Category Archives: Cold Climate/Wintertime Movies

The Main Event (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Babs promotes a boxer.

Hillary Kramer (Barbra Streisand) is an owner of a successful perfume company who suddenly finds that all of her financial assets have been stolen by an unscrupulous business manager. The only thing she has left is a contract with a down-and-out boxer named Eddie ‘Kid Natural’ Scanlon (Ryan O’Neal). She decides to become his manager and promote him even though he is through with boxing and much more content at working as a driving instructor.

Barbra is quite enjoyable and the one thing that manages to hold it all together even though I couldn’t stand her frizzy hair look and wished she had just kept it straight, but as a comic character she is good. I was amazed at how much she makes fun of herself including an open bit that takes potshots at her world famous nose. There are other segments that reverse her feminist stance as well where the man, or in this case the O’Neal character, feels like he’s being ‘objectified’ by her and after they sleep together feeling ‘used’ when she isn’t quite ready to get into a relationship. Amazingly she even allows herself to be clad in very tight fitting shorts and in one rather explicit moment bends down in them, which again being the famous feminist that we know she is in real-life seemed surprising, but I liked the fact that she can show a playful side and that she doesn’t take herself too seriously.

Unfortunately O’Neal is the wrong man as her co-star as he is too weak of an actor and cannot keep up with her strong personality. Trying to play these two off as equals doesn’t work as he has no ability to counter her comic punch and his attempts at seeming exacerbated are forced and not funny. Sure they had success earlier with What’s Up Doc? but that was because he played a character that got run over and dominated by hers, which is the only way their contrasting styles would succeed on celluloid.

The film though still manages to be funny and I was ready to give this a 7 until it peters out like air coming out of a tire during the second half. Having the group cooped up in a winter cabin stifles the action as this is the type of story that should’ve stayed permanently on the road. The contrived love angle that gets thrown in is formulaic and not believable. These two could never get along even if they wanted to. They may at some point gain a begrudging respect for the other, but to think they could cohabitate in a lasting relationship is ridiculous and besides it was the bickering between them that was entertaining and once that goes so does the movie.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 22, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Howard Zieff

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Gremlins (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t get them wet.

During his travels through China gadget salesmen Randall (Hoyt Axton) spots a furry little creature called a mogwai at a Chinese antique shop run by Mr. Wing (Keye Luke) and decides to purchase it as a Christmas present for his teenage son Billy (Zach Galligan). The mogwai, which they name Gizmo, comes with three simple rules that must never be broken. The first is that the creature must never be exposed to sunlight or bright lights of any kind, he must never get wet or be given water and most importantly he should never be fed after midnight. Unfortunately all three of these rules end up getting broken and the result is the creation of ugly little monsters called gremlins that create havoc and destruction on a peaceful town during Christmas Eve.

The concept is great with a nice mix of horror and dark comedy and I loved the idea of having this Norman Rockwell small town besieged with an ugly underbelly. The creatures look amazingly real and Gizmo is especially cute with special effects that are both creative and effective.

However, in the filmmaker’s effort to be humorous and ‘clever’ the film goes off-the-beam a bit by adding in stuff that isn’t logical and hurts the plot’s overall integrity. I didn’t get where these monstrous gremlins were finding all these hats and clothes that they are seen wearing nor how they were able to read signs, or know how to drive vehicles. Their tiny arms would be too small to be able to hold a chainsaw let alone run it and if you look closely during the bar scene you can see that the beer mugs that they are holding have been miniaturized in order to conform to the dimensions of the puppet. Also, the part where Gizmo gets into a remote controlled toy car and ‘drives’ it makes no sense since they are solely powered by a remote run by someone else that is not present.

Since water is the basic fluid for the survival of most living organisms it was peculiar that this one couldn’t be given any. What liquid was he supposed to drink instead? If he can’t eat after midnight then when exactly can he eat  since theoretically any time is after midnight whether its 3 AM or 3 PM. To me though the dumbest part is when Gizmo’s original owner Mr. Wing reappears at Billy’s and Randall’s home looking to take the creature back, but how would he know where to locate Randall as he left him no address and the film makes it seem that somehow he walked all the way from orient to get there, which is really dumb.

The film was also in its day considered quite controversial since it features a scene where Billy’s mother (Frances Lee McCain) traps one of the gremlins in a microwave and then heats it up until it explodes, which many people considered ‘too violent’ for a PG film and it helped to usher in the PG-13 rating. To me I felt this scene was actually the best moment in the movie as it’s the one part where it actually becomes like a horror film and has some genuine tension.

Dick Miller is fun as a maintenance man who despises foreign made products and Polly Holliday is equally amusing as a scrooge-like landlord whose over-the-top death is a highlight. I also liked Hoyt Axton as the father, but the running joke dealing with all of his inventions and gadgets that constantly breakdown gets old real fast and I was confused how he was able to afford such a nice big house when he made such a menial living trying to sell things that nobody wanted and didn’t work.

This also marks the last acting appearance of two great character actors, which include Scott Brady who is amusing as the alcoholic sheriff who refuses to believe that a bunch of gremlins are on the loose until it’s too late. Many consider this to be Edward Andrews, whose role here as the bank manager was greatly reduced when the runtime was trimmed by over 50 minutes for the final cut, last onscreen appearance as well even though Sixteen Candles, where he had a much more prominent role, was filmed later, but released to theaters earlier.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 8, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joe Dante

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

A Fan’s Notes (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He writes about himself.

Exley (Jerry Orbach) is a loner residing in and out of mental institutions. He imagines having conversations with beautiful women, but is rarely able to approach them in real-life. He also obsesses over New York Giants running back Frank Gifford and wishes one day to achieve that same type of success, but fears that he’ll be a spectator in life just like he is in sports. He decides to begin writing about his nomadic existence in hopes that it will be a cathartic effort only to find that too harbors its own share of frustrations.

The film is based on the Frederick Exley novel of the same name, but despite the filmmaker’s best efforts it’s not able to achieve the book’s cult potential and in fact Exley himself stated that the movie “bore no relation to anything that I had written”. The idea of trying to somehow visualize a story that was never meant for the big screen is the film’s biggest issue and one that it cannot overcome no matter how hard it tries. The pacing is poor and tries awkwardly to make profound statements while at other points being zany and absurd, which is off-putting.

Orbach does well in the lead and helps hold it together. This also marks the official film debut of Julia Anne Robinson who appeared in only one other movie King of the Marvin Gardens before she tragically died in a house fire at the young age of 24. Like in that movie her acting is poor, but here it works in the positive because it makes her character seem transparent and accentuates the dream-like theme. The segment where she dresses up like a nun and then later as a street hooker, as part of Exley’s sexual fantasy, is fun as is his visit with her quirky parents (Conrad Bain, Rosemary Murphy).

Burgess Meredith appears only briefly, but practically steals it with his outrageousness. Watching him lie down on the floor in an effort to look up a blind woman’s skirt is a real hoot as is his ability to walk on his hands across the edge of a sofa.

Had the film stuck solely with the goofy comedy it might’ve worked and there are indeed a few memorable bits. The part where Exley punches an obnoxious woman (Elsa Raven) in slow motion is arresting and the segment where he imagines himself inside a scene of a his favorite soap opera where he directs the cast to strip off their clothes and have sex right in front of the camera is pretty funny too, but the best moment is the telephone conversation he has with a couple where he pretends to be a lawyer pleading with them to take-in the husband’s mentally unstable brother.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 21, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Eric Till

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: YouTube

Don’t Go in the House (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He burns his victims.

Donny (Dan Grimaldi) is a grown son living at home with his mother (Ruth Dardick) and suffering from the nightmares of his childhood where she would routinely burn his arms on an open flame every time he misbehaved. When she dies he decides to use his new found freedom to pick-up women at random, bring them back to his place and then burn them to death with his blow torch. Afterwards he dresses the corpses up, puts them into a bedroom where he routinely visits them and has ‘conversations’.

The film uses its low budget to great effect by becoming a grainy, starkly realized journey into a madman’s mind. The large, rundown 21-bedroom home that Donny lives in and has now become the Strauss Mansion Museum in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey offers a terrific backdrop. The decayed, rundown interior becomes a motif to Donny’s deteriorating mind. The faded color matches the grim subject matter and even the sound, which has a constant popping noise like it was taken from a corrupted tape, gives off an eerie feeling like listening to muffled dialogue from a secret, underground source. The cold, gray, wintery landscape adds even more to the bleak ambience.

Director Joseph Ellison seems intent on forcing the viewer to get inside the killer’s head and understanding things from his point-of-view. Instead of having a robotic, evil killing machine we get an overgrown man-child, so tormented from his upbringing that he is unable to know right-from-wrong and burns his victims under a misguided notion that it is somehow ‘cleansing’ them from their sins. The surreal dream done along a lonely beach in which Donny sees his victims come back to life and who drag him down a hole is well captured with just the right amount of atmosphere that easily makes it the best moment in the movie.

Some viewers have found the scene where Donny burns a woman alive inside a metal room while she dangles from a rope to be ‘repugnant’ and ‘going too far’ and has helped the movie achieve a notorious reputation. The scene though is really not all that graphic. We never see the victim actually burned just the lighted blow torch coming towards the screen and then it cuts away. The masks worn by the burn victims isn’t any different from those worn by dead decomposed bodies in other films, so it’s really more what’s implied that upsets some people than what is actually shown.

The film’s only real drawback is that it is much too similar to William Lustig’s Maniac that starred Joe Spinell and came out at around the same time. Both film’s deal with killer’s that have a severe mother complex, hear voices inside their heads, dress the bodies of their victims up, store them in their homes, have ‘conversations’ with them and even harbors visions of them coming back to life to seek revenge. The similarities between the two movies are so striking that they come off like a carbon copy to the other, which seriously hurts the tension because you feel like you’ve seen it all before.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 28, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Ellison

Studio: Film Ventures International

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Love with the Proper Stranger (1963)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He gets her pregnant.

Rocky (Steve McQueen) is a bachelor enjoying his single lifestyle by having one-night-stands with a wide assortment of women while happily avoiding the responsibilities of marriage. Then he meets up with Angie (Natalie Wood) a woman he had sex with months earlier and who now finds herself pregnant. She comes to Rocky hoping that he can help her find a doctor to perform an abortion. Rocky at first barely even remembers her, but then agrees to help her and even offers to pay for half of the costs. Yet as things progress Rocky finds himself beginning to care for Angie and even considers the one thing he thought he’d never do, which is marriage.

The script, by the prolific Arnold Schulman, is certainly edgy for its time and seemed almost groundbreaking and I was surprised it didn’t elicit more controversy especially since it was released to theaters on Christmas day.  The film works for the most part though I was frustrated that we are never shown Rocky’s and Angie’s first meeting. It gets talked about slightly, but there really needed to be a flashback showing how it all came about especially since Angie didn’t seem like the type of woman who would go to bed with a guy so quickly.

Wood gives an outstanding performance and manages to dominate the film even when she’s with McQueen, which was no easy feat. I did find it hard to believe that such a beautiful woman would be stuck having to accept a pudgy, klutzy loser like Anthony (played by Tom Bosley in his film debut) as her only possible suitor. She had told no one else about her pregnancy, so I would think many eligible bachelors would be beating down her door to get at her. The fact that Rocky doesn’t immediately remember her is also absurd. Sure, he may have slept with a lot of women, but nobody no matter how many other sex partners they’ve had would ever forget a gorgeous face like Wood’s.

McQueen’s role almost seems comical especially with his character’s hot-and-cold dealings with Angie and his inability to ever communicate with her effectively. My one caveat was his constant wheezing after climbing several flights of stairs. I realize this was to represent his need to give up cigarettes and in turn the other ‘bad habits’ of his lifestyle, but it got annoying and even distracting to hear.

As a drama/romance it’s okay, but would’ve been better had it been filmed in color. The segments are too drawn out and quite talky, which made me believe that this was originally a stage play, but to my shock it wasn’t even though it probably would’ve fared better there. I was also disappointed at the lack of a suitable wrap-up for Bosley’s character who came off like a major schmuck at first, but then he grows on you as the film progresses.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1963

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Robert Mulligan

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 0), Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Fame (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: School of Performing arts.

Filmed at the now demolished Haaren High School the film is intended to be a showcase of New York’s famous Fiorello LaGuardia High School that specialized in training students in the arts, dance and drama. The story centers on an eclectic mix of teens that join the school. There’s Doris (Maureen Teefy) who is pushed by her mother (Tresa Hughes) into becoming a singer/actress despite suffering from horrible stage fright. Leroy (Gene Anthony Ray) wants to become a dancer despite not being able to read while Ralph (Barry Miller), Montgomery (Paul McCrane) and Bruno (Lee Curreri) all suffer from personal demons/insecurities of their own.

I’m sure in its day this came off as fresh and exhilarating, but time has not been kind to it. The film starts out with the teens auditioning to get into the school, which might have been interesting had it not come off as a poor man’s version of ‘American Idol’, which has dulled our senses so much to the audition process that anything else now seems second-rate. I think what surprised me most about these scenes is how patient the judges/instructors were as all of the teen’s auditions were quite poor and they should’ve been politely escorted out a minute into them instead of being allowed to continue on with something that was clearly not working. What shocked me even more though is that several of the main characters gave horrid auditions that made it look like they had no talent at all and yet somehow they were accepted into the school anyways making it look like this wasn’t necessarily a place for gifted students after all, but instead just someplace willing to bring in any loser that wanted in.

The characters aren’t appealing either. Doris is much too neurotic; Montgomery is boringly benign and Ralph comes off as an obnoxious, attention-seeking clown. There are many scenes showing the students being highly disrespectful to their instructors that normally would’ve gotten them kicked out of any other school, but here for some reason they don’t. Out of all the students Coco (Irene Cara) was the only one I liked as she had genuine talent and also seemed much more dedicated, but the film ends up degrading her by having her character go to a rundown apartment of some slimy producer who wants to ‘audition’ her for his next film even though it is quite obvious to any viewer that the guy is a first-rate sleazebag and his audition is clearly just a set-up to a scam, or in this case an underground porno.

The script is filled with a lot of unresolved storylines and loopholes. For instance Leroy is unable to read and when this gets discovered he tears up the school in a fit of rage and yet somehow still remains a student for the full four years. Did he eventually teach himself how to read and pay for the damages that he caused? These pertinent questions never get answered, but really should’ve.

I enjoyed the shots capturing the New York’s busy and sometimes dangerous city sidewalks as well as a bird’s-eye shot of Times Square. The scene where a couple of students go to a showing of The Rocky Horror Picture is great, but the rest of the movie is just one long mish-mash. At certain points it tries to be a gritty drama and then at other times it breaks out into tacky dance routines. Instead of being a compelling drama it’s more of a broad overview and would’ve worked much better had the number of main characters been paired down to just one or two and the time span cut from four years to just one.

 

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 16, 1980

Runtime: 2Hours 13Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alan Parker

Studio: MGM

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

Baby Boom (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Yuppie inherits a baby.

J.C. Wiatt (Diane Keaton) is a successful businesswoman who has risen to the top of the corporate world by being quite literally ‘married-to-her-job’, which is just fine with her boss (Sam Wanamaker) as he is the same way and demands nothing less. Out-of-the-blue she gets a call that a distant relative has died and sent her an inheritance. She initially thinks it’s money only to find to her shock that it’s a baby girl instead. J.C. lacks any parenting skills and has difficulty even putting on a diaper, let alone knowing the right sized one to buy. Her annoyance slowly grows to bonding as she finds raising a young one has rewards far greater than her previous yuppie lifestyle could offer.

The premise for this thing is whacked. What kind of halfway normal parent would write a will that has their child shipped off to a distant relative that they haven’t had contact with since 1954 in the event of their death? Certainly there had to have been some close friend or family member that they knew of who would’ve been far more appropriate and could’ve been forewarned that they were the intended god parent. It’s almost like the parents just threw the child off a cliff and hoped someone down below would catch her.

The Harold Ramis character should’ve been chucked from the beginning. He plays her live-in boyfriend, but if someone is working 70 to 80 hours a week then they would have little time for a social life let alone a normal, healthy romantic relationship. The idea is to show that this character’s life is imbalanced, so might as well portray her as being alone and desperate need for genuine human contact making the baby’s presence all the more significant.  Ramis disappears quickly as he bails on her the minute she decides to keep the kid, so why bother introducing him at all?

Although likable I didn’t feel Keaton was the best choice for the part. The character is given the nickname of ‘tiger lady’, but to me that would signify having traits that are cold, steely and bitchy, but Keaton never displays these. Cybil Shephard or Candice Bergen with her Murphy Brown persona would’ve been a better pick and made the character’s transition from cutthroat businesswoman to loving mommy all the more vivid.

The film does have some funny bits and the twin girls who play the part of the infant are cute and respond well to the camera. I even enjoyed when J.C. begins to bond with the girl, but Bill Conti’s musical score gets overplayed during these segments and his cutesy melody gives these otherwise  touching moments too much of a heavy-handed feel.

I certainly liked the message, but writer/director Charles Shyer it tries too hard to get it across. Having the character suddenly move out to the country seemed too severe of a shift. This is the type of person who thrived in a big city atmosphere and I don’t think she’d ever fully adjust to the slow pace of the rural lifestyle, which makes this plot twist, in a movie that goes on too long to begin with, come off as a misguided tangent that isn’t interesting or believable and the ending itself is too idealistic.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 30, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Charles Shyer

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Quick, Before it Melts (1964)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stuck in the cold.

Oliver Cannon (Robert Morse) is a lowly newspaper reporter who gets sent to the Antarctica by his boss Mr. Sweigert (Howard St. John). Sweigert not only dislikes Oliver, but also wants to keep him away from his daughter Sharon (Yvonne Craig) who intends on marrying him. To his surprise Oliver accepts the assignment feeling that the South Pole is the ‘last great frontier’ and wanting to expose the harsh environment of the region to his readers who may not otherwise realize quite what it is like. Yet once he arrives he quickly wishes to leave, but can’t. He then concocts a plan with Peter (George Maharis), who is  another  American stranded  there, to fly in a planeload of beautiful women, so at least their time there can be enjoyable and sexy.

The script is virtually plotless and amounts to nothing more than broadly written, flatly comical scenarios loosely tied into the Antarctica theme. It’s basically just another contrived, generic ‘60s sex comedy that lacks bite or imagination. The only mildly amusing part about it is the real-life penguin that acts as a carrier pigeon by delivering mail and messages to the various residents.

I was surprised that Maharis chose to be in this as he was a strong, highly underrated dramatic actor who was one of the main reasons for the success of the acclaimed TV-series ‘Route 66’. In fact he left that show before the end of its run mainly to take advantage of all the movie offers that were coming in, but choosing to do this silly thing as his first one especially when he isn’t even the star of it is baffling. His career ultimately was ruined when he was caught having sex with a gay hairdresser inside the men’s bathroom of a gas station during the mid-‘70s, but appearing in fluff like this certainly didn’t help it.

Morse on the other-hand seems well suited for the material and performs admirably. This film also has, in her film debut, Anjanette Comer who later had roles in many interesting cult films. In fact both Morse and she later reteamed to star in The Loved One just a year after doing this one. That film is far superior and a movie you should definitely see while avoiding this one at all costs.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 5, 1964

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Delbert Mann

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Warner Archive)

The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Girl gets new tribe.

After her mother is killed in an earthquake and escaping from the clutches of a hungry lion a very young Ayala (Daryl Hannah) gets taken in by a tribe of Neanderthals. Her addition causes strife amongst the other members particularly Broud (Thomas G. Waites) who feels she doesn’t conform enough to the subservient female role. When it is found that she has taught herself to hunt by using weapons that the women were forbidden to touch she is kicked out of the tribe and forced to survive on her own.

I realize that this film has been almost universally lambasted by movie goers and critics alike, but overall I found it to be watchable. The biggest issue in many ways were the action sequences. The opening earthquake bit as well as the lion attack comes off as stagy and phony and even border on being unintentionally funny. Later on when Ayala saves a young child from a wolf the movie reverts to slow motion, which gives it too much of an over-the-top Hollywood feel. There is also another segment where the cavemen torment a grizzly bear as part of an ancient tribal ceremony. Some of the men get torn up and killed by the bear, which to me was just fine as they should’ve left him alone in the first place!

Hannah is the perfect choice for this type of role, but for whatever reason her performance seemed a bit off and not as effective as it could’ve been. She was also probably too tall for the part as people back then was much shorter than they are now.

The movie has a little too much melodrama and eventually resembles just another cheesy Hollywood drama. The authenticity is questionable and the grittiness from the more popular Quest for Fire is definitely missing. I also wasn’t too crazy about the outdoor shots, which includes the opening one, that shows sunlight filtering through the tree leaves in a haze-like fog that gives it too much of a fairy tale-like look.

The part where Ayala is forced to survive on her own goes by too quickly and hardly seems as brutal as it should’ve been and I was also confused about how she was able to come upon this fur shawl to wear that protected her from the cold because when the tribe kicked her out she left with nothing but the flimsy outfit that she had on.

Yet despite all this I still found it to be reasonably compelling. Maybe it’s just the idea of seeing an individual learn to survive on her own, standing up to unjust authority and learning to find independence that manages to connect us no matter what the time period, but in either case it’s an okay time filler if you don’t think about it too much.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: January 17, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Chapman

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Nicholas and Alexandra (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: The last Russian Tsar.

This film chronicles the life of Tsar Nicholas II (Michael Jayston) of Russia and his marriage to Alexandria (Janet Suzman). Based on the novel by Robert K. Massie it examines the height of his power and his apathy to the poverty of his people and his reluctance to listen to their needs, or consider a more democratic form of government. It also looks at his personal life including the birth of his son Alexei (Roderic Noble) who is diagnosed with hemophilia and his wife’s over-reliance on Grigori Rasputin (Tom Baker) a man pretending to have divine connections who ultimately uses his influence on Alexandra to take control over her political affairs when her husband is away. The film also portrays Russia’s involvement during WWI as well as the Tsar’s downfall and eventual exile in Siberia with his family.

The film is basically split up into three parts with the first hour looking at Nicholas’ family life while intercutting with scenes showing the discontent of the Russia people and the efforts of Vladimir Lenin (Michael Bryant) to create a revolutionary form of government. The second hour examines Russia’s war involvement and the many warnings that Nicholas is given not to get involved in it, but foolishly decides to anyways, which ultimately creates massive upheaval. The third hour looks at his abdication of power and the family’s exile and virtual imprisonment at the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg where they nervously await their fate.

Initially I thought the third hour would be the weakest as we all know they get shot and killed execution style, but to my surprise it is actually the strongest part of the film. To an extent tearing the characters away from their plush surroundings and forcing them to exist in bleak, squalor-like conditions actually humanizes them and allows the viewer to empathize with them particularly the four daughters who had nothing to do with their father’s harsh policies and just wanted a chance to grow up and live a normal life. The scene where the family is herded into the basement of the home in the early morning hours and forced to sit silently while awaiting their executioners is quite possibly one of the most intense moments ever captured on film.

The performances are uniformly strong particularly Suzman’s as well as Baker as the evil Rasputin who’s drawn out death scene may be one of the longest in movie history. Laurence Olivier in a small, but pivotal bit as the Prime Minister gets two commanding moments including his speech after the Bloody Sunday massacre and later his strong misgivings about the country’s war involvement.

The film is full of brilliant cinematography, direction, costumes and set pieces and is certainly something that must be watched on the big screen to be fully appreciated. I enjoyed the lavish interiors of the Winter Palace especially their walks down the elegant hallways that are lined with Royal guards, but found it equally interesting when Nicholas returns there after the war and forced to walk down these same hallways, which are now darkened and rundown. The many long distance shots of the flat and majestic landscape is also impressive particularly a view of a rolling sunflower field.

Although this film has never attained the well-known classic status of Doctor Zhivago, and in fact this was producer Sam Spiegal’s answer to that film when he was blocked from working on it, I still found it to be every bit as compelling and well directed.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: December 13, 1971

Runtime: 3Hours 8Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video