Category Archives: Heist Movies

Harry and Walter Go to New York (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two vaudevillians rob bank.

Harry and Walter (James Caan, Elliot Gould) are two down-on-their-luck marginally talented comedians living in the 1920’s who go to jail when they’re caught trying to rob their audience members during a tacky onstage ‘psychic’ stunt that goes horribly wrong. While in the slammer they meet up with Adam Worth (Michael Caine) a rich man from society’s upper crust who enjoys robbing banks just for the thrill of it. They come upon the blue print for his next proposed heist and take a picture of it and then after they escape from jail challenge Adam on who will be able to rob the bank first.

This is one of those 70’s movies that I found to be refreshingly original and quite funny, but when it was released it was met with harsh reviews and was a bomb at the box office. After some bad test audience reactions it was heavily cut much to director Mark Rydell’s dismay who felt a lot of the better jokes went missing although producer Tony Bill and star Caan blame Rydell for the film’s failure and insist that much of the humor in the original script was never even filmed or used.

I can’t explain why the film didn’t do well as I personally found as bank heist movies go this one to be quite  unique. So many bank robbing films from that era, and even today, paint the scheme in a one-dimensional way by portraying the robbers, who we are usually supposed to sympathize with, as a modern-day Robin Hood, while the cops and those out to stop them are represented as being the greedy,oppressive establishment, but this film takes things a step further, which is what I found interesting. The competition aspect gives it an extra.,likable edge and really made me want to root for Harry and Walter and their gang of losers who take on the arrogant Caine and his snotty buddies. Instead of the viewer just being intrigued at how they’re able to pull of the robbery as is the case with most heist films we are much more emotionally invested with its outcome.

Caan and Gould are what Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman should’ve been in Ishtar. These guys are definite losers, but still appealing and comical at the same time. Caan has never been known for his comedy and he has referred to this movie as ‘Harry and Walter Go to the Toilet’, which is a shame because he shows nice energy here and is able to keep Gould in check by not allowing him to drone on and steal the spotlight as he can sometimes do when left alone or with a less capable co-star.

If the film fails at all it’s by entering in too many supporting players. The title mentions only Harry and Walter and they should’ve pulled off the heist alone with maybe only Keaton tagging along for balance. As it is though a whole massive group gets in on it to the point that the two leads have little to do. While the group is busily trying to figure out how to open the safe Harry and Walter are on stage trying to extend a stage play  The film still works pretty well despite this issue, but technically the two men should be at the center of the action and in a lot of ways they really aren’t and in fact become almost like supporting players by the end.

The film also goes on too long with the denouncement being far more extended than it should, but it’s still a fun, breezy watch that reflects the gilded age flavor well and uses leftover sets from Hello Dolly to enhance the scenery perfectly.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 17, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mark Rydell

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Robbing his own bank.

Thomas (Steve McQueen) is a bank executive who devises what he feels is the perfect crime. He hires five men who he does not know nor do they know each other to rob his bank in broad daylight and then dump the money in a trash can at a cemetery where he retrieves it. The heist works flawlessly, but then insurance investigator Vicki (Faye Dunaway) comes on the scene and she almost immediately eyes Thomas as the culprit. The two begin a torrid affair with Vicki openly telling him her suspicions and that she’ll do whatever it takes to prove it, but Thomas has other plans.

What makes this film stand out from all the other bank robbing movies is that the heist scene was shot using a concealed camera. Only the bank officials and guards were aware that a movie was being made while the rest of the people were actual customers convinced that what was happening was real making their reactions of fear genuine. The best part of this sequence though is when director Norman Jewison has the camera put onto a dolly and glides it through the tear gas that the thieves set off.

The film is famous for its use of the split screen particularly during the opening credit sequence as well as Michel Legrand’s award winning music. Legrand wrote the score after viewing a five hour rough cut and the movie was then edited to be in tandem with the music instead of being done in reverse, which is how it’s usually done. For me the music comes off as sappy and out-of-place making it seem more like a romance when it’s really a game of cat-and-mouse and the blaring score almost gets in the way of it.

The best thing is Dunaway and I really don’t care how many face lifts she may have had, or how many years it’s been since she’s had a relevant role because she’s still a great actress and her presence here proves it. She filmed this before her breakout movie Bonnie and Clyde was released and she takes complete control of every scene she is in. Her character also works in what was still traditionally perceived as a man’s role and thus making it kind of groundbreaking. I also like that she’s never seen as weak or vulnerable in the traditional feminine sense and instead remains quite determined and focused throughout while never swaying from using her femininity as a weapon and nothing more.

McQueen unfortunately, and I can’t believe I’m saying this as he’s one of my favorite actors,  ends up being the film’s weakest link as the role goes against his rugged persona, which is what he’s good at. He had worked with Jewison before in The Cincinnati Kid and lobbied hard for the part, but Jewison rightly felt that character was not the right fit, but ultimately he relented, which was a mistake. The only time he is effective is when he’s doing his own stunts or driving on the beach in a dune buggy but otherwise he’s transparent and utterly dominated by Dunaway.

The supporting cast is good especially Jack Weston as a mope who gets hired on to partake in the robbery and then works as the clumsy catalyst that helps unravel it, but I was disappointed that his character ultimately disappears too soon and would’ve liked him to have remained for the duration. Otherwise this slick production, which was written by Alan Trustman who worked at a bank and would spend his idle time fantasizing on how to rob it, holds up well and includes the famous chess game sequence that still sizzles.

As for the 1999 remake, which changes many key plot points, I’ve never seen it nor do I have any interest to. Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo certainly make for an interesting pair, but I feel that if the original is a classic then it shouldn’t be touched and a law should be written disbarring remakes when they aren’t needed or asked for.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: June 19, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: Norman Jewison

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Blue Collar (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Workers rob their union.

Zeke (Richard Pryor) Jerry (Harvey Keitel) and Smokey (Yaphet Kotto) work at an auto plant in Detroit and become increasingly frustrated with their union and feel it they’re being ripped-off by them. The three get the idea to rob a safe stored at the union office. The crime itself is a cinch, but they only get $600 dollars out of it even though the union reports to the press that $10,000 was stolen. Then they find paperwork detailing some of the union’s dirty loan deals and decide to use that as blackmail, but the union has other ideas.

This was the first film directed by Paul Schrader and although he has gone on record stating that he dislikes it and has never watched it since its release I consider it to be one of his best. The music by Jack Nitzsche is a bit heavy, but otherwise this is a strong hard-hitting look at the life of an auto worker a subject that doesn’t get tackled too often. The fact that the film takes no sides and shows that both management and unions can be equally corrupt gives the proceedings a refreshingly honest tone.

Personally I support unions, but I realize that like with everything some can be less than perfect and since reality is not black-and-white, but instead quite complex it’s important to show all sides of an issue. The whole inspiration for the film came when Schrader went to Detroit and interviewed actual assembly-line workers and found to his shock many of them hated their unions even more than management. Films like Norma Rae, which is still excellent, tend to portray a very one-sided narrative while this one makes you wonder who the good guys actually are especially as the three leads turn on each other for different reasons.

The biggest surprise is Richard Pryor who really drives this film with his excellent dramatic performance. He seems to be channeling his harsh upbringing to create an edgy and enduring character. I loved the way he critiques other black sitcoms like ‘Good Times’ and ‘The Jeffersons’ as well as the way he constantly says the f-word even when in front of his own kids. George Memmoli a very obese actor gets a memorable bit as a disgruntled factory work that destroys a vending machine when it won’t give him his coffee.

The film features two very unique scenes. One is where a character dies while being trapped inside a room where a car is being painted and it’s quite intense. The other scene features Keitel in a car chase as he tries to get away from some bad guys who want to shoot him. Most films capture a car chases from the outside-looking-in with shots showing both vehicles at a distance and the point-of-view of both drivers. This one stays only on Keitel’s perspective making the viewer feel like they are trapped in the car with him and thus making the chase a much more personal and frightening experience.

Due to the subject matter no auto company would allow the film to be shot at their plant, so the producers were forced to use the Checker Cab Company, but this was a much smaller plant and the viewer never gets a true feeling of the immensity of an actual auto factory. The film’s final shot is another distraction as it’s the one point where the movie suddenly becomes heavy-handed despite successfully remaining otherwise gritty. It’s still a strong story overall that brings out perplexing issues without supplying any easy answers.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 10, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 54Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Schrader

Studio: Universal

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

Some Kind of Hero (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Soldier returns from Vietnam.

Eddie (Richard Pryor), who spent years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, finally returns home, but finds that things have passed him by while he was gone. His wife (Lynne Moody) has fallen in love with another man and his mother (Olivia Cole) is in a nursing facility after having suffered a stroke. Because he was forced to sign a ‘confession’ to war crimes while under duress at the prison camp the army decides to withhold his veteran’s benefits and having no other source of income he decides to rob a bank, but things don’t go as planned.

The film, which is based on the book of the same name by James Kirkwood Jr., was meant to be a drama, but when Pryor signed on it was rewritten with comedy scenes added. Initially I thought Pryor wouldn’t be a good choice for the part as he is so well known as a funnyman, but it is actually his strong performance that helps carry the film through its rough spots.

The story starts out strong and despite having so many other movies that came out during that period that dealt with the same topic it is still quite gripping and revealing. The scenes dealing with Pryors’ incarceration and the harsh realities that he faces afterwards in civilian life all ring true and helps to make this an excellent movie for the first 45 minutes.

The film though starts to lose its footing with the introduction of Margot Kidder’s character. She plays a high-priced call girl who decides to go to bed with Pryor without charging him any money, but why? A sex worker isn’t going to make much of a living if she sleeps with guys for free and then getting into a relationship with him afterwards is even more farfetched. What’s so special about this guy that she falls in love with him compared to all the other men that she has already met through her line of work? Things get even dumber when Pryor insults her during an argument while visiting her apartment, but instead of throwing him out she leaves while saying she hopes he’ll ‘be gone’ when she gets back, but how can she trust he’ll not angrily tear up the place while she’s away? If it’s her apartment she should be in control and not the one who goes running.

Pryor’s character is confusing too. He becomes extremely nervous about robbing a bank to the point that he pees in his pants, but you would presume being a veteran and having seen the horrors of war he would find bank robbing to be not as tough. He also manages while bartering with some hardened gangsters to find the tenacity to turn them down when they give him a lowball monetary offer on some bank bonds that he has stolen, but how does he find the ability to be brazen in that situation, which many people would find equally intimidating, but not the other?

Also, Olivia Cole looks too young to be playing his stroke-victim mother and in fact was Pryor’s exact same age. I was expecting to see an old, withered woman with gray hair, but instead we get shown a black-haired woman looking around 40. Certainly there had to have been an older African American actresses available that would’ve been more age appropriate, so why not cast them?

Spoiler Alert!

What really kills it though is the ending where Pryor steals a briefcase full of bonds and uses that to get a large sum of money. Tacking-on such a fanciful-like ending where he is able to pull off a robbery that had long odds of succeeding minimizes all of the real world issues that came before it. Having a film start off by exploring realistic issues only to write-it-all-off with a ‘feel-good’ ending discredits the subject matter by taking a complex problem and then ‘solving it’ with a very unrealistic solution.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 2, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Pressman

Studio: Paramount

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

Kid Blue (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bandit tries changing careers.

Bickford Wanner (Dennis Hopper) suddenly realizes that being a train robber is no longer worth the hassle, so he decides to go straight by moving into the town of Dime Box where he does a variety of menial labor jobs that he finds to be thankless. When his former girlfriend Janet (Janice Rule) shows up he gets a hankering to go back to his bandit days when he was nicknamed Kid Blue and acquired a legendary status throughout Texas.

There were a lot of revisionist westerns during the early 70’s and most of them made an impact, but this one got lost in shuffle. Personally I was impressed with the first 30 minutes where the small town residents are portrayed as being prickly, cold people whose personalities reflected the harsh, dry, desolate landscape that surrounded them. The way Bickford gets treated as an ‘outsider’ simply because he wasn’t originally born there is exactly the way anyone would’ve felt in the same situation and thus it creates an accurate and vivid setting environment.

The counter-culture movement of the late 60’s gets puts it into a western motif giving the viewer a firsthand feel how oppressive the establishment (in this case the town’s citizens) were and what a lonely, frustrating experience it is to somehow try to fit into a system that doesn’t want you to begin with. Having this theme captured outside of the modern trappings makes the message stronger and when Bickford finally does lose his cool you relate to his rage and enjoy seeing him lash out.

Unfortunately it loses focus by the second act as director James Frawley can’t seem to decide whether he wants to turn this into a comedy or gritty drama. Both Ralph Waite and Ben Johnson make for good antagonists, but there’s never a satisfying one-on-one moment where Hopper stands up to either of them in any cinematic way even though you sit through the whole thing hoping that at some point he will.

Hopper looks the part of a young man even though he was already 36 at the time, but the character’s motivations are confusing. This was a man who at one point was supposedly a successful train robber, so why does he put up with all the crap and not go back to his old ways sooner? He tolerates their abuse for far longer than any normal person would and for seemingly no reason. Having the character suffer from a physical ailment that wouldn’t allow him to return to his bandit lifestyle would’ve helped make his situation more understandable.

The ending in which Bickford robs the factory and the whole town gives him chase has strong, colorful potential, but the film doesn’t go far enough with it. It also introduces too much of a bouncy musical score that gives the action a lighthearted/slapstick quality that undermines the realism. The third act should’ve focused entirely on the chase while nixing an ill-advised story thread dealing with a love triangle that adds nothing and seemingly put in solely to pad the undernourished plot. Even though the setting is supposed to be Texas it was actually filmed in Mexico.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 29, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: James Frawley

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video

A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: These thieves double-cross.

Four colorful characters commit a London diamond heist orchestrated by George (Ton Georgeson). After the crime is committed Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her lover Otto (Kevin Kline) call the police and have George turned in as they plan to abscond with all of the diamonds themselves. However, George with the help of his stuttering henchman Ken (Michael Palin) had the diamonds removed from the secret safe that Wanda and Otto thought it was in, so when the couple comes back to retrieve them they find that they’re gone. With George now in jail Wanda decides to seduce George’s lawyer (John Cleese) with the idea that George most likely told him where the loot is stashed, but this causes jealousy with Otto who is highly insecure and doesn’t like to be called stupid.

The story could probably best be described as a comical variation of The Asphalt Jungle in which a crime is successfully committed only to have all the participants turn on each other afterwards. This concept works for the first 45 minutes, but then wears itself out making me feel more of a backstory and a longer set-up was needed. These people are also not very likable and it would’ve been nice to see at least one of them do something, even if it was just briefly, that wasn’t completely underhanded.

Curtis is miscast as she has a very strong and grounded personality in real-life, which always comes through in the parts that she plays, so having her portray such a superficial woman willing to do anything for money seems out-of-sync. Her character is portrayed as being calculating and crafty, but she’s really quite one-dimensional as all she does is use her body and sex appeal to get what she wants, which seems sexist to presume that sex is the only ‘weapon’ that a woman can use and never her mind instead. A truly clever lady would be able to come up with more imaginative ways to manipulate a man and not just immediately feeling the need to prostitute herself. It also made me wonder what she was going to do when she got older and her looks faded as she seemed to have no ‘plan-B’.

Kline gets the showy role and it was enough to net him the best supporting actor Oscar. The character initially comes off as being quite obnoxious, but if you accept the fact that he is extremely insecure then it works and is even somewhat funny particularly the way he spies on Wanda when she’s with Cleese, but by the second half his antics turn too dark making him psychotic and I no longer found him amusing or enjoyable at all.

Palin’s character suffers a similar fate. Initially he’s this dimwit that everyone else overlooks, so you feel like cheering for him. Yet his constant stuttering becomes an overplayed one-joke that seems to mock those in real-life who may suffer from the same affliction. His character loses his appeal when he becomes all too willing to kill off an old lady to silence her as a witness. His inept attempts at killing her becomes the film’s running gag and turns this initially witty movie into slapstick nonsense similar to a live-action version of a Wiley E. Coyote/Road Runner cartoon.

Cleese is enjoyable as the a proper British barrister stuck in a loveless marriage and the scene where the film cuts back and forth between Cleese and is wife getting ready for bed and the way Kline and Curtis also gets ready for it is the funniest, most inspired moment in the movie.  His character though starts to take over the film by the second half even though it worked better when it gets played as an ensemble comedy and the way he goes from being a nebbish to sexually liberated is not interesting. I felt his blossoming romance with Curtis was too forced and having Curtis fall in love with him simply because he could speak in different accents, which is enough to get her overtly aroused, is quite contrived and ridiculous.

I would’ve liked some situation, other than the initial crime itself, put in that would’ve forced these characters to get along and have shown a different side to their personalities instead of just their devious/desperate one, which gets too protracted. The constant double-crossings run-out-of-steam making they’re shenanigans increasingly more strained as it goes along until it becomes just a big cluttered comical mess that despite a few good chuckles doesn’t seem worth it.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 5, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated R

Director: Charles Crichton

Studio: MGM

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

The Great Train Robbery (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A daring gold heist.

In 1855 Edward Pierce (Sean Connery) comes up with an idea to rob a large shipment of gold from a traveling train.  He recruits the services of his mistress Miriam (Lesley-Anne Down) and a screwsmen named Robert Agar (Donald Sutherland) to help him do it. The heist requires that they make copies of four keys that are used to open the safe, but each are possessed by four different bank executives forcing them into an elaborate scheme to attain them all. Eventually the authorities become aware of their plan making their heist even trickier to pull off.

The story is based on an actual incident that occurred in 1855 that Michael Crichton became intrigued by, which inspired him to write a fictionalized account that became a best-selling novel and in turn lead to him being offered the chance to direct the film version. As a period piece it succeeds as I loved the variety of wardrobes that the characters wear and the lavish settings that not only reveals London’s rich neighborhoods of that era, but its poverty-stricken ones as well all in amazingly accurate detail.

The film has an underlying quirky tone that is engaging, but this also makes it seem less authentic. For a crime caper to be enjoyable one must believe that it could really happen, or what the characters do is actually possible. There were times when I wasn’t convinced of either and the blame goes to the film trying too hard to be cute instead of just sticking to the detail.

Henry Fowler (Malcolm Terris) is one of the bank executives with a key who proudly proclaims to wear it around his neck, which he states that he ‘never’ takes off. In order to get the key and allow Robert to make a wax impression of it, Miriam pretends to be a prostitute who convinces him to take off the key, so they can make love, which he immediately does. This seems too easy as rarely do humans behave exactly as you think they will. When things come together without any hitch you start to question its validity. If a guy says he ‘never’ removes his key than make it much harder to convince him to do it, or force Robert to make the wax impressions of the key while Henry still has it around his neck and making out with Miriam, which would’ve been funnier.

Another segment has Robert breaking into an office at the railway station where two of the keys are stored inside a cabinet. The night watchman that guards the office always leaves at the same time for exactly 75 seconds to go to the bathroom. Robert is then forced to break into the office and make the wax impressions of the keys and then get out within that same 75 second time frame, but who goes to the bathroom at the exact same amount of time each and every time they go? Most people will go within a certain time range, but no one is that robotic to literally ‘count out the seconds’ as they pee. Having a character behave in such an extreme way only accentuates the film’s whimsical quality while throwing the believability out the door.

Later on in an effort to get inside the train compartment Robert pretends to be a corpse inside a coffin. To create a stench a dead cat is put in alongside him, but how was Robert able to withstand the horrible odor as people standing outside the coffin kept complaining about the unbearable smell. What was it about Robert that made him tolerate it as long as he does when almost no one else could’ve? This makes Robert seem super-human and gives even more leverage to the fact that this couldn’t have really happened at least not in the way done here.

The exciting ending features Connery, not a stunt double, but the actor himself getting on the train roof as the train is running at 55 mph and trying to go from the front of it to the back while ducking under numerous bridges that come whizzing by at lightning speed. This had me holding my breath, but I still came away wishing the film had stuck more to the original account. I read a brief overview of the real crime that was written in more detail by David C. Hanrahan in ‘The First Great Train Robbery’.  There are many differences between the real event and how it gets portrayed here with the real account being far more interesting.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Crichton

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Special Delivery (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stolen loot in mailbox.

Jack Murdock (Bo Svenson) manages to pull off a daring bank robbery, but in an effort to elude the police he stashes the bag of money inside a mailbox and then waits for the late night mailman to open it up, so he can retrieve it. In the meantime he must deal with ditzy Mary Jane (Cybill Shepherd) who resides in an apartment just across the street from the mailbox and witnesses what Jack has done. She agrees to help him, but only if she can get a part of the take. They also must deal with a local bartender named Graff (Michael C. Gwynne) who is also aware of what Jack did and becomes determined to get at the cash before they do.

Although the film is labeled as a comedy it really isn’t. There are a few quirky conversations between Jack and Mary Jane, but it’s not much and most of the movie is quite gritty and tense. Watching the men trying to escape from the police by precariously climbing up the side of a building using nothing but a rope is realistically done and had me on the edge-of-my-seat. The scene where Mary Jane gets surrounded by a gang of bikers who try to rape her borders on being quite unpleasant and should’ve been excised as it adds nothing to the story, but in either case it solidifies this has being a hard-edged action flick that is anything but funny.

The plot is solid for the most part with my only complaint being that I’ve never seen, in any city that I’ve lived in, an outdoor mailbox with a late night mail pick-up of Midnight, or in this case 11:45 PM. Most mail boxes list 5 or 6 PM as the latest pick-up time and it would’ve worked better had it been earlier anyways as the darkness takes away a bit from the action. I also wanted the mailbox location to have been on an actual street corner and not a studio backlot as it would’ve given the film a more genuine atmosphere.

Svenson is amiable in the lead and seeing this really big, physical guy being so relatively soft-spoken creates a likable character. I also enjoyed the line he says to a group of bikers that he decides to single-handedly take on: “There’s one of me and only three of you.”

Shepherd is also quite good. I know I’ve bashed her in some of other film roles, but here her personality fits the part as she creates a kooky lady with a nice balance between being both eccentric and conniving.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending though is the one time that the film sells itself out as it features the two driving in a van that goes off a cliff and bursts into flames. The bad guys think Jack and Mary Jane were killed, but they managed to somehow escape it before it went over, but the film never shows us how this was done, which is a cop-out.

There is also a tacked-on twist that features the couple, having now successfully eluded both the bad guys and authorities, vacationing on a cruise ship where they catch the attention of two women, one of whom is the wife of the manager (Sorrell Booke) of the bank that Jack robbed. The women plot to make a play at Jack because they can tell from the outfit that Mary Jane is wearing that they are rich and therefore want to get at their money, but why reintroduce a character like the bank manager into the story when he was only seen briefly at the beginning and had very little to do with the main plot? And for that matter why should a wife of a bank manager plot to rob somebody else as she should be living an affluent lifestyle to begin with?

End of Spoiler Alert

Overall I found this to be a surprisingly fun movie that enters in just enough offbeat ingredients to make it original, but keeps the action consistently coming, which should be enough to please those that like excitement.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 12, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Wendkos

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: VHS

The Driver (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: A professional getaway driver.

Ryan O’Neal plays a man who makes a living as a getaway driver for crooks leaving the scene of a crime. His driving skills are superior and in the criminal underworld his services are in high demand. Bruce Dern plays a police detective obsessed with catching this elusive driver. He makes a deal with a couple of bad guys (Joseph Walsh, Rudy Ramos) to hire this driver for their next robbery and then set him up for a police trap. The Driver is initially reluctant to work with the two, but eventually joins them only to ultimately look for help from a beautiful French woman known as the Player (Isabelle Adjani) to get him out of his jam.

I’ve never been much of an O’Neal fan, but here his lack of acting depth makes the movie more intriguing. The part was originally intended for Steve McQueen who would’ve given the role the stereotypically gritty treatment, but O’Neal has more of a boyish male model demeanor which makes you question whether he is tough enough, or brazen enough to handle the driving demands, so seeing him flourish when you’re not quite expecting it gives the character an interesting edge. I also liked the fact that at times even he conveys nervous facial expressions as he takes the vehicle through dangerous turns, which helps show even the ‘cool guys’ are human.

Dern easily steals the picture as he continues to find entertaining ways to give unique and memorable touches to all the characters that he plays. The dialogue that his character utters conforms yet again to his patented delivery. For instance he accuses his partner (Matt Clark) of possibly being a ‘fruitter’. In the past men of the gay persuasion were sometimes called ‘fruits’, but never a ‘fruitter’ which is a word he totally makes-up and would be considered inane and silly if said by anyone else, but when said with Dern’s patented delivery it makes the character seem even more unhinged and threatening instead. In fact Dern’s conversations with Clark are some of the movie’s best moments.

Although Adjani’s screen time is limited and I still enjoyed her presence and the fact that she doesn’t show any of the typical female vulnerability, but instead seems more stoic than any of the men makes her stand out from other female characters of that era. It’s also fun seeing her facial expression turned to an almost catatonic state during the film’s high octane final chase sequence.  Ronee Blakely doesn’t fare quite as well as she says her lines in too much of a monotone fashion though the ironic way that her character meets her demise does deserves a few points.

The chases are exciting particularly the opening one, which is done at night and the one done inside a car garage in which O’Neal intentionally destroys the car that he is driving in an attempt to teach the two other occupants that he is with a lesson. The cat-and-mouse scenario inside an abandoned warehouse that makes up the bulk of the film’s final chase is slick as well, but I felt there needed to be at least one more chase added as the film gets talky in-between and away from the action, which is what people that come to these type of films genres expect especially with the title that it has.

Writer/director Walter Hill shows a keen eye for detail and manages to capture everything, even an abandoned parking garage with a stylish allure. The script is smart and sophisticated with the character’s expressing themselves by using only the most minimum of words possible. The plot has a unique quality, but still manages to stay believable and why this thing failed at the box office and was chastised by the critics at the time is hard to understand, but it’s gained a strong cult following since and deserves more attention for being years ahead-of-its-time.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 28, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Walter Hill

Studio: 20th Century Fox

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

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)

 

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: The one room schoolhouse.

Thunderbolt (Clint Eastwood) is a former bank robber hiding out as a Montana preacher while trying to avoid Red (George Kennedy) and Eddie (Geoffrey Lewis) who are his former crime partners that mistakenly believe he double-crossed them. One day they manage to catch up with him and try gunning him down during one of his church services. Thunderbolt escapes by hopping into a car driven by Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges). Despite their contrasting temperaments and ages of the two end up hitting-it-off and even manage to bring Red and Eddie into the fold once it’s explained to them that Thunderbolt hadn’t sold them out. Now the four plan to rob the same bank again using a 20 millimeter cannon to break into the safe.

This was the Michael Cimino’s first foray behind the camera after having success co-writing the screenplays to Silent Running and Magnum Force.  For the most part it’s a success and I particularly enjoyed the way he captures Montana’s majestic landscape, which helps add a strong flavor to the story. Some of the comical bits and throwaway lines are hilarious and gives the film an edge over the usual bank robbery storyline.

The drawback is that like with Cimino’s other films it takes too long for the story to get going. The Thunderbolt’s backstory doesn’t get explained until almost 50 minutes in and we never learn much of anything about Lightfoot or why he would simply appear almost out of nowhere in this tiny, isolated town for literally no reason. There are certain scenarios that get introduced, but offer no payoff and the robbery itself gets pulled off a little too easily while not taking enough advantage of its unique premise.

The acting though is uniformly excellent including Bridges who is at his most engaging and even looks weirdly sexy when disguised as a woman and I loved the part when he talks to himself in the mirror. Kennedy gets one of his better post Cool Hand Luke roles as the cantankerous Red and Lewis is funny as his dim-witted partner.

The film also has some great bits for its supporting cast. Cliff Emmich is amusing as an overweight security guard with a porn fetish and Jack Dodson has a memorable moment when he finds to his shock that his teenage daughter isn’t quite as ‘innocent’ as he thought she was.

Bill McKinney is goofy as a crazy man driving around in a car with a trunk full of rabbits, but like with a lot of other things in the film it introduces something that doesn’t get fully explained including the fact that the character seems to be acting erratically because he is overcome by toxic gas fumes from his own car, but when Thunderbolt and Lightfoot take over the car and drive it for themselves they don’t for some reason end up having the same issue.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 22, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Director: Michael Cimino

Rated R

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video