Category Archives: 70’s Movies

I Dismember Mama (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: He only likes virgins.

Albert (Zooey Hall) hates his rich mother (Joanne Moore Jordan) and at one point attempted to kill her, which got him institutionalized, but he manages to escape and is now back on the streets attempting to kill her once again. When he arrives at his old residence he meets Alice (Marlene Tracy) who’s now working as his mother’s maid. He promptly kills her, but then Alice’s 11-year-old daughter Annie (Geri Reischl) arrives asking for her. Albert is immediately taken in with the child’s innocence and purity and becomes determined to ‘save her’ from the jaded world around them. He concocts a story that her mother suddenly got sick and had to go to the hospital, so the two spend the day frolicking around at a park and later take part in a mock wedding, but by nightfall Albert’s dark urges return and this time his target is Annie.

This is yet another example of an underground 70’s exploitation flick that promises to deliver shocks via its provocative storyline, but ultimately has hardly any. The pacing is poor and filled with talky scenes that get extended far longer than they should. The dialogue lacks bite and there needed to be more action. For instance Albert’s attacking his mother should’ve been shown possibly as a flashback and not just talked about in passing. Albert’s overpowering of a hospital attendant (James Tartan) in order to escape from the institution doesn’t get shown either we just see the guard’s dead body after the carnage is over while in-between we get treated to a long extended conversation between Albert’s mother and his psychiatrist (Frank Whiteman), which is both boring and pointless.

Hall is poor in the lead and unable to convey more than one facial expression or voice tone. I didn’t like the way Reischl’s character gets written either as she’s portrayed as being too innocent and naïve. Sure kids will be more sheltered to real-world horrors than adults, but they’re not stupid and have a fear instinct like anyone else. When a creepy guy unexpectedly answers the door the warning flags would be going off for any typical 11-year-old, which was the age she was when this was filmed, and her character should’ve, and most likely would’ve been in reality, far more defensive and cautious.

I was also confused why Reischl, who is better known as being the ‘fake Jan’ who replaced Eve Plumb in the short-lived ‘The Brady Bunch Variety Hour’, got listed in the credits under the title of being ‘introduced’ like she was brand new to the film scene when she really wasn’t as she had already appeared in another horror flick The Brotherhood of Satan, which had been filmed in 1969 and released to theaters a full year before this one.

When I first watched this movie back in the summer of 1987 it had what I considered at the time one of the dumbest segments I had ever seen. It features Albert walking into a pool hall eyeing an attractive woman (Rosella Olsen) and telling her how rich he is, which is enough to get her to dump the boyfriend (Robert Christopher) she is out on a date with and immediately jump into Albert’s arms, which to me was just to heavy-handed to believe. (If picking up women could only be this easy.)However, after seeing it a second time I now consider this as attempted satire, but the segment should’ve had  a better payoff. Instead of the jilted boyfriend later crying over her dead body, after Albert had killed her, he should’ve laughed and considered it ‘sweet revenge’ for her having publicly dumped him in humiliating fashion earlier.

The film has come under attack by some for its perceived pedophilia storyline. Critic John Kenneth Muir in his review stated that watching it made him ‘feel dirty’ and the pedophilia theme ‘went too far’ for a film that had ‘no aspirations to be anything but entertainment’. Personally I found this take to be virtue signaling and disagree with it on several points.

First I don’t think this was ever meant to be ‘entertainment’. Instead it was intended like a lot of other underground flicks at that time to shock and appall and then bank on the morbid curiosity of people to fill the theater seats simply to see ‘what all the fuss is about’.

Most importantly I don’t think Albert initially saw Alice as a sexual conquest, but more as someone he wanted to protect from the awful world around them. He wanted to save her innocence instead of taking it away. Yes, it’s true there is a scene when she is sleeping in a hotel room and he starts to have impulses to deflower her, but he fights them off and then goes out to a bar where he attacks another woman who is well over 18. The perceived pedophilia theme lasts for only a couple of minutes and really doesn’t take up the bulk of the runtime like some critics seem to think it does, or want you to believe.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Alternate Title: Poor Albert & Little Annie

Released: April 1, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Leder

Studio: Valiant International Pictures

Available: DVD

Island of Death (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Couple on killing spree.

Christopher and Celia (Robert Behling, Jane Lyle) seem like a nice young couple just looking  for a little vacation as they travel to a Greek island. Yet once there they begin killing anyone who they deem ‘perverted’. First it’s a man who makes a pass a Celia, then it’s a gay couple, and a bartender who’s outed as a lesbian. Not only do Christopher and Celia kill their victims with glee, but they also enjoy taking pictures of the carnage, so that Christopher can use them for sexual arousal later.

In 1974 Nico Mastorakis, who at that time was working as an investigative journalist and before that was a popular radio DJ, became impressed with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the amount of money it brought in. He was convinced that making exploitation flicks was a profitable venture and proceeded to create a film that would be as shocking as possible simply for the money benefits it would bring in. The film has certainly achieved a strong cult status and has been one of the most widely banned films in the world.

While its reputation is quite notorious I actually found the violence to be nothing special. There’s one segment where a man gets his hands nailed to a cement ground, which is pretty nasty and the killing of a baby goat, which Christopher then proceeds to have sex with is quite disturbing too, but everything else, at least gore-wise, is run-of-the-mill. The one segment that did get a bit difficult to watch simply because it gets more prolonged than the other killings and therefore makes it seem more real was when Christopher tries to force the lesbian bartender (Janncie McConnell) to swallow a bottle of hard liquor, which she repeatedly chokes on.

On the perversity level the film still scores strongly even after all these years. One of it’s more outlandish moments is when Christopher gives an unexpected golden shower to a 60-year-old woman (Jessica Dublin) who at first reacts in disgust, but then eventually gets into it. The real shocker though for me was the final twist, which I hadn’t seen coming and as jaded as I’ve become with years of watching these underground 70’s flicks, had my mouth agape.

Mastorakis shows good command with solid pacing and a script that continuously reveals many sick twists as it goes. The slow start works in its favor as it creates a romantic feel, especially with its sweet sounding score and picturesque backdrop of Mykonos, which allows for the viewer to let down their guard and then when the shocks gets going it makes it even more emotionally horrific. I also enjoyed Mastorakis use of the hand-held camera and wide angle lens something that only came into vogue many decades later.

Overall I commend the production for going all in. Too many other horror flicks, especially from the 70’s, promised exploitation, but ultimately  delivered little. It seemed like despite their provocative storylines they would end up chickening-out, so it’s nice to see one hyper-focused to truly push the envelope. Obviously this won’t be everyone’s cup-of- tea many, but if you’re compelled to make a truly underground feature then alienating some viewers is a prerequisite.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 13, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Nico Mastorakis

Studio: Omega Pictures

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

Long Weekend (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review:  A couple battles nature.

Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets) are a young couple who are constantly at odds with each other. To help smooth things over they decide to take a trip into the wilderness and enjoy the beauty of the outdoors. Along the way they accidently hit and kill a kangaroo with their vehicle. This sets off a chain-of-events that puts them under the increasing attack of various animals. First Peter must fight off an angry eagle who swoops down at him without warning. Then a possum and even a sea cow who stalks Peter while he is swimming. The two decide they must leave the area in order to save their lives, but everywhere they turn there’s another animal waiting for them.

The story idea is certainly an interesting one, but the concept is too wide-open. Scriptwriter Everett De Roche stated that the premise was all about how Mother Earth had her own auto- immune system and when humans started acting like cancer cells she’d attack, which is great, but why just this couple? There are millions of people who behave just like them, so why don’t they end up getting the same treatment?

The plot needed an extra spin to hold it all together, but it never comes. Having this small remote place hold a mystical power that allowed animals to behave differently than they would normally do elsewhere would’ve at least given it some needed focus. Perhaps a backstory too where other people would’ve gone to this same locale and complained about being attacked. Any extra plotline would’ve helped because the idea that these animals would just randomly attack a generic couple in some isolated moment in time that they never did before or after just doesn’t cut-it.

I didn’t like either that the couple bicker right away, but then later on become lovey-dovey only to proceed back to bickering, which is too bipolar. A better approach would’ve had them getting along at the start and then with the stress of the animal attacks tear their relationship apart, which would’ve created a more interesting character arc, which otherwise is non-existent.

I would’ve preferred that the lead characters been played by macho men who arrogantly tear up the wilderness with their SUV’s and kill the animals for shameless sport. Watching these ‘tough guys’ then unravel once the animals went on the offense turning them into sniveling, frightened cowards would’ve been far more of an entertaining payoff while hitting-home the importance to respect nature  in a more stark way.

The animal attacks aren’t all that riveting and take up very little of the runtime, but the creepy atmosphere is amazing. Filmed on the island of Tasmania I enjoyed the point-of-view shots of the SUV driving through the long, tangled unique looking trees that grow down there where when captured at night and through the beams of the vehicle’s headlights come off looking like gnarled fingers protruding from the ground. The intense music and haunting call of the sea cow are also quite unsettling and get even more so as the couple continues to hear it, which helps to make this a memorable horror flick despite the few drawbacks and a great example at how strong directing can help overcome a flat script. Remade in 2008.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 2, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Colin Eggleston

Studio: Hoyts Distribution

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

Psychic Killer (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killing through astral projection.

Arnold (Jim Hutton) finds himself behind-bars for a murder he did not commit. He conveys his dilemma to fellow inmate Emilio (Stack Pierce) who informs Arnold that he has special powers that can help Arnold get out of his predicament and once Emilio dies he promises to transfer those powers to him. Then 2 days later Emilio jumps to his death and later Arnold receives a small box that has an amulet inside of it. Arnold puts the amulet necklace on and discovers that he now can kill his enemies through astral projection without him having to be present when it occurs. Police Lt. Jeff Morgan (Paul Burke) suspects what Arnold is doing, but can’t seem to prove it.

The script, which was written by Greydon Clark, who went on to write scripts for many other interesting low budget films, has definite potential and I liked the idea, but the concept isn’t thought through well enough and ends up leaving many more questions than answers. For instance how is Arnold able to know where his victims are when he tries to kill them? All of the killings take place with Arnold sitting in the comfort of his own bedroom in a comatose state, but if that’s the case then what signals him to make the automobile one of his victim’s is driving in go haywire, so that it crashes? How would he know that the victim was for sure driving in it when he mentally causes the car to go bonkers?

How was Arnold able to learn the art of astral projection so quickly? This seems like something a person would have to hone their skills a bit to completely master and yet Arnold acts like a pro at it instantaneously. Also, if Emilio initially had the amulet with all these massive powers then why didn’t he use it to get himself out of jail instead of wasting away in a cell when he really didn’t have to?

With the exception of a death that occurs inside a butcher shop the rest of the killings aren’t all that impressive or gory and in many ways cheesy stuff better suited for a TV-Movie. This could be better categorized as a tacky sci-fi flick than a horror one anyways especially when one the deaths, where a man gets crushed by a giant cement block, gets played-up more in the comical vein.

Ray Danton, a former actor turned director, manages to keep it somewhat lively by introducing a variety of different settings, which is good. However, the outdoor shots get compromised by looking like they were filmed in some studio backlot, which includes a scene where a rich elderly man (Whit Bissell) takes a young chick (Judith Brown) to his isolated cabin hideaway, but cabin’s front yard looks like a giant gravel pit that nobody would either build or buy a place with that type of outdoor eyesore.

While I enjoyed Della Reese and the verbal sparring that she has with Neville Brand inside a butcher shop, the rest of the acting, which gets made up entirely of B-actors on the decline of their careers, isn’t too interesting. Hutton’s presence though is an exception. He had been a rising star in the 60’s doing light comedies, but here he takes a stab at something much darker and he delivers. I thought this would’ve helped him get more movie offers, but instead he got relegated to TV assignments afterwards before eventually dying just 5 years later from cancer at the age of only 45.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ray Danton

Studio: Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Silent Scream (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Family’s dark secret exposed.

Scotty (Rebecca Balding) is a student away at college who finds nearby housing at a large stately mansion owned by Mrs. Engels (Yvonne De Carlo) and her son Mason (Brad Reardon). When Scotty moves in she meets three other college students (Steve Doubet, Juli Andelman, John Widelock) who are also living there, but during the next couple of day those other students start turning up dead. Scotty fears she may be the next victim and suspects the killings may have something to do with the mysterious person that’s hiding in the attic.

In the summer of 1977 Denny Harris, who was at that time a successful commercial director who owned his own studio, decided to take a try at directing a horror movie and he put down $450,000 of his own money to do it. Unfortunately when production wrapped the footage shot was deemed unreleasable, so Jim and Ken Wheat, two brothers, were brought in to try and salvage it, but instead decided to completely rewrite the script and reshoot almost the entire film leaving only 12 minutes of the original footage in the final cut. This includes a scene where the Mason character watches what looks to be a soft core porn flick on his TV in his bedroom, but was actually a scene from the original version with Susan Backlinie, the lady who got attacked by the shark in the opening bit of Jawsplaying one of the characters.

It would be interesting if a Blu-ray could be issued that would show the version that Harris shot alongside the Wheat brother’s one because I suspect it might not have been any worse than what we end up getting here. For one thing the plot is too skimpy and the pacing slow. Too much extraneous footage of Scotty looking for an apartment and conversations she has at a bar with friends, and even her making love with Jack that doesn’t help build the tension at all and should’ve been cut out.

When the ‘scares’ do come they’re not all that great. The stabbing sequences are particularly annoying because the same Bernard Herrmann-like score that was used in Psycho gets played here making it all seem quite cliched. The blood is another issue as it conveniently collects on a hanging white sheet as the victim gets pummeled with a knife as well as a pool of it on the floor, which our protagonist somehow misses seeing when she goes to investigate. Yet I’ve watched enough true-life crime shows to know that blood splatter doesn’t work that way, but instead sprays out all over with droplets of it splattering on the walls, ceiling, and other appliances until it would be quite obvious to anyone entering a room that a murder had occurred there and unlike what happens here.

Spoiler Alert!

The flimsy plot gets played-out too quickly. In a matter of just two days of staying there the dark family secret and all the ugliness behind it gets completely revealed, which makes for an anti-climactic feeling when it’s over. The protagonists seem to be nothing more than dressing with have very little to do as they ultimately stand helplessly on the sidelines while the bad guys kill-off each other, which isn’t very gripping.

A better idea would’ve been to have the villainous family, which are far more interesting and better acted than any of the college kids, be the stars of the film. Then having the film show how they bring in tenants through the years to help defrays costs, but reluctantly forced to kill them when they get too noisy, only to ultimately meet their match with one of them similar to how What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? was structured.

The only riveting moment in the movie comes when a young woman, played by Tina Tyler, tries to hang herself via a noose hung from a light fixture in her bedroom. Most of the time hangings in films are either shown from the waist up or down, but here we get a bird’s eye shot where her feet clearly leave the floor with the rope around her neck and nothing else to support her making it seem like she really is hanging herself especially as her body begins to struggle, which is impressively graphic.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 16, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Denny Harris

Studio: American Cinema Releasing

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Le Jouet (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: A rich kid’s plaything.

Eric (Fabrice Greco), the son of Pierre (Michel Bouqet) a rich business tycoon, is used to getting his way, so when he goes to a toy store, where he’s informed he can have anything he wants, he chooses Francois (Pierre Richard). Francois is a struggling journalist looking for income and decides to go along with the outrageous proposition of being a child’s toy because of the money he’s offered, so he gets put into a crate and ‘delivered’ to the home just like a regular large ‘toy’ would. He’s then forced to amuse the child at all times and catering to any whims of fancy that he may have. While this arrangement is initially quite awkward Francois is eventually able to form a bond with the boy and the two then set out to teach the arrogant father a lesson.

The script, which was written by the prolific Francis Veber, who also directed, lends keen insights into capitalism and the corporate company structure. While Pierre seems to be the one that is being put into a degrading position and treated like a puppet, it’s actually the company yes men that surround Eric’s father and obediently do anything he demands who are the real toys and yet none of them see it.

Richard does quite well in the lead and despite being put in a humiliating situation ends up showing much more self respect than many of the other characters. Greco is equally good in this his only film appearance. Initially I thought I was going to really hate this spoiled kid, but Veber’s adept writing creates a child character who’s very savvy to the foibles of the adult world  and ends up showing a hidden motivation for why he does what he does that eventually comes out later.

The only performance that I didn’t care for was that of Bouquet. While he has an impressive acting resume and is still appearing in movies at the ripe old age of 95 having just starred in one that came out this year and working steadily in films since 1947, which makes for one of the longest career spans of any actor ever, I still felt here he wasn’t right for this part. His facial expressions are dull and one-dimensional and he’s never funny with his grey hair making him seem too old to be the father of such a young boy.

The film does get a bit heavy-handed at times making its targets too obvious, but it’s still filled with some acerbically funny moments including my favorite scene where Eric and his father walk-in on a family eating dinner and he offers them a lot of money if they agree to on-the-spot sell their home and leave, so after a brief conference the family immediately starts packing. Even with some minor blemishes it’s still far superior to its American remake, which will be reviewed tomorrow.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 8, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Francis Veber

Studio: AMLF

Available: DVD (Region 2), Blu-ray (Region A/B/C), Amazon Video (Dubbed), YouTube (Dubbed)

Pocket Money (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Herding cattle for money.

Jim Kane (Paul Newman) is a not-too-bright modern-day cowboy living in Arizona that is broke and without a job. In desperation he takes an offer from a shady businessman named Bill Garrett (Strother Martin) who promises Jim a lot of money to buy a certain breed of cattle in Mexico and then bring them up to the US. Jim has his suspicions about the deal, but decides he has no choice but to take it. He elicits the help of his longtime pal Leonard (Lee Marving) another down-on-his-luck loser. Together they find the cattle and herd them to the states despite a lot of obstacles along the way, but when they return Bill and his cronies are nowhere in sight forcing Jim to seek him out and right the injustice.

Many people have complained about the film’s slow pace and the script, which was written by Terrence Malick and based off of a novel by J.P.S. Brown, has a lackadaisical quality, but to some extent I really didn’t mind it. Too many Hollywood movies are compelled to rush right into the plot while leaving atmosphere and characterizations behind, but here Laszlo Kovacs cinematography brings the rustic western locations to life. I had traveled just recently to a small town in Mexico earlier in the year and this film captures the same ambience that I saw including all the feral dogs running around, the old rundown buildings that make up the town center, as well as the pot-holed filled roads. It was almost like I can gone there a second straight time.

Newman is brilliant in a rare comedic turn. His character is dopey, but in a funny, lovable way where you laugh at his ineptness one minute and cheer him on the next. Marvin is good too and the banter the between them as well as their contrasting approaches to things help keep things interesting. Reports where that the two did not get along and Marvin even admitted as much in interviews stating that Newman ‘finessed’ him during their scenes and when you get two big name actors with heavy egos this sometimes happens, but they were at least professional enough not to let their animosity show through on the screen. Both Wayne Rogers and Strother Martin, who co-starred with Newman just 5 years earlier in the classic Cool Hand Luke lend great support and in Martin’s case should’ve been seen more.

Spoiler Alert!

My biggest beef comes with the ending, which is a complete letdown. The intention was to show the life of two aimless men who are going nowhere, which is fine, but there still needs to be a payoff at the end. Instead when Newman and Martin finally confront Rogers and Martin in a hotel room, after searching everywhere for them, nothing happens. They never get their money, or revenge, or anything. Even losers can have a random moment of small victory, which is what I felt was needed here, and to have nothing of substance occur makes the viewer feel like the joke was on them and sitting through this, despite the marvelous production values, becomes sadly a big waste of time.

End of Spoiler Alert!

This was another case of where Leonard Maltin’s review, or whoever wrote it for him, is off from what you end up seeing. He commends the performance by Jean Peters, who plays Newman’s ex-wife, like it’s something special when in reality it’s just a throw-away-bit that lasts for a couple of minutes and isn’t too memorable. He also comments on Marvin’s car, which he states is ‘the damnedest thing you’ll ever see’ even though despite a few multi-colored panels I didn’t see what was so unusual about it. The craziest car I’ve ever seen in a movie is the one the two teens drive in Robert Altman’s 1985 flick O.C. and Stiggs, but again watch both movies for yourself and then decide, but I believe most would end up agreeing with me.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 1, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Stuart Rosenberg

Studio: National General Pictures

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

The Long Goodbye (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: His cat is hungry.

One night detective Phillip Marlowe (Elliot Gould) is visited in his home by his long time pal Terry Lennox (Jim Boulton), who informs Marlowe that he’s had a fight with his wife and asks him if he can have a ride to the Mexican border, which he obliges. When he returns home he is met by two cops (Jerry Jones, John S. Davies) who bring him into the station with questions about the whereabouts of Lennox whom they insist has just killed his wife. When Marlowe refuses to divulge anything he gets put into jail only to released 3-days later when it’s reported that Lennox has killed himself. Marlowe becomes suspicious about the suicide and determined to do his own investigation while also getting involved with Eileen Wade (Nina van Pallandt) and her alcoholic, writer husband Roger (Sterling Hayden) both of whom may hold the secret to Lennox and what really happened.

By the early 70’s only two of Raymond Chandler’s novels had yet to be filmed, this one and ‘Playback’. United Artists agreed to finance the film and commissioned Leigh Brackett, who had been the screenwriter for another Chandler novel turned into a movie 1946’s The Big Sleep, to write the screenplay for this one. Robert Altman was later approached to direct it and while he was not a fan of the Phillip Marlowe character, whom he labeled as being a ‘loser’, he agreed to take on the project due to the unexpected ending, which had not been in the novel, but that Brackett had added into the screenplay.

While Altman may have seemed an odd choice, he never even read the source novel of which the film is based, the eccentric little sidelights that he adds into the proceedings make it worth it. Some of the movies that he did towards the late 70’s became a bit too undisciplined where his films would go off on tangents with stuff that had very little to do with the main plot, but here the story is strong, so the little detours that Altman adds in helped to playfully accentuate the plot instead of drowning it out.

Some of my favorite Altmanisms included  Marlowe looking for food to feed his hungry cat, who I might add for an animal gives a spectacular performance, and how a stocker that he meets at the grocery store while searching for cat food he ends up meeting again at random at the police station. The next door female nudists, who are also into yoga and attract the attention of both the police and the bad guys who come to Marlowe’s place, are fun too.

There’s some marvelous framing by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond including capturing Roger and Eileen having an argument inside their home, which was filmed at Altman’s Malibu residence, through a glass patio door while at the same time in the reflection you see Gould walking along the beech. Later while Eileen and Marlowe are having a conversation by an open window you can see in a distance, which the other two are unaware of, Roger walking into the ocean in an attempt to kill himself.

Spoiler Alert!

The film also features what I feel is one of the most shocking and disturbing scenes that I’ve ever seen put into a movie and that’s a statement that I don’t use lightly. I’ve seen hundreds of gory horror films, but what happens here I’ve found far more unsettling. I think the reason is because it’s completely unexpected as it features the character played by film director Mark Rydell smashing a glass coke bottle onto the face of his girlfriend who just seconds earlier he had stated that he was deeply in-love with. Hearing her scream out in unending pain while cupping her hands over her face as blood spews out makes it come-off as very real. Even more amazing is that the part of the girlfriend was played by an amateur named Jo Ann Brody who never appeared in any other film and was a waitress that Altman and Brackett met when they went out to dinner while working on the script and who they asked on-the-spot if she’d like to be in their movie.

Altman admitted that he knew this violent scene, which had not been in the book, would upset some fans, but he felt it was important to bring the viewer back to the reality that these were violent characters at heart. This could also be seen as a foreshadowing to the surprise ending when Marlowe finds Lennox still alive in Mexico and then unexpectedly shoots him. In the novel Marlowe allows Lennox to walk away unharmed, but Altman liked the violent twist.

Personally I was ambivalent with the ending here and might actually have preferred the way it was done in the book. My main issue though with it is that Eileen spots Marlowe leaving the place where Lennox was just shot and since she was in a relationship with Lennox and also had strong criminal connections I’d think she’d end up, one way or another, going after Marlowe once she realized he had killed her lover causing the ending to leave open too many potentially interesting tangents that should’ve been followed through on.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 7, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

High Anxiety (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s afraid of heights.

Dr. Richard Thorndyke (Mel Brooks) is hired as the new resident psychiatrist at the Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very, Nervous where he is to replace another Dr. who died under suspicious circumstances. While there he becomes aware of many odd things occurring making him believe that the people running the hospital, Dr. Charles Montague (Harvey Korman) and Nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman), have a scheme going on where they take in rich patients and pretend their conditions are worse than they really are, so that they can keep the patients hospitalized for indefinite periods and thus bilk the patient’s rich families for large sums of money. Richard, together with Victoria (Madeline Kahn) who is the daughter of another patient that is being held there against his will, become determined to expose the scheme, but his adversaries use nefarious tactics to try and stop him by taking advantage of his extreme fear of heights.

Per an interview that Mel Brooks gave with NPR in 2013 he revealed that he wrote a letter to Hitchcock in 1976 telling him that he wanted to do a parody of his movies and was interested in getting his feedback. Hitch wrote back saying that they should get together in his office to go over ideas. In fact it was Hitch’s suggestion to have the scene involving the birds pooping on Brooks. When the film was completed he got his own private screening and afterwards he sent Brooks a case of expensive French wine with the note: “A small token of my pleasure, have no anxiety about this.”

Two of my favorite moments include a Psycho parody where a bellhop (played by a young and soon-to-be famous director in his own right, Barry Levinson) who stabs Brooks with a newspaper while he’s in the shower. The afore mentioned Birds parody is good too with the bird droppings made up of mayonnaise and chopped spinach, but because a helicopter was used during the segment it scared a lot of the pigeons causing real bird do-do to get mixed in with the fake stuff.

I enjoyed the bits involving a parody of the ‘gliding camera’ a technique used in many films where a camera shot begins on the outside of a building, but then somehow ‘glides through’ a wall and goes inside a place without any barrier. Here the camera shatters the glass as it tries to ‘glide through’ the window of the hospital, but Brooks almost ruins the moment by having the characters react by looking up to where the noise occurred, but then going back to their conversation, which makes no sense. If a camera operator has just crashed through a window, most people would get up from their seats and inspect the damage, which would’ve overplayed the joke, so they should’ve just had the characters not respond to the crashing noise at all. This same issue occurs at the end where the camera operators are heard talking just before they crash through a wall, but the scene would’ve played better without the banter.

The plot, as thin and goofy as it is, has some interesting moments. I especially enjoyed the segments done inside the lobby of the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco and the way it takes advantage of the glass elevators there. The scene involving actor Ron Carey blowing up a picture that he took there in order to solve a crime is cool because it goes back to the old way of developing film, which will be a good education for today’s younger viewers who are more used to digital.

The performances are first-rate with Brooks in an uncharacteristic straight part though he still gets in a few zany moments including a segment where he’s a baby who falls from his high-chair. Leachman though steals it in a brilliant send-up of Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In fact it’s her contorted face with no make-up and a faint mustache that leaves a lasting impression. She has stated that she disliked doing the role, but it’s so hilarious that I wished her part had been given a wider storyline.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mel Brooks

Studio: 20th Century Fox

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

Death in Venice (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Man obsesses over boy.

Based on the Thomas Mann novel of the same name, the story centers around Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) a composer in the decline of his career and suffering from ill health. To recuperate he travels to the Grand Hotel des Bains in Venice, Italy, but finds his relaxation cut short when he becomes infatuated with Tadzio (Bjorn Andresen) a 15-year-old Polish boy who’s staying with his family. Gustav can’t seem to keep his eyes or mind off of him, but never physically approaches the teen or makes any attempt to communicate with him. While his fixation grows so does the cholera epidemic that is gripping the city, which may end up taking both of their lives.

Like with most of director Luchino Visconti’s films the pace may be too slow for some viewers, but I found it to be fascinating right from the get-go. One of the aspects that really stood out is Visconti’s ability to recreate a period atmosphere. Nothing seems stilted or rehearsed. Visconti wisely pulls the camera back and allows things to happen naturally. The people in the background don’t seem like film extras at all, but real people going about there lives that Bogarde just happens to be in. It’s also really cool that it was shot at the Grand Hotel des Bains where author Mann stayed in 1911 when the real incident that the story is based on occurred.

I liked too that Gustav does not play-out is mental fantasies and remains at a comfortable distance from the boy at all times. Too many other movies give off this impression that everyone who obsesses over somebody else immediately goes after the person they’re attracted to when in reality many don’t. For some they realize things would never work out with whoever they’re attracted to as well as the legal ramifications, or because of the fear of rejection they prefer to keep it at a fantasy level. While they may still figuratively stalk the person, or observe them intently, it never goes beyond this point. In fact the ones that do aggressively go after their target are more the exception than the rule although in the movie world you’d think the opposite was true, so it’s nice to have at least one film that takes this topic in a different direction.

The fact that its based on a true story that Mann eventually fictionalized in his novel makes it all the more interesting. According to Mann’s wife Katia in a 1974 memoir she describes how her husband kept staring at a young boy he saw at the hotel whom she described at being 13 and was portrayed in the movie as being 15, but in reality was only 11. She stated that he kept gazing at the boy the whole time and always thought about him during their vacation.

The actual source of Mann’s attraction was later discovered to be Baron Wladyslaw Moes who was on vacation with his three sisters and had no idea that he was being observed. In fact Moes only became aware that he’d been the inspiration for the book when he saw the film upon its released in 1971. The biggest irony is that Moes looked nothing like the Tadzio character in the movie as evidenced by the below photo of him (blue circle) taken in 1911 the same year as when Mann spotted him.

The biggest issue that I had was seeing Tadzio making eye contact with Gustav like he’s aware that he’s being watched. Initially when I saw this in the theaters many years ago I took this eye contact thing to being a point-of-view fantasy of Gustav, but upon second viewing it seems the intention was different. Personally I don’t like this idea because at the age of 15 I don’t believe the teen would’ve been able to handle this behavior from an older man and would’ve either confronted him about it, or told someone else. Maybe if Tadzio had been older, like in his 20’s, and use to being seen as an object then maybe, but since he was so young this would’ve been all new to him and thus making him very uncomfortable very quickly and causing him to ultimately unravel.

Andresen’s performance is rather poor to boot. There were other good looking young actors who could’ve easily played the part in a more interesting way, but apparently Visconti was looking for a very specific type of look, but Andresen  appears uncomfortable throughout and has stated in interviews that his experience on the set was not a happy one. Bogarde in turn does quite well as he’s able to create a riveting performance despite having very little dialogue.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 5, 1971

Runtime: 2 Hours 10 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Luchino Visconti

Studio: Warner Brothers

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