Category Archives: Drama

Not a Pretty Picture (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Reenacting a rape incident.

While Martha Coolidge is known today for having directed such 80’s classics as Valley Girl and Joy of Sex she started her career in the 70’s doing documentaries mainly about high school students. After having done three of those she decided to do one that was more personal and dealt with a real-life incident that occurred to her when she was 16 when she got raped on a date with a college student who was 20. While she went about casting the actress to play her as a teen she was shocked to learn that the actress, Michele Manenti, had a similar experience. The film then weaves between reenactments of the date rape and the situations that lead up to it as well as the aftermath. There’s also interviews with the cast members who talk about the emotions they go through while playing the characters including Jim Carrington, who plays the rapist named Curly, who confesses that he thought women secretly wanted to be raped due to his belief that they fantasize about it.

What I got out of the film and enjoyed the most was looking at the acting process and how the performers used elements of their own experiences to help shape the characters that they play. I was genuinely surprised that only one of the cast members, Amy Wright who has a small role as Cindy, ever went on to do another movie. The two stars, who I felt were both outstanding, never acted in anything at least film or TV wise even though I felt they should’ve had long careers. I realize that the acting profession is a very competitive business and what may seem like the cream-of-the-crop in college may not be able to rise to the top in the real-world, but it still seemed sad that they weren’t able to do more, or at least more in front of the camera. It’s also surprising how non-dated this is. The conversations they have both about dating and acting is something that could’ve easily been shot today and just as topical. If it weren’t for them openly smoking indoors in a public setting, which is a major no-no now, you would never have known this was done in the 70’s.

While the conversations that Coolidge has with the cast proves to be insightful the reenactments aren’t as compelling. The scene involving the conversations that the four friends have inside a car has some interesting points, but it goes on too long and gets static. The aftermath where Martha is ridiculed by the other girls at her school and called a ‘whore’ because of the rumors that Curly spreads stating that she was a ‘willing participant’ and the stressful moments she has when she doesn’t get her period and fears she may be pregnant are quite dramatic, but the most important scene, the rape itself, gets botched. All the other recreated scenes where done as if in real-time and with sets that replicated the era, which was 1962, but with the rape it’s staged as a rehearsal with Martha and the other stagehands clearly in view as it occurs and Coolidge constantly stops the action to have them redo the scene several times in order to get it right, but this takes the viewer out of the moment and mutes the emotional impact. In hindsight I think they should’ve done the entire recreation, both the rape and what lead up to it as well as the aftermath, first and then went to the behind-the-scenes footage afterwards instead of inter-cutting it, which may have been novel for the time, but eventually gets off-putting.

The film’s focus was apparently intended to be on Martha and her reactions at seeing her own rape get played-out as the camera keeps panning back to her face as she watches the actors perform it and then at the end she describes her feelings in a emotional way. While I’m sure this was a tough thing for her to do I still felt it would’ve been more encompassing to have it about all the other women, including the actress in this film, that this has happened to and how men in that time period were able to get away with it and never had to be accountable. That to me was more disturbing and the film ends up missing that point, or not hitting-it-home hard enough, and thus isn’t as strong, or ground-breaking as it could’ve been.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 31, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 23 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Martha Coolidge

Studio: Coolidge Productions

Available: Vimeo

Saint Jack (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: American pimp in Singapore.

Based on the 1971 novel by Paul Theroux the story centers on Jack Flowers, an American who comes to Singapore in hopes of starting-up a profitable brothel and then moving back to the states a rich man. He finds the challenges more staggering than he initially thought and is constantly looking over his shoulder for the syndicate who would like to crush his business so it won’t compete with the other more established brothel’s in the region. In order to cover what he’s doing he works with a Chinese executive as a liaison for his clients. One such person is William (Denholm Elliot) a timid British accountant with a heart condition who has traveled to the area on an assignment. Jack enjoys William’s quiet demeanor and grows fond of him only to be heart-broken when he dies suddenly, which eventually changes Jack’s perspective on things specifically when he’s asked to take part in the blackmail scheme of a U.S. Senator (George Lazenby).

By the late 70’s director Peter Bogdanovich had fallen on hard times. He began the decade doing the acclaimed and award winning The Last Picture Show and followed it up with the equally impressive Paper Moon However, after the critically panned musical At Long Last Love his career began to tumble. He tried following this up with Daisy Miller, but it appealed to only a small audience. Nickelodeon was his attempt at returning to slapstick comedy that had won him success with What’s Up Doc, but it dived at the box office too making this once promising young talent feel fully washed-up. In an attempt for a revival he decided to go in a completely different direction by doing something with a gritty realism.

Cybill Shephard, whom Peter was in a relationship with at the time, had read the Theroux novel when it was given to her by Orson Welles in 1973. She had suggested he make it into a movie, but he had initially resisted. Then in 1978 when she sued Playboy for publishing unauthorized nude photos of her she got rights to turn the book into a movie as part of the settlement and Bogdanovich decided at that point he would do the project. Since Singapore officials were aware of the book, which had not portrayed their country in a positive light, he was forced to create a mock synopsis called ‘Jack of Hearts’, a benign love story that he used to convince the government that was the movie he was making so he could get the permission to film there, which was worth the effort as the unique ambiance of the setting is the main thing that propels the movie and could not have effectively been recreated had it been done inside a Hollywood studio lot.

Gazzara’s performance is another chief asset as he’s never at a loss for quick quips, or sarcastic replies. I loved the way he’s shown constantly moving, never sitting still in one place for too long, which nicely accentuated his situation of needing to ‘on the move’ in order to stay one-step ahead of the bad guys. Elliot is excellent as well in an atypical role. Usually he does well playing stern, jaded, and detached types, but here conveys a genuinely sensitive person who seems cut-off from the worldly ways. Lazenby, best known as the one-and-done James Bond from Her Majesty’s Secret Service, gets a small, but pivotal role as a closeted gay politician who takes a stroll in the middle of the night to hook-up with a male prostitute while Jack secretly follows him that has a great voyeuristic quality and the film’s most memorable moment.

Out of all of his movies Bogdanovich has stated that this one and They All Laughed were his two favorites. Some may not agree as the story has a fragmented style where things happen all of sudden and without forewarning. Yet for me this helped emphasize the reality of Jack’s shaky environment. While hailed by many as a great director’s least known work it deserves to be seen more and when compared to his other output clearly unique and original.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 27, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Studio: New World Pictures

Studio: DVD, Blu-ray, Fandor, Plex, Tubi, Amazon Video

Don’t Cry, It’s Only Thunder (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Medic helps out orphanage.

Brian (Dennis Christopher) is an army medic during the Vietnam War who’s stationed at a hospital in Saigon. Young and idealistic he initially cannot handle the death and carnage that he comes into at the clinic and feels he’s not making much of a difference especially as he sees the severely injured soldiers come-in and die with very little that they can do. He then makes a promise to one of them to look in on an orphanage and try to find a safe new location for the children and two nuns who look after them. At first Brian is not into the kids, but eventually he bonds with them especially Anh (Mai Thi Lien) a 12-year-old girl who cannot speak and who he wishes to adopt despite all the red tape that he must go through.

The film is loosely based on the actual experiences of Paul G. Hensler, who first wrote it into a novel before being commissioned to turn it into a screenplay. His motive was to show more of the humanitarian side to the war versus the battle scenes that made up so much of the other films that dealt with the Vietnam conflict. In a lot of ways it’s a refreshing change of pace and unlike with M*A*S*H, that focused on medics during the Korean War, there’s no humor, or pranks, but instead solely focuses on the serious side of taking care of the wounded and how emotionally exhausting it can become. There’s a few moments where a passing character will make a joke, I suppose as an ode to M*A*S*H, but instead of laughs from the others it’s met with eye rolls, which is how it should be as there’s certain situations where humor just isn’t going to help things and in some ways such as here just plain out-of-place.

Christopher, who’d been acting in films since he was 15, but rose to critical acclaim in Breaking Away only to make a bad career turn by starring-in the offbeat dud Fade to Blackredeems himself with his performance here. He does though look incredibly young almost like he’s only 14, but his youthful appearance helps explain his character’s sometimes naive nature and tendency to be overly idealistic and thus makes some of the things that he does, which an older more seasoned person might refrain from, more understandable.

I wasn’t as keen with Susan Saint James. She was 10 years older than Dennis, but looked more like it could’ve been 20 and thus making the eventual love scene between them come-off as forced and mechanical. I’ll give her credit she does have an effective emotional moment, but her character is too Jekyll and Hyde-like as she initially is really into helping the orphanage and even gets Brian more into it and then suddenly like a light switch doesn’t want to have anything to do with it, only to eventually to go back, kind of, to helping the kids out, which is like watching someone with a ping pong personality. If anything I really enjoyed the two Vietnamese nuns (Lisa Lu, Shere Thu Thuy) and the way they would sometimes compromise their moral beliefs for the sake of the kids.

The film manages to be gritty most of the way and despite being filmed in the Philippines still gives one an adequate feeling of the civilian experience in Vietnam during that time. However, the segment where a song gets played that was supposedly sung by the kids while we view a montage of them playing is over-the-top sentimental and even jarring as we were used to the background noise of battle and thus comes-off as sappy and out-of-place. Watching the kids having a bit of fun is fine, but we didn’t need the added music.

Brian’s insistence and almost obsession at adopting a preteen girl will be considered cringey by today’s standards. The film makes clear that his intentions are pure, I suppose this is why there was the sex scene thrown between he and Susan to alleviate any viewer concern that he wasn’t a red-blooded All-American guy who was into chicks his own age, but it still looks even in the most charitable way as kind of questionable especially since he can’t even have any conversations with her since she doesn’t speak. He contends that he’s the one guy who can help her, but how since he has shown no background in dealing with those with speech issues? The book cover of which the film is based has a picture of the real Hensler, of which Brian is supposed to represent, holding an infant girl, which I presume is who he wanted to adopt. Having the girl character being a baby like in the book instead of 12 going on 13 would’ve worked better, or having him try to adopt a group of kids to bring home with him, like 3 or 4 that was an even mix of boys and girls, but to have him get overly infatuated with just one makes it unintentionally seem likes his grooming her to being a Lolita in the making. A bratty child (Truong Minh Hai) even alludes to this at one point, which makes you wonder; did he know something the rest of us didn’t?

Spoiler Alert!

Overall, despite tanking at the box office, it’s an decent drama though its never been released on DVD and trying to find a print of it is difficult.  It also goes on about 15-minutes too long and loses some of its potency by the end. A perfect example of this is when the orphanage gets unexpectedly bombed without warning, which is genuinely horrific, but when another unexpected bomb goes off later the shock effect is no longer there and thus they should’ve kept it down to just one.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 3, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Werner

Studio: Sanrio Communications

Available: VHS

The Glass Menagerie (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Daughter receives gentlemen caller.

Tom (John Malkovich) returns to the now abandoned apartment of his childhood. It is here that he recollects to the viewer his life living there where he resided both with his handicapped sister Laura (Karen Allen) and overly-protective mother Amanda (Joanne Woodward). Laura is very shy and has no social life, and instead spends her time taking care of her collection of miniature glass animals. Unable to hold down any job and straddled with a limp her mother fears that Laura will never find a man to marry and as a result will be alone and penniless when she gets older. She pressures Tom, who spends most of his free time watching movies in the theater in order to alleviate the boredom of his own life, to find a suitor, or gentlemen caller, who can come to visit and subsequently court Laura. Tom finally finds someone in the form of Jim (James Naughton) whom he works with at his factory job. Unbeknownst to him Jim went to high school with Laura and she was secretly infatuated with him. When he arrives for dinner Laura’s shyness takes over and she retreats to her bedroom, but then later she comes out. The two begin to talk and Jim tries to give Laura more confidence. Will he be her ‘knight-in-shining-armour’, or like with her glass collection will it simply be an illusion destined to shatter?

The film is based on the famous Tennessee Williams play, and to a degree his own life while growing up, that was originally produced in 1944 and was his first successful play that catapulted his career. It was made into a movie in 1950, which got a lukewarm response from film goers and critics alike for the perceived miscasting of Gertrude Lawrence, an English actress, who played Amanda. It was remade as a TV-movie in 1966 with Shirley Booth and then again in 1973 with Katharine Hepburn. Many felt this was the best filmed version of the play especially since Tennessee Williams wrote the teleplay.

This version is okay, but kind of seems unnecessary. Initially I thought director Paul Newman was going to use a different approach by removing it from a stage setting and having more outdoor scenes, which we see during the opening as Tom walks towards the apartment, which would’ve been different from any other Williams play. Ultimately though this one comes-off no different than the others with virtually everything taking place within the claustrophobic apartment. I realize that the point of the story is to show how trapped these characters were in their dismal lives, but putting a variety to the visuals and making it seem more cinematic would’ve helped. Even just adding in some cutaways would’ve been a plus like showing what Amanda and Tom are doing while Jim and Laura are sitting in the living room for an extended period of time talking. You’d presume that Amanda, being the meddlesome mother that she was, would be attempting to listen into their conversation, but actually showing it would’ve allowed an added context instead of just having them disappear and yet remain in the apartment, but doing who knows what.

Malkovich is solid and it’s nice seeing him in an early role before his ego and persona turned him into a caricature of himself. Allen is also quite good with her expressive blue eyes being the emotional catalyst that holds it all together and helps keep the viewer compelled to the story despite its overly talky nature. Woodward though doesn’t come-off as well. She’s played such strong characters in the past in films that were also directed by her husband that this one seems like a letdown compared to those. She’s also, despite the gray hair, a bit too young for the role as she was only 56 and it would’ve been better served had it been played by a more elderly woman in her 60’s or 70’s who could exude a lady completely lost in a bygone era.

The story is still compelling, but the conversations go on longer than they should and more effort should’ve been made to give it a stronger southern feel. The original film’s runtime was only 107 minutes, but this one goes on well over 2-hours. I’m not sure what was cut from that one, or added here, but it could’ve used some editing and still not hurt the basic integrity of the material.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 11, 1987

Runtime: 2 Hours 14 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Newman

Studio: Cineplex Odeon Films

Available: VHS, DVD-R

Windy City (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Keeping the gang together.

Danny (John Shea) is a struggling writer living in Chicago. When he was young he had big dreams of being a best-selling novelist, but now that he’s older he’s finding adulthood to be a lot tougher than he thought. He’s also broken-up with his longtime girlfriend Emily (Kate Capshaw) and dealing with his best friend Sol (Josh Mostel) who’s dying of leukemia. He wants the gang from childhood to get together one last time and take Sol out on the lake in a sailboat ride and pretend that they are pirates. Sol always fantasized about being one when they were kids and Danny wants to do something special for him before he passes-away, which could be at any time, but the other friends now have family and job obligations to meet and don’t think they’ll be able to make the trip, which Danny finds disappointing.

This was yet another entry in a string of films that came out in the early 80’s dealing with the baby boomers growing out of their 60’s hippie phase and into the less idealistic adulthood years of the 80’s. While none of them were all that great this one ranks at the bottom and a lot of the reason for it is that it’s too shallow. Star Shea, who looks almost exactly like Micheal Ontkean, is a perfect example as he looks like someone snatched off of a model magazine cover and his character displays no faults of any kind. He’s so caring, gracious and generous, which along with his pristine pretty-boy looks, make it almost nauseating. He does have insecurity in regards to his writing, but every writer has this and thus the arguing that culminates from this with his girlfriend becomes quite redundant and doesn’t propel the story.

Maintaining the same clique of friends that you had growing-up isn’t realistic. At least in The Big Chill it analyzed how the member’s of the old college gang had changed and how they weren’t as close as they were and that this was inevitable even though this film acts like somehow it can be overcome, which it can’t. Sol is the only interesting member and the story should’ve been centered around him and maybe one, or two close friends from the old crew that have remained together while the rest moved-on, which would’ve been more authentic. The extra friends don’t add much anyways and respond and say predictable cliched stuff making them more like clutter than anything.

Danny’s relationship with Emily is superficial too and there’s no concrete reason is given, or shown to what caused their break-up. Danny’s inability to move-on from her and the way he snoops into her window late at night would make him a creepy stalker by today’s standards. Having him careen down the streets of Chicago in a desperate attempt to stop her wedding, like in The Graduate, which gets mentioned, is pathetic. I was impressed though when he tries to jump over a drawbridge, which I thought, since this film is so irritatingly romanticized, that he would make, but instead he goes right into the river, which is the best part of the whole movie. ..it’s just a shame he didn’t stay there.

I did enjoy the picturesque scenery of Chicago, but felt there needed to be more of it especially since the city’s nickname is in the film’s title. I did get a kick out of the football game in the park that the guys play. Usually when a bunch of middle-agers get together for a game it’s rather informal, but here they had actual refs and even spectators, which I found amusing. The rest of the movie though is strained and will have many rolling-their-eyes. The best example of this is when Sol tells Danny that he’ll send him sign after he’s dead, in this case blowing Danny’s hat off of his head, so I knew right away when he says this that a scene of Danny’s hat getting blown-off and him looking up into the heaven’s will occur at the very end and sure enough that’s exactly what happens, which makes this film not only rampantly corny, but also painfully predictable though female viewers may rate it more favorably.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 21, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Armyan Bernstein

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS

Goldenrod (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Injured champ seeks comeback.

Jessie (Tony Lo Bianco) is a successful rodeo rider who’s idolized by his oldest son Ethan (Will Darrow McMillan). His fortunes though take a turn for the worse when he’s seriously injured by a horse who stamps on his hip. Doctors tell him he’ll never be able to ride again, which causes him to become depressed. His wife Shirley (Gloria Carlin) leaves him for another man (Donnelly Rhodes) forcing him to go searching for other employment. After doing odd jobs he finally gets hired by John (Donald Pleasance) a alcoholic who lives alone on a farmstead and promises big things, but delivers little. Jessie’s depression worsens and he even attempts to kill himself, but his son Ethan saves him. Ethan then tells him that he wants to be a rodeo rider, hoping that the money he wins can help get the family back on track, but Jessie worries that Ethan will face the same hardships that he did and tries to talk him out of it, but to no avail.

This Canadian entry, which was filmed on-location in the province of Alberta, and partially shot at the world famous Calgary stampede, works off the same formula as the Canadian classic Goin Down the Road, which focused on two losers with big dreams who get in way over-their-heads. Jessie character is the same way. When he’s winning he’s arrogant and thinks he’s above the common man only to then learn a hard lesson. This type of character arc though isn’t interesting as the viewer shares no emotional connection in the protagonist’s plight and in some ways delights at seeing his misfortune since he was so diluted at the start that it all seems like a good comeuppance to bring him back down-to-earth.

Lo Bianco plays the part surprisingly well being that he was an Italian-American born and raised in Brooklyn, so why the producers felt he’d be a good pick to play a Canadian cowboy is a mystery, but he pulls it off and even manages to speak in a Canadian accent while losing his Italian one that he spoke with in The Honeymoon KillersThe character though is almost cartoonish with a child-like optimism that you’d think by middle-aged would’ve been vanquished. He starts to show some humility towards the end, but more of it should’ve come-out already at the beginning in order to make him appealing and relatable.

The film focuses quite a bit on the wife at the start only to have her disappear and then eventually come back at the very end, but this is too much of a departure and the movie should’ve cut back and forth, at least a little bit, showing how she was getting along with her new hubby while Jessie struggled raising the kids. Also, you’d think if she really loved the kids she’d want to stay in contact with them and not just abandon them, which is how it comes-off. Pleasance, who spent the 70’s dotting-the-globe working on films in three different continents, gets wasted in a role that starts out with potential, but ultimately doesn’t lead to much.

The picturesque scenery is nice, but the benign story doesn’t have anything unique or memorable. The dialogue lacks a conversational quality and used more to help narrate the story and describe what’s going on that in a good film should’ve been shown visually. I was surprised too that it takes place in the 50’s because it wasn’t until halfway through when a poster advertising a rodeo and the date on it is 1953 that I had even became aware of this. Up until then it could’ve easily been the 70’s. The only two things that give it a bit of a period flavor are the older model cars, but since some people like to drive these refurbished vehicles I didn’t consider it a tell-tale sign that it was a bygone decade. There’s also brief shots of the Canadian Red Ensign, which was the Canadian Flag before the Maple Leaf one, which didn’t come into effect until 1965. Otherwise this could’ve easily been a modern day story and probably should’ve been as setting it in the past doesn’t give it any added insight.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 22, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Harvey Hart

Studio: Ambassador Film Distributors

Available: None

Skip Tracer (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Highly motivated debt collector.

John (David Petersen) enjoys his job working for a collection agency and going after people who are delinquent with their loan repayments. He has achieved ‘Man of the Year’ honors at the company and is motivated on attaining that title again. Brent (John Lazarus) is a young trainee who’s having a hard time getting the hang of it. He asks John for guidance by following him around and observing how he gets things done. John is reluctant at first, but eventually agrees. However, as their partnership evolves John starts having second thoughts about the ugly side of the business.

I worked briefly in the bill collecting business and can say first-hand this film gets it right. Director Zale Dalen must’ve worked in it himself in order to recreate it so accurately and what makes this film so good is the way it reveals the business to those who aren’t familiar with it to the extent that it’s like you’re not viewing it, but instead visiting it. The script smartly stays away from jazzing-up the storyline for the sake of drama and keeps everything on a believable level, which makes the graphic ending all that more startling. Even though it was made 45 years ago it’s still quite accurate to what could easily occur in collections offices today with the only difference being that there would be computers on the desktops now versus typewriters.

Petersen, in his film debut, is excellent, I’ve personally known people just like his character and their obsession with rising up in the company overshadows everything else even if it means becoming a complete jerk. What I didn’t get, and the one element that hurts this otherwise strong film, is that he lives in a rundown apartment and drives a beat-up car. If money is his drive and he’s won Man of the Year honors then I’d think he be living in a far ritzier place. Having the company demote him by taking away his office didn’t jive either. This seems like the type of guy who’d be arrogant enough to walk out of a company that didn’t show him the respect he felt he deserved and with his debt collection skills he could easily find another position at another collection agency, so watching him put up with the abuse from his boss undermines the character.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s shocking ending is strong and comes as a complete surprise, but I wanted to see more of a transition to the character. He essentially walks away from the job and down the street, but no idea where he ultimately ends-up. I would’ve preferred seeing him begin a new job, something that was much different than bill collecting, in order to make the transition complete because what’s to say he doesn’t just get another job, especially if his experience is in that area, that isn’t much different than the one he left? Keeping things as wide-open as it does isn’t as satisfying as seeing him working some lowly position even at lower pay, which would hit-home to the viewer that no matter how bad things were now we’d know he’d still never go back to his old ways.

End of Spoiler Alert!

This is one of the better films to come-out of Canada when it tried to jump-start its fledgling movie industry back in the 70’s. For his efforts Petersen won the Best Actor award at the 1977 Canadian Film Awards and Dalen won it for Most Promising Newcomer. The film also manages to achieve the amazing feat of making Vancouver, one of the rainiest and gloomiest cities in the world, look sunny and inviting.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 17, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Zale Dalen

Studio: International Film Distributors

Available: Blu-ray

Cotter (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rodeo clown seeks redemption.

Art Cotter (Don Murray) is a Sioux Indian who works as a rodeo clown, but when his alcoholism causes the tragic death of a rodeo rider he leaves his hometown in shame. Years later he returns hoping to make amends. He meets up with his old friend Roy (Rip Torn) and Roy’s wife Leah (Carol Lynley) and begins living with the two while trying to find work, but before he can fully turn things around tragedy strike again. This time it’s in the form of murder when wealthy rancher Wolfe (Larry D. Mann) turns-up dead with a large bag of money that he was carrying missing. Cotter was the last person to see him alive, so suspicions are cast on him almost immediately. Roy offers to let Cotter hide-out from the mob in his pump shed out back, but Roy has ulterior motives as he believes Cotter committed the crime and begins hassling him for the whereabouts of the cash. Even Leah, who had shown a liking for Cotter earlier, begins to use her sensual appeal, at her husband’s request, to get him to talk leaving Cotter with the harsh realization that nobody, even his friends, believe in him.

This was one of the last of a string of films that were released in the early 70’s dealing with modern-day rodeo stars. Many of those were hits at the box office, so it was a surprise why this one, which was meant to be released to the theaters, couldn’t find a studio to distribute it, so ultimately it ended up becoming, on April 4, 1973, the first movie to ever premiere on cable television, which at the time was still very much in its infancy.

On the surface I was surprised, given the success of the other rodeo movies, that it had to settle for direct-to-cable, but after watching it it’s pretty easy to see why. For one thing the script, which was written by actor-turned-writer William D. Gordon, doesn’t have much to do with the rodeo world. It’s just used as a set-up at the beginning, but seems much more like it should be put into the murder mystery genre instead of a modern day western, or character study. The mystery itself isn’t intriguing and gets wrapped-up too quickly making it flimsy entertainment no matter which category you put it into.

Casting Murray in the lead was another problem as he’s a white guy who doesn’t resemble an Indian at all. In fact the viewer has to keep reminding themselves that his character is one as you’ll forget otherwise. They do give him some make-up to make his skin appear redder, but this just makes him seem more like a white guy with a sunburn. There were plenty of genuine American Indian actors out there at the time, like Ned Romero, that could’ve played the part and made the character more authentic, which Murray’s presence doesn’t.

I was also disappointed that despite what Leonard Maltin states in his review, or whoever wrote it for him, the movie does not give one a good feel for the Midwest and it become painfully clear to this former Midwesterner that it wasn’t even filmed there in the first place. The Midwest has farm fields, which aren’t seen anywhere, and the towns always have a strong city center usually with the courthouse sitting on one block and then the rest of the downtown shops surrounding it. The downtown here has no distinction just a bunch of nondescript buildings plopped in a row and built on a Hollywood studio black-lot, which makes the setting as bland as the rest of the film.

Outside of Murray there are some good performances particularly by Torn and Lynley, but the script is unfocused and in need of dynamic direction. If its motive was to show the plight of the American Indian and racism then an actual Indian should’ve been cast while also bringing in a Native American as a consultant, which might’ve helped the script seem less generic.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: April 4, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Paul Stanley

Studio: Gold Key Entertainment

Available: DVD

Ice House (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Transient wants girlfriend back.

Pake (Bo Brinkman) and Kay (Melissa Gilbert) grew up in a small town in Texas and were high school sweethearts. Despite having a good paying job in the Texas oil fields Pake longs to pursue his dream of making it in the music industry, so he and Kay head-off to Hollywood, but Pake finds it more challenging than he thought to break into the business and be discovered. He becomes homeless and eating out of trash cans. Kay turns to prostitution and eventually meets Vassil (Andreas Manolikakis). He is a Greek immigrant looking to marry her so he can become a permanent U.S. citizen while Kay likes the fact that his family has money and feels if she marries him she’ll have a more stable life than with Pake, but just one day before the wedding Pake arrives at Kay’s cramped apartment wanting to win her back.

This was the third film directed by Eagle Pennell who shot to fame with his break-out indie flick The Whole Shootin’ Matchthat won him a Hollywood contract, which didn’t pan out, but it did at least get him enough financing to make a couple of other movies, with this one being one of the few that he did in color. Yet, the production, like in his first film, is mired in the constraints of shooting on a threadbare budget including having the entire thing take place in one tiny apartment. Some films have shot things in one setting and gotten away with it, but this location lacks any visual flair and quickly becomes static. There’s a few cutaways to flashback scenes shot back in Texas, but they aren’t particularly interesting. The most frustrating aspect is having Pake describe a surreal dream he had, but instead of having it recreated onscreen like a smart movie should we just see his sweaty face talking about it, which diminishes its impact.

Having Melissa Gilbert, better known as Laura Ingalls Wilder in ‘Little House on the Prairie’ helps a little though she’s a long way away from Walnut Grove including being dressed in a provocative 80’s style hooker outfit. I realize she wanted to prove herself as an actress by taking on more edgy fare in order to get away from her ‘goody-goody’ image and she certainly does that here where at one point she even described guys ‘cumming in her mouth’ and does a simulated sex scene with Vassil while Pake, tied-up, is forced to watch. Some may be impressed with her acting range, or shocked, but in either case, she’s effective.

Brinkman, who also wrote the script, which is based on his play ‘Ice House Heat Waves’ is excellent in his role as well, but the dialogue needed serious work. Too much of a colloquial sound including such overused phrases as ‘you can talk until you’re blue-in-the-face’ and ‘you don’t have a pot to piss in’, which gives the conversation a remedial quality and like it was thought up by a teenager. At one point the character even describes Hollywood as being ‘Hollyweird’ and he thinks he’s being clever in saying it even though that’s been a mocking phrase used by many to describe the California scene and shows how a script rewrite by a professional script doctor was needed.

Despite the flaws I still found on a modest scale for it to be strangely compelling. Maybe it’s Pennell’s way of capturing Texas showing a couple carrying on an elicit affair under the nigh sky alongside a dark oil rig that gives it a moody vibe that I liked. Pennell, who later became homeless himself, seems to understand the desperation of the characters, which helps give it some grounding and may make it worth it for viewers who are patient.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 16, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 21 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Eagle Pennell

Studio: Cactus Films

Available: None

Mass Appeal (1984)

mass appeal1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Priest and deacon argue.

Mark (Zelijko Ivanek) is a young rebellious man attending Catholic seminary, who has a rigidly idealistic approach to how he thinks things should be especially within the church and will routinely clash with his superiors. Father Tim Farley (Jack Lemmon) is a middle-aged man who enjoys not rocking-the-boat and basically just telling people what they want to hear specifically his congregation while avoiding controversial issues at all costs. Tim is put in charge of Mark for a month in hopes that he can teach him to be more tactful and not such an outward firebrand. The two argue quite a lot, but eventually start to bond. When Mark divulges that he had sex with other men in the past and that he has admitted this to the Monsignor (Charles Durning), which could get him kicked-out of the seminary, it puts Tim in a tough bind. Will he stand-up for Mark by refusing to allow the Monsignor to use Mark’s past against him, or will he slink away like he always has to the safety net of the quiet life where he avoids making a stir of any kind?

The film may seem initially like it’s a spiritual one as there are many scenes shot inside the church during Sunday mornings where it perfectly captures the ambiance of a church service including having the mothers quarantined inside a glass ‘crying room’ where they take their babies when they get cranky, but are still able to interact with everyone else via microphones. Yet the more you get into the movie the less religious it is with the centerpiece of the story being instead universal to everyday life as it deals with the different perspectives of the generations and how one wants to vigorously challenge the system while the other is content with accepting things as they are. The arguments that the two have could easily be transferred to debates in other areas of life whether it’s politics, or even business.

The story is based on a two character play, written by Bill C. Davis, that was first performed in small theaters with Davis playing the part of Mark Dolson, a character not unlike himself. Eventually it caught the attention of actress Geraldine Fitzgerald, who agreed to direct it while also helping to revise the script, which then lead to it being produced on Broadway with Milo O’ Shea as the priest and Eric Roberts, who later got replaced by Michael O’Keefe, as Dolson.

The movie made changes from the play including adding in characters like the Monsignor and Margaret, played by Louise Latham, who works as Tim’s housekeeper. I had no problems with the Monsignor role, which is well played by Durning, who makes a strong presence to the plot, but the Margaret character seemed a bit too extreme as she overreacts to saying even a little white lie and like it might get her ‘in trouble with God’. To me this was an unrealistic portrait of a theist as I don’t think they’re quite this stringent and can lie and sin at times like anyone else. It also made me wonder that if she’s so obsessed with being a ‘perfect Catholic’ then her friendship with Mark, who she gets along with initially, would turn frosty after she found out hat he had gay sex because in her mind, if she’s to follow the same Catholic principles, would go against the teachings, so she technically she shouldn’t be associating with him even though this doesn’t actually happen.

Spoiler Alert!

My main beef with the film, which is captivating for at least the first 45-minutes before it becomes too much like a filmed stageplay, is that we never get to see whether Mark is able to stay in the seminary, or not. The movie acts like the big payoff is seeing Tim give this fiery sermon in Mark’s defense, but I would’ve been more interested in seeing how the congregation responded to it. Did they come to Mark’s aid like Tim hoped, or did they turn on Tim and have him banished to a small church in Iowa, which he feared? Not having these questions answered doesn’t bring the story to a satisfying conclusion.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Glenn Jordan

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD-R (Universal Vault Series)