Category Archives: Gay/Lesbian

A Different Story (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Homosexuals in heterosexual relationship.

Albert (Perry King) works as a chauffeur to famous pianist Sills (Peter Donat) and he’s also his part-time lover, but when Sills finds another man Albert gets put on the street and must seek refuge as a squatter. Stella (Meg Foster) is a real estate agent who finds Albert taking up residence in one of the homes she’s trying to sell. She decides to let him move in with her and since both of them are gay they partake in a platonic friendship. Then immigration comes looking for him since he’s also an illegal alien from Belgium. In an effort to prevent his deportation Stella decides to marry him and they soon become romantic including having sex and a baby, but just as things seem to blossom Stella becomes concerned that Albert may be seeing someone behind her back.

While this movie may have seemed ‘groundbreaking’ when it came out it has not aged well and features an assortment of issues starting with the whole botched premise. Having a single woman take in a virtual stranger is never a good idea. If you have concern for a homeless person direct them to the nearest shelter, but inviting them back to your place is clearly dangerous. Perhaps because she knew he was gay she thought he’d be ‘safe’, but just because he’s not going to rape you doesn’t mean he might not rob her when she was away.

The characterization of Albert works too much off gay stereotypes such as having him into cooking, cleaning, and even dress designing. The film should’ve challenged the viewer’s perception of gay people by working against the cliché by having him into auto repair, football, and drinking beer instead. I also thought it was dumb that, in an effort to hide that he was gay, Stella pretends to have made the dinner when her parents (Richard Bull, Barbara Collentine) arrive for a visit, but why couldn’t she just have introduced Albert as her straight male friend who just happens to be a great cook, or are we to presume that every male chef out there is secretly gay?

Spoiler Alert!

The third act is when it jumps-the-shark not so much with the introduction of the baby, which was bad enough, but more when Albert starts fooling around on Stella with another woman! The whole idea that simply having feelings for a member of the opposite sex would magically ‘ungay’ a person, or that ‘love can change everything’ is just not true. The initial gay theme gets totally lost and it starts to resemble a flick about a straight married couple instead. In the end there’s just nothing different about this ‘different story’, which is the whole problem.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 10, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Aaron

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Conformist (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to fit-in.

Marcello (Jean Louis Trintignant) is living in Italy during WWII and a member of the fascist secret police. He longs to be a part of acceptable society and partaking in the conventions of what he believes is a normal life including settling down and getting married even if it’s to a woman Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli) that he doesn’t really love. He gets ordered to assassinate Quadri (Enzo Tarascio) who was one of his professors back in college, but who has now been deemed an anti-fascist by the government.  Marcello uses the guise of his honeymoon as an excuse to travel with Giulia to Paris in order to carry out his mission. However, once there he begins to have feelings for the professor’s wife Anna (Dominique Sanda) and becomes unable to carry out the assignment despite being aware that Anna is only using him to get to Giulia, which is who she truly desires.

This film became a benchmark in Bernardo Bertullici’s career and was his first box office success that allowed him the ability to go on and direct even bigger  classics such as The Last Tango in Paris and 1900.  While the visuals are impressively stylistic I do agree with many critics that too much emphasis is placed on the sets, that gives it an almost over-the-top kitschy feel, while drowning out the story, which is handled in a more subtle way, in the process. The plot is still captivating, but a good movie should have a nice balance and as critic Gene Siskel stated in his review it’s more of a ‘show than a story’ and reviewer Keven Thomas labeled it a ‘bravura style Fellini’, which I consider to be a very accurate description.

The story is based on the 1951 novel of the same name by Alberto Moravia, but apparently Bertolucci had never read it when he pitched the idea to Paramount and managed to wow the studio execs into loving the idea simply by relying on the the description of the story giving to him by his then-girlfriend who had read it. When he finally did read it he did so while writing it into a screenplay at the same time.

There are many differences though between the source novel and the film with the movie leaving out a lot of Marcello’s childhood backstory that I felt was needed. The book examines Marcello’s penchant for killing lizards and even the neighbor’s cat as well as his witnessing his father’s abusing of his mother and the vandalization of a family photograph, which the film doesn’t touch on. The book also gets into more detail about why Marcello is tormented by his classmates where in the film we see Marcello being harassed, but it’s never made clear why.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending gets changed too. In the book Marcello has an interesting philosophical debate with Lino, a chauffer who sexually abused him as a child, but this conversation is left out of the movie. Marcello also, along with his wife and child, gets gunned down while driving in their car, but surprisingly the movie doesn’t have this part either. You would think that they would since action makes for a good visual, and I’m not sure for the reason why it was left out/revised except that Bertolucci may have feared it would be too similar to the finale in Bonnie and Clyde and didn’t want to seem like he was replicating that one.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall despite these deviations I still found it impactful particularly the ambush scene on a lonely road, which was the one thing that I remembered about the movie after having not seen in for several decades. The strong performances help too especially Trintignant’s brooding portrayal though being French born he spoke his lines phonetically without knowing what they meant and then later had them dubbed by Sergio Graziani in post production. The two lead actresses are splendid too and although the parts were originally offered to the more famous Brigitte Bardot and Anouk Aimee I felt it came off better with the then unknowns particularly Sandrelli who’s energetic and almost child-like at the beginning only to behave like jaded, middle-aged woman by the conclusion.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Savage Weekend (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The first slasher movie.

Maria (Marilyn Hamlin), who has a very contentious relationship with her ex-husband Greg (Jeff Pomerantz), but who is now in a relationship with Robert (Jim Doerr) a successful businessman, decides to take a weekend trip with some friends to upstate New York. Robert is having a large boat built there and wants to see its progress. The quiet country atmosphere seems like the perfect spot to getaway until a masked killer shows up killing each of them one-by-one.

While Halloween typically gets credited as being the forerunner to the modern day slasher film it’s actually this one that was the first and don’t let the release date fool you. This was filmed in the summer of 1976, a full two years before Halloween came out, but was shelved by its distributors as they thought the concept of a mysterious masked killer was ‘too weird’ and wouldn’t catch on only to eventually release it to theaters once they saw the success of Halloween.

The concept for this came about completely by accident. Writer/director David Paulson was originally hired to write a screenplay for a completely different type of movie, but the investor then retracted the majority of the money he promised leaving Paulson with a mere $20,000 to work with. He decided with such little funds he’d be forced create a story that required a single setting and then came up a scenario that would make the characters stay there and thus the killer-on-the-loose idea was born.

The critics were originally not kind: TV Guide subscribed this as a ‘reprehensible exploitation film’ and ‘the gore effects are extremely gruesome’, which just isn’t true. At best the blood is quite minimal especially when compared to today’s slashers. In fact you’ll find more explicit gore in modern dark comedy films like Shaun of the Dead than you will here.

Critic Joe Baltake criticized the Nicky (Christopher Allport) the gay character stating that he ‘set gay rights activism back several decades’, which I totally disagree with. I actually liked Nicky and was impressed at the way he walked into a backwoods bar and when the rednecks tried to hassle him he single-handedly kicked their asses, which to me worked completely against the gay stereotype.

Through the years critics have become much kinder to this film and its attained a strong cult following and deservedly so. Despite being made 4 decades ago it actually comes off as fresh and inventive because it’s not stifled by the conventional ‘rules’ of the formula, which we’ve become so accustomed to now. I liked how the film opens with a point-of-view shots of our heroine running madly through the forest making the viewer feel they’re the ones being chased.

The fact that the majority of it takes place during the daytime actually makes it scarier especially with it’s weird yellowish tint that permeates every shot. I’m not sure if this was intentional or just a poor film transfer, but it helps to create a surreal look. I also really loved seeing the skeleton of the large boat that was being built inside an abandoned shed. I presume with the low budget this was not made for the story and instead simply worked into the script when the producers came upon it while scouting for locations, but the effect is cool especially when the cast walks around inside it.

The soundtrack is way different from the conventional horror film as well with a country tinged sound and at one point even a classical dance piece, but after watching soooo many scary movies with the same old Friday the 13th-like sound I was more than happy to hear something different. The characters are also multi-dimensional with distinctive personalities. Usually I more than happy to see a cardboard slasher film cast get hacked-up, but here I kind of wanted them to stay around as they were interesting. The murders also don’t work in a mechanical way, but instead start occurring suddenly to the shock of everyone else, which gives it more of a real-time feel.

The only real negative is that despite having a strong beginning and ending the middle part is slow. There’s still enough interactions between the characters to hold mild interest, but there’s no running tension. A good horror movie should be creepy to some degree from beginning to end, but the second act veers off too much making it at times seem more like a soft core porn flick, but overall for the horror connoisseur I’d still recommend this.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 14, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Paulsen

Studio: Cannon Group

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region 1), Amazon Video

Island of Death (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Couple on killing spree.

Christopher and Celia (Robert Behling, Jane Lyle) seem like a nice young couple just looking  for a little vacation as they travel to a Greek island. Yet once there they begin killing anyone who they deem ‘perverted’. First it’s a man who makes a pass a Celia, then it’s a gay couple, and a bartender who’s outed as a lesbian. Not only do Christopher and Celia kill their victims with glee, but they also enjoy taking pictures of the carnage, so that Christopher can use them for sexual arousal later.

In 1974 Nico Mastorakis, who at that time was working as an investigative journalist and before that was a popular radio DJ, became impressed with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the amount of money it brought in. He was convinced that making exploitation flicks was a profitable venture and proceeded to create a film that would be as shocking as possible simply for the money benefits it would bring in. The film has certainly achieved a strong cult status and has been one of the most widely banned films in the world.

While its reputation is quite notorious I actually found the violence to be nothing special. There’s one segment where a man gets his hands nailed to a cement ground, which is pretty nasty and the killing of a baby goat, which Christopher then proceeds to have sex with is quite disturbing too, but everything else, at least gore-wise, is run-of-the-mill. The one segment that did get a bit difficult to watch simply because it gets more prolonged than the other killings and therefore makes it seem more real was when Christopher tries to force the lesbian bartender (Janncie McConnell) to swallow a bottle of hard liquor, which she repeatedly chokes on.

On the perversity level the film still scores strongly even after all these years. One of it’s more outlandish moments is when Christopher gives an unexpected golden shower to a 60-year-old woman (Jessica Dublin) who at first reacts in disgust, but then eventually gets into it. The real shocker though for me was the final twist, which I hadn’t seen coming and as jaded as I’ve become with years of watching these underground 70’s flicks, had my mouth agape.

Mastorakis shows good command with solid pacing and a script that continuously reveals many sick twists as it goes. The slow start works in its favor as it creates a romantic feel, especially with its sweet sounding score and picturesque backdrop of Mykonos, which allows for the viewer to let down their guard and then when the shocks gets going it makes it even more emotionally horrific. I also enjoyed Mastorakis use of the hand-held camera and wide angle lens something that only came into vogue many decades later.

Overall I commend the production for going all in. Too many other horror flicks, especially from the 70’s, promised exploitation, but ultimately  delivered little. It seemed like despite their provocative storylines they would end up chickening-out, so it’s nice to see one hyper-focused to truly push the envelope. Obviously this won’t be everyone’s cup-of- tea many, but if you’re compelled to make a truly underground feature then alienating some viewers is a prerequisite.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 13, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Nico Mastorakis

Studio: Omega Pictures

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

Prick Up Your Ears (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bio of Joe Orton.

This film, which is based on the biography of playwright Joe Orton that was written by John Lahr, has two diametrically different story lines going on at the same time. One part has John Lahr, played in the movie by Wallace Shawn, going around interviewing people that knew Orton when he was alive, which includes Orton’s theatrical agent Peggy Ramsey (Vanessa Redgrave). The other part delves into Orton’s (Gary Oldman) relationship with his Kenneth Halliwell (Alfred Molina) showing how it began and then eventually ending in tragedy.

The film, which was directed by the usually reliable Stephen Frears, starts out right away with the murder scene showing Halliwell covered with blood as he stands over Orton’s body that he has just killed, which to me was a mistake. Sometimes using flashbacks in films can help accentuate the story, but here it gives too much away way too soon. What’s the point of continuing to watch the movie if the viewer knows exactly how it will end? Even if one such as myself was aware of Orton’s demise, which occurred on August 9, 1967 in Islington, England, it still should’ve approached the material in a linear way having the murder occur at the very end after we had gotten to understand and feel for the characters and therefore making the act all that more impactful.

The story should’ve started with the scene, which doesn’t occur until 30 minutes in, where Halliwell and Orton are attending a acting improv class, which is where the two first meet and the funniest moment in the movie. In the scene the students are instructed to pass around a make-believe cat and when this invisible cat gets handed to Halliwell, and to the shock of the other students, but to the amusement of Orton, he kills it and then hands it back to the instructor.  This moment also perfectly reflects the black humor that became so apparent in Orton’s plays as well as conveying the weird dynamic that the two had.

When the film focuses solely on the two lead characters and their love-hate relationship it is quite interesting. Molina gives a powerhouse performance and dominates every scene that he is in. His mental deterioration is both vivid and horrorifying and  leaves a lasting impression. Yet there are also other moments where you feel sorry the guy and it helps to make sense of what lead to the tragedy as you see how Orton, who is much younger and better looking, openly have trysts with other men that he randomly meets while Halliwell, fully aware of what is going on, gets pushed into the background and unable to do anything about it.

The film is also filled with some memorable imagery. The scenes where Orton and sometimes Halliwell would pick up strangers for indiscriminate sex, like in dingy public restrooms with the lights turned off and even at times inside the bathroom stalls themselves while constantly in fear of getting caught and arrested, is well captured. The tiny room that the two lived in for years, with pictures that cover every inch of the walls, gets recreated to a perfect tee. Based on images of the actual room found on Google it looks exactly like the one in the movie and its claustrophobic dimensions hits home making it seem amazing that such significant long lasting stage plays, that were later made into movies, could’ve been written in such an insignificant space that seemed no bigger than someone’s walk-in closet.

The opening bit that focused on Orton’s agent and having her reminisce about her experiences dealing with him is boring and should’ve been taken out of the final cut. Viewers come into this wanting to learn more about Orton and his relationship with Halliwell and that’s where the film should’ve started and stayed. I admit Redgrave gives a very good performance as the agent, so having brief scenes with her in them that intercut between the ones dealing with the lovers might have been interesting, but too much time gets spent on the side characters that almost dismantles the entire rest of the film.

Spoiler Alert!

I didn’t like how loud crashing music gets abruptly played during the murder sequence either. The soundtrack had been quite subtle up until then, so having it suddenly get loud is jarring and goes against the tone of the rest of the film. It also puts too much of a theatrical quality to the murder that was not needed. The  visuals are all that is needed to show the shocking and gruesome nature of the act without music needing to be any part of it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 17, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Stephen Frears

Studio: The Samuel Goldwyn Company

Available: DVD

Outrageous! (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Female impersonator befriends schizophrenic.

Robin (Craig Russell) works as a gay hairstylist during the day, but longs to be up on stage as a female impersonator.  Liza (Hollis McLaren) is a schizophrenic who leaves the hospital she was confine in and moves in with Robin her longtime friend. Both find ways to help each other with their problems, which allows Robin the confidence to finally get on stage in drag as Tallulah Bankhead, which makes him an instant hit and gets him a paid gig in New York City. However, when he moves away Liza’s condition worsens forcing Robin to decide what’s more important: his budding career, or his friendship.

The film is based on the shorty story ‘Making It’ by Margaret Gibson, which in turn was based on her experiences dealing with mental illness and her real-life friendship with Craig Russell whom she roomed with in 1971. The story nicely tackles the challenges of dealing with mental illness and how Robin’s support helps Liza overcome her demons that the other professional Dr’s and counselors that she sees don’t because they only view her as just another patient instead of a person.

The grainy, low budget quality works to the film’s advantage as it brings out the fringe, economically disadvantaged lifestyle that the two lived in while McLaren’s performance shies away from the cliches of mentally illness causing the viewer to see her as a regular everyday person, not just some ‘crazy’, valiantly fighting a nasty illness that she can’t always control.

The segments dealing with Russell’s onstage act are quite entertaining as well though when I first saw this film decades ago I found these moments to be off-putting as they turned it more into a documentary, or a comedy special that took the focus away from the actual essence of the story, which was the friendship. However, upon second viewing I liked the way it captures the gay club scene that was unique to that time period. Russell’s impersonations where he does Barbra Striesand, Judy Garland, Mae West and Bette Midler just to name a few are outstanding. I’ve seen some female impersonator acts before, but Russell’s far outshines any of the others I’ve ever watched as he gets the body language, voice, and facial expressions of the people he’s playing just right to the point that he completely disappears into the women characters until you can’t tell the difference.

While the film does have many touching moments I felt it should’ve shown how Robin and Liza first met instead of having it start with them already knowing each other when she moves in with him. Since they are such an odd pair capturing how and where this unique relationship all started and what element brought them together seemed crucial, but we never see it nor does it even get addressed in conversation. Having this backstory could’ve helped the film stay a little more centered on the relationship as well and prevented the over reliance on Russell’s stage routine, which while quite good, still takes up a bit more of the runtime than it should’ve.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 31, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Benner

Studio: Canadian Film Development Corporation

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

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

Car Wash (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Having fun washing cars.

A look at the day-in-the-life of those working at a L.A. car wash. Mr. B (Sully Boyar) is the owner and frets about his employees not working hard enough, but too afraid to fire any of them for fear of retribution. Behind-the-scenes he’s having an affair with his young, but plain-looking receptionist Marsha (Melanie Mayron) who in-turn is more interested in a man with money and gets excited when a well-dressed one asks her out on a date. Lonnie (Ivan Dixon) is a recently released convict working at the car wash and raising a family, but finding it hard on the salary he’s given, which Mr. B refuses to raise. Duane (Bill Duke) is a Black Muslim revolutionary now going by the name Abdullah who preaches power to the people while Mr. B’s son Irwin (Richard Brestoff) who has just graduated from college and groomed to take over the business is more interested in being a part of the working class instead.

In many ways this could be described as a precursor to Clerks with a cinema vertite feel that captures the daily experience of working a mundane job quite well. The humor is restrained and never goes over-the-top making the dialogue between the cast and the pranks they play on each other believable and like something that could play out in just about any car wash or blue collar job across the country. The disco soundtrack, which includes the iconic title tune by Rose Royce, which is actually better than the movie itself, helps add to the 70’s ambiance as well as the fact that it was filmed on-location at an actual car wash, which has since been demolished, at 610 South Rampart Boulevard in Los Angeles.

Unfortunately there’s not enough plot, or character development to hold it all together. The loosely structured approach, which initially comes off as fresh and original, eventually grows tiring without any type of genuine drama or story line to keep it compelling. There are also too many amusing bits that could’ve been strung out longer and even enhanced, but instead end up getting dropped almost as quickly as they’re introduced.

The cast is filled with too many characters and it’s hard to keep track of them, or understanding why they’re needed. At most car washes I’ve been there’s usually only one employee, or maybe two at the most, to wax the car, or rub it down after it’s been through the wash, but here it takes literally 5 or 6 guys to work on one car, which seems ridiculous. Cutting the cast down would’ve helped and having it centered around one main person instead of doing the ensemble thing would’ve been even better.

The appearances of George Carlin and Richard Pryor add very little and their screen times are so brief I was surprised they even accepted the parts. I was also disappointed that Lorraine Gary’s part was so short too. She’s best known for playing Roy Schieder’s wife in the Jaws films. Here she plays a stuck-up Beverly Hills housewife who’s more concerned about how her car looks than in the fact that her young son is sick. Her haughty attitude creates a delightful culture clash and I really thought she could’ve added some funny friction had she stayed in it all the way through and I really thought she would especially after her son throws up in the car just as they are leaving the lot making me think she would’ve simply backed-up the car and had them clean out the vehicle’s interior, since they had just done the exterior seconds before, but instead she apparently just goes on driving, but who would do that?

There are also potentially interesting story lines that never get adequately explored. The affair between Mr. B. and Marsha was one of them, but another had to do with a ‘pop bottle bomber’ that was terrorizing the city. At one point the crew thinks it’s an old man (Irwin Corey) that comes into the place, but find that’s a false alarm, but it would’ve been exciting had they eventually come into contact with the real one, which could’ve added intriguing dynamics both with the characters and plot.

Originally this was to be a musical, but for whatever reason Universal nixed that idea and decided to turn it into a plain-old comedy instead. I’m not necessarily a fan of musicals, but in this case the songs and dance numbers would’ve helped tie everything together as the script is otherwise too unfocused to remain captivating past the first 30 minutes.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: September 3, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Schultz

Studio: Universal

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

Deathtrap (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Playwright turns to murder.

Sidney Bruhl (Michael Caine) was at one time a top playwright, but his latest play is a flop. To add to his depression he finds that one of his students who attended his writing seminar, Clifford Anderson (Christopher Reeve), has on his first attempt written a brilliant sure-fire hit. Something that makes Sidney jealous. He decides to invite Clifford over to his secluded cottage and while there, and with the help of his wife Myra (Dyan Cannon), kill Clifford and then steal his script and treat it as if it’s his own. Things though don’t work out quite as expected especially when their neighbor Helga (Irene Worth) arrives who has psychic visions that could ultimately implicate Sidney for doing the dirty deed.

The film is based on the Broadway play of the same name written by Ira Levin that ran for 1,793 performances from February 26, 1978 to June 13, 1982. The play was well received by critics and audiences alike including director Sidney Lumet who put up some of his own money to get it made into a film, but ultimately he relies too heavily on the twisting plot while failing to add any cinematic element to it.

The exterior of Sidney’s home was the picturesque DeRose Windmill Cottage, which sits in East Hampton, New York and helps add a visual flair, but the interior of the home was shot on a soundstage and the film becomes quite claustrophobic as almost the entire story takes place in this one setting. The movie desperately needed more cutaways, even some minor breakaway bits like Helga’s disastrous guest spot on the Merv Griffin Show, which gets talked about, but never shown, in order to make it seem less like a filmed stageplay, which it ultimately ends up being.

The script brings up some potentially interesting insights like how sometimes the characters in a writer’s play can closely parallel the authors themselves. In fact many people that knew him felt that the Sidney character here strongly resembled the real Ira Levin, but the film fails to pursue this in a satisfying way and is devoid of any interesting subtext or nuance. The characters end up being just boring one dimensional caricatures that are wholly unlikable. You could care less which one of them killed who, or whether any of them even survive.

Christopher Reeve is the film’s only real bright-spot and the way he plays a gay man is effective and believable. His onscreen kiss with Caine was considered controversial and daring at the time and even upsetting to fans to the point that purportedly one audience member in a Denver theater screamed out “Superman, don’t do it!” just as the kiss occurred. Irene Worth is fun too and her accent is so believable that I was convinced that she must’ve been born in Eastern Europe and was shocked to learn that instead she was from, of all places, Nebraska.

Caine is good, but his presence will remind many of the movie Sleuth, which he also starred in and is quite similar to this one. In fact a lot of viewers thought this was a sequel to that simply for that reason and because of this somebody else should’ve been hired to play the part.

Cannon on the other hand is annoying as the hyper wife and shares no onscreen chemistry with the other two actors. Marian Seldes had played the role on Broadway in every one of its 1,793 performances, which garnered her a citation in the Guinness Book of World Records as most durable actress and because of that alone she should’ve been given the part here.

Johnny Mandel’s soundtrack gives the proceedings a highbrow flair and I wished it had been played more. The plot twists may entertain and surprise some, but not if you think about them for too long, which ultimately makes this just a second-rate Sleuth.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Release: March 19, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 56 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, YouTube

They Only Kill Their Masters (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dog turns on owner.

Abel Marsh (James Garner) is the police chief of a small west coast seaside town who’s put in charge of investigating a baffling case where a dog inexplicably turned on its owner and killer her. The clues though don’t match up convincing Abel that the dog is innocent and used simply as a ruse to cover-up an even more sinister crime.

This is the first of four films all written by Lane Slate to feature the character of Abel Marsh. All of the subsequent films featured the same small town setting and quirky themed murders, but where made for TV instead featuring Alan Alda in the role of Abel for Isn’t it Shocking and then Andy Griffith playing the part in The Girl in the Empty Grave and Deadly Game.

The mystery here has its share of intriguing elements and I liked the methodical pace, which is reminiscent of actual police work where the clues don’t just come easily and quickly. I also liked how the viewer remains just as in the dark about who did it as the investigator. The subplot involving the doberman is interesting as well and like in the film To Kill a Clown, which came out the same year, the dog ends up being the ultimate scene-stealer from his human counterparts.

Due to this being the last film made on MGM’s famous backlot many former stars from Hollywood’s golden age agreed to appear in small roles including Ann Rutherford in an amusing bit as a old-school secretary who can’t figure out how to work an electric type writer. The best bit though comes from June Allyson who doesn’t have any speaking lines until the very end where she gets a bravura-like finale similar to Betsy Palmer’s in Friday the 13th and even sports the same type of hairstyle as hers and sweater/pants, which makes it all the more ironic.

The thing though that I found annoying was the formulaic romance that starts almost immediately between Garner and Katherine Ross. For one thing the mystery could’ve worked just as well had Ross’ character not been in it at all, but if they did feel the need to throw in a romantic subplot it’s always more interesting when there’s some friction or resistance at first only to have it evolve into a relationship later versus making it a ‘love at first sight’ scenario, which is too quick and unrealistic especially when there’s a 15-year age difference between the two.

What gets even more aggravating is that after spending the night with her Garner then starts to suspect that she may know more about the crime than she lets on, so the next day he storms into her apartment and quite literally starts strangling her to get the info. Then when he realizes he may have jumped to the wrong conclusion he leaves her place in a huff without even bothering to apologize. Several hours later he sheepishly returns, but instead of slamming the door in his face she asks if he’s alright?!

Later near the end of the film she returns to his office and acts like somehow it was all her fault and seems to leave things open to rekindling the romance, but why? Unless she’s desperate (and she’s way too beautiful for that) or has extremely low self-esteem she should’ve ended things right when he attacked her because it was an obvious red flag and the fact that she doesn’t shows how dated and out-of-touch the film is in regards to modern day relationship dynamics.

The scenery is nice especially the Malibu location of the victim’s house and seeing it get burned quite literally to the ground is kind of cool too. However, the quirky elements don’t gel and overall the film ends up being transparent and flat.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 22, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: James Goldstone

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), YouTube