the film, which initially ended up having a 180 minute runtime and featured a secondary story dealing with Matthau poisoning a blackmailer played by William Hickey. The then head of Paramount Robert Evans decided, much to May’s objections, to cut this part out, which shortened it to 102 minutes, which I personally feel was a good idea. While I usually like director’s cuts the story here is too thin for a 3-hour length and in many ways goes on a bit too long the way it is although it would still be cool to see the extra footage, which is rumored to have been either lost or destroyed, as a bonus feature on a future DVD/Blu-ray release.

As a simple black comedy it comes off pretty well and even has a cute twist ending. Although a box office flop at the time it has garnered strong acclaim and since become a cult classic. The two stars also reunited 8 years later playing another couple in the Neil Simon farce California Suite

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 11, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Elaine May

Studio: Paramount

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

Quintet (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Deadly game/frozen tundra.

During a future ice age Essex (Paul Newman) and his pregnant companion Viva (Brigitte Fossey) travel north in hopes of finding his brother Francha (Thomas Hill). They come to his apartment to find him and a group of other people playing a board game called Quintet, which has become the popular form of entertainment in an otherwise frozen, barren world. While Essex goes out to buy firewood the rest of the inhabitants in the apartment are killed by a bomb and when Essex chases the perpetrator (Craig Richard Nelson) he finds a list of five names inside the man’s pocket and realizes that the board game is now being played out in real-time with the winners killing the losers, which forces Essex to become a reluctant participant.

Although director Robert Altman had started the 70’s with the blockbuster hit M*A*S*H and followed it with Nashville his star status by the end of the decade had become severely tarnished especially after he helmed a succession of box office bombs with this film being a financial failure as well, which pretty much put the nail in the coffin for his career and hampered his ability at getting top projects afterwards, but I will at least give him credit for going outside of his comfort zone. While his past films were all dramedies this one was an interesting stab at sci-fi that if anything creates a vivid atmosphere. I particularly like the opening shot that shows nothing but snowy white and the sound of a cold hollowing wind only to slowly see the formation of two human figures walking in the far distance.

Unfortunately the other elements of the film are not as inspired. The costumes worn by the characters look like something leftover by a  Shakesperian college stage production and the board game itself played by the participants sparks no interest in the viewer because it’s never clear how it’s played. Supposedly the working rules of the game were passed out to audience members as they entered the theater, but it would’ve been nice had these same rules been explained in the movie itself.

The setting, which was filmed on-location inside  the abandoned buildings leftover from Montreal’s World Expo ’67 gives off an interesting futuristic vibe, but I was confused why despite being in the future there was no modern technology. I realized it was a new ice age, but are we to believe that all the computers and gadgets from the past generations got frozen over and the only thing left were the buildings? I also didn’t like how Altman smeared the edges of the lens with a translucent substance where only the middle part of the screen is in focus while the edges are fuzzy, which was intended to give it an ice over look, but doing this in literally every shot got to be a bit much.

Watching the characters die or wondering who will be next offers no tension at all as killing them seemed almost favorable as it put them out of their misery and away from their otherwise bleak existence. The plot needed an added angle to give it more intrigue like perhaps having a warm destination that still existed that the characters would try to get to while avoiding being killed in the process. Having it play out though the way it does with everyone locked inside this icy setting is not compelling at all. Altman proves here to be completely outside his realm while it also wastes Newman’s acting talents to the point that I was surprised why he even bothered to take the part at all. Some may wish to seek this out as a curio, but outside of its icy atmosphere there’s little else to recommend.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 9, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube