Category Archives: Dry Humor

Local Hero (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Businessman travels to Scotland.

Mac (Peter Riegert) works for a gas company out of Houston, Texas that wants to buy up the small town of Ferness, which sits on the north shore of Scotland and turn it into an oil refinery. It’s Mac’s job to travel to the town and offer the citizens a generous monetary offer to sell their homes. He is not excited about going as he enjoys doing business over the phone, but once there he grows attached to the more laid-back pace. The townspeople grow found of Mac as well and eager to take the money and become rich. The problem is that through research they find that it is actually Ben Knox (Fulton Mackay) an eccentric man who lives in a ramshackle house on the beach who owns the land and he is unwilling to sell no matter what the price.

This film received positive reviews at the time of its release and one of the few movies to get a 100% positive rating at rotten tomatoes and yet after watching this now twice I’m still mystified over what all the fuss is about. When I first saw it several decades ago I came away feeling like I had just viewed something where very little happens and upon the second viewing I felt the exact same way.

I get that the emphasis is supposed to be on the quirky humor and that’s fine, there’s even a few chuckles, but the script flat lines after its initial set-up.  The eccentric characters and offbeat quality becomes one-dimensional and the story offers no true conflict or tension. Everything gets handled in such a subtle, dry way that there’s barely any drama at all and seems not really worth the effort to watch.

It would’ve worked better had there been one true antagonist, somebody that would be in stark contrast to everybody else and create genuine upheaval to the otherwise benign complacency. Initially it seemed that Lancaster’s character, who owns the oil refinery, would be a perfect foil to the serenity. Most business owners are consumed with the profit margin, but this one is instead more interested in astronomy. I realize that writer/director Bill Forsyth wanted to work against the grain and not portray the typical caricature of a hard-driven business man, but how can a guy run a successful business if the financial bottom line isn’t his main drive? Making the business owner a lovable kook as the rest takes away any potential confrontation of which this movie could’ve used some.

Riegert is equally transparent. His yuppie tendencies should’ve been played up more and his dramatic arch from big city businessman to lover of small town life more apparent. I was hoping that after he slowly became fond of the place that he would be one to throw the monkey wrench into the proceedings by refusing to make a deal and fighting to save the town even as the other residents are more than happy to leave it, which would’ve been much funnier.

The townspeople are blah too. The viewer only gets to know a few of them and they’re indistinguishable from the other. The only one that stands out is the lady with a punk look and I was intrigued to learn more about her and how she was able to get along with everyone else despite dressing in such a radical style and yet we never hear her utter a single word.

Ben Knox is the only character that offers a twist as we initially perceive him to be a homeless nobody only to realize that he ultimately holds all the cards and yet it just teases the viewer with a potential confrontation between he and the townspeople that never comes to fruition. I was also disappointed that we didn’t get to see the inside of his makeshift home that looked so rundown and precariously put together that you truly wondered what the interior looked like or how someone could survive living in it for as long as he does. Lancaster goes into the home to negotiate a deal with him and I felt the camera should’ve followed him in.

If you’re looking for lightly amusing comedy that goes down easy then you may take a little more of a liking to this. If you desire a movie with something more than just incessant whimsy then this flick will not suffice.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 18, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bill Forsyth

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

92 in the Shade (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rival fishing boat captains.

Tom (Peter Fonda), a lifelong drifter, moves back to his hometown of Key West, Florida where he hopes to start up his own charter boat business. However, Nick (Warren Oates) already owns one and not happy about having competition. He along with his friend Carter (Harry Dean Stanton) decide to play a cruel practical joke on Tom, who in an effort to get some revenge, destroys Nick’s boat, which sets off a warring rivalry.

Thomas McGuane was lucky enough to get to direct his own novel despite having no experience behind the camera yet frittered it all away with wild parties as well as an affair with the film’s co-star Elizabeth Ashley despite being engaged to Margo Kidder who was also cast in the movie and which set off quite a few fireworks behind-the-scenes. On a technical level I loved the way the working class/old town side of Key West gets captured along with the glowing gold sunshine of the region and Michael J. Lewis’ soothing banjo strumming soundtrack helps bring out the film’s laid-back ambiance, but outside of a few amusing moments that’s about it.

Initially the leisurely pace and quirky nuance is refreshing and I liked the contrasting personalities of the two leads, but not enough happens. By the second act you wonder what happened to the story as too many extraneous scenes and characters get thrown until it ends up being an abyss to nothingness.

The cast though is definitely game. The wacky dialogue between Burgess Meredith and Sylvia Miles, which I’m pretty sure was all ad-libbed, is quite amusing although the scene where she tries to shatter a glass by wailing out a high-pitched screech should’ve been extended. Joe Spinell, one of cult cinema’s great character actors, practically steals the whole thing with his few minutes of screen time. The scene where he is taught about the different kinds of fishes by having them displayed on top of a pool table is the funniest moment of the movie although the garish outfit that he wears when he goes out on the boat with Fonda comes in as a close second.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending, at least in this recent version I saw from Amazon Video, took me by complete surprise. I had seen this movie twice before and both of those times it ended with Oates confronting Fonda on his boat, but instead of attacking him they sit down and have a friendly chat. Here it ended with Oates shooting Fonda and then immediately freezing the frame and rolling in the credits.

For me this alternative ending was frustrating as it left open too many unanswered questions. Having a film drag on as it does with virtually nothing occurring during its second and third act only to abruptly end it when it finally gets interesting is like a slap-in-the-face to the viewer and helps to explain why this bombed so terribly at the box office.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 22, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes (Alternative ending) 1Hour 33Minutes (Original ending).

Rated R

Director: Thomas McGuane

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Video.

Bad Company (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two deserters go west.

Drew (Barry Brown) is a young man living in the south during the civil war who manages to avoid going into the army by hiding from the soldiers when they come to his family home to retrieve him. After they’ve left his mother (Jean Allison) gives him $100 and tells him to go west. When he gets to St. Joseph, Missouri he meets up with Jake (Jeff Bridges) and the two form an uneasy alliance with Drew even getting invited into Jake’s young gang (Damon Cofer, John Savage, Jerry Houser, Joshua Hill Lewis) of youthful outlaws. The six ride off into the west hoping to find adventure and opportunity, but instead meet hardship and violence.

The film’s stark tone would’ve been more compelling had there not been so many other westerns coming out at the same time with a similar theme. Instead of being this refreshing change-of-pace from the old western serial it just ends up creating new clichés from the then budding revisionist  genre. At certain points it seems almost like a carbon copy of The Culpepper Cattle Company, or even The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, which star Brown had been in just before doing this one.

The attempt to mix dry humor with harsh reality works fairly well and placing the setting amidst the sprawling wheat fields of Kansas gives it a distinctive look that is perfectly captured through the lens of cinematographer Gordon Willis although the piano score by Harvey Schmidt gets intrusive. This becomes particularly evident towards the end when the two boys get into a gun battle with a gang of outlaws and the action is choreographed to the beat of the music, which only helped to take me completely out of the story. What’s the use of spending so time creating a gritty realism if you’re just going to suddenly sell-out on it in a cheap attempt to be ‘humorous’ and ‘cute’?

The acrimonious friendship between the two leads is what I liked, but the film misses the mark by not focusing on this enough. The supporting cast wasn’t needed and the film should’ve focused solely on the two stars from the beginning making it like ‘the odd couple of the west’, which could’ve been memorable. Instead it meanders and only starts to gel by the third act, but by then it’s almost too late. I also wasn’t too crazy about the wide-open ending either, which offers no satisfying conclusion.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 8, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Benton

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Brannigan (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The Duke in London

Jim Brannigan (John Wayne) is a gruff Chicago cop hired to extradite mob boss Ben Larkin (John Vernon) from London back to the states, but Brannigan finds that England’s more restrained form of policing doesn’t conform to his and is at immediate odds with British police commander Charles Swann (Richard Attenborough) from the beginning. Things become even more problematic when Larkin gets kidnapped forcing the police to engage in a ransom drop in order to get him back. Brannigan must also avoid a very aggressive hit-man named Gorman (Daniel Pilon) who was hired by Larkin to kill him.

This was Wayne’s second attempt at playing a modern day tough guy policeman, which was mainly in response to being snubbed from the starring role in Dirty Harry. His first flick as a cop was McQ, which was quite derivative and made The Duke look like an old, sickly walking corpse ready to keel over at any second. Here though Wayne is strangely reinvigorated and seems much spryer on his feet. He also doesn’t take himself quite as seriously and spends most of the time eliciting humorous quips and comebacks, but by the end the London scenery and array of supporting characters start to overshadow the big guy until he becomes almost like a co-star in his own movie.

The story is a bit different from a typical Wayne vehicle in that the first half has virtually no action and consists mainly of the police surveillance of the kidnappers and trying to figure out what they’ll do next. One drawn out scene even deals with Wayne and lady cop friend Jennifer (Judy Geeson) following a mail truck around London in order to see where the ransom money, which they think is in the truck, will be taken.

While this subdued approach may annoy the more action addicted Wayne fans I found it to be a refreshing change of pace and I liked how the film analyzed the boring aspects of police work instead of just glamorizing the sexy shootouts. Unfortunately the second-half devolves back into the familiar formula, which includes not only an uninspired car chase, but a big barroom brawl as well. The brawl, which was filmed at the exclusive Garrick Club, is the most off-putting because it’s done in a comically slapstick way that drains all the grittiness and realism that the film tried so hard to create in the first-half right out of the movie altogether.

The sleek looking, dark glasses wearing hit-man, who drives a ritzy looking sports car seems like a character straight out of a James Bond movie. The segment done in slow motion as well as the running joke of having every hotel room that Brannigan stays in get destroyed by those who is after him only helps to cement this as being just another whimsical, uninspired cop outing that despite a first half that showed some promise has nothing edgy or original about it.

The idea of having Brannigan essentially trying to ‘save’ a mobster’s life just so he can bring him back here to go to trial isn’t a very riveting plot point to begin with. The Larkin character is completely unlikable, so the viewer could care less whether he can escape the clutches of his kidnappers or not and the story would’ve been far more compelling had Brannigan been out to save a kidnapped child instead, which along with the other misguided ideas described above probably explains why this thing ended up tanking badly at the box office.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 26, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Douglas Hickox

Studio: United Artists

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

Only When I Laugh (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Actress is an alcoholic.

Georgia Hines (Marsha Mason) has just been released from a 12-week alcohol rehab program and returns to her Manhattan apartment looking to readjust to civilian life with the help of her two friends; Jimmy (James Coco) a gay unemployed actor and Toby (Joan Hackett) a woman unhappy at turning middle-aged. To Georgia’s surprise Polly (Kristy McNichol) her 17 year-old-daughter shows up wanting to move in with her and ‘patch things up’ from their tumultuous past. Georgia isn’t sure she’s emotionally ready, but forges ahead and things start out okay, but then the demons from the past rear their ugly head forcing mother and daughter to face some harsh realities both about themselves and each other.

The film is based on Neil Simon’s Broadway play ‘The Gingerbread Lady’ that starred Maureen Stapleton and ran for 193 performances. It was not considered a success and when adapted to a film Simon made changes to the story, but to me it all seemed like every other Neil Simon dramedy that he’s done before. Both this film and The Goodbye Girl that also starred Mason featured male characters that were struggling to become professional actors. Both this film and Chapter Two, which again starred Mason, had characters who were playwrights going through writer’s block. His films always take place in New York and have characters who see analysts, and can apparently make enough to afford them. I realize there’s the old adage ‘write what you know’ and that’s exactly what Simon is doing, but it would be nice if he’d get a little bit out of his comfort zone as nothing that gets shown here seems fresh or original.

The first hour is way too serene and I would’ve expected much more of a frosty relationship between mother and daughter, but instead for the most part they get along great, at least initially. There are some passing references to previous drama, but I felt this should’ve been shown and not just talked about. The second half improves significantly with some strong scenes, but I’m afraid that with such a lifeless beginning most viewers will have fallen asleep before it even gets there.

McNichol is excellent and every bit Mason’s equal, but this exposes another of Simon’s weaknesses, which is that although he’s good at writing character parts for adults he seems unable to do so for anyone younger. In The Goodbye Girl the Quinn Cummings character seemed too infantile for a 10-year-old and here McNichol is more like a 20-something and the intended mother-daughter drama more like just two girlfriends rooming together.

Coco and Hackett are excellent and help hold things together and the movie does manage to deliver, at least in the second-half, but I couldn’t help but feel that Simon had gone to this well too often and was starting to lose his edge. You can also spot young Kevin Bacon as a college dude trying to pick and Mason and McNichol as they eat at a café.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1981

Runtime: 2Hours

Rated R

Director: Glenn Jordan

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available:  DVD-R, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Great Train Robbery (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A daring gold heist.

In 1855 Edward Pierce (Sean Connery) comes up with an idea to rob a large shipment of gold from a traveling train.  He recruits the services of his mistress Miriam (Lesley-Anne Down) and a screwsmen named Robert Agar (Donald Sutherland) to help him do it. The heist requires that they make copies of four keys that are used to open the safe, but each are possessed by four different bank executives forcing them into an elaborate scheme to attain them all. Eventually the authorities become aware of their plan making their heist even trickier to pull off.

The story is based on an actual incident that occurred in 1855 that Michael Crichton became intrigued by, which inspired him to write a fictionalized account that became a best-selling novel and in turn lead to him being offered the chance to direct the film version. As a period piece it succeeds as I loved the variety of wardrobes that the characters wear and the lavish settings that not only reveals London’s rich neighborhoods of that era, but its poverty-stricken ones as well all in amazingly accurate detail.

The film has an underlying quirky tone that is engaging, but this also makes it seem less authentic. For a crime caper to be enjoyable one must believe that it could really happen, or what the characters do is actually possible. There were times when I wasn’t convinced of either and the blame goes to the film trying too hard to be cute instead of just sticking to the detail.

Henry Fowler (Malcolm Terris) is one of the bank executives with a key who proudly proclaims to wear it around his neck, which he states that he ‘never’ takes off. In order to get the key and allow Robert to make a wax impression of it, Miriam pretends to be a prostitute who convinces him to take off the key, so they can make love, which he immediately does. This seems too easy as rarely do humans behave exactly as you think they will. When things come together without any hitch you start to question its validity. If a guy says he ‘never’ removes his key than make it much harder to convince him to do it, or force Robert to make the wax impressions of the key while Henry still has it around his neck and making out with Miriam, which would’ve been funnier.

Another segment has Robert breaking into an office at the railway station where two of the keys are stored inside a cabinet. The night watchman that guards the office always leaves at the same time for exactly 75 seconds to go to the bathroom. Robert is then forced to break into the office and make the wax impressions of the keys and then get out within that same 75 second time frame, but who goes to the bathroom at the exact same amount of time each and every time they go? Most people will go within a certain time range, but no one is that robotic to literally ‘count out the seconds’ as they pee. Having a character behave in such an extreme way only accentuates the film’s whimsical quality while throwing the believability out the door.

Later on in an effort to get inside the train compartment Robert pretends to be a corpse inside a coffin. To create a stench a dead cat is put in alongside him, but how was Robert able to withstand the horrible odor as people standing outside the coffin kept complaining about the unbearable smell. What was it about Robert that made him tolerate it as long as he does when almost no one else could’ve? This makes Robert seem super-human and gives even more leverage to the fact that this couldn’t have really happened at least not in the way done here.

The exciting ending features Connery, not a stunt double, but the actor himself getting on the train roof as the train is running at 55 mph and trying to go from the front of it to the back while ducking under numerous bridges that come whizzing by at lightning speed. This had me holding my breath, but I still came away wishing the film had stuck more to the original account. I read a brief overview of the real crime that was written in more detail by David C. Hanrahan in ‘The First Great Train Robbery’.  There are many differences between the real event and how it gets portrayed here with the real account being far more interesting.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Crichton

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Just Tell Me What You Want (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rich tycoon gets dumped.

Max Herschel (Alan King) is a rich and successful businessman who’s used to getting what he wants. He’s rude and crude and doesn’t mind displaying his anger or contempt for others at a moment’s notice. After 14 years Bones (Ali MacGraw), his mistress, has decided she’s had enough. She leaves him for a much younger man (Peter Weller). This enrages Max who does whatever he can to win her back, or at the very least ‘punish’ her for leaving him.

The film, which is based on a novel by Jay Presson Allen has a delicious New York flavor with the majority of the action taking place at the Old Westbury Gardens estate that fronts as Max’s home. The interiors of the stately mansion are at times more interesting than the conversations and the exteriors coincidently were also used in Love Story, which was another MacGraw vehicle. Director Sidney Lumet gives the dark comedy a classy air with a rousing, distinctively jazzy score by Charles Strouse, which I wanted to hear more of and wouldn’t have minded if it had been played all the way through the movie.

The story has sharp dialogue and a deliciously acerbic edge, but becomes preoccupied with Max’s business dealings, which most viewers may find too complex to follow and aren’t that integral to the story. The first hour is spent focused on Max, whose obnoxious ways quickly become off-putting and tiring. The catalyst is his love-hate relationship with Bones and more scenes should’ve been shown with them together while having her break-up with him come much sooner.

King was a comedian known for angry monologues and that emotion gets channeled into his character. I’ll give them props for creating an unlikable lead and not holding anything back as too many times films create abrasive people only to soften them too soon or not go all-the-way with it. Here it gets pushed to the limit, but I was still hoping for Max to have more of an arch and was disappointed that he remains for the most part a callous jerk to the very end.

MacGraw’s restrained approach works well off of King’s flamboyance and the highlight is when she corners him at a luxury department store, which was filmed on-location at the Bergdorf Goodman, and tackles him while destroying everything in sight. However the character’s nickname of ‘Bones’ I did not care for especially with no explanation for why she was given it. Was she called this because she was thin, or was it for some other reason? An attractive female should be given a pleasant name not something that sounds demeaning.

Legendary actress Myrna Loy, who had been around since the silent film era, plays Max’s long suffering secretary and earns her pay here. Loved the scene where King cries right into her bosom while she holds his head and acts like his mother, but also the part where he shouts directly into her face even throws out the C-word and she doesn’t flinch. Keenan Wynn is likable and speaks with an accent in a sympathetic role as a Russian businessman and Dina Merrill’s emotional breakdowns as Max’s mentally fragile wife are impressive and could’ve been extended.

Spoiler Alert!

Overall though it fizzles and it’s not because it’s filled with a lot of extraneous dialogue and scenes that should’ve been cut, but more because it plays itself as this sort-of anti-romance only to sell-out at the end. There is simply no way anyone could truly fall-in-love with Max because there was nothing about him to love. Having him do one nice thing shouldn’t erase all the other bad things he did before. Bones had already spent 14 years with him which should be more than enough time to realize things won’t be any different moving forward. Having them reconcile by working together as business partners maybe, but a marriage is simply a disaster waiting to happen. Just because audiences long for the ‘happy ending’ doesn’t mean that’s what you give especially by having two people magically find love for each when none had ever existed before.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 18, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

The Milagro Beanfield War (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Small town fights developer.

Milagro, New Mexico becomes the centerpiece to controversy when a rich developer (Richard Bradford) decides to build a resort, which cuts off the water supply to the rest of the struggling inhabitants of the nearby town. Joe Mandragon (Chick Vennera) is one of those farmers who is frustrated with the current situation and in a fit of rage kicks a water valve, which allows water to flow into his field where he soon begins to grow beans. Kyril Montana (Christopher Walken) is then sent in by the rich tycoons to ‘settle-the-score’, which only helps to make the town’s resistance to the development even stronger.

The film is based on the 1974 novel by John Nichols and was directed by Robert Redford eight years after he helmed his first feature the very successful Ordinary People. From a completely technical standpoint the film shines in all areas as it delightfully mixes whimsical comedy with harsh real-world issues and manages to keep the tone consistent throughout. My favorite element was the difficulty the activists had in getting the townspeople  ‘on-the-same-page’ and organized to fight their mutual enemy, which illustrated one of the biggest challenges to fighting for social change where just trying to convince and mobilize others is sometimes the toughest part.

John Heard has the film’s best character arch playing a former political activist who dropped out of trying to change-the-world years ago, but after sufficient prodding finally gets back to his old form in one very fiery and memorable moment. Walken is quite good in reverse playing a man sent to initially squash the rebellion only to eventually soften a bit (just a bit) on his stance. Carlos Riquelme is delightful as the elderly Amarante who despite being weak with age fights-the-good-fight including a hilarious scene where he precariously tries to drive a bulldozer.

I wasn’t quite as crazy about Daniel Stern’s inclusion. He plays his part well and the character is likable, but I didn’t understand the need for him in the story. It almost seemed like the filmmakers didn’t trust that the Hispanic cast alone could carry it and a white guy needed to be added in in order to usher in a more mainstream demographic. Vennera is weak only because he constantly reminded me of Bruno Kirby Jr. and could’ve easily passed off as his twin in both his looks and voice.

The only argument I would have against the film, which is otherwise a charmer and does not in any way deserve the outrageous R-rating that it was given, is the addition of Robert Carricart as the Coyote Angel that only Riquelme’s character can see. To an extent this cheapens the struggles that the townspeople go through because it gives what is otherwise a serious problem too much of the fable-like treatment. I would’ve preferred a grittier approach focusing solely on the efforts of the people to create the change, which would’ve left a stronger emotional impact and avoided telegraphing the idea that it was all going to work-out due to this extra magical force.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 18, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Redford

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Mr. Ricco (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lawyer’s client turns homicidal.

Joe Ricco (Dean Martin) is an aging attorney living in San Francisco who represents Frankie Steele (Thalmus Rasulala) a black militant accused of murder. Ricco manages to get the charge overturned and Steele walks away a free man, but soon violent murders begin occurring with witnesses pointing to Steele as the culprit. Then Ricco himself becomes a target of Steele’s murderous rage, but no one can seem to figure out why.

This would become Martin’s last starring vehicle and putting the old Rat-Pack star in a genre that completely belies his image was not a bad idea. The story itself is solid with lots of interesting twists that remains both gritty and believable while also allowing for a few humorous sidelights to trickle in. The action is well staged and director Paul Bogart captures the Bay City ambience with a vivid and engaging style.

Martin’s presence is both good and bad. Initially he comes off as tired and out-of-place with a speaking style that makes him seem eternally inebriated, but he manages to pick-up some energy as it goes along. The way he uses his dog to help him cheat at golf and his desperate attempts at getting the last ounce of toothpaste out of its tube are all quite amusing. However, there is no way that this aging, out-of-shape white dude, who was 58 at the time, but looking more like 70, would be able to beat up a well-built black streetfighter like Steele. It is also quite nebulous that this ‘I don’t like guns and I don’t like carrying them around’ guy would be able to be such a good shot when he’s finally forced to use one.

The ultimate identity of the killer is a surprise and I don’t think anyone will be able to guess who it is, so in that regard it remains relatively intriguing, but for whatever reason I still found my attention waning. I’m not sure why as the editing is crisp and the narrative keeps revealing new plot points at a good pace. The direction is also sufficiently lively and yet when it’s all over it still ends up being just a competently done, but ordinary police thriller.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 28, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Bogart

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video 

Russian Roulette (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to stop assassination.

When a Soviet leader decides to visit Vancouver the Russian Embassy puts the Canadian authorities on alert about Rudolf Henke (Val Avery) who moved to Canada many years back, but is reported to still hold grudges about the Soviet Union and could be a sniper threat. Timothy Shaver (George Segal) is then secretly hired to kidnap Henke while the Soviet leader is in town and then let him go once that leader has left. However, when Shaver gets to Henke’s apartment he finds out that he has already been abducted by somebody else, which leads him to believe that he is being made a pawn to an even bigger conspiracy and that he may become their next victim.

The story is based on the novel ‘Kosygin is Coming’ by Tom Ardies and the first 45 minutes of this are actually quite diverting. Director Lou Lombardo gave his actors the freedom to ad-lib and he instills some quirky humor, which made me believe this was going to be a new wave-like actioner that deftly mixes in the offbeat perspective with a story that had an intriguing mystery angle.

Unfortunately the second half devolves into cheesy action flick with all the usual formulaic trappings. The biggest problem is introducing the Russian bad guys who speak in inauthentic, corny accents that made them become like caricatures that lessens the tension instead of heightening it. The film would’ve been better served had it not shown the villains at all until the very end and kept things solely focused on Segal as he tries desperately to figure out what is going on while being chased by a mysterious group of people whose motives are unclear.

There are a couple of stupid moments as well.  One of them occurs when Segal and his girlfriend played by Cristina Rains return home. She immediately runs into the bathroom to take a pee, but then just as quickly comes back out wearing a strange expression. Segal then walks in to see a dead body of a murdered stranger sitting on the toilet. I know this may make me sound like a sexist to some, but the truth is women have a tendency to scream when they are startled and sometimes for a lot less than an unexpected sight of a corpse in their bathroom, so having her not instinctually scream here (hell even I would’ve probably let out a shrill yell at that point) is dumb.

Another part has Segal and Rains handcuffed and sitting in a backseat of a car that is being driven by one of the Russian bad guys. Segal, in an apparent attempt to escape, kicks the Russian guy in the back of his head, which sends the car reeling off the road and overturning into a ditch. However, this to me seemed dangerous because what guarantees that Segal and Rains wouldn’t be injured when that occurs. As it turns out the driver ends up conveniently dying in the crash, but miraculously the couple get out of the badly banged up car without even a single scratch, which is beating astronomical odds!

Segal wasn’t the best choice for the role. He spent the 70’s decade playing mostly in light comedies and romances, which he is more adept at, but presumably took the part to help stretch his acting resume and avoid being typecast. It doesn’t fully work and there were other actors who would’ve been better able to reflect the film’s gritty tone although watching Segal do mostly his own stunt work as he climbed out to the top of the roof of The Fairmont Hotel in downtown Vancouver does deserve kudos.

The supporting cast proves to be more interesting. I enjoyed seeing Louise Fletcher in her second movie after coming out of a 10-year hiatus. She has only a small role here, but she makes an impression nonetheless and it’s interesting seeing her play a person with such a sunny disposition when later that same year she portrayed the dour Nurse Ratched, which only proves what a talented actress she really is.

Val Avery is equally good in a part that has no lines of dialogue, by his own insistence, but still ends up being a scene stealer not only at the end when he stumbles into a scared crowd while wearing a bomb, but also in an earlier scene where he plays a cruel trick on a group of children playing roller blade hockey in the street.

Unfortunately the rest of the movie doesn’t have enough of a payoff. The action gets overplayed and the blaring music takes away the sophisticated feel and puts it more on the level of a bubblegum TV-show. Some good potential gets marred by an indecisive director who reportedly was suffering from drug addiction at the time and the effects show.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 20, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lou Lombardo

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD