Category Archives: Drama on the High Seas

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)


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

Hot Pursuit (1987)

hot pursuit 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: He misses the plane.

Danny (John Cusack) attends a private school and when he flunks his chemistry test he’s not allowed to leave with his girlfriend’s family on their trip to the Caribbean. Then his professor inexplicably gives him a reprieve, which allows him to go anyways, but he misses the plane and is forced to play catch-up. First he meets up with some locals, but when their jeep gets submerged in water he takes up with a captain (Robert Loggia) who strands him out at sea. Meanwhile his girlfriend and her family have problems of their own when they inadvertently come into contact with drug smugglers.

The film is poor from the get-go and wastes Cusack’s appeal with material that lacks any imagination. The basic premise is derivative and the characters are one-dimensional. The plot plods along too slowly and the various hijinks that Danny finds himself in aren’t funny at all. The natives that he first meets up with are a bit on the creepy side and Loggia’s captain character is an over-the-top caricature that adds little.

The film’s biggest problem is its severe shift in tone. It starts out as an escapist comedy, which would’ve been alright had it actually been funny, but then ends up turning into a thriller when the family gets kidnapped by drug kingpins and it’s up to Cusack to get them out. Had it tried to keep some humor going during the tension it might’ve worked, but instead it gets unnecessarily serious and implausible with characters that are so poorly fleshed-out that the viewer really doesn’t care what happens to them making the climatic sequence boring and prolonged.

Cusack is good as always and I kind of liked him with his long hair look, but the character tends to be a bit too clean-cut. A young Ben Stiller appears here in his film debut and seeing him play against type as a leering, cocky bad guy is the only interesting thing about this movie and makes it somewhat worth catching.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: May 8, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Steven Lisberger

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Raw Force (1982)

raw force 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ghosts of martial artists.

A group of martial arts students board a boat owned by Hazel (Hope Holiday) and piloted by Harry (Cameron Mitchell). During their ride the boat catches fire and they are forced to abandon it and get into a raft. After several days at sea they come upon an island that is the home to some ghosts of famous martial artists as well as a female slavery ring run by a group of monks. When the three groups meet it becomes a wild ride of sex and violence.

The film, which was shot entirely on-location in the Philippines, is clearly an exploitation cheapie and on the sex side it does pretty well as there is an abundance of nudity particularly during the first 45 minute or so that should satisfy any voyeur since the models for the most part are pretty good looking. However, the script is corny and dumb. Way too much time is spent on the set-up featuring a lot of stale conversations between wooden characters and comic sidelights that are silly and uninspired. The action itself is poorly captured and not very exciting while lacking in blood or realistic looking special effects.

Veteran character actress Holiday is actually the best thing playing a ditzy middle-aged woman sharing a love/hate relationship with Mitchell. Carl Anthony who plays Lloyd a man who considers himself much more of chick magnet than he really is amusing and Camille Keaton best known for her role as Jennifer Hills in the original I Spit on Your Grave and slated to star in its recently announced sequel has a bit part as a ‘girl in toilet’.

This film may be good for a few laughs on a bad 80’s movie night with friends, but the limited budget doesn’t allow it to distinguish itself from the myriad of other B-grade features that came out at the same time. The film’s one and only good moment comes during a scene at a bar where a fight breaks out and the naked lady stripper continues to dance on the bar top while remaining completely oblivious to the action around her.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Alternate Title: Kung Fu Cannibals

Released: July 9, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 26Minutes

Rated R

Director: Edward D. Murphy

Studio: American Panorama

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Mosquito Coast (1986)

mosquito coast 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Moving to the jungle.

Allie Fox (Harrison Ford) is a disgruntled, eccentric, and angry inventor who feels that the United States has lost its soul. When his new ice making invention is not met with the enthusiasm that he expects he decides to move to the jungles of Central America and start a whole new society of his own in his own vision while taking his wife and four kids with him.

Filmed mostly in the country of Belize Director Peter Weir does a terrific job of capturing the flavor of the region. The plot progresses in a slow linear fashion making the viewer feel that they are traveling along and experiencing the same things right along with the characters. I found myself more entranced with the unique sounds of the exotic birds and insects of the region than the visuals. There are definite shades of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo and Sam Peckinpah’s Ballad of Cable Hogue were we watch a man verging on sheer madness build a town from nothing while injecting his control and passion on all those around him.

Watching Allie’s vision and town come to life is fascinating and satisfying, which makes up most of the film’s first hour. However, the second hour deals with his eventual self-destruction and watching the whole place go up literally in flames and due mainly to his self-absorbed arrogant nature is rather depression and agonizing to go through. Having the man turn into an out-of-control tyrant that alienates those around him even his own family is telegraphed from the very beginning. Instead of being an insightful character study it is instead more like a draining experience that makes the viewer feel as exhausted and run over as Allie’s beleaguered family.

Helen Mirren’s character as the mother is poorly defined and becomes rather frustrating in the process. She seems like an intelligent woman with sufficient self-esteem, so it became baffling to me why she would go along with this nut of a husband and follow him loyally on all of his bizarre tangents. She does finally have an emotional breakdown of sorts near the end, but I felt that should have occurred way earlier like before they even left on their crazy journey. By remaining so passive and compliant to Allie and towing her four young children along with it made me almost believe that she was crazier than he was. Some may argue that she was ‘madly in-love’ with the man and therefore overlooked his many personality flaws, but it seemed to be taking that concept too much to the extreme.

River Phoenix and Jadrien Steele are excellent as Allie’s two sons. Both have amazingly expressive faces and the viewer finds themselves sharing most of their empathy with them. Watching them start out as idolizing their father and then learning to hate him only to grieve for him at the end is touching. My only complaint is the voice-over narration by Phoenix, which to me came off as unnecessary and heavy-handed.

Ford took a risky career move by playing a character that is not too likable, but I applaud his decision. A true actor takes roles that demand going out of the safety zone and for the most part he succeeds. I liked how he brings a certain level of humor to the otherwise abrasive character particularly when he goes on long and uncontrolled rants to the natives while they are helping to build his town and many respond with lost looks on their faces while he talks to them. My favorite part is when he lectures a young boy about America’s inflation while being drowned out by the noise of a chainsaw that he is using. . I realize the scar on his chin is from a car accident that he had in the 60’s, but there were so many close-ups of his face and you see it so vividly that I felt there should have been some explanation for it written into the script, which has been done in some of his other films.

Andre Greagory is fun as the missionary who comes to odds with the opinionated Allie. He supplies just the right balance of menace and humor to the role. The televised sermon that he gives while using props is funny. It is fun to see Butterfly McQueen in her last movie role as well as spotting a young Jason Alexander as a hardware store clerk. Martha Plimpton has a nice sarcastic way about her as River’s potential girlfriend and it is good to see a teen love interest that has more of a plain look and not some model taken straight off the cover of Seventeen Magazine.

The idea of showing how modern day suburbia has destroyed the rugged individualist, but how trying to rough it in the wilderness could pretty much end in the same way is a good one. However, the movie tends to be too downbeat and unbalanced. It is based on the Paul Theroux novel, which I suspect is probably better.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 26, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 57Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Weir

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Juggernaut (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bomb on a ship.

The Britannic, a luxury liner traveling in the North Atlantic and carrying 1,200 passengers, is threatened at being blown up by a unknown man who calls himself ‘Juggernaut’ and states that he has planted a bomb somewhere on the ship. The British government decides not to give into his demands for a ransom and instead flies in bomb expert Anthony Fallon (Richard Harris) who along with his team is assigned with dismantling the 7 bombs and are given little time to do it before they are set to explode.

This film follows the typical disaster flick formula, but it does it so damn well that I was riveted and entertained from the first minute to the last. Director Richard Lester is known for his comedy and implements it into all of his films even when the genre is action. Sometimes this doesn’t work Superman III is a good example where the campiness became too much, but here it makes for a nice balance. The tension is quite strong. The scenes involving the bomb dismantling are not only gripping, but fascinating as you learn the minute intricacies to the bomb mechanics. The extreme close-ups are excellent and make you feel like you are right there. Watching the demolition experts being dropped from a helicopter and into the cold ocean where they are to swim to the liner are impressively vivid. The story moves well and consistently brings in new twists.

Harris is fantastic as the sort of anti-hero. He is gruff, brash and irreverent yet he is good at what he does and knows how to do it. I found myself captivated with him and pulling for him emotionally. Unlike the cookie-cutter pretty boy heroes of most Hollywood movies this guy is real and rugged. I wish more movies could have this type of character in the lead.

The bad guy isn’t quite up to the same level. I liked how the film keeps his identity a mystery until near the end, which helps elevate the intrigue. His weird Scottish/Irish sounding accent heard over the phone is strange and I actually thought it was actor Harris doing it and I still think it might have been. The elaborate ploys used by the police to track him down as well as the culprits abilities to outfox them at seemingly every turn is engaging. It’s just a shame that when they finally catch him it wouldn’t have been for such a stupid oversight on his part, which ruins the mystic that is created and feels like a letdown. However, the final conversation that he has with Anthony over the phone is a gem.

British character actor Roy Kinnear is funny in his role as the ship’s social director. His vintage moment comes when he insists on having the scheduled masquerade party continue despite the fact that everyone becomes aware that the ship may explode at any minute. Kinnear’s patented nervous grin is put to great use here and practically steals the picture.

The supporting characters are above average. Normally in this genre these types of people end up being cardboard and clichéd, but here they were surprisingly multi-dimensional. The dialogue as a nice existential quality and the scenes where they discuss their potential and impending doom is never contrived or forced. I got a kick out of the two kids who were amusingly much more grounded and aware of things than the hyper adults.

If you are into compact suspense films that are tightly paced and without the loopholes and clichés then this film, which is loosely based on actual events, promises to be an entertaining two hours.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Lester

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Netflix streaming 

Ice Station Zebra (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: It’s cold up there.

Commander James Ferraday (Rock Hudson) is assigned to head a submarine crew up to the North Pole to rescue stranded members of a weather station called Ice Station Zebra. He is told that there is another reason for the mission, but that is top secret and it will not be disclosed to him until he gets there. In addition to the crew he will be bringing along another man named David Jones (Patrick McGoohan) who is aware of the secret details. When they arrive at the location they find themselves amidst a major international crisis.

The photography is outstanding. This movie marks the first ever continuous filming of a submarine dive and the footage is breathtaking. The scenes showing the submarine trapped beneath the ice is incredible and some of the best stuff in the film. This was also done on an actual sub and the shots showing its interior are interesting. I had no idea how very roomy they can be and found it fascinating to realize how many different compartments there are. My only quibble here is that when Boris Vaslov (Ernest Borgnine) gazes at the nuclear power that propels the sub the viewer only sees the reflection of the orange glow that it gives off. The camera should have been pointed straight down, so the viewer could have witnessed the same thing as Boris.

The scenes taking place at the North Pole are impressive as well, but flawed due to the fact that it was all clearly done on a sound stage.  The snowy artic formations look like they were made from ceramic. The men are shown outside not wearing any hoods and it that bitter climate it would have mean instant frostbite. I didn’t notice it at the time, but other viewers have called to attention that their breath is not showing and in cold weather it always will. Still I was willing to forgive these small oversights because overall the production design is imaginative. The bird’s eye view of the weather station amidst the icy landscape is sprawling and the longshot of parachutes dropping from the sky is exciting.

Hudson would not have been my choice for the lead. He managed to give one really great performance, which was in Giant, but otherwise he is just a good-looking well-built guy with limited acting abilities. He always says his lines with hollow sounding voice and never any emotion. Pairing him with McGoohan, who is a much more creative performer and stronger personality, doesn’t work.

Legendary football player Jim Brown is great as Captain Leslie Anders. He may not be the best actor, but you have to love his badass stare. It has to be the best badass stare of all-time and helps give the proceedings an extra point. However, the character he plays is a bit of letdown especially when he loses in a confrontation to Borgnine, which seemed a little pathetic. Borgnine, who speaks in a Russian accent here, is fun as always.

The plot, based on the novel of the same name by Alistair MacLean, is nicely complex. The viewer is kept in the dark about the secret, which helps with the intrigue. There are some exciting moments, but it is never riveting. The movie is overlong and could have been trimmed substantially, which would have helped with the pacing.  Viewers should still find this enjoyable, but as a whole it is average at best.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 23, 1968

Runtime: 2Hours 28Minutes

Rated G

Director: John Sturges

Studio: MGM

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

Dead Calm (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Psycho on a boat.

Rae and John (Nicole Kidman, Sam Neill) are a young couple who in an attempt to get over the death of their child go on a cruise along the coral reef in their own private yacht. After many days at sea they come upon a boat with only one survivor. The man (Billy Zane) comes aboard their ship and almost immediately begins to behave strangely. Tensions slowly rise until it becomes obvious that this man is a full blown psychotic who has killed everyone on the first boat and plans to do the same to them.

In many ways this is a foundation to a perfect thriller. The two main characters are sensible and intelligent people who just happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Like with every thriller there are a few minor loopholes, but overall the situations are done in a believable fashion with no extreme jumps in logic. The script is tight and the suspense consistent. The action comes naturally through the scenarios and is not forced or played out too long. Having it take place at sea gives it a distinct flavor and the setting limitations makes the story more creative. It also hits on one of the main ingredients of fear which is isolation.

The only minor liability is the Zane character. At certain points he seems very human and a fascinating psychotic who is definitely no machine-like slasher. There are times when he is calm and complacent and his disturbed traits only surface sporadically thus giving him a much more multi-faceted personality. Unfortunately he is also careless and amazingly dumb, which hurts the tension because it seems to be telegraphing his own demise. Either way Zane is convincing in the role.

The Neill character makes a good counterpoint. He is savvy and no-nonsense. He takes action into his own hands and doesn’t fall into the helpless victim mode like in other thrillers. The Kidman character is another refreshing change of pace. She is not the standard ‘screaming lady in a bikini’, but instead shows equal resourcefulness.

The film does resort to the modern day slasher trend of having a ‘double’ ending. Yet everything else is so slickly handled that you can almost forgive it. For thriller fans this should be a real treat.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: April 7, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated R

Director: Phillip Noyce

Studio: Warner Brothers

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