Category Archives: Drama

The Last of the Knucklemen (1979)

lastknuckle1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Isolated miners living together.

A group of miners, some of them with criminal records and no other means of employment, survive together in the remotest area of the Outback as they make a living working for Tarzan (Gerard Kennedy) who leads the team and gives them their paychecks. At night they sleep via bunkbeds in a small tin shack where they also play card games, drink, and occasionally brawl. Pansy (Michael Preston) is the de facto leader, who uses his quick temper and husky build to intimidate anyone who challenges his authority. The only one he doesn’t fight is Tarzan, but only because he’s the employer. Then a new man arrives named Tom (Peter Hehir) with a mysterious past. He has karate skills that allow him to take-on Pansy’s fist-fitting ability, but Pansy has a secret weapon of his own when he brings in Carl (Steve Rackman) from a nearby town who’s a huge guy with very few teeth, who he feels can beat Tom in a fight and everyone else in the camp takes bets on who they think can win.

The film is based on the stage play of the same name written by John Powers who himself had never worked in a mining camp, but had always been intrigued with the ruggedness, wildness, and overall isolation of them after growing up hearing bawdy tales from his Uncle Harry who had been employed at one of them. 20 years after hearing his uncle’s stories he then decided to turn those rustic tales into a play while also incorporating it with the adventures of Ronald Biggs who was a train robber who managed to evade the authorities for many years. Pitting a known criminal trying to just hide-out at a remote camp with the gruff nature of the men who worked there he felt would make for an interesting dynamic and the play, which opened in 1973 in Australia and 10 years later in the U.S. where it starred Dennis Quaid, was met with rave reviews.

Director Tim Burstall was looking to do a male bonding pic and had a choice between doing this one or The Odd Angry Shotwhich was reviewed last week, and came to the determination that this was the better fit. He particularly liked the outback setting and became focused on finding the most remote town to film it in and eventually chose the itty-bitty one of Andamooka, which at the time had only 316 people living there and today has even less. While the town certainly met the rustic quality it had no police and the inhabitants, much like the characters in the story, had previous criminal records forcing the producer to sleep with a gun at his side and the production’s payroll under his pillow. It also at times caused interruptions with the filming when one day one of the locals threatened to blow up the set with a stick of dynamite, which sent the cast and crew running, until the special effects man realized the stick had no detonator.

The interior scenes were done on a soundstage in Melbourne, though it’s so impressively camouflaged you’d never know it. My only complaint with the outdoor shots is that filming took place during September and October, which is Springtime in Australia where temps aren’t as hot, and in fact they were quite chilly, so that intense hot Outback feel, which is the whole basis of the story, never really comes through.

As for the story, it’s surprisingly engaging despite the fact that there’s really not much of a plot and everything hinders on the interactions of the characters. Fortunately the characters are so well defined that you enjoy and are even intrigued at how they all relate to each other and the love-hate relationship that they share. One of the most gripping moments has nothing to do with the climactic fight, but instead on an intense poker game between Pansy and the elderly Methusela (Michael Duffield), where each tries to bluff the other while also raising the money stakes to drastic heights.

The fight itself, which you wait through the whole movie to see, wasn’t as exciting, or captured in as intense of a way, as I was expecting. The animosity between Tom and Pansy wasn’t played-up enough either and only comes to a head during the third act while I felt it should’ve been brewing from the very start. Tom as a character is quite dull and is seen a lot less than Methusela who’s the scene-stealer. The sequence between Tom and Carl’s battle is surprisingly quick while the big showdown between Tarzan and Pansy gets captured from a distance and shown over the closing credits, which I found quite disappointing. There’s no answer to who ultimately wins the fight either, which despite the film’s other good qualities, is a big letdown.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 11, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Tim Burstall

Studio: Hexagon Productions

Available: DVD (Import Region 0)

A Different Story (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Homosexuals in heterosexual relationship.

Albert (Perry King) works as a chauffeur to famous pianist Sills (Peter Donat) and he’s also his part-time lover, but when Sills finds another man Albert gets put on the street and must seek refuge as a squatter. Stella (Meg Foster) is a real estate agent who finds Albert taking up residence in one of the homes she’s trying to sell. She decides to let him move in with her and since both of them are gay they partake in a platonic friendship. Then immigration comes looking for him since he’s also an illegal alien from Belgium. In an effort to prevent his deportation Stella decides to marry him and they soon become romantic including having sex and a baby, but just as things seem to blossom Stella becomes concerned that Albert may be seeing someone behind her back.

While this movie may have seemed ‘groundbreaking’ when it came out it has not aged well and features an assortment of issues starting with the whole botched premise. Having a single woman take in a virtual stranger is never a good idea. If you have concern for a homeless person direct them to the nearest shelter, but inviting them back to your place is clearly dangerous. Perhaps because she knew he was gay she thought he’d be ‘safe’, but just because he’s not going to rape you doesn’t mean he might not rob her when she was away.

The characterization of Albert works too much off gay stereotypes such as having him into cooking, cleaning, and even dress designing. The film should’ve challenged the viewer’s perception of gay people by working against the cliché by having him into auto repair, football, and drinking beer instead. I also thought it was dumb that, in an effort to hide that he was gay, Stella pretends to have made the dinner when her parents (Richard Bull, Barbara Collentine) arrive for a visit, but why couldn’t she just have introduced Albert as her straight male friend who just happens to be a great cook, or are we to presume that every male chef out there is secretly gay?

Spoiler Alert!

The third act is when it jumps-the-shark not so much with the introduction of the baby, which was bad enough, but more when Albert starts fooling around on Stella with another woman! The whole idea that simply having feelings for a member of the opposite sex would magically ‘ungay’ a person, or that ‘love can change everything’ is just not true. The initial gay theme gets totally lost and it starts to resemble a flick about a straight married couple instead. In the end there’s just nothing different about this ‘different story’, which is the whole problem.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 10, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Aaron

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Shame (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lawyer uncovers town’s secret.

Asta (Deborra-Lee Furness) is enjoying her vacation holiday from work as a lawyer by traveling through the Western Australian countryside on her motorbike only to get into an unexpected accident late one night when she inadvertently drives into a flock of sheep in the road that due to the darkness she didn’t see. With her bike now damaged she brings it into a repair shop run by Tim (Tony Barry). Since the parts for the bike need to be shipped in Asta agrees to stay at Tim’s residence in a spare room. It is there that she overhears a conversation involving Tim’s daughter Lizzie (Simone Buchanan) and her sexual assault by a group of young men at the town’s bar. No one seems to want to press any charges and everyone in the town places the blame on Lizzie by openly implying that she’s a ‘slut’, but Asta gives her the confidence to go to the police and press charges only to find that those same men are now after her and consider her to be their next ‘conquest’.

The film is loosely based on a true story, that also inspired The Accused, which starred Jodie Foster.  However, here the approach is different where the rape victim isn’t the main protagonist, but instead someone who wasn’t even involved in the actual incident and mainly just stands on the sidelines as an observer, which isn’t as compelling. The Asta character almost becomes like a transparent ghost who’s always in the middle of the action, but overall doesn’t really do much to help propel the story along. The producers had wanted Asta to be more violent and vigilante-like, but the director nixed this idea even though I felt it would’ve helped.

While I liked the segments dealing with the parents of the boys who committed the rape and their denial of what happened and at one point even agreeing to pay-off the victim’s family not to press charges, as it’s interesting to see things from the family of accused, which most rape movies don’t do, but overall I found the story structure to be lackadaisical. I was a bit confused during the first act about what had occurred as everything is handled in a subtle and conversational fashion. We never see the actual crime happen it’s just spoken about in passing, but I felt at some point there should’ve been a flashback to the build-up of it and I was fully expecting it to come along at some point, but it never does.

The characterizations of the males is too extreme and stereotyped. I’m okay with some of the men being bad apples, as this can occur anywhere, but in this movie they’re all portrayed as being leering savage animals with no conscience or self-control. The fact that they’ve apparently raped other women in the town the same way just made it all the more over-the-top. I’ve never heard of small towns dealing with marauding, serial rape gangs and wondered what made this one so special. Was it something in the water?

There is a certain Mad Max vibe to it, which was apparently what the filmmakers were aiming for, but the results are only so-so. At least in Mad Max it had a surreal, futuristic setting, but this thing has extreme behavior happening amongst the men in an average place in the modern-day, which didn’t make much sense.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 26, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Steve Jodrell

Studio: Barron Films

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Jenny (1970)

jenny

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: An unmarried, pregnant woman.

Jenny (Marlo Thomas) is a young woman living in New York City who has a one night stand with a man engaged to be married and ends up getting pregnant. She fears the stigma of being an unwed mother, so when she meets Delano (Alan Alda), a struggling filmmaker who wants to marry in order to avoid the draft, she agrees. The marriage of convenience does not start out well as living together brings out all of their differences, but the closer they get to the delivery date the stronger their bond to each other grows.

This was intended to be a breakout role for Marlo, who was still doing her TV-show ‘That Girl’ at the time and filmed this while on hiatus from that one. She was hoping this would be the first of a long line of starring vehicles for her and even precipitated the ending of her series two years later in order to be available to do more movies, but the offers never came. One of the main reasons is that the movie did not do that well either at the box office, or critically. Much of the blame could be given to the limp storyline that acted like the social mores of 1939 were still intact in 1969 where having a baby without a husband would be considered ‘scandalous’ even though it was the height of the hippie movement where lovemaking outside of marriage had become the new trendy thing making this film very dated even before it was ever released.

The film should’ve been titled ‘Delano and Jenny’ as Alda’s performance is the one thing that manages to hold it together. He’s best known for playing Hawkeye in the TV-show ‘M*A*S*H’ where he was a touch-feely, sensitive 70’s guy, but here he’s character is quite self-centered and volatile. Yet this is the one thing in the movie that’s interesting. Marlo’s performance on the other-hand ends up being one-note. Watching her big, brown eyes show a constant look of pain and sadness becomes too excessive and too redundant.

The supporting players help a little. Marian Hailey plays Delano’s world-wise, jaded lover, which is a far cry from the nerdy, nasally sounding, neurotic character that she was in the cult hit Lovers and Other Strangers. Vincent Gardenia and Elizabeth Wilson, who play Jenny’s parents, also played another married couple that very same year in the movie Little Murders. The scene where everyone takes a look at a cabinet full of teeth that Jenny’s father had made during his career, as he was a dental prosthetist, and had encased in the middle of his living room did offer a rare funny moment, but the camera should’ve done a close-up on the dentures as he described them instead of  having the viewers only see it from a distance.

The first half is surprisingly watchable as it brings out the inevitable realities that would occur when simply marrying for convenience, but having the film shift to a love story at the end doesn’t jive. These two had so little in common it didn’t seem possible that they could’ve fallen in love even if they had wanted to. Jenny’s character needed to be better fleshed out as well. She comes-off as shy and cautious and yet is brazen enough to hop into bed with a guy engaged to someone else, which is a scene we needed to see played-out instead of only discussed in passing later.

Spoiler Alert!

When the nurse brings in the infant as Jenny and Delano sit in the hospital room was the one moment I thought there might be a surprise as the baby looked from the back to be African American and from the front to be Asian even though apparently he was neither. I was hoping that it was as that would’ve been something that that neither the moody Delano nor the viewer would’ve expected and helped given this otherwise sterile story the edgy twist that it needed.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: January 2, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated M

Director: George Bloomfield

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD

The Conformist (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to fit-in.

Marcello (Jean Louis Trintignant) is living in Italy during WWII and a member of the fascist secret police. He longs to be a part of acceptable society and partaking in the conventions of what he believes is a normal life including settling down and getting married even if it’s to a woman Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli) that he doesn’t really love. He gets ordered to assassinate Quadri (Enzo Tarascio) who was one of his professors back in college, but who has now been deemed an anti-fascist by the government.  Marcello uses the guise of his honeymoon as an excuse to travel with Giulia to Paris in order to carry out his mission. However, once there he begins to have feelings for the professor’s wife Anna (Dominique Sanda) and becomes unable to carry out the assignment despite being aware that Anna is only using him to get to Giulia, which is who she truly desires.

This film became a benchmark in Bernardo Bertullici’s career and was his first box office success that allowed him the ability to go on and direct even bigger  classics such as The Last Tango in Paris and 1900.  While the visuals are impressively stylistic I do agree with many critics that too much emphasis is placed on the sets, that gives it an almost over-the-top kitschy feel, while drowning out the story, which is handled in a more subtle way, in the process. The plot is still captivating, but a good movie should have a nice balance and as critic Gene Siskel stated in his review it’s more of a ‘show than a story’ and reviewer Keven Thomas labeled it a ‘bravura style Fellini’, which I consider to be a very accurate description.

The story is based on the 1951 novel of the same name by Alberto Moravia, but apparently Bertolucci had never read it when he pitched the idea to Paramount and managed to wow the studio execs into loving the idea simply by relying on the the description of the story giving to him by his then-girlfriend who had read it. When he finally did read it he did so while writing it into a screenplay at the same time.

There are many differences though between the source novel and the film with the movie leaving out a lot of Marcello’s childhood backstory that I felt was needed. The book examines Marcello’s penchant for killing lizards and even the neighbor’s cat as well as his witnessing his father’s abusing of his mother and the vandalization of a family photograph, which the film doesn’t touch on. The book also gets into more detail about why Marcello is tormented by his classmates where in the film we see Marcello being harassed, but it’s never made clear why.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending gets changed too. In the book Marcello has an interesting philosophical debate with Lino, a chauffer who sexually abused him as a child, but this conversation is left out of the movie. Marcello also, along with his wife and child, gets gunned down while driving in their car, but surprisingly the movie doesn’t have this part either. You would think that they would since action makes for a good visual, and I’m not sure for the reason why it was left out/revised except that Bertolucci may have feared it would be too similar to the finale in Bonnie and Clyde and didn’t want to seem like he was replicating that one.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall despite these deviations I still found it impactful particularly the ambush scene on a lonely road, which was the one thing that I remembered about the movie after having not seen in for several decades. The strong performances help too especially Trintignant’s brooding portrayal though being French born he spoke his lines phonetically without knowing what they meant and then later had them dubbed by Sergio Graziani in post production. The two lead actresses are splendid too and although the parts were originally offered to the more famous Brigitte Bardot and Anouk Aimee I felt it came off better with the then unknowns particularly Sandrelli who’s energetic and almost child-like at the beginning only to behave like jaded, middle-aged woman by the conclusion.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Storm Boy (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A boy raises pelicans.

Mike (Greg Rowe) is a 10-year-old boy living in a ramshackle home near the ocean on Australia’s southern coast. He lives with his reclusive father Tom (Peter Cummins) who wants no connection with the outside world and won’t even allow his son to have a radio. One day Mike meets Fingerbone (David Gulpilil) an aborigine living alone on the beach due to a falling out with his tribe. Together they come upon a group of hunters shooting at birds. Fingerbone is able to scare them away, but not before they’re able to shoot and kill a mother pelican leaving her young to die of starvation. Mike decides to take the baby birds home with him and despite his father’s initial objections he’s allowed to keep them. The bird’s require a lot of food, but Mike is able to keep them fed and once they’ve grown he and his father set them free, but one of the bird’s, whose name is Mr. Perceval, comes back and Mike grows a strong bond with him.

The film is based on the children’s book of the same name written by Colin Theile, which won many awards. The film has acquired many legions of fans as well, but filming it proved to be quite complicated. Training the birds took 12-months and many times they’d fly off during the filming including one of them flying into a nearby private party that scared many of the party goers there. They also had the challenge of trying to get the Rowe to interact with the bird as he was initially quite scared of them.

Personally I’ve never found pelicans to be all that cute or lovable and their large beaks are an odd sight second only to that of the toucan’s. I did though enjoy seeing the baby pelicans who don’t even have any feathers on them and was hoping more time would be spent on to their feeding and caring, but the movie glosses over this part pretty quickly.

The bird storyline is in fact only one part of the movie as the script also focuses on several other threads including a local teacher (Judy Dick) trying to get the father to allow Mike to attend school with the rest of the children. There’s also a segment where a bunch of young men in dune buggies come out of nowhere late one night and proceed to tear up, with their vehicles, the home that Mike and his father live in. I suppose the reason this is put in is to show how the bird warns Mike of the impending danger, which gets him out of the house, but otherwise it has no connection to the rest of the plot and it’s left a mystery to what motivated these young men to do it nor are they ever seen or heard of again.

The performances are quite good, which is the one thing that holds it all together. Cummins as the father impressed me the most because he is so different here than any of the other parts he’s played. Gulpilil is entertaining too and has some of the most lines, which is the exact opposite from Walkabout where he had none. Rowe is excellent as well despite the fact that he wears the same clothes the whole way through. Only at the very end is he seen wearing something other than his drab green sweater, but I felt for the sake of body odor he should’ve had a variety of outfits to wear all the way through. I realize they were poor, but even poor people don’t usually wear the same clothes everyday for months on end.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending, in which the bird gets shot by a group of hunters, most likely the same ones that killed the bird’s mother, is very predictable, which is the film’s biggest drawback. No real surprises and the life lesson’s are pretty routine and something seen in a lot of children’s stories, so if you take the pelican out of it it’s not all that special. The constant gray, overcast sky gets a bit depressing to look at too, but the film has found a loyal following and was remade to a degree in 2019, where Geoffrey Rush plays a now grown Mike and relating back to his kids about his adventures when he was young. It also stars Gulpilil as the father of Fingerbone Bill.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 18, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Henri Safran

Studio: Roadshow Films

Available: DVD-R (Region Free), Blu-ray (Region 0)

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.