Category Archives: Foreign Films

Razorback (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giant boar terrorizes outback.

Jake (Bill Kerr), who lives in the Australian outback, gets attacked one night by a giant razorback who takes off with his infant grandson. Jake is later accused as having made up the story as no one can believe that there could be a razorback of such mammoth proportions and yet Jake spends the rest of his life hunting after it and determined to get his revenge for what it did to his grandson. During his quest he meets up with Carl (Gregory Harrison) whose wife Beth (Judy Morris) was also killed by the same wild boar.

The film was directed by Russell Mulcahy, who rose to fame by directing many influential music videos and his unique visual style is what sets this film apart. The way he captures the vast, flat outback is stylish and the dream sequence out in the desert is both creepy and surreal. I also really enjoyed the part where the razorback tears apart a man’s house forcing him to helplessly watch as the part of the home with the TV, which he was watching, goes literally gliding away in front of him, which  may not be realistic, but a very funny image nonetheless.

The story though, which is based on the novel by Peter Brennan, is too indicative of other better known movies. It starts out with Jake going to trial over the death of his grandson and no one believing his account, which is loosely based on the Azaria Chamberlin incident who was an infant that got taken away by a dingo in 1980, but the public didn’t believe the story and accused the parents of killing the child instead. However, in this instance the razorback creates a giant hole in Jake’s house, which should be enough for most people to think that there might be something to what Jake was saying and makes the opening court room bit seem both protracted and unnecessary especially since he quickly gets acquitted anyways.

The second act resembles the film Wake in Fright as Carl and two other men go on a nighttime kangaroo hunt. It also examines the poor way Carl adapts to the rough nature of the outback men, which again seems too similar to the plot of the other film and really wasn’t needed since it slows up the pace, which needed more scares and appearances of the giant razorback that are completely missing during the middle part.

The third act comes off too much like Jaws, with Jake channeling Quint, which might’ve been alright as I found Jake’s rugged individualistic ways to be both endearing and amusing to the point that he could’ve been made the main character. However, is untimely demise is both graphic and cruel and gives the film an unnecessarily mean tone.

Having Carl single-handidly take on the razorback at the end while inside an abandoned warehouse is boring as it rehashes the man vs beast theme that’s been done many times before. I was actually more interested in seeing the townspeople work together to hunt down the boar, which is an idea that the film teases, but then ultimately sells-out on.

My biggest grievance though is the way the beast gets photographed. Supposedly a  giant animatronic model of the razorback was built at a cost of $250,000, but you never really see it. Shots of the beast are edited so quickly that you only get brief glimpses of the animal and never its whole body and no true idea of how big it really is. There’s also no explanation offered for  how it grew so big.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 19, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Russell Mulcahy

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Blu-ray (Region B/2, A/1), Amazon Video, YouTube

Frenchman’s Farm (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Witnessing a past murder.

Jackie (Tracey Tainsh) goes traveling in her car throughout the Australian countryside while bush fires rage all around her. When her car breaks down she visits the nearest farmstead for help. It is there that she finds herself suddenly swept back to the year 1944 where she witnesses a murder and then just as quickly she comes back to the present day. When she tries to tell others what happened nobody believes her, but eventually her boyfriend Barry (David Reyne) takes up her cause and with the benefit of old news articles help find the real killer and the secret behind what motivated it.

Although marketed as a horror flick, it seems more like iffy sci-fi and could’ve easily have been targeted to a pre-teen audience since it’s not all that tense, or scary, especially with the majority of it filmed in the bright sunny daytime. When it does finally take place in the darkness of night a cliched thunderstorm gets conveniently put in while the killer is made out to being a ghost who pops in and out like it’s The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

Initially I kind of liked that that she didn’t stay stuck in the past and was able to be her own detective, which kept me intrigued for awhile yet it started to make me wonder why the time traveling event occurred to begin with, which the movie has no suitable explanation for except to say that the bush fires created some sort of ‘atmospheric disturbance’, but if that was the case why was she the only one affected? The film also does a poor job of recreating a past era, as Jackie and her boyfriend go back to the farm where the murder occurred, but do it in the present day and yet the trees in the backyard where she witnessed the killing 40 years earlier all look the same even though they should’ve either died or grown bigger.

I found it annoying too that the boyfriend, who has a generic ‘surfer dude’ presence, starts to take over the investigation even though it really wasn’t his personal battle to solve. In order for him to take such an interest he should’ve been transported back in time with Jackie, or for a more original touch, it could’ve been Jackie and a female friend who witnessed the killing and then proceeded to becoming amateur sleuths together.

A few veteran Aussie character actors, such as an aging John Meillon, help give it some stature, but the production overall is quite bland and how it ever got considered as being a part of the Ozploitation genre, which stands for Australian exploitation cinema, is beyond me since outside of a brief skinny-dipping minute there’s nothing titillating or shocking about it.

The ‘surprise ending’ is also really dumb and doesn’t even involve the main character who gets phased out of the storyline before the ending even comes about, which is not satisfying for the viewer to follow a character around  for the whole movie only to have her ultimate fate left open to a murky explanation.

 

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 9, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ron Way

Studio: CEL Film Distribution

Available: DVD

The Beast in the Cellar (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Elderly sisters harbor prisoner.

Soldiers throughout the English countryside are being gruesomely murdered by what seems to be some wild beast, but the authorities have no idea what type of creature it is, or where it came from. Ellie (Beryl Reid) and Joyce (Flora Robson) are two elderly sisters living together in an isolated rural home, who fear they may know the answer and it has something to do with a dark family secret that lies imprisoned in their basement.

The film’s perceived charm revolves around the casting of two legendary actresses in offbeat roles where they at times come-off both as antagonists and the anti-heroes. Reid is especially interesting because here she’s a child-like individual while just a few years earlier she was a controlling, domineering woman to Susannah York’s child-like one in The Killing of Sister George, so seeing her able to play both parts effectively is fun and impressive.

The banter between the two though needed to be played-up more and I was expecting, given the storyline, more of a campy, dark humored tone, which really never manifests. The dialogue gets too extended, as the women do nothing, but pretty much talk, talk, talk until it seemed to be almost a filmed stageplay with the camera locked in the house and nothing visually stimulating to captivate the viewer.

The scares consist mainly of a handheld camera swinging back and forth  in an apparent attempt to replicate the beast attacking the victim, which ends up being more dizzying and amateurish looking than frightening and the fact that this technique gets done with each attack makes it quite derivative. It would’ve been better had the attacks not been played-out at all, but instead simply revealed the mangled. bloody body afterwards. The film also makes the tacky error of portraying the eyeball, which gets gouged out on one victim, as being shaped like a ping pong ball, which is probably what was used, when in reality it is more oval shaped.

A good horror film should have a frightening image to latch onto, but here that’s lacking despite a few prime opportunities where one could’ve been implemented. Reid’s retelling to the police inspector about the backstory dealing with their basement prisoner has some interesting cutaways making it the best part of the movie, but no shot of the shell-shocked, war weary father even though he’s an integral component to the plot. The ultimate reveal of the beast is highly disappointing in a climactic finish that completely fizzles, which makes sitting through this not worth your time.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 14, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: James Kelly

Studio: Tigon Film Distributors

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Allison’s Birthday (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen ages very rapidly.

Allison (Joanne Samuel) decides to spend her 19th birthday with her aunt (Bunney Brooke) and uncle (John Bluthal) who live in rural Australia and have been raising her ever since her parents died when she was just a child. However, this visit includes her meeting her elderly grandmother (Marion Jones) for the first time and a mysterious illness that also affects her while she is there. Her aunt and uncle refuse to allow her boyfriend Peter (Lou Brown) to visit causing him to go to great lengths to get her away from them and back to safety as he fears they’ve come under the influence of a cult.

This low budget Australian sleeper managed to become a hit in its own country mainly from its attempts to work against-the-grain of that era by creating a horror film that did not involve blood and gore, but instead relied on good old fashioned creepiness. For the most part it succeeds, but gets hampered by a plot that plays itself out too slowly.

It becomes too obvious that her aunt and uncle have some evil intent in mind and this should’ve been camouflaged better because when the big reveal finally does come about during the third act it’s not surprising at all. The cult that they’re involved with is portrayed in such a cliched way from the tacky black robes that they wear to the Stonehenge-like meeting place that  it seems like high camp. The opening sequence featuring a ouji board and a talking spirit, is equally heavy-handed and almost sinks this thing before it’s barely begun.

Some of the action segments particularly her boyfriend’s attempts to outrun the cult members who try chasing him down is exciting, but he’s in too much of the movie, while Allison remains virtually bedridden making it seem like he’s the main character instead of her. A good protagonist should be able to fight her own battles and in this case she does too little, which doesn’t elicit enough emotion from the viewer to want to cheer her on.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s twist ending in which, due to the ritual ceremony done by the cult, a young Allison suddenly wakes up to find herself trapped inside the body of her grandmother, is pretty cool and genuinely quite horrifying when you think about it. However, this should’ve occurred during the middle part and the rest of the film spent with her trying to return her spirit back to her youthful body, which could’ve involved a wide array of intriguing and unique elements. Unfortunately this doesn’t happen making the film only a skeletal blueprint of what it could’ve been.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 1, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ian Coughlan

Studio: Australian Film Institute

Available: VHS

The Big Sleep (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hired to find blackmailer.

Philip Marlowe (Robert Mitchum) is an American detective living in London who gets hired by a aging, retired general named Sternwood (James Stewart) to locate the person who has been blackmailing him for money. He thinks it may have something to do with his colorful daughters: the gambling addicted Charlotte (Sarah Miles) and the promiscuous Camilla (Candy Clark) who enjoys posing for nude photographs.

The film is based on the 1939 novel of the same name by Raymond Chandler and a remake of the 1946 film that starred Humphrey Bogart. Here though the setting has been updated from the 1940’s to the 1970’s and the venue changed from New York to London. The movie was also able to tackle many of the more kinkier aspects of the story that the 40’s version was only able to allude to.

Personally I felt the changes worked and made the premise more interesting. Why an American detective would be working in England is never properly answered, but the new setting does allow for some interesting on-location shooting like having the Knebworth House used as the Sternwood Mansion, which is breathtaking to look at both inside and out. The erotic undertones get used to their full potential especially with Candy Clark’s nude scenes who looks fabulous naked and she plays the part with such spunk that every scene she is in is highly amusing and the whole film could’ve easily been built around her alone.

Mitchum’s presence isn’t as distracting as it was in Farewell, My Lovely where he played the same part, but in a 1940’s setting. Having it upgraded to the modern-day actually makes him come-off as younger and a lot of the reason could be the snazzy suits he wears as opposed to the drab hat and trench coat. He also isn’t forced to get into any physical confrontations with anyone, which would make him look foolish as he’d be too old to kick any young guy’s ass, nor is there any romantic overtures with a younger woman, only Camilla who immediately throws herself at him the second she meets him, but since she does that with every man it doesn’t matter, which all helps to make his advanced age, which was 60 at the time and far older than the intended character, a non-issue.

The main problem is the story, which I found to be just too damn confusing. I like mysteries, but more in the Agatha Christie realm where we have actual clues to follow and an interesting array of suspects as opposed to something with a dizzying pace where every line of dialogue creates a new twist and potential suspects popping up out of nowhere only to quickly get killed off or just disappear completely. It’s possible in the novel, which I never read, this all got laid out better, but here it became convoluted to the extent that after the first 30 minutes I became lost and didn’t care what happened next, or for that matter who got killed and who didn’t.

Having a side-story thrown-in like Marlowe taking up some sort of quirky hobby that had nothing to do with the mystery that the film could cut back to every once in awhile in order to allow the viewer to catch their breath would’ve helped. The film still manages to be watchable mainly from the high production values and the eclectic cast. I also enjoyed the beginning and end segments where the camera takes the driver’s point-of-view as we see the car drive through the winding roads as it enters the Sternwood Mansion property and then at the end while it leaves the property as the credits roll past.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 13, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Z.P.G. (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Having babies is forbidden.

In the future the earth has become overrun with smog that blankets everything and has killed off all plant and animal life and forces everyone to wear breathing masks when outside. In effort to control the population growth the government orders that no one can have babies and instead must visit ‘Babyland’ where childless couples will be given life-sized robotic dolls to take care of instead. Russ (Oliver Reed) and Carol (Geraldine Chaplin) are a young couple who defy this order and secretly have a baby, but when their neighbors (Don Gordon, Diane Cilento) find out and threaten to go to the authorities the couple is forced to go on the run.

This film was both a critical and commercial failure when first released, but was later turned into a novel called ‘The Edict’ that was a success and helped gain the film a bit of a cult following. The special effects though aren’t too great with an opening shot showing this flying vehicle that looks like it was connected to a crane flying over a city’s skyline that resemble miniature toy models, which to me should make it prime fodder for an episode of ‘Mystery Science Theater’. Blanketing everything with smog doesn’t help as part of the fun of watching a Sci-fi film is seeing the elaborate set design and this film has none.

I didn’t like that everyone wears the exact same black uniform either. This is not the first sci-fi film to do this, but it always comes off as phony to me. Do style and fashion trends just go out the window in the future? Every society in every time period has always had individuality and those that break away from the mainstream, so expecting that every single person in the future conforms to the norm and agrees to wear the exact same outfit as everyone else is just not believable.

The plot is skeletal and not well thought out.  The first half plods along too slowly as it’s obvious from the start that Carol wants to have a baby and watching her come to this foregone decision is too draggy and the story should’ve started out right away with her having the child and then going from there to trying to hide it. Also, if the government really wanted to prevent people from having children why didn’t they just force every female to have a tubal ligation instead of trusting that after having sex they would go to their bathroom and press a button on an ‘abortion machine’ on the wall that would apparently send radiation, via a red glowing light, into the woman’s uterus.

The acting is good and Chaplin’s performance comes off as quite sincere. It’s also good to see Oliver Reed in a rare good-guy role although the script really doesn’t give him much to do. Cilento as the intrusive neighbor is by far the scene-stealer. The segment where she must be coached via a government official talking to her on a television monitor to show love for her robot child is one of the film’s best moments as is the later scene where she eventually destroys the doll by bashing its head onto a cement sidewalk.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending was the only time that I found myself slightly intrigued. Watching the couple get trapped inside a dome where after 12-hours they were set to be gassed to death and then having them dig their way out of it and into an underground cavern where via a inflatable raft they were able to escape was mildly interesting, but having them end up on an island where old nuclear weapons were buried was not satisfying. Did they end up dying of cancer? How could they survive without any plant or animal life and was anyone else on the island besides them? The ending like the rest of the film leaves far more questions than answers.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 25, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Campus

Studio: Paramount

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

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Police Chief kills prostitute.

Dottore (Gian Maria Volante) is the police chief in the homicide division of his department. He is by all measures a man above suspicion and decides to one day put this to the test by killing his mistress (Florinda Bolkan) who was also a prostitute. To make the challenge even more interesting he plants obvious clues, which should lead to his indictment, but they don’t. Instead the police inspectors come up with a maddening array of warped reasons why the police chief is not the killer even when the evidence clearly points to the fact that he is.

This film, which won the Academy Award for best foreign film of 1970, touches on an issue rarely seen in American cop movies outside of maybe The Fugitive, where the police get a tunnel vision on who they think the suspect is, in this case the woman’s gay husband, and tune-out all other potential angles in their zeal to ‘get their guy’.  This is something that happens in real-life cases much more often than people realize where inspectors, in an effort to get the case solved and move-on, will make the evidence fit their own preconceived narrative instead of vice-versa.

The story also analyzes how having a rigid protocol system can be dangerous. What on the surface may seem ‘orderly’ can underneath be covering up all sorts of corruption. Everyone is so afraid of keeping their jobs and saving the reputation of the police department that all sorts of corrupt acts are allowed to pass through unhindered as everyone becomes ingrained with the yes-man mentality. Even having some of the most cutting edge police technology in the world doesn’t help if it falls victim to human overseers whose subjectivity only allows them to see what they want to see.

Gian Maria Volante, who in real-life was known as a left wing radical and was arrested many times during the 70’s by police for taking part in political demonstrations, is excellent as the reactionary authority figure. His piercing stare is more than enough to own every scene that he is in and ironically he played just three years earlier in the film We Still Kill the Old Way  done by the same director, a character is on the opposite end who fought corruption to get to the truth over a murder.

Elio Petri’s direction is nothing short of excellent and had his life not been cut short by cancer he most assuredly would’ve gone on to become one of the greats of Italian cinema. Ennio Morricone’s distinctive score is terrific too. Normally I tend to prefer as little music in films as possible, but the soundtrack here helps accentuate the film’s stylish presentation and gives it a real attitude and should’ve been played-up even more including over the film’s opening credits, which are strangely silent.

The film’s only defect is the fact that since we already know who’s committed the crime there’s not a lot of tension. It might’ve worked better had the police chief not been the main character and the perpetrator of the crime remained a mystery until later on. One of the lead investigators could’ve been made the protagonist who follows the evidence, which eventually leads to the police chief, but then he finds stiff resistance to his findings from the department, which could’ve been more impactful, but the film still has its share of strong scenes including its surreal-like ending.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: February 12, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Elio Petri

Studio: Euro International Film

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Video, YouTube

Sunday in the Country (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Farmer holds robbers hostage.

Adam Smith (Ernest Borgnine) is a Canadian farmer living in a rural home who becomes aware via the radio of reports of three bank robbers (Cec Linder, Louis Zorich, Michael J. Pollard) on the run in the area who’ve just killed a young man and his girlfriend who were his friends. He prepares for their arrival and when they come he shoots and kills one of them while taking the other two into his cellar where he hangs them on meat hooks. Smith’s granddaughter Lucy (Hollis McLaren) finds this treatment inhumane and wants to call the police, but Adam won’t let her and the two quarrel until he locks her in her room, but she escapes and runs for help, which enrages Adam even more.

The film almost gets ruined by an obnoxious musical score that is so heavily tinged with country twang that it seems almost like a parody of itself and makes the entire production come off as cheesy and amateurish. It would’ve been better without any music at all as it ends up taking you out of the action like having someone sitting beside you and rudely talking and not letting you concentrate on what’s happening on the screen.

As for the story it makes some good observations about just how thin the line can sometimes be between the good guy, or those that feel they’re morally justified to inflict whatever style justice they deem necessary, and the so-called bad guy. Unfortunately the character arch of the protagonist happens too quickly without much of a back story explaining why this otherwise law abiding farmer would deviate so quickly into an abuser. What makes him different from others who would’ve called the police? Just saying that he’s ‘old fashioned’ and ‘from a different era’ I didn’t feel was enough of an explanation.

With the exception of Pollard the robbers aren’t intimidating enough and it some ways came off as pathetic and not like professional crooks at all. This might’ve been intentional on the filmmaker’s part in an effort to make the viewer more sympathetic to their quandary once they are held hostage, but in the process it lessens the tension and makes them seem not as threatening.

Borgnine does a terrific job through his facial expressions of showing the character’s inner turmoil as well as constantly exposing his human side even as he forges ahead to doing some not-so-nice things. McLaren is also superb and her interactions with Borgnine are the most compelling aspect of the film.

Pollard is great here too and I was surprised as he’s not always able to find roles that match his unique talents and sometimes has been relegated to thankless and forgettable supporting parts, but here he’s viscous with a most creepy sounding laugh.

Unfortunately the eye-for-an-eye concept doesn’t get examined enough and the film could’ve gone a lot farther with it than it does. It still manages to bring out many interesting issues but the story should be remade and without the corny soundtrack.

Alternate Titles: Vengeance is Mine, Blood for Blood

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 22, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Trent

Studio: Impact Films

Available: Amazon Video

Shaker Run (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Transporting a deadly virus.

Judd (Cliff Robertson) is an aging stunt driver who along with his young protege Casey (Leif Garret) is finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. With barely any money on hand they decide to take up an offer from a mysterious woman (Lisa Harrow) who asks them to carry inside the trunk of their car a large container with a secret substance across New Zealand for undisclosed reasons. The desperate Judd reluctantly agrees only to later find that inside the container is a deadly virus sought after by the military who will stop at nothing to get their hands on it.

The wide-eyed plot mixes the genre of a cross-country road chase with that of an end-of-the-world sci-fi flick and the result is as cheesy as it sounds. It’s also hampered by cheap production values that makes it look more on par with a TV-movie than a theatrical one.

I didn’t care for the cold climate setting either. Filmed in July of 1984, which would be wintertime for the southern hemisphere, the New Zealand landscape looks quite bleak and brown with occasional pockets of snow and the  characters are all bundled up in heavy jackets. A good road movie should elicit inside the viewer the feeling of wanting to get out onto the open highway instead of longing to stay inside by a fireplace like it does here.

Robertson manages to add some life to the otherwise sterile material, which is nice to see as his film career nosedived in 1977 when he accused Columbia studio head David Begelman of forgery and was blacklisted as a result. When he was finally offered film roles again they were of the thankless supporting kind although here he gets the star treatment and it’s great seeing a guy in his 60’s handling the action as opposed to a young 20-something hunk like in most other films.

Leif Garrett, the androgynous teen hunk from the 70’s is adequate as his loyal young side-kick and has grown to be more filled-out and masculine looking. However, the remaining cast members are dull and this includes Shane Briant in a boring caricature of a cold, calculating villain as well Harrow who tags along with the two men on their drive, but comes-off more like unnecessary dead-weight.

Spoiler Alert!

The more the chase goes on the more contrived it gets and there’s an uneasy balance between realistic crashes to slapstick comedy. The resolution, in which Harrow ties a chain dangling from an overhead helicopter piloted by the CIA onto Robertson’s car so that they are whisked into the air while the evil government agents that had been chasing them drive off over a cliff, is not satisfying because the film made clear earlier that the CIA was just as deceitful as the other bad guys and couldn’t be trusted. Yet it never bothers to explain what ultimately happens to the virus, or whether it got into the right-hands and was destroyed.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 15, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Bruce Morrison

Studio: Mirage Films

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Fortune and Men’s Eyes (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: His life in prison.

Smitty (Wendell Burton) is a young first-time offender who’s sent away to the Canadian penitentiary for six months. He gets assigned to a cell with three other men: Rocky (Zooey Hall), Mona (Danny Freedman), and Queenie (Michael Greer). Queenie is an openly gay drag queen while Mona is a soft-spoken young man who likes to write poetry. Rocky is the tough guy who offers Smitty ‘protection’ if Smitty agrees to become his subordinate and do anything he asks including sexual favors. To avoid the harassment that he sees others getting that don’t have the same ‘protection’ he agrees, but eventually he grows tired of Rocky’s dominance and decides to challenge it.

The film is based on  a play written by John Herbert who also wrote the screenplay. It is based on actual experiences that he received when he was arrested for dressing in drag in 1947 and taken to a reformatory at the age of 20. The play, which was written in 1967 initially had a hard time getting produced due to the subject matter, but was eventually put on the stage by Sal Mineo who directed and also played Rocky while Don Johnson played Smitty and Greer, like in the film, played Queenie.

The film version though makes many changes to the story some of which I’m not sure I liked. The one thing though that I thought was excellent is that it was shot inside an actual prison, which helps add authenticity. As opposed to most movies which shoots things from outside the cell looking in this one captures everything from inside the cell, which makes the viewer feel like they’re locked in the jail with the rest of the men and gives one a true feeling of the claustrophobic prison experience.

The shock element may not be as strong as it once was. The scene where Rocky rapes Smitty in the shower as the camera fixates on the running faucets and we hear only Smitty’s cries may be a bit too stylized and even kind of hokey by today’s standards. The segment though where Mona is grabbed from behind by a brute and taken into a dingy cell where he’s gang raped while the guards look away was to me far more potent. A later scene dealing with a prisoner being taken to a back room and beaten by the guards could’ve been stronger had it been extended.

For me personally the most shocking element is seeing Smitty’s transformation from naive man who we the viewer can mostly relate too, to someone who becomes almost as bad as Rocky. However, I found it annoying that it’s never made clear what he did that got him into prison in the first place and his character arch would’ve been stronger had the film started with him in the outside world committing the crime and subsequently getting arrested.

Burton’s acting abilities don’t seem quite on par with the demands of the role. His blank-eyed stare and monotone delivery make him seem like a one-dimensional actor and he was most likely given the role simply because of his babyface. Greer though in many ways steals it as the flamboyant drag queen and the outrageous performance that he puts on during the Christmas show at the prison is quite memorable.

Spoiler Alert!

The film remains compelling, but is hampered visually by being done almost entirely in one setting. The ending though leaves open too many questions. Does Smitty ever get out? How does he behave once he does and how has his experiences in prison changed him? None of these things get answered, which to me made the film incomplete and despite some good dramatic efforts here and there unsatisfying.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 15, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Harvey Hart, Jules Schwerin (uncredited)

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS