Category Archives: Movies Based on Novels

The Lady Vanishes (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Where’s the old lady?

In 1939 while traveling by train from Bavaria to Switzerland American Heiress Amanda (Cybill Shepherd) befriends an English nanny named Miss Froy (Angela Lansbury). The two sit across from each other inside a train compartment. When Amanda awakens from a nap she notices that Miss Froy has disappeared and when she asks others where she went to everybody denies having even seen her. Amanda starts to question her own sanity and tries to use the assistance of American photographer Robert Condon (Elliot Gould) to help her figure out what is going on.

This film is a remake of the classic 1938 movie of the same name, which was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and based on the novel ‘The Wheel Spins’ by Ethel Lina White. I last saw the original over 30 years ago while attending college, so my memories of it are fuzzy and I’ll be unable to compare the two. However, I do remember enjoying it and feeling that this thing doesn’t quite reach the same level.

The biggest issue is the casting of Shepherd. I think she’s a gorgeous lady, I loved seeing her in the low cut white dress and at one point she even appears to bravely do her stunts by jumping off a moving train, but her acting is not up to par. She can be great as a bitchy, sarcastic woman or even as a kooky eccentric, but as someone we want to root for or sympathize with, no way. Some of her former co-stars including Bruce Willis and Christine Baranski have described her as being cold and competitive to deal with and that’s the exactly same vibe I get every time I see her. Her efforts to cover that up in an attempt to play a more likable character doesn’t work, so instead producers should cast her in parts that mesh with her personality while getting someone else more affable for this role.

Gould has the same problem. He looks bored and out-of-place and I don’t know why the nationalities of the two lead characters, which had been British in the original, were changed to American here, but it doesn’t help. Besides there is absolutely no chemistry between he and Shepherd, which makes the romantic angle come off as quite forced. He was also considerably older than her and they should’ve at the very least cast two people more in the same age range.

Even the great Angela Lansbury is all wrong here. She still gives the role a stellar performance with her best moment coming when her eyes well up with tears as the other passengers openly contemplate throwing her off the train and into the clutches of an SS officer standing outside, which proves that the truly great stars don’t need any speaking lines to convey just the right emotion.  However, she was only in her 50’s at the time and didn’t come off looking elderly. Dame May Whitty played the part in the original and was in her 70’s, which is what the age of the actress playing the part here should’ve been.

The basic premise is still entertaining enough to keep things passable, but I would’ve liked the mystery angle played up more by showing things only from Amanda’s perspective until the viewer started to question her sanity as well. The scene where Amanda sees the name Miss Froy written in the dust of a train window by the Lansbury character earlier and then having that name strangely disappear off the window after they go through a tunnel makes no sense. This was supposed to be a ‘realistic’ thriller and therefore surreal elements should not have been thrown in.

The climactic sequence is entertaining, Arthur Lowe is enjoyable in a supporting part, and the Austrian scenery is luscious, but the movie is marginal and only helps to make the viewer appreciate the original more than anything.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 8, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Anthony Page

Studio: Rank Film Distributors

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nuclear silo under siege.

Loosely based on the novel ‘Viper Three’ by Walter Wager the story centers on Lawrence Dell (Burt Lancaster) a former military general who was sent to prison on trumped on murder charges, but manages to escape and is now out for revenge. With the help of three accomplices (Paul Winfield, William Smith, Burt Young) he breaks into a nuclear silo and threatens to launch it unless the President (Charles Durning) agrees to come clean on the government’s secret agenda in regards to the Vietnam War.

I’ve never read the film’s source novel, but have been told that this takes many liberties with it. The biggest problem is that it jumps ahead too quickly showing the four men right away breaking into the silo when it should’ve started back further to when they escaped from the prison and how they were able to get the access codes in order to break into the silo system to begin with. Winfield has a few great lines and Smith’s hair-trigger personality allows for interesting conflict, so these characters should’ve remained, but instead they are unwisely killed off leaving only Lancaster to pace around nervously, which quickly becomes boring.

Whenever someone escapes from prison the nearby area gets warned usually through the media. Certainly military personnel would’ve been put on high alert and thus making Dell’s ability to break into the silo, which was too easy to begin with, much less likely. The fact that a crazed general could break into a silo system and threaten to start WW III and have it never leaked to the media is highly unlikely as well, which along with various other loopholes makes this thing hard to fully get into.

Charles Durning is a great supporting actor, but here is badly miscast as the President. His facial expressions during his phone calls with the other Generals warning him of what is going on are unintentionally comical and too much time gets spent focusing on him contemplating on whether he’ll given into Dell’s demands until it seems like he is the star and Lancaster only a secondary player. Having him described as being an ‘honest politician’ and ‘a President who would never lie’ seems like an oxymoron as I don’t think a politician could even survive in Washington if they weren’t able to spin the truth sometimes and only helps to make the character seem too idealized.

Spoiler Alert!

This thing though really ‘jumps-the-shark’ at the end as I cannot imagine any circumstance where the secret service would allow the President of the United States to enter into a nuclear silo all alone and be used as a hostage. If they were real desperate they might try to pawn off an imposter in an attempt to fool them, but never the actual President as it would put him into too vulnerable a position. Also, the ‘shocking secret’ about why the U.S. got involved in the Vietnam War really isn’t all that earth shattering and certainly not worth sitting through simply to find out.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Director Robert Aldrich’s prolific use of the split screen is the one entertaining aspect and almost enough to overlook its other many faults, but at best it’s only a mindless programmer that manages to elicit minor tension only if you don’t think about it too hard.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 9, 1977

Runtime: 2 Hours 26 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Aldrich

Studio: Allied Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Carey Treatment (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A Pathologist solves mystery.

Based on an early Michael Crichton novel, the story centers around Dr. Peter Carey (James Coburn), who starts a new job as a pathologist at a local Boston hospital and soon finds himself embroiled in a mystery when his good friend Dr. David Tao (James Hong) gets accused of performing an illegal abortion on the daughter of the hospital’s chief surgeon (Dan O’Herlihy), which later kills her. Carey is not convinced that his friend performed the procedure and sets out to prove his innocence when the police are of no help.

This film was noted for its behind-the-scenes turmoil including accusations from director Blake Edwards that he was belittled by the film’s producer William Belasco in front of the crew and told that he would never work in Hollywood again and afterwards having the film edited without his permission. Edwards later sued and his experiences working on this project became the basis for his 1980’s film S.O.B., which savagely satirized the movie making business and the people who ran it.

The plot isn’t bad and attempts are made to give the viewer an authentic feel of the medical profession. One of the better moments is when the doctors perform an autopsy on the victim although I wished they would’ve shown more of the actual corpse on the examining table instead of cutting away from it in an attempt to be ‘tasteful’ as I felt the procedure and what the men discussed during it to be genuinely educational.

Having a hip doctor suddenly turn into an amateur sleuth is the film’s biggest drawback. Coburn plays the part well, but a guy who’s never investigated a case before wouldn’t be so seasoned with the way he handles suspects and tackles clues. He comes off too much like a professional detective who’s spent years in the business and not just a regular person who stumbles into the situation without knowing what he’s doing. The slick way that he solves the case and gets the necessary information is impressive, but not believable. Most people would’ve simply hired a private detective to investigate it and not spent hours away from their job trying to do it themselves, or if they take on the task they would most assuredly have make some mistakes, which this guy never does.

The mystery has enough intriguing elements to remain engaging, but the ultimate reveal is dull and makes one feel like they sat through a big buildup to nothing.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 29, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Blake Edwards

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, Youtube

Circle of Power (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Weekend retreat becomes brutal.

Executives of a company spend a weekend at a hotel where they’re a part of a large group awareness training that will better prepare them to achieve their full potential in both their business and personal lives. The encounter group is headed by Bianca Ray (Yvette Mimieux) who implements disturbing activities for the participants to go through that become increasingly more abusive and degrading.

This film is based off of the non-fiction novel ‘The Pit: A Group Encounter Defiled’ by Gene Church which documented a 1972 four day encounter group of top executives from the Holiday Magic company and many of the outrageous activities they were required to go through all under the cloak of learning to ‘bring out their inner dynamic’. Many of the activities that the characters in the film are forced to perform are similar to the ones depicted in the book, but amped up for the sake of drama. Some definitely get disturbing including having one participant, played by Walter Olkewicz, forced to strip naked in front of the group and then told to stand on a chair while the others mock his overweight body before having him locked into a cage and feed scraps of food that he must eat up directly from the floor.

Unfortunately the shock value gets muted by having characters that are too cardboard.  The viewer ultimately has no emotional bond to any of them and therefore the increasingly degrading circumstances that they go through achieve no profound impact. It also happens much too quickly as right from the start they are asked to do crazy things. I have no doubt that these encounter groups can sometimes go too far and there have been documented evidence of some even resulting in deaths, but it occurs gradually. A level of trust needs to be achieved to the point that the participants let down their guard and then the darker and twisted stuff gets introduced instead of just having it from the beginning like it gets played here, before any of the people have been psychologically ‘neutered’.

There is also no background given, or at least not a sufficient one, to the people who run the encounter group who are portrayed in a very one dimensional, creepy way that quickly becomes boring.  The issues of how did they decided to get into this line of work and what makes them so brazen to think they can get people to do these outrageous acts and get away with it is never addressed.

The ending is limp. What happens to the employees once they return to work is never captured nor the fate of the people running the retreat and whether they were ever sued or arrested. The idea is an intriguing one and there’s a potential for a really interesting movie to be had, but the plot needed more context and the characters to be better fleshed out.

Alternate Titles: Brainwash, Mystique, Naked Weekend

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 19, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bobby Roth

Studio: Ambassador Film Distributors

Available: VHS

Three Days of the Condor (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating:  4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who can he trust?

Joe Turner (Robert Redford) works at a New York City CIA office, which fronts itself as a literary agency for historical books. One day Joe decides to sneak out the back way in order to grab some food at a local deli. While he is away a team of assassins headed by Joubert (Max Von Sydow) enter the place and kills everyone inside. Turner, who goes under the code name Condor, returns to find his co-workers dead and no idea who did it, or why. He contacts the CIA headquarters, which is run by Higgins (Cliff Robertson), but soon decides he can’t really trust them and attempts to somehow find a way to survive on his own without returning to his apartment, as he is afraid the killers may be there. Through sheer desperation he kidnaps a woman (Faye Dunaway) at gunpoint and forces his way into her apartment where he hopes he will be able to buy himself enough time until he can figure out what is going on.

The film, which is based on the novel ‘Six Days of the Condor’ by James Grady, has an intriguing set-up, but ultimately gets ruined by having a protagonist become too skillful and shrewd at everything until he ceases to be just a regular guy on the run. For instance he is able to get into a telephone switchboard center much too easily and then uses the skills he had apparently learned as an Army Signals Corps technician to trace a call and find the whereabouts of the bad guy, but this is something a regular person couldn’t do and thus the tension is lost because it’s no longer just an everyman trying to survive, but instead a super-smart individual with convenient knowledge for every situation.

The script has too many situations where the bad guys make unbelievable dumb decisions as well making it seem that the odds really aren’t as stacked against our hero as it initially seems. For instance there is a scene where Redford invades the home of the CIA Deputy Director (Addison Powell) who is supposedly the man behind-the-scenes who had ordered the hit. Redford sits in a downstairs office of the home and plays music very loudly from a stereo until it awakens the CIA Director and he comes down to investigate, but wouldn’t you think someone who works in a secret organization would know enough not to walk into a trap as he does here, but instead call the police if he heard a noise downstairs, or if he does come down at least do it while also holding a gun? Also, as a CIA director living in a mansion he should certainly have his home rigged with a security system, but Redford is to be able to get inside without a sweat even though we are never shown how. Also, why does Sydow the hit man not shoot Redford when he is alone with him in an elevator, which would be a perfect opportunity instead of waiting and trying to do it later at long distance when the two are outside and Redford is in a middle of a crowd and much harder to target?

The film’s lowest point though comes with Redford’s relationship with Dunaway. Only a woman with severe mental problems would magically ‘fall-in-love’ with a stranger in less than 24-hours after he accosts her with a gun and forces his way into her apartment. Even if one would argue that it’s the Stockholm syndrome it’s highly unlikely it would occur so quickly.  There’s even a stylized love making scene that seems too similar to the sex scene in another Dunaway film The Thomas Crown Affair. Besides with all the stress that Redford’s character was going through I’d think he’d be unable to perform in bed, or concerned that she was simply leading him on in order to put him in a vulnerable position, so she could take advantage of it and escape.

Von Sydow’s character, who’s willing to switch allegiances almost instantaneously depending on who’s paying him, is the only truly unique thing about this otherwise shallow thriller. Director Sydney Pollack, who appears briefly as a passerby on a sidewalk, does give the material the slick treatment and captures New York City nicely. There is also a well-choreographed fight scene inside Dunaway’s apartment, but the unsatisfying, limp ending leaves open too many unresolved issues.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 24, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sydney Pollack

Studio: Paramount

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

No Way to Treat a Lady (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer enjoys taunting police.

Christopher Gill (Rod Steiger) is a Broadway theater owner suffering from a mother complex who vents his anger by strangling older women at random. He uses a variety of disguises to get into their homes and then when they let down their guard he kills them while leaving a lipstick drawing of lady’s lips on their foreheads as his ‘signature’. Detective Brummell (George Segal), who still lives at home with his overly protective mother (Eileen Heckart), is assigned to the case and quickly forms a communication channel with Christopher who displays a strong narcissistic trait by becoming quite upset if his crimes aren’t given the front page attention that he feels they deserve.

The film is based on William Goldman’s first novel of the same name and inspired by an article he read involving the Boston Strangler. However, in the book version there were two stranglers on the loose and both competing with each other to see who could top the other with their outrageous crimes while in the movie we’re given only one.  To an extent the film works pretty well and has an almost Avant garde flair to it as director Jack Smight gives his actors great latitude to improvise their lines while also allowing the scenes to become more extended than in a regular production.

Steiger’s strong presence gets put onto full display and the wide variety of accents that he uses is impressive. He manages to successfully create a multi-faceted caricature, which keeps it intriguing, but eventually he becomes too self-indulgent with it and in desperate need of a director with some backbone to yell ‘cut’ and reel him in a little.

Originally he was offered the role as the detective, but chose the strangler part instead forcing the part to be enlarged. Segal though holds his own and does so by not competing directly with Steiger’s overacting, but instead pulls back by creating this humble, passive character that’s just trying to do his job, which helps make the contrasting acting styles work and the film more interesting.

The film though fails to ever be effectively compelling. Most thrillers tend to have a quick pace particularly near the end in order to heighten the tension, but the scenes here remain overly long right up to the end. The side story regarding Segal’s budding romance with Lee Remick doesn’t help nor does Heckart’s Jewish mother portrayal, which comes off as a tired caricature. Had these things been put in only as brief bits of comic relief then it might’ve worked better, but with the way it’s done here it takes away from the main story until the viewer loses focus and ends up not caring whether the bad guy gets caught or not.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 20, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 48 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Jack Smight

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Bright Lights, Big City (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s hooked on cocaine.

Jamie (Michael J. Fox) is a 24-year-old living in the big city and working as a fact checker for a national magazine. He spends his evenings hanging out at the clubs and taking cocaine while also reeling from the break-up to his wife (Phoebe Cates) and death of his mother (Dianne Weist). As his addiction worsens he loses his job and his entire life unravels in a matter of a week.

The first half-hour is excellent as it gets the vibe of city life as well as the ‘80s subculture just right. The club scenes has an authentic feel and the stresses and politics at his job all ring true and this is a far better portrait of corporate life in the 80’s for the upwardly mobile than The Secret of My Succe$s, which Fox did just previous to this one.

The film also contains a few outlandish moments including a surreal one where Jaimie dreams of speaking to a fetus that is still inside a mother’s womb that is worth checking-out just for its amazing special effects. A later scene, where Fox and his friend Kiefer Sutherland release a ferret inside his former boss’ office, gets too wildly silly and should’ve been excised.

Fox is good in a difficult role and I liked the idea of this all-American young actor taking on a more edgy part. His youthful, clean-cut looks contrasted against the jaded backdrop of the nightlife helps make the shock effect even more profound as his personality slowly disintegrates. However, the scene where he tries to ‘reconcile’ with his ex-wife while she is on the runway modeling fashion clothes and in front of hundreds of people makes his character look ridiculous and irrational.

Cates is cute, but I didn’t like her short hair and she speaks only a few words during the whole thing although the part where she gets plaster smeared over her face and is only able to breathe through straws stuck in her noise is interesting. Swoosie Kurtz though as Jaimie’s loyal co-worker behaves in much too idealized fashion to be believable. If a woman invites a man over to her apartment for dinner it’s most likely because she has a romantic interest in him and will not be so selflessly gracious to want to sit around and listen to him go on-and-on about the break-up with his wife that he is still emotionally attached to, nor want to offer him money that she knows she’ll never get back.

Wiest as Jaimie’s mother is miscast as she looks too young to be his parent and in reality was only 13 years older than Fox. Having her character want to hear about her son’s sexual conquests with other females and even seemingly getting off on it as she listens to it is just plain odd and not like any mother I’ve ever seen. Her dying sequence comes off as contrived and something that was thrown in to get the audience to be sympathetic to its main character, but it proves pointless. A person doesn’t need the loss of a parent to become hooked on drugs as being around people that do it is enough of a motivator and the film would’ve been stronger and less glossy had it taken this approach and avoided the soap opera side-trips.

The shallow ending offers no insights except to say that ‘drugs are bad’. The drama gets so protracted that by the time our protagonist does have his meltdown, which is while attending a chic party, it feels more like a relief because it signals that the thing is finally coming to an end in a story that is too unfocused to be convincing.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 1, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated R

Director: James Bridges

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: They all did it.

The time is December, 1935 and world-renown detective Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) boards the Orient Express as an unexpected guest who’s able to find a spare compartment due to his friendship with the train’s owner (Martin Balsam). During the night one of the other passengers (Richard Widmark) is found dead and it is up to Poirot to solve the crime while the train remains stalled by a large snow bank.

This production is considered by many to be the best film version of any of Agatha Christie’s novel-to-screen attempts and in fact the author herself said as much when she attended a showing of the movie on the night of its premiere. Director Sidney Lumet’s ingenious touch is on-target the whole way as he creates a nice blend of kitsch and camp until the over-the-top costumes, playfully sharp dialogue, and glossy camerawork become more of the fun than the mystery itself.

In fact it’s Lumet’s ability to capitalize on the little things and control every minute detail that makes it so captivating even on repeat viewings. Their ability to turn an abandoned warehouse into a bustling train station is just one example. I also enjoyed the moment when the train leaves the station that gets done to the sound of a waltz composed specifically for the film by Richard Rodney Bennett. Originally they were going to have train sounds edited in and had hired a sound engineer who had spent his whole life recording these noises for specifically this purpose only to get the disappointment of his life when he was told that they had decided to go with the music alone, which crushed him so much that his eyes welled up with tears and he never returned.

Finney’s performance is outstanding. He was not someone you’d have in mind initially for this type of part, but through his brilliant acting and effective make-up he disappears into the role and immerses the viewer in the presence of this highly eccentric character and his unusual habits including the way he puts both his hair and moustache into a hair net before going to bed and reads a newspaper while wearing gloves.

The star studded supporting players are perfectly cast for their parts too. Anthony Perkins nicely plays-up his nervous man routine while Wendy Hiller is enjoyable as the caustic aging Princess who wears a constant frown because her doctor advised her that smiling ‘was not good for her health’. Widmark has an amusing conversation with Poirot particularly with his inability to correctly pronounce the detective’s last name and Ingrid Bergman shines in a small bit as a poor, but devoutly religious woman, which was enough to net her the Oscar for best supporting actress.

Spoiler Alert!

The murder scene in which all the passengers file into Widmark’s cabin and systematically take turns stabbing him is, like with everything else, astutely captured particularly with the way it’s shot by using only a blue tinged light as its sole light source. Lumet craftily uses a two-camera set-up here in which one camera captures the characters and the other focuses on Lauren Bacall’s character’s reactions to it as she stands at the doorway as a lookout. Bacall was never known as an actress to show much vulnerable emotion, but here, at least through her facial expressions, she does quite well. However, this segment also reveals a fatal flaw as Poriot’s cabin was right next to Widmarks’s and earlier in the film he was able to hear the conversations going on in the cabin next him almost perfectly, but then as each participant takes turns stabbing Widmark they say something out loud and yet for whatever reason Poirot never hears this, which makes you wonder why.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The script, by Paul Dehn, gets talky but is saved by its amusing verbal exchanges and Lumet’s use of different lenses to capture it, so I didn’t find it a problem in a movie that deserves its classic status both a mystery and cinematic achievement. The remake directed by Kenneth Branagh is set to be released in November.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: November 24, 1974

Runtime: 2 Hours 8 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2, A/1)

The Entity (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Invisible mass attacks mother.

Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey) is a single mother living with her three children who finds herself attacked one night in her home by an invisible being who proceeds to viciously rape her. When she tells this to her psychiatrist (Ron Silver) he initially doesn’t believe her, so she employs the help of two parapsychologists (Raymond Singer, Richard Brestoff) who come to her home and record the paranormal activity. With the help of Dr. Cooley (Jacqueline Brookes) who heads their department, they build a life-sized replica of Carla’s home in a gymnasium complete with liquid helium, which they hope to use on the mysterious entity in order to trap it.

The ghostly attacks aren’t impressive and consist mainly of seeing close-ups of Hershey’s face being rammed against the wall, or bedsheets, flying glass, shaking furniture and a musical sound effect reminiscent of a hammer rhythmically pounding against a sheet of metal. The attack scenes quickly become redundant and the ghostly presence is never seen, which eventually makes them yawn inducing whenever they occur. There are also many long dramatic interludes between the attempted scares that try to put a psychological spin on the proceedings, but come off more like pop psychology instead.

The whole thing is inspired by an actual incident which occurred on August 22, 1974, but incorrectly stated as happening in October, 1976 during the film’s denouncement. In the real-life case a woman by the name of Doris Bither (1942-1999) met two parapsychologists named Barry Taff and Kerry Gaynor while visiting a local library and told them of her repeated rapes inside her home by three ghosts who she considered to be of an Asian descent. She invited the men to her small Culver City, California home, which they found to be extremely cramped and dirty. During the event the men felt some unusual sensations and saw colorful orbs fly through the air, which was enough to inspire Frank De Felitta to write a novel about it, which later lead to this movie.

The film though would’ve worked better had the initial setting been Carla’s visit to her psychiatrist and then everything else played out in small segments as a flashback while she described her encounter. There was much speculation that these things were all just inside Bither’s head since she had suffered from substance abuse and a traumatic upbringing, but none of that gets touched upon in the movie. Instead we are left to believe that these strange occurrences are actually happening, but the film would’ve been more multi-dimensional had the viewer been allowed to question whether it was real, or simply an effect of mental illness.

Hershey gives a fine performance and shows what a great actress she is by playing a character that was completely opposite from the carefree/hippie-like ones that she played during her film appearances of the ‘70s. Silver though is annoying as the psychiatrist as his character unwisely gets too involved with his patient even though most other doctors in his position would be convinced that the woman was bat-shit crazy and keep themselves at an emotional distance from her. His attempts at trying to talk her out of going through with the experiment done at the gymnasium is irritating as it does nothing but hold up the story while failing to add an interesting dramatic tension.

The film’s freakiest aspect are the moments where Hershey’s bare breasts, in an attempt to show them being molested by the invisible hand of the ghost, start to ripple and show indentations seemingly on their own. How they were able to pull this off since this was well before visual computerized effects I’m not sure, but it is impressive and some may find it even strangely erotic.

On the whole though the film is frustrating as never explains why any of this occurs. The cause of the actual incident remains murky even though most would say that the woman was just looney, but since this film has already taken liberties with the real-life event why not at least throw in some sort of halfway plausible theory as nothing is worse than sitting through an overlong film that puts out many intriguing questions, but fails to supply them with any tangible answers.

(The Culver City, California home where the events that inspired this movie purportedly took place.)

(An actual photograph taken during the August 22, 1974 encounter.)

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 4, 1983

Runtime: 2Hours 5Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney J. Furie

Studio: American Cinema Productions

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Casualties of War (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He witnesses a rape.

Based on an actual incident that occurred on November 19, 1966 the story centers around five members of an American squadron during the Vietnam War where the pressures and ugliness of battle send their leader, Sergeant Tony Meserve (Sean Penn) over-the-edge. When his squad gets denied leave he decides to have his men kidnap a Vietnamese girl named Oanh (Thuy Thu Le) who is then raped by the four of them while one, Eriksson (Michael J. Fox) refuses.  The young woman is eventually killed and her lifeless body left in a field. When the men return to their base Eriksson tries to report the crime, but finds stiff resistance.

This same incident was used as the basis for another film called The Visitors, which came out 17 years earlier. That movie took a different approach as it hypothesized what would’ve happened once the men returned from doing prison time and came for a ‘visit’ to the man’s home who had turned them in. That film suffered from a lack of a budget, but still managed to have a little more tension and impact than this one. This version takes way too long to play itself out. The audience knows where it’s headed right from the start and thus makes it almost excruciating to have to sit through.

The film would’ve worked better had the story been told in a fragmented style. The horror of the situation gets lost by the plodding narrative that overplays the story’s shock element and seems to take an almost sick delight in dragging out the whole kidnap/rape sequence until it gets agonizing and even tedious.

The idea that Eriksson would mentally be going back through this whole situation while he dreams it during a nap on a bus isn’t believable. The story is supposedly told as a flashback, but people dream in a more surreal, nonlinear way that wouldn’t painstakingly go back through every detail that had occurred to them in real-life. Also, people tend to repress unpleasant experiences that they’ve had. At times certain bits and pieces of it may come to the surface, but most of it would be locked away in the person’s subconscious, which is why the fragmented approach would’ve made more sense because we would’ve seen things in the exact same way that they were being played out in Eriksson’s head.

Fox is miscast and looks more like Marty McFly stuck in a time warp and involved in a situation he has no business being in. His character’s upbeat disposition makes him seem like he’s in some sort of invisible bubble that allows him not to be affected by the horrors of war even though it has clearly taken its toll on everyone else around him.  The character is also a bit too passive and does little to prevent the rape from occurring, which will make some viewers feel that he is cowardly.

Although his character is a bit over-the-top Penn gives a strong and effective performance and the main reason if any to watch the film. John Leguizamo is also good as a shy, quiet type that initially refrains from wanting to take part in the crime only to ultimately cave to peer pressure.

The on-location shooting done in Thailand is good and I liked the way director Brian De Palma uses the point-of-view effect particularly when the men go around the sleeping village looking for a victim to choose, but ultimately the film fails to elicit much of an emotional effect. The quasi, tacked-on ‘uplifting’ ending in which a stranger tells Eriksson to simply ‘let go’ of his horrible memories and in essence ‘move on’ from it is terribly contrived as there are certain experiences one can’t simply leave behind, which only helps to solidify how shallow this potentially penetrating drama really is.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 18, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Rated R

Director: Brian De Palma

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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