Category Archives: Dry Humor

Lovers and Other Strangers (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Marriage: Pros and Cons.

Mike and Susan (Michael Brandon, Bonnie Bedelia), who have been living together for a year and a half, have decided to get married, but as the wedding draws near Mike begins to have second thoughts. Meanwhile Susan’s parents, Hal and Bernice ( Gig Young, Cloris Leachman) have issues of their own as Hal is having an affair with Kathy (Anne Jackson) who is Bernice’s sister. Their other daughter, Wilma (Anne Meara), who is already married, but starting to regret it since her husband (Harry Guardino) seems more interested in watching old movies on TV than having sex. Mike’s parents, Frank and Bea (Richard S. Castellano, Beatrice Arthur) also have problems as they try to convince Mike’s older brother Richie (Joseph Hindy) to stay married to Joan (Diane Keaton) even though they’ve grown incompatible. Then there’s wedding usher Jerry (Bob Dishy) who spends his time trying to ‘score’ with nervous, nebbish bridesmaid Brenda (Marian Hailey) who can’t seem to decide whether she’s into Jerry or not.

While the film, which was based on the hit Broadway play of the same name written by real-life couple Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor, who adapted it to the screen, was a major success at the box office and received high critical praise it does in retrospect come-off like just another episode of ‘Love American Style’ or even ‘The Love Boat’. There are certainly some funny lines of dialogue and interesting insights at how the younger generations view marriage differently from the older one, but besides the very brief wedding scene, we never see the cast come together and interact as a whole making the movie and characters seem more like a collection of non-related vignettes than a cohesive story. It’s also quite talky with no action to speak of, so unless you’re really into conversational comedy you may get bored.

Mike and Sue, who act as the main characters, get overshadowed by the supporting players and become almost like an after thought the more the movie progresses. The opening sequence with them in bed together and contemplating marriage, which at the time was meant for shock effect since it was still considered taboo to have sex before marriage, will be lost on today’s audiences where living together is now by far the norm. I also found it hard to believe that they’d be able to fool both sets of parents for a whole year by pretending they were rooming with same sex roommates, Sue told her parents she had a roommate named ‘Phyllis’ and Mike told his folks he lived with ‘Nick’, but after awhile I’d think the parents would get suspicious especially when they’d never meet or speak to these other roommates even after a year’s time.

The segment where Mike tells Sue he doesn’t want to get married because he still likes hitting-on other women and then proceeds to pinch the ass of some lady on the street, all while in front of Sue, won’t go over to well with today’s viewers and for that matter shouldn’t have gone over well with Sue either even though she takes it all in stride like it’s no big deal while most other wives/girlfriends would’ve been highly upset. Having Mike inform Sue that he she has ‘fat arms’ could really upset a lot of women as many can be insecure about their bodies and dwell on these types of comments for a long time and not take it so casually like Sue does here. I thought she should’ve brought it back up later, out-of-the-blue in a non-related scene with something like ‘do you really think my arm’s are fat?’, which could’ve been funny.

There’s problems with the casting too especially Anne Meara playing Cloris Leachman’s daughter even though in reality she was only three years younger than her and looked it. I was also baffled why Meara’s real-life husband and longtime comic partner Jerry Stiller, who does appear very briefly in a minor role, wasn’t cast as her husband here. Harry Guardino does a fine job in the hubby role, but Stiller and Meara had a special chemistry and that would’ve shined through with the two onscreen. I also felt that Anne Jackson and Cloris should’ve switched roles. Having the very dynamic Cloris stymied in a boring bit of a clueless housewife was a waste of her immense talents and she would’ve been better able to display the anxiety of Anne’s character in a funnier way.

Bea Arthur and Diane Keaton, who both make their film debuts here, are quite good as is Richard S. Castellano whose repeated line of “So what’s the story’ became a popular catchphrase though the numerous close-ups of his face does make his fat bottom lip too pronounced. Marian Hailey, who left the acting profession in the 80’s and became children’s book author who now goes by Marian Hailey-Moss, is excellent too and perfectly conveys the persona of a single woman who is quite intelligent and well read, but also painfully insecure and indecisive. My favorite though is Gig Young as a philandering husband who tries to make everyone happy, but ultimately fails. This was his last great performance before alcoholism killed his career and his conversation with Jackson at end as they sit in two adjoining toilet stalls in a public bathroom is the film’s funniest moment though the house that his character owns, which is supposed to nestled in the rich swanky suburbs looks like a shambles, at the least exterior, as it’s painted with a watery white color that has spots where it completely exposes the red brick underneath looking like a rundown place that has been poorly maintained, which I don’t think was the intention.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 12, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Cy Howard

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Lookin’ to Get Out (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hiding out in Vegas.

Alex (Jon Voight) is a high stakes gambler in debt for $10,000. Joey and Harry (Allen Keller, Jude Farese) work with the syndicate and when they come around to collect their debt from Alex he escapes out of the city with his pal Jerry Feldmen (Burt Young) where they go to Las Vegas in hopes of recouping the money by playing blackjack. Alex employs the services of Smitty (Bert Remsen), an expert card counter, to help him at the dealer table, but just as he and Jerry think they’ve got their situation solved Joey and Harry reappear and chase the two through the hotel demanding that the debt be repaid immediately.

The script was written by Al Schwartz who based it on some of his own life experiences as he struggled to make it in the entertainment world. While working as the business manager to singer/songwriter Chip Taylor he showed him the script to get his opinion and Chip suggested that Al send it to Jon Voight, Chip’s brother, and when Jon read it he purportedly ‘fell in love with it’ within the first 30 pages. The story is a bit different as the situations itself aren’t necessarily funny, but instead it relies on the desperate nature of the characters and the way they interact with each other for its humor.

It was filmed at the MGM Grand Hotel, which at 6,852 rooms is the largest single hotel in the United States and third largest in the world. The ambience of the place is well captured and reminded me of the atmosphere of a lot of casinos I’ve stayed at where everyone is looking to ‘get lucky’ while in the process living very much on the edge. Having the plot that place over only a two-day period nicely reflects how gamblers live for the moment without any concern for either the past or future. It’s all just about the risk and excitement of beating the odds, which on that level, the film captures admirably well.

The acting helps, particularly from Voight who gives a souped-up rendition of his more famous Joe Buck character from Midnight Cowboy, playing a clueless schmuck who believes he can con his way out of anything and it’s also great seeing him share a scene with his real-life daughter Angelina Jolie, who at age 4 makes her film debut, appearing briefly as Alex’s daughter near the end and to date has been the only project that the two have done together. Young is also quite good as his more sensible friend and to an extent that he becomes the person the audience connects with. Remsen has a few key moments too playing a character that initially seems insignificant to the story, but slowly begins to have a much more meaningful presence by the end. As a buddy formula it works, but throwing in Ann-Margaret as Alex’s former girlfriend who comes back into his life, doesn’t gel and she should’ve been left out.

The foot chase where Alex and Jerry try to outrun Joey and Harry by dashing throughout the hotel is the film’s single best moment and I was impressed with how unlike other movie chases scenes there were no jump cuts and you can visually follow the action even as it shifts between different rooms. The other segments though get overly drawn-out. While his trademark was a slower, more subtle pace, which worked in his previous movies, director Hal Ashby would’ve been wise to have paired this one down. The plot isn’t intricate enough to justify the long runtime and a 90-minute version would’ve been ideal. The original theatrical cut was 105 minutes, which had issues too, but the longer director’s edition isn’t perfect either and in this instance less definitely would’ve been more.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 8, 1982

Runtime: 2 Hours (Director’s Cut)

Rated R

Director: Hal Ashby

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Mahoney’s Last Stand (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to find solitude.

Leroy Mahoney (Alexis Kanner) wants to be away from the rat race and out in the Canadian wilderness where he feels he can live in peaceful harmony with nature. He finds a rundown home in a vacant area and begins the process of renovating it only to meet a woman named Miriam (Maud Adams) who lives nearby and routinely comes over to visit. Felix (Sam Waterston) is his old friend from the city who hitches a ride to the country and moves-in. Later, so does Felix’s girlfriend Joy (Diana Leblanc) making Mahoney feel like he’ll never find the solitude he craves and will always be surrounded by people who annoy him.

The film was the inspiration of Kanner, who not only starred in it, but wrote the script, co-directed, and even produced. The quirky tone is what helps it stand out as it’s a mixture of the man-in-the-wilderness theme meets the counter culture and to a great degree it works. Some of my favorite moments are things that might seem off-putting, or even boring when put in any other film, but here it helps add to the offbeat quality like the scene featuring Mahoney sitting on his porch endlessly twiddling with his garden hoe, or the segment where he remains trapped in his outhouse as he’s too afraid to come out and meet with Miriam when she arrives unannounced.

The Mahoney character, if you can get past his odd accent and crusty exterior, is quite engaging. Initially he comes off as this rugged individualist only to end up getting scared late at night over the least little noise that hears outside. The scene where he tries to pretend he’s a seasoned horseback rider in an attempt to impress Miriam and his love-hate friendship with Felix and Joy are all amusing as well, but what I really liked is that he remains a true introvert all the way through. Most other films make the broad presumption that everyone secretly craves companionship and can only be truly happy with other around, but here Mahoney only finds his ultimate utopia when he’s finally all alone.

The film’s rustic landscape, which was shot in and around King City, Ontario, helps add to the ambiance. It was filmed between October and December of 1971 with the idea that filming would wrap before the snow and cold moved in as there was no heating in the cabin, but fortunately an early season snow hit the production in late November and gets incorporated into the story. Although it only blanketed the area with an inch or two it still at least gave a preview to what living in Canada year round would be like and if you’re going to do a pic about the rugged adventures of dealing with the northern climate then there better be some snow and cold in the mix or it’s just not fully authentic otherwise.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s ending really stands out as it recreates the feeling of solitude in a way I’ve never seen done before and will stick with you long after it’s over. It features Mahoney wondering around his property naked with only the faint sound of a water drip in the background, which gives the viewer a total sense of peace and freedom and has a soothing meditation-like quality.

Alternate Title: Mahoney’s Estate

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: Unreleased theatrically until 1976.

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Harvey Hart, Alexis Kanner

Studio: Topaz Productions

Available: None

The Clinic (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Helping those with V.D.

A day in the life of a clinic in Melbourne, Australia that specializes in treating people with venereal disease.  Both the doctors and the patients have many issues to deal with, but not all of them have anything to do with sexually transmitted diseases including Dr. Eric Linden (Chris Haywood) who after spending the day treating patients is more worried about meeting the mother of his gay partner for the first time. There’s also Dr. Hassad annoyed with the lamp on his office desk that he can’t get to work right no matter how many times he tries to fix it and three men visiting from China who think they’re at a health clinic, not a VD one, but nobody can translate to them that they’re in the wrong place.

For the most part this is a funny engaging ensemble comedy similar to Britannia Hospital, a satirical comedy done in the U.K., or The Hospital done here in the US and starring George C. Scott.  There’s also distant shades to the 80’s TV-show ‘St. Elsewhere’ that toed the line between being surreal and serious.  The editing is fast paced as it cuts back and forth between various scenarios happening at the same time throughout the different offices in the building.

There are also many characters and it’s hard to keep track of all them. They’re introduced at such a dizzying pace that the viewer isn’t allowed to get attached to any of them as you see them for only a couple of minutes and then it cuts away to someone else and never going back to the previous one until much later when you’ve almost forgotten about them, or their dilemma. Some may consider this the hallmark of bad filmmaking as in Hollywood the idea is to have, even in an assemble comedy such as this, one central character for the audience to connect with and then colorful people surrounding them, but here no one takes center stage. Director David Stevens admitted in interviews that he was pressured by producers to go more the conventional route, but he resisted and in many ways it succeeds better because it gives you a true day-in-the-life feel of the inter-workings of a clinic and the constant hustle-and-bustle of patients coming in and out that a story more focused on one person might not be able to convey as effectively.

The lack of music is another thing that is unusual. During the opening sequence all that is heard is traffic noise while the credits roll and it’s not until 1 hour 5 minutes that any type of soundtrack is heard in a rare moment that does not take place at the Hospital, but instead on a beach. There is a bouncy tune sung by Alistair Jones over the closing credits, but other than that there’s nothing, which again I found okay as it uses the ambience of the people walking around and talking as the film’s soundtrack, which helps heighten the realism. The nudity is different here too as it’s solely close-ups of male genitals, but none from females, which bothered some viewers, but I found alright. What I did question though was the males so obediently disrobing in front of a female Dr. as I felt some of them would be uncomfortable and even hesitant to do this.

The conversations and throwaway lines are quite funny, which is the film’s centerpiece as are the quirkiness of the characters who say one thing, but end up doing the complete opposite much like people in real-life. There’s also a few serious moments that brings up the stigma that people with V.D. had to deal with including one who loses his job, but these don’t come to satisfying conclusions and should’ve been explored more.

Overall it’s an enjoyable 90-minutes although by the final 15 it starts to exhaust itself. Had it been done with a smaller cast might’ve helped although technically it’s still quite fluid throughout though some may point to its poor box office showing where it managed to only recoup $414,000 profit from its $1 million budget as a sign that the unconventional narrative was a failure. This though is more likely because of distributors at the time being reluctant to show the film fearing public backlash at what was still considered a taboo subject.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 17, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: David Stevens

Studio: Roadshow Films

Available: None at this time.

Citizens Band (1977)

 

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The CB radio craze.

Spider (Paul LeMat) makes a living repairing CB radios in the home he shares with his crochety father (Roberts Blossom). In his spare time he monitors channel 9 on his own CB, which is used as an emergency channel to report motorists who are in distress. When he comes into contact with a disabled plane that crashes right onto the highway and he’s not able to use his CB to call for help due to some kids clogging up the channel with idle chit-chat he goes on a crusade to destroy the radios of everyone in town who are misusing the frequency. While doing this he also dates a cheerleading coach Pam (Candy Clark) who he’s engaged to marry unaware that she has a thing for his brother Dean (Bruce McGill) the local high school gym teacher.

The film, which was written by Paul Brickman, who went onto greater success writing/directing Risky Businesshas its share of quirky characters/moments that paints small town life in a romanticized but humorous way. To a degree it succeeds, but the people are a bit too nice for their own good. There are many scenarios where just about anyone else put into the same situation would respond in an angry way and yet here everyone remains mild mannered no matter what hits them, which may be dryly funny at first, but after awhile gets one-dimensional.

Small town people are no different than anyone else and if one finds out that your fiancée is suddenly seeing some other guy, especially after you’ve given her a ring, most would become upset and the way Spider takes it in such a ho-hum way doesn’t seem natural. Later when the two brothers finally confront each other there’s no fight, or even shouting, they just end up hugging each other, which I guess is nice, but it would’ve been better had there been some action or confrontation, which this film sorely lacks. Maybe having them breakout into a fist fight that destroys the apartment in the process, but done in a slapstick way only to eventually, once they’ve exhausted themselves, forgive and forget.

The two women (Marcia Rodd, Ann Wedgeworth), who meet at random during a bus ride only to find that they’re married to the same man (Charles Napier), has the same issue. Once they confront the two-timer there’s no fireworks at all. They pretty much instantaneously forgive him and then proceed to have a genteel conversation about where everybody is going to live instead of watching the two give the guy the business, which would’ve been more entertaining. There is a scene where the two women let the cows escape from the guy’s truck, but even this gets botched because we never see the cows run through the town and all the destruction they would most likely create.

The rest of the film works on the same level. Too much emphasis on the subtle with nothing really standing-out. The characters respond to everything with the same laid-back manner until there’s no distinction between them. Eventually it just flatlines. Instead of being this offbeat look at small town life it becomes more a whimsical fairy tale where the people don’t resemble actual folks.

I believe this is the main reason why this film did so poorly at the box office where it recouped a paltry $850,000 back from its initial $5 million budget. The studio thought it was due to the title because of the word ‘band’ being in it and people mistakenly thinking it was a musical, so they reissued it as Handle With Care, but it did no better. This also became yet another film directed by Jonathan Demme that fared well with the critics, but not the public and this trend continued with his films all the way through the 80’s before he was finally able to hit-pay-dirt with Silence of the Lambs.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Alternate Title: Handle With Care

Released: May 18, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jonathan Demme

Studio: Paramount

Available: Amazon Video, YouTube

Road Games (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Truck driver pursues killer.

Quid (Stacy Keach) is an American working as a trucker in Australia and hauling a frozen shipment of pigs through the outback and into Perth. Along the way he becomes menaced by a strange man (Grant Page) driving a black van who has a penchant for picking-up prostitutes who then end up dying. Quid is convinced that the man is the serial killer that is being reported about on the news, but before he can go to the police he gets tabbed as the killer himself forcing him, with the help of Pamela (Jamie Lee Curtis) a hitch-hiker he picks up along the way, to find the real killer before he gets arrested for crimes that he did not do.

One of the coolest aspects of this film is its voyeuristic quality where visual clues are a requirement for the viewer to pick up on to figure out what’s going on.  Too many other movies don’t take enough advantage of this idea and usually sell-out by having everything explained through dialogue, but here director Richard Franklin, a major devotee of Alfred Hitchcock, who tried to model the story after Rear Window, keeps the viewer feeling like they’re an active participant.

The film’s drawback, and most likely one of the main reasons it didn’t do well at the box office, is that the tension  ebbs and flows. Too much labor gets put into dressing up the plot with a lot of quirky side stories. This includes having Quid  coming into contact with the same motorists through his travels, which I didn’t think was realistic that these same drivers would be taking the exact same route as him while maintaining the same speeds as he over a several day period, so that no matter where he went they were never far away. I have traveled extensively by car on long road trips similar to this one and have never kept passing the same motorists like Quid does here.

The film also lacks, with the exception of a surprise double ending that comes at the very end,  any type of actual scares. There is a running build-up making you believe that a shock is just around-the-corner, but ultimately it’s a letdown. People watch these things with the anticipation they’ll be jumping-out-of-their-seats at some point, but this is too tame and at certain points it’s almost more like a comedy.

The killer, who was played by a stuntmen and not a professional actor, lacks any type of presence to distinction. For things to get really intense, which it never does, the bad guy has to stand out and make the viewer feel on edge every time they see him, which this transparent guy is unable to do. It would have also been more interesting had his face not been shown until the very end instead of Quid seeing what he looks like early on when he spots him through his binoculars.

I was surprised why the two lead characters were played by Americans since the setting is the down-under and the story better served by performers who were native born. That’s not to say that Keach or Curtis don’t give engaging performances because they do, but I don’t believe there’s too many American truck drivers working in Australia, so there needed to be some explanation for why Keach was there and why, being that he was not from the region, he was so educated about the history of the area, as evidenced when the two camp-out overnight and he tells her the back story of an abandoned telegraph station that sits nearby.

The romantic undertones that are lightly introduced does nothing but sap away the tension. I also found it curious why Curtis would be trusting of Quid upfront as she’d have no idea whether the serial killer could’ve been him and therefore she should’ve been more guarded, which she isn’t.

The climactic sequence features a unique car chase where three vehicles follow each other around the back alleys of Perth late at night, but at very slow speeds, which surprisingly is effective. However, the script should’ve been tighter and the editing quicker. The film’s leisurely pace and colorful supporting characters works against it. There needed to be more shocks, more of a confrontation between Quid and the killer, and basically just more of a conventional thriller-like approach.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 26, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Franklin

Studio: Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Pocket Money (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Herding cattle for money.

Jim Kane (Paul Newman) is a not-too-bright modern-day cowboy living in Arizona that is broke and without a job. In desperation he takes an offer from a shady businessman named Bill Garrett (Strother Martin) who promises Jim a lot of money to buy a certain breed of cattle in Mexico and then bring them up to the US. Jim has his suspicions about the deal, but decides he has no choice but to take it. He elicits the help of his longtime pal Leonard (Lee Marving) another down-on-his-luck loser. Together they find the cattle and herd them to the states despite a lot of obstacles along the way, but when they return Bill and his cronies are nowhere in sight forcing Jim to seek him out and right the injustice.

Many people have complained about the film’s slow pace and the script, which was written by Terrence Malick and based off of a novel by J.P.S. Brown, has a lackadaisical quality, but to some extent I really didn’t mind it. Too many Hollywood movies are compelled to rush right into the plot while leaving atmosphere and characterizations behind, but here Laszlo Kovacs cinematography brings the rustic western locations to life. I had traveled just recently to a small town in Mexico earlier in the year and this film captures the same ambience that I saw including all the feral dogs running around, the old rundown buildings that make up the town center, as well as the pot-holed filled roads. It was almost like I can gone there a second straight time.

Newman is brilliant in a rare comedic turn. His character is dopey, but in a funny, lovable way where you laugh at his ineptness one minute and cheer him on the next. Marvin is good too and the banter the between them as well as their contrasting approaches to things help keep things interesting. Reports where that the two did not get along and Marvin even admitted as much in interviews stating that Newman ‘finessed’ him during their scenes and when you get two big name actors with heavy egos this sometimes happens, but they were at least professional enough not to let their animosity show through on the screen. Both Wayne Rogers and Strother Martin, who co-starred with Newman just 5 years earlier in the classic Cool Hand Luke lend great support and in Martin’s case should’ve been seen more.

Spoiler Alert!

My biggest beef comes with the ending, which is a complete letdown. The intention was to show the life of two aimless men who are going nowhere, which is fine, but there still needs to be a payoff at the end. Instead when Newman and Martin finally confront Rogers and Martin in a hotel room, after searching everywhere for them, nothing happens. They never get their money, or revenge, or anything. Even losers can have a random moment of small victory, which is what I felt was needed here, and to have nothing of substance occur makes the viewer feel like the joke was on them and sitting through this, despite the marvelous production values, becomes sadly a big waste of time.

End of Spoiler Alert!

This was another case of where Leonard Maltin’s review, or whoever wrote it for him, is off from what you end up seeing. He commends the performance by Jean Peters, who plays Newman’s ex-wife, like it’s something special when in reality it’s just a throw-away-bit that lasts for a couple of minutes and isn’t too memorable. He also comments on Marvin’s car, which he states is ‘the damnedest thing you’ll ever see’ even though despite a few multi-colored panels I didn’t see what was so unusual about it. The craziest car I’ve ever seen in a movie is the one the two teens drive in Robert Altman’s 1985 flick O.C. and Stiggs, but again watch both movies for yourself and then decide, but I believe most would end up agreeing with me.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 1, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Stuart Rosenberg

Studio: National General Pictures

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

The Long Goodbye (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: His cat is hungry.

One night detective Phillip Marlowe (Elliot Gould) is visited in his home by his long time pal Terry Lennox (Jim Boulton), who informs Marlowe that he’s had a fight with his wife and asks him if he can have a ride to the Mexican border, which he obliges. When he returns home he is met by two cops (Jerry Jones, John S. Davies) who bring him into the station with questions about the whereabouts of Lennox whom they insist has just killed his wife. When Marlowe refuses to divulge anything he gets put into jail only to released 3-days later when it’s reported that Lennox has killed himself. Marlowe becomes suspicious about the suicide and determined to do his own investigation while also getting involved with Eileen Wade (Nina van Pallandt) and her alcoholic, writer husband Roger (Sterling Hayden) both of whom may hold the secret to Lennox and what really happened.

By the early 70’s only two of Raymond Chandler’s novels had yet to be filmed, this one and ‘Playback’. United Artists agreed to finance the film and commissioned Leigh Brackett, who had been the screenwriter for another Chandler novel turned into a movie 1946’s The Big Sleep, to write the screenplay for this one. Robert Altman was later approached to direct it and while he was not a fan of the Phillip Marlowe character, whom he labeled as being a ‘loser’, he agreed to take on the project due to the unexpected ending, which had not been in the novel, but that Brackett had added into the screenplay.

While Altman may have seemed an odd choice, he never even read the source novel of which the film is based, the eccentric little sidelights that he adds into the proceedings make it worth it. Some of the movies that he did towards the late 70’s became a bit too undisciplined where his films would go off on tangents with stuff that had very little to do with the main plot, but here the story is strong, so the little detours that Altman adds in helped to playfully accentuate the plot instead of drowning it out.

Some of my favorite Altmanisms included  Marlowe looking for food to feed his hungry cat, who I might add for an animal gives a spectacular performance, and how a stocker that he meets at the grocery store while searching for cat food he ends up meeting again at random at the police station. The next door female nudists, who are also into yoga and attract the attention of both the police and the bad guys who come to Marlowe’s place, are fun too.

There’s some marvelous framing by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond including capturing Roger and Eileen having an argument inside their home, which was filmed at Altman’s Malibu residence, through a glass patio door while at the same time in the reflection you see Gould walking along the beech. Later while Eileen and Marlowe are having a conversation by an open window you can see in a distance, which the other two are unaware of, Roger walking into the ocean in an attempt to kill himself.

Spoiler Alert!

The film also features what I feel is one of the most shocking and disturbing scenes that I’ve ever seen put into a movie and that’s a statement that I don’t use lightly. I’ve seen hundreds of gory horror films, but what happens here I’ve found far more unsettling. I think the reason is because it’s completely unexpected as it features the character played by film director Mark Rydell smashing a glass coke bottle onto the face of his girlfriend who just seconds earlier he had stated that he was deeply in-love with. Hearing her scream out in unending pain while cupping her hands over her face as blood spews out makes it come-off as very real. Even more amazing is that the part of the girlfriend was played by an amateur named Jo Ann Brody who never appeared in any other film and was a waitress that Altman and Brackett met when they went out to dinner while working on the script and who they asked on-the-spot if she’d like to be in their movie.

Altman admitted that he knew this violent scene, which had not been in the book, would upset some fans, but he felt it was important to bring the viewer back to the reality that these were violent characters at heart. This could also be seen as a foreshadowing to the surprise ending when Marlowe finds Lennox still alive in Mexico and then unexpectedly shoots him. In the novel Marlowe allows Lennox to walk away unharmed, but Altman liked the violent twist.

Personally I was ambivalent with the ending here and might actually have preferred the way it was done in the book. My main issue though with it is that Eileen spots Marlowe leaving the place where Lennox was just shot and since she was in a relationship with Lennox and also had strong criminal connections I’d think she’d end up, one way or another, going after Marlowe once she realized he had killed her lover causing the ending to leave open too many potentially interesting tangents that should’ve been followed through on.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 7, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Super Cops (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Arresting the drug dealers.

David Greenberg (Ron Leibman) and Robert Hantz (David Selby) join the police force hoping to be active in cleaning up the streets from drug dealers. Unfortunately for them once they go through the basic police training and graduate they’re assigned low level jobs like directing traffic, which they find boring. They decide to start using their off-duty hours to make arrests on their own, which gets them into trouble with their department, but their continuing efforts impresses the residents and soon makes them media heroes known as ‘Batman and Robin’.

The film, which was directed by Gordon Parks who also did Shaft, has plenty of engaging moments and I liked how it starts with the two going through the police training, which allows the viewer to see a full transition of the characters from average citizens to street cops. There’s also a lot of quirky comedy that really works including having the two hiding out inside a trash dumpster and ready to make an arrest only to have a large amount of garbage dumped on them just as they do. The bit at the end where two dueling factions of the police department try to arrest each other, even though neither side is sure which side has committed the worst crime, is quite amusing too.

The characters and situations are based loosely on real life events and it’s interesting how the actual Greenberg and Hantz are shown right at the start being interviewed about all of their arrests and then they appear later in the story playing two corrupt cops that get into a big fistfight with their film counterparts. Initially I thought Leibman looked too scrawny and outside of his bushy mustache didn’t resemble Greenberg all that much, but he makes up for it with a highly spirited performance. Selby is good too and I liked how there’s a contrast in personalities between the two although in real-life they had been best friends since childhood while the film makes it seem like they meet and become friends while in training.

The main problem with the film is that we never learn what makes these guys tick. Why are these two so motivated to arrest drug dealers even more so than a regular cop? Did they have a friend or family member die of a drug overdose in the past? And what about their private lives? Are these guys married, single, or gay? None of this gets shown or addressed, which ends up creating a placid effect. While the viewer may admire the relentlessness of the protagonists we’re also never emotionally tied-in to anything that goes on.

Showing the politics that occurs behind-the-scenes inside a police force and how this protocol system can sometimes stymie innovation or individuals that may want to work outside of it is commendable, but also ends up having a defeating quality to it. Every time these guys make any progress they end up falling back into the hands of the same administrators that want to make life miserable for them, and this gets repeated all the way until the bitter end making the viewer feel frustrated when it’s over instead of inspired.

It’s also interesting to note that Greenberg and Hantz weren’t exactly virtuous in their real-lives and ended up getting caught doing the same things that they arrested other people for doing here including Hantz who was forced to resign from the police force in 1975 after getting caught in possession of marijuana. Greenberg also spent two stints in jail once in 1978 for nine months for mail fraud and then again in 1990 for 4 years for insurance fraud.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 20, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Directer: Gordon Parks

Studio: MGM

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

Posse (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Everyone has their price.

Howard Nightingale (Kirk Douglas) is an ambitious Marshall looking to run for U.S. Senate and realizes his best bet of winning the seat is by bringing in the notorious train robbing gang led by Jack Strawhorn (Bruce Dern). Howard manages to kill off the gang by having his posse set fire to the hideout that they were in, but Jack escapes only to be captured later and brought to jail. While on the train ride to Austin where he’ll be hanged Jack comes up with an elaborate escape and turns-the-tables by handcuffing Howard and returning him to the town where they came from and holding him prisoner inside the local hotel. When the posse returns to the town everyone is convinced they’ll free Howard, or will they?

In an era where revisionist westerns were all the rage it’s confusing, at least initially, not to understand why this one, which story-wise goes completely against-the-grain of the conventional western, isn’t propped up there with the best of them and a lot of the blame could possibly be put on the direction. There’s nothing really wrong with the way it’s presented and there are some exciting moments including a realistic shootout as well as a running train being set on fire while also exploding from dynamite, but the rest of it does have a certain static feel. There’s too much reliance on music and not enough on mood or atmosphere as well as actors looking more like modern day people in period costume.

The script though, which is based on a 1971 short story called ‘The Train’ by Larry Cohen is full of many offbeat twists that keeps the viewer intrigued. Of course in an attempt to stretch out the short story into feature length there are some slow spots, particularly in the middle and the emphasis is more on concept than character development, but Jack’s crafty way at escaping is quite entertaining and the surprise ending is one of the best not because it’s a gimmick, which it isn’t, but more because it’s quite believable and yet something that’s never been done in any other western.

Douglas gives his conniving character just the right amount of pompous camp to make him enjoyable and it’s great to see James Stacy in his first movie role after his tragic motorcycle accident where he lost both his left arm and leg. In any other film this handicap would have to become a major issue, but here it doesn’t even get mentioned. The character doesn’t use it to feel sorry for himself nor is he treated any differently than anyone else, which I found to be quite refreshing.

A minor drawback though it that it’s supposed to take place in Texas and my hometown of Austin even gets mentioned a few times, which is kind of cool, but it was actually filmed in the state of Arizona. To some this might not be a big deal, but Arizona’s landscape is much sandier and has more mountains. Their cacti is of the upright kind while in Texas the cactus is of the bushy variety known as the prickly pear. All of which helps to ruin the film’s authenticity. If they didn’t have the funding to film it in Texas then have the story’s setting take place in California or Arizona, but trying to compromise it and hoping that astute viewers won’t know the difference doesn’t work.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 4, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Kirk Douglas

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube