Category Archives: British Movies

Insignificance (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Celebrities in a room.

Inside a New York hotel room is a professor (Michael Emil) working on some calculations until he gets interrupted by The Senator (Tony Curtis) who tries to get him to appear before the committee trying to expose communists inside the U.S., which will be held the next day. The professor refuses and sends the Senator away, though the Senator says he’ll be back. Outside the hotel is a film shoot where the Actress (Theresa Russell) is performing a scene where a gush of wind blows up the white blouse she is wearing while standing over a street grate. After the shoot she has her chauffeur (Patrick Kilpatrick) take her to a toy store where she picks up some gadgets, which she takes to the hotel room for a visit she has with the professor where they discuss the theory of relativity. Later her husband the baseball player (Gary Busey) shows up and the two argue while the professor leaves. The next morning the senator returns to find the actress alone in bed, who he mistakenly thinks is a prostitute made-up to resemble Marilyn Monroe. When he threatens to seize the professor’s papers she agrees to have sex with him as a bribe, but the senator has a violent outburst just as the professor and the baseball player return to the room.

The film is based on the stageplay of the same name written by Terry Johnson that was performed onstage at the Royal Court Theater in London in 1982. The inspiration for the play came when Johnson found out that amongst Marilyn Monroe’s belongings that were retrieved after her death was a signed autograph picture of Albert Einstein and the idea of what the meeting between these two would’ve been like intrigued him enough to write a whole play around it. Director Nicholas Roeg saw the play and thought it would make for a great movie, but he wanted to expand it by entering in the character of Joe DiMaggio, who was Monroe’s husband at the time as well the senator, which represented Joe McCarthy.

Roeg’s superior use of visuals and non-linear, dream-like narrative is what keeps it interesting. I also liked the way Roeg had flashback scenes, which were not a part of the play, but added into the screenplay at Roeg’s request, showing traumatic moments in each character’s childhood that had an emotional impact on them and ended up defining who they ultimately became. These moments, as brief as they are, end up leaving the most lasting impression.

The acting is quite good particularly from Curtis whose career had waned considerably by this point, but his perpetual nervousness and the sweat that glistens off of his face is memorable. Busey is solid as a man who initially comes-off as a bully, but ultimately reveals a tender side. The lesser known Emil, who is the older brother of director Henry Jaglom and mostly only appeared in movies that were directed by him, completely disappears in his part until you can only see the Albert Einstein characterization and not the acting.

The only performance I had a problem with was Russell’s who goes way over-the-top with her put-upon impression of Monroe and comes-off like a campy caricature. Her breathless delivery sounds like she’s trying to hold in her breathe as she speaks and is quite annoying. Johnson had wanted Judy Davis, who had played the role in the stage version, to reprise the part for the movie, but Roeg, who was married to Russell at the time, insisted she be cast despite the fact that Russell really didn’t want to do it. While I never saw the stage play and have no idea if Davis would’ve been good I still feel anyone could’ve been better, or for that matter couldn’t have been any worse.

While the film does have its share of captivating elements it does fail to make the characters three-dimensional as they play too much into the personas that we already have of them while virtually revealing no surprises. It’s also a shame that the four are never in the room at the same time. There is one moment where the senator, the baseball player, and the professor meet in the front of the room, while the actress remains in the back behind the closed sliding glass doors, but this doesn’t count because she never interacts with the others during this segment, which is something that I had wanted to see. Overall though as an experimental, visual time capsule, it still works and the unexpected, provocative montage that occurs at the end makes it worthwhile.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 11, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Nicholas Roeg

Studio: Island Alive

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (The Criterion Collection)

What the Peeper Saw (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Child could be killer.

Elise (Britt Ekland) marries wealthy author Paul (Hardy Kruger) and then after the nuptials comes into contact with his 12-year-old son Marcus (Mark Lester) still grieving over the death of his mother 6 months earlier. Elise had the understanding that the mother, who died from drowning in her bathtub, was accidental, but as she gets to know Marcus she suspects that he may have had something to do with it. She then speaks to his school’s headmaster (Harry Andrews) and learns that Marcus has been having disciplinary issues including that of torturing and killing animals. When Elise tells Paul of her suspicions he refuses to believe it, which pits her against both the father and boy.

While the story may have intriguing elements, though it does sound too much like The Bad Seed, the execution is poor. It starts out right away with Elise meeting Marcus, no backstory scenes showing how Elise met Paul are shown, and right away he acts weird and creepy. There’s no nuance or layers to the story, just one long ‘is he a killer, or not’ scenario that ends up being highly talky with no real thrills. The producers, apparently realizing the proceedings needed some spicing up, hired Andrea Bianchi to come in and add some sexually tinged moments including a scene where a nude Lester, sitting in a bath tub, begins fondling Britt’s breasts, who is sitting outside the tub fully clothed. If that wasn’t shocking enough there’s another scene later where she strips fully naked in front of him, but neither of these moments, as sleazy as they are, makes this otherwise tired and placid plot any more intriguing.

The film’s only real selling point is to see child star Lester playing against type. He shot to fame in the starring role in Oliver!, but all of his roles after that couldn’t capitalize on his talents and like with this one were weak and pedestrian that didn’t give him much to do. Watching him play an evil kid, instead of the angelic lad like we’re used to seeing, is interesting to some extent and he does it surprisingly well, but he’s not in it enough.

As for Britt she’s quite beautiful and the camera focuses on her lovingly, and the male viewers certainly won’t mind her nude scenes of which there are plenty, but her character is poorly fleshed-out. It’s hard to understand why she married Paul as he treats her in a callous way and clearly favors the kid over her, so why stay in a relationship if she’s just going to be the spare tire especially with a psycho kid that’s just going to put her life more and more in danger? Any sensible person would pack-up and leave and the fact that she chooses to stay in such a bad and uncomfortable situation makes her seem as nutty as the rest.

Things pick-up during the final 10-minutes which gets filled with a lot of wild imagery though some of this should’ve been sprinkled though out the film, which is too cardboard otherwise. The final twist is a bit of a surprise, but the whole thing could’ve been better paced. Everything hinges too much on the provocative overtones while the characters are one-dimensional and fail to resonate and thus causing the viewer to remain pretty much detached emotionally from everything that goes on and the twists that do occur fail to deliver any punch.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 14, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Directors: James Kelley, Andrea Bianchi

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Assault (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Schoolgirls attacked by rapist.

One day after school Tessa (Lesley Ann-Down), a teen who attends a local British high school in rural England, decides to cut through the nearby woods as a shortcut on her way home. As she treks through the forest an unseen assailant attacks her, which leaves her in a catatonic state. A few days later, despite the warnings, another female student goes into the woods and is later found murdered. The police inspectors (Frank Finley, James Cosmo) have idea who it could be and are unable to come-up with any leads, which frustrates the local teacher Julie West (Suzy Kendall). She decides it’s up to her to nab the culprit, so she uses herself and some of her students as bait to lure the killer out. She drives into the woods in a station wagon, but then the car gets stuck. While she tries to back it out she gets a glimpse of the perpetrator’s face as he deposits another of his victims, but when she describes to everybody what he looks like, saying he has the face of the devil, everyone thinks she’s gone mad.

This is another one of those British thrillers where in an attempt to gain more interest in the film the studio would release it under different titles. In the US the film was known as ‘In the Devil’s Garden’ to take advantage of the possession craze that was occurring after the release of The Exorcist and then a few years later it got re-released under the title ‘Satan’s Playthings’ and billed as a provocative story with erotic overtones. In either case the plot, which is based on the novel ‘The Ravine’ by Kendal Young, comes-off more like a cop drama/mystery than a horror flick.

That’s not to say it’s bad as director Sidney Hayers throws in some good touches. The attack on the girl is well handled using a hand-held camera that makes it seem unrehearsed and sudden. For a British thriller it’s even kind of racy. Normally films from England are quite timid about showing nudity, blood, or violence, but this thing does push-the-envelope a bit, far more than I was expecting, while still remaining ‘tasteful’ enough not to come under the ire of the British censors. The pounding music score helps create an urgent mood and grabs your attention at the start though it gets overplayed by the end and resembles a score heard on a cop TV-show.

The acting is good, but seeing Down looking so young and appearing much different from what we’re used to seeing her now kinda threw me off as you’d almost think she’s a completely different person. Kendall, who became a British scream queen for all the horror movies and thrillers that she was in, is quite appealing and I loved seeing her in glasses, which gives her a certain sexy look. The male actors are okay, but there’s more of them than are necessary and I think this was only done to create more suspects to choose from though their 70’s haircuts complete with long sideburns gives the film a very dated quality.

I was able to guess who the culprit was with about 20-minutes to go. It’s not that hard to figure out and the film gives-off a few too many clues to the point that it would be hard for someone not to know who it is. The story itself is standard. Not much thrills or chills though the electrocution via a cable that the victim touches while climbing up an electrical tower is admirably realistic and probably the most impressive part of the movie.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 11, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney Hayers

Studio: J. Arthur Rank Film Distributors

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

What Became of Jack and Jill? (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Greedy couple learns lesson.

Johnnie (Paul Nicholas) lives with his elderly grandmother Alice (Mona Washbourne). He has no motivation to get a job and hopes that by staying in her good graces he can inherit her small fortune and house when she passes away. Johnnie’s girlfriend Jill (Vanessa Howard) becomes impatient waiting for the old lady to die and hopes to hasten it by hatching a plan with Johnnie where Alice will think that a youth movement has occurred where those under 30 rebel against the older generation, particularly those over 75, by taking them away to prison camps, or killing them outright. Johnnie manipulates Alice into believing that this movement has pegged her as their next victim and even stages a protest outside her home to convince her that they’re coming for her. Succumbed with fear Alice drops over with a heart attack, and the couple believe they now can get their hands on her money, but at the reading of her will they find that Alice has placed a stipulation that they weren’t expecting.

The filmed was produced by Amicus Productions, which was a British film studio that specialized in horror movies, mainly those of the Gothic variety. To keep up with changing tastes they decided to dabble in the grindhouse genre and picked this story, which was based on a novel called ‘The Ruthless Ones’ by Laurence Moody, as their first venture. They were so impressed with Vanessa Howard’s creepy performance in Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly that they signed her on as the star hoping to make her their next ‘scream queen’. Howard, who was upset at how the previous film she was in fell into obscurity, that she was happy to take on a new project that would be financed by a well know studio, which she felt would guarantee that the picture would receive strong box office appeal. Unfortunately, once the project was finished Amicus studio heads were aghast at the dark subject matter and decided not to release it causing this movie to become as obscure as Howard’s other one, which in-turn disillusioned her wit the business and causing her to retire.

The story does have its share of faults. There’s no explanation for what happened to Johnnie’s parents, or what their take is on his living situation. His ability to fool the grandmother into believing such an outrageous conspiracy theory happens too easily and is hard to believe, but the dark story elements, despite the slow pace, still holds adequate intrigue. A lot of credit goes to the performances. Howard is quite nasty, but in a different way than she was in her other movie where she behaved like she was in a trance, but here is knowingly devious while also shockingly callous. Washbourne is also terrific causing you to gain sympathy for her character and what she goes through.

The twist is good, but not a complete surprise and it takes too long to get there. My biggest gripe is that once the story shifts it doesn’t explore enough of the wrinkles that it creates. There’s a whole array of different plot threads it could’ve taken, but instead settles for the most obvious one culminating in a climax that peters itself out instead of inviting in even more twists and characters to it.

Spoiler Alert!

The stabbing scene is problematic in that the victim clothes get stained with blood, but there’s no rip in the clothing to represent where the knife was able to get through. A person can’t bleed unless a sharp object touches their skin and for that to happen it needs to be able to cut through the fabric on top of it, so to have a shot where the victim is ‘bleeding’ into their clothing, but clothing itself  isn’t ripped is illogical. Also, having the police continue to stand outside the home and politely knock on the door to be let in, after they become aware of what Johnnie has done, while he remains inside refusing to open it, got overdone. At some point the police are going to have to break down the door if the suspect refuses to come out and this should’ve been shown.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall I still enjoyed it especially the music played over the opening and closing credits and during the club scenes. I don’t know what the name of the band was, but it has a great punk band-like sound that’s distinct and hard edged. If the movie itself won’t get the proper Blu-ray release that it deserves then the soundtrack at least should.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 16, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bill Bain

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: None

Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Family plays weird games.

Sonny (Howard Trevor) and Girly (Vanessa Howard) are brother and sister who live with their mother (Ursala Howells) and nanny (Pat Heywood) in a large stately mansion in rural England. Despite both being adolescents they still sleep in cribs and behave as if they’re only 5. They enjoy playing what they call ‘The Game’, which is bringing home strangers, usually homeless men that they’ve met at a park, and forcing them to dress in a schoolboy’s outfit and compelled to behave like a child. If they refuse they are then ‘sent to the angels’.

The film was a product of famed British cinematographer Freddie Francis who wanted to make a movie inside the Oakley Court, which is a castle built in 1859 that overlooks the River Thames. He commissioned his friend Brian Comport to write the screenplay with the only condition being that the action had to take place on the Oakley Court property. Comport decided to revolve the plot around a play called ‘Happy Family’ written by Maisie Mosco, which dealt with a family that got involved with role playing games. Both Francis and Comport disliked the play, but were intrigued with the concept and decided to turn it into the genesis for a horror movie.

The film can best be described as experimental and has an intriguing quality to it, which holds your interest for the first 30-minutes, or so. One of the best elements is the alluring performance of Vanessa Howard, who’s able to mix her beauty with that of an evil mischievous nature. In fact the entire cast does an exceptionally fine job despite the material not offering much in the way of characterizations. The cast gives off an energetic zeal that keeps you compelled even as very little else happens. I kept thinking how sad it was that these actors put so much effort into a movie that fell into obscurity almost right away and this it turns out was the very reason why Howard left the profession just a few years later.

Outside of the acting there’s little else to recommend as the flimsy plot gets stretched far more than it should. There’s also no normal character that the viewer can relate to. Initially I thought it would be Michael Bryant, who plays a middle-aged male prostitute that they bring back to their place as one of their ‘new friends’, but he ends up behaving almost as weirdly as the rest. There should’ve been some outside force that intervened like a police inspector that would come to the castle to investigate the disappearance of one of the prostitute’s female clients, played by Imogen Hassall, that he and the two teens kill when they push her off a slide, which could’ve added tension and nuance that is otherwise lacking.

The film is also too skittish with the shocks. It’s supposed to be a horror movie, but there’s barely anything in it that’s all that disturbing. Sure, it does imply some dark things, but it doesn’t show any of it. The victims die too easily to the point that the death scenes aren’t any fun to watch. The part where a woman falls from a children’s slide at a playground and dies instantly is ridiculous as it wasn’t a high enough for the fall to have been fatal.  Another scene is the discovery of a severed head inside a boiling pot of water, but it never  gets shown, which comes-off as a total cop-out. I realize this was made in the 60’s in England where the culture was quite prudish to gore and violence, hence the creation of the infamous ‘video nasties’, which was a list of banned horror movies that came out about a decade later, but if you’re going to create a story that is dark and edgy, such as this one, then you should have the balls to push-the-envelope in order to give it a payoff, which this thing is ultimately devoid of.

Alternate Title: Girly

Released: February 12, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Freddie Francis

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporations

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Peter Sellers’ last movie.

Fu Manchu (Peter Sellers) is a 168-year-old man, who on his birthday must drink a elixir vitae in order to remain youthful and alive. When one of his servants (Burt Kwouk) brings in the formula his shirt sleeve catches fire from all of Fu’s birthday candles and it causes the servant to use the elixir to put the flames on his sleeve out. This forces Fu to have his henchmen go on a international crime spree to find the necessary ingredients to create a new youthful formula for him to drink. After one of Fu’s men steals a diamond in an exhibit it catches the attention of Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Roger Avery (David Tomlinson) who then calls in two F.B.I. agents (Sid Caesar, Steve Franken) to help him on the case. They also visit the aging Nyland Smith (Peter Sellers) who is a former adversary to Fu and knows his traits well, but Nyland has become senile and eccentric. They also use the services of Alice (Helen Mirren) an undercover police detective who masquerades as the Queen, which they feel Fu’s men will try to kidnap, but when Alice gets kidnapped she falls-in-love with Fu and agrees to help him in his crimes.

This marked Peter Sellers last film and for all purposes it may well be the worst one he was in. He was just coming off high praise for his performance in the critically acclaimed Being There, but instead of using his career resurgence to find more highbrow fare he instead reverted back to his old ways of campy comedy. During the early 70’s, when he was in a lot of duds, his excuse was that he was doing it only for the money, but in this case I’m not sure of his reasoning. In any event it’s a train wreck from the first frame to the last.

Initially he was going to team-up with director Richard Quine as the two had worked together two years earlier in The Prisoner of Zenda, but they had a falling-out before production even began. Piers Haggard was then brought in to take Quine’s place, but he became horrified to learn that Sellers had taken it upon himself to rewrite the script turning it from a plot driven story into a cheap gag-a-minute stuff that didn’t seem to go anywhere. Haggard, despite Sellers objections, tried to turn the screenplay back to what it was, or at least in Haggard’s words, ‘give it something that resembled a beginning-middle-and-end’, but his attempts were futile and the whole thing becomes one, long misguided farce that goes nowhere and lacks any interesting elements.

A lot of the humor is lame and includes Nyland having falling-in-love with his lawn mower, which he takes with him everywhere even when he’s inside people’s homes. One segment has him ‘mowing’ the carpet of the inspector’s office, which is kind of funny, but then it cuts to a long shot where we see no damage to the carpet, so what’s the point of doing the gag if there’s no visual payoff? The bit where Nyland turns his country home into a flying machine had potential, but the abysmal special effects ruin it.

Helen Mirren almost saves it with her excellent performance and I enjoyed David Tomlinson in his last film, who shows more energy than the rest of the cast. Sellers though seems tired and worn-out and his acting lacks the required energy. In some ways he looks quite healthy here including showing a nice tan when he’s in the Nyland role, but this actually hurts the characterization as Nyland is supposed to be old and elderly, but despite his gray hair he really doesn’t look it. Peter’s two good moments comes when he’s in the Fu role and breathing heavily as he watches Helen strip, the bit at the end where he becomes a rock star is impressive and he seems to be singing in a completely different voice. If it was dubbed then it takes away from it, but if he was using his real voice then he deserves credit as it certainly didn’t sound like any of the other accents he had ever used in his career.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Piers Haggard (Peter Sellers uncredited)

Studio: Orion Pictures

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

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