Category Archives: British Movies

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teacher influences her students.

Jean Brodie (Maggie Smith) is a teacher at an all-girls school in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1932.  She routinely strays from the core curriculum and instead instills her own quirky value system, like her admiration for fascist dictators, onto her students. She views them as empty vessels there to be programmed to her liking as she routinely will say: “give me a girl at an impressionable age and she’s mine for life”. The school’s Headmistress, Miss Mackay (Celia Johnson) is aware of Brodie’s unorthodox teaching methods, but unable to do much about it, despite the repeated warnings that she gives to her, due to the fact that Brodie has tenure and been at the school longer than she. Sandy (Pamela Franklin) is one of Brodie’s students, who used to admire her teacher, but now has turned on her and comes up with a way to have her fired, which leads to a dramatic confrontation between the two.

One of the first things that struck me about the story, which is based on the play of the same name by Jay Presson Allen that was based on the novel by Muriel Spark that some feel was inspired by a teacher named Christina Kay who taught at James Gillispies School that Muriel went to as a child, is that it works against the grain of most films. In our individualistic culture the modern day movie centers around the rebel, or those that choose to work outside the system of an autocratic institution and the people that uphold those rules and enforce them are usually the villains. Here though it’s the stuffy authoritarians that ultimately become the makeshift heroes while the non-conformist gets exposed as a ‘loon’ that got too far off-base and needed a serious reeling-in.

It’s also the perfect study of someone who seeks control over others and cannot function in relationships were both sides are on equal footing. We see this not only with the way Jean openly humiliates her students by ridiculing them for even minor infractions like having their shirt sleeves rolled-up, but also in her maladjusted love life. Since she cannot have a healthy relationship with them as that would require selfless behavior from her, which she can’t give, so instead she emotionally manipulates two men (Robert Stephens, Gordon Jackson). She enjoys the attention they give her and gives them just enough incentive to keep on doing it, but never more than that. When the Jacskon character finally does get married to someone else, her sad expression isn’t about losing a person she loved, but more upset that she could no longer have this simp at her convenient disposal.

The recreation of the 1930’s girl school atmosphere was impeccable. Too many times I feel movies dealing with a bygone era don’t recreate it in an accurate way, or it gets viewed through a warped modern lens, but here I came away convinced it was accurate and this in large part could be credited to director Ronald Neame, who was alive when the story took place and therefore better able to feed-off his memory and experience. The scene where the girls all get up out of their seats and stand at attention the second the headmistress walks into the room is one of my favorite moments. To some degree it would be nice if kids today could show that kind of respect to an adult figure, but on the other hand it also reveals the dark side to extreme obedience to authority, which creates an atmosphere that allows someone like Jean to incorporate her will and beliefs onto the students without them ever questioning it.

In the end this is a terrific portrait of how teacher’s where viewed back in the day and the tremendous amount of influence they could hold over their pupils. There were no teen idols, singers, celebrities, or social media influencers back then, so the teacher was the center of most children’s lives sometimes even more so than their parents. While some things have changed the debate about what a teacher chooses to convey in the classroom and how far they should be allowed to stray from the core curriculum rages on today. No matter what side of that issue you may stand it just proves that this story is even more relevant now as it was back then.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: February 24, 1969

Runtime: 1 Hour 56 Minutes

Rated M

Director: Ronald Neame

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD/Blu-ray

Gold (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Flooding a gold mine.

Manfred (Bradford Dillman) is part owner of a South African gold mine, who has colluded with London bankers to have the mine destroyed. The plan is for the miners to drill into an underground water reservoir, which will then flood it. Manfred and the London syndicate will make a profit by quietly selling their shares of this mine while buying up shares in competing mines whose price will most assuredly go up once this one is no longer usable. To achieve this they must trick the miners into believing that there is gold underneath the water and that by drilling into it won’t cause their demise. They hire Rod (Roger Moore) as the miner’s new supervisor, whom they feel won’t be smart enough to catch-on to the scheme, but he proves sharper than they expected especially as he has an affair with Manfred’s wife Terry (Susannah York).

This film, which at the time was considered controversial as it was filmed on-location in South Africa while apartheid was still happening, and based on the novel ‘Gold Mine’ by Wilbur Smith, which in-turn was loosely based on the real-life incident that occurred in 1968, is deserving of a second-look. Filming it at an actual mine is the most impressive thing about it. The cast and crew were forced to go down 2-miles into the shaft and the camera follows the grim, black walls of the cave as the elevator takes them down and it’s really stunning how long it goes until they reach bottom and how the cave walls continuously streak across the screen the further they go. I’m not one to ever feel claustrophobic, but watching this gave me that sensation, which effectively gives you the idea of what the miners would’ve felt each time they went. The climactic flooding is equally hair-raising and the beginning segment where the process of refining the gold is shown over the opening credits is also quite fascinating.

Moore, who had just completed filming of his first James Bond installment, Live and Let Die, is excellent and I enjoyed the way he keeps it serious and doesn’t revert to any jokey quips like he did when he played Bond and his characterization here is how he should’ve handled 007. This is the first of two films that he did with York as the two would re-team later in the year for That Lucky Toucha romantic comedy that’s inferior to this one. York’s character here, where she plays a jaded and cool socialite is a more interesting and proves what a great actress she was as it’s completely unlike the part of the scared, pensive person that she was in The Killing of Sister George

Ray Milland, as the elderly, cantankerous, mine owner is great and there’s excellent support by Simon Sabela, better known as being South Africa’s first black film director, who plays Big King a large man who teams with Moore to single-handily save the mine. Dillman is the only detriment as his stale villainous presence doesn’t add much and would’ve been better played by Tony Beckley, whose sneering facial expression alone would’ve made him more suitable instead of stifling him into a small bit though his attempts to run Dillman down with his car at the end is still effective.

The DVD restoration is the only negative as it’s faded color and graininess makes it resemble a cheap production, which it really isn’t. The version used for Amazon streaming is the same as the DVD, which is unfortunate as the film deserves a quality Blu-ray release and hopefully one will be coming at some point.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Release: September 5, 1974

Runtime: 2 Hours

Rated PG

Director: Peter R. Hunt

Studio: Allied Artists Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Tubi

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: His doppelganger takes over.

Pelham (Roger Moore) is a conservative, staid businessman who is married with two kids and for all practical purposes leads a predictable life. One day he goes out driving and begins to pretend he’s a race driver in a sports car. He removes his seat belt and accelerates the vehicle before getting into an awful crash. The doctors at the hospital are able to save him, but as he returns to his normal way of doing things he keeps hearing about another man who looks just like him appearing all over town. The man associates with many of his same friends and eventually moves into his home and has relations with his wife while he’s not there. Pelham tries putting at stop to it only to find that his friends and family prefer the new Pelham over the old one.

While the concept has intriguing elements the way it gets handled is a letdown. Supposedly his doppelganger represents his more reckless side that he keeps oppressed, but then having him immediately give into his wild impulses through his driving doesn’t seem like dual personalities, but more like it’s all-in-one. His recovery, especially after such a life threatening accident, happens too quickly and the idea that he can just go back to normal and continue to drive the same car that he totaled (he buys a new one, but the same model) seemed dubious as I’d think in reality his license would’ve been suspended for causing a crash that put both him and others at extreme risk.

The movie makes clear through flashback that there really is a double versus keeping this aspect a mystery and allowing in the idea that it might be a person disguising himself as Pelham. There’s very little difference between the two, so having them both walking around adds nothing. If the twin is supposed to represent his wild side then this needs to be shown through his attire, hairstyle, and speech pattern. The only real difference is that one drives a flashy sports car, but that’s it. You’d also think that those around him, especially his family, would sense something was off instead of having the real one become the odd man.

Moore has stated in interviews that his was his favorite role, but I don’t know why because outside of having a perpetual confused look on his face his character has little else to do. The production values, for what it’s worth, are excellent, but the story is too thin for feature length. The second act gets especially boring as Pelham is constantly hearing from others about his double over and over again until it becomes redundant. It takes too long for the protagonist to become aware of something that the viewer catches onto early on. The ending is vague and offers no suitable conclusion or answers. Normally I’d say this is the type of story, which was based on the novel ‘The Case of Mr. Pelham’ by Anthony Armstrong, that would’ve been better as an episode for an anthology series, but in this instance that’s actually what occurred as 15 years earlier it was a first season episode of ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’. with Tom Ewell playing the part of Pelham and the compact 25-minute runtime did a far superior job with the concept than the 94-minutes does here.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 18, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Basil Dearden

Studio: EMI Films

Available: DVD

That Lucky Touch (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Journalist and arms dealer.

Michael (Roger Moore) is an arms dealer who travels the globe looking for state-of-the-art weapons that he can sell. Julia (Susannah York) is a journalist who writes articles that abhors men who are into guns. The two reside in the same building, but have never met. One night Julia holds a party and while she is seeing her guests out her front door accidentally closes causing her to become locked-out of her apartment. Michael, who is on the outs with his ditzy, live-in girlfriend Sophie (Sydne Rome), decides to use this opportunity to put the moves on Julia. He invites her into his place, so she can call the landlord, but then unplugs the phone, so she’ll think it’s out-of-order and be forced to spend the night. Julia though turns-the-tables by ordering him out on the ledge and into the rainy night while demanding he get into her apartment through an open window. This then begins their love-hate cycle where every time they start to bond one of them finds out something about the other that they hate and thus begin to fight.

While the premise has potential the scenario is poorly plotted and hard to get into though the middle part does have some funny moments. The scene where Lee J. Cobb, who plays an army general, thinks he’s getting an important call from the President, as his red phone is blinking, but instead it’s from his scatterbrained wife, delightfully played by Shelley Winters, is hilarious. The segment dealing with Moore and York trying to get into her apartment is quite good too, but doesn’t get played-out enough as they take a trip to her landlord’s to get the key, but this part is never shown. However, so much time is spent with them trying to find every other way to get inside that I felt we should’ve included this part instead of suddenly cutting away and only implying what happened later.

What I didn’t like was the beginning where the scenes cut back-and-forth between Moore testing out some guns and York typing away without having any idea what they were doing, or why. It’s not until 15-minutes in that it gets revealed that these two live across from each other, which should’ve been established right away. The ending gets botched too as the second-half is spent on the couple, but ends by focusing solely on the secondary characters in an ill-advised screwball finale.

Moore’s acting helps. The glib way that he conveys his acerbic lines are amusing and I came away thinking he was much better in comedy and missed his calling by not doing more of them. York though seems miscast. She’s great in drama, but her comic timing is missing and she’s too hostile to the extent that you start to wonder why Moore’s character would have any interest in her at all. The part was originally intended for Sophia Loren, who would’ve been better and more age appropriate since there was only a few years difference between her and Moore versus the over 10-year gap that he had with York.

The supporting cast is solid especially Winters and Rome, but Cobb is the surprise as he spent his whole career doing dramas, but manages to be the funniest one here and it’s just a shame that this marked his final film appearance, he actually suffered a heart attack during the production. The soundtrack is pleasing too, but the flat script needed better fleshing-out.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 7, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Christopher Miles

Studio: Allied Artists Pictures

Available: DVD (Region 2 Import) DVD-R (dvdlady)

ffolkes (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Loves cats, hates women.

Rufus Excalibur ffolkes (Roger Moore) is a cat loving misogynist who dislikes women because he grew up the youngest of five sisters and forced to wear their hand-me-downs until he was age 10. As an adult he is a counter-terrorism expert and trains a team of men to go onto ships at sea that have been hijacked. When a North Sea oil production platform nicknamed Jennifer gets taken over by a group of men posing as reporters their leader (Anthony Perkins) demands an enormous ransom and it’s up to ffolkes and his team to board the platformed and kill the terrorists without allowing the ship, which has been booby-trapped with bombs by the criminals, to blow-up.

The film, which was based on the novel ‘Esther, Ruth & Jennifer’ by Jack Davies, who also wrote the screenplay, starts out well and has all the ingredients to being a compelling thriller. The on-location shooting done on an actual ship makes the viewer feel like they’re out at sea themselves and I found the foot chase done on the vessel during a raging rainstorm to be riveting. Perkins makes for a particularly slimy villain and Micheal Parks, as the mastermind who constructs and implements the bombs, was also impressive wearing glasses that make his eyes look like they’re bulging and it’s just a shame these two men had to co-star together as they’d be able to eat-up the scenes had they been allowed to do it alone without any henchmen.

The ffolkes character works against type playing a good-guy that tests the viewer’s assumption of what’s acceptable behavior for a protagonist. Too many movies create a hero-like caricature of someone who is overly noble, brave, and virtuous until it becomes boring and contrived. At least here the guy we’re supposed to cheering for is interestingly flawed therefore more human-like than super-heroes in most other films, especially those made today, who are just too-good-to-be-true.

ffolkes though does spend too much time sitting in the background working on a crochet of a cat while giving-off glib remarks and not being as active as he should. He’s also constantly drinking scotch at all hours of the day, straight out of the bottle, which should’ve made him inebriated and this most likely would’ve come into play at some later point where he wasn’t able to pull-off an intricate task because he was too drunk, but after introducing his drinking problem during the first half, it gets completely forgotten by the second.

While the character acts extraordinarily arrogant and cocky he’s not able to pull-off the assignment quite as easily as you’d think for someone with his amount of confidence. One scene has him stupidly walking right into a gunmen and it takes the sheer luck of someone hiding in a lifeboat to save him. Another scene has him almost killed by one of his own men making him seem like he’s not as good of an instructor as his reputation suggests and all leads to him unintentionally coming-off more like a deluded idiot than the crafty mastermind with a few personality quirks that he’s supposed to be.

The story, while having a solid set-up, ultimately becomes the biggest letdown. For one thing it never shows us how they’re able to pull-off the fake explosion of Ruth, another oil platform. They talk about rigging it to seem like it exploded to fool the bad guys, and we do see something exploding, but no explanation of what it was since the real Ruth secretly remains standing. Also, most ships have a radar system, which should’ve shown that the real Ruth never went away and that they had been duped, but for whatever reason they never catch-on.

The ending surprisingly lacks very little action, which is what was blamed for the film’s poor reception at the box office. People are expecting a movie that stars Moore to have a lot of stunt work and special effects and for the most part it never happens. The villains go down too easily making it not very satisfying to see them go. There needed to be more wrinkles to the scenario and more unexpected twists as the pay-off and climactic finish is weak making one feel, despite the excellent performances, like it wasn’t worth sitting through.

Alternate Title: North Sea Hijack

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 3, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Andrew V. McLaglen

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Figures in a Landscape (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Chased by a helicopter.

Ansell (Malcolm McDowell) and MacConnachie (Robert Shaw) are two men on the run in the middle of a bleak, desolate desert. What they are escaping from is never clear, but they’re constantly hounded by a helicopter that seems intent at stopping them. They come upon a small village and steal food and supplies and then continue on their escape, but find trying to get along with each other is just as challenging as avoiding the copter.

I’m a big admirer of Joseph Losey’s films and I also enjoy movies that have an air of mystery and don’t feel the need to have to explain everything, but this attempt at avante garde doesn’t work. The Barry England novel or which this is based and received high critical praise when it came out in 1968 at least made it clear that these two were soldiers who were deserting for whatever reason, but the movie doesn’t even mention this. We’re simply left with a nothing-burger of seeing two guys we have no emotional connection with scurrying around the countryside, which gets old fast and has nothing to keep it compelling though the bird’s eye shots of them on the ground looking like dots as they run at least allows it to live up to its title.

Fans of the film will admit that the story is lacking, but the helicopter sequences and stunt work more than makes up for it, but I found this aspect to be underwhelming. The camerawork of showing the copter bearing down on them while splicing in shots from the pilot’s point-of-view is well handled, but it’s not as exciting as could’ve been because when the pilots have a chance to shoot the men they don’t. McDowell’s character explains that they (the helicopter pilots) are just ‘toying with them’, but the viewer can’t be expected to get wrapped-up in a silly cat-and-mouse contest that has no life or death consequence.

Much of the blame for why this comes-off more like a misguided experiment than an actual movie, can be attributed to Shaw, who was given permission to rewrite the script and promised to have it completed by the time shooting began, but didn’t. Apparently revisions were being made on a daily basis and no one knew where the plot was going, or how to end it, which ultimately makes for a flat and detached viewing experience.

The two leads do quite well with McDowell interesting as the younger of the two, but still more emotionally mature. Shaw is equally fine giving off a maniacal laugh that I’ve never heard him do before. Their bout with diarrhea at a most inopportune time is amusing. While some may find it gross it’s something that could happen to those who haven’t eaten in awhile and feeding off canned food, so in that way the movie tackles a realistic subject other escapees-on-the-run movies shy away from though the shaving aspect was a problem in reverse. I didn’t understand why Shaw would feel it’s so important for them to remain clean shaven when they’re just trying to survive and there’s no explanation for how they were able to remain without beards at the beginning when they were running around with their hands tied behind their backs.

In any case the movie desperately needed a conclusion as way too much is left open-ended. There should’ve been a final twist, like in an episode of the ‘Twilight Zone’ that makes sitting through it worth it. Ultimately it lacks focus with a concept better suited for a novel and never should’ve been made into a movie in the first place.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 14, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Losey

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

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