Category Archives: Movies Based on Novels

Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He eats too much.

Max (Robert Morley) is a famous food critic who writes an article for the food magazine The Epicurist titled ‘The World’s Most Fabulous Meal’, which described four dishes cooked by four of the world’s top chefs. The problem is those chefs are now turning up dead. Natasha (Jacqueline Bisset) was the chef famous for creating the dessert called the bombe, which was also written about in that same article. Since the other chefs have already been murdered Natasha fears she may be next, so she works with the police to find the killer while also being a suspect since she was with each victim just before they died.

The film is based on the novel ‘Someone is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe’ by husband and wife writers Nan and Ivan Lyons, which came out two years earlier and had more erotic overtones while also detailing the specific recipes of each gourmet dish described in the story. Ted Kotchef’s excellent direction focuses strongly on the food element and each exotic meal is nicely captured and crafted by an actual cuisine chef named Paul Bocuse. Not only do you see the cast eating the stuff, especially Morley’s character, but preparing it as well including a detailed, drawn out segment showing Natasha creating her world famous desert.

The on-location shooting, done in three different European countries, is vivid and the dialogue is quite amusing. The denouncement is interesting because you think for sure it’s one person only to genuinely get surprised when it turns out to be someone completely unexpected. The plot though is too leisurely paced and the side-story dealing with Natasha’s ex-husband (George Segal) trying to rekindle their relationship is unnecessary and could’ve been cut, which would’ve helped shorten the runtime, which is overlong for such otherwise trite material.

Morley is a scene-stealer with everything he utters being hilarious. Bisset is great too and should’ve received top-billing as she’s seen the most while Segal’s presence comes off as downright intrusive. It was nice having a beautiful woman in a lead that was not sexualized and it would’ve made the film a bit ahead-of-its-time had she carried it alone, which she easily could’ve without Segal as a sort of male sidekick.

For light entertainment it’s enjoyable, but I was surprised at seeing how things have changed as there are several throwaway bits that at the time I’m sure were considered innocuous but would be deemed quite controversial by today’s standards. One scene has Bisset speaking with an Italian chef (Stefano Satta Flores) who openly pinches her twice on the rear without her permission. She protests it the first time, but he boldly does it again later and she lets it go, continues to casually talk to him and even agrees to meet him later for dinner. The film seems to play the whole thing off as a ‘boy-will-be-boys’ scenario coupled with the Italian male stereotype that this is simply ‘a part of their nature’.

In another part she refers to a French chef (Jean-Pierre Cassel) as a ‘fag’ and she visits a processing plant where thousands of chickens are housed in tight little cages and barely able to even move which doesn’t seem to bother her at all. I’m sure these scenes back in 1978 went completely over-the-heads of the viewers and most likely were quickly forgotten even though now these same moments would most likely elicit outrage, protest and headlines.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 5, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive)

Just Tell Me What You Want (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rich tycoon gets dumped.

Max Herschel (Alan King) is a rich and successful businessman who’s used to getting what he wants. He’s rude and crude and doesn’t mind displaying his anger or contempt for others at a moment’s notice. After 14 years Bones (Ali MacGraw), his mistress, has decided she’s had enough. She leaves him for a much younger man (Peter Weller). This enrages Max who does whatever he can to win her back, or at the very least ‘punish’ her for leaving him.

The film, which is based on a novel by Jay Presson Allen has a delicious New York flavor with the majority of the action taking place at the Old Westbury Gardens estate that fronts as Max’s home. The interiors of the stately mansion are at times more interesting than the conversations and the exteriors coincidently were also used in Love Story, which was another MacGraw vehicle. Director Sidney Lumet gives the dark comedy a classy air with a rousing, distinctively jazzy score by Charles Strouse, which I wanted to hear more of and wouldn’t have minded if it had been played all the way through the movie.

The story has sharp dialogue and a deliciously acerbic edge, but becomes preoccupied with Max’s business dealings, which most viewers may find too complex to follow and aren’t that integral to the story. The first hour is spent focused on Max, whose obnoxious ways quickly become off-putting and tiring. The catalyst is his love-hate relationship with Bones and more scenes should’ve been shown with them together while having her break-up with him come much sooner.

King was a comedian known for angry monologues and that emotion gets channeled into his character. I’ll give them props for creating an unlikable lead and not holding anything back as too many times films create abrasive people only to soften them too soon or not go all-the-way with it. Here it gets pushed to the limit, but I was still hoping for Max to have more of an arch and was disappointed that he remains for the most part a callous jerk to the very end.

MacGraw’s restrained approach works well off of King’s flamboyance and the highlight is when she corners him at a luxury department store, which was filmed on-location at the Bergdorf Goodman, and tackles him while destroying everything in sight. However the character’s nickname of ‘Bones’ I did not care for especially with no explanation for why she was given it. Was she called this because she was thin, or was it for some other reason? An attractive female should be given a pleasant name not something that sounds demeaning.

Legendary actress Myrna Loy, who had been around since the silent film era, plays Max’s long suffering secretary and earns her pay here. Loved the scene where King cries right into her bosom while she holds his head and acts like his mother, but also the part where he shouts directly into her face even throws out the C-word and she doesn’t flinch. Keenan Wynn is likable and speaks with an accent in a sympathetic role as a Russian businessman and Dina Merrill’s emotional breakdowns as Max’s mentally fragile wife are impressive and could’ve been extended.

Spoiler Alert!

Overall though it fizzles and it’s not because it’s filled with a lot of extraneous dialogue and scenes that should’ve been cut, but more because it plays itself as this sort-of anti-romance only to sell-out at the end. There is simply no way anyone could truly fall-in-love with Max because there was nothing about him to love. Having him do one nice thing shouldn’t erase all the other bad things he did before. Bones had already spent 14 years with him which should be more than enough time to realize things won’t be any different moving forward. Having them reconcile by working together as business partners maybe, but a marriage is simply a disaster waiting to happen. Just because audiences long for the ‘happy ending’ doesn’t mean that’s what you give especially by having two people magically find love for each when none had ever existed before.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 18, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Malone (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hit-man saves town.

Richard Malone (Burt Reynolds) is a former CIA hit-man who decides that he’s had enough of the dirty business and wants to retire. He uses his savings to leave the profession and travel the countryside. On the way his car breaks down and he’s forced to push the vehicle to the nearest small town service station, which is run by Paul (Scott Wilson). Since the parts to repair the transmission will take several days to arrive he stays at the place and befriends Paul’s teen-age daughter Jo (Cynthia Gibb). He also becomes aware of a plot by billionaire Charles Delaney (Cliff Robertson) to buy up the town and force everyone to sell and if they don’t they end up dying. Despite his initial reluctance Malone ends up getting involved in the dispute and becomes Delaney’s number one target in the process.

The movie is based on the novel ‘Shotgun’ by William P. Wingate, which in turn was modeled after the formula from the western Shane. It reminded me more of High Noon particularly the way Malone single-handedly takes on not only Malone, but all of his cohorts during a gun battle at the end, but without that film’s strong emotional impact. The story and characters are highly uninspired and this thing is aimed towards those that like their action flicks on a very simple and predictable level.

Reynold’s presence is the only interesting ingredient. This was during the downside period of his career where he was desperately trying to get back to the tough guy action roles that had made him famous. However, during the 70’s his action guy persona worked more in the humorous vein where his character would always approach the situation with a twinkle in his eye and funny side-quip, but here he’s all stiff and serious. To a degree this proves he’s a good actor in that he can play either type of role effectively, but the funny-Burt is far more entertaining than the serious one. Either way it’s doubtful that this middle-ager would’ve been able to run so vigorously and climb onto the rooftop of buildings as he does when he gets onto Delaney’s estate and I’m pretty sure a stunt double was used since we only see him doing this from a distance.

An element of the film that audiences today may take issue with is his relationship with the teen girl who starts to admire him to an emotional extreme. Clearly she represents the Brandon deWilde role from the Shane film, but the fact that she is underage and starts to have a romantic interest in the 50-year-old and he in her and even kisses him on the mouth may make certain viewers uncomfortable.

As for the villain he is as dull and transparent of a caricature as it gets and Robertson plays him very poorly by conveying no menace on the screen and creating zero tension. It would’ve worked better had Kenneth McMillan, who plays the sleazy sheriff would’ve been cast in the Delaney part as he’s an actor with genuine panache and owns whatever scene he’s in no matter how big or small the role.

The ironic thing about this otherwise mindless excursion is it’s all about this far-right nutty guy who wants to take over the government to ‘save the country’ and even requires all his followers to say a corny patriotic-like pledge and yet it wasn’t even filmed in the US, but instead British Columbia, Canada. Even more frighteningly is that given today’s political climate it doesn’t seem quite as farfetched and over-the-top as it once did.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 1, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Harley Cokeless

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Stone Killer (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Tough cop is relentless.

Lou Torrey (Charles Bronson) is an old-school cop baffled by a rash of homicides that initially seem like random hits, but really aren’t. As Lou investigates further he uncovers a plot orchestrated by a Mafia Don (Martin Balsam) to use a group of Vietnam Vets to avenge the death of some Mafia families 42 years earlier.

Director Michael Winner, during his later directing projects, became synonymous with stale, cardboard B-pictures and after the year 2000 he dropped out of the movie business completely and became a celebrity food critic in the UK writing in a weekly newspaper column called Winner’s Dinners. Here though he shows signs of being a young talent on the rise looking to make his cinematic mark. He captures the lesser seen areas of L.A. with a flair and the shot selection has style that manages to seamlessly connect the film between its talky moments and action.

Bronson though can’t really act as his facial expressions rarely change and he says his lines in an unemotional way making him seem almost like a computer, but his hard-headed personality in real-life carries over to the big screen making him a perfect fit personality-wise to the character. John Ritter is good as a young cop caught making a lot of rookie mistakes. It’s also interesting seeing Stuart Margolin here as he has an important sequence in the desert, which connects with his appearance  in another Bronson hit Death Wish that also had him in the sandy landscape.

The story, which is based on a novel by John Gardner entitled ‘A Complete State of Death’ comes off as flimsy and just an excuse to tie-in a lot of loosely related action sequences. The plot is hard-to-believe and the villain is more like a caricature and barely seen.

There’s some enjoyable moments including Bronson’ relentless chase in a car of a police suspect, played by Paul Koslo, who tries to evade him by tearing through the city streets on a motorbike. Watching Chuck drive through park tables with people trying jump out of the way,  going into oncoming traffic and even storefront windows is impressive on the surface, but ultimately makes the character come-off badly. In real-life a cop barreling his vehicle through areas with so much foot traffic would make him irresponsible and a menace to society as he puts too many people in direct danger simply for his pursuit of one person.  In most cases there would’ve been casualties and Bronson’s character could’ve easily been fired or sued.

The mass assassination of all the Mafia Dons has pizazz, but ultimately it’s just one giant marketing ploy as it borrows many elements from other hit movies of that time including Dirty Harry and The Godfather then blends it together with over-the-top action and a farfetched plot.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Blu-ray

The Pyx (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Religious cult wants prostitute.

A woman is seen falling from a high-rise tenant building to her death and Police Sergeant Jim Henderson (Christopher Plummer) is assigned to the case. When he inspects the body he finds that in her right hand she is holding a crucifix and in her left one is a small metal container known as a pyx. The victim is later identified as being Elizabeth Lucy (Karen Black) a heroin addict who works as a prostitute. The film then cuts back and forth between showing Elizabeth when she was still alive and the circumstances that lead to her death as well as Jim’s dogged search to find her killer, which may be connected to an underground religious cult.

The film, which is based on the novel of the same title by John Buell and shot entirely on-location in Montreal, has a nice eerie atmosphere.  The cutting back and forth between the two linear stories is interesting and this is the type of mystery that is complex, but not too much. There are just enough clues given to keep it intriguing without so much thrown in that it becomes convoluted. The slow pacing is okay because it keeps things on a realistic level and everything remains plausible and gritty.

Unfortunately the story has no payoff. The slow reveal of the religious cult offers nothing new or exciting and seems to be borrowing elements from other horror flicks that have dealt with the same theme. Except for a few brief moments the film is devoid of any action and the shootout on a yacht is edited in such a quick way that it’s hard to follow what happened. The overuse of nighttime shots gives the film a grainy appearance that looks more like it was a victim of a low budget and poor lighting.

The two leads give good performances and Plummer looks almost unrecognizable with a bowl haircut and appearing almost 20 years younger than he already was. The music was composed by Harry Freedman and star Black does the vocals, which is distinctive and gets the viewer into a spiritual mood, but there aren’t any frights and it’s hard to put this thing into any type of category as it’s really not a horror film at all.

Even as a standard mystery it’s only average and just enough to hold your interest. Ultimately it goes down a familiar path that we’ve seen too many times before and is devoid of any true shock or surprises.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 13, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Harvey Hart

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video

A Stranger is Watching (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Her mother’s killer returns.

At the age of 6 young Julie (Shawn Von Schreiber) witnesses her mother’s rape and murder at the hands of Ronald Thompson (James Russo) at least she thinks that’s who it was when instead it was really Artie Taggart (Rip Torn). Now Ronald is slated to go to the electric chair and news reporter Sharon Martin (Kate Mulgrew) covers the controversy, but just before his execution Julie and Sharon are kidnapped by Artie. He takes them deep into the bowels of Grand Central Station where he holds them hostage while demanding a ransom of $182,000 from Julie’s Father (James Naughton).

The story is based on the Mary Higgins Clark novel of the same name and due to his success with Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham is given a bigger budget to work with, which gives the production more of a visual style from the usual low budget horror flick. However, I was never convinced that Cunningham was all that great of a director and it was only through dumb luck that the Jason franchise became the big hit that it did and if anything this movie proves it. Even with more money put in and an interesting backdrop it still comes off as lackluster and uninspired.

The characters are boring particularly Torn’s psycho role where no backstory is given as to why he decides to come back to terrorize the same family when he was able to get away with the murder the first time and should feel lucky by allowing the other schmuck to take the fall and simply move on. Julie’s behavior is all wrong too. This is a child who witnessed her mother’s rape and murder, which would psychologically damage anyone else for life and yet she recovers from it like it was no big deal and acts overly angelic and gracious about everything.

The underground of Grand Central Station are the film’s best element as it captures the dark, dingy dankness quite well to the point that it almost becomes like a third character. However, when Torn kidnaps the two women he puts the girl into a sleeping bag and then carries her through the station in order to get to the spot where he hides her, but I kept wondering why she didn’t yell for help as they pass by many people in the process. He didn’t drug her, so she was free to yell out, so why doesn’t she?

I’ve read other novels written by Clark although not this one, but I was always impressed with the amount of twists that she had in them and was surprised how little that there are here. The film does feature one small surprise, but then treats it as a throwaway scene that soon gets forgotten. In the end the viewer gets treated to nothing more than a placid blueprint of the novel in a plot that gets more formulaic and pedestrian as it goes on.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 22, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sean S. Cunningham

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Hand (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He loses his hand.

Jon Lansdale (Michael Caine) is a gifted comic book illustrator who loses his hand in a freak car accident. They are unable to locate the missing limb at the scene and therefore unable to reattach, so he’s fitted with a prosthetic one made of metal. In the meantime the severed one goes on a murderous rampage killing all those that Jon has a problem with.

The film, which is based on the novel ‘The Lizard’s Tail’ by Marc Brandell, can best be described as an experimental horror and to some degree is quite intriguing. I liked the psychological subtext showing the hand as being a symbol to Jon’s subconscious and acting out the anger that he felt from others, but ordinarily too reluctant to do anything about. The story conveys a very universal message that we are in many ways two people, the one we choose to display to the world and the other more politically incorrect one that we try to hide from it.

Had it remained more on a subtle, intellectual side it might’ve worked, but showing the severed hand as much as it does is its biggest downfall. The scenes showing the hand strangling people looks quite tacky as instead of seeming like the victim is trying to pull the hand off of their throat it looks more like they are trying to hold it in place so it doesn’t fall off. It also brings up all sorts of unanswered questions like how is the hand able to move around so quickly and sneak inside buildings and cars and where does it get the strength to strangle people, or jump up to their throats when all the muscles connected to it have been severed away.

It would’ve worked better had the hand not been shown at all and kept a mystery as to what was causing the murders and then only at the end expose the hand as being the culprit, which would’ve made Jon’s final confrontation with it much more startling and impactful. An even better idea would’ve been to have the metal hand act as the one that does the killing since this one resembled Freddy Kruegar’s and looked far creepier.

Oliver Stone’s direction is interesting especially his technique of going from color to black and white and then back again, but the story drags on longer than it should and seems to give too much away. The twist at the end is great because it’s actually a logical one that makes perfect sense, but then at the last second Stone sells-out by throwing in tacky ‘second twist’ that is nothing but a gimmick that makes the whole thing seem too commercial.

On the acting side Caine is adequate, but I found his wavy hair far more fascinating than the hand and I especially enjoyed seeing how progressively disheveled it gets the more insane that he becomes. Andrea Marcovicci is standout as his wife. Initially I thought she was too young to play his spouse as there was a 16 year difference between the two, but her very expressive face particularly her blue eyes and the way it conveys fear helps heighten the suspense.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 24, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Oliver Stone

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Amityville II: The Possession (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their son becomes possessed.

A family moves into the infamous home at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York only to immediately start encountering paranormal events. Their eldest kid Sonny (Jack Magner) begins to display anti-social tendencies that eventually drive him to kill the entire family late one night. The family’s Priest Father Adamsky (James Olson) is convinced that Sonny did it because he was possessed from evil spirits that inhabit the home due to it being built on an ancient Indian burial ground and he takes it upon himself to perform an exorcism on the young man in order to free him of the demon.

The film is loosely based on the events of the DeFeo family, who lived at the residence, and was murdered by their eldest son on the night of November 13, 1974. However, the film deviates from what actually occurred including having the family just recently moved in when in reality the DeFeo’s had lived there for 9 years before they were killed. The film also portrays the family members as being awake and aware of what was going on when evidence had shown that most of them had been asleep when shot. There’s also a side-story dealing with a sexual relationship that Sonny had with his sister Patricia (Diane Franklin) that was only speculated never confirmed to have occurred with the real family.

This movie is only a slight improvement from the first one. Director Damiano Damiani manages to instill more of an atmosphere and uses fast moving tracking shots to create a point-of-view perspective of the demons. Also, James Olson plays the Priest role better than Steiger did in the first one by being less hammy and more understated, which is good.

Yet I still found the whole thing to be quite boring. The first half-hour is just a rehashing of many of the same scares that were done in the first one and we all know from the beginning how it’s all going to turn out, that the son will inevitably kill the family, so there’s no intrigue at all. The final half hour deals solely with the exorcism, which despite some decent special effects, is nothing more than a Grade B rip-off of The Exorcist.

There’s a lot of overacting too just like in the first one. Rutanya Alda, who plays the mother, is the biggest culprit in this area, which includes her death scene that deserves to be in the annals of all-time cheesiest death sequences ever put onto film. I was also confused why such an otherwise normal, well-adjust woman would want to marry a lout like Burt Young and having her show affection to him not more than a couple minutes after he had abused both her and the kids with a belt is misguided.

On the technical end the film seems to be done on a higher budget than the first, but the script is empty-headed and relies heavily on broad generalizations involving religion and ‘evil’. I also found it amusing that, like in the first installment, there’s a scene were the Priest tries to convince his church elders about the home being haunted and they scoff and insist that isn’t ‘rational’ when these same men have dedicated their lives to a profession steeped in supernatural, faith based claims.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: September 24, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Damiano Damiani

Studio: Orion Pictures

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

The Amityville Horror (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their house is haunted.

Kathy and George Lutz (Margot Kidder, James Brolin) move into a large home that just a year earlier was the place of a gruesome homicide of six people. Though the idea of living where these murders occurred is unsettling they cannot beat the home’s price, so they take the offer. Soon there are bizarre occurrences and George begins to behave like he is becoming possessed convincing the young family that the place is haunted and they need to move out before it is too late.

The film is based on the Jay Anson novel, which was centered on the supposedly true events of the Lutz family who moved into a home known as ‘High Hopes’ that had previously been occupied by the DeFeos who were slaughtered at the hands of their oldest son Ronald in November of 1974. The Lutzs lived in the home from December of 1975 until they ‘abandoned’ it in January of 1976. Since that time many other people have lived there and none have reported any paranormal activity. The home, which was built in 1924, had no unusual events occur in it for the 50 years previous to the DeFeo tragedy either making me and many others speculate that the Lutzs made it all up because why else would they be subjected to the hauntings and none of the others.

(The actual house as it appeared in 1974)

In either case the movie isn’t very good and at many points is quite laughable. The film would’ve worked better had it been structured as a pseudo-documentary where interviews with the characters could’ve be spliced into the reenactments, which would’ve avoided it from seeming so mechanical and coming off like a formulaic scare-a-minute like it does here. The so-called frights are over-the-top from the start and there’s such a barrage of them that by the time you get to the finale, which should be the scariest point of the film, it becomes almost anti-climactic.

The overblown facial reactions of the actors had me laughing out loud at many spots particularly Brolin’s feeble attempts to channel a Charles Manson-like persona and Amy Wright getting locked in a closet. She plays a teen babysitter who walks around wearing one of those garish dental headgears and made me believe that the spirits locked her in there simply because they felt she looked too stupid. Kiddor’s constant shocked expressions at Brolin’s increasingly edgy responses becomes tiring and the part where Brolin shouts at the evil spirts that “This is my house!” had me thinking the spirits should’ve responded with “No it isn’t, it’s the banks!”

Rod Steiger’s priest impression is the Achilles heel. I realize there was a priest in the book, but since then that same priest as disputed the events described in the story, so it should’ve gotten downplayed. I didn’t like the supernatural events occurring outside of the home like when Steiger and Don Stroud are driving in their car and having it mysteriously breakdown. The house is the centerpiece and all scares should take place there otherwise it ceases to be a haunted house film at all and instead just another pedestrian story dealing with evil spirits that can manifest anywhere.

How some could find this scary is a mystery. I first watched it 30 years ago and thought it was tacky then and consider it even more so now. Just because it has managed to spawn a lot of sequels doesn’t make it ‘a classic’ and I feel it would be better suited for rifftrax of Mystery Science Theater.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: July 27, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Stuart Rosenberg

Studio: American International Pictures

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

Family Plot (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Alfred Hitchcock’s last movie.

Blanche Tyler (Barbara Harris) is a phony psychic whose client, the rich heiress Julia Rainbird (Cathleen Nesbitt) offers her a reward of $10,000 if she can use her ‘psychic abilities’ to find Julia’s long-lost nephew who was given up for adoption years earlier. Blanche employs her boyfriend George (Bruce Dern) who works as a cabbie in-between acting gigs, to find the man. George ends up stumbling upon someone who he thinks may be him, Arthur Adamnson (William Devane), but ends up getting in-over-his-head when Arthur proves to have ulterior motives.

The film’s claim-to-fame is that it was the last one directed by Alfred Hitchcock, which is probably the only good thing to say about it. Technically it’s not bad, but it’s not terribly interesting either. Everything that gets done here has been done before in other films with more interesting results. This includes a sequence where Blanche and George’s car goes careening down a mountain highway with no breaks, which isn’t exciting at all and looks clearly shot in front of a green screen.

After completing the far edgier Frenzy I was expecting Hitch to try and push the envelope even more, but instead he draws back with a pedestrian story that’s full-of-holes.  It was based on the novel ‘The Rainbird Pattern’ written by Victor Canning, which had a darker tone. Screenwriter Ernest Lehman wanted to capture that same tone here, but Hitch pushed him instead for a lighter quality that borders on camp, but ultimately comes off as gimmicky. The ending is particularly limp and for someone once dubbed the ‘Master of Suspense’ there is very little of it here.

The only moment that stuck out for me is where Blanche and George sit down to eat hamburgers. Normally actors in films rarely eat the food that they’re served and will usually either take small nibbles, or simply leave it on the plate without taking a single bite, but here both Dern and Harris take big bites from their burgers while continuing to talk. At one point a piece of burger spits out of Dern’s mouth as he speaks and he instinctually holds up his hand in front of his mouth in an embarrassment, which was strangely left in. Most directors would’ve quickly stopped the scene and reshot it, but instead Hitch decided to let it continue, which adds an odd realism probably not seen anywhere else.

The casting is the only real bright spot especially Devane, who normally played good guys, but takes a turn as a villain here and does quite well. In fact it’s the best performance of his career. Unfortunately the two women (Harris and Karen Black who plays Devane’s girlfriend) are wasted and for the most part have very little to do. Black’s role could’ve been cut out completely in a film that especially when compared to the director’s earlier works is a huge disappointment.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 9, 1976

Runtime: 2 Hours 1 Minute

Rated PG

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Studio: Universal

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