Category Archives: 70’s Movies

Fools (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lost souls find love.

Matthew (Jason Robards) is sitting in a park one day trying to read a book when two children begin taunting a dog, which causes it to bark and impedes Matthew’s peace and quiet. He then warns the children that if they don’t behave the dog will rip their arms out, which angers the dog’s owner (Marc Hannibal) who then proceeds to punch Matthew in the face. Anais (Katharine Ross), who was also in the park, comes to Matthew’s aid and the two quickly begin a romance, but she neglects to tell him that she’s being followed by a private detective (Robert C. Ferro Jr.) whose been hired by her jealous husband (Scott Hylands) who’ll stop at nothing to win her back.

The film is a very odd mix of drama and late 60’s quirkiness that never gels and most of the time comes-off as disjointed and amateurish. The relationship happens too fast and lacks any type of distinction from the thousands of other cookie-cutter romances already out there. The folk-tinged songs sung by Kenny Rogers and The First Edition are too sappy and bog the pace down, which is too slow and ambling to being with.

The biggest issue though is the way scriptwriter Robert Rudelson throws in all sorts of characters and bits that have nothing to do with the main plot. This includes two FBI agents appearing out-of-nowhere who raid the couple’s home and then just as quickly disappear and are forgotten. There’s also a weird bit where the couple confronts a trio of hippies, one of whom is played by Jack Nance in his film debut, who are strung-out on acid and it gets quite violent and ugly. Another segment deals with a psychiatrist (Mako) fighting off an oversexed patient (Laura Ash) and these two do not interact with the two main characters at all, so why this even gets put into the film is confusing.

85 minutes into its runtime the film also suddenly adds in flashbacks and surreal moments including Ross seeing herself jump off a tall building. Surrealism in film can be great, but it needs to get introduced earlier and trickle all the way through instead of popping up near the end, which throws off the tone completely.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending in which Ross gets violently gunned down inside a Church during a babies baptism is jarring, misplaced and like everything else comes completely out-of-nowhere. To some degree you can credit the film for being ahead-of-its-time as it deals with a stalking/jealous husband, which was a topic that had not yet come into the mainstream conversation, but the bird’s-eye view of Ross’ bloody corpse lying on the sidewalk is much too disturbing for a film that had otherwise been quite playful and lighthearted. The reactions by the other people inside the church, one of whom is played by a young Suzanne Somers, is off-putting too as they just stand there in a calm silence instead of screaming and panicking like you’d expect them to.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Robards, who is typically a very good actor, channels too much of the non-conformist quality similar to the character that he played in A Thousand Clowns, which in that film was charming, but here it’s annoying mainly because it doesn’t make sense. In that film he was poor and bordering on being homeless, so his contempt for society made sense, but here he’s a famous horror movie star renting a swanky apartment that overlooks the San Francisco skyline making his anger seem out-of-place. There’s also a brief bit where he attempts to climb over a barbed wire fence, the film cuts away so we don’t get to seem him fully do it, but it looked like a painful if not impossible thing to do and something that shouldn’t be done by someone who wasn’t insane.

Ross on the other-hand is appealing and quite beautiful in literally every shot she’s in, which is the only reason I’m giving this dopey production even two points, but she unfortunately is straddled with a script that appears to have no point to it and if it does it doesn’t convey it in any type of discernible way.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 23, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Tom Gries

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: None at this time.

Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dog becomes a star.

Estie Del Ruth (Madeline Kahn) is a struggling actress still waiting for her big break. While roaming the streets she comes upon a homeless dog (Augustus Von Schumacher) and befriends it. Grayson (Bruce Dern) is a hapless tour guide driving a bus filled with tourists past the homes of the famous Hollywood stars. He’d rather be directing movies and has some great ideas, but is constantly getting turned down. Then one day famous studio mogul J.J. Fromberg (Art Carney) witnesses the dog saving Estie from a lecherous producer (Aldo Ray) and is so impressed that he wants to cast the dog in its own movie. Grayson, seeing this as his chance to finally break into the movie business, pretends to be the dog’s owner and therefore allowed to be in charge of directing the dog’s film, but the dog will only take orders from from Estie forcing him to allow her to tag along, but only if he helps her get a movie contract.

The story was originally titled ‘A Bark was Born’ and written by Cy Howard in 1971 and was an account of the famous 1920’s real-life dog star known as Rin Tin Tin. He commissioned Arnold Schulman to write the script for him. Schulman, who was coming off a good run of films as screenwriter including penning the scripts for Goodbye Columbus and Funny Lady decided to add some satirical elements to the story before finally handing it off to studio head David Picker to produce. However, the owners of Rin Tin Tin sued Picker for producing a film about their dog without authorization causing Picker to remove the fictional elements from the script and turning it into a all-out farcical parody of old-time Hollywood instead.

The film’s biggest problem is that it doesn’t give the viewer a feeling that they’re being transported to a different era as the 1920’s are played-up as being too cartonish and silly to be believable. The characters are caricatures that have no emotional connection to the audience, so watching their ascent into Hollywood success is neither interesting nor compelling. The humor relies too much on throwaway bits that have no connection to the main plot and mostly fall flat while moments that do have comic potential, like the dog only taking orders from Kahn, do not get played-up enough.

Kahn is a poor choice for the lead and single-handily bogs the production down, which wasn’t too great to begin with. She is perfect as a supporting actress playing over-the-top, eccentric characters, but as a normal person trying to elicit sympathy she does poorly. Lily Tomlin was the original choice for the part, but she wanted the script rewritten in order for it to have a more serious edge, which wouldn’t have been a bad idea,  but director Michael Winner wanted to keep the thing silly and lightweight and didn’t agree.

Dern, who expressed in an interview decades later, that doing this film was his one true career regret, is actually quite good and its fun seeing him play in a more lighthearted role versus the darker ones that have made up so much of his onscreen presence. However, by the second half he pretty much gets written-out, which was a shame. Ron Leibman, as the cross-dressing silent film star Rudy Montague, has a few interesting moments, but he plays the part in too much of an intense manner making him seem more creepy than funny.

Art Carney is not funny at all as the big-time studio head and the part would’ve been better served had it been played by Phil Silvers, who gets stuck in a much smaller role that does not take advantage of his comic talents. The rest of the cast is made-up of walk-on bits by famous stars of the past. Most these cameos are not amusing or interesting making their presence much like the movie itself quite pointless.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: May 29, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Paramount Pictures

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

Heartland (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life on the frontier.

In 1910 a widow named Elinore (Conchata Ferrell) and her 7-year-old daughter Jerrine (Megan Folsom) travel to Wyoming where she gets a job as a housekeeper to rancher named Clyde (Rip Torn). The two slowly fall-in-love, eventually marry, and have a baby of their own. Unfortunately the harsh winter and remote locale takes its toll causing tragedy to both their small family and to the ranch itself.

The story is based on the letters written by Elinore Pruitt Stewart to her former employer as she described her adventures working on a ranch as a homesteader to Henry Clyde Stewart during the years of 1910 to 1914. The film stays very faithful in tone and content to the period and some of the most fascinating moments are simply observing the different chores that they had to do back then and what now comes off as very archaic.  Shooting the film on-location in the Rocky Mountain region, substituting Montana for Wyoming, and capturing all four seasons helps add to the authenticity.

Farrell’s strong personality gives life to her character and reveals the inner strength required to endure and survive the hardships of frontier life and it’s amazing how closely she resembled the real Elinore Stewart as evidenced by an old photograph of her taken in 1913. Torn is also quite good, but his thick Scandinavian accent makes it difficult to understand everything he says. I also really enjoyed Folsom as the young girl, who doesn’t have much dialogue, but more than makes up for it with her expressive face. Lilia Skala is also good as Mrs. Landuer a headstrong elderly neighbor who goes by the nickname of Grandma.

While the soundtrack matches the period flavor I felt there was too much of it and would’ve enjoyed more silence as that is pretty much all you would’ve heard anyways on the frontier during that time. I would’ve also liked more of a backstory to Elinore, specifically showing why she was widowed, in real-life her husband died in a railroad accident before their daughter Jerrine was even born, and yet it would’ve helped the viewer understand Elinore better had this been dramatized, or at least touched on.

The ending is also too abrupt. It brings up all the challenges in maintaining the ranch, but no conclusion as to whether they were able to withstand them all or not. Several story threads get left hanging even though in real-life Elinore lived 19 years past when this story took place and Clyde lived for another 35 years, so having some denouncement at the end explaining where they ultimately ended up past what we see here was in my opinion very much needed and the fact that it doesn’t occur makes the film seem like only half-a-movie.

There’s also some scenes that may make certain viewers uncomfortable. Many of them deal with animals getting killed including a wild pig that gets shot at point blank range and then skinned and gutted. Since this was apart of the frontier life back then I didn’t have a real problem with it, but others might. The most disturbing scene though deals with a cow trying to give birth and requires both Torn and Farrell sticking their hands inside the cow’s vagina at the same time in order to turn the calf around, so that its head will come out first. They then tie a rope around the calf’s head and yank him out in extremely explicit fashion. While some may consider this the miracle of birth others may not be able to stomach it, but overall it does help to heighten the realism either way.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 22, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Pearce

Studio: Filmhaus

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Godspell (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Jesus is a hippie.

A group of modern day young adults dissatisfied with their mundane lives decide to follow the calling of John the Baptist (David Haskell) to learn the teachings of Jesus (Victor Garber). They spend their days roaming the vacant streets of New York City while doing song and dances that are inspired by the Gospel of St. Matthew.

This film is based on the hit Broadway play that in turn was the brainchild of John-Micheal Tebelak. Tebelak was a student at Carnegie Mellon University in 1970 when he attended an Easter Vigil at St. Paul’s Cathedral only to end up getting frisked for drugs by the police simply because his clothing attire resembled that of a hippie. He became incensed that the modern day Christian was out-of-touch with the younger generation and became compelled to bridge-the-gap by going home and writing this play, which lead to him getting offers to produce and direct it, first at experimental off-Broadway theaters and then finally Broadway itself.

While this film’s intentions may be noble, it doesn’t completely succeed although its ability to take advantage of the New York City locations is a chief asset. Many prominent sites of the city get used including the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, and even a breath-taking dance sequence on top of the still being built World Trade Center. The film also manages to somehow, outside of the very beginning and very end, clear out all the other people from the city making the Big Apple seem like a giant ghost town, which in a way gives off a good surreal vibe, but it also would’ve been interesting seeing this troupe dealing with the everyday person and the reactions that would come from that.

The song and dance numbers are well choreographed, but there ends up being too many of them. The story lacks a plot and to a degree comes off as nonsensical. I realize they’re singing about parables from the Bible, but the viewer isn’t paying attention to that and instead focused on the colorful locales and comical antics of the hammy performers and it’s quite doubtful that a non-believer would suddenly get ‘inspired’ by anything that goes on here. Young children will most likely by confused and even frightened by it while teens and young adults, which was the target audience, will by today’s standards roll-their-eyes and consider it a relic of a bygone, drug-trippy era.

The cast shows a lot of energy and many of them were from the original stage version, but ultimately there’s no distinction between them. While most musicals have at least some dialogue and drama between the songs this one has none. It’s just two hours of non-stop singing and unless you’re deeply into the message this won’t really gel well with most viewers. The clothing styles, which at the time may have been ‘hip’, now look silly including having Jesus with an afro and walking around in over-sized shoes, which to me resembled a clown.

This might’ve worked better on stage where the intimate setting would allow one to feed off the vibe of the other audience members, but as a film it’s off-putting and the dazzling visual direction cannot overcome its other shortcomings.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 21, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated G

Director: David Greene

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Jeremy (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: A teen’s first romance.

Jeremy (Robby Benson) is a teen cellist going to a New York school for artistically inclined students. It is there that he meets Susan (Glynnis O’Connor), who is training to be a ballerina, but he’s too shy to ask her out, so his friend Ralph (Len Bari) asks her for him. Eventually the two start dating and after 3-weeks find themselves in a deep and committed relationship only to have happenstance tear them apart.

The film tries hard for realism, at least to some degree, and for that reason it partially succeeds. The best moments are the ones where Jeremy frets about asking Susan out and is unable to get up the nerve to do it, which I enjoyed as few movies deal with this very real issue. In fact a study was done during the 70’s dealing with so-called ‘love-shy’ men and of those over 300 considered this their favorite movie with some having watched it 20 or more times and one individual in his late 30’s having seen it 86 times.

Unfortunately the pace is inconsistent with too much time spent during the first 30-minutes dealing with Jeremy’s cello playing, which is something that by the third act gets forgotten and not even mentioned. There are also two sappy songs that are played, one sung by Robby and the other by Glynnis, and nothing is more annoying than a film that tries to be realistic one minute only to bog things down with needless music montages the next.

Benson’s acting here borders on being excruciating to watch. Shy, awkward teens are fine, but Robby becomes the poster child for it making it almost cringe-worthy. O’Connor is more confident and she should’ve been paired with somebody that would’ve equaled it. I realize that the two in real-life got into a long term relationship during the filming of this and 3 years later appeared together in Ode to Billy Joe where Benson’s acting ability and scrawny physique had improved, but here he’s too much of a caricature and it would’ve been more interesting had the character been someone with a confident facade only to be gun-shy romantically when the pressure was on.

Spoiler Alert!

The third act is a disappointment as it involves Susan and Jeremy being forced to break-up when her father (Ned Wilson) gets a job offer in Detroit. I realize this was before the internet age and long distance relationships can always be a challenge, but I didn’t feel this necessarily had to signify the end of it. They could’ve continued to write letters and talk over the phone and they were only two years away from turning 18 and by then they would be free to move away from their parents and start back together, so this story twist came-off like a cop-out. I would’ve preferred a more concrete reason to why their relationship ended, like realizing once the infatuated puppy-love phase died down that they just weren’t compatible, which is how the majority of relationships ultimately end.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 1, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Arthur Barron

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

North Avenue Irregulars (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Church ladies battle mobsters.

Reverend Michael Hill (Edward Herrmann) becomes the new pastor at the North Avenue Presbyterian Church, but right away things get off to a rocky start when the church’s funds get gambled away on a horse race. When Hill tries to retrieve the money he finds out that it is an illegal gambling joint run behind a dry cleaning business, who are always able to skillfully remove their presence before the police arrive. Hill goes on TV to lambaste organized crime in their town, which catches the attention of two treasury agents (Michael Constantine, Steve Franken) who want Hill to help them close down the gambling joints by having him hire men from his church to place bets at the parlors, but all of the men refuse. Hill then asks for the help of the church women who agree to do it and after some initial setbacks begin to make headway in taking down the area mobsters.

Usually I always say it’s important for films that are aimed for a young audience to have children playing the protagonist, but in this case the children characters have only small supporting roles and yet the film still manages to deliver the laughs. The main reason is the talented female cast who have distinctive personalities and convey comic form in different ways. Cloris Leachman is amusing as the middle-aged cougar with long finger nails, Virginia Capers is quite funny too as a heavy-set woman who doesn’t allow her big build to stop her from running several blocks in order to tail the bad guys and the variety of vehicles she drives with funny phrases painted on their windshields, which are all from her husband’s used car dealership, are humorous too. Barbara Harris as a suburban mother who chases the mobsters while driving in a station wagon packed full of kids in it is great too.

What may be surprising to many is that it’s all based on true events that occurred to Revenrend Albert Fay Hill when he took over as the minister at the North Avenue Presbyterian Church in New Rochelle, NY in 1961. It was there that he became a crusader against organized crime after the murder of a young man for not repaying his gambling debts. Like in the movie his fight gained the attention of US Treasury agents who wanted him to get his male parishioners to place bets with the mobsters, but the men all refused so he recruited their wives whose efforts managed to shut down several gambling houses, which lead to a front page write-up in The New York Times as well as Look magazine.

Of course the movie exaggerates things for comic effect, but it’s forgiven because the stunts are quite funny, which culminates in a massive car pile-up consisting of the demolition of 14 cars at the cost of $155,000. The scene involving the church getting blown up is amusing too because behind-the-scenes when it was first done the cinematographer forgot to put film in the camera forcing the crew to painstakingly rebuild the church just so they could try to do it all over again.

The film’s only weak element is Herrmann whose performance is certainly sincere and likable, but he’s never funny while Constantine is hilarious as the exasperated agent who has a virtual nervous breakdown dealing with the women and for that reason the film would’ve been more engaging had he been the lead character. I was also confused why the Reverend was  a single parent as there’s no explanation I could remember for what happened to the wife. In the book that this film is based, and in the true-life incident, the minster was married, so why was it decided that he should be single here? I got the idea it was because they wanted to create a romance between he and his secretary played by Susan Clark, but since nothing much comes from that it seemed unnecessary.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 9, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Bruce Bilson

Studio: Buena Vista

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Front (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Covering for blacklisted writers.

In 1953 during the height of the Red Scare where many working in Hollywood were blacklisted if they had any connections with communist sympathizers writer Alfred Miller (Michael Murphy) suddenly finds himself out of work and unable sell any of his scripts. He asks his friend Howard (Woody Allen) who works as a cashier at a cafe to act as a ‘front’ for him by selling his scripts to producers and acting as if he wrote them instead of Alfred. In exchange Howard would be able to collect 10 % of the profit, which he readily accepts. Soon Alfred’s other writer friends hire Howard to sell their scripts, which quickly makes him financially comfortable, but he soon sees the dark side of the business especially when he gets investigated for being communist sympathizer himself.

The film was written and directed by those who personally went through the blacklisting when it happened, which is great, but the film cannot seem to decide whether it wants to be a drama or comedy and takes too much of a timid, middle-of-the-road approach that is neither impactful nor memorable.  Lots of prime comedic potential gets completely glossed over like when Howard is forced to do a rewrite on a script in a hurry despite having no background, or knowledge on how to do it. This occurs twice and both times the film fails to show what he does to get out of the jam, he is shown for a couple of seconds on the phone presumably with Alfred getting advice, but it would’ve been funny hearing their conversation and seeing him quite literally sweat his way through the process.

Spoiler Alert!

The drama gets handled in too much of a genteel way too making the intended message mild and not something that completely connects emotionally with the viewer. The scene where Zero Mostel jumps out of a hotel window when he realizes his career is over happens much too fast. One second we hear the window being opened and the next second the camera quickly pans over to see that Mostel is no longer standing in the room making it seem more like he just disappeared into thin air. The ending where Howard finds himself forced to testify in front of the House of UnAmerican Activities panel is weak as well. The final 20 minutes is spent with this big build-up of what Howard will do when he is put in front of them, but the payoff is slight and hinges on him telling them to go ‘fuck themselves’, which is such an overused expression in this modern age that it hardly resonates as it once might’ve been.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Allen is an obnoxious protagonist that I did not find funny or sympathetic. He became so unlikable that I started wanting to see him get caught and even humiliated, which I don’t think was what the filmmakers intended the viewer to feel. I also thought it was ridiculous that this scrawny, dorky looking guy would be so brazen to come-on to hot looking women like he does. I know in the movies that he directs this always occurs and I looked past it as Woody simply revealing his diluted, narcisstic ego, but this film was done by a different director, so things should’ve been presented in a more realistic way by having the beautiful women laugh at Woody when he attempted to ask them out and forcing him to settle for someone his physical equal. I realize that Andrea Marcovicci’s character falls for Woody because she thinks he’s the writer of the scripts, but I would think after she went out with him for awhile she’d start to realize he wasn’t the same person she thought he was and not have to have it explicitly spelled out  for like it ultimately is.

It would’ve worked much better had Michael Murphy been cast as Howard as he was more able to convey likable qualities. Zero Mostel is also quite strong as the desperate comedian and had his character been cast in the lead it would’ve given the viewer a stronger feeling of what it was like to be blacklisted during that era as the story would’ve been told from the victim’s point-of-view instead of having those directly affected by the McCarthyism relegated to only supporting parts.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 30, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Martin Ritt

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Swarm (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer bees invade Texas.

When his parents (Robert Varney, Doria Cook) are attacked by African Killer Bees while out on a picnic their young son Paul (Christian Juttner) manages to escape by jumping into their car and driving off. He then drives into the small town of Marysville, Texas where he tells the people about what happened. Scientist Bradford Crane (Michael Caine) and Army General Slater (Richard Widmark) are put in charge, but neither can agree on what strategy to use. Meanwhile Paul gets some of his friends to go back out to the park where the attack occurred to set fire to the hive, but instead of killing the bees it gets them to swarm onto the nearby town and the unsuspecting citizens.

Director/producer Irwin Allen was by the late 70’s known as the disaster master after having by that time either produced or directed 4 ( he ultimately ended up making 7) disaster flicks for both TV and the big screen many of which like The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno made a ton of money, so he was riding high coming into this one only to have it bomb monumentally at both the box office and with the critics. He took the failure of this film so personally that he refused to ever mention it and even walked out of an interview when he was asked about it.

In retrospect it’s easy to see why it failed as the special effects just aren’t interesting enough. Watching repetitive shots of swarming bees can only go so far and the victims just lay there without having their skin show any signs of swelling from the multiple stings, which you’d expect them to have. The shots from the point-of-view of the victims, which shows the bees in a giant form, is the only cool thing though, like everything else in the film, this ends up getting overdone and corny.

The script is ripe with unintentionally funny moments including having the authorities attempt to kill the bees by spraying at them with a flame thrower, which doesn’t seem to affect the bees at all and instead only sets buildings on fire as well as some of the people. The idea that the bees were set off by an alarm siren at a military base, which somehow sounded exactly like their mating call is too preposterous to believe and only makes the ‘science’ behind the film completely silly.

The film also makes the mistake of having the setting be in Texas, but not actually filming it there. Sure there’s a few shots of some famous Houston landmarks that get briefly shown, but the majority of it was clearly shot on a studio backlot in California and any true Texan will easily spot this as the topography and landscape between those two states are quite different. Had the film been made on-location it would’ve helped give it a little more character, which it is otherwise lacking.

The cast is made up of a lot of famous names, but they all get wasted. Lee Grant appears only briefly as an aggressive TV reporter that for the most part has little to do with the progression of the plot. Fred MacMurray, in his last film appearance, plays a rival to Ben Johnson who both compete for the affections of Olivia de Havilland, but all three get killed off in the second act, so what’s the use of introducing this potential story arc if it ends up not really going anywhere?

Caine makes for one of the most boring screen heroes in film history and gets seriously upstaged by Henry Fonda, who plays one of the scientists trying to create a serum to combat the deadly bee stings, even though Fonda is confined to a wheelchair the whole time. This was the first of many ‘paycheck movies’ that Caine did and in fact he admittedly never even bothered to read the script before agreeing to sign on, but still felt it was worth it as he was able to use the funds to purchase a nice mansion in Malibu unfortunately for the viewer there’s no such mansion just boredom instead.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: July 14, 1978

Runtime: 2 Hours 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Irwin Allen

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube

Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Businessman becomes a magician.

Donald (Tom Smothers) is tired of the rat-race and decides one day to impulsively walk off of his job  and become a trained tap dancing magician under the tutelage of Mr. Delasandro (Orson Welles). While the pay isn’t good he enjoys the freedom of being on the open-road and avoiding the stress of climbing up the corporate ladder despite the efforts of his former boss (John Astin) who tries anything he can to get Donald to come back and work for him.

This was Brian De Palma’s first studio made venture and he borrows heavily from the same type of surreal comedy that he used in his two earlier independent films Hi Mom! and Greetings. While not all of the gags hit there’s enough inventive camera work and editing to keep it interesting making the fact that the studio ultimately hated the final product and fired De Palma from the project all the more perplexing. This film follows the exact same blue print of De Palma’s earlier work. Had they not watched those films and just hired him based on recommendation? If so then they have no one else to blame but themselves.

While I enjoyed the eclectic energy there are too many comic bits that veer way off from the main storyline and have absolutely no connection to the main plot. The script, by Jordan Crittenden, would’ve been stronger had all the humor been focused around a main theme as it ultimately comes-off as too much of a hodgepodge with no connecting message to it at all. What’s even worse is that some of the gags have a lot of comic potential that aren’t played-out to the fullest, which makes it even more frustrating.

Smothers is quite boring and seems unable to convey any other expression except for a smiling deer-in-headlights look. Apparently behind-the-scenes he didn’t get along with De Palma and refused to show-up for necessary retakes making me think he should’ve been the one fired as he could’ve been easily replaced by a wide array of other comic actors who would’ve done a far better job. Even Bob Einstein, who appears very briefly as a brash fireman, gets far more laughs than anything Smothers does throughout the entire movie.

Fortunately the supporting cast is excellent and one of the reasons that helps keep the film afloat. Welles is especially good as the washed-magician with the scene where Smothers and he get stuck inside their escape sack while trying to perform the trick being the funniest moment in the movie. Astin is amusing too as Smother’s former boss who slowly turns his room inside a seedy hotel into a thriving office. Katharine Ross is also a delight in a perfect send-up of a starry-eyed groupie.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending though in which Smothers finds himself back working inside the same type of corporate office job that he had tried to escape from at the beginning is a disappointment. Sometimes cyclical endings can be clever and ironic, but here it’s more of a cop-out. We never get any sense of how the experiences that the character goes through changes him making it all seem quite shallow and pointless. It also completely forgets about the Orson Welles character, who gets written-out after the second act even though his presence was one of the most entertaining aspects of the movie.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 7, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Brian De Palma

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

The Mechanic (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hit man grooms apprentice.

Arthur Bishop (Charles Bronson) is a top assassin who is able to make his hits look like accidents. He works for a secret organization that assigns him people to kill and one day they tell him to kill Harry (Keenan Wynn) a man who at one time headed the organization. Arthur kills Harry by making it appear as if it were a heart attack and then becomes friends with Harry’s young but brazen son Steven (Jan-Michael Vincent). Steven harbors all the qualities that Arthur likes in an assassin so he decides to train him into the business, but this doesn’t go over well with the organization who assign both men to kill each other.

While I had a hard time believing that an old man who was Arthur’s first hit in the movie and who was so paranoid that he would look around before entering his apartment building, but then still recklessly keep the blinds on his windows wide open, which would allow somebody like Arthur to look straight into the apartment without any problem didn’t make much sense. The camera also has a point-of-view shot where we can see things from the victim’s perspective inside the apartment and you could clearly see Arthur looking at him through his binoculars from across the street making me think the man would’ve eventually notice him as well. However, I enjoyed how the film focuses more on the preparation for the hit and the meticulous attention to detail that it requires than the actual killings, which helps give the film and added dimension that other movies about hit men don’t since they dwell almost exclusively on the violence.

The action sequences aren’t bad and include a very exciting motorcycle chase that has a few lighthearted moments as they crash through a dinner party on the property of a rich man’s home. Even watching a yacht explode in the middle of a sea is cool because a real explosive on a real yacht are used versus computer effects like in today’s movies, which no matter how improved they become still look fake when compared to the real thing.

Bronson’s acting is good here mainly because the dialogue is limited and in fact the first 16 minutes feature no speaking at all, which for Bronson is a blessing. Even his wife Jill Ireland is enjoyable playing a prostitute in a scene that is brief but still quite fun. Vincent  is okay, but the part could’ve been stronger had it been played by a more versatile actor like Richard Dreyfus, who was the original choice, but director Michael Winner disliked him for personal reasons, so he was never hired.

The one area where the film fails is that it doesn’t stay true to Lewis John Carlino’s script, which had the two main characters originally being closet homosexuals, which would’ve given the film a fascinating and at the time ground breaking subtext while also helping to better explain why Arthur would take the risk of bringing Steve in on his secret profession. Unfortunately the studio couldn’t get the necessary funding it needed with the gay storyline and many actors who were offered the part originally like Cliff Robertson and George C. Scott refused to do it unless the gay angle was taken out, which is a shame as the two main characters come off as too one-dimensional otherwise.

This same story was remade in 2011 and while that version had better twists it still left out the gay angle and it would be nice if some studio at some point would take on the Carlino’s original script and film the story as it was intended.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 17, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video