Category Archives: Gangster Movies

The Farmer (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Country man seeks vengeance.

Kyle (Gary Conway) returns from fighting in WWII a decorated hero, but finds when he gets back home that trying to run a profitable farm to be tough going and risks having it foreclosed on by the bank. One night while swerving to avoid an animal on the road professional gambler Johnny (Michael Dante) gets injured in a car accident near were Kyle lives. Kyle and his friend Gumshoe (Ken Renard) nurse Johnny back to health and for repayment Johnny gives Kyle $1,500, which is enough to help his farmstead survive for a little while longer. Johnny though soon gets into trouble with racketeer Passini (George Memmoli) who permanently blinds him by dumping acid on his face. Johnny wants revenge and hires Kyle, who’s farm continues to struggle, to do it by having him use his superior shooting skills to kill-off Passini and his men while using Johnny’s inside knowledge to track them down. At first Kyle resists, even after Johnny offers him $50,000, but when one of Passini’s men (Timothy Scott) burns down Kyle’s barn, kills Gumshoe, and rapes his new girlfriend (Angel Tompkins) he then decides to go on the warpath.

This has become, especially in the past decade, known as a ‘lost film’. It had never been shown on broadcast TV nor cable and had never received a DVD release, or Blu-ray, or even VHS. It became impossible to find even a bootleg copy and many had become convinced this was the obscure of the obscure. Code Red promised 10 years ago, much to the excitement of rare film collectors, to release it on DVD, but after some promotion the deal fell through, which frustrated many and gave this film even more of a cult status. Some had come to believe that maybe the movie was simply a ‘myth’ and really didn’t exist at all. Just when everything looked bleak Scorpion Rising gave it a Blu-ray release in February of this year and the print is excellent and the film itself isn’t bad either.

It’s noted for its graphic violence, which may have been the chief reason it never got shown on TV or cable. Some of it is quite cruel, particularly the acid scene and the rape is quite intense too. This tough does effectively get the viewer emotionally riled-up making them want to see Kyle get revenge and relishing the third act when he does. The revenge scenes are just as bloody, but I was disappointed that, as graphic as the movie is, the segment where Kyle shoves one of Passini’s men out a high-story window is not shown. The camera cuts away when Kyle pushes him instead of seeing the body drop down which might’ve been hard to film since a parade was going on below, but an effort should’ve been made.

Conway’s acting is only adequate though he does at least convey a stoic quality. Angel Tompkins does better and while some of her other B-movie roles weren’t so great this one is clearly her best and proves she could act versus just looking pretty. Memmoli is memorable as the slimy villain and he should’ve been in it more, but he got injured on the set while riding in a stunt car and was cooped-up in a hospital during most of the production, which also ultimately lead to his career downfall and death. The former comic who graduated into character actor roles had always struggled with weight, but had gotten himself down to 190 pounds when he was in this movie, but when the accident occurred and he was laid-up his weight ballooned out to as high as 490 and causing him to have to turn down subsequent film parts due to his physical limitations.

The review in Maltin’s book claims that there’s a lot of ‘anachronistic errors’ in the movie and having read the review beforehand I kept my eagle-eye out looking for them, but I really didn’t see any. Again I never lived in the 40’s and technically Maltin, who was born in 1950, didn’t either, but to me I felt it came-off okay. I liked the way it approaches the era in a gritty way versus a nostalgic one and the frequent use of the hand-held camera, which was ahead-of-its-time. The surprise twist at the end isn’t bad either.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 9, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Berlatsky

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: Blu-ray

Street People (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Betrayed by his nephew.

Salvatore (Ivo Garrani) is a crime boss residing in San Francisco who orders a specially made cross to be shipped from Italy to his church as a gift. Inside it is a stash of pure heroin, which leads to a crime hit and several deaths. Padre Frank (Ettore Manni), the priest at the church that was to receive the cross, thinks Salvatore was aware of the hidden heroin and used the cross as a ruse to get the drugs passed customs and thus he ex-communicates him from the church. Salvatore insists he had no knowledge of the heroin and hires his nephew Ulisse (Roger Moore), who is half Sicilian, to investigate and find out who the real culprit is. Ulisse asks his Grand Prix racing driver friend Charlie (Stacy Keach) to help him out, but the deeper into the case they go the more it leads them to believe that Salvatore was the mastermind behind it.

This unusual endeavor was produced by an Italian production company, but filmed in the U.S. with a British star and American actor and yet the supporting cast is made-up entirely of Italian performers straight from Italy. The Italians have their voices dubbed and share a high number of scenes only amongst themselves, while Moore and Keach speak in their regular voices and appear the majority of their screen time together. The result is a haphazard effect that cuts back and forth between what seems like two completely different movies spliced together. Casting Moore as someone who is ‘half-sicilian’ despite his very thick British accent, and pale skin, is one of the more ludicrous casting decisions ever made and the script, which Moore stated both he and Keach couldn’t make any sense out of even after watching the final print, goes all over the place and will be confusing to most.

The film does have some good points. Moore plays his part in a terse,no-nonsense style and I wished this was how he had approached the Bond role instead of the detached, humorous way that he did. Keach is highly engaging and watching the two trying to work a case despite having such opposite personalities is enjoyable, but there’s no explanation for how they ever met, or would even want to work together as they don’t get along. There needed to be at least one scene showing a genuine friendship in order to make their buddy relationship make sense instead of just the constant bickering.

The special effects are decent if not exceptional and for those just looking for some action and don’t mind a flimsy storyline then this should do. The scene where Keach takes a member of the mob’s car for a ‘little drive’ and then proceeds to recklessly smash it up before their very eyes is a delight. The car chase sequence gets riveting and the look of sheer panic in Moore’s eyes, as he was the passenger with Keach driving, makes it seem authentic and it’s nice to see people wearing seat belts, or at least putting them on once the ride gets dangerous, as that’s something you don’t always see in other movies. The foot chase that takes place over the rooftops of San Francisco’s business buildings is good too.

It’s unclear though what the film, which had six writers and two directors, was hoping to achieve. Maybe they just wanted to make a cheap, mindless action flick and for that you could say it’s a success, but there are some weird moments. The cross that gets shipped-in is unusual looking particularly the Jesus figure making me wonder if they were trying to go for something more like spoof, but either way it ultimately ends-up being an inept drama with few car smash-ups for diversion.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 30, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Maurizio Lucidi, Guglielmo Garroni

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Little Miss Marker (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid used for collateral.

Sorrowful Jones (Walter Matthau) is a no-nonsense bookie running a gambling operation during the 30’s. When one of his clients named Carter (Andrew Rubin) cannot pay back his $10 debt he puts up his 6-year-old daughter (Sara Stimson), who is simply known as ‘the Kid’, as collateral. Sorrowful tells his assistant named Regret (Bob Newhart) to look after her, but Regret does not like kids, so he drops the young girl off at Sorrowful’s doorstep one night and then promptly leaves forcing Sorrowful to begrudgingly become her surrogate father figure. Eventually the two grow fond of each other and become inseparable, as does Amanda (Julie Andrews) who’s the girlfriend to a crime boss named Blackie (Tony Curtis). Blackie does not like that Sorrowful is showing an interest in Amanda, or her in him and  proceeds to try and throw a monkey-wrench into their potential affair while also coercing Sorrowful to partner with him in a fixed horse race.

This film was the fourth remake of the story that originally came out in 1934 and starred Adolphe Menjou as Sorrowful and Shirley Temple as the Kid. In 1949 it got remade with Bob Hope playing Sorrowful and Mary Jane Saunders as the child. Then is 1962 a variation of the story was was done called 40 Pounds of Trouble that was shot on-location in Disneyland and starred Tony Curtis in the Sorrowful role, though the character name was changed to Steve, and Claire Wilcox portraying the child, whose name in the film was Penny. While I have not seen any of those versions I still came away feeling this one had to be the weakest. A lot of the problem is that the script relies too heavily on the cuteness factor of the child, who is certainly adorable, but has no discernable personality. It’s also hard to imagine that a child who has just been abandoned by her father, and had also gone through the trauma of the death of her mother, would be so well-behaved and in reality would probably be showing some serious adjustment issues.

I’m not sure why Matthau, who also produced, thought this project would be a good idea, but appearing in it did not bolster his career. Didn’t he ever hear of the old adage never share the screen with animals or cute kids as they’ll just steal away all the attention? It’s not like Stimson, whose only movie role this was and who now works as a pediatrician in Arizona,  didn’t have to do anything special for that to happen as her big blue eyes are enough to capture the heartstrings of just about any viewer. I also had a hard time understanding his character particularly the fact that he was this brash, tough talking bookie yet doesn’t carry a gun nor have any fighting skills as proven by the fistfight he attempts to have with Curtis where even though Curtis was shorter Matthau he’s is still frightened of him and constantly backing away whenever Curtis got in his face. You’d think a streetwise person would have some ability to defend himself if needed and not just slink away the second someone else, particularly one who was smaller, suddenly got aggressive.

Bob Newhart gets completely wasted in a role that’s so small and insignificant I’m surprised why he even took it. I also didn’t think this was the right movie for Julie Andrews either. Sure, she has an engaging quality, but for a woman dating a crime boss she seemed way too pure and innocent almost like she was completely oblivious to his underhanded nature. In reality the people one hangs out with will inevitably rub off on that person and a more realistic portrayal would’ve had her being a bit corrupt, which would’ve actually been more interesting as it would’ve created a two-dimensional character who was cold and conniving most of the time, but then when the kid comes along a softer side gets exposed.

In contrast both Curtis and Brian Dennehy, who plays his henchmen, are a delight and needed more screen time. It’s interesting too seeing Lee Grant appear near the end playing a judge and almost unrecognizable in a gray wig, but the story as a whole flounders chiefly because, outside of the scenes showing a fixed horserace, there’s no action at all, which makes it absurd to call this a ‘family movie’. If I, as an adult, was bored I can only imagine a kid being even more so. In fact I’d say this movie really wasn’t made for kids at all, but instead little old ladies who enjoy cutesy kids the way they like cutesy puppy dogs and want children only shown as being adorable even though kids, like with everyone else, can have their bad side, which conveniently gets left out here.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 21, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Walter Bernstein

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Challenging a crime boss.

Kid Sally (Jerry Orbach), who works within a crime family where he’s in charge of a small group of crooks, becomes increasingly frustrated at what he feels is a lack of respect that he gets from mobster boss Baccala (Lionel Stander). When Kid is put in charge of supervising a bicycle race that does not go over well he gets demoted, which convinces him to take down Baccala and become the mob boss himself, but the men under him prove inept at every turn. Each time they try to kill-off Baccala the only ones who die are Kid Sally’s guys.

The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Jimmy Breslin and inspired by real-life mobster Joe Gallo who was also the inspiration for Crazy Joe that starred Peter Boyle. However, the Boyle film approached the material in a serious way and tried to keep things more closely tied-in with the actual events while this thing veers-off from what really happened and instead simply uses the situation as a springboard for a lot of zany, comical antics.

One of the main problems is the casting of Orbach who looks nothing like the real Gallo, Boyle was not a perfect match for him either, but he was at least in the same ballpark while Orbach appears too old and without any signs of the mental health issues that had afflicted Gallo who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia in his youth. There are also too many characters to keep track of and Orbach half the time is barely even seen becoming more like a supporting player in his own movie.

The film does have a few amusing moments including the gang’s attempts to bring in a lion, which they use to blackmail the client’s of their opposition. Van Fleet is also quite funny as Kid’s mother who looks and walks like she’s ready to die from old age, but speaks as if she’s a young tough guy. The location shooting isn’t bad either and seeing the entire group of men crammed into Joe’s mother’s apartment as they partake in their weekly spaghetti dinner brings the Italian ambience to a nice head, but director James Goldstone approaches the material in a haphazard fashion and it’s edited in a way that makes it seem more like a collection of vignettes than a story.

The only interesting element is seeing Robert De Niro, complete with long hair, as this young con who comes to New York straight from Italy. He speaks with an authentic accent, which he acquired by going to Italy for a week and recording the people around him and then playing back their voices while he rehearsed. He even prepared for his role as a thief by stealing 2 shirts from a Macy’s department store requiring producer Irwin Winkler to intervene in order to keep him out of jail. Leigh Taylor-Young is excellent as his love interest and her performance as the Kid’s younger more idealistic sister has an organic quality and a far cry from the psycho role that she played in The Big Bounce just 2 years earlier. The romance between her and De Niro and their attempts to forge a relationship while living in a cramped, rundown apartment is kind of touching and had the film focused on these two it would’ve worked better.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 22, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated: PG

Director: James Goldstone

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Crazy Joe (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gangster’s rise and fall.

Loosely based on the real-life exploits of a New York gangster named Joe Gallo (Peter Boyle) the story centers on Joe’s rise in the underground criminal world and his challenging of Mob Boss Falco (Luther Adler) as well as Don Vittorio (Eli Wallach) the head of all crime families. When Joe and his brother’s agree to carry out a hit for Falco, but are only paid $100 each for the crime they feel rebuffed and plot revenge by storming Falco’s mansion and taking member’s of his family hostage. Through Don, who acts as an intermediary, they’re able to settle the dispute, but later Joe finds that he’s been double-crossed, which sends him to jail during a sting operation. While in prison he makes friends with Willy (Fred Williamson) an African American. The two form an uneasy alliance where he agrees to help Joe settle his score once they both get out.

With all of the gangster movies that came out during the early and mid 70’s it gets harder and harder to tell them apart, or have much in the way to say about them since they all tend to be alike with very little variation. This film is a clear example to cash-in on the Francis Ford Coppola classic by quickly producing this cheapie, which was shot in the U.S. with American actors by an Italian production company, which in essence makes it a foreign film. While the plot and action lack anything original I did find the opening sequence where they carry-out the hit by shooting a man and his cronies while inside a restaurant to be captivating. The action itself isn’t what’s interesting, but seeing the men singing and joking around inside the car, both as they drive-up to the place and then again as they leave it, to be fascinating in a disturbing sort of way where no matter how viscous the act they feel no guilt and happily go back to being their playful selves almost instantaneously.

Boyle’s performance helps a lot. He was in another film just 4 years earlier with a similar title called Joe where he played a violent right-wing extremist and he got so turned off by the fan mail he received with people telling him how much they enjoyed watching the ugly acts that his character did and said in that movie that he vowed never to appear in another violent film again and yet just a few years later that’s exactly what he did, but I’m glad. He exudes a great amount of energy and liveliness into the role and helps keep the movie entertaining to the point that it’s only interesting when he’s in it and a complete bore when he’s not. Effort is made to humanize him as it see-saws between moments where he’s killing people and then other points when he’s saving them particularly when he goes into a burning building to help some children get out.

The supporting cast is strong especially the always reliable Wallach and Williamson whose angry gaze melts right through the screen. I also really enjoyed Adler as the arrogant crime boss who feels he’s ‘all-powerful’, but physically is quite old and frail and eventually into the helpless position of being put inside an iron lung while still callously giving out all the orders and demanding full compliance. Louis Guss is equally amusing as a tough guy killer who when kidnapped immediately folds by wetting his pants and begging for his heart medication.

Unfortunately Henry Winkler, in his film debut, is not as effective as his demeanor is too refined and gentile and does not reflect the savagery of the others almost like he walked in on the completely wrong film set. Rip Torn is badly miscast as well. While the other actors appear to be genuinely Italian and speak with authentic accents Torn doesn’t. Instead he keeps his Texas draw intact, which is totally out-of-place, and while a good supporting player in other movies sticks out as a completely sore thumb here.

Ultimately though the poor production values sink it. To some extent it helps on the violent end as the killings are done in a more graphic and raw way, much like an Italian horror film, which makes it more real than The Godfather where it was handled in a lyrical fashion, but the plot has nowhere much to go. You know where it’s headed right from the start with an ending that’s completely predictable and has no impact. Doesn’t particularly help either that the film’s promotional poster gives away the final scene.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 8, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Carlo Lizzani

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: Available through Non-Standard DVD (Public Domain).

Bugsy Malone (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The gangsters are kids.

It’s the 1920’s and rival mobsters, who are all played by children, fight over control of a club that illegally sells liquor. Fat Sam ( John Cassisi) is the one who currently controls it, but Dandy Dan (Martin Lev) makes a play at a violent overthrow in which his men attack the club by using machine guns equipped with whipped cream that ‘splurge’ their victims. Bugsy Malone (Scott Baio) is a penniless boxing promoter caught in the middle. He tries to help aspiring singer Blousy (Florrie Dugger) get an audition at Sam’s club, but then becomes distracted by Sam’s alluring girlfriend Tallulah (Jodie Foster) who causes Sam’s ire by flirting with Bugsy.

This odd concoction was the product of Alan Parker in his feature film directorial debut who came up with the idea while driving his kids on a weekend trip to a countryside cottage. To keep his kids entertained he started telling them a story about some prohibition era gangsters based on old gangster movies he had seen as a child. It was at one point where one of the kids brought up the idea of having gangsters be children instead of adults.

The first 15 minutes or so are quite inventive and fun. I enjoyed the freeze-frames showing each victim splattered with whip cream and the pedaled powered automobiles, but after awhile it starts to repeat the same gags over and over becoming a one-dimensional, one-joke flick.

I kept wondering where the adults where and despite this being a fantasy what exactly where the ‘rules’. Is this a type of universe where there are no adults at all and the kids remain at that age forever and if so does that ultimately then make them the ‘adults’? For me it would’ve been better had the story been book-ended with some connection to the world as we know it. Perhaps with a Wizard of Oz type structure where the film starts out, maybe even in black-and-white, with adults in the parts of the gangsters and then one of them gets hit on the head or drinks something with a drug in it and has this weird dream involving kids suddenly taking over the roles previously played by the adults. Showing the differences at how kids approached things versus how the adults do would’ve been a funny contrast instead of keeping it at the kiddie-level the whole way through, which ultimately falls flat.

The performances of the young cast are quite energetic although I could’ve done without the musical numbers. Cassisi, who in real-life ended up serving jail time of his own for money laundering, steals it with his humorous send-up of a mob boss. Baio is quite good too especially with his over-the-top Brooklyn accent, but I felt Foster got shamefully underused. If anything her role should’ve been combined with Blousy’s to make one and cutting out Florrie Dugger, who now goes by the name of Florence Garland, completely. I didn’t have anything against her per say, but she didn’t have the onscreen spark that Foster did. She also apparently disliked Baio and the scene involving her hugging him required many retakes as she didn’t want to get near him and this lack of chemistry comes through onscreen.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 12, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Alan Parker

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Cookie (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Daughter becomes getaway driver.

Dino (Peter Falk), a longtime racketeer, gets released from prison after a 13-year sentence. He meets up with his long time crony Carmine (Michael V. Gazz0) only to learn that Carmine sold off his share of the business, but now refuses to give him his entitled proceeds. Dino then plots an elaborate revenge and uses his estranged daughter Cookie (Emily Lloyd) to help him. At first the two don’t get along,but eventually forge a friendship when she proves to be quite resourceful as a getaway driver.

This movie proved to be the start of Lloyd’s career downfall. She burst onto the scene with her acclaimed performance in Wish You Were Here, which had all the critics fawning over her including Roger Ebert who called her performance “one of the great debut roles of a young actress”. With her new found fame she moved to New York at the age of 17 and immediately got the starring role in this film, which unfortunately proved to be her undoing as she showed erratic behavior on the set due to a condition that was later diagnosed as being attention deficit disorder. At one point during filming her irritated co-star Falk slapped her because she repeatedly flubbed of her lines, which caused her to then reportedly slap him.  It was behind-the-scenes stories like these that made studios reluctant to hire her and costing her to miss out on a lot of big roles.

While I’ll commend her ability to put on a very effective Brooklyn accent where you can’t even hear a hint of her native British one I still felt overall her performance here is quite weak and one of the main reasons that the film fails. Her facial expressions are too one-note and she shows an aloof detachment in all of her scenes almost like she really doesn’t want to be there. It’s evident onscreen that she and Falk didn’t care for each other making the bonding that their two characters have come-off as forced and insincere. I didn’t know why her character was even needed, I presume it was done to attract the all-important teen demographic, but she’s not funny and there’s long stretches where she doesn’t even appear. Her attire looks too much like the clothing style worn by Molly Ringwald during the 80’s and while that may have been the fashion it’s still good to have a character come up with a clothing style that is unique to them, so she doesn’t end up looking like just a leftover cast member from a John Hughes’ movie.

The supporting cast are what make this movie funny and had the story centered around them it could’ve been special. Gazzo is great as the mob boss who is intimidating one minute and then frightened and contrite the next. Dianne Weist, is quite funny too, particularly her extended crying bouts, as Falk’s mistress and Brenda Vaccaro steals a few scenes as his dog groomer wife. You can also spot Joy Behar in a brief bit as well as Jerry Lewis although his part is quite colorless and I’m surprised he even took it.

The script by Nora Ephron and Alice Arden relies too much on Mafia cliches while failing to add a unique or interesting spin to it. There’s also too many scenes, three of them to be exact, involving the explosion of a limo. One time is okay, but it saps away the surprise/shock value when it keeps happening and much like the movie itself fizzles out with a whimper.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 23, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Susan Seidelman

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

The Mechanic (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hit man grooms apprentice.

Arthur Bishop (Charles Bronson) is a top assassin who is able to make his hits look like accidents. He works for a secret organization that assigns him people to kill and one day they tell him to kill Harry (Keenan Wynn) a man who at one time headed the organization. Arthur kills Harry by making it appear as if it were a heart attack and then becomes friends with Harry’s young but brazen son Steven (Jan-Michael Vincent). Steven harbors all the qualities that Arthur likes in an assassin so he decides to train him into the business, but this doesn’t go over well with the organization who assign both men to kill each other.

While I had a hard time believing that an old man who was Arthur’s first hit in the movie and who was so paranoid that he would look around before entering his apartment building, but then still recklessly keep the blinds on his windows wide open, which would allow somebody like Arthur to look straight into the apartment without any problem didn’t make much sense. The camera also has a point-of-view shot where we can see things from the victim’s perspective inside the apartment and you could clearly see Arthur looking at him through his binoculars from across the street making me think the man would’ve eventually notice him as well. However, I enjoyed how the film focuses more on the preparation for the hit and the meticulous attention to detail that it requires than the actual killings, which helps give the film and added dimension that other movies about hit men don’t since they dwell almost exclusively on the violence.

The action sequences aren’t bad and include a very exciting motorcycle chase that has a few lighthearted moments as they crash through a dinner party on the property of a rich man’s home. Even watching a yacht explode in the middle of a sea is cool because a real explosive on a real yacht are used versus computer effects like in today’s movies, which no matter how improved they become still look fake when compared to the real thing.

Bronson’s acting is good here mainly because the dialogue is limited and in fact the first 16 minutes feature no speaking at all, which for Bronson is a blessing. Even his wife Jill Ireland is enjoyable playing a prostitute in a scene that is brief but still quite fun. Vincent  is okay, but the part could’ve been stronger had it been played by a more versatile actor like Richard Dreyfus, who was the original choice, but director Michael Winner disliked him for personal reasons, so he was never hired.

The one area where the film fails is that it doesn’t stay true to Lewis John Carlino’s script, which had the two main characters originally being closet homosexuals, which would’ve given the film a fascinating and at the time ground breaking subtext while also helping to better explain why Arthur would take the risk of bringing Steve in on his secret profession. Unfortunately the studio couldn’t get the necessary funding it needed with the gay storyline and many actors who were offered the part originally like Cliff Robertson and George C. Scott refused to do it unless the gay angle was taken out, which is a shame as the two main characters come off as too one-dimensional otherwise.

This same story was remade in 2011 and while that version had better twists it still left out the gay angle and it would be nice if some studio at some point would take on the Carlino’s original script and film the story as it was intended.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 17, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Grasshopper (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Runaway becomes  a showgirl.

Christine (Jacqueline Bisset) is a 19-year-old who’s bored with her life living in rural British Columbia and decides one morning to run away from home and meet up with her fiance Eddie (Tim O’Kelly). He gets her a job as a bank teller, but she finds this boring too, so she runs away from him and moves in with a Vegas comedian (Corbett Monica) who gets her work as a showgirl, but Christine’s inability to ever settle down and her impulsiveness leads her to spiral downhill until she’s eventually forced into prostitution.

Initially I was leery about this one as it was directed by Jerry Paris an actor-turned-director who mainly directed episodes from TV-shows as well as the infamous sequels to the Police Academy franchise and for awhile this thing did not look much better than those, but just when I thought it would be nothing more than a sanitized TV sitcom-like foray into the runaway scene it improved. The second-half has some genuinely gritty moments and the behind-the-scenes look of the showgirl lifestyle is well handled and realistic.

Bisset is excellent and her performance pretty much makes the movie, but she’s not completely right for the part either. For one thing she doesn’t look anything like 19 and was in fact 25 when she did this. She also wears too much make-up. I had no problem with this when she became a showgirl as it’s expected, but initially she should’ve had more of a plain look, which would’ve made her transition into the jaded world more visually striking.

On the flip-side I enjoyed her character and found it refreshing that she wasn’t portrayed as being so completely innocent, but in many ways her own worst enemy. The scenes where she goes out on the Vegas runway with her teeth painted black shocking some in the audience as well as handing a bank customer a note pretending that the place is being robbed reveals some intriguing self-destructive tendencies. It also makes her seem very much like a grasshopper, which was a far better title than ‘The Passing of Evil” that was used for the Mark McShane novel that the film is based on.

Jim Brown, who traditionally plays intimidating characters comes off as surprisingly gentile and sympathetic one here and the inter-racial marriage that he has with Bisset was way ahead-of-its-time. Ramon Bieri gets a great role in his film debut as a rich, arrogant tough who always expects to get his way and watching him chow down on his food is memorable. This also marks the film debut of Ed Flanders, who wears a wig here and looks far older than he did in the ‘St. Elsewhere’ TV-show that he starred in 12 years later.

The ending in which Bisset talks a airplane pilot (William Callaway) into writing ‘Fuck It’ in the sky, is funny, but the film’s overall impact is light. Adding in scenes of Bisset’s home-life growing up and during more innocent times might’ve made her transition stronger, but overall despite a few good moments it never quite comes together as a fluid whole.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 27, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jerry Paris

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Don is Dead (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two Mafia leaders feud.

After the death of his mob boss father, Frank (Robert Forster) finds himself embroiled in the middle of a feud between two rival crime families. Don Angelo (Anthony Quinn) comes to Frank’s aid and agrees to take over the family business and then once he dies everything will go to Frank. Luigi (Charles Cioffi) and his greedy lover Marie (Jo Anne Meredith) are not happy with this arrangement and in an attempt to weaken the alliance they arrange for Don to meet up with Frank’s girlfriend Ruby (Angel Tompkins) while Frank is away in Rome on business. The two immediately hit-it-off and begin a hot-and-heavy affair. When Frank returns and finds out about this he flies into a rage by first beating his girlfriend and then swearing further vengeance onto Don. Don in turn puts out a hit on Frank, which escalates an endless bloody mob war.

During the early ‘70s with the success of The Godfather studios were churning out mob themed films about as fast as they could be produced. Many of them were vastly inferior to Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece, but this one may be the worst. The biggest problem is the nauseating violence that takes up the entire second-half. In The Godfather the killings had a lyrical quality that became a cinematic achievement and indelible on the viewer’s memory, but here the shootings are quite mechanical. Instead of being shocking they’re monotonous and impede the film from becoming anything more than just a cheap, uninspired Hollywood rip-off.

The film also lacks a likable character, which creates no emotional bond from the viewer to anyone onscreen nor any concern for who gets shot and who doesn’t. Tony (Frederic Forrest) is the only one with any type of arch as he wants out of the business at the start, but by the end is a hardened crime boss, which is too similar to Al Pacino’s quandary in The Godfather and only further cements this as being a poor man’s version of that one.

Forster is good despite displaying a rather affected accent. Quinn is also okay, but his character has little to do particularly by the second-half when he becomes almost comatose after suffering a stroke. What annoyed me most though was that there was never any final confrontation between the two. The whole thing revolved around a misunderstanding that they had, so a meeting at the end between them seemed almost mandatory, but it doesn’t occur making an already flawed film even more unsatisfying.

Marvin Albert, who was famous for writing the Tony Rome detective novels, penned this script, which is based off of his own novel, but the results are slight. The conflicts between the characters are not riveting and everyone comes off as being quite stupid for allowing themselves to be so easily mislead making the bloodshed that results from it even more grotesque. Maybe that’s the film’s point, but there have been so many better movies on this same subject that there really was no need for this one and whatever message it attempts to convey dies with the rest of the carnage on the screen.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 14, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Fleischer

Studio: Universal

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