Category Archives: 70’s Movies

The Great Train Robbery (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A daring gold heist.

In 1855 Edward Pierce (Sean Connery) comes up with an idea to rob a large shipment of gold from a traveling train.  He recruits the services of his mistress Miriam (Lesley-Anne Down) and a screwsmen named Robert Agar (Donald Sutherland) to help him do it. The heist requires that they make copies of four keys that are used to open the safe, but each are possessed by four different bank executives forcing them into an elaborate scheme to attain them all. Eventually the authorities become aware of their plan making their heist even trickier to pull off.

The story is based on an actual incident that occurred in 1855 that Michael Crichton became intrigued by, which inspired him to write a fictionalized account that became a best-selling novel and in turn lead to him being offered the chance to direct the film version. As a period piece it succeeds as I loved the variety of wardrobes that the characters wear and the lavish settings that not only reveals London’s rich neighborhoods of that era, but its poverty-stricken ones as well all in amazingly accurate detail.

The film has an underlying quirky tone that is engaging, but this also makes it seem less authentic. For a crime caper to be enjoyable one must believe that it could really happen, or what the characters do is actually possible. There were times when I wasn’t convinced of either and the blame goes to the film trying too hard to be cute instead of just sticking to the detail.

Henry Fowler (Malcolm Terris) is one of the bank executives with a key who proudly proclaims to wear it around his neck, which he states that he ‘never’ takes off. In order to get the key and allow Robert to make a wax impression of it, Miriam pretends to be a prostitute who convinces him to take off the key, so they can make love, which he immediately does. This seems too easy as rarely do humans behave exactly as you think they will. When things come together without any hitch you start to question its validity. If a guy says he ‘never’ removes his key than make it much harder to convince him to do it, or force Robert to make the wax impressions of the key while Henry still has it around his neck and making out with Miriam, which would’ve been funnier.

Another segment has Robert breaking into an office at the railway station where two of the keys are stored inside a cabinet. The night watchman that guards the office always leaves at the same time for exactly 75 seconds to go to the bathroom. Robert is then forced to break into the office and make the wax impressions of the keys and then get out within that same 75 second time frame, but who goes to the bathroom at the exact same amount of time each and every time they go? Most people will go within a certain time range, but no one is that robotic to literally ‘count out the seconds’ as they pee. Having a character behave in such an extreme way only accentuates the film’s whimsical quality while throwing the believability out the door.

Later on in an effort to get inside the train compartment Robert pretends to be a corpse inside a coffin. To create a stench a dead cat is put in alongside him, but how was Robert able to withstand the horrible odor as people standing outside the coffin kept complaining about the unbearable smell. What was it about Robert that made him tolerate it as long as he does when almost no one else could’ve? This makes Robert seem super-human and gives even more leverage to the fact that this couldn’t have really happened at least not in the way done here.

The exciting ending features Connery, not a stunt double, but the actor himself getting on the train roof as the train is running at 55 mph and trying to go from the front of it to the back while ducking under numerous bridges that come whizzing by at lightning speed. This had me holding my breath, but I still came away wishing the film had stuck more to the original account. I read a brief overview of the real crime that was written in more detail by David C. Hanrahan in ‘The First Great Train Robbery’.  There are many differences between the real event and how it gets portrayed here with the real account being far more interesting.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Crichton

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

I Start Counting (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: She suspects her brother.

Wynne (Jenny Agutter) is an adopted 14-year-old teen who begins to have romantic feelings for her 32-year-old stepbrother George (Bryan Marshall). However, she finds some troubling signs, like scratches on his back and blood on a shirt she gave him, which makes her believe that he may be the killer that has murdered several teen girls in the area.

This is one of the earlier films directed by the gifted David Greene who went on to helm some amazing films including the TV-movies Roots and Fatal Vision, but here he still seems to be searching for his rhythm. The story, which is based on the novel of the same name by Audrey Erskine Lindop, has some potential, but the pacing drags and there’s too much emphasis on a panning camera that seems to want to pan to different points on the screen in literally every shot. The soft, melodic music is more liable to put the viewer to sleep than create any tension.

Not enough emphasis is put on the murders or the investigation. We see the face of one dead body underneath the water and then that’s it. The killings become almost like an afterthought that gets briefly mentioned here and there, but fails to build up any fear in the viewer and at times becomes almost forgotten. The story instead focuses on the inner thoughts and feelings of Wynne and meanders between her fearing her brother to being in-love with him until she seems weirder than he is.

Agutter gives a great performance and helps hold the thing together, which would’ve become a limp, unfocused bore otherwise. Simon Ward, especially with his facial features makes for a good creepy bus conductor, but Marshall’s flat performance as the brother does not help to the point where the viewer doesn’t particularly care if he is the killer or not.

The only time that there is any true tension is at the end when the killer’s true identity gets exposed and he tries to kill Wynne in a dark, isolated building, but even here things get botched as the film makes it too obvious who the killer is too soon, which then lessens the film’s final twist. Certain other aspects like a flashback sequences dealing with Wynne’s troubled childhood doesn’t add up to much. In fact the only thing that I found even mildly diverting was Wynne’s relationship with her competitive best friend Corinne (Claire Sutcliffe), which brought to mind the old adage: with friends like these who needs enemies.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 27, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Not Rated

Director: David Greene

Studio: United Artists

Available: None at this time.

Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Coach kills pretty students.

Ponce (John David Carson) is an awkward teen in his senior year of high school that still hasn’t been out on a date. He suffers from having erections at the most inopportune times and too shy to ask out one of the many beautiful female students that populate his school. He also finds himself dealing with a series of murders of pretty coeds who turn up dead with funny little notes attached to them and he starts to suspect that the killer may be the school’s beloved football coach (Rock Hudson).

The film, which is based on a novel by Francis Pollini with a screenplay written by Gene Roddenberry starts out well with sharp, satirical dialogue and funny situations dealing with the police investigation, but then deteriorates into smarmy sex jokes and becomes nothing more than a teasing T&A flick. The script makes it obvious early on that the coach is the killer and had it not revealed this so quickly it could’ve made the film more of a mystery and given the ending an impactful twist.

My main beef though is that it takes place in a high school instead of a college even though all the students look to be well into their 20’s. The fact that the coach has sex with the female students makes the thing seem off-kilter as does Angie Dickinson who plays a teacher who brings Ponce into her home to help him with his erection problem. If the setting was a college with the student characters over 18 than all this tawdriness would at least be legal and less outrageous.

The female students come off as being too free-spirited and reflect the counter-culture movement that occurred mainly on the college campuses of that era and not the high schools. They also all look too much like models. A realistic portrait of a high school class will have a variety of body types not just those of women ready to become cover-girls. I enjoy beautiful women as much as anybody, but the film should’ve had at least one average or overweight female in the cast simply to give it balance and avoid it from seeming too much like a tacky male fantasy, which is all this thing ends up being anyways.

Hudson, with his monotone delivery, is a weak actor and gave only one good performance in his career, which was in the film Giant. Yet here his discombobulated acting skills successfully reflect his character’s confused personality. Carson is a bland protagonist and his presence doesn’t have much to do with how the plot progresses. His character is put in solely for a dull side-story dealing with his attempts to get-it-on with his teacher in her home, which amounts to being just a dumb comic variation of Tea and Sympathy that is neither funny nor sexy.

The supporting cast is far better. Telly Savalas owns the screen as a relentless investigator. Keenan Wynn is hilarious as a dim-witted policeman in one of the funniest roles of his prolific career and he’s the best thing in the movie.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 26, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Roger Vadim

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, YouTube

The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Shyster manages baseball team.

Drowning in debt small-time promoter Marvin Lazar (Tony Curtis) decides to take over the Bear’s baseball time by escorting them to Japan and managing them in a game against the Japanese champions run by coach Shimizu (Tomisaburo Wakayama). Problems arise though when Lazar runs out of money and is forced to partake in shady ploys to keep the team afloat.

The script was written by Bill Lancaster, who had penned the first one, and produced by Michael Ritchie who had been the director on the original, but the immense charm from the first installment is completely lost here. The wide-open poorly structured story lacks originality and filled with strained humor that will barely crack a smile.

The kids lack pizazz and play-off of tired caricatures that are no longer cute or funny. The biggest drawback is that the feisty Tanner who had been so prominent in the first two films is missing. It also looks weird and unrealistic that there is such a vast age difference amongst the kids in the line-up. Aren’t Little Leagues usually designed to be age specific? For instance there is usually a Pee-Wee division and then a 10 to 12 age division and so forth, so then why do we have kids here who look to be in the second grade matched with others who seem ready to enter the Junior High? Such a wide range in skill levels would make it virtually impossible to field a functional team from the get-go.

The playing ability of the team seems to have strangely regressed as well. In the first film they came close to winning the championship and in the second installment they did, but here they play like complete bumbling novices with no baseball experience at all.

Curtis is amusing, which helps save the film from being a complete disaster, but it hurts it as well because the script becomes geared completely around his character while the kids are overshadowed and forgotten. The story goes on long misguided tangents that have nothing to do with baseball at all including a segment dealing with Curtis challenging a Sumi wrestler to a match and the Japanese players getting involved in a singing contest, which begs the question if this is a movie about the Bears team then why is more screen time given to the Japanese one?

The side-story dealing with Jackie Earle Haley’s romantic foray is dumb too. He spots a young Japanese lady (Hatsune Ishihara) walking out of a nondescript store on a busy Tokyo street and for some reason becomes completely mesmerized by her and begins chasing her all around city and aggressively coming onto her like he’s a stalker, which would’ve scared any normal woman, but here this crazy behavior gets her to ‘fall-in-love’ with him despite the fact that she speaks no English.

The production values are surprisingly slick and the on-location shooting done in Japan is nice, but the script and humor is empty-headed and forgettable. It’s also interesting to note that George Wyner who appeared in the first film as the manager of the White Sox team appears here in a completely different part as a network executive.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 30, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Berry

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Roller Boogie (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Save the roller rink.

Terry (Linda Blair) comes from an affluent upbringing, but resents how little attention that she gets from her busy, preoccupied parents (Roger Perry, Beverly Garland). She finds refuge with the roller skating crowd that populates Venice Beach and starts up a relationship with Bobby (Jim Bray) who has aspirations of going to the Olympics. The two team up as a couple to win a roller boogie contest only to realize that the rink where it is to be held has been threatened for closure by an unscrupulous land develop (Mark Goddard) who uses mob-like tactics to get what he wants. Terry, Bobby and he rest of the roller skating crowd plot a way to save the place before it’s too late.

The film is nothing more than a vapid gimmick made to cash in on the roller boogie fad that caught on in the late ‘70s for a few seconds before mercifully fading away. Director Mark L. Lester who has done some great work with other low budget films by making them compact and exciting fails to the do the same here. Way too much footage showing the kids roller skating around the rink that quickly becomes derivative and almost nauseating. The script by Barry Schneider is filled with an overabundance of colloquial phrases that gives the dialogue an amateurish and grating quality. It also plays up the stereotypes of rich people to the extreme almost putting it on a camp level without intentionally trying to be campy.

The storyline dealing with Terry’s rich family background doesn’t make sense. For one thing Blair is all wrong for the part as she conveys too much of a down-to-earth personality almost like she has no relation to her parents and not from that environment, but instead plucked from a working-class neighborhood and supplanted into the home like some fish-out-of-water.

Why this young woman, who has a scholarship to Juillard, would want to win a trivial roller boogie contest anyways is a mystery? What long term benefits is it going to get her? The story would’ve worked better had it borrowed the Saturday Night Fever formula where Terry was from a poor, struggling background, of which Blair’s acting skills better reflects, who needs to win the contest to achieve some money and get herself out of a desperate situation, which also would’ve gotten the viewer more emotionally connected to her dilemma.

The storyline dealing with the roller rink being forced out of business is dumb too. With such large crowds of teens the place should be rolling in dough, so why isn’t it and isn’t there another roller rink in the area that the kids could go to instead? If the kids were really smart they would simply wait a week for this silly fad to go out-of-style and then jump into the new, completely different silly fad that would come along to replace it.

Bray had no formal acting training and was merely brought in for his roller skating skills, which are impressive, but his speaking voice is annoying. Despite being from California he has a strangely distinct Nordic accent like someone raised in the upper Midwest and better suited as a cast member for Fargo. By comparison Blair’s acting comes off as pretty strong in the scenes that she shares with him, but then again with Bray’s placid presence just about anybody and their pet hamster could’ve achieved the same thing.

On the flip-side from a completely voyeuristic standpoint the film is kind of fun as it drowns itself in late ‘70’s kitsch giving it a certain tacky appeal seeing the people on screen revel in it that now I’m sure would be quite embarrassed by it, which is why I suppose this film has achieved a revival of sorts with modern day audiences.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 19, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mark L. Lester

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Playing in the Astrodome.

Having won the league championship game a year after losing the first one the Bears now look to play the Houston Toros at the Astrodome between games of a Major League double-header. The problem is that they no longer have a manager, so Kelly (Jackie Earle Haley) recruits his estranged father (William Devane) to act as one for the team’s benefit. Kelly and his father do not get along, which causes friction with the rest of players, as they prepare to play the Toros who are much bigger physically and have far more talent.

If there was ever a reason as to why making a sequel from a successful first film is usually a bad idea this movie could be held up as the best example. The originality and fresh humor from the first gets completely lost here. While the first one conveyed a strong message this one has none at all and barely even a story instead just a thin plot wrapped around episodic comedy that barely elicits even a chuckle.

It does at least allow for some screen time showing the parents of the kids, which was woefully lacking in the first one. It also gives the kids more speaking lines and their presence is more central to the storyline while in the first film it was almost completely spun around Matthau. Unfortunately with the exception of Haley and Jimmy Baio, who plays Carmen the team’s new pitcher, none of the child actors have enough talent to carry the movie, which makes the scenes with them in it quite lethargic and lifeless.

Devane is extremely weak in the lead and his character poorly defined. The way he gets asked to volunteer as the team’s coach is quite awkward and the fact that he literally takes over the team in a matter of just 2 short days like he’s a seasoned manager that’s been doing this for years seemed unrealistic. It was also hard-to-believe that this guy, who worked at a pipe fitting plant, would be so adept at baseball strategy and able to convey these skills to the players as effectively as he does without having any prior experience.

The Astrodome is captured as being this impressive monolithic structure when in reality, if you see it in person, it is quite underwhelming. I realize when it was first built in 1964 it was considered the ‘8th wonder of the world’, but time has not been kind to it. If you go to see it now, which I did just this past summer, it gets dwarfed considerably by the far bigger and more majestic looking Reliant stadium, which sits right next to it. There are so many other buildings that have been built around it that the Astrodome now gets easily overlooked and almost forgotten making Kelly’s fascination with the structure seem quite dated.

In the first film the climactic game was full of high drama, but the one here is a bore. Watching the security guards try to tackle Tanner (Chris Barnes) and carry him off the field is genuinely funny and probably the film’s one and only highlight in this otherwise pointless excursion that would’ve been best left unmade.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 8, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Pressman

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Bad News Bears (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: From losers to winners.

Ex-minor league baseball player and now full-time pool cleaner Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) gets hired to coach a bunch of unskilled, untalented kids in a competitive baseball Little League. At first Buttermaker is only interested in collecting a paycheck and has no drive in teaching the kids the fundamentals or even in winning, but things change after the season opener when his team gets drubbed by the far superior Yankees. Buttermaker takes offence at their arrogant manager (Vic Morrow) and feels compelled to ‘show-him-up’. To do this he brings in the talented Amanda (Tatum O’Neal) to be the team’s new pitcher as well as Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley) who is an excellent fielder and hitter, but as his competitive juices flow, so does his surly side making the game no longer fun to play for the kids.

Don’t be fooled because this is anything but a simple kid’s flick. Sure the kids can watch it and enjoy it, but the multi-layered story brings out many issues that the adults will be more than able to relate to. Director Michael Ritchie deftly picks-up on the many nuances of Little League culture and if one played in it or was involved in any capacity then this movie will tap into those memories and bring back a flood of nostalgia.

My only complaint is a missing side-story dealing with the parents attending the games. It is mentioned in passing how the adults are able to be friendly with each other as the season begins, but by the end they are usually no longer on speaking terms, but it would’ve been much more revealing had this been shown instead of just discussed.

The script was written by Bill Lancaster who was the son of legendary actor Burt Lancaster. He based the story of his own experiences of playing Little League ball and the Buttermaker character is supposedly a composite of his famous dad.

This also marks the fifth film that Ritchie directed dealing with the theme of competition. His first was Downhill Racer, which dealt with the sport of skiing, The Candidate dealing with a senatorial race, Prime Cut, which was about rival crime syndicates, and Smile about the ugly side of beauty pageants and while all those flicks were good this one is his best.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s climactic game, which has the Bears taking on the mighty Yankees for the championship features many of baseball’s intricate tactics that will appeal to the seasoned fan, but still be straight forward enough for the novice to grasp. It also has the film’s most famous scene where the Yankees’ manager smacks his own son (Brandon Cruz), who was the team’s pitcher, when he doesn’t obey his father’s instructions. Then on the very next play, and in order to get back at his dad, the kid fields a grounder, but refuses to throw it to first base, which allows the opposing team to score an easy run.

It is intended that the viewer should side with kid, but I didn’t. For one thing the dad’s advice was good, since this hitter had already gotten some runs off of him earlier it made sense to pitch low and outside. Just because he kid wants to ‘strike him out’ doesn’t mean that he will or that it’s a good idea. Strategy is a part of the game and that’s what a manger is there for. What happens if this kid grows up and plays in the big leagues and then decides he doesn’t want to do what the manager tells him. How’s that going to go over?

The kid also seemed like an incredibly self-centered little brat. Supposedly he lives with his dad 24/7, so couldn’t he have picked some other time to get back at his old man instead of jeopardizing the game for the rest of his teammates who are counting on him to help win?

This also brings up the issue of who’s really the ‘mean manager’.  It’s supposed to be Morrow, but Matthau in a lot of ways gets just as bad if not worse especially with the way he ends up treating Amanda making me almost surprised that she showed up the next day to play. To me it would’ve been more satisfying having one of the Bears players do to Matthau what the son did to his father and in my opinion Matthau would’ve deserved it more.

This then brings up the third issue which is the fact that Matthau has this extraordinary epiphany in the middle of the big game where he realizes in his zest to win he might’ve pushed things too far and decides to pull back. I realize this is the film’s central theme, which is that becoming overly competitive is not good and can turn otherwise nice people into assholes if they aren’t careful, but the shift comes off like a Jekyll and Hyde. Most of these types of games last for only an hour, so having a guy at the start of the hour come off as this relentless warrior willing to do whatever it takes to win only to end the game being this high minded idealist lecturing the other parents on how it’s important that all the children get a chance to play even if it means blowing the game seems too severe for such a short period of time.

I wasn’t completely happy about the Bears losing the big final game either. Normally I’d consider this a good thing because it works against the formula. It’s also beneficial for kids to realize that not everyone ends up with the big trophy or that ‘the good guys always win’, but more important to hold your head high and be proud of your accomplishments, yet I still remained a bit frustrated. You become so emotionally invested in them winning that it’s deflating when it doesn’t happen, but it’s still one of the best sports movies ever made either way!

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: April 7, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Ritchie

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

One on One (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A college basketball star.

Henry Steele (Robby Benson) becomes the star of his small town high school basketball team, which is enough to get him a scholarship to a university in California on their team. Once there he becomes overwhelmed by the demands of his coach (G.D. Spradlin) as well as the under-the-table ‘business side’ of college athletics. The disappointed coach eventually asks him to rescind his scholarship, but Henry refuses leading to many brutal practices where the coach tries to make life a living hell for him, which he hopes will get Henry to finally quit, but to everyone’s surprise Henry perseveres and shows more grit in him than anyone ever imagined.

The script, which was co-written by Benson and his father Jerry Segal shows a revealing look of the underside of college sports making it quite compelling to watch particularly the first half-hour where Henry gets introduced to many things he hadn’t come into contact before including getting involved with ‘payouts’ to college benefactors, drugs, wild parties, amorous secretaries (Gail Strickland) and even romance with his tutor Janet (Annette O’Toole). The film has a nice year-in-the-life approach where the viewer feels like they are following Henry around by his side and experiencing the same first-hand situations as he does. It also examines the discrimination that athletes go through, which is rarely tackled in other films, dealing with Janet’s boyfriend Malcolm (James G. Richardson) who mocks Henry and other athletes like him for being ‘unintellectual’ and trained to passively obey all rules handed to them by their coaches while unable to think for themselves.

Benson’s performance of a wide-eyed, naïve small town lad works and the viewer can’t help but chuckle at his initial inability to handle the many new challenges he’s faced with while also remaining sympathetic to his ongoing quandary. Many actors may not be able to pull off such a feat, but Benson, who’s a far better performer than people may realize, does so flawlessly particularly the times when his character fights back and grows from a hayseed kid to a full grown man.

Spradlin has the perfect look and voice for a college coach and he coincidentally played a coach in North Dallas Forty, which came out that same year. However, his facial expressions reveal too much of his inner feelings particularly that of concern and worry where an actual coach would try to mask these vulnerable feelings from their players in order to prevent them from ‘reading’ what they are thinking and maintain more control.

Henry’s relationship with Janet comes off as forced. The two clearly were on opposite ends of the intellectual plain and I didn’t see what if anything that they actually had in common. Having Henry read ‘Moby Dick’ one of her favorite novels didn’t seem to be enough of a catalyst to have her suddenly fall-in-love with him. She brought in other athletes into her apartment to tutor and since she was paid $265 an hour I’d doubt she’d give that up, which most likely could cause tensions with their relationship, but this never gets addressed.

The songs by Seals and Croft don’t help and the film would’ve been better had they not been involved. They had some great chart toppers during the ‘70s, but slowing up the film by having a montage with their songs played over it takes the viewer out of the drama and unwisely reminds them that they’re just watching a movie instead. The Seals and Croft sound doesn’t coincide with a spots theme at all and it’s too bad that the Hall and Oates hit of ‘One on One’ hadn’t been released earlier  because that song would’ve been a better fit.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending has a dreamy/sports clichéd feel particularly the way Henry comes off the bench and scores all the points as the team scratches and claws their way from behind, which could be enough to make some viewer’s eyes roll, but the fact that all the fans run onto the court afterwards is what had me. This was only an early season game and usually fans only do this during a crucial late season contest or championship. Henry’s team was expected to go undefeated and they were losing to a team that they were favored to beat, so if anything the fans would’ve been annoyed that the game was so close and not inclined to rush the court, but more thankful that they had avoided a potential loss and then critical that the squad was not living up to expectations.

Having Henry stand-up to the coach at the end and leave the team may have been emotionally satisfying for a few seconds, but in the long run he’d be better off had he stayed. If he joined a new team he’d have to start all over again proving himself to the new coach and teammates while here he had finally gotten that out of the way. He’d also have to move to a new school, which would’ve hurt his relationship with Janet.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall though as sports movies go this isn’t bad and pretty realistic most of the way. Fans of college basketball should enjoy it as it gives one a sort-of behind-the-scenes view of the inner workings of college athletics.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 28, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lamont Johnson

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), YouTube

Girlfriends (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: She misses her friend.

Susan (Melanie Mayron) and Anne (Anita Skinner) are best friends and roommates, but when Anne decides to get married to Martin (Bob Balaban) and move out Susan can’t handle the solitude. She picks-up a hitch-hiker named Ceil (Amy Wright) who moves in for a bit, but it doesn’t work out. She then gets into a relationship with Eric (Christopher Guest) and even a 60-year-old married rabbi (Eli Wallach), but both of these end in heartache. The more Susan tries to ‘move-on’ the more she longs for the old days with Anne and Anne starts to feel the same way.

This was Claudia Weill’s feature film debut that met with high accolades including director Stanley Kubrick who considered it his favorite film of 1978. There’s a nice understated quality here that not only brings out a vivid late ‘70s feel, but also the very real day-to-day struggles of a young adult trying to swim through the quagmire of relationship and career obstacles. Melanie Mayron is certainly not a beauty by the conventional standard, but her plain appearance helps accentuate the challenges of the regular person trying to break-out and get noticed.

Susan’s struggles at trying to become a full-time photographer had me hooked the most as it portrays the universal challenges anyone can have in trying to get ‘their foot-in-the-door’ no matter what the profession, but I was a bit stunned when she forgets about the exhibition of her work at an art show. If someone is truly excited about getting their first big break then there is simply no way that would happen. It’s also hard for the viewer to completely empathize with someone’s career struggles if they themselves aren’t doing all they can to achieve it.

Another misguided wrinkle to the story was Susan’s relationship with a married rabbi who was almost 40 years older than her. These types of relationships suffer from extraordinarily long odds  and just about anyone would realize that from the get-go, which makes Susan’s ‘shocked’ reaction when the rabbi is unable to get together for a date due to family obligations seem almost  irrational. How a relationship like this could even begin to blossom is a whole other issue that never even gets addressed.

The film suffers from a few awkward scenes too. One has Wallach sitting down to play a game of chess with Melanie only for him to get up a minute later and leave for no reason. Why does he bother to show up for a chess game if he isn’t even going to make a single move on the board? Later Viveca Lindfors appears wearing a neck brace and yet no explanation is ever given for why she has it on. Later she’s shown without it, so why did she have it in one scene and not the other? Maybe it was for a minor accident, which can happen, but film is a visual medium and when something slightly askew gets shown it needs to get addressed even if it’s just in passing otherwise the viewer will key in on that and not the story.

Even more amazingly, and I can’t believe I’m saying this as I’ve never seen it in any other movie that I’ve ever watched before, but there’s an actual scratch on the camera lens that can be spotted in just about every scene. It appears on the top right hand side as a small white mark. If the sun is shining through a window it will reflect the light and be more pronounced. If a character walks in front of the window it fades a bit, but you can still see it and this continues throughout the entire run of the film. I can only presume that cinematographer Fred Murphy was aware of this, but due to the budget constraints they didn’t have enough money to replace the lens and decided to simply chug along with the scratch in place and hope no else would notice.

Ultimately though I found the story, in its simple way, to be touching and poignant this is particularly evident at the end where the viewer can see firsthand how friendships help add insight and support to a person’s life and are an important dimension to the human experience.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 4, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Claudia Weill

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), YouTube

The Story of Adele H. (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: She obsesses over soldier.

Based on actual events the story centers around Adele Hugo (Isabelle Adjani), the second daughter of famous French writer Victor Hugo, who in 1863 travels across the Atlantic to Halifax, Nova Scotia where she tries to rekindle her relations with Albert Pinson (Bruce Robinson). Pinson is now an officer in the British army and no longer has any interest in Adele. Adele though refuses to accept his rejection and makes numerous attempts to get him to marry her. The more indifferent he becomes the harder she tries, which eventually drives her into a complete madness.

Director Francois Truffaut took the accounts from Adele’s actual handwritten diary to help recreate the story. Unlike most films nothing was altered from the documented facts and although the stalker /jilted lover theme may seem like an overused storyline by today’s standards it was still a fresh topic back in the ‘70s and one of the first documented cases in human history of what has now become known as erotomania where a person becomes convinced that the object of their desires is in love with them even when they really aren’t.

What helps this film to stand out is that the audience isn’t made to fear the woman and her actions are not portrayed as being menacing. Instead the viewer feels genuinely sorry for her as we witness firsthand how debilitating mental illness can truly be as it destroys this otherwise beautiful woman’s personality and leaves her only a shell of a person in the process.

Adjani is excellent and although the film remains compelling it still comes off as feeling incomplete. Part of the problem is that we only see the character at one stage of her life. Reportedly in real-life Adele only started to show signs of mental illness when she reached her mid-20’s, so it would’ve been interesting to have seen scenes from when she was younger and behaving more normally. Flashbacks of when Adele first met Pinson, who was initially interested in Adele and even proposed marriage to her, would’ve been intriguing to see as well.

We’re never shown Adele’s relationship to her father either, which could’ve been quite revealing. We hear voice-overs from when he sends her letters, but seeing the two interrelate in-person was needed. This may have been the result of Truffaut given the rights to film the story by Jean Hugo, but only if Victor Hugo did not appear onscreen, but in either event the film is lacking in budget and scope where a wider biopic of the woman’s life would’ve been more satisfying including showing her later years while inside a mental institution, which gets only glossed over here.

As in most cases what occurred behind-the-scenes while the film was being made is sometimes more interesting that what happened in front of the camera and this production proved to be no exception as the cast and crew went through many of the same scenarios as the characters. Truffaut tried to start up a relationship with Adjani, but was rebuffed and then she turned around and had an affair with the actor who plays the character that rebuffs her character in the movie. This caused Truffaut great jealousy as he was forced to deal with the two’s affair from afar much like Adele had to do in the story when Pinson eventually marries someone else. Truffaut later described making this movie and dealing with his unrequited love for Adjani as a ‘daily suffering’.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 8, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Francois Truffaut

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video