Category Archives: Drama

Payday (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: A self-destructive singer.

Maury Dann (Rip Torn) is a popular country singer who performs at many clubs throughout the southeast. While he is loved by his many fans he routinely takes advantage of those around him including sleeping with married women while openly seducing the others even when it’s right in front of his current girlfriend Mayleen (Ahna Capri). When Maury is confronted by the father (Walter Bamberg) of one of the young women he’s seduced they get into an ugly fight and Maury accidently ends up killing him, but since he’s so used to exploiting others he asks his loyal limo driver Chicago (Cliff Emmich) to take the blame for him.

The film, which was directed by Daryl Duke, is a masterpiece in penetrating drama to the point that I’m surprised that Duke, who had only directed TV-shows before this, didn’t go on to have a long career in making Hollywood movies instead of going right back to doing episodic TV-work after this. The script though, which was written by Don Carpenter, is completely on-target as it paints a very trenchant, no-holds-barred portrait of the seamier side of show business life and most importantly the people who work in it.

The atmosphere of the smoke-filled bars/nightclubs is vividly captured and the dialogue has a nice conversational quality that makes its point, but never in too much of an obvious way. The characterizations though are the most revealing and include Maury’s loyal manager Clarence (Michael C. Gwynne) who secretly despises Maury and is well aware of his many faults, but does whatever he can to cover them up to the adoring public.  Cliff Emmich as the faithful limo driver, who secretly aspires to be a gourmet chief, is terrific too. He doesn’t say much, but when he does it’s always quite interesting and his facial reactions are great.

My favorite characters though were Maury’s two girlfriends particularly the young, wide-eyed Rosamond (Elayne Heilveil in her film debut) who excitedly jumps into bed with Maury as his new star crush groupie only to become more apprehensive about things, which get revealed through her wonderfully strained facial expressions, the ugliness that goes on around her. Since her character has the most obvious arc I thought she should’ve been the story’s centerpiece.

Capri is quite enjoyable as well playing on the opposite end of the spectrum as a jaded woman who’s been in the groupie scene too long, but desperate enough to stay in it. The film’s most memorable moment is when Maury kicks her out of his limo, without any money, in the middle of a cornfield. She’s able to find another ride quickly, but I would’ve liked seeing a scene later on showing where she ultimately ended-up, or having her return to the story near the end where she could’ve had a climactic final confrontation with Maury, which is what her character deserved.

The only thing that I didn’t like was Maury himself. Torn plays the part in a masterful way, although his singing over the opening credits, which he insisted on doing himself, isn’t so spectacular, but his acting is. The only problem is that his character is just too much of a jerk. Supposedly it’s loosely based on Hank Williams and I’m sure there’s a lot of truth to it, but it would’ve been nice had there been at least one fleeting moment when he did something redeeming as his constant jerkiness becomes almost an overload for the viewer making it border on being too obnoxious to watch, but it’s so well crafted in every other aspect it’s still a worthwhile view.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: February 22, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Daryl Duke

Studio: Cinerama Releasing

Available: DVD

The FJ Holden (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: A youth’s aimless life.

Kevin (Paul Couzens) is a teen over 18 still living at home with his parents (Roy Corbett, Beryl Marshall). Most of his time is spent being idle while driving around in his refurbished FJ Holden and getting drunk with his best friend Bob (Carl Stever). One day while hanging out at a mall Kevin spots Anne (Eva Dickinson) and gives her a ride in his car and eventually the two start going out. Everything goes well for awhile until Kevin makes love to Anne with the bedroom door still open, so that Bob can watch. When Anne realizes what’s going on she kicks Kevin out of the house and breaks off their relationship, but Kevin refuses to let it go and tries to rekindle things with her later at a party, which causes tensions with the other partygoers and the home owner.

I’ve stated many times that I wished Hollywood movies wouldn’t feel so compelled to rush through a story as they do and allow scenes more time to be strung-out and not edit things so quickly. Allowing things to unfold at a more leisurely pace gives the viewer a chance to soak in the setting and characters better without having to be told what to think or feel, but this film goes to the other extreme. The pace meanders so much you become bored and lose focus. There’s just not enough going on to keep you interested or intrigued.

That’s not to say it’s a bad movie as I liked the technical approach, which puts the actors in public settings, but with regular people in the back drop as opposed to film extras. You get more of a realistic atmosphere this way particularly the scenes at the mall, which before the advent of social media, skype, and texting was a social hotspot for most teens to meet other people and hang-out. The story though, which was based on loosely constructed comic poems, is not structured enough to remain engaging. The dialogue is too generic and the situations they go through, whether it’s making love in the backseat of a car, or drag racing, have all been done in many other teen flicks, so watching it here just makes it seem all the more redundant and pointless.

There manages to be a a few interesting bits here and there, but overall it’s a sluggish experience. Only at the very end when Kevin confronts Anne at the party is there are any real potential for dramatic sparks, but it doesn’t get played-out enough. I was hoping for a full-out brawl to make-up for all the boredom that had come before it, but director Michael Thornhill, who has found critical acclaim with some of his later films, just wasn’t confident enough apparently to push this thing full-throttle, which ultimately makes it bland and forgettable.

The car itself doesn’t play as much into the plot as you’d expect and in a lot of ways I didn’t find it all that impressive. It’s a model of car that was built in Australia between the years of 1953 to 1956 and through the decades over 20 car clubs have been formed in Australia committed to preserving the vehicle, and every other year thousands of car enthusiasts gather to celebrate the old-style car, but to me it came off looking old and clunky like something your grandfather would drive and did not have the sleek sports car design that most young men like to be seen in. The car eventually, during the film’s second half, gets painted bright yellow, which makes it look like a taxi cab, but during the first part it’s not painted at all and looks rusty like it had been pulled from the junkyard and what most people would be embarrassed to be seen with and not something to invite a girl for a ride in to impress her even though that’s what happens here.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 29, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated M (Originally rated R)

Director: Michael Thornhill

Studio: FJ Films

Available: DVD

Thumb Tripping (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hitchhiking across the country.

Gary (Michael Burns) is a college kid from a good family who decides he’s not ready to settle down just yet and wants to ‘drop-out’ for awhile by taking part in the hitchhiking scene that was popular in the early 70’s with the counter-culture. While accepting rides he meets up with fellow hitchhiker Chay (Meg Foster) and the two immediately hit-if-off. They decide to accept every ride that comes along, which gets them into trouble when they get into a car driven by two violent men (Bruce Dern, Larry Hankin) and then later when they hop into a truck driven by Diesel (Michael Conrad) who seems kindly at first, but ultimately sets his sights on having sex with Chay, who willingly accepts his invitation, much to the consternation of Gary.

This film never really clicked with the public and much of the problem stemmed from the inability of knowing how to effectively market it, or even what genre it belonged in. Leonard Maltin, in his review, describes the film as being ‘amusing’ even though there is nothing in it that is funny or light-hearted. I remember in the 80’s going to my local video store where this film was put into the horror section and played-up like it was a thriller with Bruce Dern listed as the star even though his segment happens early on, is quickly forgotten, and only lasts for about 5 minutes.

If anything it works as a period piece at seeing how different and more free-spirited things were back then where accepting rides from strangers was considered fun and adventurous and not something to fear. It’s based loosely on the real-life experiences of Don Mitchell, a self-described hippie in the late 60’s who eventually moved to Vermont and became a sheep farmer. He wrote the story first as a novel before getting commissioned into turning it into a screenplay. For the most part it has an authentic feel particularly the segment showing the young people of the day hitch-hiking at various locations making it seem like it was an informal community all to its own.

What’s fascinating is seeing how the ‘responsible’ people that give the hitchhikers rides are usually just as unhappy with societal demands as the hippies, but with no idea or confidence on how to get out of their situations. The segment with Michael Conrad is the best as at first he’s the family man doing long over-the-road hauls to feed his wife and kids and yet his commitment to them takes an immediate backseat the second he becomes sexual aroused by Chay when he sees her dancing at a bar revealing that middle-aged men never become fully ‘domesticated’ no matter how hard they may try to play the part.

The two leads though are not fleshed-out enough. There’s a brief voice-over segment dealing with Burns’ conversation with his mother describing why he wants to drop-out and travel, which helps to give him some backstory, but we never get the same treatment with Foster. She’s this elusive enigma we want to know more about, but never understand. She’s far more compelling than Burns and should’ve been made the star and having her hitchhike alone would’ve  improved the movie.

Despite a few interesting moments it never comes together as a whole. The scenes are too loosely tied together and the story never feels like it’s progressing or has any momentum. The ending leaves everything wide-open particularly the fate of Chay who was the only intriguing element in it, which makes the viewer feel cheated when it’s over.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 28, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Quentin Masters

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: VHS

The Dark Room (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: A father/son rivalry.

Mike (Svet Kovich) works as a photographer who has a thing for his attractive co-worker Nicky (Anna Maria Monticelli). He quietly follows her around and takes pictures of her from afar only to learn that she’s been seeing his father Ray (Alan Cassell) who is still married to his mother (Diana Davidson). Mike becomes enraged by this and begins dating Nicky as well. This puts a damper on Ray who was planning on leaving his wife for Nicky, but who now seems to becoming more distant with him. Once Ray realizes his son is the other man the two share a fiery confrontation at an old cottage in the country with Nicky stuck in the middle.

To some degree this is a unique storyline that’s rarely been tackled before. Most films dealing with father/son relationships take a much different approach by focusing very much on the generational divide where the father is out-of-touch with the son’s interests and vice-versa. This film acts like the two men are pretty much the same, with one having been on this planet a little bit longer than the other, but overall still have common wants and needs and desires particularly when it comes to the attraction of younger women, which I believe secretly stays innate in men no matter how old or how married they become.

I also liked the casting of Svet Kovich, which to date this is the only movie he’s been in, as his hawkish face and beady eyes make him look menacing, which is what the part requires and in many ways he reminded me of character actor Anthony James who played quite a few psychos in his day as well. Unfortunately this hurts the story because in the film Nicky falls for Kovich and begins a relationship with him even though in realty I’d think most women would fear him due to his looks and odd introverted behavior and thus making the whole romantic angle between them come off as false and phony. It was never clear either why she’d want to have relationships with both men (she was not aware initially that the two were related) at the same time as she seemed happy seeing Ray, so why add another man into the mix? Most women tend to be either/or when it come to older men or younger ones, so it didn’t make sense her interest in both, or what she saw or didn’t see in one that made her desire the other.

The film’s biggest issue is that it doesn’t delve into the father/son relationship enough. We needed a backstory between the two and flashbacks, none are shown, of when they were younger and how the son related to his dad as a child. At the very end the son does bring up issues that he had with his father, but they tended to be cliched problems and something the viewer needed to see play-out instead of just being told about them verbally. Without that context nothing else that we see means anything. The film is on a technical level adequate, but it’s never gripping or fully compelling and this is because the characters are not fleshed out enough for us to understand them or care.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: Never released to theaters.

Not Rated

Director: Paul Harmon

Studio: Filmco Limited

Available: None at this time.

Cisco Pike (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Blackmailed into dealing drugs.

Cisco Pike (Kris Kristofferson) is a down-on-his-luck singer who once was playing to sell-out crowds, but finds his popularity declining and resorting to selling drugs to maintain a living, but under pressure from his girlfriend Sue (Karen Black) has stopped. Leo Holland (Gene Hackman) is a police detective looking to retire and needing enough money to do so. He steals a sizeable quantity of high-grade marijuana from a gang leader and then tells Cisco he must sell it within 59 hours while giving Leo $10,000 of the profits and Cisco can keep anything that he makes beyond that. At first Cisco resists knowing it will interfere with his relationship with Sue, but eventually gives in when Leo threatens to kill him unless he complies.

While this film has achieved a cult status in recent years critics at the time of its release were not kind. Many felt it promoted drug use just as the nation was starting its war on drugs, which caused the film to get a limited release and eventually bombed at the box office. Personally I found it to be a riveting look at the drug dealing culture and a fabulous directorial/screenwriting debut for Bill L. Norton the son of William W. Norton who was also a successful screenwriter.

What I liked most was the cinema vertite style that made it seem almost like a documentary. I enjoyed the camera following Cisco around in a non-stagy way and revealing the variety of people that he sold to with not all of them being hippies either, but also middle-aged suburbanites and even business executives. The film nicely shows how some of the encounters would be non-eventful while others could ended up being a trap and eventual police chase. The unpredictable quality of the transactions replicated the anxiety the dealers would face and how hyper observant they needed to be to the immediate environment around them.

Many films try to recreate things that the filmmakers themselves haven’t gone through, but here I got the feeling that the director and much of the cast had experienced the same situations as the characters which in-turn makes the viewer feel, when it’s over, that they’ve lived it too. The dialogue is excellent as well with a conversational style that doesn’t overexplain things and allows the viewer to read in a bit to what the characters are saying.

Kristofferson, who had been a singer up to that point, makes an outstanding acting debut and all the more impressive when you realize that he had no acting training before he was given the part. Many of his friends advised him not to take the role fearing his lack of experience would hurt the movie and cause him not to be given any more roles, but after reading the script he felt he could relate to the character by simply being honest with his emotions, which he does splendidly and it’s nice too seeing him in a rare appearance without any beard or mustache.

Hackman is excellent as well playing a character that was not in the original treatment, but added in later by Robert Towne when he wrote the revision. It’s unusual seeing him in such a relatively small part with large chunks of time, especially during the second act, where he’s not seen at all, but when he is onscreen he’s effective. It was fortunate that this was filmed just before he won the Academy Award for The French Connection as that turned him into leading man material and it’s unlikely that he would’ve accepted this part had it been produced any later.

Black is interesting, she usually always is, despite, like with Hackman, not having all that much screen time, but she makes the most of what she has particularly her physical reactions to Hackman when he invites himself into her apartment late at night and begins rambling on about his heart condition. Honorable mention too needs to go to Joy Bang, an attractive supporting actress during the early 70’s who later retired from show business to get into nursing. Her toothy smile always looks sexy, at least to me, and I loved when she gives her female companion, played by Viva, an open-mouth kiss while riding in a car and then turns around and gives Kristofferson, who is sitting on her other side, the same treatment.

Harry Dean Stanton, as an aging musician, doesn’t appear until near the end, but has some of the movie’s most profound moments particularly his exchange with Kristofferson were he laments about no longer being sexy enough for the stage while Kristofferson reminds him that it’s not his body that the music business wants, but his soul instead.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: November 2, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bill L. Norton

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD

Petersen (1974)

petersen1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Going back to school.

Tony Petersen (Jack Thompson) is an electrician who decides to go back to school and major in English. He feels people look down on him because he works a blue collar job and hope that by returning to college to get a degree that will change, but instead he finds he’s still not getting the respect that he desires particularly from his stuffy professor (Arthur Dingnam), so he ends up having an affair with the man’s wife (Wendy Hughes),  but things don’t stop there. He has sex with the coeds too including right out in the open on the campus grounds for public display while hundreds of onlookers surround them.

The screenplay was written by acclaimed Australian playwright David Williamson, who’s best known for having penned the cult hit Don’s Party However, this film lacks the fluidity of that one and seems more like a selection of vignettes than a story. The leader character isn’t likable either and comes off as selfish while in Don’s Party we were able to understand the protagonists frustration with his marriage here the domestic situation doesn’t seem as bad and therefore watching him mess around isn’t cute, funny, or sexy and instead just tiring and off-putting.

The biggest problem though is that the film starts right away at the halfway point where Petersen has already been attending school and neck-deep in an affair instead of going back to where it all began. Showing Petersen’s frustrations with his job and income, instead of just being told about it through dialogue, would’ve helped the viewer empathize more with his situation and emotionally invested with his quandary instead of feeling lost and ambivalent in the jumbled narrative.

There are a few good scenes here-and-there including a very ugly moment where a group of obnoxious bikers crash an upscale party and make things quite tense for the guests who are seemingly unable to do anything about it. Later there’s a poignant segment involving a discussion that Petersen has with his father (Charles Tingwell), who works as a reverend at a church despite professing to having lost his faith. Petersen’s public sex act has great potential too and even though it does contain full frontal male nudity, which at the time was still considered shocking to see in a mainstream film, it doesn’t get played-up enough to really being as funny or irreverent as it should’ve been.

Spoiler Alert!

There’s also several moments though that needed more context, which is frustratingly lacking. One includes Petersen getting caught making-out with his friend’s wife by his own spouse (Jacki Weaver) who looks very disappointed in him, but we never get any follow-up almost  like the whole situation just gets forgotten by the next day. There’s another scene where Petersen rapes his lover inside her own office, but without showing any aftermath. Such a violent, disturbing act deserves some denouncement and not treated like a throwaway bit such as it is.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall if you stick with it the characters do have a way of growing on you, but the story needed to be more developed. Too much emphasis on being edgy and provocative, but filled with characters in desperate need of depth and better connecting pieces between scenes.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 25, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Tim Burstall

Studio: Hexagon Productions

Available: DVD (Import Region 2)

High Tide (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mother meets estranged daughter.

Lillie (Judy Davis) is living on the very edge of show business life working as a backup singer to an Elvis impersonator (Frankie J. Holden). Her lackluster behavior gets her fired and she finds herself without money or shelter. She moves to a trailer home park and begins drinking heavily and it is here while in a drunken state in the public bathroom that she meets Ally (Claudia Karvan). Ally is a 13-year-old girl living with Bet (Jan Adele) who is the mother of Ally’s father who died when she was just an infant. At first Lillie doesn’t know that Ally is actually her daughter, which she gave up at birth. When Bet realizes that Lillie is in the area she warns her not to go near Ally, but Ally and Lillie manage to find ways to get together anyways and form a rapport, but without Ally knowing the deep, dark secret between them. Once she does find out the two must learn to fight through the awkward and emotional state that the tumultuous new awareness creates.

Originally the script called for Lille’s character to be a man meeting up with his lost teen daughter that he had abandoned years earlier, but director Gillian Armstrong felt this had been done before and at her husband’s suggestion changed the lead into a female. In many ways this was a better idea as women are better able to reveal their emotions creating some very strong, heartfelt scenes between them that ultimately makes for a very powerful film.

Many reviewers have expounded on Davis’ performance and she does give a strong one particularly the way her character is put through some very demeaning situations, but still managing to come through them holding her head high and keeping the viewer empathetic to her. Karvan though is quite good too with a beautiful photogenic face that can display an array of emotions with very little effort and who’s likable enough that you’re able to bond with her immediately.

The story progresses casually and at first you have no idea what links these three women as the film intercuts between them in separate situations with no idea where the connecting point is, which to some extent doesn’t grab the viewer in. I did though like the way it captured the nightclub atmosphere showing how for many it temporarily opened the door for their lost and fleeting dreams by having Bet get onstage and sing to a captive audience at a talent contest during the evening only to cutaway showing her back on her drudgery job of driving an ice cream truck the following day.

Once the secret becomes clear the story gets more interesting with the dialogue between the mother and daughter quite compelling. There is however, a long lull during the second act where Lilly intentionally stays away from Ally, which I found frustrating. The main interest of the film is seeing the two working things out together and getting through the guilt and bitterness of the past and at times there’s not enough of that.

Spoiler Alert!

The third act features Ally deciding to go out on the road with Lillie, but to me this thing seemed too precipitous since the two had only begun to get to know each other, why would a young teen, even if she was unhappy in her current situation, want to start living with someone she really didn’t know if she could get along with? This situation also opens up a whole variety of new tangents: like how are the two going to survive with Lillie’s limited job skills and where would they live? I felt this situation should’ve been introduced in the second act and explored much more. Personally I don’t think things would’ve worked out and at the very least brought on, despite their best intentions, a lot of stress and disagreement before it might’ve gotten better. This is something the viewer needed to see though there’s still plenty of nice rewards nonetheless.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 30, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Gillian Armstrong

Studio: Filmpac Distribution

Available: VHS

The Rain People (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Needing to find herself.

Natalie (Shirley Knight) wakes up one day and decides to simply get in her car and drive off with no particular destination in mind. She has just found out that she is pregnant and not sure if she can or wants to handle the responsibilities that come with it. She leaves a note to her husband (Robert Modica) telling him she needs time away from him to think things through. During her travels she meets Jimmy (James Caan), otherwise known as ‘Killer’, he was a former football player straddled with a brain injury that has now left him mentally handicapped. She also meets Gordon (Robert Duvall) a traffic cop who pulls her over for a speeding ticket. The two eventually start to date, but the more Natalie tries to find herself the more lost she becomes.

The film was for the most part considered an ‘experimental’ one as the subject matter was years ahead of its time. While many road pictures of the day like Easy Rider took the male perspective this one dared to tap into the feminist viewpoint, which up to that point hadn’t been explored as much if at all. I enjoyed how the film questions the whole wife/mother idea, once considered ‘the ultimate destination’ for any woman, but here brings out the complex issues that come with it and how not every woman may want to be trapped by it, or even find contentment in that situation.

What’s even more interesting is that Natalie never really seems to go anywhere. Yes, she does get in a car and starts driving and passes by many picturesque places of rural America along the way, but trying to escape the clutches that she feels holds her back never goes away. Everyone she meets, including Gordon who’s stuck raising a young daughter (Marya Zimmet) that he wasn’t totally prepared for, seem to be in the same predicament as her making it feel like the further she drives away the closer she gets to where she started.

Francis Ford Coppola makes wonderful use of the rain and there are many shots of it particularly in the first half as we see it creating puddles on the road and even streaming down the car windows in close-up. The cloudy, murky weather acted as a nice motif to Natalie’s inner emotional state and the confusion that she was going through. The film’s promotional poster seen above is excellent too and brings out the moodiness of the movie with one perfect shot although seeing the couple kissing in the backdrop is a bit misleading as that’s one thing you definitely don’t see here despite Natalie’s efforts to try and find it. The two people should’ve, in order to be consistent with the theme of the film it was promoting, been seen standing side-by-side instead of hugging.

I also really loved Coppola’s use of flashbacks here, which gets sprinkled in throughout. I liked the scenes showing the couple in happier times during their wedding as it illustrates how relationships that go bad or don’t work out still had their good moments even if they were brief. The flashbacks dealing with Duvall trying to save his family from a burning house are quite revealing too as what he describes verbally through voice-over is quite different from what we see.

Leonard Maltin, in his review of the film, called the script ‘weak’, which I completely disagree with. Yes, not a lot happens, the random situations that Natalie goes through perfectly reflect what could happen to anyone on a trip, which I liked because the plausibility here is never compromised. She ends her journey feeling as lost as she did when she started, but I felt that was the whole point, so in my opinion the script is strong.

George Lucas, who worked as an aide on this production, filmed a 32-minute documentary of this movie as it was being made called Filmmaker, which is accessible on YouTube although the sound quality is poor. This film has several revealing moments including conflicts that director Coppola had with Knight, but what I found most interesting is that when the crew traveled down to Chattanooga they all cut their hair and shaved their beards,which included Coppola himself, as they felt the locales wouldn’t work with them unless they appeared clean-cut. Seeing Coppola with a rare non-beard look alone makes this short film vignette worth catching.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: August 27, 1968

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

A Star is Born (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: His career goes downhill.

John Norman Howard (Kris Kristofferson) is a famous rock singer who’s found that his career on the road has taken its toll. He’s become jaded by the money and fame and now bored with it while spending his days and nights committing self-destructive acts that alienate the rest of his crew. One night after walking off the stage of his own concert after singing only a few songs he goes to a bar where he sees Esther (Barbra Streisand) singing on stage. He becomes impressed by her talent and uses his resources to make her a star. The two eventually get married, but as her career continues to rise his goes in decline.

This is the third remake of the story that was originally written by William A. Wellman and Robert Carson. The first version came out in 1937 and starred Frederic March and Janet Gaynor while the second one was released in 1954 and starred James Mason and Judy Garland. This version differs from the other two in that the setting was the music scene instead of the movie business, but overall the efforts here to revitalize the tired formula are trite and predictable.

A lot of the blame can go to Streisand who acted as both the star and producer to the project. For one thing she was too old for the part as she was already in her mid-30’s when this was filmed and wearing a tacky afro hairstyle to boot. It would’ve been more effective had a truly young person, like a woman who was 19, which is a typical age for someone to have dreams of breaking into the rock scene, was cast. Possibly having the character start out as one of Kristofferson’s groupies, instead of doing it like it’s done here where he just meets her at random at a bar, which is awkward and forced, and then through their time together he learns of her aspirations and talents and works to help her meet her potential.

It also would’ve helped had the young starlet had the same singing style as Kristofferson, which would’ve made the concert scene where he walks off stage and brings Esther onto it more believable. Kristofferson’s music, or what little we hear of it, has clearly a more hard rock edge while Streisand sings mellow love songs. In the movie we’re supposed to believe that all these fans who paid good money to see Kristofferson sing are suddenly without warning given Streisand instead and are so taken aback by her talent that they all clap and cheer when in reality I think they would’ve been upset and demanding their money back as they came to hear hard rock and not the lite stuff.

I enjoyed Kristofferson’s performance and his impulsive self-destructive acts give the film energy and edge. However, the chemistry between the two is non-existent and he later said that working with Streisand was “an experience which may of cured me of the movies.” His decline gets handled in a rushed, heavy-handed way. Music careers are by their very nature cyclical. Rock stars get replaced with every generation as teens prefer their own singing idols and not those of their parents. For him to become so quickly devastated when his record sales begin to plummet is unrealistic as nobody stays on top forever. He should have enough money to wade out the career lulls and simply held on to when his fans grew up and became nostalgic and then hit the retro tour circuit like many of the pop/rock icons from the past do.

Streisand’s character is flat, one-dimensional, and just plain too-good-to-be-true. She’s well known in real-life for her notorious ego, in fact director Frank Pierson described her as being egocentric, manipulative, and controlling and refused to ever work with her again, so having her then portray someone who is gracious and humble seems very phony and not something that she’s effectively able to convey. The original concept was to have the character be like Janis Joplin and go through a self-destructive decline of her own, but Streisand nixed this idea, which is unfortunate as it would’ve given the film some needed nuance.

The footage of the massive crowds at the concerts is the one element that I found impressive and the segment showing the vast stretch of land that Kristofferson owned in the middle of the Arizona desert was pretty cool too. Everything else though in this otherwise overlong film is boring. Fans of Streisand’s singing may take to it better, but there’s too much of it, making it seem like this was just one big vanity project for her and nothing more.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 17, 1976

Runtime: 2 Hours 20 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Frank Pierson

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive),  Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Outrageous! (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Female impersonator befriends schizophrenic.

Robin (Craig Russell) works as a gay hairstylist during the day, but longs to be up on stage as a female impersonator.  Liza (Hollis McLaren) is a schizophrenic who leaves the hospital she was confine in and moves in with Robin her longtime friend. Both find ways to help each other with their problems, which allows Robin the confidence to finally get on stage in drag as Tallulah Bankhead, which makes him an instant hit and gets him a paid gig in New York City. However, when he moves away Liza’s condition worsens forcing Robin to decide what’s more important: his budding career, or his friendship.

The film is based on the shorty story ‘Making It’ by Margaret Gibson, which in turn was based on her experiences dealing with mental illness and her real-life friendship with Craig Russell whom she roomed with in 1971. The story nicely tackles the challenges of dealing with mental illness and how Robin’s support helps Liza overcome her demons that the other professional Dr’s and counselors that she sees don’t because they only view her as just another patient instead of a person.

The grainy, low budget quality works to the film’s advantage as it brings out the fringe, economically disadvantaged lifestyle that the two lived in while McLaren’s performance shies away from the cliches of mentally illness causing the viewer to see her as a regular everyday person, not just some ‘crazy’, valiantly fighting a nasty illness that she can’t always control.

The segments dealing with Russell’s onstage act are quite entertaining as well though when I first saw this film decades ago I found these moments to be off-putting as they turned it more into a documentary, or a comedy special that took the focus away from the actual essence of the story, which was the friendship. However, upon second viewing I liked the way it captures the gay club scene that was unique to that time period. Russell’s impersonations where he does Barbra Striesand, Judy Garland, Mae West and Bette Midler just to name a few are outstanding. I’ve seen some female impersonator acts before, but Russell’s far outshines any of the others I’ve ever watched as he gets the body language, voice, and facial expressions of the people he’s playing just right to the point that he completely disappears into the women characters until you can’t tell the difference.

While the film does have many touching moments I felt it should’ve shown how Robin and Liza first met instead of having it start with them already knowing each other when she moves in with him. Since they are such an odd pair capturing how and where this unique relationship all started and what element brought them together seemed crucial, but we never see it nor does it even get addressed in conversation. Having this backstory could’ve helped the film stay a little more centered on the relationship as well and prevented the over reliance on Russell’s stage routine, which while quite good, still takes up a bit more of the runtime than it should’ve.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 31, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Benner

Studio: Canadian Film Development Corporation

Available: DVD, Amazon Video