Category Archives: Cold Climate/Wintertime Movies

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

Best Friends (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Writing partners get married.

Richard (Burt Reynolds) and Paula (Goldie Hawn) have been working together as a screenwriting team for many years and have fallen in love in the process. Richard would like to take the next step and get married, but Paula resists afraid that this will ruin their friendship, but eventually she caves to his pressure and they tie-the-knot. Things though get rocky when they visit both of their relatives and when they return to L.A. seem destined for a break-up only to be forced to acclimate when they’re locked in a room and not allowed out until they revise the ending of their latest screenplay.

This film is similar to Romantic Comedy as both dealt with two people of the opposite sex working together as a writing team while romance blossomed in the process. Yet both films missed the mark by not focusing enough on the writing craft and the teamwork needed to get a script written. Only at the very end do we see the two working together, but because it waits so long to get to this point it’s not really worth it. In between we get immersed with drawn out segments dealing with each partner learning to deal with their kooky in-laws, which has been done in many other romances before and is neither fresh nor insightful.

I also didn’t like that it begins right away with them already in-love, which deprives the viewer the chance of seeing how the relationship began, which is usually half the fun. The couple are a bit too lovey-dovey and there’s never any fiery argument between them, which could’ve offered some tension in what is otherwise a flat story with very little that actually happens.

The script was written by Valerie Curtain and Barry Levinson, who based their own real-life experiences of working together and then ultimately marrying on the two characters and it would’ve been nice had they simply been cast as themselves. Hawn and Reynolds are okay but there’s a big age difference between the two and their presence also gives it too much of the glossy, big-star Hollywood treatment where as with Curtain and Levinson playing the roles would’ve made it seem more genuine and original.

My favorite part though is when they travel to Buffalo, New York in the dead-of-winter where they must deal with actual snow and cold and not the fake studio kind. However, Goldie’s parents, played by Barnard Hughes and Jessica Tandy, come-off too much like caricatures playing off the stereotype that everyone that gets old automatically become senile and eccentric. The things that they say and do are more cringe worthy than amusing and nothing that a real senior citizen would ever do.

Their visit with Burt’s parents, played by Keenan Wynn and Audra Lindley, improves a little as they act more normal, but it’s just as unfunny. The film also misses out on a prime comic opportunity as the two are informed that they need to revise their latest screenplay in a hurry and I thought it would’ve been quite amusing seeing them trying to work on it while cooped up in the home of Burt’s parents and trying to block out all the noise and chaos around them, but the film only teases with this idea, but eventually whiffs on it.

The story is unfocused and throws in all sorts of dumb things like Goldie’s sudden addiction to Valium pills that have nothing to do with the main plot. Having the film begin where it ends with the two locked in a room for days and forced to reassess their relationship while going back through certain highlights that the two had through flashback including showing how they first met would’ve given it more of a fragmented narrative and made it seem less drawn-out and mechanical.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 17, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 56 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Norman Jewison

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Avalanche (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sliding snow destroys resort.

David Selby (Rock Hudson) is a driven businessman determined to build a ski resort in an area that’s vulnerable to avalanches and despite the many warnings is able to get the building constructed and even have it host a ski tournament to kick-off its grand opening, but as the festivities get under way the snowfall continues. Eventually the weight of the snow on the nearby mountaintop becomes too much causing a massive avalanche forcing the guests at the resort into a fight for survival.

The film starts out with a lot of boring, poorly written soap opera-like drama that will put most viewers to sleep before the avalanche ever even takes place. The storyline concerning Mia Farrow’s and Rock Hudson’s marriage and his desperate attempts to ‘rekindle the old magic’ between them is particularly contrived as the vast age difference between the two, a whole 18 years, makes it look like the type of union that would have no chance of it working right from the start, so why even bother making it a part of the plot? The first 40 minutes are so draggy that you start hoping for the avalanche to happen and wipe out all the cardboard characters simply to provide some excitement.

The glossy cast if filled with some well known faces, but their parts offer them little to work with and in the case of Robert Forster, who acts as this environmentalist warning of the avalanche danger, is completely wasted. Only Cathey Paine, a lesser known actress, offers some diversion as a possessive girlfriend who becomes unhinged when she catches her boyfriend (Rick Moses) in bed with another woman and watching her try to kill herself by swallowing a bottle of pills only to be crushed by the snow a few seconds later is darkly funny. I also got a kick out of Jeannette Nolan sporting white hair, which you can tell is a wig because you can see her brown hair underneath it along the edges, and I felt this should’ve been shown falling off her head when the avalanches occurs, but of course it doesn’t.

The special effects, which would be the only reason to watch this thing anyways, gets highly compromised mainly because producer Roger Corman, in his patented stingy way, cut the budget in half just before production began and it definitely shows. The avalanche looks like nothing more than having the actors shot on a screen and then having styrofoam made snow blown in front of it. I also found the howling wind noise, which permeates every outdoor scene, to be irritating and unnecessary especially when all the trees in the background are completely still.

The third act, which deals with rescue efforts, offers some minor tension and is an improvement from the rest of the movie, which made me think they should’ve started it with this and then shown scenes of the avalanche happening, and some of the background ‘drama’, intermittently via flashback. The setting, which was filmed on-location at the Lodge of Tamarron in Durango, Colorado, is quite scenic. I even liked the snowmobile race, which has a Death Race 2000 feel to it especially the ugly wipe-outs.

Spoiler Alert!

Unfortunately everything else falls predictably flat, which includes the dopey ending where Hudson humbly admits that he allowed his greed to get in the way  and that the resort should never have been built, but this isn’t satisfying enough. He should’ve been handcuffed and thrown into prison, which is not shown nor any confirmation if this ever ultimately happened.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 29, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Corey Allen

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Romantic Comedy (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Playwrights fall in love.

Just as Jason (Dudley Moore), a popular playwright, is getting ready to tie-the-knot with the beautiful Allison (Janet Eilber) he meets Phoebe (Mary Steenburgen). Phoebe is a school teacher aspiring to be a playwright and hoping to team up with Jason, who has had some success in the past, but looking for new inspiration. The two soon become a successful writing team, but begin to fall-in-love in the process, which creates a strain on Jason’s marriage.

The film is based on the play of the same name that was written by Bernard Slade, who also wrote the screenplay. Slade was at one time a television producer whose most noted creation was Th Partridge Family’, but by the late 70’s had moved into writing plays with his biggest hit being Same Tim Next Year about two married people who get together once a year to have an affair, which became a runaway international hit and inspired Slade to then write this one, which is basically just a minor reworking of the same theme. While his first play was hailed as being fresh and original this thing is much more mechanical and ultimately as generic as its title.

The story’s biggest failing is that we never get to see the relationship blossom and grow. Instead it starts out with their awkward meeting that exposes their contrasting personalities and temperaments and then jumps ahead several months later to where they’ve already become lovey-dovey to each other, but with no insight as to how that came about. Part of the fun of watching a romance is seeing how it flourishes between two very unlikely people, but here that gets glossed away making everything that comes after it seem very forced and contrived.

The film also offers no insight into the collaboration process and how two people can work together to create a play, which could’ve been both interesting and amusing. It also could’ve been revealing seeing what kind of plots their plays had and why some of them are flops while others are hits. Having a story within a story concept where the two write about the secret emotions that they have for the other into their characters could’ve added a unique angle, but like with a lot of other things here becomes another missed opportunity.

Moore and Steenburgen have no chemistry and there was a big 18 year age difference between them. Moore is too acerbic and having him go from being sarcastic and abrasive to suddenly loving and tender is unconvincing. Steenburgen’s young girl voice makes her seem empty-headed and not the sophisticated, witty type who would be able to write the type of plays that she supposedly does. Why Mia Farrow and Anthony Perkins, who played the parts in the original Broadway play, weren’t cast in the same parts here is a mystery, but they would’ve been far more effective choices.

The expected drama and conflicts involving the wife never culminates into anything making her presence virtually pointless. The laughs are non-existent as well. In fact the only time it ever gets even mildly amusing is when Moore and Steenburgen would argue and it would’ve been funnier had they been portrayed as hating each other, but teamed up anyways simply because they somehow managed to write hit plays when they worked together.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: MGM/UA

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Loving (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Commercial artist fools around.

Brooks (George Segal) is a commercial artist who spends most of his time chasing after clients, which he finds exhausting and takes away from the creative process. Although married to the beautiful Selma (Eva Marie Saint) he still sees  Grace (Janis Young) on the side, but she’s tired of being the other woman and wants him to divorce his wife and commit to her, which he resists. Despite all of these issues Brooks manages to keep his philandering hidden until one night when they attend a party at a friend’s house where his fooling around unexpectedly comes out into the open for all to see.

So many films have tried to capture that perfect day-in-the-life feel, but usually end up failing by either jazzing-up the drama, or becoming boring by  not having enough happening. Director Irvin Kerschner manages to find the right balance by having the characters continue to do things as they speak. For instance showing Brooks’ boss (Keenan Wynn) converse with him over the phone while folding up his hideaway bed. Why was he sleeping on the couch? Was he having marital problems of his own? Could be, but this visual approach allows the scenes to remain active while also conveying how everyone has issues and not just our protagonist. It also remains realistic as most people are usually doing other things while talking on the phone and never just sitting motionless like it gets portrayed in many other movies.

I enjoyed too how the film explores the job duties that Brooks has including the way he takes photos of models, sometimes he even using himself, and then traces their outlines from the picture to create a different artistic rendering, which I found fascinating. Much of the reason for these intricate details has much to do with the fact that the script is based on the novel ‘Brooks Wilson Ltd.’ by John McDermott under the pen name of J.M. Ryan, who was an illustrator in real-life, for Disney studios, and parlayed his experience of the craft to the main character. I also found it interesting how Brooks’ clients would sometimes have minor, subjective complaints about his work forcing him, for the sake of pleasing them and making money, to begrudgingly change what he had originally created and thus showing how the business side can squelch the artistic inspirations of creative people and take away the enjoyment they once had for their craft.

Even the children characters get handled much better than in most films. Granted their parts have very little to do with the plot, but still like in every parent’s life they’re always around causing disruptions and noise even when you have your mind occupied with other things. They’re also not portrayed as sickingly sweet or excessively bratty, but like with most kids an equal combination of both. The oldest girl, who looked to be about 8, also has one of the film’s funniest moments as she’s shown reading a book on the sofa while a nude model, who her father is sketching, stands right in front of her, which she finds to be no big deal.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s best moment though is still the ending where Brooks goes to a party and makes love to his best friend’s wife (Nancie Phillips) in a child’s empty playroom to the amusement of the the other guests who watch them in another room, unbeknownst to Brooks, on closed circuit TV. Not only is this scene hilarious, but dramatically powerful as Will (David Doyle), whose wife is caught fooling around with Brooks, physically attacks Brooks outside afterwards and the look of anger and betrayal on his face reveals, despite the funny set-up, how emotionally devastating philandering can be to the other spouse.

The film though fails to offer any conclusion. We sit through 90-minutes of seeing the marriage slowly disintegrate, but then are left watching the couple staring at each with no idea whether they were able to patch things up, or divorce. The viewer feels cheated that no clear answer is given and a brief denouncement showing where the main character ultimately ends up, whether it be with a new love, his same wife, or all alone, should’ve been added.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 4, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Irvin Kerschner

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Damien: Omen II (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Damien learns his destiny.

After the death of his adoptive parents, Damien (Jonathan Scott-Taylor) moves in with his Uncle Richard Thorn (William Holden) and his wife Ann (Lee Grant) in Chicago. Thorn is a rich industrialist and Damien lives a privileged life in the suburbs of Chicago alongside his cousin Mark (Lucas Donat), who is set to be heir to his father’s company, but first the two boys are sent off to the military academy. It is there that Damien learns that he is the Antichrist and puts a plan in place where he can kill off Mark and his parents so that he can take over Thorn industries and use it for his nefarious purposes.

It’s unfortunate that David Seltzer, who wrote the script to the original Omen film, choose not to pen this one and instead Harvey Bernhard the film’s producer outlined the story and then hired Stanley Mann to write the script, but the plot is basically a retread of what occurred in the first one with the father this time played by Holden, going through the same realizations that Gregory Peck did in the original, while offering no surprises or interesting twists. Had Seltzer written it he would’ve had it begin where the first one ended with Damien inside the White House having been adopted by the President and his wife, which would’ve offered far more intriguing scenarios than anything that gets played-out here.

The film also suffers from having Damien, much like in the first one, not being all that scary or mean at least not at the beginning. For the most part he behaves like a nice kid. The scene where he takes revenge on a bully at the academy actually had me on his side as well as when he shows-up a teacher in front of the class by knowing all the answers. Having an aunt character, played by Sylvia Sidney, despise him and consider him a ‘bad influence’ doesn’t help things as this is something that the viewer needs to see for themselves and not just have described by another character.

The characters played by Robert Foxworth and Lance Henriksen, who know about Damien’s secret and essentially ‘groom him’, is confusing because it’s never explained how these men would know this, or what their backgrounds are. If there’s a group of devil worshipers out there, or demons sent directly from hell in human form to help Damien in his evil quest than this needs to be elaborated instead of just having them appear knowing things that no else does, but without any explanation.

Like in the first one it’s the death scenes that make it worth watching and there are a few good ones including one that occurs under the ice of a lake and another very gory one that happens inside an elevator, but there’s also some where the victim just falls over dead due to Damien’s powers, which is a letdown. If the film is going to market itself on the death scenes then ALL of them need to be creative and memorable and not just a cherry-picked few.

The pristine, white wintry landscape is nice, although not exactly suitable for a horror film, and I did enjoy Lee Grant who plays the wife role in a far more multi-dimensional way than her counterpart Lee Remick did in the first one, she even gives the film its one unexpected wrinkle, which occurs at the end, but otherwise there’s nothing much else to get excited about here. In between the death there are a lot of boring segments with no tension at all. The movie, which is a bit overlong, does not have the terror increase as it progresses, but instead just gets more drawn-out.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 5, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Don Taylor

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Bloodline (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer stalks rich heiress.

When her father dies under mysterious circumstances Elizabeth (Audrey Hepburn) is given full control of the company he founded, Roffe Pharmaceuticals, a billion dollar empire. Elizabeth soon learns that there’s a power struggle going on amongst the board members and when she refuses to allow the company’s stock to go public she finds that her life is now the target of a mysterious killer who stages ‘accidents’ to occur where ever she goes.

This film marked Hepburn’s last starring vehicle in a theatrical feature and if it weren’t for her presence this thing really wouldn’t be worth seeking out and barely is anyways. The story is based on the best-selling novel by Sidney Sheldon, but comes off more like a hackneyed whodunnit featuring many derivative elements that you’ve seen hundreds of times before in other mystery films that were better done.

Some of the more annoying aspects include the loud, overplayed orchestral score that would be better suited for a sappy romance. There are also segments dealing with Gert Frobe, who plays the lead investigator on Elizabeth’s father’s case, who does most of his detective work sitting in a lab and interacting with a computer whose over-the-top robotic voice turns the whole thing into unintentional camp. I also thought it was dumb that Elizabeth listens to a audio tape recorded by her father just before he died in which he states that he thinks he knows which board member is trying to kill him, but then doesn’t reveal his name, but wouldn’t it have been wise to state that on the tape, so if he ended up getting killed there would be recorded evidence to help the investigators nab the right person? The film also features a recreation of the backstory showing how the father founded the company, which is corny as hell as well as a kinky subplot dealing with snuff movies, something that was added into the script after production had already begun, but wasn’t needed.

The accidents, which should’ve been the film’s highlight become boring throwaways instead. Hepburn’s car crash, which occurs when the killer fiddles with the brakes, is poorly edited and the injuries that she sustains are too superficial, a few bruises and scratches on the side of her face that immediately go away the next day. Her close call in a rigged elevator gets equally botched. We see a split second visual of an elevator speeding down a shaft and only later told that it killed her best friend (Beatrice Straight) who was inside it, but Hepburn decided at the last minute to step out of it to get something that she forgot inside the office, but this is something that the viewers should’ve seen as movies are a visual art and not just explained by Hepburn afterwards.

The variety of exotic locations, which was shot throughout Europe, adds some zest and the eclectic cast is interesting although most are wasted. With that said I still found Romy Schneider, who plays a female race car driver, to own every scene she is in, which proves what a great actress she was as she’s able to make her part flashy despite the weak material. Omar Sharif is also fun as a henpecked husband who finds himself not only dominated by his demanding wife (Irene Papas) but his lady lover as well.

Ultimately though it’s too hokey to take seriously and offers no intrigue. Even Hepburn becomes a problem by playing a character who doesn’t make any sense. She tries to get Ben Gazzara to marry her by admitting it’s for convenience only and that he’d still have his ‘freedoms’ to do ‘other things’ on the side and she’d agree to look the other way. Then when they finally do get married and he meets some of his other lovers at a restaurant she becomes enraged and runs out. This causes him to call her a ‘neurotic bitch’ which given the circumstances I would have to agree with.

Alternate Title: Sidney Sheldon’s Bloodline

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 29, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Terence Young

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Girl from Petrovka (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: An American/Russian romance.

Oktabrina (Goldie Hawn) is a young Russian ballet dancer living in the country without proper documentation. Joe (Hal Holbrook) is an American journalist staying in Moscow as a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Herald. Joe becomes attracted to her youthful beauty while she likes the fact that compared to her impoverished lifestyle he has a lot of money and lives in an apartment that seems ‘like a palace’. The two begin going out, which attracts the attention of the KGB who raid her apartment while she’s not there. This forces her to stay at Joe’s for awhile and allows their relationship to blossom only to have a misunderstanding cause her to move out. Joe then tries desperately to win her back, but finds it may be too late as the authorities close in.

The film has a nice casual pace to it that’s more like a European movie and the on-location shooting, which was originally intended to be shot in Yugoslavia, but eventually done in Austria, nicely brings out the gray, dismal life in the Soviet Union at the time. I even enjoyed the snowy late night scene where Joe and a friend are seen walking outside with a visual of the Red Square matted in the backdrop.

Unfortunately the film’s romantic angle becomes its weakest point, which ultimately pulls the production down to a painfully boring level. I just couldn’t understand why these two fell in love so fast. I got the fact that Joe found her attractive, any man would, but that’s lust not love and Oktyabrina’s interest centered mainly on the fact that he had money, which is equally shallow and nothing that would create this deep emotional bond after only two days together. There’s also a huge age difference between the two, a full 19 years, which makes the romance come off looking even more absurd.

Hawn’s a great actress, and she does okay here even though I found the heart shaped tattoo that she has underneath her left eye to be annoying, but it still would’ve worked better had the part been played by an actual Russian woman who could’ve given the character more authenticity. Holbrook has proven to be a fine actor in many other productions, but here comes off as too detached and glib and adds very little life or emotion to the proceedings. Anthony Hopkins as Oktyabrina’s Russian friend shows more energy, and speaks with an excellent Russian accent to boot, and would’ve been a far better choice for the lead.

In typical 70’s fashion the ending is a downer, which was completely different from the one in the film’s source novel of the same name that was written by George Feifer, and only helps to cement this as a complete waste of efforts by all those involved. This was just one of the many bad movie choices that Goldie made during the 70’s that put her career on life support that managed to be revived in 1980 when she did Private Benjamin.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 22, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Ellis Miller

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD-R (Universal Vault Series), Amazon Video

Joe (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bigot befriends successful businessman.

Joe Curran (Peter Boyle) is an unhappy factory worker who feels the blacks, liberals, and hippies are ruining the country and doesn’t mind telling all the patrons at his local bar exactly what he thinks. One night while going on another one of his racist rants he meets Bill (Dennis Patrick) a successful businessman who’s the father of Melissa (Susan Sarandon) who was put into the hospital for a heroin overdose. Earlier that day in a fit of rage Bill had killed her live-in boyfriend Frank ( Patrick McDermott) who was the one that got Melissa hooked on the drug. Now, as he sits at the bar in a drunken state he admits to Joe what he did and Joe uses this newfound knowledge to become friends with Bill and find out how the other half lives. Bill initially dislikes Joe and only stays friends with him because he’s afraid Joe will go to the police otherwise, but after awhile the two men start to share a weird bond, which eventually leads them both to the dark side.

Norman Wexler’s script manages to bring out the paradox of the American social hierarchy quite well and in many ways far better than most other better known dramas of the same subject. While the role was originally intended for Lawrence Tierney, who would’ve been a better choice due to being more age appropriate, Boyle, in his first starring role, shines as a younger version of Archie Bunker and manages to do it in a way that still keeps him human and dryly humorous.

The film’s major defect though is with Dennis Patrick’s character who is too bland and one-dimensional and walks around with the same nervous look on his face throughout. Having him become the main character and receive the biggest story arch does not help since he’s too transparent causing his personality change to be uninteresting and there needed to be a backstory in order to give him more depth. I also felt his relationship with his wife (Audrey Caire) needed fleshing-out and the scene where he admits to the murder to her and her reaction to this news needed to be shown.

While John G. Avildsen’s direction has some flair his selection of music for the soundtrack, which includes a droning, melodic piece by Jerry Butler during the opening credits, was too low key and doesn’t reflect the edgy, angry tone of the story. The scene where several people get shot inside an isolated home is poorly handled because no special effects get used. The victims just immediately collapse to the ground after being shot, almost like children pretending to get killed while playing cops-and-robbers, with no blood splatter or gun smoke, which makes it too fake looking and weakens the overall emotional effect.

Having Patrick able to kill the boyfriend so easily is unconvincing too. The boyfriend was far younger and bigger than Patrick, so having him die by simply getting the back of his head hit against a wall without putting up any fight comes off as pathetic and the struggle should’ve been much more prolonged and played-out. I also didn’t like the editing effects were the film repeats the shot of the head hitting the wall, which is too stylized in a film that otherwise was trying to be gritty and realistic.

The twist ending though is nifty and almost makes it worth sitting through. It’s also a great to see Susan Sarandon in her film debut. She looks pretty much the same as she does now, but her eyes for some reason look bigger here and more pronounced on her face. She gives a good performance as always and even jumps fully naked into a bathtub with her boyfriend to start things off.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 15, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John G. Avildsen

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Electric Horseman (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Aging cowboy steals horse.

Sonny (Robert Redford) used to be a championship rodeo star, but those days are long behind him. Now he works as a spokesmodel for a cereal company and his next gig has him in Las Vegas where he’s set to ride a horse on stage while he wears a string of flashing lights. Sonny though has become disillusioned with the business as well as upset to find that the horse has been drugged, which propels him to ride off with it while the authorities and an aggressive TV reporter (Jane Fonda) are hot on his tail.

The story can best be described as a lightly comical variation of Lonely are the Bravebut without any of the strong dramatic impact. The biggest problem is that it reveals its cards too quickly making it too obvious what Sonny is planning to do, so when he finally does y abscond with the horse it’s not surprising or even interesting. I was intrigued at how he would get it out of the casino and past security, but the movie cheats this by cutting from him inside the casino one second to showing him outside on the street in the next frame, which takes away from potential action and excitement of having him fight his way out.

The chase inside a small town where Sonny and his horse outrun a mob of police cars and cops on motorbikes is fun, but it ends up being the only exciting moment in the film. Everything else gets toned down too much where even the bad guy, played by John Saxon, is boring because all he does is sit in a office while getting reports from others as to Sonny’s whereabouts instead of having him actively chase after the renegade cowboy himself, which would’ve heightened the tension.

Fonda’s character comes off like an unwanted house guest who tries to take over the place even when they weren’t invited. Her character is too abrasive and while everyone else is laid-back she comes of as being quite aggressive and otherwise out-of-place with the tone of the movie. Valerie Perrine, who has a much smaller part as Sonny’s ex-wife, does a far better job here and is more in step with the unglamorous, rugged western theme. Had she been the one to chase after Sonny then the romantic side-story that develops would’ve been cute and engaging, but having Fonda become the love interest just makes the whole thing seem forced.

Had the action and humor been  more jacked-up than it might’ve been a winner as Redford himself is quite good. I was a bit surprised too because I initially didn’t think this was the right fit for his talents, but his subtle country accent and brash attitude is fun and Willie Nelson, in his film debut, is quite good in support. Unfortunately the plot never catches its stride and in fact the more it goes on the boring it gets.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1979

Runtime: 2 Hours 1 Minute

Rated PG

Director: Sydney Pollack

Studio: Universal Pictures

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