Category Archives: Drama

Cinderella Liberty (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sailor falls for prostitute.

John Baggs (James Caan) is a sailor who checks into a Seattle, Washington naval base medical facility for a check-up and while there has his files lost and is unable to receive pay or new orders until they are found. While the navy tries to find them they give him a ‘Cinderella Liberty’ pass, which allows him to come and go from the base as long as he returns before curfew. During his excursions into the city he meets up with Maggie (Marsha Mason) a prostitute and goes back to her place for sex. It is there that he meets her biracial son Doug (Kirk Calloway). Despite the tremendous odds John finds himself falling-in-love with Maggie while trying earnestly to make a better life for Doug.

This is one of those films I enjoyed quite a bit the first time I saw it, but could not get into it as much the second time around, which is a shame as it does have a lot of good things going for it. Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography and the way he captures the seedier side of the city is one of the film’s chief assets particularly the vivid look at Maggie’s squalor of an apartment that no studio could possible recreate quite as effectively. Trying to mix romance with gritty reality while getting away from the soft focus and idealized view of love, which permeated a lot of romance films of the ‘70s is a noble and interesting effort. I also really enjoyed John Williams’s ragtime sounding score and the bouncy opening tune sung by Paul Williams.

The performances are excellent. For Caan this may be the best performance of his career and the role that most effectively works into his acting style. Mason is equally good and deserved her Oscar nomination alone through the strained facial expressions that she shows during the delivery of her child. The supporting cast is great too and includes Dabney Coleman, who wears a wig, as Caan’s crass, blunt superior and Eli Wallach as an old timer in the naval system who seems genuinely shell shocked at the prospect of having to survive as a civilian.

The film’s main fault is that I just could never buy into the idea of why John would ever want to get into the situation that he does. There might be some cases out there where a prostitute and one of her customers do fall for each other and start a relationship, but I would think they’re few and far between and usually doesn’t last. If anything it couldn’t be as extremely bad of a situation as it is here where the woman is a complete emotional mess living in squalor with a delinquent son and pregnant with another.

Several characters throughout the film keep asking John why he would want to get involved in something like this and his answer of ‘because it makes me feel good’ is not sufficient. A good relationship needs a healthy dose of give-and-take, but here John is doing all the giving. There isn’t much to love with the Maggie character anyways as she is extraordinarily irresponsible as a parent and at one point even abandons her son with not much more than a second thought.

Had the film emphasized John’s bonding with Doug and made this the focal point then I could see him wanting to have some limited involvement with the mother in order to help the kid, but the romance angle in this situation given the circumstances bordered on the insane and prevented me as a viewer from fully getting into it.

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 57Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark Rydell

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Little Fauss and Big Halsy (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their friendship doesn’t last.

Little Fauss (Michael J. Pollard) is a motorbike racer who is shy, has few friends and still lives at home with his parents (Noah Beery Jr., Lucille Benson). Halsy (Robert Redford) is a brash womanizer whose been kicked out of the racing league for drinking on the track. He befriends the timid Little and conspires with him to race in his place while splitting the winning proceeds 50/50. Little’s parents do not approve of Halsy and feel that he will be a bad influence, but Little sees this as an opportunity to break away from his parent’s while befriending someone whose lifestyle he idolizes. Things start out poorly and only get worse particularly when the they meet up with the free-spirited Rita (Lauren Hutton) who chooses Halsy over Little despite the fact that Little has a crush on her.

The film has a nice gritty feel to it and the harsh desert landscape helps accentuate the hardened, rough living characters. The racing footage is also well done and just like with Downhill Racer, which was a film about skiing that Redford did just before this one, the viewer feels like they are in the middle of the action driving the motorbike along with the characters with wipeouts and crashes are real and at certain spots genuinely violent. I also enjoyed Benson and Beery’s performances and wished they had been in the film more as well as the opening tune sung by Johnny Cash although it became distracting when it gets played later on and should’ve been contained over the credits only.

Redford gives a stellar performance playing a character unlike any he has ever done and he does it convincingly to the point that the actor’s son in real-life considers this to be his father’s best onscreen achievement. Pollard though is solid too in a part that he seemed almost born to play. The two, who apparently didn’t get along well behind-the-scenes, play off each other in interesting ways and the movie only works when the two share the screen and is draggy when they don’t.

The story has its share of decent dramatic moments but it is also quite predictable. Redford’s character is completely unlikable and I would’ve liked one moment where he did or said something nice, or at least given us more of a background for why he turned out at being the way he was. The way Little outgrows the friendship and eventually becomes more confident and self-reliant is rather formulaic and like with most everything else in the film one can see coming long before it happens, which eventually makes the viewing experience of this thing feel almost like a nonevent.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 21, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney J. Furie

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gay couple manage laundromat.

Genghis (Richard Graham) is a young Pakistani immigrant living in London and feeling frustrated by being trapped in his humble surroundings while living with his father (Roshan Seth) who due to his left leaning politics and alcoholism is unable to bring in any meaningful income. His Uncle Nasser (Saeed Jaffrey) is doing quite well even though some of his methods are unscrupulous. Nasser gets Genghis a job at his car washing facility, but Genghis has loftier goals. He wants to take over the rundown laundromat that Nasser owns and turn it into a thriving business with the help of his gay lover Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis). Nasser agrees and is surprised to see what a success it becomes, but is unaware that Genghis and Johnny are funding it with the help of illegal drug money and Salim (Derrick Blanche) is onto their scheme and wants a part of the take.

The film’s screenplay was written by Hanif Kureishi who liked the title character came to Britain from Pakistan and has become a much celebrated playwright despite starting his career writing pornographic novels. The story brings out many complex issues that could prove fascinating to those unfamiliar with the political landscape of Great Britain during the Margaret Thatcher era. The problems and racism that those from Pakistan had to face in the U.K. are vividly brought to the forefront, but what is even more interesting is the pressures and loyalties that they were expected to follow amongst their own culture and families and how these could end up being just as conflicting and confining as those placed on them by the outside world.

I enjoyed many of the scenarios that the film brings out, but was frustrated that the story offers no conclusion to any of them. I was interested in seeing how Nasser would react to Genghis and Johnny’s relationship, but we never get to find out even though the film teases us with a scene where he begins to suspect it. There is also no conclusion as to what ultimately happens to their laundromat business, or whether they were successfully able to expand it, which again gets touched upon. We aren’t even able to find out if Salim was able to survive a vicious beating by some street punks or whether these same punks were ever brought to justice. Why bother bringing up all these story threads if they are just going to be left open and why should the viewer be sucked into the quandaries of these characters if it is all just leads to one big ambiguous ending?

Daniel Day-Lewis shot to stardom with his role here, but I didn’t really feel he had the body type to be considered a ‘tough guy’ or even a bouncer type. Sure he’s tall, but still pretty skinny and not exactly muscular. I also thought the trendy pseudo-hip getups and hairstyles that he and his gang have look tacky and I first saw this film back when it was released and I felt the same way about the outfits then that I do now.

The direction by an up-and-coming Stephen Frears is okay, but his use of a soundtrack that resembles the noise of a washing machine takes away from the gritty drama element that this story supposedly wants to be as does the onscreen opening and closing titles that spin around like clothes in a dryer.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 18, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Stephen Frears

Studio: Working Title Films

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Video

Twice in a Lifetime (1985)

twice-in-a-lifetime

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He has an affair.

Harry MacKenzie (Gene Hackman) is a steel mill worker living in Seattle who has just turned 50. On the night of his birthday Kate (Ellen Burstyn), his wife of 30 years, tells him that he can go by himself to the local tavern to celebrate as she is not into the drinking. When he does he meets Audrey (Ann-Margret) who has just started working there. The two immediately hit-it-off and soon are in a relationship. When Harry finally tells his wife and family about it they are devastated, but learn to cope with it in unexpected ways.

The way Harry and Audrey’s relationship begins is too rushed as he simply spots her in a crowd and then quickly becomes entranced. If eyeing an attractive woman is all that it took then he should’ve been having a string of affairs way before this one. Making Audrey more of the instigator while Harry remained hesitant only to later realize how stale his marriage had gotten once the relationship started would’ve worked better. There is also no indication at the beginning that there was anything wrong with his marriage or that he was even bored with it.

It should’ve opened with Harry simply coming home one day and admitting to the affair and then focusing on everyone’s reactions, which would’ve been less contrived. I was also annoyed that two key scenes including when Kate first gets informed of the affair by a friend as well as Kate’s later confrontation with Harry are not shown. The film just cuts away before either of these conversations gets going, which to me was frustrating.

The second half is an improvement. I liked how the film sends the message that divorce isn’t always bad, but instead can act like a rebirth for both parties. I also enjoyed the on-location scenery of the Pacific Northwest and seeing Harry and Audrey sitting amongst a crowd at an actual Seattle Seahawks football game.

It was also great having Hackman playing a character that lacked confidence and at times was even socially awkward, but it’s Burstyn’s performance that really makes it special. Watching her shy character coming out-of- her-shell and learning to become independent is the film’s highlight. Unfortunately Amy Madigan as the eldest daughter is a turn-off as her angry outbursts come off as forced and overdone while the much quieter Ally Sheedy as the other daughter is far better.

Surprisingly no studio would agree to finance the picture even though the script was written by Colin Welland who had just won the Academy Award four years earlier for the film Chariots of Fire, so director Bud Yorkin was forced to put up his own money by using the earnings he had made through producing ‘All in the Family’, which helps explain why a clip from that show gets seen briefly. It could also be the reason why the production at times has a cheap look to it and like it had originally been shot of video and then later transferred to film. Paul McCartney, whom I’m a big fan of, does the closing tune, which unfortunately has to be the worst of his career.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 8, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bud Yorkin

Studio: Bud Yorkin Productions

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

All the President’s Men (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: They take down Nixon.

In the early morning hours of June 17, 1972 five men are found burglarizing the Democratic Headquarters at the Watergate Office complex in Washington D.C. The next day a young Washington Post reporter by the name of Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) is assigned to cover the case. Initially it was considered only a minor story, but as he digs further into the details he finds wider connections including links that lead directly to the White House. Together with Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman),who is another reporter, the two men continue to research and end up battling one roadblock after another in their quest the uncover the truth.

If there is one area where this film really scores in it’s in the way that a journalist’s job gets portrayed. In fact many colleges show this film to their student who are majoring in the field in order to given them a realistic perspective of what the profession actually involves. For me I found it quite enlightening particularly the first hour. The many people and steps that a reporter has to go through just to get one solid lead is interesting as is the protocol system determining which story gets the front page and which don’t.

The layout of the newsroom was also fascinating as it all seemed very authentic and like they were working in an actual one. To my absolute shock I found out later that it had all been constructed on a film set, but so meticulously done that you couldn’t tell the difference. Initially several scenes were filmed in the real office using actual employees in the background, but the knowledge of being on camera made some behave in ways that they normally wouldn’t and this ultimately forced the filmmakers to decide to recreate it on a soundstage and use actors as the office crew.

The performances by the two leads are good, but neither of them resembles their real-life counterparts. Both Redford and Hoffman were already pushing 40 at the time and looking it while Woodward and Bernstein were still in their 20’s when this story occurred so the line that the Jack Warden’s character makes about these two being ‘young and hungry’ and looking for a good story to build their careers on doesn’t make as much sense.

The characters aren’t well fleshed out either. No time is spent on what these guys were like when not ardently following up leads, which is absolutely all we see them doing.  The original screenplay, which was written by Woodward and Bernstein, had a subplot involving the two trying to score with women, which would’ve helped add a comical touch and parts of that should’ve been kept in.

The second half lags as there are too many leads and names that get bantered about that don’t have faces connected to them making it seem like information overload that doesn’t help the viewer get as emotionally involved as they should. Having cutaways showing Nixon and/or is aides becoming increasingly more paranoid as the reporters closed in on them could’ve added that much needed extra dimension.

There is a stunning bird’s-eye shot of the inside of the Library of Congress, which is amazing and the fact that many of the scenes get filmed at the actual sites where the real-life instances occurred is both impressive and commendable. I also enjoyed the wide-array of recognizable faces that show up in bit parts including Valerie Curtain as a frightened source and Polly Holliday as an evasive secretary. They even cast Frank Wills the real-life security guard who broke the case wide open playing himself in the film’s opening scene, which is cool even though for me the film’s second half fails to be as entertaining as the first, which prevents it from being a classic.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 4, 1976

Runtime: 2Hours 19Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Alan J. Pakula

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Scarface (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Refugee becomes drug lord.

Tony Montana (Al Pacino) is a Cuban refugee arriving in Miami hoping to make it big in the land of opportunity. At first he is forced to do low paying jobs, but finally gets his break when he is hired to do a job for a rich drug dealer named Frank Garcia (Robert Loggia). Soon Tony becomes infatuated with Frank’s girlfriend Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer) and the two begin a torrid affair. When Frank tries to assassinate Tony by ordering a hit on him at a nightclub Tony gets his revenge by killing Frank and becoming the top drug lord, which makes him quite wealthy, but the strain of constantly having to watch his back for whoever may be out to get him eventually wears on his personality.

This is a remake of the 1932 Howard Hawk’s classic that came about when Pacino watched the original film in a theater and felt compelled to make a modern day update with the drugs being the source of the criminal activity instead of alcohol. The result is only so-so, but it gets helped immensely by an incredible set design. Tony’s all-black office and a luxurious hot tub placed in the middle of his already kitschy living room are eye-popping as are the chic and lively interiors of the nightclubs, posh restaurants and exotic resorts. The graphic shootouts are equally arresting and keenly shot and edited for ultimate excitement.

Director Brian De Palma again digs into his bag of borrowed Hitchcock shots in order to tell his story, but here it works pretty well. My favorite one is when he uses the camera to track outside of a room where the action is occurring and onto a quiet street below. Hitchcock did the same thing in Frenzy where the bad guy strangles a woman inside her apartment, but instead of showing the violent act the camera moves out of the apartment and onto a busy street outside. Here the camera takes an equally fascinating journey from a man getting chopped up by a chainsaw to an idyllic afternoon day just a few feet away.

The supporting cast is strong particularly Pfeiffer as Tony’s bitchy girlfriend whose ongoing acerbic responses act as a good barometer to Tony’s ever changing social standing. I also enjoyed the transformation of Loggia’s character from intimidating kingpin to wilting coward. Harris Yulin is also memorable as a corrupt cop who ends up playing things a little too cool for his own good.

The thing I hated about the movie was Pacino’s over-the-top performance. Normally I’ve found him to be a great actor, but here the character comes off as too cartoonish and one-dimensional. He possesses no interesting character arch and is creepy and unlikable from the beginning and proceeds to only get worse as it goes along, which makes following his rise and fall quite boring and predictable.

The runtime is too long and encompasses a lot of lulls in between the action bits in a story that seems to telegraph where it’s going right from the start. The Cubans are also portrayed in a negative and stereotypical way with only a slight attempt to balance it. Had it not been for the excellent production values this thing would’ve been a real bore.

I was also confused as to why Charles Durning’s voice gets dubbed in during a scene involving Tony’s conversation with an immigration officer. If De Palma was unhappy with the original actor’s performance as the immigration officer then he should have re-filmed it with Durning present instead of just using his voice because his style of speaking is quite distinctive and I was thrown out of the scene completely due to wondering why I was hearing Durning’s voice, but not seeing him.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 9, 1983

Runtime: 2Hours 50Minutes

Rated R

Director: Brian De Palma

Studio: Universal

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

The China Syndrome (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: He senses the vibration.

Kimberly Wells (Jane Fonda) is a television news reporter who along with Richard (Michael Douglas) her cameraman gets a chance to go inside a nuclear power plant and film its operations. While inside they witness the plant going through an emergency shutdown when the coolant to one of the nuclear reactors becomes dangerously low. Richard secretly films the nervous reactions of the men in the control room during the incident and wants to broadcast the footage on the news, but the station managers refuse for fear they might get sued. Later Kimberly comes into contact with Jack (Jack Lemmon) who is a shift supervisor at the plant and he informs her that the welds on the pumps are compromised and could lead to a core meltdown at some point. Richard, Kimberly and Jack then conspire to somehow get this information out to the public before it is too late while also avoiding those who wish to silence them.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this film is the way it remains completely realistic throughout and never once compromises anything simply for the sake of cheap drama. The behind-the-scenes politics of an on air news show is quite fascinating particularly how it is decided what constitutes ‘news’ and what doesn’t as well as the staff’s pecking-order and how an individual reporter has limited say on what topics they can actually report on.

The inside of the power plant is impressive particularly the scene where Jack goes inside the massive pump room to investigate a leak. The control room looks quite authentic and the film’s final twenty-five minutes take place solely inside of it, which makes for a gripping climax.

The film also has the distinction of having no musical soundtrack. Other than a song by Stephan Bishop which is played at the beginning there is no other music to be heard and quite frankly I didn’t miss it at all. The sound of the power plant’s emergency alarm going off is all that is needed to create tension and having the closing credits scroll to a deadening silence leaves a powerful impact. Apparently a score was composed by Michael Small, but it was rejected and rightly so as I listened to some of it and it had way too much of a disco sound and didn’t fit the theme at all.

The stars are excellent, but I was surprised how Fonda’s part gets increasingly pared down as the movie progresses. Douglas steals it away from her during an angry confrontation with his superiors, but ultimately Lemmon is the real star even though it deceptively doesn’t start out that way. The supporting cast is equally good including Wilford Brimley as a loyal, but quiet employee, Scott Brady as the cantankerous plant manager and Richard Herd as the steely and conniving owner.

As for the merits of the film’s message it’s hard to say. What was once a hot/trendy topic during the ‘70s and ‘80s now seems long forgotten. However, the script still brings up many good points no matter what one’s political leanings are and it’s great to watch a film that can be intelligent and entertaining at the same time without ever going overboard on either end.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 16, 1979

Runtime: 2Hours 2Minutes

Rated PG

Director: James Bridges

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region 0), Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

The Walking Stick (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Polio victim becomes pawn.

Deborah (Samantha Eggar) is a shy, lonely woman who suffered from polio as a young girl and now must rely on the use of a cane to get around. She still lives with her parents while suffering from claustrophobic tendencies due to being locked inside an iron lung as a child. She meets Leigh (David Hemmings) a struggling artist at a party and he asks her out. Initially she resists his advances, but eventually gives in. The two form a tight bound and even move in together, but her fairytale romance is short-lived once she realizes that she’s been pegged as a pawn and simply used by his gang for her inside knowledge of the auction house where she works to pull off a daring robbery.

The film, which is based on the novel by Winston Graham, is quite leisurely paced. To a degree I didn’t find this to be a problem as it still managed to hold my interest, but too much time is spent on the romance making it seem more like a drama.

The robbery and its planning doesn’t come into play until well over an hour in and seems like a whole different movie altogether. Certain hints should’ve been brought in from the beginning to make it clear to the viewer that despite all the romance this was still meant to be a thriller, which is just not obvious at all. The crime scenes do at least provide some action and quick edits, which normally would’ve made it exciting, but because it takes so long to get there it comes off as off-putting instead. The intended tension doesn’t work because we are less concerned if Leigh and his gang are going to get away with it and more upset at seeing Deborah being taken advantage of.

Eggar gives an outstanding performance and seeing this normally effervescent woman wearing a perpetual frown seemed almost startling, but she conveys her characters inner unhappiness quite well and mostly through her facial expressions alone. However, her character is also quite cold and acerbic. To a degree this is understandable as it’s clearly just a defense, but the viewer never sees enough of her softer side and therefore doesn’t emotional bond with her as they should.

Hemming’s more outgoing personality creates a nice contrast to Eggar’s introverted one, but his character is pretty benign. Dudley Sutton who plays his cohort would’ve made a better boyfriend as he is good at showing a dark side and would’ve kept the viewer more on edge.

The ending doesn’t provide any type of clear wrap-up and leaves a lot of loose ends hanging, which is a pity. The production values are decent and I liked the flashback scenes showing Debora being put into an iron lung, which is the film’s best cinematic moments, but the pace needed to be tighter with more emphasis placed on the story’s twists and turns.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 15, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Eric Till

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video

Going Home (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father and son reunite.

One night during a drunken rage Harry Graham (Robert Mitchum) kills his wife (Sally Kirkland), which gets witnessed by their 7-year-old son Jimmy (Jan-Michael Vincent). 13 years later Harry is paroled and Jimmy uses this opportunity to try and reconcile with his father and find out why he did it, but Harry has moved on. He has a new job and a girlfriend named Jenny (Brenda Vaccaro) and when Jimmy appears it creates an awkward tension that gets progressively worse.

One of the biggest problems with this film is that the characters and their motivations are not fleshed out enough and their actions make little sense. I’ve watched a lot of true-life crime shows and have found that in cases where this situation has occurred in real-life that the adult child will usually cease communication with their father and completely disown them, so it seemed strange why Jimmy would want to restart their relationship. If he was curious to know why Harry did it then he could’ve simply writing him a letter with that question, which he never bothered to do while the man was incarcerated.

The film also fails to show what happened to Jimmy during the time Harry was in prison. He is shown arriving at an orphanage, but nothing about what does when he gets there or being put into a foster home and getting adoptive parents, or moving in with relatives, which is what usually occurs. He somehow has no friends or job and if this is because of his childhood trauma then it should get explained or more strongly implied, but it isn’t and it leaves a big void in the story.

Harry’s actions are equally confusing. The murder gets played out at the beginning and we see the stabbed mother crawl down the stairs and beg Jimmy for help and then Harry comes down and looks at the dead body before turning towards the boy with a guilty expression, but if  he feels so bad about what he has just done and the traumatic impact he’s put his son through then he should’ve thought of that beforehand. I would’ve expected to see a completely different set of emotions in the man’s eyes like anger, rage, insanity or even fear because now he knows he’ll will be going to prison, but guilt wouldn’t play into it, at least not that quickly if ever.

Mitchum’s character is straddled with conveying only one emotion throughout, which is guilt. We never tap into the other side of the man that propelled him to commit such a heinous act and his explanation, which is that he ‘just got drunk’ is insufficient. The character also pops up too conveniently at times. One moment is when Jimmy goes back to their former home, which has now been turned into a whorehouse and he hides in the basement. Harry comes looking for him and despite the fact that there are many people there and it’s a large place he immediately goes to the cellar, but how would he have known to look there? Another segment has him magically coming to Jimmy’s rescue when his son is accosted by a group of sailors underneath a boardwalk even though he was bowling in another building and would have no way of knowing what was occurring outside.

The film has solid production values and director Herbert B. Leonard shows flair with the location shooting, which was done in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. There is also a good scene inside a chicken coop  and actor Josh Mostel (Zero’s son) has an interesting film debut playing Harry’s young, flippant parole officer who delights in demeaning his client as much as possible, but the story leaves open too many unanswered questions and isn’t impactful or relevant.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 1, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Herbert B. Leonard

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive)

Persona (1966)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two women become one.

Elisabet (Liv Ullmann) is a famous stage actress who one day decides to quit speaking. Alma (Bibi Andersson) is a nurse at a mental hospital in charge of trying to get Elisabet to talk again, but her efforts prove futile, so the hospital administrator (Margaretha Krook) offers the two her island cottage hoping the quiet, secluded locale will prove more beneficial. As the days wear on Alma begins seeing Elisabet less as a patient and more like a therapist and divulges secrets about her life to her, which causes Alma to feel quite close to Elisabet and treat her almost like a confidant. Then she reads a letter that Elisabet has written where she describes Alma in a condescending way, which creates tension between the two that eventually spills over into a long ongoing confrontation.

This film was considered for many years to be one of the most bizarre and shocking movies ever made and this is mainly due to the strange and eclectic mix of images that gets shown at the beginning. Visions of a lamb being slaughtered, a nail getting pounded into a hand and a close-up of an erect penis flash before the screen while later there is even stock footage of a man setting himself on fire and moments where the film itself gets a hole burned through it.

For me the more subtle moments is what I enjoyed with my favorite scene being the one that occurs in the early morning hours when Elisabet quietly walks into Alma’s room as she sleeps while we hear the distant sound of a boat horn blowing in the background. The shot where the left side of Elisabet’s face gets superimposed next to the right side of Alma’s is also quite amazing.

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There have been many interpretations through the years over what this film’s ultimate message is. For me it shows how we are more alike than different and how what bonds two people to each may not always be readily apparent and might be something that comes out much later after initially seeming like they are two opposites. I also think it is a great examination at how fragile and interchangeable societal roles can be where someone can seem like the stronger one at one point only to later be shown as the weaker. Alma’s emotional meltdown is the most striking especially after seeming so confident and stable at first while Elisabet’s silence is initially perceived as a rejection to the ugly world around her, but later gets exposed as being more of a rejection of herself and the selfish nature that she harbors.

Andersson, who ironically and sadly can no longer speak in real-life after suffering a debilitating stroke in 2009, gives an excellent performance and I enjoyed how her character exudes ugly emotions like jealousy, envy and even anger and yet still manages to remain likable and relatable. Ullmann has the challenge of keeping her character interesting despite saying very little, but with her ever expressive eyes she does.

The scenic locale of the Faro island where this was filmed is nice, but a patient and doctor sharing someone else’s seaside resort and treating it more like a retreat than a therapy session seemed dubious and almost enough to make anyone fake mental illness if it could get them time off to go there. There is also no explanation to Alma’s fiancée and his feelings about her staying with Elisabet and not him. The sudden arrival of Elisabet’s husband is equally confusing. I liked the scene due to the symbolism that it brings out, but I didn’t understand how he was able to find them at such a remote location especially since he appeared to be blind. The segment seems almost like a dream, which is how I had initially interpreted it when I first saw this film year’s earlier, but it’s never made clear.

On the whole though these issues prove minor and in many ways help make the film even more interesting. My only real complaint is when Alma speaks to Elisabet in regards to her child and the camera stays glued onto Elisabet’s face, which captures her increasingly pained expressions, which is great, but then the scene gets played over while showing Alma’s face as she says the exact same things again, which was too repetitious in a film that is otherwise quite brilliant and a landmark in many ways.

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My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: October 18, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Instant Video