Category Archives: Movies Based on Actual Events

Not a Pretty Picture (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Reenacting a rape incident.

While Martha Coolidge is known today for having directed such 80’s classics as Valley Girl and Joy of Sex she started her career in the 70’s doing documentaries mainly about high school students. After having done three of those she decided to do one that was more personal and dealt with a real-life incident that occurred to her when she was 16 when she got raped on a date with a college student who was 20. While she went about casting the actress to play her as a teen she was shocked to learn that the actress, Michele Manenti, had a similar experience. The film then weaves between reenactments of the date rape and the situations that lead up to it as well as the aftermath. There’s also interviews with the cast members who talk about the emotions they go through while playing the characters including Jim Carrington, who plays the rapist named Curly, who confesses that he thought women secretly wanted to be raped due to his belief that they fantasize about it.

What I got out of the film and enjoyed the most was looking at the acting process and how the performers used elements of their own experiences to help shape the characters that they play. I was genuinely surprised that only one of the cast members, Amy Wright who has a small role as Cindy, ever went on to do another movie. The two stars, who I felt were both outstanding, never acted in anything at least film or TV wise even though I felt they should’ve had long careers. I realize that the acting profession is a very competitive business and what may seem like the cream-of-the-crop in college may not be able to rise to the top in the real-world, but it still seemed sad that they weren’t able to do more, or at least more in front of the camera. It’s also surprising how non-dated this is. The conversations they have both about dating and acting is something that could’ve easily been shot today and just as topical. If it weren’t for them openly smoking indoors in a public setting, which is a major no-no now, you would never have known this was done in the 70’s.

While the conversations that Coolidge has with the cast proves to be insightful the reenactments aren’t as compelling. The scene involving the conversations that the four friends have inside a car has some interesting points, but it goes on too long and gets static. The aftermath where Martha is ridiculed by the other girls at her school and called a ‘whore’ because of the rumors that Curly spreads stating that she was a ‘willing participant’ and the stressful moments she has when she doesn’t get her period and fears she may be pregnant are quite dramatic, but the most important scene, the rape itself, gets botched. All the other recreated scenes where done as if in real-time and with sets that replicated the era, which was 1962, but with the rape it’s staged as a rehearsal with Martha and the other stagehands clearly in view as it occurs and Coolidge constantly stops the action to have them redo the scene several times in order to get it right, but this takes the viewer out of the moment and mutes the emotional impact. In hindsight I think they should’ve done the entire recreation, both the rape and what lead up to it as well as the aftermath, first and then went to the behind-the-scenes footage afterwards instead of inter-cutting it, which may have been novel for the time, but eventually gets off-putting.

The film’s focus was apparently intended to be on Martha and her reactions at seeing her own rape get played-out as the camera keeps panning back to her face as she watches the actors perform it and then at the end she describes her feelings in a emotional way. While I’m sure this was a tough thing for her to do I still felt it would’ve been more encompassing to have it about all the other women, including the actress in this film, that this has happened to and how men in that time period were able to get away with it and never had to be accountable. That to me was more disturbing and the film ends up missing that point, or not hitting-it-home hard enough, and thus isn’t as strong, or ground-breaking as it could’ve been.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 31, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 23 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Martha Coolidge

Studio: Coolidge Productions

Available: Vimeo

Dirtymouth (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Comedian arrested for obscenity.

Lenny Bruce (Bernie Travis) is a struggling nightclub comedian looking to try to differentiate himself from the others. Tired of doing stand-up at rundown bars where he pretty much is nothing more than a MC introducing the next act he decides to start telling jokes each time he gets onstage and then when that gets a few laughs he begins making them edgier by sprinkling in elements of sex, politics, and religion. This gets him the much desired attention and gigs in bigger venues. However, not everyone likes his brand of humor and when he offends a group of elites at a show in Philadelphia they go on the offense. First they try having him arrested for illegal drug possession and when that fails they go after him for his controversial material where he gets arrested onstage by the police in San Francisco for using profanity during his act. Lenny fights the case in court, but finds that his once blossoming career has dried up as no one will hire him for fear of controversy and with everyone turning against him, even his own agent (Wynn Irwin) and girlfriend (Courtney Simon) he falls into a deep depression.

This obscure, low budget film does start-out rocky featuring vaudeville-like court proceeding skit that attempts to make fun of the trial, but only succeeds at looking dumb and amateurish. The opening credits are shown over a toilet bowl before being ‘flushed’ away, which some may find innovative and creative while others will consider it tacky. There’s also a lot of extraneous footage, particularly at the start, showing Lenny aimlessly walking down the street. While this helps to give a good visual ambiance of the period it certainly does not progress the story.

What I did like was the way we see Lenny go from the bottom up to the top versus already starting it with him famous and in trouble. While it’s been many years, more like a few decades, since I’ve seen Bob Fosse’s better known Lenny, which starred Dustin Hoffman, I did find that element, where Lenny’s humble beginnings weren’t shown, to be a detraction. This film sticks you inside the seedy clubs that he played at and keeps you there. You connect with Lenny and his feelings of being trapped in these places and his urgency to doing whatever he could to stand-out and move-up. You also come to understand his dark humor as anyone who would have to work at these places, and deal with the many drunks that he did, would turn edgy and sarcastic as well.

Bernie Travis, who was a stand-up comedian in his own right, and died at a young age that wasn’t much older than Bruce’s when he died, gives an interesting performance. Some say Cliff Gorman, who played Bruce in the Broadway version, did the best, but Travis comes close. You definitely sense the comedian’s ambition and his annoyance with others. The fact that he’s abrasive and not entirely likable is a good thing as I’ve heard many comedians, even the famous and well-liked ones, can be jerks offstage as there’s so much pressure to be funny that in order to release the tension they can sometimes be unpleasant in private and this film successfully brings out that dynamic particularly when Lenny goes onstage and angrily lashes out at the obscenity charges in a rage-filled rant that’s genuinely electrifying and leaves those in the audience with their mouths agape.

Producer Marvin Worth, who owned the rights to two books that Bruce had written, sued this film upon its release for copyright infringement, which limited its exposure and kept it out of most theaters. When the Bob Fosse movie, which was produced by Worth, came out four years later, this film got totally eclipsed and largely forgotten, which is a shame. Not everything works, but it does have a few memorable moments including what looks to be unscripted, filmed interviews of actual potential jurors, some of whom are quite elderly, who get asked what words they deem to be ‘obscene’ and their responses are priceless.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 10, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Herbert S. Altman

Studio: Superior Pictures

Available: None

Conrack (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He teaches underprivileged kids.

In the spring of 1969 Pat Conroy gets a job teaching children in grades 5 through 8 in a one room schoolhouse off the coast of South Carolina on an island known as Yamacraw. He soon finds that the students, all of whom are poor and African American, don’t know even the basics of arithmetic, or geography and can’t read. He becomes compelled to change that by instituting unorthodox teaching methods, which he hopes will ‘jostle’ them from their intellectual slumber and get them into learning and enjoying it. Mrs. Scott (Madge Sinclair) is the principal who’s not keen to these methods and routinely lectures him. Mr. Skeffington (Hume Cronyn) is the superintendent who also frowns on some of the things Pat is doing and proceeds to have him fired. Pat tries to win his job back and the students and townspeople help him in his fight, but will it be enough?

The film is based on the novel ‘The Water is Wide’, which was written by Pat Conroy, who later went on to even greater success with The Great Santiniwhich was based on his father, and also made into a movie. This story was supposedly based on some of Pat’s true-life experiences while teaching on Daufuskie Island. Some of what’s shown is revealing and even captivating, but I couldn’t help but feel certain other aspects were exaggerated. I realize that these kids didn’t have the best education system and certainly might not be as well read as certain other kids their age, but to not know what 2 + 2 was, or that they lived in the U.S.A. came off as too extreme to me. There’s also no real explanation for why the teacher before him failed to teach even these most basic things to them. Was she/he just lazy, or grossly incompetent?

The film also comes-off a bit too much like a vanity project where Conroy is portrayed as being this ‘amazing’ teacher who’s able to get extraordinary results from kids that no one else could simply by his sheer presence alone. All the students bond with him quickly and there’s no trouble-maker, or discipline issues. One could argue that Mary (Tina Andrews) was difficult because she refused to show-up to class, but truancy and in-class disruptions, as well as those students who test authority, are two entirely different things and the fact that Pat is able to avoid that is something few other teachers can say they’ve been able to do as well.

Voight is certainly energetic and engaging, but the students themselves fail to elicit any distinctive personalities and it’s hard to distinguish any of them from the others. I enjoyed Sinclair a great deal and felt she gave a great performance, but her confrontations with Pat could’ve been played-up more. The side-story dealing with Paul Winfield as an illiterate hermit whom Pat teaches to read is a total waste mainly because his character is underdeveloped and not in it long enough to really care about.

I enjoyed Pat’s visit with Edna (Ruth Attaway), one of the elderly townspeople, but his relationship with the other people in town should’ve been shown intermittently all through the film instead of just saving it until the third act where they all attempt to come to his rescue when he loses his job. They seemed to really like him, which is great, but I wasn’t sure they even knew he existed since there were never any scenes showing him interacting with them up until then.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending had me raising my eyebrow a bit, as Pat, once he’s let go of his job, proceeds to drive around the local town and broadcast his grievances through a speaker attached to the roof of his pick-up, which had me concerned that in typical Hollywood fashion he would be able to win his employment back even though in real-life stunts like that usually don’t work. Fortunately that doesn’t happen making the film, which was already idealized to begin with, not seem quite as fabricated. If you can forgive some of these issues, the production as a whole is well down and the always reliable director Martin Ritt perfectly captures the rural setting and ambiance, which is the best thing about it.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 15, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Martin Ritt

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: Blu-ray (Out-of-Print), DVD-R

St. Helens (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Codger refuses to evacuate.

Art Carney plays Harry Truman, an 83-year-old man who refused to evacuate from his lodge at the base of Mount St. Helens even as experts warned that the volcano, which had been inactive for 123 years, was ready to explode. Tim Thomerson is the local sheriff who tries to convince him to change his mind and David Huffman is a volcano scientist who travels to the area to study the potential eruption. Initially he tries to get Harry to leave too, but eventually decides to stay, so he can record the eruption from what he believes will be from a safe distance.

The film is based on the actual event which began on March 20, 1980 when local wildlife was observed behaving erratically, and ends with the climactic eruption, which happened on May 18th. I was alive when it occurred and the film manages to correctly reflect the energy of the period where people where both fearful, but also excited. Not everyone though was happy with the movie, David Johnston’s parents were not pleased by the portrayal of their son, played by Huffman who goes by the fictional name of David Jackson, nor 36 other scientists who knew Johnston in real-life and signed a letter of protest.

Since I didn’t know Johnston myself I’ll reserve judgement, but I was not happy about a dumb secondary storyline dealing with a helicopter pilot, played by Ron O’Neal, flying into a flock of quail, which forces him to drop a log that his helicopter was carrying onto a group of men below and almost killing them. Bill McKinney, better known for playing the mountain man in Deliverance, thinks the pilot was intentionally trying to injure them and has his buddies harass and eventually attack the pilot, but this didn’t seem necessary. The men on the ground should’ve easily seen the birds fly into the copter, as it wasn’t that high up, and when it lands there’s clearly blood and feathers on the windshield, which is spotted immediately by the sheriff therefore making the fight scene, which is what it leads to, completely pointless and just put-in as mindless action.

Carney, who was ironically Harry Truman’s favorite actor in real-life, plays the part in a highly entertaining way and helps give the film humor and human interest. Truman really did drive a pink Cadillac and swore a lot, which he does here, but he also owned 16 cats, but the film changes this to him having a dog even though the 16 cats would’ve been far more fun. I couldn’t help but wonder though with the scene where Harry talks to a group of reporters about the greatness of the US constitution and how USA was the ‘greatest country in the world’, which got the reporters to cheer, but today those same statements might give him the derogatory label of ‘nationalist’ and push-back from the reporters instead of applause.

The film is also notable for having two of its stars, who are adversaries here, meet tragic ends in real-life. For Huffman he was stabbed to death in February, 1985 when he tried to chase down a mugger and for Albert Salmi, who portrays a bar owner who plays down the fears of the volcano, ended up, in 1990, killing his wife of 26 years when she filed for divorce, before then turning the gun on himself. I’ve seen Huffman in other films and came away feeling he was a rather bland actor though here he displays a little more spunk. Salmi’s acting is okay, but I didn’t understand why he’s shown working two jobs as he’s a manager of a bar at one point and then supervisor of a saw mill at another. Since the bar he runs is apparently ‘the only one in town’ and seemed packed with people I didn’t get the need for an extra income.

We know how it’s going to end right from the start, so it’s important that the climactic eruption come-off impressively. They do cheat by showing the same footage of the side of the mountain exploding over and over as well as cropping in animated volcanic ash creeping in, which looks tacky. Off-screen wind fans were clearly used to blow dust over the actors and create a white-out effect, but overall it wasn’t too bad and I liked the final shot of a small tree sprouting up amidst the ash. For those who were living during the event, or just curious about the history of it, this is an adequate recreation.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 18, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ernest Pintoff

Studio: Parnell Films

Available: DVD

The Blockhouse (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: There’s no way out.

On D-Day a group of war prisoners on an island that’s run by German soldiers seek shelter from an allied air attack by finding refuge in an underground German bunker, but once inside, they realize to their horror that the shelling outside has blocked-off both the entrance and exit, which essentially traps them in permanently. They are fortunate enough to find a supply room full of enough food and wine to keep them fed for a long time, but as the days wear into weeks and then months and even years they grow tired and despondent about their situation. They try to find ways to break through the cement walls, but their attempts prove futile, which leads all of them into a mental and emotional breakdown.

The film is best known as being one of Peter Seller’s rare dramatic turns where he plays a character that is not funny or colorful. Normally his performances are quite flamboyant and over-the-top and he tends to dominate the spotlight, but here he blends in with the rest of the performers with a rare low-key portrayal that is quite impressive when given how he normally acts. This was yet another project he got involved in during the early 70’s when his career was on the down side and he was desperately taking just about any offer that came along, no matter what the quality, in an effort to bring in money. While some of those movies that he starred in during that period were truly awful (i.e. Where Does it Hurt?) this one, despite its grim theme, is unique and worth checking out particularly for those who enjoy experimental cinema.

The film was directed by Clive Rees, whose only other cinematic directorial effort was When the Wales Came, which had a similar theme about an eccentric man living an isolated existence on an island. While Rees is not as well known as Stanley Kubrick, Sellers insisted in interviews, that he was ‘every bit as good’.  While this statement may seem like an exaggeration I was quite taken aback by the gritty realism and the way the viewer feels just as trapped as the victims. The actors give all-around great performances and you see their character’s ultimate mental decline happen right before your eyes, which is both vivid and gut-wrenching. The story also looks at all aspects of their deterioration where they start to do things they had never done before including conveying certain homo-erotic elements. While none of this gets shown I was still impressed that it at least got lightly touched-on as I feared due to the period and heavy UK censorship, where this film was made, that would be one facet that couldn’t get introduced, but ultimately in a soft way it does.

If you’re looking for an entertaining crowd pleaser than this movie won’t be it. As Sellers rightly stated in his interview it’s meant for serious ‘connoisseur’s of cinema’ only. TV Guide complained that the film in their review ‘goes nowhere’ and it doesn’t reveal a ‘metaphysical reason’ for the character’s predicament, but I really didn’t think one was needed. Sometimes shit just happens and people must learn to adapt to their new harsh reality, or fall apart and in that vein I felt the movie does an excellent job and goes much further into this dark, murky psychological realm than most others would dare.

Spoiler Alert!

The story is based on the 1955 novel of the same name by Jean-Paul Clebert, who also coincidentally lived an isolated existence for many years in an abandoned village. The novel is loosely based on the actual incident that occurred on June 25, 1951 when two German soldiers in Poland were rescued from an underground shelter that they had been trapped in for 6 years. The difference is that in the movie we never see the rescue as it ends with the remaining two survivors stuck in total darkness when the last of their candles goes out. I felt it would’ve worked better had the rescue been shown as well as a better build-up where we would’ve gotten to the know the men better in the prison camp before they were forced underground, which would’ve made their mental declines even more interesting.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 1, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Clive Rees

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Tubi

The Last American Hero (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He follows his dream.

Junior Jackson (Jeff Bridges) works in his family’s moonshine business as a driver who transports the liquor and uses his superior driving skills especially his patented ‘bootlegger-turn’ in which to avoid capture he gets the vehicle to make a 180-degree turn by using the emergency brake, which then allows his car to go speeding off in the opposite direction. However, the authorities are able to catch-up with his father (Art Lund) and they throw him in jail for 11-months. With no moonshine business Junior is forced to find other means for an income, so he decides to try and turn his driving skills into a profit venture by entering into a demolition derby run by Hackel (Ned Beatty). He does well in this and eventually moves up to the higher levels and makes enough money for him to decide on turning it into his career, but his family does not approve as they feel it’s too dangerous. Junior is also forced to buy his own race car and pay for his own pit crew, which causes him to go back into the bootlegging business as a runner all to the disapproval of his father who feels it will just lead Junior into the same prison that he was in.

Overall this is one of the best bio’s out there and impeccably filmed and edited by actor-turned-director Lamont Johnson, who appears briefly as a hotel clerk. Johnson’s directing career was a bit spotty, he also did notorious clunkers like Lipstick and Somebody Killer Her Husbandbut this one is virtually flawless and there’s very little to be critical about on the technical end. The racing footage is both intense and exciting and one of the few racing movies where I was able to follow the race as a whole and not just be bombarded with a lot of jump cuts. I also appreciated how it captures the pit stops and the different conversations that the driver has with his crew during these moments and how sometimes this can be just as intense in its own way. The on-locations shooting done in and around Hickory, North Carolina as well as some of the neighboring race tracks during the fall of 1972 helps bring home both the ambiance and beauty of the region.

For me though what really stood out was Junior’s relationship with his family and how they were not supportive, at least initially, to his dreams as a racer and forcing him to have to pursue it on his own. Many times people who have ambitious goals don’t always have their friends and family on the same page with it and the road to success can definitely have its share of loneliness while also testing one’s own inner fortitude. One of my favorite scenes, that goes along with this theme, is when Junior is inside a K-mart and comes upon a recording booth that allows him to make a voice tape message that can be sent via the mail to one’s family or friends. Junior conveys into the microphone what he wants to say to his family, but ultimately seems to be talking more to himself than them, as a kind of self therapy to release the inner tensions that he’s been feeling, and subsequently never actually sends it out.

The acting is top-notch particularly by Bridges. Normally he’s good at playing mellow, level-headed characters, but here does well as someone who at times is quite volatile and caustic. There’s great support by Beatty as an unscrupulous race track owner, Ed Lauter as a highly competitive owner of a competing racing teams as well as Valerie Perrine as a woman who enjoys bed-hopping between different men, sometimes with those who are friends with each other, and yet completely oblivious with the drama and tensions that this creates. William Smith is good as a competing racer and while his part is small the scene where he walks in on Junior sleeping with his girl (Perrine) and the response that he gives is great. I thought Geraldine Fitzgerald, who plays Junior’s mother, was excellent and her Irish accent somehow effectively made to sound southern, but she should’ve been given more screen time.

The story is based on an Esquire article written by Tom Wolfe that was entitled ‘The Last American Hero was Junior Jackson. Yes!’, which in turn was based on NASCAR racing champion Junior Jackson (1931-2019) who also served as the film’s technical advisor. The movies pretty much stays with the actual account, but does change one pivotal point in that it has the father going to jail when in reality it was Junior who was sentenced to 11-months in 1956. Why this was changed I don’t know, but it usually helps the viewer become more emotionally connected to the protagonist when they see them going through the hardship versus someone else, so having Bridges spend time in the slammer would’ve made more sense. The film is also famous for its theme song ‘I Got a Name’ sung by Jim Croce, but this song has been played so much on oldies radio that one no longer connects it with the film and in fact when it does get played it takes you out of the movie because it reminds you of somewhere else where you’ve first heard it, which most likely wasn’t this movie.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 27, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lamont Johnson

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Aborigine driven to murder.

Jimmy Blacksmith (Tommy Lewis) is an aborigine living in Australia during the turn of the century while being raised by the Reverend Neville (Jack Thompson) and his wife Martha (Julie Dawson) as his foster parents. Once he reaches adulthood he goes out into the world looking for a job, but finds racism at every turn, which affects his ability to make an honest living as he’s continually cheated out of wages by his white employers. While doing work for the Newby family he meets Gilda (Angela Punch McGregor) a white woman whom he marries after he thinks he got her pregnant only to later learn that the child was not his. Once the baby is born the Newby’s try to convince Gilda to leave Jimmy and refuse to pay him his salary or provisions for the work that he’s done. Furious at his mistreatment Jimmy enlists the help of his uncle Tabidghi (Steve Dodd) to threaten the Newby women with axes while the Newby men are away in hopes that this will scare them enough to pay Jimmy what he’s owed, but instead things get quickly out-of-control leading to the brutal slaughter of the women and forcing Jimmy and his family to go on the run.

The film is based on the 1972 novel of the same name by Thomas Keneally, which in turn was inspired by the life of Jimmy Governor an Indigenous Australian who was involved in the killings of nine people that precipitated him going on the run for 14-weeks and created one of the largest manhunts in Australian history. While the film did well internationally and was highly acclaimed it was received poorly at the box office in its native country where films dealing with Australia’s troubled history are generally avoided by the public causing director Fred Schepisi to lose his entire investment of the $250,000 that he put into the production.

The film though on its own terms is excellent particularly with its revisionist history approach where the gloss and romanticism of the past get stripped away leaving the viewer with a stark sense of the desperation and cruelty that existed back then. The terrific acting also helps including Lewis, who at the time was working as a bricklayer before being spotted by Schepisi’s wife at the Melbourne airport while he walked by her and this lead to him being given the starring role. Ray Barrett, as a corrupt constable and Punch McGregor, whose lost and forlorn facial expressions allow you to perfectly read her character without much dialogue being needed, are stand-outs as well. My favorite part though, or what resonated with me long afterwards, were the scenes filmed inside the Bundarra Dorrigo State Forest in New South Wales during the manhunt where the unique foliage and large boulders give off an almost surreal vibe.

Some of the issues that I had with the movie, which overall is quite good, centered mainly around its music. For the most part the score is subtle and nonobtrusive, but during the murder sequence it gets loud and obnoxious like it’s warning us something bad is happening, which we really don’t need since we can easily see this with our own eyes. The killings are recreated in a very vivid way and quiet horrifying, so the heavy-handed music hurts the graphic moment instead of accentuating it like it was intended. I also noticed while researching the real Jimmy Governor that he had a beard especially in the photo of him after his capture and yet here Jimmy has no beard even after being on the run, which seemed implausible.

The fact that we have a main character who commits several heinous acts, but we still emotionally side with him is what helps this movie stand-out from Hollywood films that feel compelled to makes protagonists likable to the point that they sanitize history. Here we’re shown that the ‘good-guy’ can do, even if they feel it’s justified, some ugly things and in the real-world the line between right and wrong can sometimes be merged and subjective. This is a message that Australian movies do a great job of conveying while Hollywood, in their zest to create ‘audience pleasers’ tend to modify the facts to conform to what they feel are the accepted pre-conceived narrative/tastes of the audience they’re trying to attract, which ends up creating a weaker product that doesn’t reflect reality.

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My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: June 22, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Fred Schepisi

Studio: Hoyts Distribution

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

Careful, He Might Hear You (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Custody battle between sisters.

When his mother dies just a few days after his birth PS (Nicholas Gledhill) moves in with his Aunt Lila (Robyn Nevin) and Uncle George (Peter Whitford). There he has a happy childhood growing up in a working-class neighborhood. Then Lila’s wealthy sister Vanessa (Wendy Hughes) arrives stating she wants custody of the child on weekdays since she has more money and because PS’s absentee father (John Hargreaves) named her as co-guardian. PS doesn’t like going to Vanessa’s as she’s much more rigid and authoritarian forcing him to go to a private school filled with snotty kids and doing other things like taking piano lessons, which he doesn’t like. Vanessa also suffers from a fear of thunderstorms while Lila and George are unemployed making it hard for the judge to decide who the better guardian should be once the battle goes to court.

The film is based on the 1963 novel of the same name written by Sumner Locke Elliot who in turn based it on events of his own life after his mother died just one day after his birth. The film succeeds mainly from the sincere performance of its child star who is quite cute, at times maybe a little too cute, but then surprises the viewer in one completely unexpected moment of nastiness near the end. I also liked the way director Carl Schultz frames of the point-of-view shots where we see things from the child’s height making the adults appear foreboding and like he’s being swallowed up into their world, which is pretty much what happens.

While the film is billed as being this big court battle between two women it really comes-off like a character study of Vanessa, who gets much more screen time and a more of in-depth personality. This is good because Nevin’s character is a bit too basic and offers no real surprises though she does have an unexpected asthma attack while testifying in court, which I felt was a bit over-the-top since this was something that should’ve been introduced earlier if it was going to come into play during a pivotal moment. Hughes though is excellent. She had been only in supporting roles up to this point, mainly that of youthful girlfriend types to the main character, but here she successfully carries the film in an atypical part of a frigid woman.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s crowning achievement though is the way it takes a character, in this case Vanessa, who you really don’t like for most of the movie, and then turns her into someone you sympathize with and even feel sorry for by the end. A lot of movies don’t do this, especially the Hollywood ones where the good guys and bad guys must work within a rigid formula, so it’s refreshing seeing a film do something differently and it really works. I found myself thinking about this one long after it was over and feeling emotionally conflicted by it and it’s all because of Hughes’ ability to create a three dimensional person that doesn’t fit into any stereotype even though you initially think she can be. A highly recommended film for those who understand how difficult it can be to deal and communicate effectively with children and how one’s best efforts can sometimes backfire badly.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: September 22, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Carl Schultz

Studio: Hoyts Distribution

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Hoodwink (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pretending to be blind.

Martin (John Hargreaves) is in jail for bank robbery and with very little chance for escape he comes up with the idea of pretending to be blind, which he hopes will gain sympathy from the court and ultimately a lighter sentence. The con eventually pays off as he’s transferred to a minimum security prison with only a 3-year sentence to serve even though the Dr.’s who examine him are unable to determine if he’s faking or not and the guards within the prison believe he’s making it up and routinely set traps for him to fall into hoping it will will expose the lie. Things though get complicated when Sarah (Judy Davis), a minister’s wife, takes a liking to him, which allows him to leave the prison grounds during the day, so that he can, under her tutelage, learn to become self-sufficient with his handicap so that he’ll be prepared to live on his own in the real-world once he’s formally released. The two though fall-in-love causing her jealous husband (Dennis Miller) to threaten to come forward with Martin’s charade, which could put him in terrible jeopardy.

To some extent it’s hard to believe this could’ve happened, but it’s all based on the true story of Carl Synnerdahl, who was able to fool everyone that he couldn’t see for over 18 months while inside the Australian penal system and it allowed him, like with Martin, to be given special privileges that he wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. What perplexed me though was that testing someone’s so-called blindness should’ve been easy as you could act like you’re going to poke you’re finger into his eye real quickly and if he’d blink, or recoil his head, then you’d know he was able to see it and was a faker, and yet no one in this movie thinks to do that.

If you’re able to get past this issue, then it’s a fun movie most of the way. I liked the scenes shot at Bathurst Jail, the same prison that Synnderdahl was in, that has a very old-time jailhouse look and quality. I also enjoyed the sumptuous, sprawling countryside view from Sarah’s living room window that could beat or rival any one else’s. That acting is great too with Hargreaves able to create, despite all of his shenanigans, a sympathetic character. Davis though is the scene-stealer, she won the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Supporting Actress, as the sexually repressed wife who’s in constant flux about whether she wants to leave her situation, or stay faithful.

The drama though becomes less compelling when Martin almost immediately admits his ruse to Sarah, who then goes forward with it to her husband even though I thought him trying to pretend he was still blind with them in their house could’ve created some interesting dynamics that unfortunately never get played-out. The affair and her husband’s jealous rage is toned down instead of ramped-up causing the third act, which should’ve had a lot of fireworks, to fizzle. The couple had vast potential to being key players, but instead get treated more like ornaments that don’t throw as much of a monkey wrench into the proceedings as they should’ve, or that you’re expecting.

Spoiler Alert!

The conclusion, which is far different than what occurred in the real-life incident, has Martin stealing a car and escaping, but this leaves too many questions unanswered. Will he eventually get caught, which is most likely, and what happens to him then when the prison system finds out that they had been duped? These issues should’ve been examined and leaving it wide-open isn’t satisfying and I suspect the reason that lead to it doing poorly at the box office.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 5, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Claude Whatham

Studio: New South Wales Film Corporation

Available: DVD (Import Region 2)

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).