Category Archives: Drama

Making Love (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Her husband is gay.

Claire (Kate Jackson) thinks she has the perfect marriage yet her husband Zach (Michael Ontkean) harbors dormant feelings for other men and one day he decides to act upon them when he meets Bart (Harry Hamlin). Bart is more into one night flings, which heightens Zach’s inner turmoil as he’s not sure if he should stay with Claire, or live life the way he wants.

This film was considered groundbreaking for its time and even controversial, but it has not stood the test of time well and comes off as quite benign by today’s standards. Part of the problem is with Zach who has supposedly harbored these dormant feelings for a long time, but it is not clear why he suddenly decides to act upon them. The shift between happy married couple to an unhappy one seems to occur overnight and is jarring.

He asks Bart out for lunch when he has only known him for a few minutes, but if he’s quarreling with desires that he has never acted upon then I would think he’d be more hesitant and only move forward with Bart after having known him longer. He also denies to Bart that he’s gay and then a half-minute later is kissing him on the lips. Then quickly after that he’s hopping into bed with him, but I would presume someone who has never had sex with another man before would react more awkwardly and self-consciously their first time.

Hamlin’s character is far more interesting simply because he’s edgier than Zach who is too annoyingly goody-goody. I also enjoyed that he watches movies on a laser disc machine, which you rarely see anymore, but he like all the other gay men in the film has too much of a pretty-boy face and the film should’ve balanced itself by showing that balding, overweight, middle-aged men can be gay too.

The segments where the characters talk directly to the screen is unnecessary and amounts to incessant babbling as they describe things that the viewer could easily pick-up on visually. Wendy Hiller’s old lady character adds nothing and the scene where Zach goes home to visit his folks (Arthur Hill, Nancy Olson) is equally pointless and should’ve also been excised as the film’s runtime is too long to begin with.

Gay viewers may take to this better and the film’s intent may have been noble, but that doesn’t forgive its poor execution as the whole thing comes off like a shallow soap opera with cardboard characters manufactured to fit into an already preconceived concept. In fact the movie’s only good moment comes during a throwaway bit involving Erica Hiller, who was the daughter of the film’s director Arthur Hiller, playing an overly deluded, but woefully under talented singer who is convinced that she will be a smash with the audience during an amateur contest only to be booed off stage the moment she starts singing, which acts as an interesting precursor to a bad audition from ‘American Idol’.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: February 12, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 51 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

Saturday Night Fever (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s a disco star.

This film is based on a 1976 story that was published in New York Magazine entitled “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” by Nik Cohn, which for many years was considered a factual account of the disco trends of the young people at the time who frequented the disco 2001 Odyssey nightclub, but it later turned out, through the confession of its author, to have been totally fabricated. The story here centers on Tony (John Travolta) who still lives with his parents while working for low wages at a Brooklyn paint store, but longing for a more exciting existence. Despite being a ‘nobody’ during the week on Saturday nights he’s a star as he takes to the disco floor and has all the women flocking to him. Annette (Donna Pescow) is one of those women, but Tony finds her too unattractive and instead has eyes for Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney) who he wants as his dance partner in order to win a contest.

From the ads and promotions you’d think this was nothing more than a lightweight teeny bopper romance looking to take advantage of the current disco trend, but the film is much more than that. In fact the dance sequences are boring and thankfully director John Badham keeps these segments contained although I would’ve cut back on them even more. The real essence of the film is Tony’s relationship with his friends, family and world as a whole. The film works as a terrific composite of what life in Brooklyn during the ‘70s amongst the teens and young adults was really like as they try to forge their way into young adulthood while fighting to find their place in it.

Travolta gives an outstanding performance mainly because he’s one of those actors who isn’t afraid to expose the vulnerabilities of the characters that he plays as Tony isn’t a completely likable person and many times acts quite arrogant and callous, which leaves the viewer feeling like they’ve seen an unfiltered portrait of a real person with all the edges showing instead of just a manufactured image.

Pescow is great in support. The image of her holding out a hand full of condoms is the one thing I’ve remembered vividly from the movie from when I first saw it over twenty years ago and the scene of where she is assaulted in the back seat of a car by Tony’s friends is genuinely heart breaking.

My only quibble with her is the moment where Tony informs her that he is choosing a different dance partner for the contest and she immediately breaks down crying. My belief is that most people because of personal pride will not wear their emotional vulnerabilities that openly especially if they are downtrodden like her character. Instead I think she would’ve responded to the news in a sort of aloof/defiant way like saying ‘fine if you don’t want me then I don’t want you’ before walking away and then crying about it later in private.

Gorney’s performance was the one that I really didn’t like as her put-on Brooklyn accent is too affected. With Pescow you could tell it was the genuine thing as she was from the region originally, but Gorney was born in Beverly Hills and attended college in Pittsburgh, so her attempts at putting on an accent was not needed or warranted and made her character seem too much at Tony’s working class level when I thought the idea was to show that she wasn’t.

As for her relationship with Tony I liked the concept that these two were genuine opposites, but I wished the movie had played this up more. She’s initially cold towards Tony and rejects his advances and then a few days later without him having done anything differently she’s suddenly warmed up to him. I would’ve liked some situation created where she was forced to hook-up with Tony as a dance partner because her original partner took ill or something and then had the frostiness between them continue and melt away only when they are on the dance floor.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is a bit limp. The fact that the two don’t end up getting into a long term romantic relationship, but instead agree to be ‘just friends’ is good as too many movies with this type of formula always seem to want to strive for the ideal love scenario, but in most real-world cases that just isn’t practical and these two had too much that was not in common and getting past those things would’ve proved futile.

However, the dance contest is a letdown as the film introduces a Puerto Rican couple who dance better than Tony and Stephanie, but Tony is still awarded the trophy supposedly because of racism, but why throw in this plot point so late? We’ve been following the trials and tribulations of Tony and Stephanie the entire way through not the Puerto Rican couple who we know nothing about. If the movie wanted to make a statement about racism at the club it should’ve been brought out much earlier and not at the very last minute when it becomes essentially pointless.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall though it’s a great movie that deserves its classic status as the characters and dialogue are richly textured and the film makes its message through subtle visual means without having to telegraph it. However, the PG-rated version, which was released two years later in an attempt to reel in the teen audience, sanitizes the story to the point that it takes out the heart of the film and should be avoided.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes (R-rated version) 1 Hour 52 Minutes (PG-rated version) 2 Hours 2 Minutes (Director’s cut)

Director: John Badham

Studio: Paramount

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

A Small Circle of Friends (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Three friends sleep together.

Leonardo (Brad Davis), Jessica (Karen Allen), and Nick (Jameson Parker) are students attending Harvard University during the late ‘60s. As they become intertwined with the events of that turbulent era they also form a strong bond that lasts through their school years and on into young adulthood. Leonardo has a relationship with Jessica at first, but it doesn’t work out, so Nick steals her away. Initially Leonardo is angered, but he eventually adjusts and the three later form a ménage a trois.

This was the first film directed by noted producer Rob Cohen and overall I liked the feel. The narrative is fragmented and dreamlike, but it also has a nice nostalgic quality. The script is broadly written, but still gives one a good sense of what life was like on a college campus during that period. The final scene where Leonardo visits an underground student revolution movement where they resort to violent, unlawful means to achieve social change I found to be the most compelling.

Davis gives another great performance and I’m always amazed at the way he can play an effective gay character such as he did in the homoerotic Querelle, but still manage to pull off being a flaming heterosexual too. Allen says little, but her piercing emerald eyes had me hooked on her regardless. Parker is stiff and boring, but still successfully works as an anchor to the other two who are aggressively idealistic.

It’s also fun to see Shelley Long in her film debut. Her character has little to do with the main plot, but watching her portray a man during a stage production while wearing a mustache and male body hair glued to her chest is a hoot.

Usually with these types of films the viewer gets treated to a plethora of overplayed period rock hits, but not here. Instead it’s a loud, booming orchestral score that gets both obnoxious and pretentious as it makes it seem like this is an epic of some kind when in reality it’s just a simple story of young people learning to cope in the real world and the music should’ve reflected that with a quiet folk rock sound.

The film also doesn’t take advantage of the unorthodox sexual activity of its main characters. Three friends, even in these more liberal times, rarely end up becoming a sexual trio. Having this story element introduced late and then quickly dropped is frustrating and should’ve been more explored as it is the one unique thing in an otherwise derivative film that is good enough to get a passing grade, but not much else.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 12, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Rob Cohen

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD

Four Friends (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Living through the ‘60s.

Four male friends from Indiana go from high school to college and then on into young adulthood while remaining close and supportive. All of them have a passion for Georgia (Jodi Thelen) a very independent woman who enjoys playing-the-field when it comes to men and at various points has jumped into relationships with the four of them individually and at different times. Yet it is Danilo (Craig Wasson) who seems to be the most infatuated with her and he spends his life chasing after her, but finds that when they are together all they do is fight.

The story is apparently very loosely based on the experiences of screenwriter Steve Tesich who immigrated to this country from Yugoslavia at a very young age. The film starts out realistically enough, but quickly devolves into a whimsical tale that introduces interesting plotlines only to resolve them in cutesy ways that ends up making this sprawling tale quite shallow.

One of the biggest detriments is the casting of Craig Wasson who is a horrible actor as he can convey only one type of emotion, which is that of anxiousness and only one type of facial expression, which is that of nervousness. If he dares to try to expand his limited acting abilities away from these two things it comes off as unconvincing. Hs character like all the rest have no appeal as they never grow or evolve and seem put in simply as props to help carry the transparent tale.

I did like Thelen who plays the part of a spacey, free-spirited woman quite well, but even here it ends up getting clichéd. The other male characters have no distinguishable qualities and she sleeps around with them like they are toys on her own personal roulette wheel. Wasson’s character was her exact opposite and the two share no real chemistry making their eventual romance come off as being quite forced.

The film also contains some campy over-the-top dramatic elements that are unintentionally laughable and ridiculous. One takes place during a wedding party where while in front of hundreds of guests the bride’s father goes inexplicably crazy and shoots his daughter, then groom and eventually himself. Later on during a performance art show one of Thelen’s friends, in an apparent drugged stupor, accidently puts her foot on the accelerator while sitting in a car that’s parked inside a building, which sends it crashing through the wall and spiraling several stories to the ground.

The one aspect that I did like is that it didn’t resort to the Forrest Gump formula where the main characters get involved directly into all the famous historical events of the era, but instead view them from afar, which is more realistic. However, the film doesn’t show enough ‘60s nostalgia and half the time you forget the setting is even in that time period.

I admire the ambitious concept, but it takes on too much and would’ve been better had the script been more focused and less sprawling. Nothing here is compelling or memorable and the viewer is left with a genuinely flat feeling when it is over.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 11, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Arthur Penn

Studio: Filmways Pictures

Available: DVD

Halls of Anger (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: High school student integration.

Quincy Davis (Calvin Lockhart) is a respected educator who’s asked to transfer to a predominantly black school where it will be his duty to welcome in white students into the mix. Things do not go smoothly and Davis finds himself at the center of many heated confrontations as the black students resent the new white kids and try to make life miserable for them hoping that they will eventually give up and leave.

The film starts out interestingly enough and I found myself caught up in the plight of these students, both black and white, and wondering how they were eventually going to learn to get along. So many films from that period dealt with the opposite angle by examining the difficulties of black kids integrating into a white school making this reverse perspective a refreshing change of pace by showing how racism and hate can come from both ends.

Unfortunately not a lot happens. The film’s poster conveys the idea of rioting in the halls and physical altercations, but those things prove to be quite mild. There is one brief segment where a group of black girls gang up on a white woman (Patricia Stich) inside a locker room and strip off her clothes in an effort to see if she is ‘blonde all over’, but that is about it.

In fact the only interesting aspect to the film was the behind-the-scenes discord and how the filmmakers didn’t really practice what they preached onscreen. According to an August 1970 Life magazine article the black extras where paid only $13.20 a day while the whites got $29.15. The dressing rooms were segregated and director Paul Bogart proved indifferent towards the black performer’s concerns by refusing to hear out any of their complaints with regards to the script.

The only point to watching the movie is to see young stars-to-be in some early roles. I especially got a kick out of Rob Reiner with a full head of hair and no mustache and seeing Ed Asner as a Phy Ed. teacher who tries very ineffectually to break up a fight. Jeff Bridges is also on tap as one of the white students and he should’ve been made the star as his performance is quite effective and it would’ve been a stronger film had he been given the most screen time.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 29, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 36 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Paul Bogart

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R (MGM Limited Edition Collection), Amazon Video

That Championship Season (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their reunion turns sour.

On the 25th anniversary of when they won the state high school basketball championship four members of the team get together with their coach (Robert Mitchum) to celebrate. George (Bruce Dern) who made the winning shot is now the town’s mayor and up for reelection. James (Stacy Keach) is a high school principal while his younger brother Tom (Martin Sheen) has become a vagabond alcoholic. Phil (Paul Sorvino) is the most successful of the group even though his business methods aren’t always ethical. It’s his revelation that he has had an affair with George’s wife that sends the gathering into a freefall where long dormant secrets from all the members slowly come to the surface.

The film was written and directed by Jason Miller, best known for playing Father Karras in The Exorcist, and the play version, which he also wrote won him the Pulitzer Prize. Despite the rave reviews of the play I was genuinely shocked how lifeless and boring the film is. It takes 35 minutes before any real conflict is introduced and once it does it’s all very contrived. The opening half-hour is nice as it was filmed on-location in Scranton, Pennsylvania, which was Miller’s hometown, but the second half is done completely inside one home, which makes it very stagey. Flashback sequences were done to help make it more cinematic, but unwisely cut by the film’s producer.

The plot thread dealing with Sorvino’s character having an affair with Dern’s wife seemed so utterly contrived that I literally had to roll my eyes when it gets brought up. It’s almost like they had to throw in something to keep it interesting so why not just make it the oldest, most clichéd soap opera-like thing they could think of. What’s worse is we never see this woman in question despite her being the catalyst for all the drama nor any explanation of where she is or what she is doing.

The acting is good for the most part, which is the only reason I’m giving this thing even 2 points, but at times the performers have trouble rising above the melodramatic material including the scene where Keach tries to put on a cry while describing his mistreatment by his father, which sounds very fake and unintentionally laughable.

Sorvino walks around with jet black hair except for a big white patch on the back of his head, which is distracting and gets shown a lot, but never mentioned by any of the other characters. I’ve never seen anyone with that condition, except for someone who intentionally highlighted it like that and even so I don’t think that was the case here. The producers should’ve had that spot dyed black like the rest of his hair to avoid the distraction, or had one of the other characters joke about it in passing, so the viewer didn’t have to keep wondering why they are the only ones seeing it and nobody else was.

The final scene where the men listen to a tape of when their team scored the winning shot, which brings tears to their eyes, is the only segment that rings true and hits home how high school for some people can be the highlights of their whole lives and everything afterwards is all downhill. The rest of the movie though is an exercise in boredom and filled with sterile characters dealing with generic issues.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 9, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 50 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jason Miller

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: DVD

Bright Lights, Big City (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s hooked on cocaine.

Jamie (Michael J. Fox) is a 24-year-old living in the big city and working as a fact checker for a national magazine. He spends his evenings hanging out at the clubs and taking cocaine while also reeling from the break-up to his wife (Phoebe Cates) and death of his mother (Dianne Weist). As his addiction worsens he loses his job and his entire life unravels in a matter of a week.

The first half-hour is excellent as it gets the vibe of city life as well as the ‘80s subculture just right. The club scenes has an authentic feel and the stresses and politics at his job all ring true and this is a far better portrait of corporate life in the 80’s for the upwardly mobile than The Secret of My Succe$s, which Fox did just previous to this one.

The film also contains a few outlandish moments including a surreal one where Jaimie dreams of speaking to a fetus that is still inside a mother’s womb that is worth checking-out just for its amazing special effects. A later scene, where Fox and his friend Kiefer Sutherland release a ferret inside his former boss’ office, gets too wildly silly and should’ve been excised.

Fox is good in a difficult role and I liked the idea of this all-American young actor taking on a more edgy part. His youthful, clean-cut looks contrasted against the jaded backdrop of the nightlife helps make the shock effect even more profound as his personality slowly disintegrates. However, the scene where he tries to ‘reconcile’ with his ex-wife while she is on the runway modeling fashion clothes and in front of hundreds of people makes his character look ridiculous and irrational.

Cates is cute, but I didn’t like her short hair and she speaks only a few words during the whole thing although the part where she gets plaster smeared over her face and is only able to breathe through straws stuck in her noise is interesting. Swoosie Kurtz though as Jaimie’s loyal co-worker behaves in much too idealized fashion to be believable. If a woman invites a man over to her apartment for dinner it’s most likely because she has a romantic interest in him and will not be so selflessly gracious to want to sit around and listen to him go on-and-on about the break-up with his wife that he is still emotionally attached to, nor want to offer him money that she knows she’ll never get back.

Wiest as Jaimie’s mother is miscast as she looks too young to be his parent and in reality was only 13 years older than Fox. Having her character want to hear about her son’s sexual conquests with other females and even seemingly getting off on it as she listens to it is just plain odd and not like any mother I’ve ever seen. Her dying sequence comes off as contrived and something that was thrown in to get the audience to be sympathetic to its main character, but it proves pointless. A person doesn’t need the loss of a parent to become hooked on drugs as being around people that do it is enough of a motivator and the film would’ve been stronger and less glossy had it taken this approach and avoided the soap opera side-trips.

The shallow ending offers no insights except to say that ‘drugs are bad’. The drama gets so protracted that by the time our protagonist does have his meltdown, which is while attending a chic party, it feels more like a relief because it signals that the thing is finally coming to an end in a story that is too unfocused to be convincing.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 1, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated R

Director: James Bridges

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD

Permanent Record (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Coping with friend’s suicide.

David Sinclair (Alan Boyce) is a popular high school student who seems well on his way to a successful and happy life, but then unexpectedly he commits suicide by jumping off a cliff. Now his friends ponder about why they didn’t notice the signs and the news hits his best friend Chris (Keanu Reeves) particularly hard.

There were many movies dealing with the teen suicide issue that came out during the ‘80s and I remember watching one, a TV-movie called ‘Silence of the Heart’ starring Chad Lowe, in a social studies class at school. This film takes a slightly different approach from those in that it doesn’t concentrate on the motives of the victim, but instead analyzes how their actions affect the people that knew him.

It’s interesting to a degree, but the film glosses over too much and takes too long to get going. Quite a bit of time is spent watching David mopping around looking despondent and stressed, which is frustrating because the film doesn’t clue you in as to why he is feeling this way, so eventually his scenes start to have a redundant feel to them. It also gets annoying because if it is obvious to the viewer that David is struggling with inner turmoil, then why can’t his friends, who supposedly know him best, not pick up on these same signs as well?

The most irritating thing about the movie though is the presence of Reeves. Most of the teen characters in the film are believable, but Reeves unfortunately comes off too much like a caricature of his more famous airhead role in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Instead of being a young adult in-the-making like the others Reeves’ character is more the stereotypically grungy, metal head, stoner still stuck in juvenile purgatory and possessing every annoying teen cliché out there. Having him go from being a vapid adolescent to an introspective one was too much of a dramatic arch and I almost wished that his character had been the one that jumped since Boyce was the better actor. The scene involving the actual jump gets badly botched too and it’s Reeves’ presence that ruins it as he follows Boyce to the cliff unaware of what he is going to do and then overacts when he does, which makes what should be the film’s saddest moment unintentionally funny instead.

The ending is quite powerful, but everything else is sterile. Some intriguing issues are certainly brought up, but then never fully addressed. This is particularly true in regards to David’s family who seem to adjust from the shock much more quickly than any of his friends when in reality I would think they would be the ones to take it the hardest and should’ve been the focal point of the film while Reeves could’ve been pushed to the very back and seen only briefly.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 22, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Marisa Silver

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Foxes (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Growing up too fast.

Four teenagers living in the San Fernando Valley face life in the fast lane. Madge (Marilyn Kagan) is the nerd who’s having a fling with a 30-year-old man (Randy Quaid). Deidre (Kandice Stroh) shifts from boyfriend to boyfriend while Annie (Cherrie Currie) is tormented by an abusive father and runs away from home only to get caught up in the drug scene. Jeanie (Jodie Foster) is the mature one of the bunch who tries to keep them from getting into too much trouble as well as getting them out of a jam when needed, but she has struggles of her own particularly dealing with her mother (Sally Kellerman) who brings home men who are virtual strangers to spend the night with and seems as lost and confused as Jeanie’s teen friends.

This marked Adrian Lyne’s feature film debut and from a purely cinematic perspective it’s intriguing. I liked the cinema vertite feel and in many ways this is an early forerunner to Larry Clarke’s groundbreaking Kids that came out 15 years later as the camera follows the teens around on their excursions without having any connected storyline nor does it try to make any moral judgement on what occurs. Instead it plays more like docudrama showing how things are without overdoing the shock value, but what I liked best was the fact that it portrays the adults as being just as screwed up and in certain ways even more lost while society at large is captured as being equally jaded to the point that the teens are simply reflecting the behaviors of the environment around them.

Probably the most surprising aspect is the part dealing with Madge, who is still in high school, having an ongoing relationship with a 30-year-old man, which the film treats as being no big deal. It’s not completely clear if Madge is 17 or 18, but many of today’s viewers will find the casual way the film approaches this topic, which includes an eventual wedding between the two that is happily attended by her friends, as being  ‘creepy’ and most likely a taboo storyline for any film made today.

The irony is that Madge ends up causing the most destruction in the relationship as Quaid’s character unwisely goes away on a business trip and allows her complete use of his place where she then decides to hold a party that gets expectedly out-of-control. It even includes a graphic fight breaking out that is portrayed quite brutally including having a girl hit and knocked down by another guy. This scene also features Laura Dern, in her first credited film role and wearing braces and glasses, as an awkward teen that crashes the place.

The casting of Foster and Scott Baio as her guy friend is interesting as the two had starred in quirky gangster comedy Bugsy Malone just 4 years earlier and the scene where the two have an ongoing conversation while walking around in a large, open junkyard is one of the best parts of the movie. Baio is initially fun as this geeky teen with limited social skills, but later on becomes this mini-hero with on a skateboard that gets too cute and Hollywood-like. Foster on the other hand is solid and it’s interesting seeing her playing a more emotionally vulnerable character and even at one point breaking down and crying.

The film manages to have a few interesting scenes here and there, but it takes too long to build any momentum and it’s never as compelling as it would like to be. There are also a few too many moments where it defaults to the contrived clichés, which hurts its efforts at gritty realism.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 29, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated R

Director: Adrian Lyne

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Cinderella Liberty (1973)

cinderella-liberty-1

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.

cinderella-liberty-2

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