Category Archives: British Movies

Saturn 3 (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Space couple battles robot.

Mentally unhinged Captain Benson (Harvey Keitel) arrives on a space station that is located on Saturn’s 3rd moon along with a robot named Hector that has brain tissue made up of human fetuses. On the space station resides Adam (Kirk Douglas) and Alex (Farrah Fawcett) who are a couple researching on how to grow plants without soil. Captain Benson is assigned to assemble the robot, which will supposedly help the couple in their research, but instead it goes on a rampage killing Benson and then threatening to do the same to the other two.

The film was the brainchild of award winning set designer John Barry best known for his production design in the movies Star Wars and A Clockwork Orange. Unfortunately most of his work was done inside an office and his ability to actually direct actors was limited leading to constant conflicts between he and star Douglas, which eventually forced the film’s producer Stanley Donen to step in and takeover. Barry then left to work on The Empire Strikes Back only to collapse suddenly and die just a few months later from meningitis at the young age of 43 while never seeing the completed version of his original vision.

The sets are dazzling and clearly the film’s best element. In fact one could watch the movie for its visual quality alone with no sound and be better entertained. The robot is amazing too because he comes off looking like a genuine mechanical concoction and not just some stunt guy in a body suit. The thing doesn’t even have a head, but simply a protruding wire coming out the top with two lights on the end of it representing its eyes. Watching him being put together is mesmerizing as he looks very much like modern robots seen today at science shows making the film, at least in this area, seem astutely ahead-of-its-time.

The story though comes-off like an afterthought. Never once did I feel any tension even as the robot chases the couple all around. The characters are bland and the cast needed to be larger as the production lacks energy or liveliness. The dark, isolated space station is gloomy and depressing, which eventually crosses over to the film as a whole.

This was supposed to be a sci-fi/horror hybrid in the realm of Alien, but unlike that movie this one lacks any shocks or scares. There were two scenes that were filmed but later deleted one involved a dream sequence where Adam and Alex kill Benson while another had the robot ripping apart Benson’s dead body. These scenes sounded like they had exact edginess that the film lacked and it’s a head-scratcher why they were cut. When you’re trying to attract the same audience of another sci-fi flick that had its share of gore then you need to go for the gusto and not hold back.

The casting is cockeyed. Why is a 65-year-old codger banging a hot 30-year-old? Not only does it look like a father/daughter thing but even more like a grandfather/granddaughter situation. Kirk’s a fine actor, but not for this and his son Michael would’ve been a far better choice especially since there’s no chemistry between the two stars anyways.

Farrah’s acting skills have improved slightly from her first two films, but she still comes off as transparent and in-over-her-head, hired solely for her looks and nothing else.  Male viewers will enjoy her brief topless scene, but most likely no one, male or female, will be excited about seeing Kirk’s bare wrinkled old ass, which you’ll unfortunately also get a glimpse of.

I was most perplexed by the fact that Keitel’s voice was dubbed over by actor Roy Dotrice apparently because Donen didn’t like Keitel’s Brooklyn accent, but why hire the guy in the first place if you don’t like the way he speaks? The dubbing is obvious from the moment he utters his first word and will be a definite distraction to Keitel fans.

Ultimately the film becomes victim to what happens to a lot of big budget sci-fi productions where too much emphasis is put into one element while almost no thought is given to anything else. The result is a flimsy entry into the sci-fi genre that barely deserves any attention at all.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 15, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated R

Director Stanley Donen (John Barry uncredited)

Studio: ITC Films

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Great Train Robbery (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A daring gold heist.

In 1855 Edward Pierce (Sean Connery) comes up with an idea to rob a large shipment of gold from a traveling train.  He recruits the services of his mistress Miriam (Lesley-Anne Down) and a screwsmen named Robert Agar (Donald Sutherland) to help him do it. The heist requires that they make copies of four keys that are used to open the safe, but each are possessed by four different bank executives forcing them into an elaborate scheme to attain them all. Eventually the authorities become aware of their plan making their heist even trickier to pull off.

The story is based on an actual incident that occurred in 1855 that Michael Crichton became intrigued by, which inspired him to write a fictionalized account that became a best-selling novel and in turn lead to him being offered the chance to direct the film version. As a period piece it succeeds as I loved the variety of wardrobes that the characters wear and the lavish settings that not only reveals London’s rich neighborhoods of that era, but its poverty-stricken ones as well all in amazingly accurate detail.

The film has an underlying quirky tone that is engaging, but this also makes it seem less authentic. For a crime caper to be enjoyable one must believe that it could really happen, or what the characters do is actually possible. There were times when I wasn’t convinced of either and the blame goes to the film trying too hard to be cute instead of just sticking to the detail.

Henry Fowler (Malcolm Terris) is one of the bank executives with a key who proudly proclaims to wear it around his neck, which he states that he ‘never’ takes off. In order to get the key and allow Robert to make a wax impression of it, Miriam pretends to be a prostitute who convinces him to take off the key, so they can make love, which he immediately does. This seems too easy as rarely do humans behave exactly as you think they will. When things come together without any hitch you start to question its validity. If a guy says he ‘never’ removes his key than make it much harder to convince him to do it, or force Robert to make the wax impressions of the key while Henry still has it around his neck and making out with Miriam, which would’ve been funnier.

Another segment has Robert breaking into an office at the railway station where two of the keys are stored inside a cabinet. The night watchman that guards the office always leaves at the same time for exactly 75 seconds to go to the bathroom. Robert is then forced to break into the office and make the wax impressions of the keys and then get out within that same 75 second time frame, but who goes to the bathroom at the exact same amount of time each and every time they go? Most people will go within a certain time range, but no one is that robotic to literally ‘count out the seconds’ as they pee. Having a character behave in such an extreme way only accentuates the film’s whimsical quality while throwing the believability out the door.

Later on in an effort to get inside the train compartment Robert pretends to be a corpse inside a coffin. To create a stench a dead cat is put in alongside him, but how was Robert able to withstand the horrible odor as people standing outside the coffin kept complaining about the unbearable smell. What was it about Robert that made him tolerate it as long as he does when almost no one else could’ve? This makes Robert seem super-human and gives even more leverage to the fact that this couldn’t have really happened at least not in the way done here.

The exciting ending features Connery, not a stunt double, but the actor himself getting on the train roof as the train is running at 55 mph and trying to go from the front of it to the back while ducking under numerous bridges that come whizzing by at lightning speed. This had me holding my breath, but I still came away wishing the film had stuck more to the original account. I read a brief overview of the real crime that was written in more detail by David C. Hanrahan in ‘The First Great Train Robbery’.  There are many differences between the real event and how it gets portrayed here with the real account being far more interesting.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Crichton

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

I Start Counting (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: She suspects her brother.

Wynne (Jenny Agutter) is an adopted 14-year-old teen who begins to have romantic feelings for her 32-year-old stepbrother George (Bryan Marshall). However, she finds some troubling signs, like scratches on his back and blood on a shirt she gave him, which makes her believe that he may be the killer that has murdered several teen girls in the area.

This is one of the earlier films directed by the gifted David Greene who went on to helm some amazing films including the TV-movies Roots and Fatal Vision, but here he still seems to be searching for his rhythm. The story, which is based on the novel of the same name by Audrey Erskine Lindop, has some potential, but the pacing drags and there’s too much emphasis on a panning camera that seems to want to pan to different points on the screen in literally every shot. The soft, melodic music is more liable to put the viewer to sleep than create any tension.

Not enough emphasis is put on the murders or the investigation. We see the face of one dead body underneath the water and then that’s it. The killings become almost like an afterthought that gets briefly mentioned here and there, but fails to build up any fear in the viewer and at times becomes almost forgotten. The story instead focuses on the inner thoughts and feelings of Wynne and meanders between her fearing her brother to being in-love with him until she seems weirder than he is.

Agutter gives a great performance and helps hold the thing together, which would’ve become a limp, unfocused bore otherwise. Simon Ward, especially with his facial features makes for a good creepy bus conductor, but Marshall’s flat performance as the brother does not help to the point where the viewer doesn’t particularly care if he is the killer or not.

The only time that there is any true tension is at the end when the killer’s true identity gets exposed and he tries to kill Wynne in a dark, isolated building, but even here things get botched as the film makes it too obvious who the killer is too soon, which then lessens the film’s final twist. Certain other aspects like a flashback sequences dealing with Wynne’s troubled childhood doesn’t add up to much. In fact the only thing that I found even mildly diverting was Wynne’s relationship with her competitive best friend Corinne (Claire Sutcliffe), which brought to mind the old adage: with friends like these who needs enemies.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 27, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Not Rated

Director: David Greene

Studio: United Artists

Available: None at this time.

Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dad fucks the babysitters.

Rita (Siobhan Finneran) and Sue (Michelle Holmes) are two friends from high school who babysit for Bob (George Costigan) and his wife Michelle (Lesley Sharp). One night while Bob is taking the two babysitters home in his car he decides to make a sexual overture to them and they both enthusiastically reciprocate, which ends up turning into a mini sex orgy. Soon the three are routinely getting together for sexual trysts until Michelle eventually catches on and leaves Bob while taking the kids with her. Sue’s parents find out too, which causes a great deal of stress and infighting amongst the three.

This offbeat comedy unexpectedly became a big worldwide cult hit that made stars of the three leads particularly the two women whose first film this was. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the film’s director Alan Clarke or its writer Andrea Dunbar who both tragically died just 3 years after the film’s release. Clarke from cancer while Dunbar, who was living on welfare and an alcoholic, passed away at her local pub at only 29 years of age.

The film comes off as an odd mix of lighthearted comedy and gritty drama that doesn’t completely work. The story jumps from the upscale middle class neighborhood of Bob’s house to the abject poverty of Sue and Rita’s family life with their apartments so vividly rundown that it’s almost horrifying to imagine anyone could live in such squalor. Part of the reason for this shift is that the film was based on two of Dunbar’s plays, the first being ‘The Arbor’, which was an autobiographical story of her growing up in the slums and at the hands of an abusive father, which she wrote at the age of 15 as a class project, and the other on a later play that she wrote with the same title as the film.

Why director Clarke choose to mix the two plays together into one film I’m not sure. Maybe he thought it would give the story more substance, but it really doesn’t. The antics that go on here could’ve happened in any neighborhood and income bracket making the stark, dramatic scenes of the girl’s sad home life seem inconsequential and meandering.

I didn’t like the film’s abrupt start either as it jumps almost immediately to the three getting-it-on inside the car without any backstory. I kept wondering when did Bob get the idea to make a pass at the two girls and why are the girls so unsurprised when he does? I would think most young women would be shocked when an older man that they babysit for would suddenly make an aggressive sexual come-on and yet here these two aren’t, but why? What sort of signals were the two sending out to Bob to make him feel that he could behave the way he does? Was he already getting ideas when they first came to babysit for him, or did it evolve later? These questions and scenarios never get shown or answered, but should’ve.

We also never see Rita and Sue interacting with the children. The scenes involving their babysitting shows them either sitting watching TV or stuffing their faces with snacks after raiding Bob’s refrigerator while the two children remain complete afterthoughts that are only shown briefly for a few seconds at the 54 minute mark and that’s it, which then brings me to another crucial question. Why is it necessary to hire two babysitters to watch over two kids? When I was younger and babysat I could easily watch my neighbor’s two kids without any help. When I was a child only one babysitter was hired to look after me and my two siblings. Hiring two teen girls to look after two kids is highly impractical and quite unusual to the point that it makes no sense.

The ending leaves open a lot of questions making the film seem almost like an incomplete treatment to a wider story. For instance the three end up moving in together without showing whether this unusual living arrangement would be able to sustain itself long term. I was also curious to see how Bob would explain this arrangement to his children when they came to visit. There is also a side-story dealing with Sue’s relationship with a Pakistani boyfriend (Kulvinder Ghir) that seemed better suited for another movie altogether.

The scenes involving the three inside the car are the funniest, but otherwise I’m not sure why this movie became the hit that it did.  There’s also too many tracking shots almost like director Clarke found himself a new toy that he couldn’t help playing with. Initially the constantly moving camera comes off as innovative and gives the film added energy, but it ends up getting overdone.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 12, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alan Clarke

Studio: Film Four International

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Murder Elite (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sisters feud over estate.

The story centers on Diane (Ali MacGraw) who moves in with her sister Margaret (Billie Whitelaw) at the family’s estate in England. Diane has frittered away her inheritance while living in America and now comes to Margaret in a near penniless state. Margaret expects Diane to ‘earn-her-keep’, but Diane resists doing any farm work and instead schemes at how to take control of the family’s fortune while having a fling with one of the farmhands named Ron (Ray Lonnen). She realizes that if Margaret dies then the estate will go to her, so she convinces Ron to kill Margaret when she goes out for one of her late night walks and then blame the death on a mysterious lady killer who has been terrorizing the countryside. However, things don’t go as planned as Diane and Ron soon find themselves being the ones in danger.

The film works as a weird hybrid between a slasher flick and an old-fashioned Agatha Christie-like mystery. The only interesting element is MacGraw’s presence who seems completely out-of-place in the English setting. This could easily be described as her career swan song as she never starred in another theatrical film after this one. In fact she only did four more movies, two of them being TV ones, and no film appearances at all since 1997. Usually when someone’s acting career has nosedived they turn to overseas projects, which is exactly what this was as she hadn’t had a hit movie in 13 years and was well over 40, so in many ways she had no choice, but to take it.

It might’ve worked had she had genuine acting talent, but it becomes painfully clear in her scenes with Whitelaw that she’s being seriously upstaged by a far more superior actress. Casting MacGraw as antagonist doesn’t gel as she’s unable to convey the necessary evilness. As sisters the two look nothing alike and Whitelaw is supposed to be ‘way older’ than MacGraw, but in reality they look practically the same age. During the early ‘70s Ali had long hair that came down to her waist and it looked great, by the later part of the decade she had cut it real short and it was okay, but her she wears it shoulder-length, which isn’t sexy at all.

The plot is only mildly intriguing and all the action takes place on the drab estate, which quickly becomes dull visually. There are a few twists to keep it watchable, but the one that comes at the end, which reveals who the true killer is, is full of loopholes making this little known mystery excursion come-off as flat and pointless.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 13, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Claude Whatham

Studio: Tyburn Entertainment

Available: VHS 

The Internecine Project (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killing off his enemies.

Robert Elliot (James Coburn) is a former spy whose been given an offer as government advisor, but he must get rid of four people (Ian Hendry, Michael Jayston, Harry Andrews, Christiane Krueger) who hold secrets to his past before he can accept the position. To accomplish this he comes up with an ingenious plan, which consists of tricking these four to kill each other off all on the same night at around the same time while Robert sits comfortably at home and tracks their progress.

This is the type of intricate plot  that usually works best as a novel, but director Ken Hughes has things pretty well thought out. The first half isn’t too gripping, but once Robert’s scheme gets going it becomes quite intriguing. The plan certainly does border on being over-the-top and too dependent on the participants doing everything exactly as their instructed in order for it to be successful, but overall I felt it could’ve been possible, which is the main ingredient that makes it work as it manages to remain delicately within the realm of believability.

The supporting cast play their parts to the hilt complete with nervous ticks and flawed personalities, which helps add a fun dimension. Although clearly done on a modest budget the camera work and set design are creatively handled including one unique scene where the victim gets strangled by her killer through a shower curtain.

I also liked how one of the killers played by Christiane Kruger requires her instructions, which are given to her verbally by Coburn, to be repeated and written down as she is afraid she might forget them otherwise. I would respond in the exact same way even though most other movies in this genre will have the instructions spoken very quickly and only once, which would always make me wonder how they’re able to keep it all straight.

The only downside is the twist ending that seems like it was thrown in as a cutesy way to the end the film without much thought put into it. A really good twist should have some foreshadowing earlier that doesn’t seem all that important at the time and then when it’s all over allow the viewer to think back and go ‘A-ha, I should’ve seen that coming!’, but that’s not the case here.

If anything I would’ve had Lee Grant’s character more instrumental to the outcome as I could see no other purpose for her presence otherwise. I spent the whole film wondering why she was even in the movie and when it was over I was still asking that same question. She’s a beautiful lady, but her role is unfocused. One minute she’s feisty feminist and then the next she’s an emotionally needy wreck. She plays it well, but her efforts do nothing to propel the plot.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 24, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ken Hughes

Studio: Allied Artists Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Lady Vanishes (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Where’s the old lady?

In 1939 while traveling by train from Bavaria to Switzerland American Heiress Amanda (Cybill Shepherd) befriends an English nanny named Miss Froy (Angela Lansbury). The two sit across from each other inside a train compartment. When Amanda awakens from a nap she notices that Miss Froy has disappeared and when she asks others where she went to everybody denies having even seen her. Amanda starts to question her own sanity and tries to use the assistance of American photographer Robert Condon (Elliot Gould) to help her figure out what is going on.

This film is a remake of the classic 1938 movie of the same name, which was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and based on the novel ‘The Wheel Spins’ by Ethel Lina White. I last saw the original over 30 years ago while attending college, so my memories of it are fuzzy and I’ll be unable to compare the two. However, I do remember enjoying it and feeling that this thing doesn’t quite reach the same level.

The biggest issue is the casting of Shepherd. I think she’s a gorgeous lady, I loved seeing her in the low cut white dress and at one point she even appears to bravely do her stunts by jumping off a moving train, but her acting is not up to par. She can be great as a bitchy, sarcastic woman or even as a kooky eccentric, but as someone we want to root for or sympathize with, no way. Some of her former co-stars including Bruce Willis and Christine Baranski have described her as being cold and competitive to deal with and that’s the exactly same vibe I get every time I see her. Her efforts to cover that up in an attempt to play a more likable character doesn’t work, so instead producers should cast her in parts that mesh with her personality while getting someone else more affable for this role.

Gould has the same problem. He looks bored and out-of-place and I don’t know why the nationalities of the two lead characters, which had been British in the original, were changed to American here, but it doesn’t help. Besides there is absolutely no chemistry between he and Shepherd, which makes the romantic angle come off as quite forced. He was also considerably older than her and they should’ve at the very least cast two people more in the same age range.

Even the great Angela Lansbury is all wrong here. She still gives the role a stellar performance with her best moment coming when her eyes well up with tears as the other passengers openly contemplate throwing her off the train and into the clutches of an SS officer standing outside, which proves that the truly great stars don’t need any speaking lines to convey just the right emotion.  However, she was only in her 50’s at the time and didn’t come off looking elderly. Dame May Whitty played the part in the original and was in her 70’s, which is what the age of the actress playing the part here should’ve been.

The basic premise is still entertaining enough to keep things passable, but I would’ve liked the mystery angle played up more by showing things only from Amanda’s perspective until the viewer started to question her sanity as well. The scene where Amanda sees the name Miss Froy written in the dust of a train window by the Lansbury character earlier and then having that name strangely disappear off the window after they go through a tunnel makes no sense. This was supposed to be a ‘realistic’ thriller and therefore surreal elements should not have been thrown in.

The climactic sequence is entertaining, Arthur Lowe is enjoyable in a supporting part, and the Austrian scenery is luscious, but the movie is marginal and only helps to make the viewer appreciate the original more than anything.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 8, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Anthony Page

Studio: Rank Film Distributors

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: They all did it.

The time is December, 1935 and world-renown detective Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) boards the Orient Express as an unexpected guest who’s able to find a spare compartment due to his friendship with the train’s owner (Martin Balsam). During the night one of the other passengers (Richard Widmark) is found dead and it is up to Poirot to solve the crime while the train remains stalled by a large snow bank.

This production is considered by many to be the best film version of any of Agatha Christie’s novel-to-screen attempts and in fact the author herself said as much when she attended a showing of the movie on the night of its premiere. Director Sidney Lumet’s ingenious touch is on-target the whole way as he creates a nice blend of kitsch and camp until the over-the-top costumes, playfully sharp dialogue, and glossy camerawork become more of the fun than the mystery itself.

In fact it’s Lumet’s ability to capitalize on the little things and control every minute detail that makes it so captivating even on repeat viewings. Their ability to turn an abandoned warehouse into a bustling train station is just one example. I also enjoyed the moment when the train leaves the station that gets done to the sound of a waltz composed specifically for the film by Richard Rodney Bennett. Originally they were going to have train sounds edited in and had hired a sound engineer who had spent his whole life recording these noises for specifically this purpose only to get the disappointment of his life when he was told that they had decided to go with the music alone, which crushed him so much that his eyes welled up with tears and he never returned.

Finney’s performance is outstanding. He was not someone you’d have in mind initially for this type of part, but through his brilliant acting and effective make-up he disappears into the role and immerses the viewer in the presence of this highly eccentric character and his unusual habits including the way he puts both his hair and moustache into a hair net before going to bed and reads a newspaper while wearing gloves.

The star studded supporting players are perfectly cast for their parts too. Anthony Perkins nicely plays-up his nervous man routine while Wendy Hiller is enjoyable as the caustic aging Princess who wears a constant frown because her doctor advised her that smiling ‘was not good for her health’. Widmark has an amusing conversation with Poirot particularly with his inability to correctly pronounce the detective’s last name and Ingrid Bergman shines in a small bit as a poor, but devoutly religious woman, which was enough to net her the Oscar for best supporting actress.

Spoiler Alert!

The murder scene in which all the passengers file into Widmark’s cabin and systematically take turns stabbing him is, like with everything else, astutely captured particularly with the way it’s shot by using only a blue tinged light as its sole light source. Lumet craftily uses a two-camera set-up here in which one camera captures the characters and the other focuses on Lauren Bacall’s character’s reactions to it as she stands at the doorway as a lookout. Bacall was never known as an actress to show much vulnerable emotion, but here, at least through her facial expressions, she does quite well. However, this segment also reveals a fatal flaw as Poriot’s cabin was right next to Widmarks’s and earlier in the film he was able to hear the conversations going on in the cabin next him almost perfectly, but then as each participant takes turns stabbing Widmark they say something out loud and yet for whatever reason Poirot never hears this, which makes you wonder why.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The script, by Paul Dehn, gets talky but is saved by its amusing verbal exchanges and Lumet’s use of different lenses to capture it, so I didn’t find it a problem in a movie that deserves its classic status both a mystery and cinematic achievement. The remake directed by Kenneth Branagh is set to be released in November.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: November 24, 1974

Runtime: 2 Hours 8 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2, A/1)

Death on the Nile (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Murder on the river.

Based on the 1937 Agatha Christie novel of the same name the story centers around everyone’s favorite Belgium sleuth Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) as he tries solve a murder that occurs while he is traveling on a steamer going down the famous Nile River.

The on-location shooting in Egypt is the film’s chief asset. The scene where actors Simon MacCorkindale and Lois Chiles climb to the outer top of a pyramid is impressive as in the extended scene inside the Karnak Temple Complex. However, outside of this the visuals are blah and this entry fails to show the same cinematic flair done 4 years earlier of another Christie novel that was brought to the big screen Murder on the Orient Express.

I was also not too impressed with the steamer that was used to cart the characters down the river as it appeared to be too small and not at all luxurious. The fact that the production crew took a real steamer that they had found and then painstakingly recreated it to a minute detail inside the Pinewood studios in London is certainly commendable, but I felt the insides of the cabins were too big and too fancy and not in proportion to the actual boat that we see from the exterior, which looked like nothing more than a cheap, mid-sized thing that could be rented by a small family at a modest price for an afternoon on the lake.

The story itself takes too long to get going and in fact the murder and actual mystery doesn’t occur until 1 hour and 10 minutes in. Mia Farrow gives a provocative performance and it’s interesting seeing how things were before there were anti-stalking laws and people could simply follow around those that they hated, which is what the Farrow character does here, and harass the hell out of them without any fear of breaking any penalty, but the set-up gets too played out. The supporting cardboard characters are dull and put in simply to heighten the mystery with their own motives for wanting to kill the victim, which comes off as formulaic.

The ultimate denouncement isn’t too great either. I never read the book, so I don’t know how closely this follows it, but the explanation for how the killing is done hinged too much on careful split-second timing that I don’t think anyone would’ve been able to actually accomplish nor even want to risk trying. Also, the evidence that Poirot uses to solve the crime is threadbare and circumstantial to the extreme and if the killer’s hadn’t ultimately cracked under pressure I’m not so sure they would’ve been convicted.

The cast of big name stars is wasted and only Angela Lansbury is entertaining as the alcoholic erotic novelist, but even here her drunken condition gets overplayed as we never ever see her sober making it seem almost like she suffers from a degenerative disease like cerebral palsy. Ustinov is no fun as Poirot and Albert Finney was far better as he played the same character in a more lovable and amusingly eccentric way. He was asked to reprise the role, which he played in Murder on the Orient Express, but due to the unpleasant grind of having to wear a lot of makeup for the part he ended up declining.

If you’re a fan of Agatha Christie or enjoy mysteries then you may take to this a bit more. It’s still watchable and even marginally engrossing; however despite the excellent cast and splashy production values the ultimate effect is flat.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 29, 1978

Runtime: 2Hours 20Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Guillermin

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD

Bad Timing (1980)

bad-timing-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He needs to control.

Alex Linden (Art Garfunkel) is an American psychiatrist teaching at a Vienna University who falls for a free-spirited young lady named Milena (Theresa Russell). Despite still being married to the much older Stefan (Denholm Elliot) she decides to leave him and move in with Alex, but their relationship soon becomes rocky. Alex gets jealous of her flirtatious ways and wants to control her, but she resists. Their constant fighting sends her into a depression and she begins to abuse both drugs and alcohol. One night Alex finds Milena’s comatose body inside her apartment apparently the victim of an overdose. She gets rushed to the hospital, but the police detective on the case (Harvey Keitel) isn’t so sure that Alex is being completely honest with him about how the events unfolded and through a fragmented narrative the viewer slowly becomes aware of Alex’s very dark and possessive side.

This movie, which was labeled by its distributor as being “a sick film made by sick people for sick people”, still remains as fresh and provocative as when it was first released. The possessive boyfriend theme was at the time a new concept and thus thankfully avoids the annoying clichés we now see in today’s movies while still coming off as groundbreaking and edgy instead. Yale Udoff’s script nicely weaves a complex texture between examining the dark psychological undercurrents of its characters to also creating an intricate and original mystery that keeps you on edge until its final and still quite shocking ending.

Director Nicolas Roeg crafts a mesmerizing visual design with each shot and edit and I especially liked the way he intercuts between showing Milena unconscious inside the emergency room to scenes of her and Alex making love. Their cluttered apartment is interesting as well and tends to be messier when the two are at odds and more organized when they’re apart. Roeg employs a wide range of music styles instead of just choosing one and playing it over and over like in most other movies.

The film’s main defect is Garfunkel’s presence whose acting talent is limited. His character is interesting particularly with the way he majored in psychiatry and yet seemed to be suffering from many of the same problems that he was studying making it seem almost like people who get into that line of work do it not so much to help others, but instead as a sort-of self-analyzation for themselves. However, his performance is wooden and his only memorable bit is when he and Milena hitch-hike a ride with some farmers and he gets stuck in the back of their pick-up with the goats while she rides up front with the two guys and he jealously looks in on them from the rear window.

Russell, who went on to marry director Roeg after this film was completed, goes in the exact opposite direction by overplaying her character until it becomes almost campy. Why this beautiful woman, who gets lots of attention from just about every guy she meets, would fall for such a dull dope like Alex makes no sense nor does her need to constantly try and win him back every time he mistreats her.

The best performances come from the supporting players. Keitel nails it as the cunning detective and Elliot has a great moment where he continues to casually eat his lunch while Alex harangues him on the other end of the telephone receiver.

Despite the miscasting of its two leads and the fact that the movie saw only a limited engagement when it was first released the film has still managed to gain a strong cult following. Much of this can be credited to Roeg’s artsy direction as well as the dark ending that still packs-a-punch.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 21, 1980

Runtime: 2Hours 2Minutes

Rated R

Director: Nicolas Roeg

Studio: Rank Film Distributors

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