Category Archives: Drama on the High Seas

The Deep (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Couple finds sunken treasure.

David (Nick Nolte) and Gail (Jacqueline Bisset) are a couple scuba diving off the Bermuda coast when they come upon a shipwreck and some artifacts left from it. They meet with treasure hunter Romer (Robert Shaw) who tells them it is a part of a Spanish treasure and works with them to try to unearth the rest of it. Problems arise when a shipwreck from World War II, the Goliath that had carried a cargo of medicinal morphine rests right next to it. To get at the Spanish shipwreck they must also go through the Goliath. Cloche (Louis Gossett Jr.), a local drug kingpin, wants to get his hands on the morphine, which could be worth a tidy sum of money and he tries to scare away Romer and the couple from continuing their diving activities, so Romer makes a deal with Cloche, but it backfires and turns the expedition into an intriguing game of underwater double-cross.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Peter Benchley, who because of the success of his first novel Jaws, was given an almost immediate green light to turn this book into a movie. The inspiration for the story was based on the real-life shipwreck of the Constellation, which occurred off the coast of Bermuda in 1942. Great effort was put into the underwater footage, which lasted for 153 days and consisted of 8,895 dives.

Unfortunately despite the title and underwater storyline the film lacks depth where it counts, which is with the characters. The movie starts out immediately with the couple scuba diving and finding the treasure before we have any idea who these people are or why they are even there and no suitable backstory is ever given, which makes them come off as bland people lacking any real distinction and that you care little about. Character development is still an integral part of moviemaking and the main ingredient that gets the viewer hooked into a story and yet this film completely lacks it.

I’ll give credit to both Nolte and Bisset for doing their own diving and Nolte looks great with his bleach blonde hair almost like he’s a surfer dude, but his presence really wasn’t needed. Bisset, despite the extreme limitations of the weak script, still gives a far better performance and I felt she could’ve easily carried the film without him and I’m not just saying that because she looks great in her skimpy underwater gear, which was purportedly the whole reason why this film did well at the box office. Sure she’s beautiful, but she’s also quite talented.

Shaw should’ve added an extra boost in support, but he doesn’t. Normally his strong personality literally eats up the screen in any movie that he is in, but he’s stifled by the benign characterization and unable to rise above it. In retrospect he should’ve never have accepted the part until he had actually read the script, but because he was offered $625,000 plus a percentage of the profits, he took the role before the script was even written and hence the whole problem.

Gossett is weak as the bad guy and is not seen enough to create any genuine feeling of menace. The segment where he and his cronies try to ‘terrorize’ Bisset by performing some very clichéd type of black magic voodoo on her is almost laughable. The only actor that is actually good here is Eli Wallach and it is a testament to his superior thespian abilities that even though he was straddled with a pointless, bit role he was still able to own every scene that he is in anyways.

The film’s only interesting moment, which apparently took 1,080 hours to shoot, is when a pack of grey sharks converge for an eating frenzy and get tangled up in the air hoses of the crew, but even this becomes unintentionally funny because every time one of the sharks move an air hose the crew is forced to suddenly jump up in the water making them look quite literally like a puppet on a string.

The script desperately needed some added element as the concept is too basic and one-dimensional.  Watching one dull group of people trying to get at a treasure while another equally dull group of people try to stop them does not make for a riveting cinematic experience.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 17, 1977

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Yates

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

Jaws 2 (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Another shark terrorizes Amity.

Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) fears that another shark is stalking the beaches of Amity when two divers disappear and then later a water skier and her speedboat driver are also killed. When Body goes to Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) with his concerns the mayor and the rest of the council dismiss it and eventually fire Brody from his position when he continues to argue. His concerns are worsened when he finds that his two sons (Mark Gruner, Marc Gilpin) and their teen friends have snuck off onto a sailboat right were the shark attacks have been occurring.

Only four cast members return from the first one which includes the aforementioned Scheider and Hamilton as well as Lorraine Gary as Brody’s wife and Fritzi Jane Courtney as one of the council members. For me the biggest surprise was the return of Hamilton’s character as most likely he would’ve been voted out after making such egregious error in the first film and leaving the beaches open to further shark attacks after being told not to. I was also surprised that anyone would still want to come to the beach to swim anyways as the stigma of the area would most likely be quite strong.

Director John D. Hancock and his wife Dorothy Tristan who were first hired to direct the sequel had a much better, more believable plot idea. In their script Amity had become a ghost town and the economy in ruins. Mayor Vaughn and developer Len Peterson (Joseph Mascolo) build a resort on the island hoping to boost the tourism, but they use mob money to do it, which is why they end up resisting Brody’s dire warnings. Unfortunately the studio felt this concept was ‘too dark’ so Hancock and his wife were fired and replaced with a script by Howard Sackler and Carl Gottlieb that is basically just a bland rehashing of the storyline from the first one.

The first film was beautifully paced with each scene adding to the tension, but here there are a lot of lulls and the shark, which wasn’t seen much in the first one, doesn’t get shown enough here. The majority of time I kept feeling frustrated waiting for another shark attack to occur as any time the story is on land the film dies.

A good sequel should also always up-the-ante and having the plot built around just one shark doing all of the attacking just like in the first film doesn’t help to take the tension to the next level. Having a group of sharks attack at the same time would’ve helped add more shock appeal as people would now be battling sharks from multiple fronts and making the chances for survival all that more precarious.

Although it’s great seeing Keith Gordon and Donna Wilkes in their film debuts the rest of the teen cast is unlikable and the type of smart ass kids you wouldn’t mind seeing get eaten. There are also too damn many of them and the film would’ve been better served had it stuck to just Brody’s two sons on the boat and none of the others.

The way the shark ultimately dies is cool, but everything else falls flat. If you’ve seen the first one then there’s no reason to watch the sequel as it adds nothing to the theme and if you haven’t seen the first one then please skip this installment altogether and grab that one as it is far superior.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 16, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 57Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jeannot Szwarc

Studio: Universal

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

Jaws (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 10 out of 10

4-Word Review: Shark in the water.

A young woman (Susan Backlinie) goes out for a swim late one night only to have her severed hand wash up on shore the next day, which causes the Amity Police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) to fear that her death may have been caused by a shark. Amity mayor Larry Vaughan (Murray Hamilton) doesn’t want his town to risk losing business, so he has his coroner deny that a shark was responsible and hence the beach remains open, but then more attacks occur. Eventually an eccentric shark hunter named Quint (Robert Shaw), Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) from the Oceanographic Institute and Brody head out on a small fishing vessel called Orca to locate the shark and then kill it, but they find the underwater beast to be far bigger and more cunning than they had ever imagined.

With its exceptional ability to slowly build tension and keep the viewer riveted from the first frame to the last easily makes this the quintessential thriller. John Williams’s legendary score adds to the murky ambience and in many ways is more memorable than the shark itself. Director Steven Spielberg wisely adds a secondary layer to the narrative by creating colorful and distinctive characters, most notably Quint, who gives the proceedings a flavorful nuance and makes the conversations and interactions that occur between the three inside the boat more interesting than what happens in the water.

The most amazing thing though is how little the shark is actually seen and in fact you don’t even get a glimpse of him until about an hour in. Part of this was due to the difficulty of getting the mechanical creation to perform properly in salt water, but in the end this became a blessing in disguise as it’s the mystery and allusion to its large size that makes it so riveting. The viewer feels as helpless and confused as the men on the boat, which makes the climactic sequence when the shark suddenly does jump onto the boat all that more impactful.

Spoiler Alert!

The film though does deviate heavily from the Peter Benchley source novel and a legitimate argument can be made as to which one presents the story better. In the book the tone is darker and the characters less likable. For me this makes it more intriguing from a psychological bent as it conveys the idea that humans are like the shark that they hunt as they both selfishly devour everything around them. Spielberg though didn’t care for this interpretation so the novel’s darker subtext gets erased, but it still made me intrigued, as much of a classic as this movie is, to see a reboot where the narrative stayed more faithful.

Some of the book’s subplots got too involved particularly the one dealing with the mayor’s connections to the criminal underworld, so I’m glad that one got toned down.  However I felt the one though dealing with Hooper’s affair with Brody’s wife (Lorraine Gary) should’ve been left in as it would’ve added extra tensions between the two while on the boat while also seeing how people can learn to work together even when they hate each other.

In the book Hooper dies when the shark attacks the cage that he is in while in the movie he is able to escape and somehow hide from the shark. This though seemed unrealistic as sharks have special sensing organs known as electroreceptors that allow them to detect the electromagnetic field emitted from a moving animal or at close range even the heartbeat of an immobile one, which means the shark most likely would’ve figured out where Hooper was hiding and gotten him.

In the book the shark dies from its many wounds just as it gets a few feet from Brody while in the movie it’s killed when the scuba tank that it has in its mouth explodes when hit by a bullet, but a 2003 episode of Mythbusters proves that in reality this wouldn’t have happened. My main beef though is that by having the shark literally blow-up into little pieces it denies the viewer the chance at seeing what the beast looked like as a whole. Supposedly this was one giant of a shark, so viewing it strung up at the end would’ve been a cool thing to have seen.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Despite these many differences the film still works splendidly and I don’t mean to imply that it doesn’t, but I would still suggest reading the book afterwards as it gives the story and characters an added dimension.

My Rating: 10 out of 10

Released: June 20, 1975

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Steven Spielberg

Studio: Universal

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

Airport ’77 (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Plane crashes into ocean.

Rich tycoon Philip Stevens (James Stewart) invites his high society friends to his home in Palm Beach, Florida by flying them over on his luxury jet. Unfortunately a gang of hijackers have decided to use this opportunity to steal some expensive artwork, which is also on the plane, by rigging the venting system with sleeping gas, which temporarily knocks-out the Captain (Jack Lemmon) along with all the passengers. Then as everyone sleeps the thieves steal the artwork while the co-captain (Robert Foxworth), who is in on the crime, pilots the plane, but while going into some heavy fog the plane grazes an offshore oil rig that sends the craft and everyone on it into the ocean forcing the panicked people to figure out some way to signal those on the ground that they need help.

Although Airport 1975 did well at the box office it was critically maligned and producer Jennings Lang wanted to come up with some way to keep the theme fresh and inventive. In most ways the film succeeds and can be considered an admirable sequel as the silly humor from the first two is taken out and the audience gets left with a high adrenaline disaster flick that is convincing and compelling.

Unfortunately the first 35 minutes almost kills it as the film is too intent on setting up contrived soap opera-like storylines for all of its characters. The lovesick gaze that Kathleen Quinlan gives to blind musician Tom Sullivan as he plays a romantic tune on the piano is sappy enough to make some viewers want to turn the movie off completely. The side-story dealing with Lemmon’s relationship with head stewardess Brenda Vaccaro was not needed, although the way he rescues her at the end is quite cool, and is too similar to one between Dean Martin’s and Jacqueline Bisset’s characters in the first film. Lee Grant can play a bitch with a capital ‘B’, but here it gets over-the-top making her so unlikable I didn’t care if she lived or died. I was hoping that, through the course of the film, her character would be forced to show a sympathetic side at some point, but she never does.

If you can get past the clunky beginning then you’ll be rewarded with a genuinely exciting and tense second-half. The special effects are well done and watching the cast, who bravely did most of their own stunts, get doused with gallons of rushing water inside the plane is a tense and impressive moment.

Lemmon is excellent and his presence helps elevate it from just being a cheesy disaster flick. Christopher Lee is good in an uncharacteristically sympathetic role making me believe that maybe he should’ve played more of these types of parts in his career. Foxworth is also effective as the duplicitous co-pilot. He’s played bad guys before, so watching him become evil wasn’t a stretch, but I enjoyed how the camera cuts back occasionally to show his guilt-ridden face as he watches the others struggle to survive.

Screen icon James Stewart is wasted in a part that gives him very little to do other than standing around with a perpetually concerned look on his face and it would’ve been more interesting having him on the plane with the others. George Kennedy gets his token appearance as Joe Patroni the only character to appear in all four Airport films, but it hardly seems worth it. His caustic, brash personality that made him so engaging in the first movie is completely lost here making him dull and transparent and virtually pointless to the main story.

While it does seem a bit too similar to The Poseidon Adventure it still has some great underwater footage particularly when the rescue naval crew puts balloons underneath the craft in an attempt to lift the plane out of the water, which is unique and not shown in any other movie and makes this worth catching just for that.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 11, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jerry Jameson

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Gray Lady Down (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Submarine crew needs rescue.

Captain Paul Blanchard (Charlton Heston) is on his final submarine mission, but just as the vessel surfaces it gets struck by a Norwegian freighter, which sinks it to the ocean bottom. The navy’s rescue team is unable to get to the crew due to a rock slide that covers the escape hatch. Eccentric Navy Captain Gates (David Carradine) is brought in as he has created a submersible vehicle that can go down the depths of the ocean and remove the rocks from the sub, but his personality clashes with that of Captain Bennett’s (Stacy Keach), which further hampers the rescue efforts.

The story, which is based on the 1971 novel ‘Event 1000’ by David Lavallee gets off to a shaky start. Although the interiors of the vessel look quite authentic the exterior shots, especially those showing the crew sticking their heads outside the vessel’s port hatch, were clearly done on a soundstage in front of a green screen and nothing is worse than a film that tries hard to be meticulous in one area only to compromise in another. When the sub gets hit many of the crew, which were made up of stunt men and not professional actors, overreact giving it an unintentionally comical feel.

The cutting back and forth to scenes inside the Norwegian ship and how that crew becomes panicked was not necessary. Again, the acting gets a bit over-the-top here too and the dialogue is shown in subtitles due to them speaking in their native language. It might’ve actually added to the intrigue had we not seen what went wrong with the other ship to cause the collision especially since the focus of the film is on the rescue effort anyways.

Once the rescue gets going it gets better with a solid pace that keeps things on a realistic level and continues to throw in new twists that makes the attempted rescue continually more difficult. Although it does get to a point where it seems nightmarish scenarios are introduced simply for the sake of drama and almost like it was piling-on the problems making the submarine crew look like they were the most unluckiest people on the planet in order to have one bad luck situation happen after another.

The scenes involving Carradine and his relationship with his pal Mickey (Ned Beatty) as well as his animosity with Stacy Keach are more interesting than the ones involving the crew stuck in the ship. Part of the reason is there is no backstory given to any of the characters, so we never see them as three dimensional people and our empathy for their welfare isn’t as much as it could’ve been. A brief bit shows the wives of the crew upset at the news, but an added side-story would’ve helped. In fact I was genuinely shocked that Rosemary Forsyth, who plays Heston’s wife, has only a single line of dialogue. I realize she may not be an A-list star, but she has a respectable enough body of work to expect something more than a just a token walk-on bit and I’m surprised she took the part.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is tense and filmed in a way that you’ll never realize that the subs used were simply miniaturized models shot on a soundstage with smoked used for the underwater effects. However, the drama could’ve been heightened especially when one of the characters sacrifices their life to save the others, which should’ve come off as a shock, but the film telegraphs it, which lessens the effect.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Heston’s a stiff acting doesn’t always work, but here he’s excellent and despite being well over 50 appears amazingly young and agile. This marks Christopher Reeve’s film debut who looks absolutely boyish as well as a reunion of sorts for Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox who starred together 6 years earlier in Deliverance although here they do not share any scenes together.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 10, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 51 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: David Greene

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

King Kong (1976)

king kong 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giant ape terrorizes Manhattan.

Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin) works for the Petrox Oil Company and heads an expedition in search of hidden petroleum reserves. He is particularly interested in a small, isolated island that is perpetually shrouded in fog and along the way they rescue Dwan (Jessica Lange) a beautiful, but flighty girl that is a lone survivor of a shipwreck. When the crew arrives at the island they find that it is inhabited by natives who perform some ancient, tribal ritual for a beast that they have caged inside a fenced-in area. They are intent in sacrificing one of their women to the beast, but when they spot Dwan they decide to use her instead where she then becomes the source of fondness to a giant gorilla named Kong. The crewmen are able to rescue Dwan and take the gorilla back to New York where Fred hopes to exploit the beast for his own monetary gain, but the gorilla escapes from his cage and goes on a rampage through the streets of New York looking for Dwan who he considers to be his.

This is a remake of the 1933 classic, which was later remade for a third time in 2005. Out of the three this one is considered to be the weakest, but I found that to be unfair as it still, while not being perfect, holds up well. The story itself is a bit dull and it takes too long until we are finally able to see the ape, a whole 50 minutes to be exact, but once the special effects get going it is impressive.

Some of the best moments come when he goes on a rampage in Manhattan and singlehandedly derails a subway car from its tracks and shakes it until all the people come tumbling out. His ride back to the states inside a freighter and the moment when he bursts through the giant fence on the island are equally exciting visually.

The gorilla is played by special effects artist Rick Baker inside an ape suit, which is something that he has done in other films as well. For the most part he does an excellent job, but I was bothered at the way the animal’s walk gets portrayed. To me it was too fast like the way a human walks instead of an animal and most apes walk on all-fours most of the time, so the fact that this one didn’t appeared unnatural. There are times too when the fur clearly looks like its sewn into a suit and not coming from the skin.

I also didn’t like the moment when the ape gets unveiled for the first time to the American spectators and he is shown wearing a giant crown. Adding in the crown gave it too much of a campy flair and hit home the exploitation theme in a heavy-handed way that was not needed. I also found it hard to believe how they were able to measure the beast’s head, build the crown to a correct proportion and then somehow get it on as they would’ve had to use a crane to do it and he would’ve fought with them while they did and most likely ripped it off the second it was put on.

Grodin is fun as the egoistical, but clearly clueless leader of the expedition and he ends up getting most of the film’s laughs.  Lange though in her film debut is fantastic and I loved her free-spirited, thrill-seeking character who is partially scared of the beast, but also intrigued by him and so consumed with getting media attention that she compromises her better judgement in the process.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 17, 1976

Runtime: 2Hours 14Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Guillerman

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Night Moves (1975)

night moves 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for runaway teen.

Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman) is a down-on-his-luck former football player who is now working as a private detective. The cases are not interesting and when his wife (Susan Clark) begins having an affair he feels like his life has hit rock bottom. Then he gets what he thinks is just another routine case which is finding the missing runaway teenage daughter (Melanie Griffith) of an aging, alcoholic actress (Janet Ward). The case though harbors many dark and unexpected turns that eventually gets Harry wrapped up into a world of art smuggling and murder.

To me one of the lasting impressions of the film, which I have seen many times over the years, is the way it incorporates nighttime into the story. The majority of the action and dialogue take place very late and makes full use of the sound of the night bugs croaking and chirping. In fact this becomes ‘the music’ for the scenes and helps create a third character as it reveals the darkness harboring inside the characters.

Hackman gives another outstanding performance playing a protagonist struggling against loneliness and frustration while realizing that it may be an inevitable part of life and something that cannot be ‘defeated’. His best line comes when he describes where he was when the Kennedys were shot. When John F. was assassinated he was playing football and still full of dreams, but then 5 years later when Bobby was killed his life had already fallen into an apathetic rut.

Jennifer Warren is good in support and looks terrific during a topless lovemaking scene. Griffith, Edward Binns and James Woods do quite well in their respective roles and the lesser-known Janet Ward plays a pathetic, boozing old broad about as well as anyone could.

The majority of the story is talky, but still intriguing. The only action comes near the end when Harry gets attacked by a seaplane while he is out on a boat. This scene is especially good because it plays off of the famous airplane segment in North by Northwest and is almost as riveting including the memorable and unique way Harry is finally able to identify the mysterious pilot.

The script, by Alan Sharp is overall smart, but does suffer from a few moments where things don’t make complete sense. One of those is when Griffith finds out that Harry plans on taking her back to her mother which she insists will ‘never’ happen, but then in the next shot we see her getting into his car, which I would think she’d resist doing for fear that she would be placing herself into too much of a vulnerable position and he would use the opportunity to ‘kidnap’ her and take her back to where she didn’t want to go.

Another moment comes when Griffith leaves a message on his answering machine that alerts Harry about something she feels he should look into. He begins listening to it, but then shuts it off when his wife enters the room yet he never goes back to listen to the rest of it even after Griffith later turns up dead.

When a death occurs on a movie set Harry is the one who gets called in to analyze the film footage showing the mishap, which isn’t realistic as the police would’ve been the ones doing the investigation and they most likely would’ve confiscated the footage in order to be used later as possible evidence.

night moves 2

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 11, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Arthur Penn

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Lucky Lady (1975)

lucky lady

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Three’s not a crowd.

Walker (Burt Reynolds) and Claire (Liza Minnelli) make money by helping people illegally cross the Mexican border into the states, but when their third partner in the business dies and they almost get arrested they decide to get into an easier line of work. With the help of Kibby (Gene Hackman) they become rum-runners who transport liquor by boat under the cover of night during the prohibition era. As the three start to have some success and get to know each other they also form a love triangle and spend their evenings involved in a ménage-a-trois.

If you’re in the mood for non-think, grandiose style entertainment made in the same vein of classic movies from Hollywood’s golden era then you should find this more than satisfying. The plot moves along at a nice breezy pace with characters that are distinct and fun and full of snappy dialogue. The majority of the story takes place on water, but manages to remain quite exciting and ironically only becomes waterlogged when it goes on land. The lavish sets are splendid and the film could be enjoyed by simply taking in those alone.

The three leads are in top form and play against type. Minnelli, who actually looks sexy here in a flapper styled hairdo, is quite amusing with her acerbic one-liners. Reynolds is great as the klutzy member of the trio and Hackman is solid as always playing someone who seems meek at first, but eventually takes over things with his patented strong personality. Unfortunately John Hillerman, best known for playing Higgins in the ‘Magnum P.I.’ TV-series, is the only weak link of the cast playing a bad guy that never conveys enough menace to be truly threatening.

A young Robby Benson who was 18 at the time, but looks more like 14 is quite good in support. I was never all that impressed with the former teen heart throb, but here he is effective playing a shy kid who says little, but when he does say something it’s a gem. Geoffrey Lewis is also quite funny as an inept Captain of the Coast Guard. Mills Watson, who is best known for playing Deputy Perkins on the ‘The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo’ TV-series can be spotted in a couple of scenes. IMDb does not have him listed here, but I recognized him and his name does come up on the closing credits as a character named Giff.

For lightweight entertainment the film does have quite a few action sequences that are surprisingly well choreographed and even quite bloody, but the climatic sequence becomes too cartoonish. I was also disappointed that the one unique element of the story, which is the three getting into a relationship, is only mildly touched upon and basically forgotten after the first hour. The film could’ve gone a lot farther with that and even made it the centerpiece of the plot, which would’ve helped make it more character driven and groundbreaking.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stanley Donen

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

 

The Dove (1974)

dove

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sailing around the world.

Based on a true story and produced by Gregory Peck this film examines the journey of Robin Lee Graham (Joseph Bottoms in his film debut) as he sails in his boat called The Dove around the world. When he starts out he is only 16, but through the course of his journey he goes through many adventures, meets a beautiful woman named Pattie (Deborah Raffin) who he eventually marries and returns home a full grown man.

The variety of exotic locales and stunning cinematography by Sven Nykvist are a chief asset, but the film starts off with absolutely no backstory. The viewer is hoisted onto the boat with the main character without having any idea who he is, his background, preparation, reason for doing this, or his relationship with his family. Bits and pieces of this come out later, but it would’ve been nice to have had some of this info from the start and would’ve allowed for more of an emotional connection to the character.

The first hour is spent more on land than at sea, which is another problem because it doesn’t get riveting until he is actually on the boat and fighting the many elements. The melodic mood music gets excessive and should’ve been toned down as well and the two songs sung by Lyn Martin, which could’ve been scrapped completely as the natural ambience of the sea is far more soothing.

Bottoms, who retired from acting in 1999 and now runs an art gallery, does quite well. His boyish face and variety of emotions that he goes through during his adventure ring quite true for someone of that age and help to make the character quite real. I also enjoyed how the character is astute in certain areas, but very awkward in others particularly with the way he tries to court Patti, which also leads to the film’s best line “I’m feelin’ romantic…in a horny kind of way.”

Raffin is stunningly beautiful and her acting is outstanding and I liked how the female character was portrayed as being older, wiser and more practical. The two share a great chemistry, but Robin’s relationship with his ornery pet cat Arvana is equally interesting even though its demise is unpleasant.

Familiar character actors pop up briefly playing pesky photographers from National Geographic magazine that carried the story through his trip. John Anderson has a funny bit here, but the best is Dabney Coleman who speaks with an Australian accent!

The actual journey began in September, 1965 and wasn’t completed until April of 1970 with many stops and starts in between, which the film does a good job of showing as at several points Robin abandons the mission only to finally start it back up several weeks or months later. Although the film gives the impression that he completed the full journey in reality he didn’t as he started it in Hawaii, but finished it in Long Beach, California also the boat that he used for his trip ending up getting destroyed in 1989 during Hurricane Hugo.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 16, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Charles Jarrott

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, Amazon Instant Video

Death Ship (1980)

death ship 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ghost ship haunts ocean.

Members of a luxury ocean liner collide with a mysterious ship that comes out of nowhere. The liner sinks, but a few of the passengers manage to survive by boarding on a raft and going out to sea. After a few days of being afloat in the watery abyss they come into contact with the ship that they collided with. Having no other options they board the vessel only to find that no one else is on it. At first they are relived, but then creepy things begin to occur making them feel that it may be haunted. When the ship begins killing off members of the group one-by-one the remaining people look for a way off, but find nothing available.

The film starts out okay with a likable enough cast filled with veteran B-actors. The collision and subsequent sinking of the luxury liner as some definite tinges of The Poseidon Adventure to it and I’ll give props to the shot showing a grand piano crashing several stories down as well as the way the engine room quickly and realistically fills up with water. The ghost ship has a nice threatening quality and is shot in a way that gives it effective creepiness and makes it like a third character.

The performers do their best and giver earnest performances although it’s hard to believe that any of them could possibly have taken the material seriously and could only have been doing this for the money. I did not like the way George Kennedy’s character goes from being this surly prick of a sea captain to a man possessed by the evil spirits of the ship as I liked the way his character’s disagreeable personality meshed with the others and made the group dynamics a little more interesting.

The ultimate problem with the film though is the fact that there is no second or third act and the whole concept would’ve worked much better as a thirty minute episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’ instead of trying to stretch it out to feature film length. There are just so many creepy shots of the ship, foreboding music and scared reactions of the cast one can take before it all becomes quite old and redundant.  

The ending is unsatisfying and doesn’t explain anything. Yes, we understand this is a ship once used by the Nazi’s to torture victims, but why is it haunting these waters and why did it decide to collide with the ocean liner and if it has collided with other ships then why hasn’t it been detected by world governments and possibly gone under attack by armies in an attempt to subdue it? Again, as a creepy short story or an episode of an anthology series it might’ve worked, but as a film it is boring, one-dimensional and lacking any type of unique spin.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: March 7, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alvin Rakoff

Studio: Astral Films

Available: DVD