Category Archives: Foreign Films

Crossover (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s slipping into insanity.

Mr. Patman (James Coburn) works as a nurse at a psychiatric ward in Canada. While he enjoys his work and the patients respond well to his methods he’s put-off by some of the other doctors and administrators who he feels don’t really care about the people they’re supposedly trying to help. He’s also carrying on an affair with two women. One is Nurse Peobody (Kate Nelligan) who works at the same hospital he does and the other is Abadaba (Fionnula Flanagan) the wife of his landlord. While trying to juggle these two women and dealing with the pressures of his job he begins seeing strange visions and fears the he may be losing his mind.

This is quite similar to Beyond Reasonwhich starred Telly Savalas. This one though fared a bit better at least for the first 20 minutes. I liked the way the hospital and the patients are portrayed where their impulsive and unpredictable behavior gives it a certain creepy vibe and the staff needs to be high alert at all times, or face the consequences, which for me brought out the realistic stresses of doing a job like that. The bleak, gray, and rainy setting of Vancouver, shot there to take advantage of the Canadian tax concessions that were given to film production companies at the time, helps accentuate the grim elements.

The film though fails to take advantage of what could’ve been an intriguing plot. Not enough weird visions are seen and the few that are, are underwhelming. It should’ve been approached as a thriller and filled with all sorts of nightmarish and surreal imagery that could’ve helped build the tension, but instead it gets treated as a drama with long talky segments between Coburn and his two girlfriends that bogs the whole thing down until you don’t care what happens. John Guillermin, the director, had helmed many successful features before this one including: King Kong, Death on the Nile, and The Towering Inferno, but shows no panache here and seems to be giving the material only a half-hearted effort. It might’ve done better had John Huston, who was the original choice to direct, had been hired instead.

Coburn, who stated that he did the movie due to an interest in the character who decides he finds the crazy world inside the hospital more comforting than the outside one, but later admitted that had he read the script after its numerous rewrites instead of accepting the offer upfront, he most likely would’ve rejected it, is excellent and the only good thing about the movie. Nelligan, who described the film as being a ‘nightmare’ while working on it as well as calling it an embarrassment, is not as interesting and the entire supporting cast is blah though the young woman patient named Miss Montgomery, played by Tabitha Harrington, who enjoys walking around nude at least offers some diversion.

The script was written by Thomas Headly Jr. in 1971 who later went on to write Flashdancewhich storywise is quite different from this. There’s also a twist ending, though I figured it out long before it gets there and others most likely will too. I feel this was the type of concept where it started with the ending and then gotten written from there, but more side elements were needed instead of just relying on the twist to make it interesting, which for a 30-minute episode of ‘Twilight Zone’ might’ve worked, but as a feature film it gets stretched too thin.

Alternate Title: Mr. Patman

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 5, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Guillermin

Studio: Film Consortium of Canada

Available: DVD-R (j4hi.com)

Sonny and Jed (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Couple steal from rich.

Jed (Thomas Milian) is an outlaw bank robber who sees himself as a modern day Robin Hood. Franciscus (Telly Savalas) is the sheriff determined to bring him in. When Francisus gets hot on Jed’s trail Jed uses the aid of beautiful young Sonny (Susan George) to evade capture. Sonny immediately becomes smitten with Jed despite the fact that he’s a very vocal misogynist. Sonny though ignores this as she’s so deeply wants to be in a loving relationship that she puts up with the abuse and even asks him to marry her, which he does, but his abuse continues. Jed then sets his sights on Linda (Rosanna Yanni) the wife of rich land baron Don Garcia (Eduardo Fajardo). Jed likes the fact that she has big breasts, which Sonny doesn’t, but when he puts the moves on her Sonny fights back by turning the tables on him and treating him in the same way that he did her.

After watching only a few minutes it’s easy to see why the spaghetti westerns went out of style as this lacks the lyrical quality of a Sergio Leone film, which put this unique genre on the map. Leone had that special knack that could mesh violence with subtle humor and make every scene, even one as insignificant as seeing flies fly around a person’t face, interesting. Sergio Corbucci, who directed this one, lacks that same ability and while he helmed some westerns in the 60’s this one doesn’t have a good balance. The action is bereft of any excitement while the humor is heavy-handed. The musical score by the always reliable Ennio Morricone is excellent, but everything else falls flat.

The storyline is the most annoying as Jed is too unlikable for anyone to want to fall in love with. His caustic comments on women are quite outlandish by today’s standards, which may offend some though others may get a kick out of it simply for the outrageousness. I have no doubt men back then may have been very much like his character, so on that end you could say it’s realistic, but having Sonny grow attached to him was off-putting. If he had reformed and then gotten married it might’ve made more sense, but to have the marriage occur in the middle when he’s still treating her like crap including one scene where he rapes her, just doesn’t work. His character does change a little at the very end, but it’s not enough to justify all she goes through and there’s no resolution as it shows them continuing to bicker without answering whether they were ever able to work things out, or ultimately broke-up.

Having Sonny so desperate to be loved, even at one point spying on another couple who are kissing and feeling envious, isn’t a sufficient enough reason for her to put up with the awful way he treats her. If she had been homely then maybe, but she’s actually quite attractive and could easily hold-out for something better making the way she throws herself at him too precipitous. Her character also needed more of an arc. The film teases this concept, but ultimately pulls-back when it should’ve pushed forward.

Milian’s performance is an acquired taste. Besides being vulgar and crude he also at one point scarfs up his spaghetti in such a slobbering manner that it’s genuinely disgusting and in another scene he gets under a cow and puts his lips directly over its teat and sucks the milk right out. Savalas, who is usually quite good in villainous roles, is only okay here. He’s supposed to be a relentless pursuer, but then allows Jed to escape while on a water raft instead of shooting him making him seem less threatening than he should.

Overall, this was George’s vehicle as she’s thoroughly engaging even able to mask her accent, which not all British performers can do, and at her most beautiful. I can only presume it was because of Milian’s star power that his character wasn’t downplayed because the movie would’ve worked better had it been solely centered around her and it’s just a shame she wasn’t given the keys.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 11, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sergio Corbucci

Studio: Titanus

Available: DVD-R

The Brutes (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two men accost woman.

Werner (Klaus Lowitsch) and Michael (Arthur Brauss) are two friends from work who enjoy spending their weekends ‘cruising-for-chicks’. Their modus operandi is picking up prostitutes, or women at bars, and bringing them to one of their apartments where they either ‘share’ the woman, or partake in a threesome. One weekend they go go-cart racing and set their sights on attractive, young Alice (Helga Anders). They invite her into their car telling her that they want to take her for a swim at an isolated gravel pit. Once there Werner sexually assaults her. The next morning she threatens to go to the police, but the men talk her out of it only for the two to become adversaries when Michael wants to have sex with Alice, which Werner won’t allow.

While Savage Weekend is considered the very first slasher movie this film, which was shot in 1968, could be deemed the first rape/revenge movie. Like with that other film it was produced long before the ‘rules’ of the genre were established, so it takes many unique forays some of which are interesting and other ones aren’t.

It was the third of three films that actor-turned-director Roger Fritz directed with his wife Anders as the star. Anders was a model before she got int acting and he used her pretty looks for stories where her characters would engage in provocative lifestyles like group sex, or incest. This was the last in a trilogy meant to show the dark side of sexually liberated activities, but it doesn’t start to get interesting until they arrive at the gravel pit, which is more than 30-minutes in.

The two men are one dimensional and a turn-off. From the very first frame to the last they’re leering predators-at-large even in the presence of Michael’s mother. Had there been one random moment where they showed some surprising sensitivity towards something, or didn’t act in a predictable stalker way it might’ve had potential, but watching creeps behaving like non-stop creeps becomes boring and redundant.

The scenes at the gravel pit fare better simply because it’s atmospheric and the location becomes like a third character. There’s a few tense moments and the rape scene is surprisingly more graphic than I expected. The physical fight between the two is well choreographed and genuinely bloody though Michael gets hit on the head so much I thought he would’ve suffered serious head trauma and never able to get back-up like he does.

The three characters shift from being the victim at one point and the aggressor the next, which is intriguing. Michael’s long speech detailing the potentially degrading process that a female rape victim goes through when she decides to file a police report is on-target and ground-breaking since these same issues weren’t brought to the forefront until 1972 with the TV-Movies Cry Rape starring Andrea Marcovicci and two years later in A Case of Rape with Elizabeth Montgomery.

Spoiler Alert!

Ultimately though the ending stinks. The mod quality is cool especially its alternative soundtrack, but the scenario writes itself into a hole that it can’t get out of. Having the three go back to their normal lives and acting like what occurred was just a dark diversion, or even a lark with no long term ramifications doesn’t click. We needed to see how this experience changed them, which isn’t addressed and thus makes the whole concept placid and forgettable.

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Alternative Title: Cry Rape

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 19, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Roger Fritz

Studio: Roger Fritz Film Productions

Available: DVD-R (German with English Subtitles) (j4hi.com)

The Track (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hunters chase down woman.

Helen (Mimsy Farmer) is an American who has traveled to rural France in order to teach at a local university. At the train station she meets Philippe (Jean-Luc Bideau) who agrees to take her to the isolated cottage where she is to stay. Along the way they come into contact with Philippe’s boisterous friends who drive them off the road. The men are going out for a wild pig hunt and a few of them particularly Paul (Philippe Leotard) shows a sexual interest in her, but Philippe assures her that they’re ‘harmless’. While Helen moves in to her new place the men go off on their hunt, but when she walks outside to check-out a nearby barn she again comes into contact with Paul along with his brother Albert (Jean-Pierre Marielle) and Chamond (Michel Robin). Paul uses the opportunity to rape her while Albert holds her down and Chamond acts as the lookout. As they are about to leave Helen shoots and critically injures Paul with Chamond’s gun, which he had inadvertently set down, before she goes on the run deep inside the forest. The rest of the group tries tracking her down in an attempt to negotiate some sort of deal, so she won’t go to the authorities, or silence her permanently if she still insists that she will.

Some have labeled this the French version of Straw Dogs, but I consider it much more like Deliverance. In that film you had middle-aged suburbanite males wanting to prove their ‘macho manhood’ by roughing it in the wilderness for a weekend only to find that they weren’t quite as prepared for the harsh elements as they thought. This film works in kind of the same way. The men go hunting to get in touch with their rugged side, but when forced to face tough issues, like helping a woman in distress, they succumb to group pressure and prove ultimately to be wimpy.

Unlike other films in the rape/revenge genre the main character here is shown the least. Farmer does well during the rape segment and screams and fights in a way that elicits genuine horror, but otherwise her facial expressions and mannerisms are quite one-dimensional though I was impressed with the way she did her own stunt work and forced to navigate her way through some difficult and inhospitable terrain.

The main focus is on the male characters who are fascinating and multi-faceted. The most interesting aspect is how they start-out seeming benign and domesticated only to slowly unravel into a aggressively threatening group. The segment where they kill a pig and the animal struggles after being shot will make some animal activists uncomfortable, but like with Jean Renoirs’ Rules of the Game, which had a hunting segment even more graphic than here, it does effectively illustrate that if people are willing to kill an animal for sport; how thin is the line for them to cross-over to a person?

The lack of a soundtrack is a plus. Many thrillers will have a pounding score and sometimes it works to accentuate the tension, but here the natural sounds particularly Helen’s heavy breathing as she runs through the underbrush is far more effective. There’s also no forewarning of what’s going to happen nor buildup. Everything occurs out of nowhere. Most victims who survive a crime will say the same thing that things were peaceful and normal one minute and then all hell broke loose the next.

Spoiler Alert!

The only two things I might’ve done differently had I directed was not showing the rape. As rape scenes go this one is rather mild, but my feeling was it would’ve been creepier had the viewer been in the dark about what occurred as were initially the other men. They’re told the story that the gun went off accidentally and the woman ran in a panic only for them to slowly learn the dark details later on. Having the viewer come to this realization along with the other men would’ve added an extra layer to the story versus it being spelled out.

While the ending is effectively unsettling I still wanted a denouement showing how the strains of this experience changed them, which would’ve added insight. Overall though it’s a brilliant especially for the way it reveals how some of the men considered themselves more ethical than the others only to end up being no better. Everyone likes to feel that they, or their friends, would do the right thing when put in a stressful situation and ‘be the hero’, but this movie expertly examines how that might not always be the case.

Alternate Title: La Traque

Released: May 14, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Serge Leroy

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (French with English Subtitles) (dvdlady.com, jfhi.com)

Rape of Love (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Assault victim seeks justice.

Nicole (Nathalie Nell), a young nurse, goes bike riding one day to a friend’s house. Four men (Marco Perrin, Gilles Tamiz, Bernard Granger, Daniel Auteuil) spot her at a cafe and begin following her in a van. Once she reaches a remote area they drive her off the road and force her into the back of the van where she’s taken to a remote shed and brutally raped and humiliated. Once it’s over she’s brought back to the dark road, thrown to the pavement, and warned not to tell anyone. Initially she feels ashamed and doesn’t want to talk about it, but then while making a house call to one of her patients (Marianne Epin) she sees a picture of one of the rapists on the wall, who’s apparently a married family man living a normal life. She’s enraged that these men can go on living like nothing happened while she remains emotionally and mentally shaken. She becomes motivated to bring them to justice despite both her mother (Tatiana Moukhine) and boyfriend (Alain Foures) advising her not to.

This film was written and directed by Yannick Bellon, a feminist who had  worked on documentaries before doing this one. It bears a striking resemblance to Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave, both were filmed around the same time and neither production was aware of the other. Bellon had wanted to make a movie about rape that didn’t sanitize it and would capture it in the most explicit and violent way possible. While Zarchi’s movie has gone on to achieve cult status this one has fallen into obscurity even though despite some flaws it’s easily the better of the two.

The rape scene is quite graphic though I was actually expecting it to go on longer. It lasts for about 10-minutes, which is just enough time to give the viewer a very raw and uncomfortable taste of the crime’s viciousness without exploiting it and then unlike with the Zarchi movie the film shifts back into a drama instead of a revenge horror flick. I liked this transition better as it gives greater depth to the characters including the rapists who aren’t shown as being one-dimensional backwoods thugs like in the other movie, but instead regular citizens who you’d think were nice guys if you didn’t know better. One scene even has them discussing at a bar what they feel would be a suitable punishment for a criminal who had committed another crime, showing how these men, as terrible as they are, still have a warped idea of morality for others.

I also liked the way it focuses on Nicole’s psychological recovery though here I felt it got a bit botched. Having her examined after the incident by a male doctor I didn’t think worked as she’d not trust a male being in that emotional state and insist instead on a female physician. She also expresses later to a friend (Michele Simonnet) that she no longer likes people to touch her even as her friend touches her while she says it, which doesn’t make much sense. She also goes right back to riding her bike even though I’d think it would take her a long time if ever before she’d do that again.

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Her relationship with her boyfriend and the way they no longer have sex, which frustrates him is interesting particularly the scene where he’s shown angrily walking down the street and comes upon a prostitute. I thought the film was going to have him take his frustrations out on her and thus showing how this ‘good guy’ could be, under certain circumstances, just a violent as the rapists he hates, which could’ve brought out an insightful irony, but the film only teases the idea and eventually doesn’t go there.

The reaction of the rapist’s wife who begs Nicole not to take the case to court as it would be stripping her of a ‘fine husband’ and her kids from a ‘wonderful father’ seemed absurd. I would presume most wives would be disgusted to find out what their husbands had done and would want to leave them, or at the very least refuse to believe that they had committed it. Then again I was not living in France during the 70’s, so I can’t say I know how that culture would view rape. I know they consider affairs in a much more liberal way where it’s not always the deal-breaker like it is here, but to frame rape as just being another of his ‘flings’ seemed a bit too open-minded.

Spoiler Alert!

The climactic court battle falls flat. Having the men immediately confess to what occurred once they were questioned by the authorities didn’t seem realistic. After all she didn’t decide to press charges until 6-months later, there was no semen sample, no DNA, and no other witnesses. The men could’ve denied everything and most likely gotten-off. The film ends without the viewer finding out the verdict and never knowing how stiff their penalties were, or weren’t.

I wasn’t so keen about the boyfriend, who left Nicole once she decided to go public about the rape, coming back at the end and rekindling the romance. I felt this sent the wrong message. Sometimes when a person decides to do what they think is right then that means sacrificing everything and learning to live with it including losing friendships with people that don’t agree with what they’re doing. It’s a bridge one crosses that you can’t go back on. Having her adjust to being an independent single woman, or finding a new boyfriend that wouldn’t bail on her during her time of need would’ve been a better resolution.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: January 11, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Yannick Bellon

Studio: Les Films de l’Equinoxe

Available: DVD-R (French with English Subtitles) (j4hi.com)

An Average Little Man (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father avenges son’s death.

Giovanni (Alberto Sordi) is an accountant who’s ready for retirement. His son Mario (Vincenzo Crocitti) is following in his father’s footsteps by becoming an accountant as well. He has passed all of his exams and fully qualified, but competition is tough, so his father tries to use his leverage to get his son hired there, or at least have his name pushed to the top of the list. Unfortunately on the morning of the interview Mario is killed by a stray bullet from a bank robbery that was occurring across the street. Giovanni is devastated and the news is so shocking to his wife Amalia (Shelley Winters) that she has a stroke and is no longer able to speak, or walk, or even feed herself. Giovanni doesn’t trust the system to bring the killer (Renzo Carboni) to justice, so he decides he must do it himself by stalking the man and then eventually kidnapping him.

The film, which is based on the novel ‘A Very Normal Man’ by Vincenzo Cerami, who also wrote the screenplay, is filled with many memorable moments. I got a kick out of Giovanni’s tiny car that looked like something he could wear instead of ride and the way he gets around a traffic jam by driving it on the sidewalk. The mounds of paperwork in his office where no one can see each other because they’re literally swallowed up by them is a funny visual as is Giovanni’s supervisor (Romolo Valli) who cleans the dandruff off of his hair and onto his desk. There’s also a scene that is both darkly humorous and highly disturbing where because the cemeteries are filled to capacity the remaining dead bodies must be stored inside a warehouse with each casket put one on top of the other. Families and mourners crowd in to find which one has their loved one in it, but because of the gas coming out of the decomposing bodies that create sporadic explosions that cause the caskets to go tumbling.

The appearance of American actress Shelley Winters is another shocker in that she’s dubbed with an Italian speaking woman. Hearing her in a voice that is clearly not her own is at first disconcerting, but she gives a brilliant performance nonetheless. Normally she’s known for her talkative nature, both for the parts she plays in front of the camera, but also in her real-life interviews, yet she reflects a comatose woman quite convincingly and her facial expressions, particularly when she’s brought into the cabin to observe the killer’s torture, are excellent.

Sordi, a well known Italian film star and comedian, does well too and it’s interesting seeing his hair go from salt-and-pepper to fully gray as the movie progresses. His character though isn’t exactly likable. While he sees himself as being ‘selfless’ as he sacrifices everything, and potentially breaking the rules, for the love of his son, he seems more selfish because why should his son get a unearned break over all the other candidates? While he has his funny share of moments he’s also a bit unhinged even at the beginning with his almost naive belief that a system he knows is corrupt is now somehow ‘morally’ obligated to give him and his son a favor. Maybe this was the intended ironic point, but it would’ve played better had the son been less of a vapid, empty shell.

Spoiler Alert!

What makes this film stand-out from virtually any other is its extreme shift in tone where it starts as a satirical comedy, but ends as a grim thriller. Many script experts will insist this ‘can’t be done’ and in Hollywood would be considered forbidden. It also doesn’t have the inciting incident occur until an hour in even though books like ‘Save the Cat’, which is the ‘screenwriter’s bible’, will tell you it must happen within the first 5 pages of any script. There’s also no forewarning to the killing it’s just a completely random event with no connection to anything that came before, which again most people in the movie business will say is a ‘mistake’.

While I might’ve done it slightly differently by having Giovanni go insane when one of the supervisors refuses to hire his son after promising him they’d do it and then kidnapping that individual to make it seem a little more connected to the first half, I’m still impressed with how effectively it all works either way. It literally breaks every screenwriting rule and still succeeds and should be used as an example to anyone insisting that movie scripts that don’t stringently conform to the Hollywood formula will fail as this one clearly doesn’t.

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My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: March 17, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mario Monicelli

Studio: Cineriz

Available: DVD-R (Italian with English Subtitles) (Moviedetective.net)

Blackout (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Criminals invade apartment complex.

Inspired by the actual power blackout that occurred in New York City on July 13-14, 1977 the story centers on a group of felons lead by Christie (Robert Carradine) who are being transported to another prison. Along the way their police van crashes and the van drivers are killed instantly, but the felons survive. When they climb out they find that the city is without power. Using the police uniforms of the two dead drivers as well as their weapons they’re able to sneak their way into a nearby apartment complex under the pretext that they’re policemen and therefore the security guard allows them in only to be immediately killed once he does. The crooks then terrorize the residents by conning their way into each of the apartments the same way they did to get into the complex. Once they’re inside they rob the tenants and at certain points even kill them. Dan (James Mitchum) is an off-duty police officer who breaks into the complex to help save Annie (Belinda Montgomery) who’s being attacked and screaming for help from her balcony. He then single-handily goes about trying to track down the armed group despite being outnumbered.

This was yet another example where the entry in Leonard Maltin’s book does not accurately describe what occurs as whoever wrote the review states that it’s ‘balanced with black comedy’ though there’s really no comedy in it except for a brief exchange between a husband and wife attending a Greek wedding, which occurs at the beginning, but after that it’s all gritty drama.

The production was directed by Eddy Matalon who started his career doing music videos for Bridgette Bardot during the 60’s before graduating to soft-core porn in the 70’s under the pseudonym Jack Angel. He eventually, in 1977, tried his hand at horror with the universally derided Cathy’s Curse before following-up with this one, which fares better and as a grim thriller even succeeds though it’s not perfect.

My biggest complaint is that it cuts out too many pivotal moments. It shows how they enter into one apartment and even choose another because it has triple locks cluing them in that a rich person with a lot of expensive stuff must live there, but there’s other times when it does not show why they break into the apartments that they do. There’s hundreds of dwellings inside the complex and they weren’t going to be able to bust into all of them, so the reason for why they choose the ones that they do needed to be shown each time. There’s also a segment where Mitchum shoots and kills one of the perpetrators in the hallway, but it’s never documented where they take the body, or if they just leave it there for all to see.

Some of the stuff gets a bit over-the-top like when they kill the guard and then stage it to look like a suicide, but why would these desperate crooks care to take the time to do that? They’re in a rush to rob as many residents as they can before the power comes back on, who why not just put the dead guard’s body into a back room and be done with it? Tying Mitchum up into a contraption that would electrocute him once the power came back-on seemed too similar to the campy predicaments that would be the cliffhanger for each episode of the ‘Batman’ TV-show. These two-bit thieves wouldn’t have the care, or sophistication to do that. Either kill the guy, or tie him up the conventional way, but getting excessively overboard with it seemed too theatrical and predictably gives him just enough time to escape.

Mitchum is enjoyable. I liked how at the beginning he tries to chase down a purse snatcher, but fails, which shows that he’s not perfect and relatable, which makes you want to root for him even more to stop the bad guys. I did though have misgivings with Montgomery’s character who gets raped, but immediately after that she saves two people trapped in an elevator and even delivers a baby, which is too quick a recovery from such a traumatic event.

Aging stars from Hollywood’s gold era appear as the residents, but are given little to do especially June Allyson who’s seen for less than 5-minutes. Ray Milland’s segment had potential as he plays this rich, stuffy guy who refuses to give the intruders the combination to his safe even as they torture his wife. Eventually he gives in, but it would’ve been fun had he remained stubborn. They’d burn-up his place, which they do anyways, and kill his wife, but he’d still refuse to give it out. Then when the cops finally do arrive he could say in his last dying breath amidst the burned cinders “At least they never got the combination.”

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 25, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Eddy Matalon

Studio: Cinepix Film Properties

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teacher influences her students.

Jean Brodie (Maggie Smith) is a teacher at an all-girls school in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1932.  She routinely strays from the core curriculum and instead instills her own quirky value system, like her admiration for fascist dictators, onto her students. She views them as empty vessels there to be programmed to her liking as she routinely will say: “give me a girl at an impressionable age and she’s mine for life”. The school’s Headmistress, Miss Mackay (Celia Johnson) is aware of Brodie’s unorthodox teaching methods, but unable to do much about it, despite the repeated warnings that she gives to her, due to the fact that Brodie has tenure and been at the school longer than she. Sandy (Pamela Franklin) is one of Brodie’s students, who used to admire her teacher, but now has turned on her and comes up with a way to have her fired, which leads to a dramatic confrontation between the two.

One of the first things that struck me about the story, which is based on the play of the same name by Jay Presson Allen that was based on the novel by Muriel Spark that some feel was inspired by a teacher named Christina Kay who taught at James Gillispies School that Muriel went to as a child, is that it works against the grain of most films. In our individualistic culture the modern day movie centers around the rebel, or those that choose to work outside the system of an autocratic institution and the people that uphold those rules and enforce them are usually the villains. Here though it’s the stuffy authoritarians that ultimately become the makeshift heroes while the non-conformist gets exposed as a ‘loon’ that got too far off-base and needed a serious reeling-in.

It’s also the perfect study of someone who seeks control over others and cannot function in relationships were both sides are on equal footing. We see this not only with the way Jean openly humiliates her students by ridiculing them for even minor infractions like having their shirt sleeves rolled-up, but also in her maladjusted love life. Since she cannot have a healthy relationship with them as that would require selfless behavior from her, which she can’t give, so instead she emotionally manipulates two men (Robert Stephens, Gordon Jackson). She enjoys the attention they give her and gives them just enough incentive to keep on doing it, but never more than that. When the Jacskon character finally does get married to someone else, her sad expression isn’t about losing a person she loved, but more upset that she could no longer have this simp at her convenient disposal.

The recreation of the 1930’s girl school atmosphere was impeccable. Too many times I feel movies dealing with a bygone era don’t recreate it in an accurate way, or it gets viewed through a warped modern lens, but here I came away convinced it was accurate and this in large part could be credited to director Ronald Neame, who was alive when the story took place and therefore better able to feed-off his memory and experience. The scene where the girls all get up out of their seats and stand at attention the second the headmistress walks into the room is one of my favorite moments. To some degree it would be nice if kids today could show that kind of respect to an adult figure, but on the other hand it also reveals the dark side to extreme obedience to authority, which creates an atmosphere that allows someone like Jean to incorporate her will and beliefs onto the students without them ever questioning it.

In the end this is a terrific portrait of how teacher’s where viewed back in the day and the tremendous amount of influence they could hold over their pupils. There were no teen idols, singers, celebrities, or social media influencers back then, so the teacher was the center of most children’s lives sometimes even more so than their parents. While some things have changed the debate about what a teacher chooses to convey in the classroom and how far they should be allowed to stray from the core curriculum rages on today. No matter what side of that issue you may stand it just proves that this story is even more relevant now as it was back then.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: February 24, 1969

Runtime: 1 Hour 56 Minutes

Rated M

Director: Ronald Neame

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD/Blu-ray

The Rubber Gun (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Making cash dealing drugs.

Steve (Stephen Lack) is a cash-strapped would-be artist who hasn’t made any money with his art exhibits in the past 5 years and has turned to drug dealing in order to bring in some income. He lives in a cramped, rundown studio apartment in Montreal with his makeshift ‘family’ who are also dealers as well as addicts. Bozo (Allan Moyle) is a student at nearby McGill University who is doing a thesis paper on drug use with the controversial position that it has positive effects and chooses Steve’s family as his subject, but without letting them know what he’s doing. Steve though is beginning to have second thoughts about being in the business as he sees what it does both on himself and those around him especially Pierre (Pierre Robert) a bi-sexual heroin addict who’s the father of a young daughter that he doesn’t seem able to take care of and whose addiction has caused him to become a narc with the police feeding him heroin in order to get info on Steve and the family.

Fascinating, experimental film that’s quite similar to Dealingbut with much more of an avante-garde flair. Director Allan Moyle, whose first film this was, takes the Paul Morrissey approach where he gives the actors a general idea of what the scene was about, but then lets the performers ad-lib the lines. The result is much more of a conversational quality where discussions ramble on a bit, much like in real-life, but remain revealing and amusing throughout.  Instead of feeling like you’re watching a movie it seems more like a documentary giving one a rare vivid view of the counterculture movement north of the border.

Probably the biggest surprise is Stephen Lack, who also co-wrote the screenplay and co-produced. I saw him in Scannerswhich he did 4 years after this one, and felt he gave one of the worst performances of a leading man I had ever seen and one of the main reasons that film didn’t succeed as well as it could’ve. Here though he’s amazingly engaging. Maybe it’s because he’s playing an extension of himself as I have no doubt that this is loosely based on his own experiences as a struggling artist, but the guy is quite funny in virtually everything that he says and does and I enjoyed how we see all different sides to his character from his partying one to more of a responsible one and by the end disillusioned with dealing. He even has a scene where he talks about regularly visiting his parents each week, who are quite conservative and unaware of his ‘occupation’, though it would’ve been even more fun to see the actual visit versus just discussing it.

My favorite character was Rainbow a small child, the daughter of Pierre and his girlfriend, who couldn’t have been more than 3 who goes on with her playing as the grown-ups in the room talk about drugs and other things. The image of innocence inside a room of jaded debauchery is darkly amusing. What’s better is that unlike most other movies she’s not given any cutesy lines to say and simply allowed to be herself, which makes her all the more engaging. Despite what’s initially perceived as ‘bad parenting’ you still get the feeling that these fringe adults do love the kid and in their dysfunctional way care for her, which ultimately makes the characters more appealing to the viewer instead of less.

The film has an obvious low budget look, with faded color, grainy stock, muffled sound, and choppy editing. Some may consider this a detraction, but it also helps accentuate the fringe realism with a kick-ass soundtrack to boot. In an era now where everyone his trying to make a movie on their phones with virtually no money this film should be used as a prime example on how to get it done by creating multi-dimensional characters and then allow the actors to fill-out the details through their improvisation, which helped lead writer/director/star Moyle to a Hollywood contract where he went on to make even more interesting movies on a bigger budget.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 24, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Allan Moyle

Studio: St. Lawrence Productions

Available: None

The High Country (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Escaping into the mountains.

Jim (Timothy Bottoms) is arrested for dealing marijuana and taken by police car to jail when the brakes in the vehicle go out and the car overturns, which allows him to escape, but not before being shot in the arm by one of the officers. Kathy (Linda Purl) is an adult woman, who can’t read while also suffering from other learning disabilities. She leaves the family that she’s been staying with and goes hitch-hiking when she comes upon the injured Jim. Initially the two have nothing in common, but she’s able to help him with his injury and guide him over a rugged mountainous terrain, which will be out of reach to the authorities who are after him and in the process the two begin to form an unlikely bond.

While the film doesn’t have much to cheer about I did at least like the mountain scenery, filmed on-location at the Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. There’s also a few marginally tense moments where the two scale the side of the mountain, where like in the movie Deliverance, it’s the actors doing the actual climbing and not stunt people. I also enjoyed the offbeat humor of having Jim attend a bar where a sign hangs that read’s ‘absolutely no profanity allowed’ (what sort-of self-respecting bar would have this rule. I guess only in ‘nice’ Canada) and a brawl breaks-out when one of the patrons decides to swear.

The performances are engaging especially Purl’s whose blue-eyes exude the perfect look of innocence. I was though frustrated that we never get to see these ‘cigarette trees’ that she mentions and says is somewhere in the mountain country as I was expecting the movie to have an answer since the script brings it up. The film also initially shows Kathy reading a story to some children making it look like she can read, but we’re told later that she was only ‘telling’ the story, but a good director would clue the viewer in right away that something isn’t right with her reading and those around her can sense it.

Bottoms is strong too though it’s surprising how far his career had tumbled where in the early 70’s he was getting starring roles in acclaimed Hollywood movies, but by the 80’s was relegated to low budget indie projects and foreign films. His character here is a bit snarky and he’s hard to warm-up to though the scene where he saves Kathy helps remedy this. The fact though that he has a bullet lodged in his body and is initially in great pain with a bad infection and yet this all magically gets healed without ever receiving proper medical care seemed dubious.

Spoiler Alert!

I was not so happy with the father character who arrives pretty much out of nowhere in the third act and is somehow able to track the two down when no one else can. It’s never clear whether this guy is meant to be a nemesis, or not and he should’ve been introduced earlier and made a stronger impression upfront. He also looks way too young to be Kathy’s father, who’s clearly in her 20’s and yet he doesn’t have any gray hair and with his big bushy mustache and muscular physique looked better suited for a 70’s gay porno.

The dumbest thing though is how at the end it implies that Jim and Kathy get into a romantic relationship, which defies all credibility. There’s too much of an extreme mental disparity between the two. It will always be a parent-child scenario versus that of two people on equal footing. In fact that’s one of the reasons I got bored with it as there’s clearly limits to how far this quasi friendship, with Kathy being stuck with the mind of a 10-year-old, can go and the fact that the film creates this idea of a wondrous romance is just too absurd to swallow. The start of a nice little friendship where they become pen-pals would be cute enough, but anything more than that; no!

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: March 20, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Harvey Hart

Studio: Crown International Pictures

Available: None