Category Archives: 70’s Movies

The Revengers (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Avenging his family’s massacre.

John Benedict (William Holden) is a rancher who returns to his home and family in Colorado after serving in the Civil War. While out one day hunting a mountain lion a group of Comanche Indians kill his family. When he races back to his home he finds only his friend Free (Arthur Hunnicutt) still alive. Free informs him that the Indians were lead by a white man (Warren Vanders). John then becomes compelled to seek vengeance and hires a group of convicts that he finds at a Mexican prison to help him in his quest.

This was one film that took me by surprise and a testament to the fact that if you go into a movie with low expectations you might end up liking it better than you thought. The review in Maltin’s book gave it the notorious ‘Bomb’ rating and critics at the time labeled it a Wild Bunch rip-off, or even a western cousin to The Dirty Dozen. All of which is true, but it still has an amiable quality and enough twists to keep it moderately enjoyable. Ernest Borgnine is a stand-out and many have considered this his best performance outside of Marty.

The concept of finding prisoners to act as the sort-of good guys makes it fun, particularly as Holden must tour the prison camp to pick which ones he wants, but the idea that they’d all stay loyal to him once they got out was an over-reach. The film has them abandoning him for a while, but then all coming back like they couldn’t survive without him, which is ridiculous as these are grown men and if needed could cheat and steal on their own to get by. They’re also use to working independently so the fact that they’d need someone to ‘lead’ them and openly submit to that is hard to believe. Having one or two stay with John while the rest went on their way would’ve been realistic and also helped the viewer bond with the characters as there’s too many and it becomes cluttered.

I didn’t like either that Zweig (Reinhard Kolldehoff) is shown to be a man who must be chained to a post and kept away from the other prisoners due to extreme anti-social behavior and yet when he’s with John and the group he shows none of these signs. If a person has anti-social tendencies in one situation it will come out again and won’t simply ‘disappear’ because it’s a different environment. Trying to allude that Chamaco (Jorge Luke) is possibly the illegitimate son of John from some long ago brief affair and then these two would magically meet in such a random way is pushing the odds too much. While Borgnine’s character if amusing the fact that this impoverished man, who doesn’t have enough money to bathe, would be on top of all the gossip and information is suspect. How is this guy, who smells so bad nobody gets near him and if he tried to overhear a conversation they’d immediately walk away once they got a whiff, be able to collect the info that he does?

Spoiler Alert!

The film has what seemed like a potentially novel twist where Chamaco shoots John and supposedly kills him. Initially I thought this was kind of cool as it’s rare that a protagonist dies in the middle of a movie and then it would be up to this vagabond group of misfits to finish the job for him out of loyalty, which if it had done this would’ve given it distinction. Unfortunately the bullet misses John’s heart by an inch and he’s brought back to health by a kindly nurse named Elizabeth (Susan Hayward), but this becomes pointless. For one thing he makes a full recovery, at least have him suffer some lasting injury, which would most likely happen to gun shot victims in real-life. For instance maybe he could no longer raise his right arm to shoot and be even more dependent on the group to help him. Why even have him get shot at all if it’s just going to be forgotten by the end like it didn’t even happen? Having him then forgive Chamaco and harbor no hard feelings and get along even better than before is a level of graciousness few people if anyone would have in that circumstance.

It seemed like the only reason the shooting took place was as an excuse for Susan Hayward’s character to exist, but I’m not sure why it was necessary. She’s a great actress and this was her last film, but the romance angle doesn’t work and nothing comes of it as he leaves her once recovered and never returns like it was a blip on the radar. She also says at one point that she’d still like to start a family even though it’s pretty obvious that she was over 50.

The villainous Tarp character could’ve been handled better as well. He had the potential at being this enigma that everyone talked about, but never saw like the Keyser Soze character in Usual Suspects. The mystery of the man could’ve been built-up, but this gets ruined when they find him rather quickly during the middle part only for him to then escape. Waiting until the very end for his appearance would’ve made the finale more exciting and tense, which otherwise falls flat.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 21, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Daniel Mann

Studio: National General Pictures

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

Blackout (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Criminals invade apartment complex.

Inspired by the actual power blackout that occurred in New York City on July 13-14, 1977 the story centers on a group of felons lead by Christie (Robert Carradine) who are being transported to another prison. Along the way their police van crashes and the van drivers are killed instantly, but the felons survive. When they climb out they find that the city is without power. Using the police uniforms of the two dead drivers as well as their weapons they’re able to sneak their way into a nearby apartment complex under the pretext that they’re policemen and therefore the security guard allows them in only to be immediately killed once he does. The crooks then terrorize the residents by conning their way into each of the apartments the same way they did to get into the complex. Once they’re inside they rob the tenants and at certain points even kill them. Dan (James Mitchum) is an off-duty police officer who breaks into the complex to help save Annie (Belinda Montgomery) who’s being attacked and screaming for help from her balcony. He then single-handily goes about trying to track down the armed group despite being outnumbered.

This was yet another example where the entry in Leonard Maltin’s book does not accurately describe what occurs as whoever wrote the review states that it’s ‘balanced with black comedy’ though there’s really no comedy in it except for a brief exchange between a husband and wife attending a Greek wedding, which occurs at the beginning, but after that it’s all gritty drama.

The production was directed by Eddy Matalon who started his career doing music videos for Bridgette Bardot during the 60’s before graduating to soft-core porn in the 70’s under the pseudonym Jack Angel. He eventually, in 1977, tried his hand at horror with the universally derided Cathy’s Curse before following-up with this one, which fares better and as a grim thriller even succeeds though it’s not perfect.

My biggest complaint is that it cuts out too many pivotal moments. It shows how they enter into one apartment and even choose another because it has triple locks cluing them in that a rich person with a lot of expensive stuff must live there, but there’s other times when it does not show why they break into the apartments that they do. There’s hundreds of dwellings inside the complex and they weren’t going to be able to bust into all of them, so the reason for why they choose the ones that they do needed to be shown each time. There’s also a segment where Mitchum shoots and kills one of the perpetrators in the hallway, but it’s never documented where they take the body, or if they just leave it there for all to see.

Some of the stuff gets a bit over-the-top like when they kill the guard and then stage it to look like a suicide, but why would these desperate crooks care to take the time to do that? They’re in a rush to rob as many residents as they can before the power comes back on, who why not just put the dead guard’s body into a back room and be done with it? Tying Mitchum up into a contraption that would electrocute him once the power came back-on seemed too similar to the campy predicaments that would be the cliffhanger for each episode of the ‘Batman’ TV-show. These two-bit thieves wouldn’t have the care, or sophistication to do that. Either kill the guy, or tie him up the conventional way, but getting excessively overboard with it seemed too theatrical and predictably gives him just enough time to escape.

Mitchum is enjoyable. I liked how at the beginning he tries to chase down a purse snatcher, but fails, which shows that he’s not perfect and relatable, which makes you want to root for him even more to stop the bad guys. I did though have misgivings with Montgomery’s character who gets raped, but immediately after that she saves two people trapped in an elevator and even delivers a baby, which is too quick a recovery from such a traumatic event.

Aging stars from Hollywood’s gold era appear as the residents, but are given little to do especially June Allyson who’s seen for less than 5-minutes. Ray Milland’s segment had potential as he plays this rich, stuffy guy who refuses to give the intruders the combination to his safe even as they torture his wife. Eventually he gives in, but it would’ve been fun had he remained stubborn. They’d burn-up his place, which they do anyways, and kill his wife, but he’d still refuse to give it out. Then when the cops finally do arrive he could say in his last dying breath amidst the burned cinders “At least they never got the combination.”

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 25, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Eddy Matalon

Studio: Cinepix Film Properties

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Villain (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: An inept western robber.

Cactus Jack (Kirk Douglas) is an aging western outlaw who’s hired by Avery Simpson (Jack Elam) to commit a robbery. Charming Jones (Ann-Margaret) is a beautiful, young woman who’s being escorted west by Handsome Stranger (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and is also carrying a large sum of money. Cactus Jack sets up an array of elaborate traps to try and rob them, but fails each time, so he enlists the help of a local Indian tribe headed by Nervous Elk (Paul Lynde) to assist him.

After the box office success of Smokey and the Bandit and Hooper executives at Columbia Pictures were apparently convinced that stunt man-turned-director Hal Needham could do no wrong and thus gave him a ton of money to direct a movie of his choice. Needham decided to do a send-up of the Road Runner cartoons, but as a live-action. The result though isn’t amusing, or lively with not enough stunt work and what you do see had already been shown many times before in other movies. The script by Robert G. Kane, who was a former joke writer for Dean Martin, is unimaginative and gets stuck in a one-dimensional gear where Cactus Jack continually tries to rob the two, but fails, which takes over 90-minutes to play-out while the old Road Runner cartoons where able to do it in less than 5.

There’s also quasi-surreal moments where Jack paints a tunnel opening onto the side of a mountain with black paint and yet Arnold and Ann are able to drive through it like it were a real tunnel. There’s another segment where Jack pours glue onto some train tracks, which Arnold and Ann are able to drive over without getting stuck while Jack does, but why? I realize this is supposed to be a silly movie and logic should not be demanded, but it just shows how lame it is where the director and writer do not challenge themselves to come-up with a clever way, that works within the realm of reality, for the protagonist to get out of their jam and instead lowers the bar to such an extent that they throw-out anything stupid and figure it will suffice.

Kirk for his part has a lot of fun. Some may feel he took it because his career was waning, but Needham had been the stunt coordinator on many of his movies back in the 60’s, so the two were friends and Douglas eagerly accepted the offer. At age 61 he looks great and did many of his own stunts, which is even more impressive, but no matter what the pratfall his character never gets injured. Despite the common belief many cartoons do at times show the antagonist like Wily E. Coyote getting banged-up and wearing bandages, bruises, and even walk with a crutch, so having Jack get that way and yet still determined to commit the crime would’ve been funnier.

Schwarzenegger is funny too simply for being this big, brawny guy who’s painfully naive though why someone would be walking around in the old west speaking with an Austrian accent needed to be questioned. Mel Tillis does mention at one point that he ‘talks funny’, but I felt that should’ve been a running joke where all the characters mention it when they meet him. It also would’ve been nice to have seen his character evolve and not remain so clueless by upping-the-ante with an exciting climactic battle/gunfight between he and Kirk at the end, which doesn’t happen.

Famous character actors like Strother Martin, Ruth Buzzi, and Foster Brooks are completely wasted. Mel Tillis does his stuttering routine (twice), which I’ve never found amusing though he also does the soundtrack and his singing is great. Initially I thought Ann-Margaret was miscast as she was too old for the part, but they make her look convincingly young and by the end I appreciated her presence.

The best by far is Paul Lynde as Indian Chief Nervous Elk, or as he says it N-e-e-e-e-rvous Elk. Today’s more sensitive audiences may not like a white guy playing a Native American, nor wearing an Indian styled head dress. I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect it’s the reason why the movie has never received an official studio DVD/Blu-ray release nor is it available on streaming, which is unfortunate. Yes, it’s political incorrect, but it’s done in such a goofy, campy way that it manages to become stupid funny and the only part that had me chuckling.

Everything else borders on being pathetic and all it succeeds at doing is getting you wanting to watch an actual cartoon, which will be far more sophisticated and entertaining than anything you’ll see here.

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Alternate Title: Cactus Jack

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 20, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Hal Needham

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R

The Rubber Gun (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Making cash dealing drugs.

Steve (Stephen Lack) is a cash-strapped would-be artist who hasn’t made any money with his art exhibits in the past 5 years and has turned to drug dealing in order to bring in some income. He lives in a cramped, rundown studio apartment in Montreal with his makeshift ‘family’ who are also dealers as well as addicts. Bozo (Allan Moyle) is a student at nearby McGill University who is doing a thesis paper on drug use with the controversial position that it has positive effects and chooses Steve’s family as his subject, but without letting them know what he’s doing. Steve though is beginning to have second thoughts about being in the business as he sees what it does both on himself and those around him especially Pierre (Pierre Robert) a bi-sexual heroin addict who’s the father of a young daughter that he doesn’t seem able to take care of and whose addiction has caused him to become a narc with the police feeding him heroin in order to get info on Steve and the family.

Fascinating, experimental film that’s quite similar to Dealingbut with much more of an avante-garde flair. Director Allan Moyle, whose first film this was, takes the Paul Morrissey approach where he gives the actors a general idea of what the scene was about, but then lets the performers ad-lib the lines. The result is much more of a conversational quality where discussions ramble on a bit, much like in real-life, but remain revealing and amusing throughout.  Instead of feeling like you’re watching a movie it seems more like a documentary giving one a rare vivid view of the counterculture movement north of the border.

Probably the biggest surprise is Stephen Lack, who also co-wrote the screenplay and co-produced. I saw him in Scannerswhich he did 4 years after this one, and felt he gave one of the worst performances of a leading man I had ever seen and one of the main reasons that film didn’t succeed as well as it could’ve. Here though he’s amazingly engaging. Maybe it’s because he’s playing an extension of himself as I have no doubt that this is loosely based on his own experiences as a struggling artist, but the guy is quite funny in virtually everything that he says and does and I enjoyed how we see all different sides to his character from his partying one to more of a responsible one and by the end disillusioned with dealing. He even has a scene where he talks about regularly visiting his parents each week, who are quite conservative and unaware of his ‘occupation’, though it would’ve been even more fun to see the actual visit versus just discussing it.

My favorite character was Rainbow a small child, the daughter of Pierre and his girlfriend, who couldn’t have been more than 3 who goes on with her playing as the grown-ups in the room talk about drugs and other things. The image of innocence inside a room of jaded debauchery is darkly amusing. What’s better is that unlike most other movies she’s not given any cutesy lines to say and simply allowed to be herself, which makes her all the more engaging. Despite what’s initially perceived as ‘bad parenting’ you still get the feeling that these fringe adults do love the kid and in their dysfunctional way care for her, which ultimately makes the characters more appealing to the viewer instead of less.

The film has an obvious low budget look, with faded color, grainy stock, muffled sound, and choppy editing. Some may consider this a detraction, but it also helps accentuate the fringe realism with a kick-ass soundtrack to boot. In an era now where everyone his trying to make a movie on their phones with virtually no money this film should be used as a prime example on how to get it done by creating multi-dimensional characters and then allow the actors to fill-out the details through their improvisation, which helped lead writer/director/star Moyle to a Hollywood contract where he went on to make even more interesting movies on a bigger budget.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 24, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Allan Moyle

Studio: St. Lawrence Productions

Available: None

Shoot It Black, Shoot It Blue (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killing caught on film.

Herbert G. Rucker (Michael Moriarty) is a cop with a chip on his shoulder. Having been recently demoted due to a infractions violation he angrily goes about his foot patrol shift on the streets of Kansas City quietly brooding over his feelings of being unfairly wronged. He then chases after a black man who’s stolen a lady’s purse. When he catches up with him in a lonely, back alley he decides to shoot the man despite the fact that he didn’t resist. Unbeknownst to him Lamont (Eric Laneuville), a high school student and amateur filmmaker, caught it on his camera through the back window of his apartment’s fire escape, which was several stories up. While Herbert thinks there are no witnesses and thus will not be caught he instead learns that he’s being charged for murder, but Lamont’s identity is being kept a secret for his own protection until the trial begins. In the meantime Herbert goes hunting for him even though he’s not sure who it is while Lamont continues to follow Herbert secretly recording, both with his camera and tape recorder, everything Herbert does, which leads to him uncovering even more crimes that he admits to.

This film is very similar to Deadly Herowhich came out a year after this one and had the same theme of a cop abusing his authority and inexplicably killing a black man while hoping, even expecting, to get away with it. While that film wasn’t perfect it still fared better than this one. Both films worked off of the public’s growing mistrust of the police departments and some of the inner racism that was on the force. That movie though had much better tension that consistently built-up while this one has long, boring segments that doesn’t feel like it’s propelling the plot. I liked the idea of showing the antagonist in a non-stereotype way where he wasn’t just this one-dimensional sociopath, but instead portrayed as someone with a very low self-esteem who doesn’t feel like he makes much of a difference and kills the other man simply as a way to have empowerment over someone else. The approach though is too leisurely with too many scenes filled with extraneous dialogue and scenery, like having Herbert attend a wedding and even visit a zoo, which aren’t compelling.

I initially thought that the casting of Moriarty was a good thing as his erratic and sometimes bizarre behavior behind-the-scenes on many of the productions that he’s worked on, both for film, television, and stage, that has essentially gotten him blacklisted and deemed too difficult to work with. I was hoping he would channel this inner craziness into his character, but instead he gives a flat performance. We see Herbert’s beaten down side, but never the hidden anger making his time in front of the camera dull and not riveting.

Sorvino as the prosecuting attorney and Earl Hindman as Herbert’s partying friend convey a lot more energy and therefore more fun to watch. Laneuville though fares best as his scenes help move the plot along while Moriarty’s moments make it feel like it’s stagnating. I was disappointed too that there’s no ultimate confrontation between them and Lamont’s ability to follow Herbert around without getting detected seemed dubious as most cops acquire a keen sense of awareness with their immediate surroundings through the dangerous nature of their job and thus I’d think he’d pick up on the fact that he was being followed/monitored much sooner than he does.

Spoiler Alert!

The twist at the end has the victim’s brother shooting the tires of a car that Herbert’s driving, all from a tip given to him from Lamont, which sends Herbert’s car careening out-of-control and eventually killing him. This was ‘street justice’ due to their belief that Herbert would never have been convicted. This though needed to be shown and not just presumed. Seeing a judge or jury acquit Herbert despite the ample evidence would’ve been more impactful. The added trial scenes would’ve also made the script more compact with the boring moments trimmed down. If the killer was indeed going to be acquitted anyways because the jury system is rigged and so he later on gets shot at while driving, is fine, but a court room battle was needed either way.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 4, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Dennis McGuire

Studio: Levitt-Pickman

Available: VHS, DVD-R

The Prisoner of Zenda (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: A king look-alike.

When King Rudolph IV (Peter Sellers) dies in a hot air ballooning accident his heir apparent, Rudolph (Peter Sellers), who spends his days in casinos gambling and carousing, gets summoned to be the next King. His half-brother, Prince Michael (Jeremy Kemp), feels he’d be more suitable for the throne. He sends out an assassin to kill Rudolph in order to allow Michael to become King. While the assassin tries to carry-out the mission his attempt fails due in large part to the quick thinking of Sydney (Peter Sellers) a local carriage driver. Sydney is actually Rudolph’s half-brother due to an affair that the King had with a British actress years earlier, but he is unaware of this and yet due to his striking resemblance to the new would-be King he gets hired as decoy in order to help prevent any more assassination attempts on Rudolph’s life.

While the film, which is loosely based on the classic Anthony Harvey novel of the same name, was met with a lot of criticism upon its release I did come away impressed with the look of it. This was the last film directed by actor-turned-director Richard Quine whose creative output in the early part of his career fared far better than his films towards the end, which were pretty much all box office bombs and critical duds. This one though has some great looking sets and excellent period piece costumes as well as impressive on-location shooting done at historical castles throughout Austria, which almost makes up for its other inadequacies.

Sellers for his part isn’t bad either at least on the acting end. While the reports were that his health was declining he certainly didn’t look it and his use of accents, particularly Sydney’s Welsh-Scottish one, is excellent. However, on a comic level his presence is quite bland. It’s almost like he put in so much effort into the characterizations that he forgot to be funny. Some may find Rudolph speaking with a lisp and unable to say the ‘R’ sound somewhat amusing though this gets overplayed and ultimately old, but outside of that he has nothing else that he says or does that’s humorous. The audiences are coming in expecting him to be the comic catalyst when instead it’s Gregory Sierra, in a very energetic Wily E. Coyote type role as a vengeful count, and Graham Stark as a prison guard who manage to get any genuine laughs.

Incorporating Sellers’ then wife Lynn Frederick into the proceedings doesn’t help. Frederick was fielding leading role offers for two TV-movies at the time including that of The Torn Birds, but Sellers convinced here that cinema work, even if the role was small, was superior to that of doing something for TV and thus she rejected those and took this one. Their marriage though was already in a rocky stage and their therapist advised them not to work together which resulted in Sellers routinely berating his wife in-between takes to the point that she’d sometimes break down into tears. The coldness between the two really shows onscreen as they share no chemistry and thus making their character’s romantic moments come-off as quite flat. If anything the scenes between Sellers and Elke Sommer, whom he co-starred with years early in A Shot in the Dark, works better.

While the production is polished and even has a nice action moment where the carriage that Sydney is in gets attacked the comedy is completely lacking and the film has a poor pace. You keep waiting for the humor to gel, but it never does. The attempts that you do get are corny and lame, or just too subtle to elicit even a chuckle resulting in yet another Sellers’ misfire.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 25, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Quine

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD-R

Slow Dancing in the Big City (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Journalist falls for dancer.

Lou (Paul Sorvino) is a successful columnist for a major New York newspaper and is known throughout the city where ever he goes. He’s been in a casual sexual relationship with Franny (Anita Dangler), an early version of what’s now called ‘friends with benefits’, for quite awhile, but he’s ready to move-on. He then meets Sarah (Anne Ditchburn) a professional dancer who’s moved into an apartment next to his. She’s getting ready to star in a big ballet production, but is finding that during rehearsals she’s having a lot of difficulty doing her routines. She visits a doctor and learns that she has a degenerative condition that will make her continued dancing impossible. If she tries to dance for even a little while more it could mean she’ll lose her ability to walk. She wants to perform one last time in the premiere of her play, but will Lou, whose just learned of her condition, be able to talk her out of it?

This was director John G. Avildsen’s follow-up to his mega-hit Rocky and many in the film going public, both fans and critics alike, were excited in anticipation at seeing his next big project. Some promos even described this as a ‘female Rocky’, but after it premiered no one was impressed. It ultimately died at the box office and tainted Avildsen, who had struggled for many years before Rocky, with a lot of low budget independent stuff that was never seen by a wide audience, as being a ‘one hit wonder’. Of course it didn’t help that he went on to direct the wretchedly bad Neighbors, but in either case this was the start of his career downfall that was somewhat saved with The Karate Kid, but not completely.

One of the things that I did like were the two stars. Ditchburn, whose only other starring role in a feature film was in the Canadian slasher Curtains, I felt was super. She was a professional dancer and initially I thought she had been the inspiration for the story, but apparently that wasn’t the case as Avildsen had already auditioned over 400 other people for the part before he settled on her, which came after he saw a picture of her and her beauty so mesmerized him he couldn’t get her image out of his head. While her acting during her audition was by her own admission ‘a disaster’ Avildsen was determined to make it work and they went through long and exhausting acting lessons until it improved. Some critics labeled her performance as ‘wooden’, but her initial frosty reaction to Sorvino, who came-off like a middle-aged poon-hound, seemed reasonable and what most other women would’ve done. The many headbands that she wears throughout was an attempt to cover-up a bad haircut that she had gotten just before filming began and in my opinion they had a sexy appeal.

Sorvino is genuinely engaging playing a prototype of famous New York columnist Jimmy Breslin and while others have played a similar type of role, including Breslin himself, I felt Sorvino did it best and his presence helps keep the film watchable. I did though question why his character, who writes for a major newspaper and known seemingly throughout the city and occasionally even gets spotted as if he were a celebrity, would still have to be living in a rundown, two-bit apartment building like he does.

The empty-headed script by actress-turned-screenwriter Barra Grant is the biggest culprit.  There’s simply no rational, logical reason for why these two complete opposites, with a drastic age separation, would suddenly go ga-ga for each other at virtually first sight. For Sorvino I could see why an out-of-shape middle-aged man would lust after a cute young thing who’s moved in next door and hope if he heaps enough attention on her he might get lucky, but I didn’t understand why Sarah would fall for a guy who was so much older. She was previously in a relationship with another older man, played by Nicholas Coaster, but no explanation for why she liked guys who could’ve been her father, even though in an effort to make her motives more understandable, there should’ve been one.

To make the concept believable the two should’ve been put into some situation where they had to rely on each other to succeed and in the process fell-in-love. It could’ve been helping each other out of some disaster like an apartment fire, or car accident. Or working together on a long-term project. Having the female protagonist then get afflicted with some ‘disease-of-the-week’ just makes it even more corny.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending in which we get to see the musical Sarah’s been preparing for is actually the best part as the stage production allows for some visual creativity, which had been otherwise lacking, but I didn’t like the tension of whether she was going to be able to make it through her illness without collapsing. The fact that she’s able to perform and only collapses the second the play is over is incredibly hokey. It also ends too abruptly with Sorvino carrying the crippled Sarah onstage where she gets a standing ovation by the audience, but no denouement showing what happened afterwards. Does she get the operation, which would allow her to walk again, or does she become permanently confined to a wheel chair and if so does that affect their budding relationship? These are questions that should’ve been answered, but aren’t.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 8, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John G. Avildsen

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Conrack (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He teaches underprivileged kids.

In the spring of 1969 Pat Conroy gets a job teaching children in grades 5 through 8 in a one room schoolhouse off the coast of South Carolina on an island known as Yamacraw. He soon finds that the students, all of whom are poor and African American, don’t know even the basics of arithmetic, or geography and can’t read. He becomes compelled to change that by instituting unorthodox teaching methods, which he hopes will ‘jostle’ them from their intellectual slumber and get them into learning and enjoying it. Mrs. Scott (Madge Sinclair) is the principal who’s not keen to these methods and routinely lectures him. Mr. Skeffington (Hume Cronyn) is the superintendent who also frowns on some of the things Pat is doing and proceeds to have him fired. Pat tries to win his job back and the students and townspeople help him in his fight, but will it be enough?

The film is based on the novel ‘The Water is Wide’, which was written by Pat Conroy, who later went on to even greater success with The Great Santiniwhich was based on his father, and also made into a movie. This story was supposedly based on some of Pat’s true-life experiences while teaching on Daufuskie Island. Some of what’s shown is revealing and even captivating, but I couldn’t help but feel certain other aspects were exaggerated. I realize that these kids didn’t have the best education system and certainly might not be as well read as certain other kids their age, but to not know what 2 + 2 was, or that they lived in the U.S.A. came off as too extreme to me. There’s also no real explanation for why the teacher before him failed to teach even these most basic things to them. Was she/he just lazy, or grossly incompetent?

The film also comes-off a bit too much like a vanity project where Conroy is portrayed as being this ‘amazing’ teacher who’s able to get extraordinary results from kids that no one else could simply by his sheer presence alone. All the students bond with him quickly and there’s no trouble-maker, or discipline issues. One could argue that Mary (Tina Andrews) was difficult because she refused to show-up to class, but truancy and in-class disruptions, as well as those students who test authority, are two entirely different things and the fact that Pat is able to avoid that is something few other teachers can say they’ve been able to do as well.

Voight is certainly energetic and engaging, but the students themselves fail to elicit any distinctive personalities and it’s hard to distinguish any of them from the others. I enjoyed Sinclair a great deal and felt she gave a great performance, but her confrontations with Pat could’ve been played-up more. The side-story dealing with Paul Winfield as an illiterate hermit whom Pat teaches to read is a total waste mainly because his character is underdeveloped and not in it long enough to really care about.

I enjoyed Pat’s visit with Edna (Ruth Attaway), one of the elderly townspeople, but his relationship with the other people in town should’ve been shown intermittently all through the film instead of just saving it until the third act where they all attempt to come to his rescue when he loses his job. They seemed to really like him, which is great, but I wasn’t sure they even knew he existed since there were never any scenes showing him interacting with them up until then.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending had me raising my eyebrow a bit, as Pat, once he’s let go of his job, proceeds to drive around the local town and broadcast his grievances through a speaker attached to the roof of his pick-up, which had me concerned that in typical Hollywood fashion he would be able to win his employment back even though in real-life stunts like that usually don’t work. Fortunately that doesn’t happen making the film, which was already idealized to begin with, not seem quite as fabricated. If you can forgive some of these issues, the production as a whole is well down and the always reliable director Martin Ritt perfectly captures the rural setting and ambiance, which is the best thing about it.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 15, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Martin Ritt

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: Blu-ray (Out-of-Print), DVD-R

Rivals (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Child dislikes mom’s boyfriend.

Jamie (Scott Jacoby) is the 10-year-old son of Christine (Joan Hackett) who’s still grieving over the death of his father 2-years earlier and very possessive over who his mother sees. Whenever she tries to get into a relationship he gets in the way to end it. When she starts seeing Peter (Robert Klein) a would-be comedian who gives bus tours of New York City, he immediately takes a disliking to him, but Christine marries him anyways though the home life remains rocky. Just when things seem to be getting better Jamie devises a scheme, which he hopes will kill-off Peter, but things don’t go quite as planned.

One of the lasting impressions of this so-so production are scenes of stuff you’d never see in a movie today. One is the child nudity of a very young boy sitting on the toilet looking like he’s about to fall in and a close-up of his penis. Another is an awkward scene featuring Jacoby, only 13 at the time as it was filmed in 1970, but looking more like he was 10, forcing his babysitter, played by Jeanne Tanzy Williams, who was 17, to undress in front of him and then make-out. Tanzy, who later became the manager for the Backstreet Boys, talked about the filming of the scene at length on her blog and how difficult it was to do.

Klein, who has lambasted the movie for years, is the biggest problem and it would’ve had more potential if it had cast somebody else. The character is meant to be a ‘lovable joker’, but his practical joke behavior becomes a turn-off when he locks some tourists inside his hot, cramped bus for hours just so he can go out on a date with Christine. His playful goofiness is obnoxious and his attempts at humor incredibly lame. I didn’t believe his character was originally from Los Angeles as someone this brash and aggressive could only be from New York and hope to get away with it. I was dumbfounded too how he knows he’s a poor lay and yet still pressures Christine to go to bed with him. I would think if he knew he was going to disappoint the other person he would just masturbate to porn in order to avoid the embarrassment, or if the character was to be consistent he’d think he was great in the sack, since he thinks he’s funny when he really isn’t, and the scene could have him proudly smoking a cigarette in bed after sex while Christine, turning away from him, could have an unhappy expression, which would’ve been funny. In either case he’s annoying as hell and you actually unintentionally side with Jamie in his efforts to off him.

Hackett, whose done some great dramatic work, looks lost here and not given much to do outside of having a perpetually pained look on her face. Jacoby is the one thing that keeps it intriguing. The scene where he yells at one of his mother’s potential boyfriends to “get out” after he catches them talking is quite creepy, but director Krishna Shah ruins it by immediately cutting to a scene with Hackett in a psychiatrist office where the doctor, played by James Karen, explains the underlying motives for Jamie’s outburst, which wasn’t needed and hurts the effect of the moment.

The musical score, which sounded like something better suited for ‘Sesame Street’ is atrocious and drags the whole thing down. It also takes too long to get to where it’s obviously going and a lot of the scenes could’ve been trimmed, or cut-out completely. The ending is a bit of a surprise and effectively grisly, but the film suffers from extreme shifts in tone, which hampers the suspense and doesn’t allow the story to achieve its full potential.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 23, 1972 (Filmed in 1970)

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Krishna Shah

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Tubi

Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bizarre occurrences at lodge.

Inspector Glebsky (Uldis Pucitis) is summoned to a remote winter lodge known as the Dead Mountaineers due to a climber who fell to his death off a nearby cliff and whose faithful St. Bernard sleeps underneath a portrait of him in the hotel’s lobby. Glebsky was informed from the anonymous call of some unusual activity that was occurring at the place, but once he gets there no one, including the innkeeper Alex (Juri Jarvet), know what he’s talking about. After he meets the strange collection of guests he becomes even more suspicious. Then he’s handed a note stating that Hinkus (Mikk Mikiver), a man supposedly weakened by tuberculosis, is planning to commit murder. When one of the guests, Olaf (Tiit Harm), does turn-up dead, but Hinkus is later found tied-up in his bed, so he couldn’t have done it. A avalanche blocks off all outside roads trapping Glebsky and the guests in the building where more and more weird things begin to occur until the inspector can no longer trust his senses, or even his logic.

Some people ask; what makes a great movie? And the answer is that a good movie needs a unique and distinctive image that impresses the viewer right from the start and which they can take away with them once it’s over. This film has just that image with a bird’s eye view of the hotel that’s so remote, as it’s nestled in the snowy, mountain landscape, and so small when glimpsed from high up, that at first I thought it was a prop, but it’s a real building, which makes it all the more impressive. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such an isolated place, it doesn’t even seem to have roads leading into it. This shot alone, of which it goes back to it a few times, brilliantly sets the tone for the rest of the movie where everything is totally unique and like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

The fact that this was all shot in what was then the Soviet Union, in this case what is now Kazakhstan, makes it even more jaw-dropping as productions there didn’t receive the same type of budget as a studio driven Hollywood one and yet the visual design is impeccable. The inside of the place has a pronounced, surreal look with excellent shadowy lighting and the special effects, while sparse, come into strong play during the climactic surprise ending that like with the beginning leaves an equally lasting impression. The music by Sven Grunberg has a distinct futuristic tone that helps accentuate the outer worldly quality while the sun glistening off the bright white snow during the outdoor scenes makes it seem almost like another planet.

The story was written by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and based on their book of the same name. They’re better known for their novel ‘Roadside Picnic’, which was turned into the acclaimed Stalker directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. Both brothers also wrote the screenplay and it pretty much stays faithful to the book though there’s a few missing characters and Glebsky’s motivation for going to the lodge is different. Here it was due a mysterious phone call while in the book it was for vacation. The plot at first gets played-up like it’s just another police/murder investigation complete with interviews with potential suspects and even Agatha Christie-like flashbacks showing what each guest was doing when the murder occurred, which had me getting bored as the movie starts out as something really different, so to have it devolve into the conventional murder mystery was disappointing, but by the second act this all changes and that’s when it gets really interesting.

The acting is solid and I enjoyed Pucitis in the lead, who despite having his voice dubbed, has the perfect chiseled features of a hardened police detective. My only complaint, and it’s a minor one and probably the only one in this potential cult classic that desperately needs more attention and a Blu-ray/dvd release, comes at the beginning during Glebsky’s voice-over narration where he speaks in the present about his time at the hotel and how during a ‘slow shift’ the events that he witnessed there comes back to haunt him. I found it hard to believe that he’d only think about this when there was nothing else to do, or in this case a ‘slow shift’, as I’d think it would be on his mind all the time to the extent that he may never be able to go back to police work again as the events would’ve been too traumatizing.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: August 27, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 20 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Grigori Kromanov

Studio: Tallinnfilm

Available: dvdlady