Category Archives: Movies Based on Short Stories

Outrageous! (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Female impersonator befriends schizophrenic.

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 31, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Benner

Studio: Canadian Film Development Corporation

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Heartland (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life on the frontier.

In 1910 a widow named Elinore (Conchata Ferrell) and her 7-year-old daughter Jerrine (Megan Folsom) travel to Wyoming where she gets a job as a housekeeper to rancher named Clyde (Rip Torn). The two slowly fall-in-love, eventually marry, and have a baby of their own. Unfortunately the harsh winter and remote locale takes its toll causing tragedy to both their small family and to the ranch itself.

The story is based on the letters written by Elinore Pruitt Stewart to her former employer as she described her adventures working on a ranch as a homesteader to Henry Clyde Stewart during the years of 1910 to 1914. The film stays very faithful in tone and content to the period and some of the most fascinating moments are simply observing the different chores that they had to do back then and what now comes off as very archaic.  Shooting the film on-location in the Rocky Mountain region, substituting Montana for Wyoming, and capturing all four seasons helps add to the authenticity.

Farrell’s strong personality gives life to her character and reveals the inner strength required to endure and survive the hardships of frontier life and it’s amazing how closely she resembled the real Elinore Stewart as evidenced by an old photograph of her taken in 1913. Torn is also quite good, but his thick Scandinavian accent makes it difficult to understand everything he says. I also really enjoyed Folsom as the young girl, who doesn’t have much dialogue, but more than makes up for it with her expressive face. Lilia Skala is also good as Mrs. Landuer a headstrong elderly neighbor who goes by the nickname of Grandma.

While the soundtrack matches the period flavor I felt there was too much of it and would’ve enjoyed more silence as that is pretty much all you would’ve heard anyways on the frontier during that time. I would’ve also liked more of a backstory to Elinore, specifically showing why she was widowed, in real-life her husband died in a railroad accident before their daughter Jerrine was even born, and yet it would’ve helped the viewer understand Elinore better had this been dramatized, or at least touched on.

The ending is also too abrupt. It brings up all the challenges in maintaining the ranch, but no conclusion as to whether they were able to withstand them all or not. Several story threads get left hanging even though in real-life Elinore lived 19 years past when this story took place and Clyde lived for another 35 years, so having some denouncement at the end explaining where they ultimately ended up past what we see here was in my opinion very much needed and the fact that it doesn’t occur makes the film seem like only half-a-movie.

There’s also some scenes that may make certain viewers uncomfortable. Many of them deal with animals getting killed including a wild pig that gets shot at point blank range and then skinned and gutted. Since this was apart of the frontier life back then I didn’t have a real problem with it, but others might. The most disturbing scene though deals with a cow trying to give birth and requires both Torn and Farrell sticking their hands inside the cow’s vagina at the same time in order to turn the calf around, so that its head will come out first. They then tie a rope around the calf’s head and yank him out in extremely explicit fashion. While some may consider this the miracle of birth others may not be able to stomach it, but overall it does help to heighten the realism either way.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 22, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Pearce

Studio: Filmhaus

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The Stone Boy (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4 Word Review: Accidentally killing his brother.

Based on the 1957 short story by Gina Berriault, the film centers on a 12-year-old boy named Arnold (Jason Presson) who accidentally kills his older brother Eugene (Dean Cain)  one morning while they go out to pick peas on their farm. His parents (Robert Duvall, Glenn Close) don’t know how to react to the tragedy and begin to treat Arnold like he’s a stranger to his own family, which causes him to consider running away.

In an era of big budget special effects I enjoyed the film’s low-key approach, but this gets ruined right away by instilling all sorts of ill-advised cinematic effects, including slow motion, during the shooting scene. You can’t spend so much time and effort creating a docu-drama look and feel to a production, which nicely reflects the slow/quiet paced lifestyle of rural America, only to suddenly pivot away from it at the most inopportune time, which results in a jarring, disconcerting feel for the viewer.

The shooting scene goes against the grain of the main character too. We’re supposed to emotionally connect with the kid, but the way he behaves is bizarre. I would’ve expected him to start crying when he realizes he has shot his brother and go running back to the house for help, but instead he conveys no emotion at all and calmly continues to pick the peas like nothing has happened, which makes him seem mentally disturbed.

It’s also rare for a person to instantly fall over dead with one shot like the brother does here. For that to happen the bullet would’ve had to hit the heart directly or some other vital organ, but the gun went off while it was being held at a precarious angle and most likely the bullet would’ve only grazed his brother, or just injured him. The accident also occurred not far from the house, so why the parents didn’t immediately come running out when they heard the gun going off, or the boy screaming is hard to understand. It’s important to note that we don’t actually hear him scream as the scene is shot with no sound, but we do see him open his mouth real wide in horror, so I can only imagine that he did scream out and if so the rest of his family should’ve heard it.

It would’ve been better had this scene not been shown at all and only alluded to, or done like it was in Ordinary People, which had a similar storyline, but didn’t play out the death sequence until the very end as a flashback. In either case the rest of the film is okay and even has a few touching and profound moments, but it stretches out the premise of the short story it’s based on too much, which creates draggy periods that prevents it from being as effective as it could’ve.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 4, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Christopher Cain

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Tell Me a Riddle (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Adjusting to old age.

Eva (Lila Kedrova) is an elderly woman who has been diagnosed with cancer, but her husband David (Melvyn Douglas) does not tell her of the terminal disease and instead takes her on a cross country journey to visit their grandchildren in San Francisco. Eva though begins to feel homesick and wants to return to the place that she is used to only to learn that David sold the home without her knowledge and forged her signature on the papers, which creates a rift between the two just as she enters her final days of life.

This modest low budget film was notable as the first feature film in America to be written, directed, and produced by women. It is based on the 1961 short story by Tillie Olsen and the first feature directed by actress Lee Grant, who felt that after she won the Academy Award for best supporting actress in 1975 that her days on the screen were numbered due to her age and the only way to stay busy in the business was to go behind the camera. She choose this script because it tackled two topics most important to her: feminism and her fear of aging.

For the most part, at least at the beginning, the slow pace works as it helps replicate the elderly lifestyle. The flashbacks showing the couple when they were young, which features a then unknown Peter Coyote as the younger David, help to make the two main characters more multi-dimensional. The different locations that they go to and live-in on their trip, which includes sleeping in their daughter Jeannie’s (Brooke Adams) cramped apartment while she sleeps with her boyfriend across the hall as well as visiting an elderly friend, Mrs. Mays (Lili Valenty), who lives in a place no bigger than a small bedroom and forced to walk-up several flights of stairs just to get to it, helps to give the film an indie vibe.

Unfortunately the second half stagnates as the couple’s journey ends at Jennie’s apartment, which cuts off the visual variety that gave the movie energy during its slow spots. The cross country journey should’ve been played-up much more, like with Harry and Tonto, where the trip becomes the main focus by having the couple travel by car instead of by plane while still keeping the main crux of the story intact.

Douglas gives an impeccable performance and speaks in an authentic Eastern European accent and Adams does quite well in support. However, Kedrova barely says much of anything making her character seem like she’s suffering from a personality disorder and having Douglas do the majority of the talking comes off too much like he’s the ‘narrator’ and it doesn’t help. I also didn’t like the hearing aid cord dangling out of her ear either, which seemed overdone. My grandmother, who lived at the same time this movie was made, wore a hearing aid too, but it was much more inconspicuous and didn’t require any cords.

The film also suffers from an unrelentingly downbeat perspective making old age seem like it’s just one depressing thing after another. I liked the way this same subject matter was approached in Harry and Tonto  where it examined the elderly years from different angles showing how there could be some downsides to it (like with any age), but also some positive ones too. Instead of approaching it as an end-of-life scenario it presented it as a transition that was still full of possibilities and new adventures, which is what I wished this film had been better able to convey.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 15, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lee Grant

Studio: Filmways Productions

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Time After Time (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: From 1893 to 1979.

In 1893  writer H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) constructs a time machine and introduces it to his skeptical guests at a dinner party that he is hosting unaware that Dr. Stevenson (David Warner) who is also attending the party is the notorious Jack the Ripper. When the police surround the home looking for Ripper he jumps into the time machine and escapes to the year 1979. Wells then quickly follows him to modern day San Francisco and tries chasing him down, but along the way he meets Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen) who he fall in love with.

Initially I enjoyed seeing Wells’ confusion at dealing with modern society and the technology and had the film stayed at this level the whole way it could’ve been quite entertaining, but Wells ends up adapting too quickly. I was willing to accept that he was just a smart guy who could figure things out by being very observant, but Jack ends being the same way. Jack even attends a discotheque wearing a John Travolta-like white leisure suit, until it seemed like he was always a part of the modern world, and the original time traveling spin gets unfortunately phased out.

The romantic relationship that forms between Wells and Mary comes off as forced. Having her ask him out on a date while she’s working at her job and after only talking to him for a few minutes seemed too forward and unprofessional. Does she do this to all of her customers and if so how can she hold down a job if she’s coming on to all the men that she meets and if not then why would she ask out Wells so quickly after having just met him? Having the two end up going to bed together makes Wells seem too contemporary and not like a person from the Victorian era from which he came where sexual relations outside of marriage were much more taboo.

The script is full of a lot of loose ends too. For example: Wells goes to a jeweler to trade in his jewels for US currency, but the jeweler won’t accept them unless Wells shows a valid driver’s license, which he doesn’t have. The next day he goes to a different jeweler who gives him the money without asking for the ID, but why? In between Wells goes to a church where he speaks out loud in an awkward prayer, so are we then to presume that the second jeweler gave Wells the money without requesting the ID because of divine intervention?

There’s also a moment when Jack runs out into the street and gets struck by a car and is sent away to a nearby hospital, but then returns later showing no visible bruises or scratches. There’s also no explanation for how he was able to fool the nursing staff into thinking he had died as when Wells goes to the hospital that’s the explanation he’s given.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is equally screwy. It has Wells and Mary going a few days into the future only to read a newspaper article reporting Mary getting killed inside her apartment by Jack, so they return to the present and then back to the apartment where Mary then takes a nap, which seemed hard to believe knowing that Jack was coming to kill her there and she’d be too tense and nervous to ever relax enough to go to sleep. Why even go anywhere near the apartment anyways and instead just find a room at a nearby hotel? There isn’t much tension to her potential death either since all Wells would need to do is go back a few days in his time machine and she’d be as good as new.

The explanation that Mary never got killed, but instead it was really her friend, who she had invited over to dinner is problematic too because even though there wasn’t DNA testing at that time they could still identify the victim through their dental records.

The story, which was based on a 55-page treatment written by Karl Alexander, who later expanded it to a novel, which was released at the same time as the movie, has a lot of potentially interesting ideas, but it ends up taking on too much. A decision should’ve been made to focus on either the romance or Wells’s pursuit of Jack, but not both. Trying to cram two plot-lines together results in a script that’s too rushed and poorly thought out.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 28, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Nicholas Meyer

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Empire of the Ants (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giant ants terrorize island.

A group of prospective home buyers are taken on a tour of a small island off the coast of Florida that supposedly has ‘prime beach front property’, but in reality it’s worthless. Marilyn (Joan Collins) is the realtor touring the others around, which quickly gets cut short when ants, who have feed off of toxic chemicals that were illegally dumped there and have now grown to giant size, begin attacking the people.

This film marks yet another tacky production by director Bert I. Gordon who enjoyed making movies filled with special effects dealing with giant animal life much like he did just two years earlier in Food of the Gods. The effects are predictably laughable where process shots showing close-ups of ants get combined with shots of the actors on the set, but you can tell that the quality of the film stock is different making the ants look completely out-of-place in the setting. When the actors get directly attacked by the ants large rubber mock-ups were used, but this gets combined with a shaking camera and quick edits making the action hard to follow.

It might’ve worked a bit better had it not given away right up front the cause for why the ants got so big and thus allowed for some mystery. Having the toxic waste be the cause just adds more questions than answers anyways. For instance: why were these chemicals being dumped to begin with and why did they choose this island? How were the ants able to get so big so fast? Did they just feed on the chemicals and then ‘poof’ they were big, or how fast or slow did the process work? Why were just the ants the ones that got big? Supposedly other insects, spiders and birds might’ve ingested the chemicals too, so why don’t they grow to a giant size as well?

The cast of characters are predictably stale and taking a full 30-minutes introducing them to the audience before the action even kicks-in just makes the movie even more boring. Having more eccentric characters would’ve helped like having the ants attack a clown convention that was meeting there, which would’ve given the film a humorous/offbeat edge that is otherwise lacking.

For the record I did enjoy Robert Pine who plays this coward who makes no attempt to save his wife when she’s attacked and then obsesses afterwards that everyone believe his story that he ‘couldn’t find her’ and there was ‘nothing he could do’. Collins is quite attractive, most will remember her for her appearance on the TV-show ‘Dynasty’, which was her career peak, but done when she was already well into her 50’s and no longer had a youthful appeal, but here she looks youngish and easy-on-the-eyes, which helps during the film’s slow moments.

The film states during the opening credits that it’s ‘inspired’ by the H.G.Wells story, but that short story, which was published in 1905, was way different. For one thing it didn’t involve ants growing to a giant size, so trying to connect the two as the producers here do, is outrageous. Had the filmmakers stuck more closely to that story, the film would’ve been much more interesting.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 29, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bert I. Gordon

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Posse (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Everyone has their price.

Howard Nightingale (Kirk Douglas) is an ambitious Marshall looking to run for U.S. Senate and realizes his best bet of winning the seat is by bringing in the notorious train robbing gang led by Jack Strawhorn (Bruce Dern). Howard manages to kill off the gang by having his posse set fire to the hideout that they were in, but Jack escapes only to be captured later and brought to jail. While on the train ride to Austin where he’ll be hanged Jack comes up with an elaborate escape and turns-the-tables by handcuffing Howard and returning him to the town where they came from and holding him prisoner inside the local hotel. When the posse returns to the town everyone is convinced they’ll free Howard, or will they?

In an era where revisionist westerns were all the rage it’s confusing, at least initially, not to understand why this one, which story-wise goes completely against-the-grain of the conventional western, isn’t propped up there with the best of them and a lot of the blame could possibly be put on the direction. There’s nothing really wrong with the way it’s presented and there are some exciting moments including a realistic shootout as well as a running train being set on fire while also exploding from dynamite, but the rest of it does have a certain static feel. There’s too much reliance on music and not enough on mood or atmosphere as well as actors looking more like modern day people in period costume.

The script though, which is based on a 1971 short story called ‘The Train’ by Larry Cohen is full of many offbeat twists that keeps the viewer intrigued. Of course in an attempt to stretch out the short story into feature length there are some slow spots, particularly in the middle and the emphasis is more on concept than character development, but Jack’s crafty way at escaping is quite entertaining and the surprise ending is one of the best not because it’s a gimmick, which it isn’t, but more because it’s quite believable and yet something that’s never been done in any other western.

Douglas gives his conniving character just the right amount of pompous camp to make him enjoyable and it’s great to see James Stacy in his first movie role after his tragic motorcycle accident where he lost both his left arm and leg. In any other film this handicap would have to become a major issue, but here it doesn’t even get mentioned. The character doesn’t use it to feel sorry for himself nor is he treated any differently than anyone else, which I found to be quite refreshing.

A minor drawback though it that it’s supposed to take place in Texas and my hometown of Austin even gets mentioned a few times, which is kind of cool, but it was actually filmed in the state of Arizona. To some this might not be a big deal, but Arizona’s landscape is much sandier and has more mountains. Their cacti is of the upright kind while in Texas the cactus is of the bushy variety known as the prickly pear. All of which helps to ruin the film’s authenticity. If they didn’t have the funding to film it in Texas then have the story’s setting take place in California or Arizona, but trying to compromise it and hoping that astute viewers won’t know the difference doesn’t work.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 4, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Kirk Douglas

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Top Gun (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Student pilot proves himself.

Pete Mitchell (Tom Cruise), who goes by the nickname Maverick, gets accepted into an elite fighter school for Navy pilots known as ‘Top Gun’. It is here where his flying skills impress his instructors, but his daredevils ways also get him into trouble. He starts dating one of his instructors (Kelly McGillis) and everything seem to be going fine until during a flight training exercise that he is piloting his partner Goose (Anthony Edwards) tragically dies, which shatters his confidence and makes him believe that maybe he is not cut out to be a pilot after all.

This film was a giant hit at the box office, but mostly ravaged by the critics and with good reason. The story is shallow, but Cruise’s performance manages to hold it together. Some have criticized his acting ability by saying he can play only one type of character namely the cocky type, but here he mixes in a lot of hidden vulnerabilities with it making you feel for him during his dark times of self doubt and cheer when he finally overcomes them.

I also enjoyed the romantic angle at least initially. In a lot of movies the side romance can get in the way of the story, but here it helps keep the plot intriguing especially when you factor in their contrasting personalities and temperaments. I liked the fact that she was also one of his instructors and therefore had to keep a professional distance and how this caused tensions in their potential relationship, which I wanted explored much more and was disappointed when this plot point fizzles out already in the first act and they become instead a generic ‘happy couple’ the rest of the way.

The mysterious death of Maverick’s father years early was another subplot that gets poorly handled. I was expecting this to work into being a heightened mystery complete with a big reveal at the end, perhaps coupled with a flashback, but instead it gets treated almost like a throwaway bit where the Tom Skerrit character explains what occurred in passing and then by the time the ending finally comes it’s pretty much forgotten. The same goes for Val Kilmer who is excellent as Maverick’s rival, but his part is woefully underwritten and like with a lot of other things not pushed to its full dramatic potential.

Director Tony Scott hurts the realism by implementing too much of a music video approach with literally every scene smothered with a loud, booming rock tune, which cheapens the story by making it more about mood and image than a character study. There’s even issues with the sky color, which outside of the aerial footage, looks to have a bright golden color that does not replicate any sky I’ve ever seen on this planet.

The stunt work involving the flying jets is certainly impressive making this a movie you definitely need to see on the big screen in order to get its full effect, but eventually it gets redundant and for a layperson not familiar with piloting technique even a bit confusing. The ending in which Maverick and his fellow pilots are ordered to provide air support to a stricken ship that has drifted into hostile waters really jumps the shark when jet planes from a foreign country attacks theirs, which would be considered an act of war and a major international incident, but instead after the skirmish is over it all gets written off saying that the other country simply ‘denied that they did it’, which only in the movie world is good enough to make everyone else forgive and forget about it too.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 12, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Tony Scott

Studio: Paramount

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

The Wild Party (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Slumming actor stages comeback.

The year is 1929 and Jolly Grimm (James Coco) the once successful silent film star now finds himself, with the advent of talking pictures, to be in low demand. Although his movies once made a killing his style of humor is now considered cliched and with no studio willing to fund his latest pic he’s forced to use his own money to get it made. He holds a lavish party in his mansion inviting many Hollywood elites who he hopes will show an interest in his movie once he screens it to everyone, but instead his guests are more into each other as the party quickly devolves into a wild sex orgy with even Jolly’s faithful girlfriend Queenie (Raquel Welch) cheating on him with a much younger and better looking actor (Perry King).

The story is loosely based on the 1926 poem of the same name by Joseph Moncure March while the Jolly character was inspired by Fatty Arbuckle a famous silent film comic who was accused and the later acquitted of the rape and manslaughter of actress Virginia Rappe in 1921. The script though by Walter Marks doesn’t seem to know what tone it wants to take as at times it seems like a trenchant drama while at other moments it comes off as a surreal comedy. The original intent was to turn it into a musical, which would’ve been a better idea as the lack of cohesion causes the pacing to be completely off and never allows the film to build any tension or momentum.

The party scenes are not interesting or provocative and in many ways it’s a poorman’s version of Day of the Locust which came out at the same time and had a similar theme, but a far stronger impact. The sex is stagy and mechanical and seeing all the guests sprawled in a symmetric way on the floor the next day throughout the mansion looks too surreal-like to be even remotely believable. The party’s only interesting moment is when Jolly has a meltdown by going on a long angry rant that reveals his ugly side to his guests, but the filmmakers botch this sequence by focusing solely on Coco instead of cutting away to show the shocked reactions of the party-goers.

Coco, in his only starring vehicle, does quite well in a role I didn’t think he was equipped for. Welch gives an equally strong performance, possibly the best of her career, but the relationship of their two characters made no sense. Director James Ivory tries to flesh them out by having the two at different moments go on long soliloquys explaining what attracted them to the other, but in both cases it rings hollow. So what if Coco treated Welch with respect and asked her ‘deep questions’ when they first meet, which is apparently why she fell for him, he’s no longer doing that now, so why stick with him? Coco’s statement, that he couldn’t ‘live without her’ comes off as equally absurd since every time he talks to her he’s abusive.

The relationship angle should’ve been scrapped as it’s Jolly’s mental deterioration that is more interesting.  A far better and more realistic scenario would’ve had Coco coming onto a young starlet such as Queenie at the party but she would reject his advances and then later when he saw her with a younger actor it would set off his already shaky ego, which would then precipitate the violence.

Spoiler Alert!

The shooting that occurs at the end isn’t effective. The film is filled with so many lulls that by the time it finally gets to it you really don’t care who dies and who doesn’t. Having it occur the next morning after the party is already over seems anti-climactic and something that should’ve been witnessed by all the guests. It’s also a bit frustrating to have it end so abruptly without any aftermath or denouncement given.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Tiffany Bolling and Perry King add some zest in support especially with their facial expressions and the sultry dance done by Chris Gilmore (who gets billed here as Annette Ferra) adds a weird sensual vibe. However, having David Dukes’ character break the fourth wall and begin speaking directly to the camera as he describes the party guests is a distraction, which only  further cements this as a misguided misfire that needed better focus.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 4, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Director: James Ivory

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

A New Leaf (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Marrying for her money.

Henry Graham (Walter Matthau) has been living off of his vast inheritance for years only to find that his overspending and has now made him broke. Since he has no work history and no interest in getting a job he decides the only other alternative is to marry a rich woman. He finds his target in the form of Henrietta (Elaine May) who is an heiress to a massive family fortune. She is also quite homely, socially inept, and very into botany. Henry decides to ask for her hand in marriage and then once they are hitched kill her off and acquire her fortune for himself, but nothing goes as planned.

The plot is based on a short story ‘The Green Heart’ by Jack Ritchie and is full of many ingenious twists that helps propel the dark comedy along at a very even tone. Director May’s use of dry, subtle humor comes in perfectly for this type of material. So many other Hollywood comedies feel the need to bombard the viewer with broad, in-your-face gags so it’s genuinely refreshing to have a film take a more restrained approach by allowing the humor to peculate more. Instead of a rapid fire, gag-a-minute pace the film stretches the comical bits out for several minutes allowing the actors to play up the scene to a full crescendo with Henrietta’s inability to wear her evening nightgown properly on their honeymoon being quite possibly the funniest.

The characters are made up of extreme caricatures and in less talented hands could’ve been a detriment, but Matthau manages to play his part so astutely that the viewer ends up liking him anyways and his arc, where he reluctantly and quite unexpectedly ends up helping Henrietta out of several jams that she wasn’t aware of, is quite satisfying. George Rose, who sadly and ironically ended up having the same fate that almost befell the May character here when in 1988 in an attempt to get his hands on Rose’s fortune the teenage son that he adopted killed him while trying to make it look like a car accident, lends great support as Matthau’s wise and loyal butler.

Like with May’s other projects including the notorious Ishtar this film suffered many cost overruns and production delays most notably the 10 months it took to edit the film, which initially ended up having a 180 minute runtime and featured a secondary story dealing with Matthau poisoning a blackmailer played by William Hickey. The then head of Paramount Robert Evans decided, much to May’s objections, to cut this part out, which shortened it to 102 minutes, which I personally feel was a good idea. While I usually like director’s cuts the story here is too thin for a 3-hour length and in many ways goes on a bit too long the way it is although it would still be cool to see the extra footage, which is rumored to have been either lost or destroyed, as a bonus feature on a future DVD/Blu-ray release.

As a simple black comedy it comes off pretty well and even has a cute twist ending. Although a box office flop at the time it has garnered strong acclaim and since become a cult classic. The two stars also reunited 8 years later playing another couple in the Neil Simon farce California Suite

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 11, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Elaine May

Studio: Paramount

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