Category Archives: 70’s Movies

Deadly Hero (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bad cop stalks witness.

Sally (Diahn Williams) is a beautiful cellist living alone in a New York apartment. One day while returning home she gets abducted by an assailant named Rabbit (James Earl Jones) who forces his way at knifepoint into her apartment. Mrs. Broderick (Lilia Skala), a concerned neighbor, calls the police  and soon officers Lacy (Don Murray) and Billings (Treat Williams) arrive at the scene. When Rabbit tries to leave with Sally Officer Lacy stops him at gunpoint. Rabbit holds a knife to Sally’s throat threatening to kill her, but Lacy persuades him drop it. When he does Lacy then shoots him in cold blood. During the subsequent investigation Lacy insists that Rabbit was coming after him with a knife and had no choice but to shoot. Sally though knows the truth and while she’s reluctant to come forward at first she eventually does causing Lacy to begin stalking her and threatening her life unless she agrees to recant.

The film, which was directed by Hungarian native Ivan Nagy, has a wonderful New York City vibe that brings out the ambience of its neighborhoods and street culture better than most other films that were directed by Americans. The Seamus Murphy Dance Troupe, which makes up the artists who perform the dance numbers in the play that Sally plays her cello in, helps add an eclectic moody vibe that I liked.

The acting isn’t too bad either. Murray comes-off as a bad cop caricature, but he does it so well it can almost be forgiven though I didn’t like the segment intercut into the first act showing him speaking at a campaign rally for a local politician (George S. Irving) as he had not met this man until after the shooting when he gets deemed a ‘hero’ and therefore this scene should not have been interjected into the film before the story actually got there.

Williams is alright as the victim in what should’ve capitulated her into more film work, but during filming she found herself at constant odds with director Nagy prompting her to leave the acting profession and pursue a law career instead where she’s known as Diahn McGrath. There’s an interesting supporting cast here too including Jones who gives a colorful performance as the thug and brief glimpses of Danny DeVito and Debbie Harry in bit parts.

The main issue with the film is that the characters are not fleshed-out enough for us to understand what motivates them, or why they do what they do. Why is Lacy so angry and why does he decide to shoot an unarmed man? We’re told that he’s  had violent tendencies in the past, but we’re never shown it, nor any explanation for a possible cause. He’s also seems to be in a happy marriage with a younger woman, but you’d think such a psychotic person would be unable to hide his ugly side from his wife and yet the film portrays the spouse as being completely clueless to his dark nature.

Sally’s need to come forward with the truth even when faced with strong pressure not to adds more questions than answers. Why does she feel so compelled to put Lacy away even if so doing could risk her career and life? Many people would get intimidated and back-off on their pursuit for justice when given all the drawbacks, so what is it about her character that decides to forge on when others wouldn’t? This needed insight unfortunately never comes.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending devolves into a standard psycho-on-the-loose formula in which Lacy tracks down Sally and takes her to a remote farm in Upstate New York where he plans to kill her, but his reasoning doesn’t make sense. If she disappears he’d become the prime suspect and it’s very unlikely, whether she testified or not, that his job would ever get reinstated, so why then even bother?

The film’s first two acts examined the inner politics of a city police department and did it in a vivid, realistic manner, which is where the focus should’ve stayed. A far creepier ending would’ve had the corrupt police brass refuse to believe Sally’s allegations, which would allow Lacy to remain on the force despite his many transgressions, so she’d not only have Lacy as her threat, but all of his police friends as well.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ivan Nagy

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Fire Sale (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Burn down the store.

Benny Fikus (Vincent Gardenia) is the elderly owner of a struggling clothing store, who has decided the only way to recoup costs will be to have it burn down and then collecting money on the fire insurance policy. He has convinced his mentally ill brother Sherman (Sid Caeser), who still believes that WWII is happening, that the store is really a front for the Nazi Headquarters and thus motivating Sherman to destroy it. To make his alibi iron-clad Benny takes a trip with his wife Ruth (Kay Medford) to Florida when the arson is expected to occur. During the trip Benny has a heart attack causing his son Russell (Rob Reiner) to take over the business. When he realizes that the place is bankrupt he decides to cash-in the fire insurance policy and use those funds to help regenerate the place. When Benny recovers from his heart attack and realizes what Russell’s done the two, along with Russell’s older brother Ezra (Alan Arkin), go on a mad dash to stop Sherman from setting the fire before it’s too late.

It’s hard to imagine just how badly botched this thing is as I approached it with high expectations. Arkin had already directed the brilliant Little Murders, which is one of the best dark comedies ever made. Robert Klane, who wrote the screenplay and book of the same name that the movie is based on, had also 6 years earlier written the screenplay for Where’s Poppa?, another cult masterpiece. So, with those great films already under the filmmaker’s belts you’d expect good things from this and yet it’s pretty awful right from the beginning.

The main problem is that there’s no running theme. Little Murders centered around the isolating effects of urbanization and Where’s Poppa? dealt with the harsh realities of caring for elderly parents.  This film though has no point to it. Lots of sloppy, slapdash comedy as director Arkin and writer Klane seem more concerned with getting a cheap laugh than telling a story. The sets have no cinematic style making it look better suited for a low-grade sitcom. The score by Dave Grusin, is too generic with overtones more on-par with a cartoon. A good movie should have music that is distinct and matches the tone of the script, which this one doesn’t.

I’ve always considered Reiner the weakest link from the classic ‘All in the Family’ TV-show and while his talents have been much better served as a director this movie was made when producers were still trying to turn him into a star, but the attempt fails. That only thing that he does that could be considered ‘comical’ is the running joke of him going into wheezing fits from his asthma every times he gets stressed-out, which gets overdone. He shares no chemistry with Arkin and they’re too far apart in age to be a believable brotherly pair.

Anjanette Comer, who was married to Klane at the time this was filmed, gets wasted in a thankless bit as Arkin’s beleaguered wife and the scene where she tries to commit suicide by locking herself inside a refrigerator is pointless because it never shows how she got rescued. Caeser as the would-be arsonists relies too heavily on  zany slapstick that is inconsistent in tone with the rest of the film.

Medford, as Arkin’s and Reiner’s put-upon mother, is alright, but the person that impressed me most was Gardenia whose frantic, over-the-top delivery as the exasperated father/business owner is quite good and his energy, even though he is not the star, helps propel the film. He’s even good when he’s in a comatose state and doesn’t move at all. I was particularly amazed during a segment where Reiner and Arkin crawl over him during an altercation and Arkin accidently kicks him in the head, but Gardenia does not flinch and remains very much in character.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 9, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Alan Arkin

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD-R (Fox Cinema Archives)

Bread and Chocolate (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: He has no home.

Nino (Nino Manfredi) has moved to Switzerland to work as a guest worker in that country since he’s unable to find employment that pays a living wage in his homeland of Italy. In order to provide for his family he works various odd jobs and then sends the money back home to his wife and kids who he has not seen in years. There are many other foreigners from other countries competing for the same jobs as Nino including a Turkish worker (Gianfranco Barra) who vies for the head waiter position at a fancy restaurant that Nino also wants, but even though the two don’t get along they’re still forced to room together in a cramped attic apartment. Nino’s only source of companionship comes in the form of a friendship that he has with Elena (Anna Karina) a Greek who lives across the street from him in an equally small loft. He moves in with her and her son when he gets kicked out of his other place, but because she’s also a guest worker striving to make ends meet she has no time for a relationship making Nino feel like an unwanted outsider no matter where he goes.

This critically acclaimed film really allows the viewer to get to know their characters and the desperation that they feel. Many viewers today may be unaware of the guest worker program that many European countries took part in during the 60’s and 70’s, so watching this will be an educational experience as well as a good character study. What I found most fascinating though was the issue of racism. Most people wouldn’t consider Switzerland to be a ‘racist’ country, so it’s interesting to see how this element can creep in anywhere and it doesn’t have to hinge on one’s skin color either as the Swiss end up picking on the Italians simply because they aren’t from there, poor and ‘stealing their jobs’, so are therefore in their minds deserving of being looked down upon, much like foreign workers in this country can sometimes feel.

The film also makes keen observations in regards to the rich versus poor and how having a lot of money can sometimes make one a weaker person less able to handle challenges. This comes to a head with Nino’s friendship with an Italian Industrialist (Johnny Dorelli) who despite living a lavish lifestyle commits suicide after losing a custody battle with his ex-wife even though Nino hasn’t seen his family for years and lives in near squalor, but because he’s toughened to the hard times he’s able to preserve and remain upbeat where the rich man couldn’t.

There’s many memorable moments, so many that it would be hard to list as the story and characters are so multi-layered the laughs and insights come in literally just about every frame. Many will consider Nino’s visit with some farm workers who out of desperation have moved into a chicken coop and start behaving like the chickens they tend, which is funny and unique, as the film’s highlight. However, my favorite part came when Nino decides, in an effort to move up in society, to pretend that he’s Swiss and even dyes his hair blond and begins speaking in a Swiss accent. Then while at a bar he watches a soccer match between Switzerland and Italy on the TV and even though he initially cheers for the Swiss team he can’t help but eventually shout out in excitement when Italy scores a goal, which just proves the old saying: You can take a person out of their homeland, but you can never take the homeland out of the person.

The film’s most redeeming quality though is showing the strong bond that forms between the guest workers. Even if they’re at first strangers and from different countries they immediately offer support and friendship to Nino no matter where he goes simply because they are going through the same hardships as he, which becomes a wonderful testament to the hearty human spirit.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: January 18, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Director: Franco Brusati

Studio: Cinema International Corporation

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

High Rolling in a Hot Corvette (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two guys drop out.

Tex (Joseph Bottoms) and Alby (Grigor Taylor) are two friends working at a carnival who decide, after Tex gets fired when he’s caught having sex with a female customer, to breakaway from the grind by heading out to the Gold Coast and Surfer’s Paradise. They hitch a ride with Arnold (John Clayton) who drives a snazzy green Corvette. After he takes the two to a hotel for the night he comes-on to Alby, who beats Arnold up that puts him into an unconscious state. When Tex finds out what happened they decide to make a run for it by driving away in Arnold’s green corvette, which to their shock is loaded with bags of marijuana. They use Arnold’s money from his wallet to help them get into ritzy nightclubs where they meet up with attractive singers Susie and Barbie (Sandra McGregor, Wendy Hughes), but once the money is spent they’re forced to rob a tour bus full of passengers, but just as they’re ready to escape with the loot Arnold returns with his muscular friends and an ugly confrontation ensues.

This is another Australian flick where it could’ve easily been filmed here and you’d never know the difference. Whether it’s intentional or not the American influence is quite strong including having them eat at such restaurants as Kentucky Friend Chicken and McDonald’s. The Outback is the one area that can help Australia stand out, but the two never go there and stick to the lushly green coastal region, which again looks no different than many of the landscapes in the U.S.

They even hire an American actor for the lead, which I felt was a mistake. Apparently they thought it would be easier to sell to distributors abroad if not all the actors spoke with an Aussie accent, but Bottoms, who is the younger brother of the more famous Timothy Bottoms, isn’t a good enough actor to make anything that he does onscreen either interesting or memorable. His reckless wild boy behavior comes-off as affected and forced and the way he aggressively comes-on to women would be considered misogynist and sexual harassment by today’s standards. Plus, there’s never any explanation for why this Texan would be working the carnival scene in Australia to begin with.

The tone of the film when compared to its trailer, which can be seen on YouTube, is far more grim and dramatic. The trailer gives you the impression it’s a comical, freewheeling adventure that will bring you back to your youthful days of rebellion, when really it’s more about them desperately living on the edge, getting beat-up and seeking shelter in an abandoned church when it rains. If anything it makes the creature comforts of suburbia, even with some of the compromises that come with it, seem not so bad by comparison.

These guys aren’t too smart either and it becomes harder and harder to keep siding with them with each jam they stupidly get themselves into. Driving off with the Corvette was just asking for trouble since they didn’t bother to change the license plate, so any cop could scan the number and realize that the vehicle was stolen. When they rob the bus, which is the best moment in the movie, they don’t wear any masks, so they’ll be easily identifiable. It also makes you wonder why if these bums needed money so bad they couldn’t just find a job like the rest of us instead of robbing innocent people, which is not a nice thing to do and makes the viewer not want to like these guys who are, at least in theory, supposed to be the protagonists.

The filmed is helped by the appearances of two young Australian actresses at the start of their careers. Hughes is beautiful as the showgirl that they meet but her part is ultimately too small. I was afraid Judy Davis, who plays a hitchhiker that they pick-up, would have the same fate, but she returns later on to give the cops a wild car chase driving the Corvette that makes it worth it.

The film though lacks any discernable point or message. The characters show no  arc and behave the same way at the end that they did at the beginning. Nothing conclusive is giving to their ultimate fate. Will they be able to live on the road and on-the-edge all of their lives? This hardly seems possible, but the movie makes no effort to answer this question causing it to be vapid and undistinguished from the plethora of other road movies out there.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 4, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 21 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Igor Auzins

Studio: Hexagon Productions

Available: DVD-R

Payday (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: A self-destructive singer.

Maury Dann (Rip Torn) is a popular country singer who performs at many clubs throughout the southeast. While he is loved by his many fans he routinely takes advantage of those around him including sleeping with married women while openly seducing the others even when it’s right in front of his current girlfriend Mayleen (Ahna Capri). When Maury is confronted by the father (Walter Bamberg) of one of the young women he’s seduced they get into an ugly fight and Maury accidently ends up killing him, but since he’s so used to exploiting others he asks his loyal limo driver Chicago (Cliff Emmich) to take the blame for him.

The film, which was directed by Daryl Duke, is a masterpiece in penetrating drama to the point that I’m surprised that Duke, who had only directed TV-shows before this, didn’t go on to have a long career in making Hollywood movies instead of going right back to doing episodic TV-work after this. The script though, which was written by Don Carpenter, is completely on-target as it paints a very trenchant, no-holds-barred portrait of the seamier side of show business life and most importantly the people who work in it.

The atmosphere of the smoke-filled bars/nightclubs is vividly captured and the dialogue has a nice conversational quality that makes its point, but never in too much of an obvious way. The characterizations though are the most revealing and include Maury’s loyal manager Clarence (Michael C. Gwynne) who secretly despises Maury and is well aware of his many faults, but does whatever he can to cover them up to the adoring public.  Cliff Emmich as the faithful limo driver, who secretly aspires to be a gourmet chief, is terrific too. He doesn’t say much, but when he does it’s always quite interesting and his facial reactions are great.

My favorite characters though were Maury’s two girlfriends particularly the young, wide-eyed Rosamond (Elayne Heilveil in her film debut) who excitedly jumps into bed with Maury as his new star crush groupie only to become more apprehensive about things, which get revealed through her wonderfully strained facial expressions, the ugliness that goes on around her. Since her character has the most obvious arc I thought she should’ve been the story’s centerpiece.

Capri is quite enjoyable as well playing on the opposite end of the spectrum as a jaded woman who’s been in the groupie scene too long, but desperate enough to stay in it. The film’s most memorable moment is when Maury kicks her out of his limo, without any money, in the middle of a cornfield. She’s able to find another ride quickly, but I would’ve liked seeing a scene later on showing where she ultimately ended-up, or having her return to the story near the end where she could’ve had a climactic final confrontation with Maury, which is what her character deserved.

The only thing that I didn’t like was Maury himself. Torn plays the part in a masterful way, although his singing over the opening credits, which he insisted on doing himself, isn’t so spectacular, but his acting is. The only problem is that his character is just too much of a jerk. Supposedly it’s loosely based on Hank Williams and I’m sure there’s a lot of truth to it, but it would’ve been nice had there been at least one fleeting moment when he did something redeeming as his constant jerkiness becomes almost an overload for the viewer making it border on being too obnoxious to watch, but it’s so well crafted in every other aspect it’s still a worthwhile view.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: February 22, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Daryl Duke

Studio: Cinerama Releasing

Available: DVD

Nickel Queen (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bar owner gets rich.

Meg Blake (Googie Withers) is a widow who owns a pub in a small desert town that has only 10 people living in it. She finds it hard to make ends meet until she hears about a nickel discovery in the outback and decides to be the first one to stake her claim to the land. Little does she know that corrupt executive Ed Benson (Alfred Sandor) fabricated the rumor of a nickel discovery simply so he could sell shares to gullible investors and Meg’s stake of land is actually worth nothing, but because Ed wants other people to also buy shares he pretends that Meg has already gotten rich through her investment and gives her $100,000 up front and parades her around the media while calling her the Nickel Queen. Meg laps up the publicity and spends her newfound fortune lavishly only to ultimately learn, once all her money is gone, that it was a hoax, which causes her and the other angry investors to go after Ed for revenge.

The story was inspired by the real-life event known as the Poseidon Bubble, which occurred in Australia in 1969, where shares in mining soared upon the discovery of a nickel deposit in September of that year only to quickly crash by early 1970 once it was found that the nickel was of a lower quality than initially thought causing many investors to loose a lot of money. Had the film stuck more to the true life event it might’ve had potential, but the way it gets played-out here is rather tepid.

It starts off alright and Withers, acting in front of the camera for the first time in 13 years, creates an engaging character who doesn’t back down to anyone and never hesitates to speak-her-mind. Unfortunately her tenacious personality does not get played-up enough. Once she becomes a media darling her wisecracks no longer have any zing and she falls into Ed’s trap too easily.  During the second half her presence is rather minor as she becomes this naïve person who must depend on her old friend Harry (Ed Devereaux) to get her out of her jam and exposing the corrupt Ed instead of she being the one to do that on her own.

The supporting cast is equally wasted. Initially the hippie guru character of Claude (played by John Laws who was and still is a famous Australian radio personality) seemed interesting as his values and outlook on things, particularly his refusal to work, contrasted greatly with Meg’s making it seem like the two would be sharing some wildly over-the-top confrontations. Instead Claude takes an extreme pivot midway through by showing up as a clean-shaven man willing to sell-out for money and even ends up becoming Meg’s lover, but what’s the point of him starting out one way if he’s just going to end up being the polar opposite? The transition is not revealing or introspective and shows how the filmmakers, who were all over 50, had no understanding of the counter-culture movement at all.

Doreen Warburton, who plays Ed’s gluttonous wife, is equally problematic.  The running joke of seeing her constantly stuffing her face with food gets pretty old, pretty fast to the point that it starts to get kind of disgusting to look at. Not having her utter a single word of dialogue is weird too making it seem like she’s not even human, but simply an unfunny and highly stereotyped caricature.

I liked how the first half was shot in an actual ghost town known as Broad Arrow and having the action take place in some of the town’s abandoned buildings gave the film an added visual flair, but this gets completely lost during the second-half when everything moves to the big city of Perth. The music is yet another issue as it sounds like something from the 40’s or 50’s and completely out-of-touch with the times. A lot of the cast is made up of hippies, so the soundtrack should’ve reflected more of their tastes.

Ultimately the film suffers from being too much of a family project. Writer/director John McCallum was star Googie’s husband and there’s even a part for their daughter Joanna McCallum, who plays Meg’s hippie daughter. While this may have been a fun project to work on from their perspective it offers little in the way that is satisfying to the viewer. The plot is poorly constructed and the wrap-up too tidy making it seem like material better suited for a TV-sitcom than the big screen.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 1, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Director: John McCallum

Studio: British Empire Films Australia

Available: None

The FJ Holden (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: A youth’s aimless life.

Kevin (Paul Couzens) is a teen over 18 still living at home with his parents (Roy Corbett, Beryl Marshall). Most of his time is spent being idle while driving around in his refurbished FJ Holden and getting drunk with his best friend Bob (Carl Stever). One day while hanging out at a mall Kevin spots Anne (Eva Dickinson) and gives her a ride in his car and eventually the two start going out. Everything goes well for awhile until Kevin makes love to Anne with the bedroom door still open, so that Bob can watch. When Anne realizes what’s going on she kicks Kevin out of the house and breaks off their relationship, but Kevin refuses to let it go and tries to rekindle things with her later at a party, which causes tensions with the other partygoers and the home owner.

I’ve stated many times that I wished Hollywood movies wouldn’t feel so compelled to rush through a story as they do and allow scenes more time to be strung-out and not edit things so quickly. Allowing things to unfold at a more leisurely pace gives the viewer a chance to soak in the setting and characters better without having to be told what to think or feel, but this film goes to the other extreme. The pace meanders so much you become bored and lose focus. There’s just not enough going on to keep you interested or intrigued.

That’s not to say it’s a bad movie as I liked the technical approach, which puts the actors in public settings, but with regular people in the back drop as opposed to film extras. You get more of a realistic atmosphere this way particularly the scenes at the mall, which before the advent of social media, skype, and texting was a social hotspot for most teens to meet other people and hang-out. The story though, which was based on loosely constructed comic poems, is not structured enough to remain engaging. The dialogue is too generic and the situations they go through, whether it’s making love in the backseat of a car, or drag racing, have all been done in many other teen flicks, so watching it here just makes it seem all the more redundant and pointless.

There manages to be a a few interesting bits here and there, but overall it’s a sluggish experience. Only at the very end when Kevin confronts Anne at the party is there are any real potential for dramatic sparks, but it doesn’t get played-out enough. I was hoping for a full-out brawl to make-up for all the boredom that had come before it, but director Michael Thornhill, who has found critical acclaim with some of his later films, just wasn’t confident enough apparently to push this thing full-throttle, which ultimately makes it bland and forgettable.

The car itself doesn’t play as much into the plot as you’d expect and in a lot of ways I didn’t find it all that impressive. It’s a model of car that was built in Australia between the years of 1953 to 1956 and through the decades over 20 car clubs have been formed in Australia committed to preserving the vehicle, and every other year thousands of car enthusiasts gather to celebrate the old-style car, but to me it came off looking old and clunky like something your grandfather would drive and did not have the sleek sports car design that most young men like to be seen in. The car eventually, during the film’s second half, gets painted bright yellow, which makes it look like a taxi cab, but during the first part it’s not painted at all and looks rusty like it had been pulled from the junkyard and what most people would be embarrassed to be seen with and not something to invite a girl for a ride in to impress her even though that’s what happens here.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 29, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated M (Originally rated R)

Director: Michael Thornhill

Studio: FJ Films

Available: DVD

Thumb Tripping (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hitchhiking across the country.

Gary (Michael Burns) is a college kid from a good family who decides he’s not ready to settle down just yet and wants to ‘drop-out’ for awhile by taking part in the hitchhiking scene that was popular in the early 70’s with the counter-culture. While accepting rides he meets up with fellow hitchhiker Chay (Meg Foster) and the two immediately hit-if-off. They decide to accept every ride that comes along, which gets them into trouble when they get into a car driven by two violent men (Bruce Dern, Larry Hankin) and then later when they hop into a truck driven by Diesel (Michael Conrad) who seems kindly at first, but ultimately sets his sights on having sex with Chay, who willingly accepts his invitation, much to the consternation of Gary.

This film never really clicked with the public and much of the problem stemmed from the inability of knowing how to effectively market it, or even what genre it belonged in. Leonard Maltin, in his review, describes the film as being ‘amusing’ even though there is nothing in it that is funny or light-hearted. I remember in the 80’s going to my local video store where this film was put into the horror section and played-up like it was a thriller with Bruce Dern listed as the star even though his segment happens early on, is quickly forgotten, and only lasts for about 5 minutes.

If anything it works as a period piece at seeing how different and more free-spirited things were back then where accepting rides from strangers was considered fun and adventurous and not something to fear. It’s based loosely on the real-life experiences of Don Mitchell, a self-described hippie in the late 60’s who eventually moved to Vermont and became a sheep farmer. He wrote the story first as a novel before getting commissioned into turning it into a screenplay. For the most part it has an authentic feel particularly the segment showing the young people of the day hitch-hiking at various locations making it seem like it was an informal community all to its own.

What’s fascinating is seeing how the ‘responsible’ people that give the hitchhikers rides are usually just as unhappy with societal demands as the hippies, but with no idea or confidence on how to get out of their situations. The segment with Michael Conrad is the best as at first he’s the family man doing long over-the-road hauls to feed his wife and kids and yet his commitment to them takes an immediate backseat the second he becomes sexual aroused by Chay when he sees her dancing at a bar revealing that middle-aged men never become fully ‘domesticated’ no matter how hard they may try to play the part.

The two leads though are not fleshed-out enough. There’s a brief voice-over segment dealing with Burns’ conversation with his mother describing why he wants to drop-out and travel, which helps to give him some backstory, but we never get the same treatment with Foster. She’s this elusive enigma we want to know more about, but never understand. She’s far more compelling than Burns and should’ve been made the star and having her hitchhike alone would’ve  improved the movie.

Despite a few interesting moments it never comes together as a whole. The scenes are too loosely tied together and the story never feels like it’s progressing or has any momentum. The ending leaves everything wide-open particularly the fate of Chay who was the only intriguing element in it, which makes the viewer feel cheated when it’s over.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 28, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Quentin Masters

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: VHS

The World’s Greatest Lover (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Seeking silent film stardom.

Adolph Zitz (Dom DeLuise) is upset that Rainbow Studios, which he heads, is not making as much of a profit as his rival and figures it’s because they don’t have silent film star Rudolph Valentino. He decides, after a meeting with his yes men who constantly surround him, to put out a national search for the world’s greatest lover who will come to Hollywood for a screen test to then become the next big star to rival that of Valentino. Rudy (Gene Wilder) is a hapless baker recently fired from his job who figures that entering this contest could be his ticket out of his penniless doldrums and travels to Hollywood for a screen test. However, once they get there his wife (Carol Kane) breaks away from him and sneaks off to the rival studio in order to try and have a chance encounter with her screen idol Rudolph Valentino (Matt Collins).

While the film did well at the box office bringing in a profit of $21 million off of a $4.8 million budget it flopped badly with the critics who ravaged both Wilder’s screenplay and direction. In a lot of ways they had valid points as the script veers off from the main theme quite a bit and seeming more like a collection of broad gags than a story. The comic bits take a long time to play out becoming almost like skits within a movie. The period atmosphere is poor and you never feel like you’re being transported back to a different era, or that there was even much thought or effort in this area to be authentic. Wilder’s character is problematic too. He can be great when he’s in an exasperated, frantic state and shouting at the top of his lungs, but he goes to this well too often making his character come-off as abrasive.

The one thing that saves it is that it’s surprisingly quite funny. I found myself laugh- out-out-loud at a lot of the bits no matter how meandering they became and really enjoyed the reaction shots from the supporting players. My favorite segment is when Wilder and Kane stay at a hotel with a sunken living room, which accidently gets filled up with water and then Wilder goes swimming in it and pretends it’s a pool when some family members of his come to visit. I also liked how it ultimately drains out onto some guests below who are ordering dinner. I even found the running joke dealing with DeLuise and his man servant barber (played by Michael Huddleston the son of character actor David Huddleston who also appears in the movie) and how he eventually learns to trust his business advice after always beating him up about it first.

The film manages to also make some interesting observations about people although this too borders a bit on getting botched particularly the scene where Kane goes into a tent to meet with what she thinks is Valentino, but really Wilder wearing a veil over the bottom of his face. However, it is clear to the audience just by looking at his eyes, which are very distinct, that it’s Wilder, so if it’s obvious to us it should be obvious to her since she’s been living with him for many years, but it isn’t. I did do like the point that the scene makes where she never enjoyed the sex with her hubby, but when she thought her hubby was somebody else suddenly the sex was ‘great’, which shows how much fantasy works into love making and a fundamental part of its enjoyment.

Wilder’s screen tests are quite amusing too and overall I found myself laughing consistently all the way through. If you’re looking for something light and comical that’s even a bit romantic then this should do the trick.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gene Wilder

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

The Night, The Prowler (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Victim turns into prowler.

Late one night Felicity (Kerry Walker), who is an adult woman still living at home with her parents (John Frawley, Ruth Cracknell), finds that a prowler (Terry Camilleri) has invaded her bedroom. After getting into a conversation with him she is surprised to learn that he’s a married man with kids, who enjoys prowling as a side gig to make up for the monotony and stresses of his home life. Felicity then realizes that the suburban lifestyle that her parents want her to live does not fully satisfy the individual and therefore decides she doesn’t want it. She breaks off her pending engagement with her fiancé (John Derum)  and turns into a prowler herself breaking into men’s homes late at night and learning to enjoy the underbelly of society by socializing with the homeless and other people that her parents always told her to stay away from. She soon finds a sense of empowerment by thumbing her nose at the elitists that make her her suburban community and doing all the forbidden things that her former cloistered lifestyle never allowed.

The film was directed by Jim Sharman best known for having done The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The basis for this project comes from his collaboration with playwright Patrick White and the many plays of his that he directed while doing experimental theater in Sydney during the 70’s. White wanted to expand one of his short stories into a screenplay and Sharman suggested this one had the best chance of working. The two had both grown up in the eastern suburbs of Sydney and wanted to create a film that showed their inner disdain for the arrogant, privileged people that populated the neighborhoods there and how the sterility of those environments may have been a comfort to the adults, but stifling and alienating to the teenagers.

To some level the film is interesting, but the fragmented narrative becomes an intrusive turn-off. Normally I like films that to get away from the mainstream approach and use different cinematic styles to tell a story, but the presentation here never allows you to get emotionally invested into the characters or their situations. There’s too much cutting back and forth between the present day, the past, and even some dream-like segments that ultimately makes the whole thing confusing and off-putting. That’s not to say that there aren’t some provocative moments as there are, but the non-linear approach never allows it to catch its stride, or feel like its progressing forward.

I did enjoy though the scenes with Felicity in the park late at night talking to the homeless while inadvertently scaring off a gang of young hoodlums by chasing after them and demanding that they assault her. When she breaks into a rich couple’s home and systematically destroys it and their subsequent over-the-top facial reactions when they come home to witness it is a hoot too. There are though some very disturbing moments too including Felicity’s conversation with a naked, starving homeless man (Harry Neilson) that she finds lying inside the filthy squalor of an abandoned building.

The one thing that holds it all together is the acting. Walker is perfectly cast in the lead as her plain looks and perpetually despondent expression visually signals her inner angst and alienation. Cracknell though completely steals it in a campy send-up of the suburban housewife/ mother that is at times both comically absurd and over-the-top funny. Her odd behavior keeps the interest going even as the story and direction at times lull and in fact it was enough to have nominated for the Best Actress Award by the Australian Film Institute.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 2, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Jim Sharman

Studio: New South Wales Film Corporation

Available: DVD, Amazon Video