Category Archives: Cold Climate/Wintertime Movies

The White Buffalo (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Buffalo haunts his dreams.

Based on the novel by Richard Sale, who also wrote the screenplay, the story, which takes place in 1874, centers around Wild Bill Hickok (Charles Bronson) who’s suffering from reoccurring dreams involving a giant white buffalo. He travels to the west in order to find the beast and confront it. It’s there that he meets Crazy Horse (Will Sampson). The two initially don’t get along. Bill is not a fan of Indians and once said “the only good Indian is a dead one”, but the two share a common bond as they’re both after the elusive buffalo in Crazy Horse’s case it’s to avenge the death of his infant daughter who was killed when the beast violently attacked their campsite. Having formed an uneasy alliance the two, along with old-timer Charlie Zane (Jack Warden) go out into the cold, wintry terrain in search for it while debating over whose land this country really belongs to: the white man or the Native Americans.  

Story-wise the film lacks any explanation for why Hickok is having these dreams, or what exactly the image of the white buffalo is meant to represent if anything. The plot goes off on a lot of tangents including a segment where Hickok visits an old-flame (Kim Novak) that doesn’t have much to do with the central story, nor propel the plot along, and could’ve easily been cut. There’s also a few proverbial gun fights though they’re generic in nature, don’t add much excitement, and quickly forgotten. 

Bronson gives his typical wooden performance though seeing him with dark circular glasses and sporting long hair does make him, in certain shots, resemble Ringo Starr. The rest of the cast if filled with familiar B-stars in minor roles including Stuart Whitman and Cara Williams, who have an amusing bit as a vulgar couple whom Hickok shares a stagecoach ride with. Jack Warden, who’s almost unrecognizable, has a fun moment when he takes out the glass eye that he’s wearing much to the shock of Crazy Horse.

The only diverting element is the opening dream sequence that’s done over the credits where the viewer looks right into the eye of the beast close-up. Normally I’m not a fan of outdoor shots done on a sound stage, which always comes-off looking artificial, but in this instance it helps accentuate the surreal elements. The climactic sequence though in which both Hickok and Crazy Horse come face-to-face with the buffalo doesn’t work as it becomes painfully clear that the beast is special effects generated especially when Crazy Horse gets on top of it and repeatedly stabs it, which looks like someone stabbing into a sofa cushion with tacky fur stuck to it. We also never get to see a full-shot of the buffalo, just its head, so it’s difficult to gauge how big it really was. The truly disappointing part is that the illustration of the buffalo on the film’s promotional poster seen above is far more impressive looking than anything you’ll actually see in the movie.

Probably the only interesting aspect about the production is not what occurred in front the camera, but behind-the-scenes. Will Sampson, who’s by far the better actor and the story could’ve been centered around his character alone and it would’ve made it a more interesting movie, refused to read his lines for over 24 hours when he became aware that white actors had been hired to play the roles of the Native Americans and only went back to performing his role once the producers agreed to casting actual Indians for the parts. This then directly lead to the American Indian Registry of the Performing Arts, which he founded. 

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 6, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, YouTube (with ads)

 

 

By Design (1981)

by design

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gay couple wants baby.

Helen (Patty Duke) is a fashion designer who’s in a relationship with Angie (Sara Botsford). Despite running a successful clothing business together Helen still longs to be a mother. Angie isn’t so excited about having a kid, but if it makes Helen happy she’ll go along with it. The coupe initially consider artificial insemination, but turn it down when they see the type of male clientele that are allowed in and the adoption agency rejects them outright due to being gay. They eventually set their sights on Terry (Saul Rubinek) an obnoxious and sleazy photographer who works for them and has been hitting-on Helen for years unaware that she’s a lesbian. Helen hopes to have a one-night-stand with him simply to get impregnated, but as the planned event draws near she begins to have second thoughts.

The story certainly has potential and was ahead-of-its-time, but the way director/writer Claude Jutra approaches the material by implementing ill-advised silly humor and trying to turn it into a basic sitcom is all wrong. The one thing that I did surprisingly like was Saul Rubinek. Normally he’s not a favorite of mine, but here he plays the scuzzy, lecherous male on the prowl perfectly. I found it interesting too at seeing how much things have changed. He gets reported for touching a woman in her private area on the job without her consent, which would mean immediate termination today, but the two protagonist women bosses don’t do that. Instead they brush-it-off with a boys-will-be-boys mindset inadvertently making the woman who brought it to their attention feel embarrassed and even humiliated for coming forward.

What I didn’t like was his extreme transformation at the end where he becomes this kind and caring soul that’s too much of a change that wasn’t earned and makes him seem like two different people. The fact that he was unaware that Helen was gay even though everyone else knew seemed a bit preposterous. In keeping with the character’s arrogance and conquest nature he should’ve been fully aware of her being lesbian, but convinced he could ‘cure’ her of it if she simply went to bed with him. His relationship with one of the models, Sonia Zimmer, who for whatever bizarre reason has romantic inclinations for him even though during one photo session he says some of the most degrading and demeaning things I’ve ever heard a guy say to a woman, so unless she’s a masochist there’s absolutely no reason why this beautiful woman should desire him and thus making this romantic side-story completely stupid and unnecessary.

The story starts out okay and had me hooked for a little bit, but it quickly goes downhill. The jump-the-shark moment is when Helen has sex with Terry and at the same time for some inexplicable reason Angie has random sex with some guy (Alan Duruisseau) that she meets in a parking lot, but she’s a confirmed lesbian, so why the sudden/extreme shift? If she’s pan-sexual, or bi-sexual or just has some latent desire to sometimes ‘swing-both-ways’ is fine, but that needs to be introduced earlier and not suddenly thrown-in, out-of-nowhere without warning. The scene also culminates with Angie and Helen calling each other on the phone and professing their love for the other as they continue to have sex with the other men, which I know the director thought would be a ‘hilarious’ moment but comes-off as incredibly dumb instead.

Had this been handled in an intelligent manner it could’ve been ground-breaking, but the director was clearly insecure with the material and thus decided to just give it the jokey treatment, which ruins it. Duke also seems miscast though shockingly you do get to see her nude in a couple of scenes of which she looks pretty damn good.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 16, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Claude Jutra

Studio: Astral Films

Available: DVD-R

Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bizarre occurrences at lodge.

Inspector Glebsky (Uldis Pucitis) is summoned to a remote winter lodge known as the Dead Mountaineers due to a climber who fell to his death off a nearby cliff and whose faithful St. Bernard sleeps underneath a portrait of him in the hotel’s lobby. Glebsky was informed from the anonymous call of some unusual activity that was occurring at the place, but once he gets there no one, including the innkeeper Alex (Juri Jarvet), know what he’s talking about. After he meets the strange collection of guests he becomes even more suspicious. Then he’s handed a note stating that Hinkus (Mikk Mikiver), a man supposedly weakened by tuberculosis, is planning to commit murder. When one of the guests, Olaf (Tiit Harm), does turn-up dead, but Hinkus is later found tied-up in his bed, so he couldn’t have done it. A avalanche blocks off all outside roads trapping Glebsky and the guests in the building where more and more weird things begin to occur until the inspector can no longer trust his senses, or even his logic.

Some people ask; what makes a great movie? And the answer is that a good movie needs a unique and distinctive image that impresses the viewer right from the start and which they can take away with them once it’s over. This film has just that image with a bird’s eye view of the hotel that’s so remote, as it’s nestled in the snowy, mountain landscape, and so small when glimpsed from high up, that at first I thought it was a prop, but it’s a real building, which makes it all the more impressive. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such an isolated place, it doesn’t even seem to have roads leading into it. This shot alone, of which it goes back to it a few times, brilliantly sets the tone for the rest of the movie where everything is totally unique and like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

The fact that this was all shot in what was then the Soviet Union, in this case what is now Kazakhstan, makes it even more jaw-dropping as productions there didn’t receive the same type of budget as a studio driven Hollywood one and yet the visual design is impeccable. The inside of the place has a pronounced, surreal look with excellent shadowy lighting and the special effects, while sparse, come into strong play during the climactic surprise ending that like with the beginning leaves an equally lasting impression. The music by Sven Grunberg has a distinct futuristic tone that helps accentuate the outer worldly quality while the sun glistening off the bright white snow during the outdoor scenes makes it seem almost like another planet.

The story was written by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and based on their book of the same name. They’re better known for their novel ‘Roadside Picnic’, which was turned into the acclaimed Stalker directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. Both brothers also wrote the screenplay and it pretty much stays faithful to the book though there’s a few missing characters and Glebsky’s motivation for going to the lodge is different. Here it was due a mysterious phone call while in the book it was for vacation. The plot at first gets played-up like it’s just another police/murder investigation complete with interviews with potential suspects and even Agatha Christie-like flashbacks showing what each guest was doing when the murder occurred, which had me getting bored as the movie starts out as something really different, so to have it devolve into the conventional murder mystery was disappointing, but by the second act this all changes and that’s when it gets really interesting.

The acting is solid and I enjoyed Pucitis in the lead, who despite having his voice dubbed, has the perfect chiseled features of a hardened police detective. My only complaint, and it’s a minor one and probably the only one in this potential cult classic that desperately needs more attention and a Blu-ray/dvd release, comes at the beginning during Glebsky’s voice-over narration where he speaks in the present about his time at the hotel and how during a ‘slow shift’ the events that he witnessed there comes back to haunt him. I found it hard to believe that he’d only think about this when there was nothing else to do, or in this case a ‘slow shift’, as I’d think it would be on his mind all the time to the extent that he may never be able to go back to police work again as the events would’ve been too traumatizing.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: August 27, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 20 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Grigori Kromanov

Studio: Tallinnfilm

Available: dvdlady

Towing (1978)

towing

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fighting a corrupt company.

Lynn (Sue Lyon) and Jean (Jennifer Ashley) are two friends who work at a bar and become increasingly aware of a corrupt towing company in town run by Butch (J.J. Johnston) that tows away cars for questionable reasons and then demands hefty fees for the owners to get them back. Many people in the city of Chicago have been affected and are considering starting-up protests, but when Jean gets fired from her job when a customer has his car towed that she parked is when things really get going. She then gets a job at a gas station across the street from where the towing company is located. She and Lynn as well as Lynn’s new lawyer boyfriend Chris (Joe Mantegna) trick Butch into towing away the Mayor’s daughter’s car, which soon gets him in on notice with the mayor himself.

Although she’s worked on several documentaries, for feature films this was a one-and-done project for writer/director Maura Smith as she hasn’t done another one since. The film looks cheap right from the start and initially I feared this was going to be rock-bottom fare, but it does improve enough to have a slight amiable quality. The story though is too threadbare to hold much interest and in attempt to ‘go for something deeper’ incorporates a side-story dealing with the challenges of being a single woman and going through a lot of empty, dead-end dates, but these segments don’t mesh with the frivolity and overall silliness of the rest and ultimately give the film an amateurish feel.

This obscurity’s biggest claim-to-fame is that it marks both the beginning and end of two careers. For Joe Mantegna this was his film debut and he does have one funny moment, probably the only funny moment of the whole film, where he tries to connect the chains of a tow truck to a car, but being a lawyer he doesn’t really know how to do it. For Sue Lyon this was her final starring role as her brief appearance in Alligatorwhich she did 2 years later was basically just a walk-on. This was also the final time she wore her patented long blonde hair as it was after this that she became a brunette and then ultimately raven-haired. For the most part she seems to be having fun while sporting an engaging smile and amused laugh throughout. She even at one point puts on a wig and pretends to be a hooker and in another part disguises her voice to sound like an old woman, but the production was about as low budget as you can get and I can see why she felt staying in the business wasn’t going to be worth it if this was all the better she was going to be offered.

Jennifer Ashley lends unique support as the flirtatious one who exudes a sensual energy and Johnston, who was at one time an amateur boxer who has written 4 books on the subject, is solid as the heavy and even, despite the script being written by a woman, allowed say to the C-word. My favorite though was Steven Kampmann, probably best known for playing Kirk Devane in the first two seasons of ‘Newhart’ before turning his energies full-time to screenwriting, who plays an angry citizen who helps the two women get back at the towing company though having him break-off to commit hi-jinks of his own along with his girlfriend (played by Audrie Neennan) takes away too much from the central lead characters and dilutes the plot.

The on-location shooting done in Chicago is nice especially with the way it focuses on the working class neighborhoods though I was surprised that even though it was filmed in October and November the scenery already looked quite cold and the actors appear to be shivering as they say their lines. The cool soundtrack has a funky beat and fun lyrics. Had the music been sold separately it would’ve attained a lot of fans and helps give the film some much needed personality and distinction that it otherwise lacks.

Alternate Title: Who Stole My Wheels?

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 5, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 16 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Maura Smith

Studio: United International

Available: Amazon Video

C.O.D. (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Signing-up bra models.

T. B. Dumore (Nicholas Saunders) is the aging owner of the Beaver Bra Company who’s finding that consumer interests in their product is waning, so he comes-up with what he feels is a ‘can’t-miss’ campaign, which entails them bringing-in 5 world famous women, including the President’s daughter (played by Teresa Ganzel in her film debut) to model their bras in their new ads. Albert Zack (Chris Lemmon), the company’s advertising salesmen, is commissioned to seek out the women and get them signed to a contract. Albert feels the task is monumental, but uses the help of Holly (Olivia Pascal), a beautiful German woman that he meets as he travels the globe to find the 5 women, to help him do it.

This film was directed by Chuck Vincent, who gained notoriety in the 70’s for directing a lot of X-rated fare, but decided to break into mainstream movies in an attempt to list a more ‘respectable’ product on his resume. His first stab at ‘legit’ filmmaking was American Tickler, a slap-dash, skit oriented parody of the current hit movies of the 70’s that was universally derided by both critics and audiences alike. This feature marked his second go at ‘legit’ that fared even worse and sent him pretty much back to porn making where he was slightly better until dying at the young age of 51 from AIDS in 1991.

At least with the porn flicks they had some redeeming value, namely helping those get-off while this movie offers nothing. To call the humor mind-numbingly lame would be an understatement, but the plot, which is incredibly stupid to begin with, goes nowhere and filled with a lot of cheap unimaginative gags that wouldn’t impress a 4-year-old. There isn’t even any nudity, a little bit, but not as much as you’d expect making you wonder what exactly was the audience that they were aiming for as the insipid comedy alone was clearly not going to cut-it.

Chris Lemmon, the son of the far more famous Jack Lemmon, is the one who should be really embarrassed. His father prodded him to become a professional pianist, of which he’s apparently quite good at, but Chris wanted to follow in his father’s foot steps and get into acting. Some children of famous stars, like Michael Douglas, the son of Kirk, can end up having a flourishing career of their own, but Chris’ was nothing to write-home-about mainly because of being in cheap-o stuff like this making me believe his dad knew what he was talking about when he prodded him to stick with the piano playing. It’s not like his acting is bad, he resembles his father with a fuller head of hair, but the material gives him little to work with.

Unbelievably there are a few scenes that had me chuckling a little. The best one is where a guest at an upscale dinner party is forced to fight with a live lobster on his plate because Lemmon, who was pretending to be a gourmet cook, didn’t have the heart to kill it, which had potential, but needed to be played-up more. Everything else though falls flat. Had they approached it in a satirical vein, or had a synopsis that people could actually relate to, then maybe, but playing it as an unrestrained farce that nobody asked for is a dismal failure that’s best left at the bottom of the forgotten movie vault shelf.

Alternate Title: SNAP! 

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Release: July 3, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Chuck Vincent

Studio: Metro Film

Available: dvdlady

Iceman (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Brought back to life.

Stanley (Timothy Hutton) is an anthropologist working in the arctic where his team of explorers discover a neanderthal man (John Lone) frozen in the ice from 40,000 yeas ago. The man is taken inside a block of ice to the base where he gets thawed out and resuscitated and then placed inside a simulated environment where he can be studied, but Stanley insists on treating him like a human versus a specimen. He initiates an encounter, which leads to a bonding and Stanley gives him the name of Charlie. Despite the inability to speak the same language, but through the use of a linguistics specialist who is brought in, he begins to learn more about Charlie and how he was on a lonely walk where he was trying to sacrifice himself to the gods in order to save his tribe. When Charlie sees a helicopter flying overhead he races towards it in the belief that it was the mythical god he was looking for called ‘Beedha’ and this motivates him to escape from the lab sending everyone else into a panic in an effort to find him.

Initially, the story does have a ‘roll-your-eyes’ effect with the way Charlie gets revived, which seems too effortless and causes no side effects as he becomes as ‘good-as-new’ even 40,000 years later. Outside of his face he has no body hair, in fact his skin appears baby smooth, even though the presumption would-be that men would’ve had more hair on them than they do now.

Fortunately director Fred Schepisi keeps the proceedings as authentic looking as possible, which helps overlook the story’s implausible leanings. I thought the close-ups the of the red laser cutting through the ice sheet was pretty cool (no pun intended). Filming it on-location in Churchill, Manitoba reflects the arctic climate and far better than having it done on a sound stage. Even the way their personal living quarters where furnished had a nice homey feel though I was confused why there would be a TV present in Lindsay Crouse’s room as I don’t think there’d be any TV station signals in the arctic and thus nothing to watch. (No video stores, satellite dishes, especially in the mid-80’s, or cable either.)

The acting is all-around terrific. Hutton manages to finally lose his boyish appeal that post Ordinary People he had trouble shaking. I liked the curly hair and the grungy post-graduate persona and I enjoyed the short-hair of Lindsay Crouse whose presence does not precipitate a romance, or sexual interest between the two leads. The film intimates that it’s because the Crouse character is supposedly gay, which I didn’t think was needed as it’s quite possible someone could be straight, but still not magically ‘fall-in-love’ with members of the opposite sex even if working closely with them over an extended period of time. The best performance though is that of Lone, who’s Asian, but you’d never have known it and his ability to recreate a troglodyte behavior in a way that seems quite organic is excellent.

The ending created some behind-the-scenes controversy as Schepisi agreed to film the original concept as intended, but then pulled-back on that promise and went ahead and did a different one without informing the studio, which got him canned. I’m not sure what the original ending was like, but the one that gets shown here is perfect as it keeps all the action in the arctic since moving the story off to a different location, or trying to continue the drama of having Charlie enter into modern civilization would’ve been a whole other movie into itself and made the script overly cluttered. Whether the viewer considers Charlie’s ultimate fate to be a happy or sad is up to personal perspective, but for me I found it satisfying.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 13, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 minutes

Rated PG

Director: Fred Schepisi

Studio: Universal

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

Bloodsucking Freaks (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Women forced into slavery.

Sardu (Seamus O’Brien) runs an underground theater in the SoHo District of New York where they put on live stage shows that feature naked women tortured and mutilated all to the delight of a paying audience. The members of the public who come to see it believe it’s all an act, but in reality the women are kidnapped and forced to do things against their will through hypnosis. When a theater critic named Creasy Silo (Alan Dellay) refuses to write a positive review about the place in his newspaper Sardu summons his dwarf assistant Ralphus (Luis De Jesus) to kidnap him where he is then chained in the basement of the theater and tortured like the others. Sardu also has famous ballet dance Natasha (Viju Krem) kidnapped where she eventually, through the power  of hypnosis, puts on a perverse dance, but Natasha’s boyfriend Tom (Niles McMaster) doesn’t believe she’s doing it willingly, so he calls on police detective John Tucci (Dan Fauci) to investigate. The problem is that Tucci is corrupt and secretly agrees to do nothing about Sardu’s crimes as long as he gets bribe money. 

Out of all of the exploitative films that came out during the 70’s this one still holds the top prize of being the most notorious and rightly so, as what it shows went far beyond many other provocative films of that decade that promised sensationalism, but delivered little. This one definitely delivers to the extent that writer/director Joel M. Reed professed to losing many of his longtime friends after they watched it. While intended as a dark comedy, a very dark one, how much one enjoys will be dependent on how twisted their sense of humor is with some finding it entertaining, even darkly inventive, while others will be downright shocked and appalled. 

The effects are done from a campy perspective and have not aged well though still potent. The two that took me aback a bit was when a young woman, played by Illa Howe, gets put on a guillotine and has her head chopped-off. The severed head then is taken out of the basket it was dropped in and it really does resemble her face and not that of a mannequin’s like you’d expect. The infamous brain sucking scene, which became the inspiration for the film’s title, where a sadistic Dr., played by soap star Ernie Pysher, drills a hole into a women’s head, played by Lynette Sheldon, who has since gone on to become a well renown acting teacher, and then sucks her brains out through a straw is pretty grisly too.

The film was picketed by women’s groups, including women against pornography, outside of theaters that showed it. Many labeled it misogynistic and I’d have to agree as all the women characters have no discernible personality other than jut running around naked while allowing themselves to be tortured, beaten and even mutilated as passive victims with no resistance. The premise explains this is because of ‘hypnosis’, but that pushes that concept far beyond believability making it more like a twisted male fantasy than a movie.

The film has also gained notoriety for the violent deaths of its two stars with O’Brien becoming a homicide victim of a home invasion less than a year after its released while six years later Krem perished from an accidental shooting while on a hunting trip. Personally I found Fauci, who is the founder of The Actor’s Institute and has been the acting coach of such notables as Fisher Stevens and Marisa Tomei, to be the funniest. He plays the caricature of a corrupt cop, but does it in such an amusing way that every time he utters a line it’s highly entertaining.

Special mention must also go to dwarf actor De Jesus, who came to fame 5 years earlier in the porn flick The Anal Dwarf, where he attempted to have sex with a regular sized woman as apparently not every part of his body was small. Here, I found his facial expressions and overall energy to be engaging and had he and Fauci been the stars, playing adversaries, the film would’ve been funnier.

On the technical end the remastered blu-ray has a faded color and a spotty sound, making it look like it was captured on cheap, vastly inferior equipment from the get-go. Of course for those that came to see the explicit sadomasochism these other issues won’t matter.

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Alternate Title: The Incredible Torture Show

Released: November 3, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joel M. Reed

Studio: American Film Distributing Corporation

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

Telefon (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Spies hypnotized to kill.

Grigori (Charles Bronson) is a KGB agent ordered to investigate a rash of terrorist activities being done inside the US. All of the crimes are being committed by Russian sleeper agents who are hypnotized to carry-out acts via a call on a telephone where they are read a line from a Robert Frost poem, which  triggers them to act upon preordained instructions. The calls are made by a rogue agent named Nickolai Dalchimsky (Donald Pleasence) and it’s up to Grigori to stop him before it becomes an international incident. While in the US Grigori works with lady agent named Barbara (Lee Remick), who Grigori thinks is on his side, but she’s a double-agent ordered to kill Grigori once the mission is completed.

While Leonard Maltin in his review describes the plot, which is based on the novel of the same name by Walter Wager, as being ‘ingenious’ many others felt it was far-fetched. There actually has been one case in the history of crime, which occurred on March 29, 1951 in Copenhagen,  Denmark, where a man by the name of Palle Hardrup was apparently hypnotized by Schouw Nielsen to carry-out a bank robbery and this lead to two people getting killed. Both men were later convicted and the story was made into a 2018 movie called Murderous Trance. Since then though there has been no other cases on record of this type of thing occurring and many experts in the hypnotic field insist that it couldn’t making what transpires here highly speculative at best.

The issue of Grigori having a photographic memory and able to memorize the names and personal details of all the sleeper agents is questionable too. Many researchers say that this type of phenomenon is only temporary and cannot be retained over a long period. There are others that say the photographic memory is a myth altogether and like with the hypnosis angle, forces the viewer to complete shut off their skeptical side right from the get-go in order to have even a chance of enjoying the movie at all.

The only interesting aspect is Lee Remick and Bronson learning to deal with each other’s contrasting personalities, which makes great use of Chuck’s gruff and brash manner, but I felt Remick as an agent wasn’t believable. When she’s ordered to kill one of the sleeper agents inside a hospital by injecting him with a drug she gets quite nervous, but if she’s killed before, then I’d think it would be like second-nature to her and she’d be cool and calm under pressure. I also felt the film should’ve showed her fully carrying-out the killing instead of cutting away without ever seeing the actual injection.

I didn’t get why she would’ve fallen in love with Bronson as the two had nothing in common and really didn’t get along. The film seems to act off the theory that putting a man and woman together will automatically elicit romance and sexual tensions, but members of the opposite sex work together on jobs sometimes for many years where sex and romance never occurs, so having these two end up getting the hots for each other seemed forced and mechanical. Also, the fact that Remick is a double-agent and Bronson becomes aware of this would make me believe that he, being a professional spy, would never trust her enough to let down his guard to expose his softer side to begin with.

I was disappointed too that several scenes are supposed to take place in Texas, including the city of Houston, and yet ultimately all of  these get shot in either California, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Francisco, which was the same one used in High Anxiety, or on a studio sound stage. Yet there are plenty of other scenes that were shot on-location like New Mexico , Montana, and even Finland, so if they could make it to those places then why not to Texas too?

The climactic sequence, which takes place in a backwoods bar and features a humorous performance by Helen Page Camp, as the wife of the bar owner, gets wrapped-up in too tidy of a way and doesn’t take full advantage of Pleasence, who has been very creepy in his other villainous roles, but here doesn’t make much of an impression. While the film is entertaining on a non-think level it compares poorly to other movies in the spy genre and certainly does not come close to matching many of the better ones.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Don Siegel

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive)

The Last Detail (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Seaman escorted to prison.

Billy Buddusky (Jack Nicholson) and Richard Mulhall (Otis Young) are two navy lifers assigned the task of escorting an 18 year-old seamen named Larry Meadows (Randy Quaid) to prison. Meadows had been caught lifting $40 from a charity fund run by a wife of a senior officer. In return he got court-martialed and given an 8-year sentence in the brig. Buddusky and Mulhall feel the sentence is too harsh and immediately take a liking to the soft-spoken young man who despite his tall height seems harmless and mile-mannered. During the trip, which is expected to take a week, the two men decide to show Meadows a ‘good time’ by taking him on many side-trips including a whorehouse where the young virgin has sex with a prostitute (Carol Kane). As the time grows near for them to turn their prisoner over to the authorities they start to feel reluctant about doing so, but the fear of being kicked out of the navy and losing all of their pay and benefits keeps them grounded in their responsibility even as Meadows tries several times to escape.

It may seem amazing to believe now, but this film, which has won over almost universal appeal both from the critics and film viewers almost didn’t get made due to the fear from the studio that the word ‘fuck’ was spoken in it too many times. Screenwriter Robert Towne, who adapted the story from the novel of the same name by Daryl Poniscan, was pressured to take most of the uses of the profanity out of the script and in fact production was delayed while both sides had a ‘stand-off’ about it with Towne insisting that “this is the way people talk when they’re powerless to act; they bitch.” Eventually the script got green-lit with all the ‘fucks’ intact, which at the time was a record 65 of them. In retrospect I’m glad Towne held his ground as without the F-word being used, or some silly lesser profanity substituted in, would’ve given the film a dated feel when being watched by today’s standards where the word is said hundreds of times on social media and sometimes even in commercials where it’s only slightly bleeped-out. This is a problem when watching other films from the late 60’s and early 70’s where goofy slang gets thrown in to compensate for the lack of the F-word, which in turn hurts the film’s grittiness and edge, which thankfully got avoided here.

The story was a problem too as many studio execs considered it too ‘non-eventful’ to make for an interesting movie, but this is the whole reason why the movie is so special as it doesn’t try to throw in the cheap antics other Hollywood films might to make it ‘more entertaining’. The film remains low-key and fully believable throughout and may remind others, as it did me, of one’s own coming-of-age experiences when they were 18 and hanging out with others who were older and more worldly-wise. Cinematographer Michael Chapman, who appears briefly as a cab driver, insistence at using natural lighting only also helps heighten the realism.

The story takes many amusing side turns that manages to be both poignant and funny including a brawl that the three have with a group of marines inside a Grand Central Station restroom, though I did wish some of the other segments had been strung out a bit more. One is when the three men attend a group encounter, which features Gilda Radner in her film debut, to a bunch of chanting Buddhists. I felt it was weird that the men just stood in the background and didn’t assimilate with the group during the meeting and begin chanting alongside the others, which would’ve been funny. The scene inside the hotel room where Buddusky can’t get his roll-out cot to fold-out right and forcing him to sleep in a uncomfortable position should’ve been played-out more too. Are we to believe that he slept that way the whole night?

Of course it’s the acting that makes this movie so special. While I never pictured Nicholson with his over-the-top persona as being someone who would be a part of the regimented culture such as the navy I ended up loving him in it and felt this was the performance he should’ve won the Oscar for. I especially got a kick out of the way he would get all fidgety when outside in the cold, which I don’t think was acting at all as it was filmed on-location in the Northeast during the very late autumn/early winter and I believe he was really freezing as he was saying his lines.

While his character is not as flashy, Otis Young is every bit as excellent as it takes a good straight-man, which is what he essentially is, to make for a good funny man. The part was originally meant for Rupert Crouse, who unfortunately got diagnosed with cancer just as the production began forcing the producers to bring in Young as a last minute replacement, but he manages to deliver particularly in the scene on the train where he loudly castigates Buddusky for his misbehavior. Quaid is quite good too even though he goes against the physical characteristics of the character, who in the novel was described as being ‘a helpless little guy’, but director Hal Ashby, who can be seen briefly during a barroom scene, choose to cast against type by bringing in a tall, hefty fellow who looked like he could defend himself if he had to, but is just too sheltered to know how.

The ending is the one segment where I wished it had been a little more emotionally upbeat. It’s still a big improvement over the one in the book where Buddusky dies, which fortunately doesn’t happen here, but it still isn’t too memorable either. The film though overall does a good job of conveying the underlining theme of how the navy men where just as imprisoned as Meadows, at least psychologically, and unable to consider life outside of the navy box that they had spent their entire lives in and where thus locked-in more so than Meadows, whose sentence in jail would only last 8-years versus a lifetime like with Buddusky and Mulhall.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Hal Ashby

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

The Winnipeg Run (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Winning a snowmobile race.

Randy (Lance Henriksen) has been institutionalized for several years after suffering from PTSD from fighting in Vietnam. His Dr. (Peter Michael Goetz) feels that he’s ready to go back out into the real world, but must continue to take his medications, which Randy refuses to do. He travels back to his hometown in northern Minnesota, but finds obtaining a steady income to be tough, so he participates in a local snowmobile race that offers a cash prize. He does well enough in that it compels him to travel to Canada to take part in a race called The Winnipeg Run, which runs from Manitoba to St. Paul, but as he prepares for the competition his mental problems return.

This marked Henriksen’s film debut as well as Goetz’s and even though Lance has described this project in interviews as being ‘the worst movie he has ever done and will remain the worst movie he’s ever done’, he’s still the best thing about it. He adds conviction and nuance, which allows the character to rise above the middling material and become a multi-dimensional person that you want to root for.

The location shooting is excellent. While it was never shot in Winnipeg, despite its title, but instead Thief River Falls, Minnesota it’s great to see a movie that truly captures the frigid climate of the region. Most films with a Minnesota setting are usually shot in the summer when the weather is pleasant, or done on a soundstage with fake winter effects, but this one goes the extra step to show the massively high snow hills that you can get there, I was born and raised in the region so I know, and the icy clouds of breath that encircles each individual as they walk outside. The cold temps can also be quite brutal on the film equipment, so kudos to the crew for being brave enough to fight the elements in order to bring authenticity. The racing footage isn’t bad either and I could can only think of one other movie, the Disney pic Snowball Expresswhich came out the same year, that has snowmobile racing in it, so it gets credit for originality.

Spoiler Alert!

However, what I didn’t like is that after having this long, drawn-out build-up watching Randy prepare for the race and describing in detail the  grueling aspects of it, it then never actually occurs. Instead we find that, due to his mental illness, it’s all inside his head. While he does get on a snowmobile and drive it around it’s not a part of any competition and just him speeding alongside a lonely highway while his nervous girlfriend (Cynthia Subby) drives in a car next to him and screams for him to come home.

If the writer and director thought that this was some kind of ‘clever twist’ then it was they who had the real mental problem as it’s more of a bait-and-switch to the viewer who are primed for an action packed climax only to be left with something that has no impact at all. Even as a character study it’s misguided and it’s assessment of mental illness quite dubious. While I initially thought Lance’s take of this movie was a bit harsh, as it does start out okay, I could ultimately see why he now considers it a black mark on his resume.

Alternate Title: It Ain’t Easy

Released: November 10, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Maurice Hurley

Studio: Dandelion Films

Available: None