Category Archives: Campy Comedy

Some Kind of a Nut (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Grow beard, lose job.

One day while out on a picnic in Central Park with his fiance Pamela (Rosemary Forsyth) Fred (Dick Van Dyke) gets stung on his chin by a bee. The sting takes too long to heal, so in order to avoid having to shave over it he grows a beard, which doesn’t go over well at his job. When his boss (Peter Turgeon) tells him to get rid of it and he refuses it leads to his firing, which mobilizes his co-workers to walk off of their jobs in protest.

Writer/director Garson Kanin has written many funny and award-winning screenplays with Adam’s Rib and Born Yesterday being two of his most famous ones, but this script seems like it was written by a completely different person altogether. The idea of Van Dyke bucking-the-system and discarding conventional mores has definite potential especially since it was filmed in the late 60’s when a lot of that was going on, but the movie goes nowhere with it. Instead of dealing with the ramifications of his rebellion the plot pivots to his ex-wife’s (Angie Dickinson) attempts at reconciliation, which is too contrived and has nothing to do with the main theme.

Van Dyke has one brief moment of non-conformity and then immediately snaps back into being his staid self without showing any real growth or change. Instead of him directly organizing the effort to have his co-workers walk off their jobs on his behalf it’s actually another associate (played by David Doyle) who inspires it while Van Dyke stands back in awe like a main character who has become a passive bystander in his own movie.

There was no need for three female love interests either. Forsyth was the youngest so in some ways it made more sense for her to connect to his rebellious side, but instead it’s Dickinson his ex-wife. However, it’s never made clear what lead to their divorce in the first place, so unless they tackle that direct issue then whatever reconciliation they have will only lead to another break-up down-the-road. Zohra Lampert, who plays this beatnik type lady that Van Dyke befriends and goes out drinking with, is far more lively here than the other two actresses and showed just enough bohemianism traits to fit with the film’s attempted non conformist theme.

There are some interesting camera shots like a close-up of the actual bee sting and a segment, which I thought was real cool when I was in the third grade and first saw this film, showing a map of the nation and then a red miniature car similar to the one Van Dyke and Forsythe are riding in driving around on it to  each city on their trip. However this amounts to just being a shallow way to cover-up how boring and empty the script really is, which meanders too much on scenes that don’t propel the story along. A good example of this is when Forsyth and her two brothers (Elliot Reid, Steve Roland) chase Van Dyke around his apartment complex in an attempt to shave off his beard, which seemed like a futile waste of energy because he could just regrow it in a matter of a few days, so why even bother?

Released: October 1, 1969

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated M

Director: Garson Kanin

Studio: United Artists

Available: Amazon Video

Maxie (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Silent film star resurrects.

Nick (Mandy Patinkin) and his wife Jan (Glenn Close) move into a San Francisco home that was once lived in by Maxie Malone (also played by Close) a 1920’s flapper that died in a car crash the night before her big audition and who now haunts the place. She eventually inhabits Jan’s body and with the help of Nick tries to get the big Hollywood break in the 80’s that she missed out on in the 20’s.

The biggest problem is the title character that’s supposed to be amusingly ‘eccentric’, but comes off as obnoxious instead. Her belief that she should be the ‘life of the party’ no matter where she goes and her obsession with becoming a famous star makes her narcissistic and self-centered. She also shows no awareness of social propriety that every other functioning human being does as she throws herself quite literally at every attractive man she sees including married ones, which would be considered outrageous behavior by today’s standards and even more so from the era from which she came. Instead of being a person transported from a different time period she’s more like a cartoonish entity from a completely different universe.

Her affected Jersey-like accent is extremely annoying and why she’d even be speaking in one had me confused. Maxie’s spirit is taking over the body of Jan who does not have an accent. The spirit is using Jan’s legs, arms, eyes, mouth and ears, so then wouldn’t it be logical that the spirit would then use Jan’s voice as well?

Patinkin is equally irritating like the way he puts up with his boss (Valerie Curtain) openly and aggressively coming-on to him at work and for all to see and he doesn’t have her reported for harassment. What’s worse is when she threatens to fire him he begs her for his job even though she should be the one looking for work and not him.

The third makes this dumb script, which is based on believe it or not a novel by Jack Finney who also wrote ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’, even dumber by having Maxie get a part in a commercial, but without the benefit of having any resume, head-shot or agent, which casting directors insist is a must to even be considered.  From that she then gets asked to do a screen test for the starring role of a big budget remake of ‘Cleopatra’, but all she did in the commercial was play this lady victim tied to some railroad tracks, so what from that brief performance made the producers of ‘Cleopatra’ think she’d be ‘perfect’ for a starring role in their big Hollywood project?

I realize Close most likely took the part because she wanted the fun of playing two different characters, but Jan is so buttoned-down and shy that she becomes completely transparent making Maxie the only one you remember.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: September 8, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Aaron

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD

Spies Like Us (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Losers inadvertently become decoys.

Austin (Dan Aykroyd) and Emmett (Chevy Chase) are two bumbling government agents who get hired by the department of defense to carry out a secret mission inside the Soviet Union. In reality, and unbeknownst to them, they are decoys used to call attention away from the actual agents who were sent to seize a ballistic missile launcher yet things don’t work out as planned. Instead of the decoys getting killed off it’s the actual agents forcing Austin and Emmett to carry out the rest of the plan that the others couldn’t.

A lot of the problem with this film is that it no longer has that National Lampoon’s edge, which when it started out was all about satire and parody and making fun of the establishment. Yet this film has no message, or point of view. Had it had more of a focus like ridiculing the government, war, politics, or even the spy genre then it might of been more meaningful, but instead all we get are a barrage of generic gags and no real story.

The humor mainly falls flat with the writers making up the rules as they go, so there’s no tension or intrigue. For instance the two disguise themselves as Dr’s and are forced to perform an appendectomy on a patient even though they know nothing about medical surgery and yet just as Aykroyd is ready to make the incision the patient for no explicable reason dies, which gets them two off-the-hook, but is really more of a cop-out by the writers. Why not force the characters to earn their way out of their predicament by requiring them to come up with some clever escape instead of conveniently throwing in an act of God that doesn’t really make any sense?

Today’s audiences will find the scene where Chase grabs Donna Dixon’s breasts, a woman who he has just met and without asking permission, quite offensive. She doesn’t respond in shock or anger either and is portrayed as apparently being ‘too stupid’ to know what’s going on, I don’t know about you, but if someone touched one of my body parts I’d feel it. In real-life Dixon is Aykroyd’s wife, and Aykroyd was also one of the scriptwriters, and I thought it was crazy that a guy would come-up with a gag that would allow his co-star to squeeze his wife’s breasts, he actually ends up squeezing both of them, simply for the sake of trying to get a cheap laugh from the audience.

Aykroyd and Chase are an odd pairing as well. Chase has such a glib, sarcastic personality that it’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to be his friend to begin with. Aykroyd’s super smart persona in which he’s an expert on virtually everything is boring and has been played-out before. Supposedly this was meant to be a take-off on the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby road movies and Hope even has a cameo here and despite his advancing age he’s still funnier than either Akroyd or Chase and should’ve been made the star instead of them.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s original ending had a nuclear bomb blowing up the planet and if they had kept that in then I’d at least give them some credit for being daring and original. Of course after test audiences disliked this (surprise, surprise) the filmmakers ultimately chickened-out and went for a ‘happy ending’ where Aykroyd devises a way (because of course he knows EVERYTHING) to divert the bomb’s route so it explodes in space instead of on earth, but wouldn’t the radioactive fallout of the explosion still rain back down and affect the population anyways?

End of the Spoiler Alert!

The opening bit where an agent is locked inside a cramped closet because he’s not authorized to view the information inside the briefcase that is chained to his wrist I did find amusing although the film could’ve played this up more by having everyone, after they’ve reviewed the information, leave the room with the guy still stuck in the closet and begging to be let out. I also loved the top secret spy headquarters built underneath an abandoned drive-in movie theater. Director John Landis also continues his trend of casting other movie directors in minor roles, but since they’re only seen briefly other viewers may not find this element to be all that interesting.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 6, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Landis

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Asian detective solves case.

Police Chief Baxter (Brian Kieth) summons the retired Charlie Chan (Peter Ustinov) back to duty in order to help him solve a series of bizarre murders. Chan is also reluctantly assisted by his inept grandson Lee Chan Jr. (Richard Hatch) who shows no ability at solving anything and only causes chaos where ever he goes. As the case unfold Chan is at first convinced that his old nemesis Dragon Lady (Angie Dickinson) is the culprit, but he slowly turns his suspicions onto someone else who no one else suspects.

This is a perfect example of a movie that could never be made today as it features a white actor playing the part of an Asian American although the film did meet with strong resistance even back then. Many Chinese Americans protested by picketing locations were it was being shot and then later demonstrated at theaters that played it. Their complaints hinged around the Chan character being a racist stereotype particularly his ‘Chop-Suey pidgin English and fortune cookie-like proverbs’ all of which were very valid points.

What’s even worse is that the Chan character is not funny at all and the film would’ve been better had he not been in it. Ustinov acts like he’s just walking through the role with no energy or pizzazz and his singing over the opening credits, which I guess is meant to be intentionally bad in an effort to be ‘funny’, comes off as pathetically lame instead and could be enough to make most people want to turn off the film before it’s barely begun. Keith as the exasperated chief is far funnier and enlivens every scene he is in to the point that he should’ve been made the star.

Hatch as the doofus grandson is almost as bad as Ustinov, but even more annoying as he creates all sorts of disasters were ever he goes, but is completely oblivious to the pain and destruction that he causes others, which makes him come-off to being too stupid to be even remotely believable. On the rare occasions when he does realize that his blundering has caused issues to others like when he inadvertently knocks a bunch of TV reporters into a lake, he makes no attempt to help them out of the water, or even apologize for what he did, making him seem deserving of a big punch in his otherwise blank-eyed face. I was also confused as to why, if he’s Chan’s grandson, he wasn’t Asian.

The female actors perform better here. I enjoyed Lee Grant’s rare foray into comedy. Her acting skills are more tuned to drama, but the scenes where she talks to her dead husband’s ashes inside an urn are pretty good. Rachel Roberts, in her last theatrical film before her untimely and tragic death, is diverting as a super paranoid maid. Michelle Pfeiffer is quite engaging too as Hatch’s fiance. Her character is just as doopey as his, but she has enough acting skill to make it interesting and far outshines him, despite having less screen time.

The comedy is flat and has no focus to it as it alternates between slapstick and parody while haphazardly throwing in all sorts of uninspired gags that have little or nothing to do with the main plot and that includes a drawn out car chase in the middle that isn’t funny at all. It also features an ending similar to the one in Blazing Saddles where it becomes a-movie-within-a-movie as the characters run into a theater where a Charlie Chan movie is playing. However, this scene isn’t too well thought-out as it features Ustinov playing Chan on the black-and-white film that the theatergoers are watching, which makes no sense. For one thing the film being shown is an older one, so Chan should look younger on it, but he doesn’t. Also, why would Chan be playing himself in a movie? Isn’t he supposed to be just a detective, or are we to assume he’s also an actor starring in films when he’s not out solving cases? It would’ve been more amusing had Chan walked into the theater and saw another actor playing him on the screen and then started bitching about how he wasn’t doing it right.

Spoiler Alert!

There is one really inspired moment that is so cute it almost makes sitting through the rest of it worth it. I features Pfeiffer and Hatch tied up and being held hostage by a vicious dog who is tied to a rope with a candle flame burning throw it, which will then release the hound to attack the couple. In an effort to stop the flame from burning through they sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to the dog, which then gets the dog to blow-out the flame like a person would blow out candles on a birthday cake.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Release: February 4, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Clive Donner

Studio: American Cinema Releasing

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Creepshow (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Five stories of horror.

This film was the collaboration of Stephen King, making his screenwriting debut, and George Romero, who filmed the entire thing in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with many of the scenes done in an abandoned boy’s school. The production was a homage to the horror comics like ‘Tales of the Crypt’ and ‘The Vault of Horror’, which were published between 1950 and 1955 before being shutdown because they were considered ‘dangerous’ to the well being of children and contributing to juvenile delinquency.

The script consists of five stories with the emphasis more on camp than terror and outside of the cool comic book effects fall pretty much flat.  The first story entitled ‘Father’s Day’  comes off more like a one-joke skit and deals with an adult daughter (Viveca Lindfors) who kills her obnoxious father (Jon Lormer) on his birthday with an ashtray and then years later visits him at his grave site where his corpse comes back to life.

The second story entitled ‘The Lonesome Death of Jody Verrill’ should’ve been extended out more as it has some intriguing possibilities to it. It consists of a redneck (played with campy glee by Stephen King) who finds a meteor that’s landed in his backyard, but realizes to his horror that everything it touches grows a greenish foliage including on himself.

‘Something to Tide You Over’ is the third entry and it’s about a man (Ted Danson) being buried alive in the sand and then drowning as the tide rolls in. It’s shot in a way where the viewer sees the water rushing in from the victim’s point of view, which gives it a frightening quality, but suffers from having the victim  too easily lead into the trap and a twist ending that involves a metaphysical phenomenon, but with no suitable explanation for how it could’ve occurred.

‘The Crate’ involves an arctic monster being found inside a crate that was underneath a college stairwell. One of the professors (Hal Holbrook) uses this monster as a way to kill his obnoxious wife (Adrienne Barbeau), but the logic on this one is loopy. First how was the monster able to survive four decades inside a box without any food or water? Having him encased in a block of ice and then unfrozen would’ve been a little more plausible, but the story is further hampered by the casting of Barbeau, who’s too young for the part, which would’ve been better suited for a fat old bitty that was more Holbrook’s age. The biggest question though is why would Holbrook bank on the idea that the monster would kill his wife and not attack him first and why would the wife, or anyone with half a brain, be dumb enough to get tricked into driving all the over to the college campus and then crawling under the stairwell to begin with as the reason he gives her to do it is pretty dumb.

‘They’re Creeping Up on You’ has the most potential and a fun performance by Marshall, but ultimately gets botched. It’s about a rich Howard Hughes-like billionaire (E.G.Marshall) who lives alone in this fancy, hermetically sealed penthouse that gets overrun with cockroaches. Watching the roaches crawl around is creepy and apparently over 20,000 of them were used. Yet having them pile onto each other until they create a roach-like mountain loses the effect, many of them weren’t even roaches by this point but instead nuts and raisins. This segment would’ve been better had it been a fancy penthouse with all the elaborate furniture trappings as King intended instead of a white room with barely nothing in it. This story also features a dead body, which clearly looks like a wax dummy that ultimately ruins the intended effect.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 12, 1982

Runtime: 2 Hours

Rated R

Director: George A. Romero

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Raising Arizona (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Childless couple kidnap baby.

Hi McDunnough (Nicholas Cage) is a repeat offender who goes in and out of the state penitentiary. It is there that he meets Edwina (Holly Hunter) an officer in charge of taking his mugshot each time he gets rearrested for holding up convenience stores. Eventually the two form a bond and when he finally gets released they marry, but find that she’s unable to bear children. They then hatch a plan to kidnap one of the quintuplets of furniture store owner Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson), but find this leads to more complications than they were prepared for.

While the Coen’s directing is sharp and on-target there were still those that criticized it as being overly stylistic and, as critic Vincent Canby stated, outside of the technical expertise the story has no life of it’s own, which is kind of true. The editing does give the film a personality, but there were times where slowing it down and allowing the scenes to breathe could’ve heightened the humor. For instance having Cage break into the Arizona residence to kidnap the baby happens much too quickly and there should’ve been a scene showing Cage trying to figure out which window to break into to get to the baby’s nursery as it was a big house, so how exactly would he have known where to go?

With that said there are still plenty of times where the distinct directorial touches spark the comedy and make it years ahead-of-its-time. I particularly liked the Coen’s patented camera tracking during Cage’s dream sequence where he views things from the bounty hunter’s (Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb) perspective as he rides his motorbike over obstacles on the front lawn and then supposedly straight into a bedroom. A chase sequence that starts out on the street and then winds up going through a person’s private residence is quite ingenious and the running-joke dealing Dr. Spock’s child rearing book is very funny too.

The script offers only caricatures, which would normally be a detriment, but here it just adds to the zaniness. I really enjoyed Wilson as the stereotypical aggressive, brash salesman and the scene where he talks to the police after the kidnapping has occurred I found to be the funniest moment of the movie. John Goodman and William Forsythe are also great as a pair of inept bank robbers and Sam McMurray and Frances McDormand are hilarious as the in-laws from hell.

Spoiler Alert!

My only real grievance, and it’s on a minor level, was the kidnap scenario, which could’ve been played-out more. I also thought it was weird that this rich couple would have all these kids and not hire a nanny to help them care for the babies. It’s a head-scratcher too that when Cage and Hunter decide to return the baby that they were able to break-into the same window that they did before. Wouldn’t you think that after a kidnapping this rich couple would’ve implemented crime alarms and cameras in ever room? Also, Nathan Arizona, catches the couple in the bedroom returning the kid to his crib and then after talking to them a bit he leaves the room with Cage and Hunter still with the baby, but you would think that after they took the kid once that the father would be too paranoid to ever leave the baby alone with them again.

The ending in typical Coen fashion doesn’t equal the same energy and imagination as the rest of the story and is a bit of a letdown. It deals with a dream that Cage has where he imagines having a really big family, but I thought it would’ve been funnier had the dream started out pleasant where he thinks about all the good things about family life only to have it slowly deteriorate into a nightmare where the harsh realities of raising kids come into play making him wake-up in a cold sweat and feeling lucky that they couldn’t have children after all.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: April 17, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Joel and Ethan Coen

Studio: 20th Century Fox

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

Bye Bye Birdie (1963)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen idol gets drafted.

Based on the hit stageplay of the same name, the story deals with Conrad Birdie (Jesse Pearson) a rock ‘n’ roll teen idol who gets drafted into the army.  As a big send off Conrad is chosen to perform in Sweet Apple, Ohio on the Ed Sullivan Show. As a special treat one lucky teen girl (Ann-Margaret) gets picked to give him a kiss while he sings the song ‘One Last Kiss’ written by Albert (Dick Van Dyke) a fledgling songwriter who hopes that the publicity of having a song sung by a big star will be just the ticket he needs to find success and enable him to finally marry his secretary (Janet Leigh) and get away from the clutches of his meddlesome mother (Maureen Stapleton).

The story was loosely based on the real-life incident in 1957 when Elvis Presley got drafted and in fact the part was originally intended for him, but his agent turned it down. While some may consider the humor here to be engaging satire I really felt it was lame and uninspired and only saved by the song and dance sequences. My main gripe was the way the teens get portrayed as being overly clean-cut kids, no leather jacket crowd here who smoked cigarettes even though they did exist, who are too benign and show no evidence of individuality. It would’ve been nice for the sake of balance to have at least one girl that was not into the rock star and didn’t faint or swoon the second she saw him, like all the others, and instead looked on with disdain at everyone who did.

While I did like Janet Leigh, who wears a black wig, and enjoyed her dance number at a Shriner’s convention I did feel overall that the adults here, with the exception of Paul Lynde, were boring and not needed. Van Dyke again gets straddled in another Rob Petrie type role who shows no pizzazz and having him a ‘mama’s boy’ at the age of 38 is more pathetic than funny. What’s worse is that Stapleton who plays his mother was in reality Van Dyke’s same age and despite some white in her hair really didn’t look that old and having the part played by an actual old lady would’ve given it more distinction.

The story should’ve centered around the teens, but in a more interesting way by entering into all the side dramas that almost always occur in these types of situations, but doesn’t get explored here. For instance there could’ve been some jealous classmates of Ann-Margaret’s upset that she got picked to kiss Birdie and not them and devised a scheme to ruin her big moment, or having all the boys, who admitted to hating Birdie because their girlfriends were so into him and not them, kidnapping him in revenge.

Despite having his name in the title Birdie has only a few lines of dialogue and needed more to do than just swiveling his hips, which becomes a derivative running joke. One idea would be to have him scared about going off to the army and secretly coming up with a plan with his fans to go undercover, so he could escape going, which would’ve added more depth to the satire, which is too placid, by showing how celebrities in private can be the opposite of their public image.

Beyond my many grievances with the story, which is even more flimsy than most musicals, I still found the songs, dances, and colorful sets to be fun and Paul Lynde has a few great lines. If one watches it for the musical quality while treating it as a relic of its time then it should still go over modestly well.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 4, 1963

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: George Sidney

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

She-Devil (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Jilted wife gets revenge.

Ruth (Roseanne Barr) is an overweight, plain-looking woman who is married to Bob (Ed Begley Jr.) a womanizer who can’t keep his eyes or hands off other beautiful women that he sees. At a party he spots Mary (Meryl Streep) a wealthy author of romance novels and the two quickly begin a torrid affair. Ruth becomes jealous of all of this and plots a very elaborate, multi-step revenge.

This film marked a change of pace for director Susan Seidelman who burst onto the movie scene during the early 80’s with indie tinged/punk themed films like Smithereens and Desperately Seeking Susan that were subtle on the humor and heavier on the character development. Here it’s the exact opposite as the emphasis is on camp, which is fun for awhile especially the gaudy color schemes that permeate each and every shot, but eventually the broad caricatures become too one-dimensional.

Streep’s  performance as a prissy, stuck-up rich lady is the main part of the entertainment, but the motivations of her character were confusing. I didn’t understand why such a beautiful woman that was loaded with money and could get virtually any man that she wanted would want to settle for such a bland, dopey dweeb like Begley. I also couldn’t understand why she’d stick with him after his kids move into her mansion and turn her life into a living hell. She wasn’t married to him, so why not just throw him and his litter out instead of going through the torment that she does?

I liked that fact that Barr truly fits her part physically. Too many times Hollywood casts good-looking women in roles that require someone homely and feels that by cropping up their hair and putting glasses on them will do the trick, which it doesn’t, so at least here we get someone that more than looks the part especially with the giant mole that gets put on her upper lip.

However, I had issues with her character intentionally setting her house on fire by overloading the circuits and putting aerosol cans into her microwave, which would be easily detected by an inspector once the fire gets put out, so why doesn’t she end up getting arrested for arson? Also, she gets a job at a senior living facility despite not having any experience. Doesn’t anyone check an applicant’s references anymore?

The film is based on the novel ‘The Life and Loves of a She-Devil’ by Fay Weldon, but the movie strays from the original story in many ways. In the book Ruth has  sex with various men, which doesn’t get touched on here at all. She also through plastic surgery ends up resembling Mary and ultimately becoming her after the real Mary dies, which the film doesn’t show at all, but should’ve since it would’ve given it some much needed irony. Weldon also insisted that her story was about envy and not revenge, which is a point that Barry Strugatz’s script misses entirely.

Eccentric character actress Sylvia Miles gets perfectly cast as Streep’s obnoxious mother, which is great and dwarf-looking actress Linda Hunt is enjoyable as Barr’s pal, but the film comes off as a one-note joke that doesn’t know when to stop and ultimately becomes annoying.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 8, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Susan Seidelman

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Bronco Billy (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rich lady and cowboy.

Bronco Billy (Clint Eastwood) is an aging modern-day cowboy who runs a traveling wild west show that is no longer attracting customers and making it hard for him to pay his employees. While at a gas station he meets Antoinette (Sondra Locke) a rich heiress with a haughty attitude who has just gotten dumped by her husband (Geoffrey Lewis) who also absconded with all of her money. Billy decides to hire her onto his show despite the fact that her presence causes animosity amongst the rest of his crew.

After Locke’s recent death, one person on Twitter, I don’t remember who, stated that this was the ‘greatest movie ever made’ and I’m not sure if he was joking or not, but if he wasn’t then I adamantly must disagree.  The film does start out okay and even has a certain charm to it, but the story and situations get too exaggerated until it’s impossible to take any of it seriously while also being too hokey to find funny.

The biggest logic gaps occur during the story thread dealing with Lewis being convinced to lie to the authorities that he killed Locke even though he really didn’t, so that he can get his share of her inheritance once he gets out. He’s told that if he pleads insanity that he will be ‘guaranteed’ to be released in only 3 years, but when in the history of the world has this ever happened and who would ever be dumb enough to believe it?  And that staying at a mental hospital is ‘no big deal’ and almost like a ‘resort’, which describes no mental hospital that I’ve ever head of.  There’s also no attempt by the police, or at least none is ever shown, to investigate the case to make sure Locke really has been murdered and try and retrieve her body.

The proverbial barroom brawl segment (must every western-themed film have this?) that occurs in the middle is as cliched and silly as it sounds and puts the whole rest of the film on a very cartoonish level. What’s even dumber is that during the brawl Locke goes outside to the parking lot where she gets accosted by two men, but just before they’re able to assault her Eastwood and his buddies magically appear to save her, but how could they have no known that she was in trouble when just a minute before they were shown taking part in the wild ruckus inside?

Locke’s rich-bitch personality is too much of a caricature and quickly becomes irritating to the point that when she eventually does soften, which takes awhile, it still doesn’t help. Having her able to shoot a pistol just as well as Billy seems out of character and never sufficiently explained. It would’ve been funnier had her dainty, cushy lifestyle been challenged more by throwing her into a rugged experience that she wasn’t used to, which doesn’t get played-up half as much as it could’ve or should’ve.

Eastwood’s character isn’t likable either. I would hate working for somebody that couldn’t pay me fore several months straight nor not allowing his employees to ad-lib any of their lines that he writes for them during the western skits that they put on even though people work better in their jobs when their allowed to have creativity and leeway in what they do and how they do it.

Why he would immediately fall head-over-heels for this woman is a mystery as Locke is only average in the looks department and her arrogant attitude is such an extreme turn-off that just about any guy would quickly dump her and never look back instead of continually pursuing her like Billy pretty much does here. Having them consummate their relationship should’ve only occurred at the very end while displaying much more of their personality clashes, which gets underplayed.

The scene where Billy and his gang try to hold-up a train is really funny and I enjoyed the inspired casting of having Woodrow Parfrey, who usually plays weirdo types, being cast as the head of the mental hospital, but other than that I felt the film was too predictable. You know where it’s headed right from the start and the theme of the old-fashioned, rugged individualist fighting more modern-day sensibilities has been done in so many other Eastwood films that here it becomes redundant.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Release: June 11, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 56 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Clint Eastwood

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Harry and Walter Go to New York (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two vaudevillians rob bank.

Harry and Walter (James Caan, Elliot Gould) are two down-on-their-luck marginally talented comedians living in the 1920’s who go to jail when they’re caught trying to rob their audience members during a tacky onstage ‘psychic’ stunt that goes horribly wrong. While in the slammer they meet up with Adam Worth (Michael Caine) a rich man from society’s upper crust who enjoys robbing banks just for the thrill of it. They come upon the blue print for his next proposed heist and take a picture of it and then after they escape from jail challenge Adam on who will be able to rob the bank first.

This is one of those 70’s movies that I found to be refreshingly original and quite funny, but when it was released it was met with harsh reviews and was a bomb at the box office. After some bad test audience reactions it was heavily cut much to director Mark Rydell’s dismay who felt a lot of the better jokes went missing although producer Tony Bill and star Caan blame Rydell for the film’s failure and insist that much of the humor in the original script was never even filmed or used.

I can’t explain why the film didn’t do well as I personally found as bank heist movies go this one to be quite  unique. So many bank robbing films from that era, and even today, paint the scheme in a one-dimensional way by portraying the robbers, who we are usually supposed to sympathize with, as a modern-day Robin Hood, while the cops and those out to stop them are represented as being the greedy,oppressive establishment, but this film takes things a step further, which is what I found interesting. The competition aspect gives it an extra.,likable edge and really made me want to root for Harry and Walter and their gang of losers who take on the arrogant Caine and his snotty buddies. Instead of the viewer just being intrigued at how they’re able to pull of the robbery as is the case with most heist films we are much more emotionally invested with its outcome.

Caan and Gould are what Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman should’ve been in Ishtar. These guys are definite losers, but still appealing and comical at the same time. Caan has never been known for his comedy and he has referred to this movie as ‘Harry and Walter Go to the Toilet’, which is a shame because he shows nice energy here and is able to keep Gould in check by not allowing him to drone on and steal the spotlight as he can sometimes do when left alone or with a less capable co-star.

If the film fails at all it’s by entering in too many supporting players. The title mentions only Harry and Walter and they should’ve pulled off the heist alone with maybe only Keaton tagging along for balance. As it is though a whole massive group gets in on it to the point that the two leads have little to do. While the group is busily trying to figure out how to open the safe Harry and Walter are on stage trying to extend a stage play  The film still works pretty well despite this issue, but technically the two men should be at the center of the action and in a lot of ways they really aren’t and in fact become almost like supporting players by the end.

The film also goes on too long with the denouncement being far more extended than it should, but it’s still a fun, breezy watch that reflects the gilded age flavor well and uses leftover sets from Hello Dolly to enhance the scenery perfectly.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 17, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mark Rydell

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video