Category Archives: Black Comedy

The Magic Christian (1969)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Everybody has a price.

Sir Guy Grand (Peter Sellers) is a billionaire with an eccentric side, who wants to prove the powerful influence money has over other people. He meets Youngman (Ringo Starr),a homeless man in a park, and decides to adopt him as his son. Together they proceed to play elaborate pranks on the public by watching how far they can push their theory and what humiliating lengths people will go to get their hands on some money.

The film is based on the 1959 novel of the same name written by Terry Southern, who also wrote the screenplay, and while the novel was considered a success the movie, at least when it was first released, wasn’t. My critics complained of the film’s heavy-handed satirical nature and unrelenting jabs at capitalism even though all the same pranks done in the movie were also in the book. The film also has the exact same satirical theme as O Lucky Man, which starred Malcom McDowell and came out just a few years later that also took numerous potshots at capitalism and yet many of the same critics adored that one, but came down hard on this one.

Fortunately through the years the film has managed to find a cult following. I supposed if one has more of a socialist bent they may enjoy it more, but it has such a surreal, creative vibe to it that it’s fun to watch no matter if you agree with it’s message, which is kind of muddled anyways, or not. Some of my favorite bits included snotty, rich aristocrats boarding a ship cruise that puts them in increasingly more humorously challenging and bizarre situations. The final segment, which has the classic song ‘Something in the Air’ by Thunderclap Newman playing during it, features a giant outdoor vat filled with urine, blood, and animal feces and then having Grand throw money into it and challenging onlookers to jump into the mess in order to get at the money, which despite the awful stench they readily do.

There’s many cameo appearances by famous stars who agreed to take small roles as a favor to Sellers who at the time was a top star and friends with many of the big headliners of the day. Some of the best bits here include Laurence Harvey who does a striptease while onstage and in front of a packed house of onlookers while reciting ‘Hamlet’. Yul Bryner, looking almost unrecognizable in a female wig, is great as a transvestite who comes-onto a shy Roman Polanski while at a bar. Spike Milligan is hilarious as a traffic cop who agrees to eat his own traffic ticket for the right price as well as Raquel Welch as a slave commander with a whip, Wilfred Hyde-White as a drunken ship captain, and John Cleese as a perplexed auctioneer.

The problems that I had with the film dealt mainly with the relationship between Sellers and Starr. Sellers meets Starr one day in a park by chance and then begins to have a conversation with him, but there’s music playing over this, so we never hear what they’re saying, which is frustrating as the having a rich man suddenly offer a poor man the chance to be his adopted son seemed like dialogue that should be heard. Starr is also not given much to do and it seemed almost pointless for having even in the movie. In the novel there was only the Grand character creating the pranks, but it was decided for the movie to make it a two man show, but Ringo has so little to do that it didn’t seem worth it and this reportedly was due to Sellers’ insecurity of being upstaged and thus insisting that all the best lines had to go to him.

It’s also never clear why the Sellers’ character does what he does. What’s the motivation for why this rich man feels the need to expose other people’s foibles and vanities? Does he feel guilty about being so rich and therefore has decided to ‘take-it-to’ the others in his own social circle? None of this gets explained or analyzed at all, which on the character end makes the film quite superficial and confusing.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1969

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated M

Director: Joseph McGrath

Studio: Commonwealth United Entertainment

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Married man wants fling.

Barney (Alan Arkin) is a middle-aged man, who after 22-years of marriage, has decided he’d like to fool-around for the first time. He doesn’t want an actual affair, just a quickie sex fling with indiscriminate women while inside his elderly mother’s apartment, which he has access to during the day while she’s away. The problem is that while he’s able to get attractive women into the place he can’t quite get any action leaving him feeling more sexually frustrated than when it began.

The film is based on the Neil Simon play that opened on Broadway in 1969 and ran for 706 performances. The play starred James Coco in the pivotal role who I felt was much better suited for the part than Arkin. Arkin is okay, but his comedic style can be quite frantic in tone that can sometimes border on creepy. He also had a full head of hair at the time even though the role called for a balding man, so he shaved the top of his head to appear semi-bald, but it looks tacky. Coco on the other-hand had a lovable loser quality that made you want to like him even when he did naughty things and he was naturally bald, so his appearance wouldn’t have looked as fake as Arkin’s. I can only presume that because Arkin was at the time an established film star and Coco was still just considered a fledgling character actor that’s why he got the offer while Coco didn’t, but it’s one of the main reasons the story doesn’t translate as well on film as it did onstage.

The directing by Gene Saks isn’t bad particularly the opening sequence where we things entirely from the point-of-view of Barney as he wakes-up and gets out of bed and starts his daily routine, which I found rather inventive cinematically. In fact it’s these moments where we hear the thoughts going on inside Barney’s head as he tries to get the nerve to break-the-ice with other women that he meets, which are the funniest. Unfortunately the scenes done inside the apartment don’t work as well as the place is too cramped and appearing more like a jail cell, which becomes visually static.

The three rendezvous that Barney has with three different women aren’t as clever or creative as they could’ve been. The first segment has Sally Kellermen, who is excellent, playing an Italian women, who comes up to his place, but then just proceeds to argue with him before leaving. My main problem with this scene was the motivation as she spots Barney working inside his restaurant, which precipitates the meet-up, but why would this incredibly hot woman get turned-on by this dopey looking guy to the point that she’d want to have casual sex with him? There were plenty of other men in the place, so why does Barney excite her over the others? The conversation that the two have inside the restaurant is never shown, which I found to be a cop-out and hurt the character development. Had she been portrayed as being a prostitute then it would’ve made more sense, but this is never confirmed, which makes this whole first segment quite weak.

The second segment deals with Paula Prentis as a struggling actress who Barney meets in a park. She borrows some money from him and then agrees to pay him back later at the apartment. However, when she arrives she seems like a completely different person. At the park she came-off as quiet and shy, but at the apartment she’s a babbling idiot that seems to be on acid. The dialogue during this sequence in which the characters basically talk-over each other the whole time quickly becomes annoying. The scene fades-out with the two getting high off of marijuana, but it never shows her leaving the place, so we don’t know for sure if they ended-up having sex or not.

The third and final segment has Renee Taylor playing a middle-aged woman, who is also married, coming-up to Barney’s mother’s place, but immediately getting cold-feet, which kills the intrigue as we know right from the start how it’s going to go. This scene also has a rapey vibe to it as Barney, now feeling frustrated at having struck out twice before, behaves in a much more aggressive manner by blocking her from leaving and then while half-naked jumping on top of her and pinning her to the bed while she yells for him to get off, which is cringy and not funny.

Having a film deal with all the strike-outs a person may face when it comes to having sex with others is an interesting idea. Too many other movies just show the ones that work-out, but in reality, especially with average looking people, there can be more misses than hits, so I appreciated the story in that regard. However, random sex with strangers where the women goes to a strange man’s place without worry or concern has become a thing of the past in this day and age of stalkers and self-protection making the theme here quite dated and out-of-touch.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 17, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gene Saks

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, PlutoTV, YouTube

The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Challenging a crime boss.

Kid Sally (Jerry Orbach), who works within a crime family where he’s in charge of a small group of crooks, becomes increasingly frustrated at what he feels is a lack of respect that he gets from mobster boss Baccala (Lionel Stander). When Kid is put in charge of supervising a bicycle race that does not go over well he gets demoted, which convinces him to take down Baccala and become the mob boss himself, but the men under him prove inept at every turn. Each time they try to kill-off Baccala the only ones who die are Kid Sally’s guys.

The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Jimmy Breslin and inspired by real-life mobster Joe Gallo who was also the inspiration for Crazy Joe that starred Peter Boyle. However, the Boyle film approached the material in a serious way and tried to keep things more closely tied-in with the actual events while this thing veers-off from what really happened and instead simply uses the situation as a springboard for a lot of zany, comical antics.

One of the main problems is the casting of Orbach who looks nothing like the real Gallo, Boyle was not a perfect match for him either, but he was at least in the same ballpark while Orbach appears too old and without any signs of the mental health issues that had afflicted Gallo who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia in his youth. There are also too many characters to keep track of and Orbach half the time is barely even seen becoming more like a supporting player in his own movie.

The film does have a few amusing moments including the gang’s attempts to bring in a lion, which they use to blackmail the client’s of their opposition. Van Fleet is also quite funny as Kid’s mother who looks and walks like she’s ready to die from old age, but speaks as if she’s a young tough guy. The location shooting isn’t bad either and seeing the entire group of men crammed into Joe’s mother’s apartment as they partake in their weekly spaghetti dinner brings the Italian ambience to a nice head, but director James Goldstone approaches the material in a haphazard fashion and it’s edited in a way that makes it seem more like a collection of vignettes than a story.

The only interesting element is seeing Robert De Niro, complete with long hair, as this young con who comes to New York straight from Italy. He speaks with an authentic accent, which he acquired by going to Italy for a week and recording the people around him and then playing back their voices while he rehearsed. He even prepared for his role as a thief by stealing 2 shirts from a Macy’s department store requiring producer Irwin Winkler to intervene in order to keep him out of jail. Leigh Taylor-Young is excellent as his love interest and her performance as the Kid’s younger more idealistic sister has an organic quality and a far cry from the psycho role that she played in The Big Bounce just 2 years earlier. The romance between her and De Niro and their attempts to forge a relationship while living in a cramped, rundown apartment is kind of touching and had the film focused on these two it would’ve worked better.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 22, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated: PG

Director: James Goldstone

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Tulips (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Choosing love over suicide.

Leland (Gabe Kaplan) is a depressed man who has tried to kill himself several times, but been unsuccessful at it. He hires a hitman named Avocado (Henry Gibson) to shoot him, but Avocado isn’t so sure he wants to do it and advises him that once he decides he’ll leave an ad in the personals section of the newspaper with the word ‘tulips’ in it, which will be the code word for ‘yes’. While Leland awaits his fate he meets Rutanya (Bernadette Peters) who he saves from a burning car after she too tries to kill herself. Eventually they form a relationship, which blossoms into a romance and then marriage only to realize that Avocado has decided to go through with the hit forcing Leland and Rutanya to desperately try to stop him.

While I’ve never been a fan of Kaplan’s acting ability in the past I thought his performance here was alright although the combination of his thick beard and mustache makes him resemble a rabbi and a clean shaven look would’ve been preferred. It’s also a bit perplexing with his extremely bushy head of hair why he would require hair transplants as his character does here.

Peters is delightful, at least at the beginning, but when the two get together the whole thing bogs down into one long  talkfest with nothing much being said that’s funny. The way the two first meet gets botched as initially she bumps into him while roller skating down the road, while also grabbing onto her psychiatrist’s car, which knocks Leland over a bridge wall and he then clings desperately to it in order to avoid falling into the river, but the film then cuts away and we never see how he got out this predicament making it on par with a mindless Road Runner/Wiley E. Coyote cartoon where crazy antics occur without any after effect.

The hit man angle where the intended victim changes his mind had already been done in movies 6 times before this one and therefore wasn’t an original concept nor does it get played-out in a way that’s interesting. Gibson is a good character actor, but here his one-dimensional performance, due mainly to the poor writing, lacks amusement or charisma. There’s also never any action just endless talking, first with an extended bit where Leland contemplates whether he should or shouldn’t look in the newspaper to see if ‘tulips’ is in it, then more discussions about how they can try to stop him and eventually Rutanya sitting down with Acocado directly to try and talk him out of it, which cinematically is not entertaining especially with dialogue that lacks any bite.  The music score is bad too with a silly cartoon-like sound effects that you’d hear on a kiddie show.

Spoiler Alert!

However, it’s the twist ending that I found to be the most annoying as it features a bomb placed by Leland into a car with Avocado and Rutanya inside. First there’s no explanation for how Leland was able to build this bomb as it’s not something just anyone can do, so one has to wonder where he acquired the expertise, but no answer is given. The dumbest thing though is that Leland chases after the vehicle screaming at Rutanya to get out before it goes off and then watches as it explodes convinced she died only to have her reappear later telling him that both she and Avocado where able to get out ‘just in time’, but if that were the case then wouldn’t Leland have noticed since he was looking right at it when it blew up? Also, when the bomb goes off the car doors are shut though it’s hard to believe that Avocado and Rutanya, in their desperation to get out, would’ve made sure to close them when they jumped out.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Rex Bromfield, Al Waxman, Mark Warren

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Midnite Spares (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for his father.

Steve (James Laurie) returns to his hometown of Sydney to team up with his dad to be a part of a sprintcar racing team. However, when he visits the towing company that his dad owned along with his business partner Tomas (Max Cullen) he cannot find him and is told that he mysteriously disappeared weeks ago without a trace. After further investigation he becomes convinced that it has something to do with a local car thief ring headed by corrupt cop Howard (Tony Barry) and uses the help of tow truck drivers Wimpy (Bruce Spence) and Rabbit (David Argue) to reel them in while also falling for a local girl named Ruth (Gia Carides) much to the chagrin of her conservative mother ( Tessa Mallos).

On the one hand this is a well set-up comedy with all the necessary ingredients to have been a top-notched funny movie. I really enjoyed the character actors who are in top form especially Bruce Spence, probably best known for his starring role in the cult film Storkwho plays a happy-go-lucky mechanic who always has greased caked-on his face no matter where he goes even when off the job and out in public. Tony Barry gives an interesting performance as well. Just a year before this film was shot he in starred in the New Zealand cult classic Goodbye Pork Pie that’s one of the best road movies ever made. In that film he played the nonconformist running from the cops while here plays the obnoxious oppressive authority figure and he’s able to play both types of roles quite convincingly. I also enjoyed the set pieces, which resembles very much the dingy, grimy look of a car repair shop as well as the distinctive score that has a creepy tone to it, which helps accentuate the late-night, underground vibe of the story.

There’s also a few very engaging moments as well including a segment where a guy hijacks a mobile hot dog stand and drives it around the track with the perplexed staff still inside while the sprintcar race is delayed due to an accident, which is pretty funny. I also loved the scene where the thieves steal a car, bring it into their shop and in a matter of literally seconds are able to completely dismantle it piece-by-piece until only its bare shell is left much like the famous scene in The French Connection where a car gets taken a part in the search for drugs, but here it’s done even more quickly and thoroughly.

What I didn’t like was the editing, which is done in too much of a choppy style. It’s very hard to get into the characters when their scenes and conversations are limited to only a couple of minutes and a few lines of dialogue before it quickly cuts away to another scene somewhere else. It would’ve worked better had it slowed the pace down a bit and allowed the elements to percolate instead of having this rushed feel. There’s also a some storylines that had potential, but aren’t followed through enough including the conservative mother of James’s girlfriend, which could’ve been ripe with far more confrontation than it ultimately does.

The action gets captured in too fleeting of a way and there isn’t as much of it as you’d expect despite its reputation as being an action movie. The climactic car chase showdown is too brief though it does feature some good camera angles that makes the viewer feel like their a part of it, but this also ended up taking the life of one of the cameramen, David Brostoff, who got too close to one of the cars and ended up getting run over. (The footage that he shot was left in while the movie is dedicated to his memory)

As crazy as it sounds it also would’ve been nice had it come with an English subtitle option. While the language is in English the Aussie accents are strong and it’s not always completely clear what they’re saying. I felt like I was missing a few words here and there especially with its quick pace where an actor would say a short line and then there’d be an immediate cut to something else.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 17, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Quentin Masters

Studio: Roadshow Films

Available: DVD-R (Domestic Import Region 0)

The Hospital (1971)

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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.

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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 Clinic (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Helping those with V.D.

A day in the life of a clinic in Melbourne, Australia that specializes in treating people with venereal disease.  Both the doctors and the patients have many issues to deal with, but not all of them have anything to do with sexually transmitted diseases including Dr. Eric Linden (Chris Haywood) who after spending the day treating patients is more worried about meeting the mother of his gay partner for the first time. There’s also Dr. Hassad annoyed with the lamp on his office desk that he can’t get to work right no matter how many times he tries to fix it and three men visiting from China who think they’re at a health clinic, not a VD one, but nobody can translate to them that they’re in the wrong place.

For the most part this is a funny engaging ensemble comedy similar to Britannia Hospital, a satirical comedy done in the U.K., or The Hospital done here in the US and starring George C. Scott.  There’s also distant shades to the 80’s TV-show ‘St. Elsewhere’ that toed the line between being surreal and serious.  The editing is fast paced as it cuts back and forth between various scenarios happening at the same time throughout the different offices in the building.

There are also many characters and it’s hard to keep track of all them. They’re introduced at such a dizzying pace that the viewer isn’t allowed to get attached to any of them as you see them for only a couple of minutes and then it cuts away to someone else and never going back to the previous one until much later when you’ve almost forgotten about them, or their dilemma. Some may consider this the hallmark of bad filmmaking as in Hollywood the idea is to have, even in an assemble comedy such as this, one central character for the audience to connect with and then colorful people surrounding them, but here no one takes center stage. Director David Stevens admitted in interviews that he was pressured by producers to go more the conventional route, but he resisted and in many ways it succeeds better because it gives you a true day-in-the-life feel of the inter-workings of a clinic and the constant hustle-and-bustle of patients coming in and out that a story more focused on one person might not be able to convey as effectively.

The lack of music is another thing that is unusual. During the opening sequence all that is heard is traffic noise while the credits roll and it’s not until 1 hour 5 minutes that any type of soundtrack is heard in a rare moment that does not take place at the Hospital, but instead on a beach. There is a bouncy tune sung by Alistair Jones over the closing credits, but other than that there’s nothing, which again I found okay as it uses the ambience of the people walking around and talking as the film’s soundtrack, which helps heighten the realism. The nudity is different here too as it’s solely close-ups of male genitals, but none from females, which bothered some viewers, but I found alright. What I did question though was the males so obediently disrobing in front of a female Dr. as I felt some of them would be uncomfortable and even hesitant to do this.

The conversations and throwaway lines are quite funny, which is the film’s centerpiece as are the quirkiness of the characters who say one thing, but end up doing the complete opposite much like people in real-life. There’s also a few serious moments that brings up the stigma that people with V.D. had to deal with including one who loses his job, but these don’t come to satisfying conclusions and should’ve been explored more.

Overall it’s an enjoyable 90-minutes although by the final 15 it starts to exhaust itself. Had it been done with a smaller cast might’ve helped although technically it’s still quite fluid throughout though some may point to its poor box office showing where it managed to only recoup $414,000 profit from its $1 million budget as a sign that the unconventional narrative was a failure. This though is more likely because of distributors at the time being reluctant to show the film fearing public backlash at what was still considered a taboo subject.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 17, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: David Stevens

Studio: Roadshow Films

Available: None at this time.

Fade to Black (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: A cinephile becomes homicidal.

Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher) is thoroughly engrossed in movies to the extent that he watches them all day in his bedroom and does little else. Aunt Stella (Eve Brent), whom he lives with, nags him constantly about what a loser he is as does Richie (Mickey Rourke) who he works with at his job inside a film distribution center. One day he meets Marilyn (Linda Kerridge) who looks exactly like his favorite actress Marilyn Monroe. The two agree to go out on a date to see a movie, but when Eric shows up at the theater and Marilyn is nowhere to be found he becomes unhinged. All of his pent-up rage gets released and soon he goes on a killing spree by slaughtering all of the people who have made fun of him in the past.

Writer/director Vernon Zimmerman has insisted in interviews that this wasn’t meant to be a horror film, but then what exactly was it supposed to be? I admit initially it has some intriguing elements, but like with Zimmerman’s other directorial efforts it misses the mark. Ultimately despite the offbeat touches it  devolves into a mechanical slasher flick by the second act, but in this case a really bad one, as the killings are handled in a very unimaginative way with the victims dying way too easily to the point that the segments become boring and very predictable.

Some felt that this was an odd follow-up project for Christopher to take after his critical success starring in the acclaimed Breaking Away, but I’ll give him credit for not playing it safe and taking a role outside of mainstream Hollywood. He actually plays the part pretty well, but that’s actually the problem as his skinny, geeky build makes him seem too Norman Bates-like and falls into the lonely stereotypical psycho mold too easily and thus witnessing his eventual melt down is neither surprising nor revealing. His attempted impressions of  famous characters/stars are quite poor too and makes these moments very annoying.

Having a cinephile only into classic old movies didn’t seem realistic. You’d think someone like him had seen films others hadn’t even heard of, so referencing obscure flicks and lesser known actors should’ve been added into the mix. I was also confused where he was able to get the money to pay for all the elaborate costumes, make-up, and props that he uses during the killings as at the beginning he was so broke he had to beg people for money just to fill-up his bike with gas, or go out on a date. Some may argue that when his Aunt died she willed him the money, but this is never mentioned or shown.

I did like Rourke and I felt he would’ve been more interesting in the lead role as he plays a movie fanatic as well, but also didn’t fall into the tired nerdy cliché like Christopher. Kerridge though as the love interest proves to be a dud. She certainly is easy-on-the-eyes, but seems uncomfortable playing the Marilyn caricature and her presence ultimately is rather transparent.

The production values are slick and the climactic sequence that takes place both in and on top of the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theater has some pizazz, but everything else falls flat. It’s just not offbeat enough, scary enough, nor darkly humorous enough to ever catch its stride, or sustain any consistent interest.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 17, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Vernon Zimmerman

Studio: American Cinema Releasing

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

Fire Sale (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Burn down the store.

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 9, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Alan Arkin

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD-R (Fox Cinema Archives)

Roar (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lions takeover a house.

Hank (Noel Marshall) is a naturalist residing in east Africa where he studies the behaviors of lions and keeps several of them in his home. His wife Madeline (Tippi Hedren), daughter Melanie (Melanie Griffith) and two sons (John Marshall, Jerry Marshall) travel from Chicago to visit him. However, when they arrive there’s a mix-up causing Hank to miss picking them up at the airport. The four then travel to the home without him. When they get to the place it becomes overrun with the lions and the family is unable to handle them causing much havoc and destruction as they try to keep from getting attacked and bitten.

The idea for the film was inspired by Marshall and Hedren, who were married at the time, as they traveled through Mozambique in 1969. While going on a nature tour their guide pointed to a abandoned home that had become inhabited by lions and they thought this would make for a funny movie. It took them over 7 years to find the funds to be able to actually film it and then another 3 years before filming was complete. Over 150 lions were used at a cost of $4,000 a week to feed forcing the couple to sell their 3 homes just to be able to have enough money to cover the food and other expenses. Initially it was never released in the US and only abroad until in 2015 it got reissued to Alamo Drafthouse theaters were it got dubbed as being ‘the most dangerous movie ever made’ due to the many injuries inflicted on the cast and crew by the animals during the production.

To some degree the loose story works. I liked the scene where local official come to Hank’s home in their boats and become inexplicable attacked by the lions without warning even seeing actor Marshall’s hand bitten by one of the beasts, which all comes off as quite realistic and unstaged, something you rarely see in most Hollywood films. Unfortunately having to spend 90-minutes watching the family trying to get away from the lions becomes quite redundant. There’s constantly something going on and there’s a lot of chaos and running around, so visually it’s never boring, but the story goes nowhere. Ultimately it’s like gazing at a hamster inside their cage running inside a spinning wheel, which might be fun for while, but eventually pointless.

Savage Harvest, which I reviewed earlier in the week and came out around the same time, had a much more consistent tone. At least we knew that was intended to be a suspenseful thriller and for the most part it delivered, but here it gets increasingly confusing. While this budget is better and I enjoyed the opening sequence showing the beautiful topography of Kenya I still came away liking the other movie a bit better. The lion attacks are more graphic and in-you-face here, but without any sufficient tension it’s not captivating to sit through. It’s supposed to be a comedy and was marketed as such, but it gets too intense for that. Had the cast been made up of evil poachers that get harassed by the animals the prolonged scenario might’ve worked, but watching a bland family as the intended ‘victims’ isn’t enough to hold sustained interest.

I admire Hedren’s willingness, and the whole cast, for putting themselves in harm’s way and there are a few cute moments like when a lion plays with a skateboard, but it relies too heavily on the action, and the animals who are given onscreen credit along with the rest of the cast, but an actual plot was needed. With that said it’s still a one-of-a-kind movie that needs to be seen to be believed. I’m not sure if this one is included in the book ‘1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die’, as I have not always in agreement with some of the other ones that got listed in it, but this one definitely should be.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 30, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Noel Marshall

Studio: American Filmworks

Available: DVD