Category Archives: Drama

Romero (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Priest battles the oppression.

Based on the life of Oscar Amulfo Romero (Raul Julia) the film centers on his ascent to Archbishop of San Salvador during the political turmoil of 1977. It was presumed that Romero who had traditionally always been reserved and apolitical would act as a nice balance between the authoritative military regime and the congregation, but as the oppressive authorities welded more of a dogmatic style and killed anyone who spoke out against it, Romero became the symbol of the resistance sending him into a perilous position where his livelihood and life came into serious doubt.

On the technical end this film does quite well and noted Australian director John Duigan creates a vivid atmosphere of the time period. Many scenes are quite disturbing and even gut-wrenching as we see the faces of men, woman, and children shot and killed in cold-blood. The part where Romero sits inside the squalor of a prison cell while hearing the moans of someone being tortured in the next one and unable to do anything about it except cry out was for me the most unsettling. The outdoor scenery has a scorched earth look, which nicely reflected the mood and mind-set of most of the people living there and every shot showing a military tank passing by got me jittery. Sometimes nothing would occur, but just seeing a tank was enough to make me nervous and to that end the film does its job as I’m sure that was the same feeling those that lived through the ordeal also felt.

Although Julia does not resemble the actual Archbishop who was in his 60’s at the time and looked much older than Julia who despite the dyed gray hair still appeared to be in his 40’s, his all-around performance is quite exemplary. Throughout his career he had played many flamboyant parts, so seeing him effectively portray a buttoned-down persona was quite interesting and a testament to his acting skill.

Spoiler Alert!

The only issue that I had was that on the emotional level it fails. Since it was produced by the Catholic church I presumed that we’re supposed to feel ‘inspired’ when it’s over and yet I walked away from it feeling anything but. I kept waiting for a Gandhi-like moment where we would see first-hand how all of his struggles finally came to fruition and how one person can truly move mountains and make a difference and yet that never happens. Instead he gets murdered while conducting a religious service and the war he sought to end continued to rage on for another decade killing an additional 60,000 to 90,000 more people.

Yes, there were indeed moments where Romero displayed amazing courage, but every time he revealed his bravery it just made his situation even worse. If the idea was to motivate the viewer to go out and be a hero it doesn’t work. If anything it unintentionally seems to state that laying low and keeping your mouth shut in the face of adversity is a good thing because at least you’ll remain alive and if you do choose to fight, it will only lead to death and nothing substantial to show for it.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Release: August 25, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: John Duigan

Studio: Four Square

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Banning (1967)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Golf pro seeks revenge.

Mike Banning (Robert Wagner) was at one time an up-and-coming golf star, but then his promising career came crashing down when he was accused of trying to rig a game by bribing his competitor. In reality it was his competitor Jonathan Linus (Guy Stockwell) who did the bribing and when Mike refused to go in on it Jonathan tabbed him for the crime. Now Mike has returned to the golf club that Jonathan and his rich wife Cynthia (Susan Clark) own. He demands to be given a job or he’ll tell the truth about what happened, but after securing a position at the club Mike then must deal with the mob who bankrolled his initial PGA run and now demand repayment, which forces Mike into the type of scheme that he had earlier avoided.

This is the type of film that could be deemed ‘dead-on-arrival’ as the characters  are so painfully cliched in the most soap opera-like extreme that it’s almost laughable, but strangely it’s still captivating. Most likely this is because we as regular people still get-off seeing the rich and powerful self-destruct by not only eating up each other, but many times themselves as well. Realizing that people with a lot of money don’t really ‘have-at-all’ and in many cases can be even more miserable is sort of satisfying and to that extent this movie succeeds admirable.

Unfortunately the sets are not as gaudy and over-the-top as they needed to be. When the characters are excessive the backdrop needs to match it and in this case it doesn’t. The golf club appears to be just some set piece created inside a studio and this visual sterility defeats the campiness by ultimately stymieing the melodrama into a formulaic programmer.

Wagner though is what really kills it by performing his role like he were sleepwalking. He shows no energy or nuance and simply goes around with this perpetual irritated look on his face and nothing more. How can a movie stimulate any interest when its lead has no panache? Even Jill St. John who Wagner later married in real-life buries him with her presence to the point that he doesn’t even seem worthy enough to share the same screen with her.

In support Howard St John (no relation to Jill) is fun as a conniving elderly rich tycoon who pretends to be drunk when he really isn’t as well as Anjanette Comer playing in a rare straight role. Her career has been marked with so many cult movie parts that seeing her play someone who is normal becomes genuinely diverting. Unfortunately Gene Hackman, who is miscast as an aging golf-pro even though he was in reality the same age as Wagner, gets wasted.

The climactic golf match manages to be surprisingly captivating and proves that the game can have a certain cinematic flair if done right, but some of the film’s other stabs at action don’t work so well. The car chase is a particular problem as it becomes painfully clear that Wagner really isn’t driving a vehicle, but simply sitting in front of a green screen instead, which pretty much helps to cements this as a dated relic.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 30, 1967

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ron Winston

Studio: Universal

Available: None at this time

Split Image (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their son becomes brainwashed.

Danny (Micheal O’Keefe) is a struggling athlete who’s feeling overwhelmed by the demands and pressures of college life. He meets-up with Rebecca (Karen Allen) who invites him to a weekend stay at what turns out to be a religious cult run by Kirklander (Peter Fonda). It is there that Danny becomes brainwashed into the organization and cuts off all ties with his parents (Brian Dennehy, Elizabeth Ashley) who decide they have no option but to kidnap him and then have him deprogrammed by a brash, caustic deprogrammer (James Woods) who they find to be rude but helpful

This film is very similar to Ticket to Heaven that was produced in Canada and has the same story and structure. The Canadian production though is a bit better especially with the way it examines the protagonist getting acclimated into the cult. Both films have the young man becoming brainwashed in a matter of one weekend which to me is too quick. The Canadian film though at least examines the different activities that they go through to wear him down and it gets in your face with it, so the viewer feels as exhausted as the young man when t’s over while this film glosses over that part making the transition seem too extreme. The Canadian film also detailed the character’s constant inner turmoil even after he’d been indoctrinated while here Danny behaves like a light switch that completely changes from his old self in a snap and then never looks back, which is less realistic

The B-story dealing with a romance that he has with Rebecca while in the group degrades the the story to a sappy opera level and should’ve been left out. Allen certainly is perfect for her role as her bright, beaming blue eyes gives her character that brainwashed appearance, but the extended conversations she has with Danny are strained making me believe that the scenes inside the cult should’ve been cut as they’re corny instead of compelling and focused instead  solely on the parents point-of-view at trying to get him out.

The film though does score with the deprogramming segment, which gets much more extended here. Director Ted Kotcheff uses elaborate visual effects to convey Danny’s point-of-view and unlike in Ticket to Heaven the deprogrammer doesn’t allow the family and friends to sit-in on his sessions as he feared they won’t understand his methods, which is more believable.

Ashley as the mother is great especially her meltdown near the end with Danny when he tries to physically attack her.  I had some problems though with Dennehy’s character as he seemed much too calm and laid back and even starts singing as they drive to the cult location even though most people would be nervous and then later showing him breaking down and crying as he watched an old video of Danny is too overwrought.

Woods though perfectly captures the anti-hero with his intended brashness being more amusing than offensive. The part where he plays-out a scene to the movie Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring Spencer Tracy was I’m convinced ad-libbed and a great example of  how his acting genius gives this movie a needed edge and whose presence keeps it watchable.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS, Amazon Video

Ticket to Heaven (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He joins a cult.

Despondent over his recent break-up with his girlfriend, David (Nick Mancuso) visits a religious revival group attended by many young adults his age. He finds their incessant, ritualistic games of singing and dancing to be annoying at first as well as their lack of sleep and skimpy diet, but eventually he succumbs to their control. His friend Larry (Saul Rubinek) tracks him down and tries to free him, but realizes they have brainwashed him to such a severe extent that he is forced to concoct an elaborate kidnapping plan in order to bring him to an undisclosed place where he can then be deprogrammed.

Although religious cults aren’t quite as prevalent now back in the 70’s there were many incidents of parents losing their teens or young adult children to the icy grip of these brainwashing organizations and the struggles to bring them back to the real world proved grueling and sometimes futile. This film, based on the nonfiction novel ‘Moonwebs’ by Josh Freed, manages to hit home the finer points of the phenomenon giving the viewer a vivid understanding of the situation not only for those that became members, but their family and friends who had to helplessly watch loved ones devolve into a mindless, robotic shell of what they once were.

One of the drawbacks though is that the protagonist is portrayed too broadly. The film makes it seem as if anyone could get brainwashed by these groups, which I don’t agree with. I realize everyone can at times be vulnerable, but certain people fall more into these mind traps than others and there’s nothing clear as to why David fell prey so badly and just saying he was upset about his recent breakup is not enough of an explanation for a such a severe downward spiral.

Rubinek as his friend is really annoying and turning him into the essential hero of the film makes it even worse. On the petty side I couldn’t stand his overly bushy eyebrows or that he goes on stage dressed as a giant carrot and later a tomato just for cheap laughs, which is the type of guy you want to see fade away not ultimately root for. What really got on my nerves though was how he comes up with such an elaborate kidnapping plan and pulls it off confidently despite having no experience and the fact that he gets so many others to help him do it including his own boss really pushes the film’s credibility badly.

The direction though deserves accolades particularly the first 25 minutes, which detail the different manipulative tactics these groups do in order to wear down the newbies. The shots showing David trying to leave the group and constantly being hounded by other members refusing to ever let him be alone are memorable. I also liked the bird’s eye shots of all the people taking part, which is almost jaw dropping at just how many there were.

The performance by Kim Cattrall as one of the group’s main members nicely illustrates how a young smiling, pretty face could allure a young man to let down his guard only for her to ultimately convey her controlling claws later. The scenes dealing with the deprogramming are good, but could’ve been extended and there’s never any mention of the time frame as the movie makes it seems like it takes only a few days when in reality it could sometimes be weeks or even months. Overall it’s a compelling look at a difficult subject that is quite similar to Split Image starring Micheal O’Keefe, which came out around the same time and will be reviewed tomorrow.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 9, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ralph L. Thomas

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD

Footloose (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: A town bans dancing.

Ren (Kevin Bacon) is a teenager from Chicago who moves with his mother (Francis Lee McCain) to a small town in Utah where he finds that dancing has been banned by the town’s fiery minister (John Lithgow). He becomes determined to try and change that and convinces the other kids including his new found friend Willard (Chris Penn) that dancing really isn’t all that bad. He also falls for the minister’s daughter Ariel (Lori Singer) who is far more liberated than you’d expect someone from a religious upbringing to be.

I remember when this film came out and I intentionally refused to see it as I felt that the plot was too absurd to be believable. I was born and raised in a small Midwestern town of about 7,000 people and the idea that some lone minister could overtake it and start making extreme rules that everyone would follow especially in the modern era of the 80’s is just not realistic. If the town was really small and isolated with a population of like 200 then maybe but the one portrayed in the film comes off as being fairly big and was filmed mostly in American Fork, Utah, which in the 1980 census had a population of 13,606. Having a scene dealing with a literal book burning makes the thing even campier and made me believe this would’ve worked better had the setting been the 1950’s.

There is also no explanation to what the penalty would be if one is caught dancing. Everyone acts like it would mean jail time or something like that when most likely it would just be a small fine and since when have teens ever been that compliant when it comes to rules? There are several scenes where they are seen with joints, so if they’re willing to fudge the law in that respect then why not do it with the dancing too?

The concept is loosely based on an actual incident that occurred in Elmore City, Oklahoma in 1978 where the local teens challenged a city ordinance that banned dancing. However, the incident there made more sense because it was an ordinance that had been on the books for over 90 years. Many cities and towns have old ordinances and laws that are no longer relevant, or followed, but just haven’t been officially removed as opposed to some minister coming into a town and implementing a new law that everyone is forced to comply with. The town was also much smaller (population of only 653 in 1970) than the one portrayed in the movie, so religious sentiment would be more able to oppress the rest of its citizens.

The drama for the most part is limp and does not justify its runtime as there are long segments that have nothing to do with the main story including cringe worthy scenes where we watch Singer dangerously trying to leap between two moving cars and a game of chicken between tractors with Bacon and another teen driving them. There’s also a B-storyline dealing with Bacon trying to teach Penn how to dance, which gets corny.

The most annoying aspect though for me was Singer’s character as she doesn’t seem like a minister’s kid at all. She behaves in too much of a free-spirited way and I would think someone raised in such a repressed environment would reflect some religious traits and yet Singer conveys none. Having her religious at the start and even opposed to dancing and then become tolerant to it after she meets Bacon would’ve created an interesting character arch. Also, if she behaved in a cult-like manner due to her strict upbringing then it would’ve made the minister character more menacing because the viewer would be made to feel that was what he wanted to turn the rest of the town into.

Lithgow is a great actor, but he’s not right for this type of part as he is too young and was only 12 years older than Singer who played his daughter. A much older actor would’ve better illustrated how the older generation was desperately trying to cling onto their old way of life in an ever changing world and how completely detached they were from modern teens. Also, the character here doesn’t seem threatening enough as he is unable to control his own daughter so then how is he expected to control the rest of the town?

The opening bit done over the credits showing the different types of dancing feet is the best thing in the movie although some may take a liking to Bacon’s dancing inside an abandoned warehouse although much of that was done with the help of body doubles.  Otherwise this empty-headed movie, which was remade in 2011, has very little to recommend.

I did want to mention too that recently there was an 80’s podcast that I listened to where they reviewed this movie and one of the critics complained that the town had only white kids and acted like somehow that was not politically correct, but having grown up in a small town during the 70’s and 80’s I can vouch for the fact that there were little if any minorities there and therefore having an all-white cast, whether it is politically correct or not, was realistic.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 17, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: Paramount

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

Heartbreakers (1984)

Heartbreakers Movie Poster (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fetish artist goes mainstream.

Arthur (Peter Coyote) is an artist who specializes in erotic portraits of women that he sells to men’s magazines, but he strives to have his work seen by more people. He gets his chance to have his artwork shown at a gallery and works with his fetish model Candy (Carol Wayne) to make enough new material for it. When his former girlfriend Cyd (Kathryn Harrold) moves in with his artistic rival King (Max Gail) he becomes attracted to Lilane (Carole Laure) the manager where his artwork will be displayed, but this puts him at odds with his friend Eli (Nick Mancuso) who also has an interest in her.

This independently produced film offers nothing spectacular, but remains strangely captivating. Sometimes it’s nice not to be bombarded with a heavy-duty plot and instead just focus on someone struggling to get through the challenges of day-to-day life, which makes the situations shown here highly relatable and where this movie succeeds.

Unfortunately Coyote was not the best person for the part. He was supposed to be this guy in his 30’s even though he was well over 40 and looking it. A younger guy in is 20’s would’ve been a better fit and created more of a connection to someone just starting out. It would also help explain the character’s moments of raw, unfiltered emotion, particularly his public display of anger at King, which is something seen more in younger adults while middle-aged folks have usually mellowed out, or better able to keep their feelings in check and only letting them come out when it’s more appropriate or strategic.

Coyote’s friendship with Mancuso doesn’t work either. The film is only captivating when it sticks with the main character and expanding it out just gives it a flat, generic feeling like it wants to create a soap opera scenario that is not needed. Guys’ fighting over the same girl has been done many times before and this thing adds nothing fresh to that perspective. Besides Carole Laure’s character is so emotionless and detached anyways, while also looking as pale as a ghost that she seemed hardly worth the effort and someone most guys would probably tire of pretty quickly.

The film’s main attraction is seeing Carol Wayne in her secomd-to-last movie. She came to Hollywood with her sister Nina in the mid-60’s having already attained some fame as Las Vegas showgirls. She almost immediately got guest starring roles in TV-shows and bit parts in movies before finally attaining her most famous part as the Matinee Lady on the ‘Tonight Show’, which she did for 13 years before dying under mysterious circumstances while on vacation in Mexico. Her part here proved to be one of her biggest and she even goes topless before hopping into bed with both Coyote and Mancuso for a threesome.

Harrold, who no longer works in the acting business, is solid as the former girlfriend, but she should’ve had more scenes. Walter Olkewicz, Jerry Hardin, and Jamie Rose can be seen in brief bits in a movie that’s not bad if you come into it with modest expectations although Tangerine Dream’s loud techno, 80’s fused score doesn’t help it.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 28, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bobby Roth

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS

The Romantic Englishwoman (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Writer suspects wife’s infidelity.

Unhappy in her marriage Elizabeth (Glenda Jackson) goes off to Baden-Baden, Germany for a little respite and there meets up with the dashing Thomas (Helmut Berger). Although quite charming Thomas is also caught up in the criminal underworld and being chased by gangsters. After the two share a brief tryst she returns home to her husband Lewis (Michael Caine). Lewis suspects that Elizabeth was unfaithful during her trip, but can’t prove it. He invites Thomas to stay at their place in order to help him finish a screenplay that he is working on and in the process the affair between Thomas and Elizabeth starts up again, but this time Lewis is determined to stop it.

The concept is intriguing, but the film gets ruined by playing its cards too early. A far more interesting scenario would’ve been to have Lewis not suspect Thomas at all or even his wife’s longing for him and instead simply invited Thomas over as a genuine writing partner and only slowly becoming aware of the tensions boiling beneath the surface. Unfortunately having Lewis almost immediately figure things out even before Thomas arrives makes for a very boring first hour with the couple arguing over the same staid, redundant infidelity talking points that have been done a million times before.

The story’s only interesting wrinkle has Thomas starting up a relationship with the nanny (Beatrice Romand), which made more sense as Elizabeth was way older than him and I failed to see why he would’ve been attracted to her to begin with. The nanny was young and cute and it was fun seeing Elizabeth seethe with the same type of jealousy as Lewis, but the film quickly kills this storyline by having the nanny forced to move out and everything goes back to the same formulaic love triangle.

Having Lewis recreating scenes in his screenplay that replicates what he is going through in real-life had potential as it nicely illustrates the thin line between fact and fiction that writers routinely do. Unfortunately the film treats these scenes in a campy/hooky manner and then drops it just as quickly as the romance scenario mentioned above.

The direction is static with a camera nailed to the ground and everything captured in a dingy, shadowy way. The opening bit detailing how Elizabeth first meets Thomas had a naturalistic quality, but the shot were she spots Thomas from across the room and her eyes remained locked on his and she never turns away is not believable. If two people are strangers and one catches the other one staring at them it’s sheer human reflex that the other one will divert their gaze as it’s rude, awkward and off-putting otherwise. Also, to have the word romantic in the title is absurd especially after the two proceed to have sex inside an elevator during their first meeting, which is pure animalistic lust and a more accurate title would’ve been ‘The Horny Englishwoman’.

Spoiler Alert!

The third act helps fill in the gaps in regards to Thomas’ secret past, but having Elizabeth run off with him makes her character seem exceedingly shallow as she essentially abandons her young child in the process. Earlier in the film she got very upset when she saw her child sitting out on a ledge and she fired her nanny for being irresponsible and not watching him more carefully only to then by running off with Thomas behave just as irresponsibly.

The film’s final shot features strange people inhabiting Lewis and Elizabeth’s home like they’re having a party without the owners there. Lewis then after having taken Elizabeth away from Thomas and back with him drives the car the two are in up to their house. Elizabeth looks shocked at seeing all the people inside, but Lewis has a jaded expression and seems to being enjoying watching Elizabeth’s discomfort, but then the film cuts to the credits and never explains what’s occurring and nothing is more frustrating than a film which ends just as it’s finally beginning to get interesting.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 26, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Losey

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Blue Collar (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Workers rob their union.

Zeke (Richard Pryor) Jerry (Harvey Keitel) and Smokey (Yaphet Kotto) work at an auto plant in Detroit and become increasingly frustrated with their union and feel it they’re being ripped-off by them. The three get the idea to rob a safe stored at the union office. The crime itself is a cinch, but they only get $600 dollars out of it even though the union reports to the press that $10,000 was stolen. Then they find paperwork detailing some of the union’s dirty loan deals and decide to use that as blackmail, but the union has other ideas.

This was the first film directed by Paul Schrader and although he has gone on record stating that he dislikes it and has never watched it since its release I consider it to be one of his best. The music by Jack Nitzsche is a bit heavy, but otherwise this is a strong hard-hitting look at the life of an auto worker a subject that doesn’t get tackled too often. The fact that the film takes no sides and shows that both management and unions can be equally corrupt gives the proceedings a refreshingly honest tone.

Personally I support unions, but I realize that like with everything some can be less than perfect and since reality is not black-and-white, but instead quite complex it’s important to show all sides of an issue. The whole inspiration for the film came when Schrader went to Detroit and interviewed actual assembly-line workers and found to his shock many of them hated their unions even more than management. Films like Norma Rae, which is still excellent, tend to portray a very one-sided narrative while this one makes you wonder who the good guys actually are especially as the three leads turn on each other for different reasons.

The biggest surprise is Richard Pryor who really drives this film with his excellent dramatic performance. He seems to be channeling his harsh upbringing to create an edgy and enduring character. I loved the way he critiques other black sitcoms like ‘Good Times’ and ‘The Jeffersons’ as well as the way he constantly says the f-word even when in front of his own kids. George Memmoli a very obese actor gets a memorable bit as a disgruntled factory work that destroys a vending machine when it won’t give him his coffee.

The film features two very unique scenes. One is where a character dies while being trapped inside a room where a car is being painted and it’s quite intense. The other scene features Keitel in a car chase as he tries to get away from some bad guys who want to shoot him. Most films capture a car chases from the outside-looking-in with shots showing both vehicles at a distance and the point-of-view of both drivers. This one stays only on Keitel’s perspective making the viewer feel like they are trapped in the car with him and thus making the chase a much more personal and frightening experience.

Due to the subject matter no auto company would allow the film to be shot at their plant, so the producers were forced to use the Checker Cab Company, but this was a much smaller plant and the viewer never gets a true feeling of the immensity of an actual auto factory. The film’s final shot is another distraction as it’s the one point where the movie suddenly becomes heavy-handed despite successfully remaining otherwise gritty. It’s still a strong story overall that brings out perplexing issues without supplying any easy answers.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 10, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 54Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Schrader

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video, YouTube

Bless the Beasts and the Children (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kids free the buffalo.

Six adolescent boys (Barry Robins, Bill Mumy, Miles Chapin, Darel Glaser, Robert Jayson Kramer, Marc Vahanian) room together during summer camp and become known as the ‘bedwetters’. Through flashbacks we learn that the six children have difficult times at home with their individual parents and are routinely picked on by the other kids at the camp. Their camp counselor Wheaties (Ken Swofford) decides to take them to a buffalo corral where the boys witness to their horror the buffalo being shot by various hunters in an effort to ‘thin the herd’ from the weaker or more sickly ones. The boys decide to sneak off one night and free the herd from their corral, but various complications inevitably ensue.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Glendon Swarthout and one might expect from the movie’s poster, for another topical, preachy, dramatically charged production from director Stanley Kramer, but instead the film is amusing and breezy. If you went to summer camp as a child then this will be sure to bring back a flood of memories. Some of the pranks that the other kids play on our six protagonists are cruel, but there’s also fun moments that effectively recreate the carefree summer days of youth.

In a lot of ways this could be described as early version of The Bad News Bears as these ‘losers’ decided to show everyone who doubts them up and to a degree you could say this one does it better. In the bears film we never saw how the kids related to their parents and their family background, but here we do in a nice fragmented style, which allows the viewer to connect to the kids in a deeper and more emotional level, which makes us root even more for them to accomplish their mission.

The dialogue is banal and Sammy, played by Chapin, is annoying.  He’s supposed to be ‘funny’ with his lame impressions of famous celebrities, mostly those of a very bygone era that viewers today won’t even know, and the fact that he continues to do them throughout the movie made me think he should’ve been ostracized by the others just for that and it would’ve been justifiable. The on-location shooting though shot throughout Arizona helps, and Robins who plays Cotton their leader is a standout especially given the fact that he was 24 when this was filmed, but looked to be only about 14 like the other kids.

The only issue that I had with the movie is the music particularly the opening song sung by the Carpenters. Richard and Karen Carpenter were a terrific brother and sister duo, but they represented the conservative establishment. This is a movie about junior high boys and they most likely would never listen to the Carpenters or like their music. A film’s soundtrack should reflect the attitude and personality of its protagonists and the songs selected here really don’t as the boys represented rebellion while the Carpenters were all about conformity. It’s possible that director Kramer, who was nearing 60 at the time, didn’t know the difference. The Carpenters were getting chart toppers at the time, so from his generation’s perspective that made them ‘hip’ and the ‘in-thing’, which shows how out-of-touch he was to his subjects, which becomes a bit of a drawback.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 1, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Stanley Kramer

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Day of the Locust (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Desperate people in Hollywood.

During the depression a young artist named Tod Hackett (William Atherton) comes to Hollywood to help design the set for a new movie. While there he meets a wide assortment of people, who seek fame and fortune, but find heartbreak and rejection instead. Tod falls for Faye (Karen Black) a woman striving to become the next big Hollywood starlet despite lacking any talent while her father Harry (Burgess Meredith) is on the opposite end of the spectrum. At one time he was a vaudeville comedian, but now with his failing health is relegated to selling health tonics door-to-door.

This film is the last great effort of director John Schlesinger whose films after this lacked the same visual style that made Midnight Cowboy and Far From the Madding Crowd cinematic masterpieces. From a visual standpoint it hits all the right chords and is filled with many memorable segments. The best ones include the scene where a group of bourgeoisie guests who come to Natalie Schafer’s home (she was best known for playing Mrs. Howell on ‘Gilligan’s Island’) to watch porn movies There’s also the scene where an entire film set comes crashing down and injuring the entire crew as well as the climactic moment where a large crowd waiting outside to see the premiere of The Buccaneer turn into a violent, bloodthirsty mob.

The acting is first-rate particularly Black who portrays her desperate character to a perfect tee. Meredith, who was nominated for a supporting Oscar, gives a vivid portrayal of her equally desperate father making his scenes quite entertaining. Donald Sutherland is also solid as a likable, but socially awkward outsider, which best suits his acting persona.

The script though by Waldo Salt, which is based on the 1939 novel of the same name by Nathanael West, misses out on a lot of the book’s subtext. In the movie Tod tries to rape Faye while at a party, but this eruption of his seems to come out of nowhere while in the book it gets better explained by showing how Tod continually harbors rape fantasies for Faye and makes these fantasies a running part of the story.

Donald Sutherland’s character, the aptly named Homer Simpson, which supposedly was the inspiration for Matt Groenig’s character in his famous comic strip, is a confusing enigma. In the book he is given a better backstory and revealed to be a man struggling with a lot of inner turmoil while here he’s seems more like a strange, naïve mope from another planet.

There’s also no explanation in the movie for why the word Locust is in the title, which is in reference to the Bible and the plague of locusts that descended onto the fields of Egypt. Tod symbolizes the locust in the novel’s version of the story while in the movie his character is more of an outsider observing the ugliness, but not having a hand at creating it

The biggest issue though is the film’s underperformance at the box office, which helped relegate both Black and Atherton, who at the time were considered up-and-coming stars, to supporting roles afterwards. I believe part of the reason for this is because none of the characters are likable. It’s fine showing humanity’s bad side as long as the audience doesn’t feel beaten-over-the-head with it, but the film wallows so much in the darkness that it overwhelms the viewer. Having a character that was slightly removed from the madness and not as flawed might’ve helped to balance things and make everything else that goes on more tolerable.

Overall though it’s a great film, but the statement it’s trying to make remains murky. Better efforts should’ve been made to tie it to the disillusionment of the American Dream, which is what the book does and not seemed so much like just a glimpse into a freak show of a bygone era like it ends up doing here.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 7, 1975

Runtime: 2Hours 24Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Schlesinger

Studio: Paramount

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