Category Archives: British Movies

The Blockhouse (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: There’s no way out.

On D-Day a group of war prisoners on an island that’s run by German soldiers seek shelter from an allied air attack by finding refuge in an underground German bunker, but once inside, they realize to their horror that the shelling outside has blocked-off both the entrance and exit, which essentially traps them in permanently. They are fortunate enough to find a supply room full of enough food and wine to keep them fed for a long time, but as the days wear into weeks and then months and even years they grow tired and despondent about their situation. They try to find ways to break through the cement walls, but their attempts prove futile, which leads all of them into a mental and emotional breakdown.

The film is best known as being one of Peter Seller’s rare dramatic turns where he plays a character that is not funny or colorful. Normally his performances are quite flamboyant and over-the-top and he tends to dominate the spotlight, but here he blends in with the rest of the performers with a rare low-key portrayal that is quite impressive when given how he normally acts. This was yet another project he got involved in during the early 70’s when his career was on the down side and he was desperately taking just about any offer that came along, no matter what the quality, in an effort to bring in money. While some of those movies that he starred in during that period were truly awful (i.e. Where Does it Hurt?) this one, despite its grim theme, is unique and worth checking out particularly for those who enjoy experimental cinema.

The film was directed by Clive Rees, whose only other cinematic directorial effort was When the Wales Came, which had a similar theme about an eccentric man living an isolated existence on an island. While Rees is not as well known as Stanley Kubrick, Sellers insisted in interviews, that he was ‘every bit as good’.  While this statement may seem like an exaggeration I was quite taken aback by the gritty realism and the way the viewer feels just as trapped as the victims. The actors give all-around great performances and you see their character’s ultimate mental decline happen right before your eyes, which is both vivid and gut-wrenching. The story also looks at all aspects of their deterioration where they start to do things they had never done before including conveying certain homo-erotic elements. While none of this gets shown I was still impressed that it at least got lightly touched-on as I feared due to the period and heavy UK censorship, where this film was made, that would be one facet that couldn’t get introduced, but ultimately in a soft way it does.

If you’re looking for an entertaining crowd pleaser than this movie won’t be it. As Sellers rightly stated in his interview it’s meant for serious ‘connoisseur’s of cinema’ only. TV Guide complained that the film in their review ‘goes nowhere’ and it doesn’t reveal a ‘metaphysical reason’ for the character’s predicament, but I really didn’t think one was needed. Sometimes shit just happens and people must learn to adapt to their new harsh reality, or fall apart and in that vein I felt the movie does an excellent job and goes much further into this dark, murky psychological realm than most others would dare.

Spoiler Alert!

The story is based on the 1955 novel of the same name by Jean-Paul Clebert, who also coincidentally lived an isolated existence for many years in an abandoned village. The novel is loosely based on the actual incident that occurred on June 25, 1951 when two German soldiers in Poland were rescued from an underground shelter that they had been trapped in for 6 years. The difference is that in the movie we never see the rescue as it ends with the remaining two survivors stuck in total darkness when the last of their candles goes out. I felt it would’ve worked better had the rescue been shown as well as a better build-up where we would’ve gotten to the know the men better in the prison camp before they were forced underground, which would’ve made their mental declines even more interesting.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 1, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Clive Rees

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Tubi

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

Hoffman (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Executive blackmails a secretary.

Janet (Sinead Cusack) is engaged to be married to Tom (Jeremy Bulloch), but tells him that she must spend a week away while visiting her sick grandmother in another city. Yet what she really does is go to the residence of Benjamin Hoffman (Peter Sellers). She has no love for him and there’s a wide age difference between the two, but Hoffman is blackmailing her in hopes that, if given enough time, that she’ll fall for him and leave her fiancée, but she resists his advances and when she threatens to leave he comes up with another plan to keep her there.

This unusual movie was based on a TV-play broadcast in 1967 in the UK that starred Donald Pleasance and Judy Cornwell. It had been written by Ernest Gebler and titled ‘Call Me Daddy’. When it received much acclaim it convinced Gebler to turn it into a novel, which was called ‘Shall I Eat You Now?’ and published a year later. When the response to that was positive Alvin Rakoff, who had directed the TV version, then decided to turn it into a feature film.

Having a movie centered around only two characters and take place almost entirely in one setting is usually a recipe for a static disaster and I felt this would’ve worked better as a stageplay, which Gebler eventually did turn it into in 1975. However, the initial mystery involving what Hoffman is blackmailing Janet about, who otherwise comes off as this innocent wide-eyed young woman who you can’t imagine could’ve ever done anything that wrong to be blackmailed in the first place, is what held my interest and kept me watching.

A lot of the credit to what keeps this movie watchable also goes to the two stars. Cusack, who is the wife of actor Jeremy Irons and the daughter of legendary performer Cyril Cusack, is fantastic especially with her constant shocked and perplexed expressions, which makes the movie consistently amusing. Sellers is excellent as well in his one and only serious turn. Initially he had wanted to give it his patented comical touch and using an Austrian accent, but Rakoff convinced him to play it straight and the result is a surprisingly dark, creepy performance, which made me believe he had untapped potential to being a memorable film villain had he wanted to be.

Spoiler Alert!

My grievances involve the character motivations which are poorly fleshed-out. Initially I thought Hoffman was blackmailing Janet over some wrongdoing she had done and was desperately trying to cover-up, but instead it was a crime committed by her fiancée Tom that Hoffman became aware of. If this was the case then why didn’t she alert Tom about what Hoffman knew? If she’s going to be marrying him then she should want to let him know if someone like Hoffman has it in for him. The two could’ve conspired a defensive strategy against Hoffman in an effort to turn-the-tables, but in any case there was no rational reason why she should keep it a secret. Again, if it was something she personally did that could’ve made her look bad in Tom’s eyes I could understand, but this other scenario just doesn’t make much sense.

Having her end up rejecting Tom and going back to Hoffman and becoming his girlfriend was equally ridiculous. It becomes quite obvious that Tom was not right for her, so dumping him was fine, but she didn’t have much in common with Hoffman either. The way he manipulated her should’ve been a red flag and unless there’s some weird quirk with her character that never gets explained the eventual love angle twist is pretty stupid and ultimately makes this film, despite the great acting, a rather pointless experience.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 16, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Alvin Rakoff

Studio: Anglo-EMI Distributors

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The Night Digger (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Handyman holds dark secret.

Maura (Patricia Neal) is the repressed daughter of Edith (Pamela Brown) who both reside in a large gothic mansion. Maura has never married and completely controlled by her overbearing mother, but feels she has no way of getting out of it. One day Billy (Nicholas Clay) rides in on his motorcycle looking for work. He wants to be the resident handyman. Maura declines to hire him, but is overridden by her mother. Soon Billy is living at the mansion with the other two and helping out by fixing things when he can, but Billy is tormented by his tortuous past, which leads to a twisted conclusion.

The film is based on the novel ‘Nest in a Fallen Tree’ by Joy Crowley that was adapted into a screenplay by Roald Dahl who at the time was married to Neal. I’ve never read the novel, but feel it must assuredly have more context particularly with Billy, than what you get here. The plot certainly has some intriguing elements, but it all gets lost with the poorly defined characters. For instance there’s several flashbacks shot in black-and-white showing Billy being tormented by a group of women, but no explanation for who these women were or why they were doing it, or why Billy was got caught up in that situation to begin with. Without more of a backstory the plot and people in it don’t mean as much and the film becomes transparent.

I did though like the directing by Alastair Reid, which is the one thing that holds it together. He makes great use of shadows and darkness and the brief scenes of Billy’s attack on women have a chilly visual effect. I also loved the setting shot at Oakley Court, which is a large stately mansion built in 1859 and now used as a hotel. The scene where Maura goes searching for Billy in his room and opens up what you think is a closet door, but instead is just a gateway that leads to three other rooms shows just how immense the place was, which though does prove to be a bit problematic if you think about it. Why would these two lonely women live in such a large place and if they aren’t rich, which Edith states in the scene where Maura serves them steak dinner, which  she states they ‘can’t afford’ then where did they find the money to own such a large place and maintain it?

The acting by Brown and Clay is good and some interesting bits by Graham Crowden in a supporting role, but Neal seems miscast. I realize she got the part because she was married to the screenwriter, but she looks almost as old as Brown, who plays her adoptive mother, but in reality there was only a 9 year age difference. Her character, like with Billy’s, is not fleshed-out enough making her actions more confusing than revealing like when she despises Billy’s presence at one point only to suddenly throw herself at him the next.

The ending is disappointing. I sat through this wondering what the twist was going to be, but there really isn’t any and it just leaves more questions than answers. Apparently Bernard Herrmann, who was hired to do the music, disliked the ending immensely and this was the first thing out of his mouth when he sat in to screen the film. He even threatened not do the soundtrack unless it was changed, but after arguing with Dahl he eventually caved, but personally I wished he had gotten his way.

Alternate Title: The Road Builder

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 25, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alistair Reid

Studio: MGM-EMI

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

The Comeback (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Singer hears weird noises.

Nick Cooper (Jack Jones) is a successful singer trying to revive his career after a 6-year hiatus. He travels to London to work on a new album under the guidance of his manager Webster (David Doyle), where the two share a hot-and-cold business relationship. Meanwhile his ex-wife Gail (Holly Palance) goes to their former apartment to collect her things, but is attacked by someone dressed as an old lady and brutally killed. After the murder Nick begins to hear noises at the mansion he is staying in that is owned by an older couple (Bill Owen, Sheila Keith) in which he hears the sound of a woman crying, but can’t detect where it is coming from.

This is another Pete Walker production who has in recent years received a strong cult following for the long line of British horror films that he directed during the 70’s and early 80’s before leaving the profession in order to start up a business where he bought and refurbished old movie theaters. While I’m not a big fan of some of his early work, which seemed kind of hooky, I felt this horror outing managed to deliver for the most part.

What impressed me most was the brutality of the murder where Gail not only gets stabbed many times, but has her hand cut off, which goes flying down the stairs. This was in the era of the Video Nasties, where the British government was banning all sorts of horror films brought in from other countries, so I was surprised why this one got a pass. What made it even more gruesome is that the camera keeps cutting back to the dead body at different intervals where the viewer vividly sees the decaying process. It starts by showing a close-up of the dried blood that covers the victim’s face, real blood was used that had been donated from a local hospital, then later on it cuts back to show maggots’ inside her eye sockets and mouth  and eventually even rats eating away at her face.

Having singer Jack Jones, who’s best known for crooning the theme song from the TV-show ‘The Love Boat’, cast in the lead seemed an odd choice. Apparently Walker was determined to get a singer for the part and first approached Cat Stevens and then Ringo Starr who both declined, so he had to settle for Jones, who isn’t bad. It’s refreshing to see a protagonist in a horror flick that isn’t a teen or college aged and instead in his 40’s, but since there is an element of teen idol worship in the story it would’ve made more sense having a younger singer cast that would’ve appealed more to the youth of the day.

David Doyle, best known for playing Bosley in the TV-show ‘Charlie’s Angels’, is surprisingly effective too and given a big role. Usually he would be relegated to small supporting parts in comical films, but here does well in a dramatic one and even seen at point putting on women’s make-up and wearing a dress, but the film never follows-up with this potential story thread, but should’ve.

The murders aren’t too prevalent, there’s only two and spread far apart, but they’re gory enough to leave a strong impression. The story moves a bit too slowly and while there is tension at times it’s not consistent. The wrap-up though is a complete surprise and pretty much comes out of nowhere, but I didn’t mind.

Spoiler Alert!

While the script is satisfactory there were a couple of moments that didn’t make much sense. One has Nick returning to the mansion after he’s seen the decapitated head of his ex-wife in a box there and tormented each night by her cries and screams, which is enough to send him to the mental hospital for awhile. If it were me I’d never go back to that place again and yet Nick does and just casually turns up the music on his radio when he again starts hearing the ghostly cries instead freaking out like anyone else would’ve. The scene where he takes an ax out of a victim’s body, who had been killed by someone else, and then is seen holding it over the dead body as someone else enters the room, made me believe he was going to be accused of committing the murder, but it doesn’t work that way, but probably should’ve.

Alternate Title: Encore

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 16, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Pete Walker

Studio: Enterprise Pictures Limited 

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Fright (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Psycho torments a babysitter.

Amanda (Susan George) is a college student who earns money part-time by working as a babysitter. One night she takes a job with the Lloyds (Honor Blackman, George Cole) who assign her to watch after their sleeping toddler (Tara Collinson) at their isolated wooded estate while they go off to a dinner party. Once the couple leaves Amanda begins hearing strange noises and becomes convinced that someone outside is watching her unaware that Mrs. Lloyd’s ex-husband (Ian Bannen) has escaped from the nearby insane asylum and now looking to attack anyone inside.

While the babysitter-terrorized-by-a-psycho theme may now be considered a cliché with such popular films as Halloween and When a Stranger Calls having successfully done it it’s important to realize that this film did it first and to some extent does pretty well although it does veer off from the formula. I did like the creepy set-up where an extended amount of time is given to building up the atmosphere. Some of the best moments are seeing the shadowy images on the other side of the window and not knowing who it is. The film is most effective when it’s seen from Amanda’s point-of-view making the viewer feel trapped inside the home alongside her, but weakens when it cuts away to the outside, which lessens the tension.

Having Amanda’s boyfriend Chris (Dennis Waterman) arrive doesn’t help. The fear hinges on Amanda feeling that she is all alone in this big strange house in the middle-of-nowhere and entering more people into the mix takes that element away.

The film is unusual in that unlike the other thrillers with a similar plotline the parents here figure heavily into the story. Instead of just focusing exclusively on the babysitter the films consistently cuts between her scenes and the scenes of the couple at the party. In many ways its the mother that becomes the real star, which is fine to an extent, but the part is played by Honor Blackman, a very gifted actress, but at age 46 was looking way too old to be the mother of such a young child.

The film is also unusual in that when the police arrive it doesn’t just end in fact that’s when it starts to get going with the entire third act filled with this long protracted stand-off. To some degree I felt this made it more realistic as real-life hostage situations can happen with long ‘negotiating’ session between the police and the person inside. Police aren’t always able to immediately take control of a situation either and can sometimes be just as helpless as the victim, but in the process this approach takes away the confrontational element between Amanda and the psycho, which would’ve been more interesting at seeing how she could use her wits to outsmart the bad guy that never really gels.

Susan George really doesn’t figuring in as much of the action as you’d initially expect spends most of the time just crying and looking scared. The 3-year-old child, which was played by the daughter of the film’s director Peter Collinson, doesn’t help matters either. I found it very hard to believe that any child could remain asleep such as this one when Amanda and the psycho stood over her crib talking and at certain points even shouting. The child never screams or cries either even when a sharp piece of a broken-off mirror is put to her throat.

Bannen can be amazingly creepy, I enjoyed his work in The Offence where he played a suspected child killer being interrogated by Sean Connery, but here he’s given a bit too much latitude and becomes a caricature. Having him seesaw between being child-like to behaving aggressively comes off as manufactured and more strained than frightening.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending, in which Amanda shoots and kills the psycho, does not work. For one thing Bannen had already handed over the child to the mother and at that point was completed surrounded by the police with nowhere to run, so killing him wasn’t needed. It’s questionable how and where Amanda got the gun, supposedly it was the one that an officer had put down earlier, but how she was able to sneak up and get it from him is never explained. Also, she had most likely never shot a gun before, in Great Britain most people don’t own guns, so she’d probably not have been able to hit him, especially in her shaky emotional state, at a long distance, which makes this scene dumb and unnecessary.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 18, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Collinson

Studio: British Lion Film Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Mirror Crack’d (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Poison in her drink.

A Hollywood production company arrives in a small English village, where Miss Jane Marple (Angela Lansbury) resides, to film a costume drama. The film will star two actresses, Marina Rudd (Elizabeth Taylor) and Lola Brewster (Kim Novak), who are also bitter rivals. A reception is held to allow the villagers to meet the celebrities. During the reception Marina speaks with Heather Babcock (Maureen Bennett) a devoted fan who tells Marina about having met her years earlier backstage.  While she bores Marina with the details she also drinks a daiquiri cocktail that was laced with poison causing her to die and propelling Miss Marple, who is bedridden with an injured foot, and Inspector Craddock (Edward Fox) to investigate the case.

If there is one reason to checkout this otherwise so-so film it’s to see Taylor and Novak go at it as rival actresses. This was Taylor’s first feature film appearance in 4-years and, if you don’t count her cameo appearance in The Flintstones as well as 1987’s The Young Toscanini, which was never released in the US, the last one of her career. Her standout performance, which amounts to being a mixture of camp and poignant drama, more than makes it worth it and Novak is in top form as well playing-up the comic wickedness to a delicious level. Even Rock Hudson, who was reunited with Taylor 25 years after having done Giant together, does quite well as Marina’s exasperated husband.

Unfortunately Lansbury gets miscast as she was only in her mid-50’s while Marple was considered an elderly woman in her 70’s or 80’s. They dye her hair white in an attempt to make her appear older, but it still doesn’t quite work. It’s also a letdown not to have her in the majority of scenes like you’d expect. While I never read this Agatha Christie novel I have read some others as well as the movies that have been made from her works and all of them had the head detective taking an integral part in the investigation and not shackled up in her home doing nothing to propel the potentially engaging banter that she could have had with the suspects as she interviewed them. Ultimately the supporting cast gets more screen time than she, which was a waste.

The glossy cinematic element that was so apparent in other Agatha Christie movies like Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile is totally lacking here. Some of the on-location shooting does take place in what would be considered large mansions, but the interiors resemble rooms seen in any old building and convey no flair or distinction. Director Guy Hamilton admitted to not liking Agatha Christie’s books nor thinking much of the script, which he openly stated to the producers during the interview and yet they decided to hire him anyways,  but the result, with the exception of the kitschy film-noir opening bit, is mechanical while relying solely on the veteran cast to keep it interesting.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 19, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Guy Hamilton

Studio: Associated Film Distribution (AFD)

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

Water (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Island nation fights back.

Governor Baxter Thwaites (Michael Caine) runs the British Colony island of Cascara a largely peaceful place that is mostly ignored by everyone else. Then one day one of the oil rigs on the island taps into a underground reservoir of water that has all of its impurities already removed. The delicious tasting drink, that can also be used as a laxative, becomes much sought after from bottling companies across the globe. Now suddenly the British government wants everyone on the island to move out and find some other island to live on while taking over and turning this one into a profit making venture.

The film is patterned after many British satires of the 50’s through the 70’s like The Bed Sitting Room and O Lucky Man that mixes in wacky characters with absurd comic scenarios and also trying to make sharp political observations in-between. Unfortunately this film, which is based on a story by Bill Persky who appears briefly as a TV director, goes soft and is too similar in its vapid tone to Persky’s other social satire flop, Serial, which came out 5 years earlier. The message is too ambiguous and the plot too cluttered with insignificant characters that it becomes almost nonsensical.

The characters are so eccentric that the viewer cannot identify with, or care about any of them. The film in a way comes off as almost racist since the island is populated with black people, but the main characters are all white while the blacks folks get completely pushed into the background. If anything the viewer could’ve sided with the islanders and their quest to protect their homeland, but since all focus is put on the British people who control them, that never happens.

The eclectic cast is the only thing that somewhat holds it together. Brenda Vaccaro, who normally plays in dramatic roles, is very funny as Caine’s feisty wife although I could’ve down without her misguided accent. Valerie Perrine, with her clear blue eyes is fun too as an idealistic social activist although she was already in her 40’s at the time in a role which would’ve been better served by someone in their late teens or early 20’s.

Caine on-the-other-hand isn’t all that entertaining with the exception of the scenes showing him wearing a cocked hat, which are amusing.  He at least seems more comfortable here than in Blame it on Rio, which he did the same year as this one, but due to the subject matter in that one he clearly looked quite awkward and stiff while here he’s having a fun time even if the audience really isn’t.

This also marks the last feature film appearance of Leonard Rossiter, who died in his dressing while waiting to go on stage in a play he was in just a few months after completing his filming here. Normally he’s enjoyable to watch even when he’s playing a stuffy character, which is what he usually did anyways, but here he’s too much of a jerk and I did not find him to be humorous or interesting in any way.

If there is one person that ultimately does comes-off best it would be Billy Connelly who’s hilarious as this rebel leader who refuses to speak and instead communicates everything through singing. Dick Shawn is also quite good as this arrogant actor whose career has declined and now forced, much to his dismay, to being a spokesperson for informercials. You can also spot Joyce Van Patten very briefly in an uncredited role as a TV news reporter.

George Harrison, who also produced the film, appears near the end playing the bass guitar in front of political leaders at the UN while Ringo Starr handles the drums and Eric Clapton does the vocals, but the movie would’ve been more entertaining had all three of them been given roles to play, or at  least it couldn’t have hurt. The film’s title is a bit misleading too as the water ultimately has nothing to do with what saves the island from takeover, or allows them to keep their independence.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 11, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Dick Clement

Studio: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD

Prick Up Your Ears (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bio of Joe Orton.

This film, which is based on the biography of playwright Joe Orton that was written by John Lahr, has two diametrically different story lines going on at the same time. One part has John Lahr, played in the movie by Wallace Shawn, going around interviewing people that knew Orton when he was alive, which includes Orton’s theatrical agent Peggy Ramsey (Vanessa Redgrave). The other part delves into Orton’s (Gary Oldman) relationship with his Kenneth Halliwell (Alfred Molina) showing how it began and then eventually ending in tragedy.

The film, which was directed by the usually reliable Stephen Frears, starts out right away with the murder scene showing Halliwell covered with blood as he stands over Orton’s body that he has just killed, which to me was a mistake. Sometimes using flashbacks in films can help accentuate the story, but here it gives too much away way too soon. What’s the point of continuing to watch the movie if the viewer knows exactly how it will end? Even if one such as myself was aware of Orton’s demise, which occurred on August 9, 1967 in Islington, England, it still should’ve approached the material in a linear way having the murder occur at the very end after we had gotten to understand and feel for the characters and therefore making the act all that more impactful.

The story should’ve started with the scene, which doesn’t occur until 30 minutes in, where Halliwell and Orton are attending a acting improv class, which is where the two first meet and the funniest moment in the movie. In the scene the students are instructed to pass around a make-believe cat and when this invisible cat gets handed to Halliwell, and to the shock of the other students, but to the amusement of Orton, he kills it and then hands it back to the instructor.  This moment also perfectly reflects the black humor that became so apparent in Orton’s plays as well as conveying the weird dynamic that the two had.

When the film focuses solely on the two lead characters and their love-hate relationship it is quite interesting. Molina gives a powerhouse performance and dominates every scene that he is in. His mental deterioration is both vivid and horrorifying and  leaves a lasting impression. Yet there are also other moments where you feel sorry the guy and it helps to make sense of what lead to the tragedy as you see how Orton, who is much younger and better looking, openly have trysts with other men that he randomly meets while Halliwell, fully aware of what is going on, gets pushed into the background and unable to do anything about it.

The film is also filled with some memorable imagery. The scenes where Orton and sometimes Halliwell would pick up strangers for indiscriminate sex, like in dingy public restrooms with the lights turned off and even at times inside the bathroom stalls themselves while constantly in fear of getting caught and arrested, is well captured. The tiny room that the two lived in for years, with pictures that cover every inch of the walls, gets recreated to a perfect tee. Based on images of the actual room found on Google it looks exactly like the one in the movie and its claustrophobic dimensions hits home making it seem amazing that such significant long lasting stage plays, that were later made into movies, could’ve been written in such an insignificant space that seemed no bigger than someone’s walk-in closet.

The opening bit that focused on Orton’s agent and having her reminisce about her experiences dealing with him is boring and should’ve been taken out of the final cut. Viewers come into this wanting to learn more about Orton and his relationship with Halliwell and that’s where the film should’ve started and stayed. I admit Redgrave gives a very good performance as the agent, so having brief scenes with her in them that intercut between the ones dealing with the lovers might have been interesting, but too much time gets spent on the side characters that almost dismantles the entire rest of the film.

Spoiler Alert!

I didn’t like how loud crashing music gets abruptly played during the murder sequence either. The soundtrack had been quite subtle up until then, so having it suddenly get loud is jarring and goes against the tone of the rest of the film. It also puts too much of a theatrical quality to the murder that was not needed. The  visuals are all that is needed to show the shocking and gruesome nature of the act without music needing to be any part of it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 17, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Stephen Frears

Studio: The Samuel Goldwyn Company

Available: DVD

Bugsy Malone (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The gangsters are kids.

It’s the 1920’s and rival mobsters, who are all played by children, fight over control of a club that illegally sells liquor. Fat Sam ( John Cassisi) is the one who currently controls it, but Dandy Dan (Martin Lev) makes a play at a violent overthrow in which his men attack the club by using machine guns equipped with whipped cream that ‘splurge’ their victims. Bugsy Malone (Scott Baio) is a penniless boxing promoter caught in the middle. He tries to help aspiring singer Blousy (Florrie Dugger) get an audition at Sam’s club, but then becomes distracted by Sam’s alluring girlfriend Tallulah (Jodie Foster) who causes Sam’s ire by flirting with Bugsy.

This odd concoction was the product of Alan Parker in his feature film directorial debut who came up with the idea while driving his kids on a weekend trip to a countryside cottage. To keep his kids entertained he started telling them a story about some prohibition era gangsters based on old gangster movies he had seen as a child. It was at one point where one of the kids brought up the idea of having gangsters be children instead of adults.

The first 15 minutes or so are quite inventive and fun. I enjoyed the freeze-frames showing each victim splattered with whip cream and the pedaled powered automobiles, but after awhile it starts to repeat the same gags over and over becoming a one-dimensional, one-joke flick.

I kept wondering where the adults where and despite this being a fantasy what exactly where the ‘rules’. Is this a type of universe where there are no adults at all and the kids remain at that age forever and if so does that ultimately then make them the ‘adults’? For me it would’ve been better had the story been book-ended with some connection to the world as we know it. Perhaps with a Wizard of Oz type structure where the film starts out, maybe even in black-and-white, with adults in the parts of the gangsters and then one of them gets hit on the head or drinks something with a drug in it and has this weird dream involving kids suddenly taking over the roles previously played by the adults. Showing the differences at how kids approached things versus how the adults do would’ve been a funny contrast instead of keeping it at the kiddie-level the whole way through, which ultimately falls flat.

The performances of the young cast are quite energetic although I could’ve done without the musical numbers. Cassisi, who in real-life ended up serving jail time of his own for money laundering, steals it with his humorous send-up of a mob boss. Baio is quite good too especially with his over-the-top Brooklyn accent, but I felt Foster got shamefully underused. If anything her role should’ve been combined with Blousy’s to make one and cutting out Florrie Dugger, who now goes by the name of Florence Garland, completely. I didn’t have anything against her per say, but she didn’t have the onscreen spark that Foster did. She also apparently disliked Baio and the scene involving her hugging him required many retakes as she didn’t want to get near him and this lack of chemistry comes through onscreen.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 12, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Alan Parker

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video