Category Archives: 70’s Movies

Summerfield (1977)

summerfield4

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Island holds dark secret.

Simon (Nick Tate) is the new teacher at an elementary school in a seaside community. He soon makes the acquaintance of Sally (Michelle Jarman) who’s one of his pupils and she invites him out to the island of Summerfield where she lives with her mother Jenny (Elizabeth Alexander) and Jenny’s brother David (John Waters). While visiting he accidently hits Sally with his car causing her a broken leg and forcing Simon to visit the residence twice a week to give her personal tutoring. He soon starts up a relationship with Jenny and realizes to his surprise that his predecessor had also dated her, but has now disappeared without a trace. This along with finding out that Sally has a rare blood disorder causes him to do some investigating of his own, but the answers that he finds are both shocking and perplexing.

The story here, at least the main plot point where a new teacher comes in to replace an old one who’s disappeared, is quite similar to Unman, Wittering and Zigowhich was a British thriller that came out in the early 70’s however, this film approaches it in a much different way and has a far more unusual outcome. The pace though is slow and borders on being almost too slow with clues that trickled in too leisurely. The whole blood disorder thing doesn’t even get mentioned until well into the third act and yet for some reason I still found it quite intriguing and was never really bored. Much of the credit goes to the cinematography and the way it captures the picturesque beauty of the landscape, which was shot on-location at both Phillips and Churchill Island, which sit off the coast of Southern Australia.

While the film is for the most part atmospheric I did have a few issues with some of it although not enough to hurt my enjoyment. One problematic element has to do with Simon accidentally running over Sally, who can’t be much more than 10, with his car, but instead of her screaming out in pain and crying, she remains quite calm, which to me was unrealistic. I was also surprised how she continues to like Simon even after the incident and trusts that he didn’t intentionally do it on purpose even though she really hadn’t known him for that long and therefore should’ve been more suspicious and defensive with him than she is. Don’t get me wrong, Sally is one of the best things about the movie and I loved the way she gets played by the young actress Jarman, but I felt there could’ve been a better way that she gets injured, like having her running to meet Simon and accidently stepping into a hole that breaks her ankle/leg, which then would’ve avoided the other issues listed above.

The Simon character is a bit too transparent as he’s middle-aged, but single and with no children. Not that this has to be a problem, but for the viewer to become emotionally connected to him a backstory is generally useful, but here there isn’t any. Having the plumpy lady (Geraldine Turner), who works at the boarding house that he stays at suddenly one morning sneak into his room, disrobe, and then hop into bed with him as he sleeps is a bit weird as the two had never dated, or shown any overt interest in the other and yet Simon and her have instantaneous sex instead of him waking up shocked and disoriented, which is the reaction just about anyone else in that situation would’ve had.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending in which Simon finds that Jenny and David, who despite being brother and sister, are having sex together I didn’t find all that surprising as I’d pretty much had been expecting it almost from the beginning. What did surprise me is the way David has an immediate meltdown and kills not only Jenny and Sally, but also himself the minute he realizes they’ve been caught, which to me was too quick of a surrender. They’ve supposedly been doing this for years, so why cave so suddenly? Why not simply move away to another place where their secret isn’t known, or try to blackmail Simon in some way not to tell, or even just deny what Simon tells everyone as it would simply be his word against theirs. I thought David was going to make an attempt to run Simon over with his jeep in order to quiet him. There’s a tracking shot earlier in the film where see things from the vehicle’s perspective, which is driven by David, go into a parking lot where Simon is walking and it gets close to hitting him at that point, so I felt that was a foreshadowing, which is something many directors will do, to what was going to happen at the end. There’s a brief set-up, which makes it seem like David is going to hunt Simon down, which could’ve been exciting, but ultimately it fizzles out.

I was also confused why the former teacher suddenly reappears out of nowhere at the very end. I had presumed, like most viewers probably will, that he had been killed when he found out about Jenny’s and David’s relationship, but apparently that wasn’t the case. Yet having him suddenly get throw-in seemed to serve no real purpose.

summerfield1

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 30, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ken Hannam

Studio: Spectrum Films

Available: DVD (Region 0 Import)

Lolly-Madonna XXX (1973)

lolly3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two rural families feud.

Rod Steiger is the patriarch of the Feather family while Robert Ryan heads the Gutshall household. Both families live next to each other in poor ramshackle shacks in rural Tennessee. Neither side gets along and both will occasionally play tricks on the other in order to try and get the upper-hand. One day the Gutshall boys send a letter to the Feathers signed by a Lolly Madonna even though that woman doesn’t really exist and was created to get the Feathers away from their whiskey still so the Gutshalls could destroy it. However, two of the Feather boys, Thrush and Hawk (Scott Wilson, Ed Lauter) spot Ronnie (Season Hubley) sitting at a bus stop in town and think that she’s the mysterious Lolly, so they kidnap her and bring her back to their farm where they hold her hostage. The Gutshalls see them bring in this new girl, but have no idea who she is, so the Gutshall’s daughter Sister E (Joan Goodfellow) sneaks over to the Feather residence to spy on them, but gets accosted and raped by Thrush and Hawk in the process. Now the Gutshalls feel the Feathers need to pay a price and both factions go to war, which causes several casualties.

The screenplay was written by Sue Grafton, better known for her later mystery novels, and based on her book ‘The Lolly-Madonna War’, which was published in the United Kingdom, but never in the U.S. Supposedly the story is a metaphor for the Vietnam War and the horrible destruction of violence, but trying to make a profound statement through the follies of a bunch of stereotyped hillbillies doesn’t work. For one thing they live in homes that look like they were abandoned 30 years ago and drive in rusted pick-ups that seem taken straight out of the junkyard. I realize poor people can’t all live in nice homes or drive fancy cars, but most can at least maintain them a bit better. Also, neither family owns a telephone, but they do have electricity, a refrigerator and even a TV, so if they can have all of those things then why not a telephone too?

Hubley’s character has no real purpose in the story as the Gutshall’s daughter could’ve been raped for a variety of reasons without any stranger needing to be present. She doesn’t do much when she’s there anyways except sit quietly in the background and observe the feuding. Having her fall madly in love with one of the boys, played by Jeff Bridges, and grieve openly when Hawk, the same man who violently kidnapped her just a day earlier, gets injured seems too rushed and out-of-whack to be believable. I’m well aware of the Stockholm Syndrome where victims can over a great deal of time fall for their captors, but this takes that concept to a ridiculous new level.

Despite being top-billed Steiger is seen very little, especially during the first hour and he’s not allowed to chew-up the scenery like he usually does though watching him make a ham sandwich where he applies a massive amount of ketchup is fun. Bridges pretty much takes over things by the end, but for the most part no one actor, despite the plethora of well-known faces, headlines here and if anything they’re all wasted by being locked into roles that are caricatures and indistinguishable from the others.

The pace is slow with an inordinate amount of talking that over explains things that the viewer could’ve picked up on visually. When the action does occur, like the death of Bridges’ first wife, played by Kathy Watts, it comes off as corny. The animal lovers will not like the scene where Steiger shoots a horse looped together from several different angles and in slow-motion, nor the segment where pigs get tied to a post and scream in panic as a ring of fire gets set around them. The final shootout though is the biggest letdown as the film fades-out before it’s over, so we really never know who survives it and who doesn’t.

Fred Myrow’s haunting score is the only thing that I liked, but everything else falls flat. If you’re looking for a movie with a anti-war/anti-violence message there are hundreds of others to choose from that do it way better.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 21, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard C. Sarafian

Studio: MGM

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

Patrick (1978)

patrick2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Comatose patient has telekinesis.

Patrick (Robert Thomspon) lies in a coma inside a hospital three years after murdering his parents. Kathie (Susan Penhaligon) is the new nurse hired to look after him. She notices early on strange things occurring whenever she’s in Patrick’s room and begins to believe that he may have special powers. Her relationships with both her ex-husband (Rod Mullinar) and her new love interest (Bruce Barry) also become affected by bizarre, unexplained happenings that she feels Patrick is causing, but can’t prove. Dr. Roget (Robert Helpmann), who runs the hospital, and Matron Cassidy (Julia Blake), the head nurse, refuse to believe any of this and proceed to end Patrick’s life, by cutting the power to the machine that keeps him alive only to find this to be much more of a challenge than they expected.

This was the first thriller directed by Richard Franklin, a disciple of Alfred Hitchcock, after having shot two soft core porn films before this one. While on the technical end it’s quite polished the pace is slow and takes too long to get to any type of genuine scares. For the first 40 minutes the only impressive stunts that Patrick does is open a window, via telekinesis, and slightly move a statue that’s sitting on a desk, which for some viewers won’t be enough to keep them engaged. In fact the full range of his powers never gets put on display until the very end and instead should’ve been seen much sooner, versus the subtle little tricks that he does, which aren’t as impressive or interesting.

How Patrick got into a coma is never fully explained. The opening flashback scene shows him electrocuting his parents as they sit in a bathtub by throwing a heat lamp into the water, but nothing shown for what he does after this. In the original screenplay, written by Everett De Roche, Patrick jumps off a ledge after witnessing his wife being unfaithful but Franklin wanted a darker side to Patrick, so the parricide motive was used, which is fine, but you still got to also show what causes his coma, which this film never does. There’s also no explanation for his psychic powers. Did he get these abilities after becoming comatose, or did he already have them before and if so how did he acquire them?

The supporting cast, particularly Helpmann and Blake, who play the autocratic, terse talking, authoritative figures to the hilt, is the most entertaining thing about the movie.  Penhaligon is okay, but her character is hard to understand particularly when she reaches under the bed sheets to fondle Patrick’s penis, happens twice, or kiss him on the lips, which probably no one else, especially as creepy as he looks and is, would dream of doing. When Patrick begins typing out messages on a nearby typewriter, via psychic powers, Penhaligon doesn’t run out of the room in shock and fear like anyone else would, but instead acts like she’s cool with it. Also, when Patrick uses his abilities to trash her apartment, which she initially thinks was done by her ex, she doesn’t call the police and even invites the ex back to her place later on, when most other people would’ve cut-off all communications with him.

For extremely patient viewers it might be worth it, but a 112-minute runtime, which was originally 140 minutes on the first cut, is too long to sit through for such little that actually happens. More special effects and more of backstory to Patrick and how he became the way he is, both physically and psychologically, was needed. Remade in 2013.

patrick1

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 1, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Franklin

Studio: Filmways Australasian Distributors

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Fandor, YouTube

Crazy Joe (1974)

crazy1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gangster’s rise and fall.

Loosely based on the real-life exploits of a New York gangster named Joe Gallo (Peter Boyle) the story centers on Joe’s rise in the underground criminal world and his challenging of Mob Boss Falco (Luther Adler) as well as Don Vittorio (Eli Wallach) the head of all crime families. When Joe and his brother’s agree to carry out a hit for Falco, but are only paid $100 each for the crime they feel rebuffed and plot revenge by storming Falco’s mansion and taking member’s of his family hostage. Through Don, who acts as an intermediary, they’re able to settle the dispute, but later Joe finds that he’s been double-crossed, which sends him to jail during a sting operation. While in prison he makes friends with Willy (Fred Williamson) an African American. The two form an uneasy alliance where he agrees to help Joe settle his score once they both get out.

With all of the gangster movies that came out during the early and mid 70’s it gets harder and harder to tell them apart, or have much in the way to say about them since they all tend to be alike with very little variation. This film is a clear example to cash-in on the Francis Ford Coppola classic by quickly producing this cheapie, which was shot in the U.S. with American actors by an Italian production company, which in essence makes it a foreign film. While the plot and action lack anything original I did find the opening sequence where they carry-out the hit by shooting a man and his cronies while inside a restaurant to be captivating. The action itself isn’t what’s interesting, but seeing the men singing and joking around inside the car, both as they drive-up to the place and then again as they leave it, to be fascinating in a disturbing sort of way where no matter how viscous the act they feel no guilt and happily go back to being their playful selves almost instantaneously.

Boyle’s performance helps a lot. He was in another film just 4 years earlier with a similar title called Joe where he played a violent right-wing extremist and he got so turned off by the fan mail he received with people telling him how much they enjoyed watching the ugly acts that his character did and said in that movie that he vowed never to appear in another violent film again and yet just a few years later that’s exactly what he did, but I’m glad. He exudes a great amount of energy and liveliness into the role and helps keep the movie entertaining to the point that it’s only interesting when he’s in it and a complete bore when he’s not. Effort is made to humanize him as it see-saws between moments where he’s killing people and then other points when he’s saving them particularly when he goes into a burning building to help some children get out.

The supporting cast is strong especially the always reliable Wallach and Williamson whose angry gaze melts right through the screen. I also really enjoyed Adler as the arrogant crime boss who feels he’s ‘all-powerful’, but physically is quite old and frail and eventually into the helpless position of being put inside an iron lung while still callously giving out all the orders and demanding full compliance. Louis Guss is equally amusing as a tough guy killer who when kidnapped immediately folds by wetting his pants and begging for his heart medication.

Unfortunately Henry Winkler, in his film debut, is not as effective as his demeanor is too refined and gentile and does not reflect the savagery of the others almost like he walked in on the completely wrong film set. Rip Torn is badly miscast as well. While the other actors appear to be genuinely Italian and speak with authentic accents Torn doesn’t. Instead he keeps his Texas draw intact, which is totally out-of-place, and while a good supporting player in other movies sticks out as a completely sore thumb here.

Ultimately though the poor production values sink it. To some extent it helps on the violent end as the killings are done in a more graphic and raw way, much like an Italian horror film, which makes it more real than The Godfather where it was handled in a lyrical fashion, but the plot has nowhere much to go. You know where it’s headed right from the start with an ending that’s completely predictable and has no impact. Doesn’t particularly help either that the film’s promotional poster gives away the final scene.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 8, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Carlo Lizzani

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: Available through Non-Standard DVD (Public Domain).

The Last of the Knucklemen (1979)

lastknuckle1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Isolated miners living together.

A group of miners, some of them with criminal records and no other means of employment, survive together in the remotest area of the Outback as they make a living working for Tarzan (Gerard Kennedy) who leads the team and gives them their paychecks. At night they sleep via bunkbeds in a small tin shack where they also play card games, drink, and occasionally brawl. Pansy (Michael Preston) is the de facto leader, who uses his quick temper and husky build to intimidate anyone who challenges his authority. The only one he doesn’t fight is Tarzan, but only because he’s the employer. Then a new man arrives named Tom (Peter Hehir) with a mysterious past. He has karate skills that allow him to take-on Pansy’s fist-fitting ability, but Pansy has a secret weapon of his own when he brings in Carl (Steve Rackman) from a nearby town who’s a huge guy with very few teeth, who he feels can beat Tom in a fight and everyone else in the camp takes bets on who they think can win.

The film is based on the stage play of the same name written by John Powers who himself had never worked in a mining camp, but had always been intrigued with the ruggedness, wildness, and overall isolation of them after growing up hearing bawdy tales from his Uncle Harry who had been employed at one of them. 20 years after hearing his uncle’s stories he then decided to turn those rustic tales into a play while also incorporating it with the adventures of Ronald Biggs who was a train robber who managed to evade the authorities for many years. Pitting a known criminal trying to just hide-out at a remote camp with the gruff nature of the men who worked there he felt would make for an interesting dynamic and the play, which opened in 1973 in Australia and 10 years later in the U.S. where it starred Dennis Quaid, was met with rave reviews.

Director Tim Burstall was looking to do a male bonding pic and had a choice between doing this one or The Odd Angry Shotwhich was reviewed last week, and came to the determination that this was the better fit. He particularly liked the outback setting and became focused on finding the most remote town to film it in and eventually chose the itty-bitty one of Andamooka, which at the time had only 316 people living there and today has even less. While the town certainly met the rustic quality it had no police and the inhabitants, much like the characters in the story, had previous criminal records forcing the producer to sleep with a gun at his side and the production’s payroll under his pillow. It also at times caused interruptions with the filming when one day one of the locals threatened to blow up the set with a stick of dynamite, which sent the cast and crew running, until the special effects man realized the stick had no detonator.

The interior scenes were done on a soundstage in Melbourne, though it’s so impressively camouflaged you’d never know it. My only complaint with the outdoor shots is that filming took place during September and October, which is Springtime in Australia where temps aren’t as hot, and in fact they were quite chilly, so that intense hot Outback feel, which is the whole basis of the story, never really comes through.

As for the story, it’s surprisingly engaging despite the fact that there’s really not much of a plot and everything hinders on the interactions of the characters. Fortunately the characters are so well defined that you enjoy and are even intrigued at how they all relate to each other and the love-hate relationship that they share. One of the most gripping moments has nothing to do with the climactic fight, but instead on an intense poker game between Pansy and the elderly Methusela (Michael Duffield), where each tries to bluff the other while also raising the money stakes to drastic heights.

The fight itself, which you wait through the whole movie to see, wasn’t as exciting, or captured in as intense of a way, as I was expecting. The animosity between Tom and Pansy wasn’t played-up enough either and only comes to a head during the third act while I felt it should’ve been brewing from the very start. Tom as a character is quite dull and is seen a lot less than Methusela who’s the scene-stealer. The sequence between Tom and Carl’s battle is surprisingly quick while the big showdown between Tarzan and Pansy gets captured from a distance and shown over the closing credits, which I found quite disappointing. There’s no answer to who ultimately wins the fight either, which despite the film’s other good qualities, is a big letdown.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 11, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Tim Burstall

Studio: Hexagon Productions

Available: DVD (Import Region 0)

The Hospital (1971)

hospital1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: An incompetently run hospital.

Dr. Herbert Bock (George C. Scott) is the chief of staff at a teaching hospital in New York where patients routinely die due to misdiagnosis and other blunderings. There’s also a protest by a group of tenants from a nearby apartment building that’s been annexed by the hospital to make room for a drug rehabilitation center. Bock not only must deal with these issues, but also his crumbling personal life which has turned him to both alcohol and thoughts of suicide. His only ray-of-light is meeting the beautiful Barbra (Diana Rigg) who has come to the hospital to seek treatment for her father (Barnard Hughes), but just as Bock starts to come out of his depression the place becomes terrorized by an unseen assailant who begins killing both the patients and staff.

In 1969 after his wife had received poor care at a local hospital Paddy Chayefsky set-out to write a script exposing what he felt was the corruption and incompetence going on inside the American medical institutions. He managed to get full control over his screenplay and final say over any proposed changes, which was a good thing since initially the studio felt it was filled with too much medical terminology that would go over many viewer’s heads. I’ll admit there’s an excessive amount of lingo, both with the dialogue between the doctors and staff as well as the opening voice-over narration by Chayefsky, that’s done at a rapid-fire pace and I really didn’t understand it, but I still kind of liked it. I have no medical background myself, so I and most viewers aren’t going to get the ‘medical speak’, but leaving it in helps make it sound more authentic. It also impresses the viewer with how much research was put into it and you basically trust what’s going on because it ‘sounds intelligent’.

Another complaint was the shift in tone where things start out in a darkly-humorous slap-dash fashion only to end up during the second act becoming quite serious. Normally this would’ve been a big problem, but I liked the shift here. I think the reason is because underneath the comedy there’s still life-and-death consequences going on and if you’re going to make a statement movie, which this is attempting to do, then at some point things have got to slow-down and get serious in order for that statement to get out, which this thing ends up successfully doing.

While I enjoyed the fluid pace that manages to encompass not only satire and drama, but even shades of horror without ever losing its realism I did find that it spends an inordinate amount of time telling us about all of the problems without bothering to give us any solutions. There’s no focus on what the underlying causes are nor any balance by showing an well-run hospital in comparison. One might start to believe that all hospitals are like this and become afraid to ever go into one even if they are really sick, which isn’t exactly a good thing. This may have been the reason why Chayefsky himself died at the relatively young age of 58 from cancer because he feared Dr.’s would “cut me up because of that movie I wrote about them” and thus refused surgery that might’ve saved his life.

Spoiler Alert!

There’s a few issues with the casting as well. Overall, I was impressed with the performances particular Scott who got his second Oscar nomination for his work here. Rigg is also quite good, in a part that seemed better suited for Jane Fonda, who was the studio’s choice, but Rigg’s British accent and terse style makes for an interesting dynamic. You can also glimpse young soon-to-be-stars in small bits including: Nancy Marchand and Robert Walden, who later went on to co-star with each other in the TV-show ‘Lou Grant’ as well as Stockard Channing, in her film debut, and Frances Sternhagen as an exasperated medical clerk. The main problem though comes with Barnard Hughes, who appears for some strange reason in two completely different roles. He is very funny as the surgeon who finds he’s been operating on the wrong person, but then later he reappears as Rigg’s father, which didn’t make much sense. Since the father turns out to be the mysterious killer many people thought the scene with Hughes as the surgeon was meant to be the father in disguise, but that was not the intention. Again, if there’s no specific/underlying purpose story-wise for an actor to play two different parts in the same movie then don’t do it. There’s no lack of actors out there clamoring for work, so one of the two parts could’ve easily have been filled by someone else and thus avoided confusing the audience for no good reason.

It’s possible that the reason Chayefsky had Hughes playing dual roles was to help explain how the killer was able to get away with his crimes for so long. While the killer is always shown off camera, so the viewer does not know the identity, the Dr.’s and nurses do seem to recognize him as being a colleague and are put at ease just before he kills them. Of course the odds of a patient entering a random hospital and looking similar to one of the staff is astronomically low, but if this was the underlying concept, and it very well may have been, then the film should’ve eventually made this clear by having a split screen scene where Hughes the surgeon bumps into Hughes the killer.

hospital3

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: United Artists

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

The Odd Angry Shot (1979)

odd3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Aussie soldiers in Vietnam.

Based on the novel of the same name by William Nagle, who wrote about his actual experiences fighting in Vietnam as part of the Australian army, the story centers on a small group of Aussie men who go to a war that they feel they have no business being in. The story centers on Harry (Graham Kennedy) a bitter middle-aged man who believes his country doesn’t care whether he lives or dies, Bill (John Jarrat) who faces army life for the first time, and Rogers (Bryan Brown) who must deal with crippling injuries when he steps on a landmine as well as Bung (John Hargreaves) who goes through tremendous grief after receiving heartbreaking news in a letter from back home.

To some extent the film features a fresh take as most other movies dealing with the Vietnam War were done from the U.S. perspective and many people may not even realize that Australia had involvement in the conflict and at one point over 7,000 troops stationed there. However, the tone is confusing as it wants to be irreverent like M*A*S*H at certain intervals while at other times more like Apocalypse Now. Some of the amusing moments do work particularly the scene where the U.S. soldiers challenge the Aussies to a contest to see if a deadly spider can kill a scorpion and then having the spider take on the scorpion inside a dish pan that you get to see close-up, which is pretty cool. There’s even some weird imagery involving a dream that Bill has, which is visually arresting. While these scenes are passively entertaining they also make the story come-off as meandering and pointless. The concept may have been to show how boring the war experience can be, but this still needed to be done in a way that kept things gripping, which ultimately the film isn’t.

Having the story center around one main character would’ve prevented this. Initially it starts off like Bill is that person by showing his going-away-party with his friends and family, but then once the setting changes to Vietnam he isn’t seen much and if anything Harry becomes the main star. Observing how Bill’s perspective and personality evolved and become more hardened as the war progressed could’ve been intriguing, but the film fails to deliver. With the exception of Harry there’s not much distinction between the other men in the group, which impedes the viewer from ever becoming emotionally invested in any of them and thus less impactful overall.

The way the violence gets portrayed is interesting as it occurs at random periods without warning. The group can be having a lighthearted time one minute only to be doused with enemy fire the next, which helps recreate the reality of battle where death and destruction can be sudden and unexpected. This put me as a viewer quite on edge, but the characters never reflected that same unease, or by seeing their comrades dying, or injured changed them in any way even though I felt it should’ve.

On the technical end it effectively looks like it was shot on-location even though it really wasn’t. Dramatically though it suffers from not have a centralized character and a vague point-of-view.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 1, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Tom Jeffrey

Studio: Roadshow Films

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Bananas (1971)

bananas2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: From nebbish to dictator

Fielding Mellish (Woody Allen) is a shy, meek individual who works as a product tester, but comes to realize that his job has too many pitfalls and wants to pursue another line of work. One night while in his apartment he receives a knock at his door and meets Nancy (Louise Lasser) who is a social activist. Fielding doesn’t have much interest in politics, but finds Nancy attractive, so he pretends to be into her social causes. Their relationship though does not survive, but Fielding decides to travel to the Latin country of San Marcos anyways, which is where the couple was planning to go to before the breakup. The country is suffering through a revolution and Fielding inadvertently gets caught up in it to the extent that he becomes their acting leader and travels back to the US to ask for foreign aid, but once home Nancy recognizes Fielding for who he really is and this soon has him put on trial.

This was done during the period when Woody was just trying to be funny and without all the pretension and nostalgia that make up so much of his later work, which I don’t care for as much. While there are draggy spots, particularly during the second act, the beginning and end are so strong that it more than makes up for it especially the climactic court sequence, which is laden with a lot of non-sequitur sight gags that didn’t come into vogue in movies until 10 years later when it was introduced to mainstream audiences with great success in the movie Airplane. 

What I really liked though is that Woody actually seems to playing a character here and not just himself. No endless whining about his hypochondriac conditions, or New York being vastly superior to L.A., or how Ingmar Bergman is the greatest film director. This stuff seems to work into many of his later scripts and characters, but here he just plays an average blue collar guy whose only ambition is to get laid, which is wonderful and I really enjoyed pairing him with Lasser. The two had already divorced  by the time this was filmed, but she agreed to remain on as his co-star, which is great as I’ve always said she’s the female version of Woody and in many ways can easily upstage him in just about every scene they share. People like Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow, who became his co-stars in his later movies, were too normal and didn’t compliment Allen’s quirky style like Lasser does and it’s just a shame she disappears during the second act as her presence would’ve prevented it from getting as draggy as it does. 

While most of the gags are quite funny and even inventive I did have a problem with a few of them. The opening bit, which features a televised assassination of the country’s leader, manages to make even Howard Cosell, an obnoxious, egotistical sportscaster that I never cared for, enjoyable especially as he fights his way through the crowd to get an interview with the dying dictator. However, if you’re going to show a guy getting shot then some blood is needed. Allen said he wanted to avoid this because he feared it would hurt the film’s ‘light comic tone’, but its been proven in movies like Shaun of the Dead that gore and comedy can still work together and having Cosell ask the leader ‘how does it feel’ as he lies there bloodied would’ve been dark comedy gold.

The segment where Woody walks into an operating room to tell his parents (Stanley Ackerman, Charlotte Rae), who are both surgeons performing an operation, that he’s traveling to another country, is for the most part an aspiring bit except that in the scene the patient (Hy Anzell) is awake and talking. There is simply no way that anyone being cut open wouldn’t be put under anesthesia, so having him speak is not only unrealistic, but not necessary as the humor from the segment comes from Woody’s interactions with his folks and not from anything that the patient says. 

Overall though this still comes as highly recommended especially for Woody cinephiles looking to take in his wide body of work. His more serious directorial efforts are good too, but in a different way. Yet its his irreverent style that tests the movie making formula, which he does here, that I enjoy the most and while he has done many comedies after this they cease to have the same rapid-fire zaniness as this one. I also have to mention the cigarette commercial that takes place during a Catholic mass, which is the best ad-spoof I’ve ever seen. It did end up being condemned by the National Catholic Office of Motion Pictures, but it was worth it.

 My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: April 28, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Woody Allen

Studio: United Artists

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

Mahoney’s Last Stand (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to find solitude.

Leroy Mahoney (Alexis Kanner) wants to be away from the rat race and out in the Canadian wilderness where he feels he can live in peaceful harmony with nature. He finds a rundown home in a vacant area and begins the process of renovating it only to meet a woman named Miriam (Maud Adams) who lives nearby and routinely comes over to visit. Felix (Sam Waterston) is his old friend from the city who hitches a ride to the country and moves-in. Later, so does Felix’s girlfriend Joy (Diana Leblanc) making Mahoney feel like he’ll never find the solitude he craves and will always be surrounded by people who annoy him.

The film was the inspiration of Kanner, who not only starred in it, but wrote the script, co-directed, and even produced. The quirky tone is what helps it stand out as it’s a mixture of the man-in-the-wilderness theme meets the counter culture and to a great degree it works. Some of my favorite moments are things that might seem off-putting, or even boring when put in any other film, but here it helps add to the offbeat quality like the scene featuring Mahoney sitting on his porch endlessly twiddling with his garden hoe, or the segment where he remains trapped in his outhouse as he’s too afraid to come out and meet with Miriam when she arrives unannounced.

The Mahoney character, if you can get past his odd accent and crusty exterior, is quite engaging. Initially he comes off as this rugged individualist only to end up getting scared late at night over the least little noise that hears outside. The scene where he tries to pretend he’s a seasoned horseback rider in an attempt to impress Miriam and his love-hate friendship with Felix and Joy are all amusing as well, but what I really liked is that he remains a true introvert all the way through. Most other films make the broad presumption that everyone secretly craves companionship and can only be truly happy with other around, but here Mahoney only finds his ultimate utopia when he’s finally all alone.

The film’s rustic landscape, which was shot in and around King City, Ontario, helps add to the ambiance. It was filmed between October and December of 1971 with the idea that filming would wrap before the snow and cold moved in as there was no heating in the cabin, but fortunately an early season snow hit the production in late November and gets incorporated into the story. Although it only blanketed the area with an inch or two it still at least gave a preview to what living in Canada year round would be like and if you’re going to do a pic about the rugged adventures of dealing with the northern climate then there better be some snow and cold in the mix or it’s just not fully authentic otherwise.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s ending really stands out as it recreates the feeling of solitude in a way I’ve never seen done before and will stick with you long after it’s over. It features Mahoney wondering around his property naked with only the faint sound of a water drip in the background, which gives the viewer a total sense of peace and freedom and has a soothing meditation-like quality.

Alternate Title: Mahoney’s Estate

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: Unreleased theatrically until 1976.

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Harvey Hart, Alexis Kanner

Studio: Topaz Productions

Available: None

Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He learns to adapt.

Quackser (Gene Wilder), a nickname given to him as an infant because he would make noises that sounded like a duck, enjoys his life working an alternative job that has him scooping up horse manure from the streets of Dublin, Ireland and then reselling it as fertilizer. His parents (May Ollis, Seamus Forde), of which he still lives with, feels this is not a suitable long term profession as it will never pay enough for him to live on his own, but Quackser refuses to work at the refinery where everyone else in his neighborhood does. He then meets Zazel (Margot Kidder) an American college student who’s studying abroad. He hopes to start up a relationship with her, but finds this to be a challenge when the milk company replaces all of their horse drawn carriages with trucks, which takes all the horses off of the streets. With no horses there’s no manure forcing Quackser to consider other ways to make  an income.

The script, by Gabriel Walsh, has a wonderfully unpretentious quality to it as it tells a story about a simple man living a simple life and on that level it succeeds and even stands out as so many other films seem to feel the need to jazz things up, but this one doesn’t. I particularly liked the on-location shooting done in Dublin that nicely captures Quackser’s humble economic settings and the starkness of his blue collar neighborhood and yet later in the film we see him inside a luxurious hotel, which is also inside the same city. I found this fascinating as it shows how close in physical proximity Quackser is to the more affluent area, but economically, and educational-wise, he was still a long way from ever getting there.

Wilder plays his part quite well if you can get past his thick Irish accent, which is off-putting at first. I liked how he approaches the character as not being this one-dimensional simpleton, but someone who, despite being an overall nice person, can have his angry and even arrogant side to him. Kidder is at her peak of youthful beauty and their quasi-romance allows for an interesting dynamic although I did find it put a strain on the plausibility.

My biggest complaint was that I couldn’t understand why this attractive young woman from a completely different socio-economic background would find this poor, less educated individual so fascinating, or why she’d want to bother to get to know him better. As a quant little friendship it might’ve possibly worked, but as a relationship, even a potential one, it was just too much of a stretch especially with such a drastic 15-year age difference. Sharing a passing kiss during a random moment is as far as this thing would’ve gotten in real-life, but to have her later on go to bed with him, not so much because she loves him, but more as a ‘pity-fuck’ before she leaves, is something that only happens in movieland. It’s also never clear whether she genuinely likes the guy, or has a secret cruel streak and enjoys setting him up for humiliation as there are times when it could easily be seen as going either way.

Spoiler Alert!

The twist ending where Quackser inherits a load of money from his cousin in the Bronx, which he uses to buy a bus in order to be a tour guide when he realizes he can no longer collect manure, doesn’t work. For one thing why did this cousin just out-of-the-blue give the money to Quackser not the other family members as well especially since the two shared no special relationship, or correspondence? Having him go to the Bronx like he was initially going to do and maybe get a job recycling trash would’ve been more of a connection to what he had done in the past. Even having him working in the refinery, which he dreaded, but finding it not as bad as he feared, or that he could do some function there different than the others, which would make him feel ‘special’ would’ve been a better ending, but either way it’s still a cute movie perfect for those looking for a working class ‘kitchen-and-sink’ drama without any of the fashionable dressings.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 13, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Waris Hussein

Studio: Universal Marion Corporation

Available: DVD, Amazon Video