Category Archives: Movies Based on Short Stories

The Lightship (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hostages on a boat.

Captain Miller (Klaus Maria Brandauer) manages a stationary lightship with a small crew in the Atlantic and allows his teenage son Alex (Michal Skolimowski, but billed as Michael Lyndon) to come on board for a visit. While his son is there they take on board three men (Robert Duvall, William Forsythe, Arliss Howard) who were stranded at sea on a small boat. Once they board the vessel they quickly take over and hold the rest of the crew hostage. Alex wants to fight back immediately, but his father cautions him to take a more measured approach, which he finds to be cowardly and doesn’t hesitate to let his dad know it.

The film is a real mixed-bag with some good elements and some not so good ones to the point that it seems almost surprising that it was directed by such a legendary talent as Jerzy Skolimowski. The isolation aspects are good as you feel this boat is completely by itself out in the middle of the gray cold sea, which helps elevate the atmosphere particularly when Skolimoski forces the actors to perform outside even as a storm rages. However, the cinematography looks like it was filmed on videotape  and then transferred to film later, which gives the thing a cheap, low budget feel.

The most disconcerting aspect though is the action, or the lack thereof. The criminals overtake the ship too easily and quickly without enough of a buildup or explanation as to why they are doing it. There’s also way too many situations where the bad guys could’ve easily been overtaken particularly when all three put down their guns and go dancing/partying in one of the vessel’s downstairs cabins. Why couldn’t the rest of the crew simply used this opportunity to lock them inside?

There’s also just too much standing around and talking making it one of the most civilized hostage taking scenarios ever recorded. The bad guys are also too dense particularly the Forsythe character who speaks and acts so dimwitted that he seemed better suited for a comedy. Instead of the film building-up the tension for the viewer you start to wonder why any of what we’re seeing is even happening.

Duvall’s performance is a bright spot as he plays against type by speaking in a wispy voice and wearing a pencil thin mustache until he looks almost exactly like film director John Waters. Brandauer is excellent as well and his stoic, measured presence helps to keep it compelling, but what surprised me the most was that apparently during rehearsals Duvall and Brandauer played the opposite part and then decided to switch-up once shooting began, which would’ve made seeing the behind-the-scenes footage all the more fascinating. Lyndon though as the son is quite weak and outside of his pretty boy face has very little to offer and was most likely only got the part because he was the son of the director while his voice-over narration, which was apparently thrown in at the last minute, is completely unnecessary and only helps to take the viewer out of the story every time it gets used.

The climax is genuinely exciting as it’s not clear until the very end whether the captain will come through and save the ship, or just cowardly slink away. As I said at the top of this review it’s a real mixed-bag with a couple of choice dramatic moments that makes it worth it, but only if you’re patient.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 1, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Jerzy Skolimowski

Studio: CBS Theatrical Films

Available: DVD

Daisy Miller (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: She’s a real tease.

While studying in turn-of-the-century Switzerland Frederick (Barry Brown) comes upon the beautiful Daisy Miller (Cybill Shepherd) who’s touring Europe along with her nervous and talkative mother (Cloris Leachman) and precocious younger brother Randolph (James McMurty). Frederick is smitten with her beauty, but unable to handle her free-thinking ways. Nonetheless he follows her around Europe where he continually becomes confounded with whether she likes him or not, or whether he’ll ever be able to convey his true feelings towards her.

This film, which is based on a short story by Henry James, was originally conceived by Peter Bogdanovich as being a vehicle for both him and his then girlfriend Shepherd to star in with Peter playing the part of Frederick and Orson Welles directing it. Peter had become mesmerized with Cybill while directing her in The Last Picture Show and left his then wife and children to move in with her in a situation that was later satirized in Irreconcilable DifferencesFortunately Welles realized that Peter’s obsession with making Cybill a big screen star had sapped him from all common sense and bowed out of the film project considering the material to be weak and lightweight, which it is, but this only then helped to convince the determined Peter to direct it himself.

The result isn’t as bad as I had initially presumed and in a lot ways it’s strangely engaging and certainly  far better than At Long Last Love another Bogdanovich/Shepherd concoction that was rejected by both audiences and critics alike. This one though takes advantage of Cybill’s conniving, flirtatious nature, which is something I feel she’s been doing her whole life and therefore makes this character a reflection of who she truly is. Leonard Maltin described her performance as “hollow”, which I agree as we only see one side to her personality, but when she plays that one side as well as she does then it becomes entertaining nonetheless.

Brown is excellent too and far better in the role than Peter ever would’ve been as Brown manages to retain the necessary modicum of self-respect even as he chases her around like a lovesick mope. Instead of this becoming off-putting we sympathize with his internal quandary and this then helps to propel the story forward even as it seems to be going nowhere.

The film’s other big asset is its on-location shooting. Some viewers have described the period costumes and set-pieces as being great, but for me this was only so-so. What I really liked though was the scene done inside the Coliseum at night under the moonlight, which gives off both a surreal and creepy feeling and adds an extra ambiance making me wish the segment had been extended as well as adding a trip to Rome on my own personal bucket list.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s biggest failing though comes at the end where Daisy catches malaria and promptly dies, but we never see her sick and only gets told this after she’s already dead. Having a scene showing her ill and vulnerable as opposed to always being free-spirited and in control would’ve helped give the character an added dimension especially if it had been done with Frederick at her bedside.

The idea that if Frederick had just been less ‘stiff’ towards her that the relationship might’ve blossomed is ridiculous as I think this was the type of woman who enjoyed manipulating men and even if she got married to one she’d continually toy with them until she got bored and moved on to the next. Having her die isn’t ‘sad’ as the film suggests, but instead a happy one for Frederick as now he’s ultimately out of her grip and able to free himself to find someone who would really care for him.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 22, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Big Wednesday (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Catch the big wave.

Based on a short story that was published in 1974 and titled ‘No Pants Mance’ the plot deals with three life-long friends who share a passion for surfing. Jack (William Katt) is the sensible one who grows into being a responsible adult while Matt (Jan-Michael Vincent) and Leroy (Gary Busey) remain more reckless. The film follows their journey through life between the years of 1962 and 1974 and how their ongoing friendship ebbs-and-flows.

It was written and directed by John Milius whose own youthful surfing days helped him connect to the material and it manages to work when it’s in the water, but nowhere else. Much of the problem comes from an ill-advised attempt to broaden the storyline into a sprawling life saga that gets much too overwrought.

The film also spends too much time on meandering sequences that have nothing to do with the story including a fight scene that occurs during a house party in Katt’s home that is no different from the hundreds of similar house party brawls shown in other movies. This one though is slightly more amusing in that the homeowner (Barbara Hale) remains in her bedroom reading a book even as things get progressively out-of-control. However, it seemed unrealistic that she wouldn’t at some point check-up on what was going on especially as the commotion increased. The segment, as unnecessary as it is, had a good engaging set-up, but unfortunately lacked a satisfying finishing shot like her reaction the next day when she took in all the damage, which could’ve been a gem.

The draft dodging scene where they pretend to be blind, gay, crazy, or handicapped to get out of going to war is also contrived. Too many other movies had already tackled this including Alice’s Restaurant, which had a similar army recruiting sequence that was far funnier and made this one look second-rate by comparison.

It’s also off-putting to having Katt as the lead during the first-half only to switch to Vincent taking-the-reins during the second part. For one thing Vincent is not likable and he even causes a serious car crash earlier in the film that should’ve gotten him thrown into jail, but doesn’t. At the beginning he’s portrayed as being a drunken slacker that somehow manages to morph into a responsible husband and father later. The movie implies that when he unexpectedly finds out that he is a  father this ‘changes’ him, but with a lot of guys that’s not always the case, so I felt there needed to be more of a motivation than just that.

The surfing segments are excellent particularly the gigantic waves captured during the film’s climax. Had the story remained on a surfing plotline it would’ve worked, but unfortunately Milius tries too hard to give the material a ‘profound statement’ that turns it into nothing more than strained, hackneyed drama that is quite slow and boring.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 26, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 59 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Milius

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Cloak & Dagger (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid witnesses a murder.

Davy (Henry Thomas) is an imaginative 11-year-old who spends his days immersed in the fantasy world of an espionage game called Cloak & Dagger and its rugged hero Jack Flack (Dabney Coleman). His home life spent with his dad (also played by Coleman) isn’t as exciting and he uses his escape into the game as his way of coping with a father who is too busy to have any time for him. One day he inadvertently witnesses a murder and just before the victim dies he hands Davy a video game cartridge telling him that there is top secret information on it. Now Davy finds himself in a very real game of life and death forcing him to depend on the advice of his fantasy hero and help from his dad to save him from the bad guys.

Tom Holland’s script is based on the short story ‘The Boy Cried Murder’, which was first made into a movie in 1949 The Window that starred Bobby Driscoll. This version is definitely aimed for the kids, but manages to be engaging enough to keep an adult’s attention, which is what makes it fun. Director Richard Franklin, a noted Hitchcock disciple, manages to infuse humor with the suspense and uses a variety of locations to keep the action interesting.

Thomas is excellent as the kid, but I felt his character seemed a bit too even-keeled about things. I would think a kid would be traumatized at witnessing a murder and unable to cope, but Davy takes things in much too matter- of-fact way only to become overwhelmed by the reality of the situation much later when I felt it should’ve occurred right from the start.

Christina Nigra is cute as Davy’s young friend Kim, but she looks to be barely 6 years-old. Her lines are amusing, but she conveys them in a way that has no inflection like she is simply mouthing stuff that she has memorized. The dashingly handsome Michael Murphy makes for an effective bad guy and elderly real-life couple Jeannette Nolan and John McIntire get flashy roles in the twilight of their careers. You can also spot Louie Anderson in a brief bit as a cab driver.

Dabney Coleman’s presence is the only thing that doesn’t work. He’s a gifted comic character actor, but only engaging when he plays a sleazy slimeball and never as a good guy. Here he is downright boring and already in his 50’s making him a bit too old for either the father or superhero. I don’t think they are too many kids who would imagine their own fathers in the role of an idolized comic book-like hero anyways. Most of the time it would be someone who is brawny and glamorous. In either case the film would’ve worked better and made more sense had the father and hero role been played by two completely different actors.

For me though the best part of the movie is simply its on-location shooting done in San Antonio. It’s unfortunate that they didn’t film a scene at the Tower of the Americas, but the other tourist sites are included featuring a fun chase sequence at the River Walk, the Sunken Gardens and even the Alamo. In the case of the Alamo they were allowed to film the exteriors there, but the interiors were recreated on a soundstage, but having been in the actual Alamo I couldn’t tell the difference, which is impressive.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 13, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Franklin

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Internecine Project (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killing off his enemies.

Robert Elliot (James Coburn) is a former spy whose been given an offer as government advisor, but he must get rid of four people (Ian Hendry, Michael Jayston, Harry Andrews, Christiane Krueger) who hold secrets to his past before he can accept the position. To accomplish this he comes up with an ingenious plan, which consists of tricking these four to kill each other off all on the same night at around the same time while Robert sits comfortably at home and tracks their progress.

This is the type of intricate plot  that usually works best as a novel, but director Ken Hughes has things pretty well thought out. The first half isn’t too gripping, but once Robert’s scheme gets going it becomes quite intriguing. The plan certainly does border on being over-the-top and too dependent on the participants doing everything exactly as their instructed in order for it to be successful, but overall I felt it could’ve been possible, which is the main ingredient that makes it work as it manages to remain delicately within the realm of believability.

The supporting cast play their parts to the hilt complete with nervous ticks and flawed personalities, which helps add a fun dimension. Although clearly done on a modest budget the camera work and set design are creatively handled including one unique scene where the victim gets strangled by her killer through a shower curtain.

I also liked how one of the killers played by Christiane Kruger requires her instructions, which are given to her verbally by Coburn, to be repeated and written down as she is afraid she might forget them otherwise. I would respond in the exact same way even though most other movies in this genre will have the instructions spoken very quickly and only once, which would always make me wonder how they’re able to keep it all straight.

The only downside is the twist ending that seems like it was thrown in as a cutesy way to the end the film without much thought put into it. A really good twist should have some foreshadowing earlier that doesn’t seem all that important at the time and then when it’s all over allow the viewer to think back and go ‘A-ha, I should’ve seen that coming!’, but that’s not the case here.

If anything I would’ve had Lee Grant’s character more instrumental to the outcome as I could see no other purpose for her presence otherwise. I spent the whole film wondering why she was even in the movie and when it was over I was still asking that same question. She’s a beautiful lady, but her role is unfocused. One minute she’s feisty feminist and then the next she’s an emotionally needy wreck. She plays it well, but her efforts do nothing to propel the plot.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 24, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ken Hughes

Studio: Allied Artists Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Swimmer (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Swimming his way home.

On a hot summer afternoon Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster) decides to something out of the ordinary. He notices that all of his neighbors have backyard pools and he could essentially ‘swim’ his way home by jogging from house to house and diving into each pool before moving onto the next one. At first it seems like a great idea and the people he meets along the way are happy to see him, but things grow increasingly darker the more pools he goes to as some of the home owners do not welcome his presence while exposing uncomfortable elements from his past. His seemingly successful, happy persona takes a beating and slowly reveals instead a lonely man who’s badly out-of-touch with those around him.

The film is based on a short story written by John Cheever and first published in The New Yorker magazine on July 18, 1964. The story amounted to only 12 pages, but screenwriter Eleanor Perry manages to expand on the idea to create a film full of nuance and interesting dialogue that reveals just enough of the characters to make it insightful without becoming heavy-handed.

Director Frank Perry does a fine job in creating atmosphere by having each residence Ned enters into completely different from each other. Some have jubilant outdoor parties going on while others have just one person there and one pool doesn’t have any water in it at all. The best scenes include a slow-motion segment where Ned and a young lady named Julie (Janet Landgard) jump over hurdles like they are at a track meet as well as the scene where Ned and a young boy named Kevin (Michael Kearney) go to the bottom of an empty pool and pretend like to swim across it like it were still filled with water.

Lancaster gives an excellent performance and it initially comes off almost like a vanity project as the viewer gets to see him practically nude the entire time and in one brief segment his buttocks gets fully exposed. What’s so impressive is the fact that he was in his mid-50s at the time, but has a muscular physique like that of an athletic 20-year-old. His deep blue eyes give a lasting impression especially when they reveal the character’s shocked realization that the bubble he had been living in has now burst.

This also marks the film debut of Joan Rivers who appears as a party goer who has a brief conversation with Ned. The scene lasts for only a few minutes, but apparently took 7-days to film because of repeated arguments between director Perry and Lancaster over how they wanted to convey her character. Perry pushed for a ‘happy girl’ who Ned rejects, while Lancaster wanted a jaded woman who ends up rejecting Ned, which is how it ultimately plays out and which I preferred.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending where Ned gets to his home only to find it empty and abandoned and he’s unable to get inside is excellent because it helps bring together everything else that came before it. My interpretation is that the pools represented memories of his life and his attempts to somehow reconcile his selfish nature with those that he had abandoned or forgotten from his past. The house symbolizes his empty soul created through years of striving for material gain while callously ignoring, or exploiting others along the way. His inability to get back inside corresponds to his failure to reconcile with himself about his behavior and the empty feeling one ultimately gets when material success ends up not being fulfilling.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The film went through a difficult production that saw many conflicts between Lancaster and Perry that ultimately got Perry fired and replaced by Sydney Pollack who reshot several scenes including the one with Janice Rule who replaced Barbara Loden whose scenes were scrapped entirely. Despite these behind-the-scenes complications the film still comes together as a fluid whole and has a nice visual style that makes it well deserving of its strong cult following.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 15, 1968

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Frank Perry, Sydney Pollack (Uncredited)

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Saturday Night Fever (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s a disco star.

This film is based on a 1976 story that was published in New York Magazine entitled “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” by Nik Cohn, which for many years was considered a factual account of the disco trends of the young people at the time who frequented the disco 2001 Odyssey nightclub, but it later turned out, through the confession of its author, to have been totally fabricated. The story here centers on Tony (John Travolta) who still lives with his parents while working for low wages at a Brooklyn paint store, but longing for a more exciting existence. Despite being a ‘nobody’ during the week on Saturday nights he’s a star as he takes to the disco floor and has all the women flocking to him. Annette (Donna Pescow) is one of those women, but Tony finds her too unattractive and instead has eyes for Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney) who he wants as his dance partner in order to win a contest.

From the ads and promotions you’d think this was nothing more than a lightweight teeny bopper romance looking to take advantage of the current disco trend, but the film is much more than that. In fact the dance sequences are boring and thankfully director John Badham keeps these segments contained although I would’ve cut back on them even more. The real essence of the film is Tony’s relationship with his friends, family and world as a whole. The film works as a terrific composite of what life in Brooklyn during the ‘70s amongst the teens and young adults was really like as they try to forge their way into young adulthood while fighting to find their place in it.

Travolta gives an outstanding performance mainly because he’s one of those actors who isn’t afraid to expose the vulnerabilities of the characters that he plays as Tony isn’t a completely likable person and many times acts quite arrogant and callous, which leaves the viewer feeling like they’ve seen an unfiltered portrait of a real person with all the edges showing instead of just a manufactured image.

Pescow is great in support. The image of her holding out a hand full of condoms is the one thing I’ve remembered vividly from the movie from when I first saw it over twenty years ago and the scene of where she is assaulted in the back seat of a car by Tony’s friends is genuinely heart breaking.

My only quibble with her is the moment where Tony informs her that he is choosing a different dance partner for the contest and she immediately breaks down crying. My belief is that most people because of personal pride will not wear their emotional vulnerabilities that openly especially if they are downtrodden like her character. Instead I think she would’ve responded to the news in a sort of aloof/defiant way like saying ‘fine if you don’t want me then I don’t want you’ before walking away and then crying about it later in private.

Gorney’s performance was the one that I really didn’t like as her put-on Brooklyn accent is too affected. With Pescow you could tell it was the genuine thing as she was from the region originally, but Gorney was born in Beverly Hills and attended college in Pittsburgh, so her attempts at putting on an accent was not needed or warranted and made her character seem too much at Tony’s working class level when I thought the idea was to show that she wasn’t.

As for her relationship with Tony I liked the concept that these two were genuine opposites, but I wished the movie had played this up more. She’s initially cold towards Tony and rejects his advances and then a few days later without him having done anything differently she’s suddenly warmed up to him. I would’ve liked some situation created where she was forced to hook-up with Tony as a dance partner because her original partner took ill or something and then had the frostiness between them continue and melt away only when they are on the dance floor.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is a bit limp. The fact that the two don’t end up getting into a long term romantic relationship, but instead agree to be ‘just friends’ is good as too many movies with this type of formula always seem to want to strive for the ideal love scenario, but in most real-world cases that just isn’t practical and these two had too much that was not in common and getting past those things would’ve proved futile.

However, the dance contest is a letdown as the film introduces a Puerto Rican couple who dance better than Tony and Stephanie, but Tony is still awarded the trophy supposedly because of racism, but why throw in this plot point so late? We’ve been following the trials and tribulations of Tony and Stephanie the entire way through not the Puerto Rican couple who we know nothing about. If the movie wanted to make a statement about racism at the club it should’ve been brought out much earlier and not at the very last minute when it becomes essentially pointless.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall though it’s a great movie that deserves its classic status as the characters and dialogue are richly textured and the film makes its message through subtle visual means without having to telegraph it. However, the PG-rated version, which was released two years later in an attempt to reel in the teen audience, sanitizes the story to the point that it takes out the heart of the film and should be avoided.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes (R-rated version) 1 Hour 52 Minutes (PG-rated version) 2 Hours 2 Minutes (Director’s cut)

Director: John Badham

Studio: Paramount

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

Three (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two guys one chick.

Taylor (Sam Waterston) and Bert (Robbie Porter) are two college chums spending their summer traveling through Europe. When they get to Italy they come upon a free-spirited young woman named Marty (Charlotte Rampling) who agrees to become their traveling companion, but underlying sexual tensions soon rise to the surface. Both men want to make a play for her, but resist because they fear it will ruin their friendship yet as the trip progresses the temptations get too strong to ignore.

Normally I enjoy a film with a laid back pace as I feel American movies tend to be too rushed and leave the viewer no time to allow the characters, story, or imagery to sink in. However, here it’s too slow with plot and character development at a minimum. The extraneous dialogue is not interesting and too much footage is given to capturing the Italian countryside, which makes this seem more like a travelogue.

Waterston is transparent as usual, which makes me wonder how he has managed to have the long career that he has had. Porter, who is better known as a composer, is better looking and much more dynamic and I was surprised that Rampling’s character doesn’t just gravitate towards him immediately as Waterston is dull and wimpy and not what most attractive women would want to consider.

Rampling is great and gives each scene an extra kick, which makes sitting through this meandering production slightly worth it, but the sexual tension is lacking. Supposedly this is what it’s all about, but for the most part it shies away from examining it even though it should’ve been constantly reinforced either through imagery, flashback or dialogue instead of being largely forgotten until the very, very end when it no longer mattered.

This was writer James Salter’s one-and-only foray behind the camera and it’s no surprise he never directed another one as he clearly shows no ability or understanding for pacing.  The characters are not unique enough to be captivating and one eventually begins to wonder why they’re bothering to watch it or what point the filmmakers had for even making it.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 23, 1969

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated M

Director: James Salter

Studio: United Artists

Available: None at this time.

National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

vacation

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Going on a trip.

Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) decides to drive his family of four from Chicago to California in order to visit the world famous amusement park of Wally World. Sure they could’ve flown, but he feels that getting there is ‘half the fun’, so they pack up their station wagon while losing their luggage along the way, running out of money, getting stranded in the desert and forced to take along the crabby Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) who makes everyone miserable.

The film is loaded with laugh-out-loud gags particularly at the beginning. I enjoyed the snapshots of touristy places that get shown over the opening credits as they look exactly like homemade pics stripped directly from somebody’s family album. Clark’s attempts to recreate their proposed trip on the computer only to have his animated station wagon eaten up by a Pacman-like monster is hilarious and imaginative. The scene showing him trying to get back into his old car after its been crushed, or falling asleep at the wheel and driving haphazardly off the road only to end up miraculously at a hotel are also quite good.

The screenplay was written by John Hughes and based on a story he wrote for the September 1979 issue of National Lampoon’s magazine. The plot nicely tackles all the problems that can occur on a typical family outing. Everything from having to visit boring in-laws to squabbling kids in the backseat get comically examined and most likely will remind everyone of their own family trips that started out fun, but turned into a nightmare.

I enjoyed seeing comic legends Eddie Bracken and Imogene Coca cast in supporting roles as well as other recognizable stars popping up for brief bits. This is also the best casting of Rusty and Audrey and watching the kids being the sensible ones while the Dad is more child-like is fun. However, their lack of appreciation for the song ‘Mockingbird’, which Chase and Beverly D’Angelo do an admirable rendition of, is outrageous even for teens and should’ve been enough to have them thrown into Lake Michigan immediately!

The script though begins to go off its hinges with the running joke involving supermodel Christie Brinkley. She plays a hot babe who seems for some strange reason to be attracted to middle-age schmuck Clark. The script was originally written to have this as Rusty’s sexual fantasy, which might’ve worked better, but as it is here it makes no sense.  The character drives so fast in her sporty red convertible that she should remain miles ahead of them and yet she is constantly repassing them almost like she’s a stalker and the odds that she would’ve coincidently been staying at the same hotel as them, out of the thousands that are out there, are astronomically slim. It all might’ve been saved, at least for the male viewers, had she gone nude, which was the original intent, but she refused. In either case it’s a boring bit that is not funny, or believable, or for that matter even sexy.

Spoiler Alert!

I also found the ending to be a letdown. The original one had Clark purchasing a BB gun and using it to invade the home owned by Wally (Eddie Bracken) after they find that his amusement park has been temporarily shut down and then forcing him and his associates to sing some songs before the SWAT team closes in. However, this ending rated poorly with test audiences so it was changed to where Clark and the family invade the park itself and force a security guard, amusingly played by John Candy, to take them on the rides while threatening him with the same type of BB gun.

Personally I disliked both endings because they are over-the-top and make little sense. There is no way that an amusement park would completely shut down for 2-weeks to make repairs especially in the middle of summer, which it is at the height of tourist season and risks too much of a loss of revenue. Certain individual rides may get shut down from time-to-time, but not the whole place. There is also never any explanation as to who is running the rides from the ground that the Griswolds and the security guard go on. Some may argue that it might be done by the black security guard, which is played by actor Frank McRae, but this is never explicitly shown or implied, so it therefore cannot be automatically assumed.

It also takes away too much from the film’s overall theme, which was making fun of less than ideal situations that occur on a lot of family vacations. Yes they do get exaggerated for comical purposes, but there was still a grain of truth to it while the ending instead borders on the surreal.

A better version would’ve been to have the family go to the park and have it open for business as expected, but then get caught up in a lot of crowds, long lines, overly priced rides and roller coasters that made them physically sick, which it did to the cast in real-life anyways.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Despite some of the script’s weaknesses this is still the funniest installment to the Griswold adventures and far better than its 4 sequels or the 2015 reboot. I also enjoyed the on-location shooting as well as the music by Lindsey Buckingham. His song ‘Holiday Road’, which gets played during the film’s opening, has become the mainstay to the franchise even though I found ‘Dancing Across the U.S.A’ that gets played over the closing credits to be better.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 29, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Harold Ramis

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

The Picture Show Man (1977)

picture show man

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: They show silent movies.

During the 1910’s Pym (John Meillon) travels the Australian countryside with his son and piano player (John Ewert) while renting out the local theaters in the small towns that they come upon and showing silent movies to the townsfolk. He makes just enough to survive and keeps all of his money in his pocket as he doesn’t trust the banks. His biggest problem is the advent of talking pictures as well as competition from Palmer (Rod Taylor) a man who Pym personally trained in the business, but now seems to be making more of a splash.

What should’ve been a nice slice-of-life period piece turns out to be meandering and pointless instead with a script that lacks a plot and everything broken up into vignettes that are just barely passable. The film would’ve done better with a more centralized character and point-of-view as well as adding in some conflict and drama. It also should’ve stayed more focused on the silent movie theme instead of veering into other directions including romance and even horse racing, which are just not as interesting.

Upon his death last year at the age of 85 many obituaries listed this film as being Rod Taylor’s last major role, but it really isn’t. He appears only sporadically and seems to have almost a mystical presence about him. His confrontations with Pym are contrived and his character adds very little.

The only mildly interesting aspect of the movie is the addition of Major Lockhart and his wife (Don Crosby, Judy Morris) who come onboard with Pym to do fake psychic readings during the intermission of his movies. The couples constant bickering is amusing and the scene where the husband catches his wife making out with Pym in the projection room and proceeds to attack them with an ax and sets fire to the film while the customers sit on the other side of the wall singing a song and completely oblivious to what is going on behind them is pretty funny.

I also got a kick out of the shot showing the faces of the people who are completely mesmerized to the screen as they take in hearing dialogue for the first time in a movie. The dialogue itself is banal and even corny, but the fact that the people remain so compelled to it makes it without a doubt the best moment in the movie.

I also found Leonard Maltin’s review of this movie to be pretty amusing as well. In the 1991 edition of his Movie Guide he gives this film three-and-a-half-stars while calling it “Funny and moving” and “A must for buffs”. Then in his 2013 edition he gives this same movie only two stars and describes it as meandering and lacking in energy.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 5, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Power

Studio: Roadshow Distributors

Available: DVD