Category Archives: Movies Based on Stageplays

Deathtrap (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Playwright turns to murder.

Sidney Bruhl (Michael Caine) was at one time a top playwright, but his latest play is a flop. To add to his depression he finds that one of his students who attended his writing seminar, Clifford Anderson (Christopher Reeve), has on his first attempt written a brilliant sure-fire hit. Something that makes Sidney jealous. He decides to invite Clifford over to his secluded cottage and while there, and with the help of his wife Myra (Dyan Cannon), kill Clifford and then steal his script and treat it as if it’s his own. Things though don’t work out quite as expected especially when their neighbor Helga (Irene Worth) arrives who has psychic visions that could ultimately implicate Sidney for doing the dirty deed.

The film is based on the Broadway play of the same name written by Ira Levin that ran for 1,793 performances from February 26, 1978 to June 13, 1982. The play was well received by critics and audiences alike including director Sidney Lumet who put up some of his own money to get it made into a film, but ultimately he relies too heavily on the twisting plot while failing to add any cinematic element to it.

The exterior of Sidney’s home was the picturesque DeRose Windmill Cottage, which sits in East Hampton, New York and helps add a visual flair, but the interior of the home was shot on a soundstage and the film becomes quite claustrophobic as almost the entire story takes place in this one setting. The movie desperately needed more cutaways, even some minor breakaway bits like Helga’s disastrous guest spot on the Merv Griffin Show, which gets talked about, but never shown, in order to make it seem less like a filmed stageplay, which it ultimately ends up being.

The script brings up some potentially interesting insights like how sometimes the characters in a writer’s play can closely parallel the authors themselves. In fact many people that knew him felt that the Sidney character here strongly resembled the real Ira Levin, but the film fails to pursue this in a satisfying way and is devoid of any interesting subtext or nuance. The characters end up being just boring one dimensional caricatures that are wholly unlikable. You could care less which one of them killed who, or whether any of them even survive.

Christopher Reeve is the film’s only real bright-spot and the way he plays a gay man is effective and believable. His onscreen kiss with Caine was considered controversial and daring at the time and even upsetting to fans to the point that purportedly one audience member in a Denver theater screamed out “Superman, don’t do it!” just as the kiss occurred. Irene Worth is fun too and her accent is so believable that I was convinced that she must’ve been born in Eastern Europe and was shocked to learn that instead she was from, of all places, Nebraska.

Caine is good, but his presence will remind many of the movie Sleuth, which he also starred in and is quite similar to this one. In fact a lot of viewers thought this was a sequel to that simply for that reason and because of this somebody else should’ve been hired to play the part.

Cannon on the other hand is annoying as the hyper wife and shares no onscreen chemistry with the other two actors. Marian Seldes had played the role on Broadway in every one of its 1,793 performances, which garnered her a citation in the Guinness Book of World Records as most durable actress and because of that alone she should’ve been given the part here.

Johnny Mandel’s soundtrack gives the proceedings a highbrow flair and I wished it had been played more. The plot twists may entertain and surprise some, but not if you think about them for too long, which ultimately makes this just a second-rate Sleuth.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Release: March 19, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 56 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, YouTube

Fortune and Men’s Eyes (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: His life in prison.

Smitty (Wendell Burton) is a young first-time offender who’s sent away to the Canadian penitentiary for six months. He gets assigned to a cell with three other men: Rocky (Zooey Hall), Mona (Danny Freedman), and Queenie (Michael Greer). Queenie is an openly gay drag queen while Mona is a soft-spoken young man who likes to write poetry. Rocky is the tough guy who offers Smitty ‘protection’ if Smitty agrees to become his subordinate and do anything he asks including sexual favors. To avoid the harassment that he sees others getting that don’t have the same ‘protection’ he agrees, but eventually he grows tired of Rocky’s dominance and decides to challenge it.

The film is based on  a play written by John Herbert who also wrote the screenplay. It is based on actual experiences that he received when he was arrested for dressing in drag in 1947 and taken to a reformatory at the age of 20. The play, which was written in 1967 initially had a hard time getting produced due to the subject matter, but was eventually put on the stage by Sal Mineo who directed and also played Rocky while Don Johnson played Smitty and Greer, like in the film, played Queenie.

The film version though makes many changes to the story some of which I’m not sure I liked. The one thing though that I thought was excellent is that it was shot inside an actual prison, which helps add authenticity. As opposed to most movies which shoots things from outside the cell looking in this one captures everything from inside the cell, which makes the viewer feel like they’re locked in the jail with the rest of the men and gives one a true feeling of the claustrophobic prison experience.

The shock element may not be as strong as it once was. The scene where Rocky rapes Smitty in the shower as the camera fixates on the running faucets and we hear only Smitty’s cries may be a bit too stylized and even kind of hokey by today’s standards. The segment though where Mona is grabbed from behind by a brute and taken into a dingy cell where he’s gang raped while the guards look away was to me far more potent. A later scene dealing with a prisoner being taken to a back room and beaten by the guards could’ve been stronger had it been extended.

For me personally the most shocking element is seeing Smitty’s transformation from naive man who we the viewer can mostly relate too, to someone who becomes almost as bad as Rocky. However, I found it annoying that it’s never made clear what he did that got him into prison in the first place and his character arch would’ve been stronger had the film started with him in the outside world committing the crime and subsequently getting arrested.

Burton’s acting abilities don’t seem quite on par with the demands of the role. His blank-eyed stare and monotone delivery make him seem like a one-dimensional actor and he was most likely given the role simply because of his babyface. Greer though in many ways steals it as the flamboyant drag queen and the outrageous performance that he puts on during the Christmas show at the prison is quite memorable.

Spoiler Alert!

The film remains compelling, but is hampered visually by being done almost entirely in one setting. The ending though leaves open too many questions. Does Smitty ever get out? How does he behave once he does and how has his experiences in prison changed him? None of these things get answered, which to me made the film incomplete and despite some good dramatic efforts here and there unsatisfying.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 15, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Harvey Hart, Jules Schwerin (uncredited)

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS

The Caretaker (1963)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Homeless man moves in.

Based on the Harold Pinter play the story centers around Aston (Robert Shaw) who suffers from an undisclosed mental illness and lives alone in a cramped, cluttered room of an abandoned home that his brother Mick (Alan Bates) is trying to renovate. Mac Davies (Donald Pleasence) is a homeless man that Aston invites to stay with him, but Mac proves to be a difficult roommate and when Aston asks him to leave Mac refuses and instead tries connive with Mick to have Aston thrown out instead.

From a purely technical standpoint this is a brilliant film as Clive Donner’s direction perfectly captures the claustrophobic setting. It can be hard to recreate a truly cluttered interior, but this room really comes off looking like a storage closet with so many items crowded into it that you wonder how the performers were even able to move around or how the camera crew could fit in to film it. You eventually lose touch with this being a movie at all, but instead start to feel like you’re right in there with the characters as the camera creates an incredible intimacy with the people on the screen until it’s like they’re breathing right on you.

The performances are impressive and the one thing that keeps the viewer captivated as there is very little action otherwise. All three starred in the stage production and basically did this for free as the budget was so low that they couldn’t be paid upfront and were promised a percentage of the profits if the film went into the black. Shaw is particularly interesting as he has played so many dominating characters in the past that watching him portray someone who is shy and unassuming and still do it with equal effectiveness is a testament to his talents while Pleasence, who wears heavy make-up to make him look much older than he really was, is almost unrecognizable.

My only complaint is that not enough happens. I’ve seen and enjoyed many of Pinter’s other plays that were turned into films and although this one is well crafted it still lacks the necessary payoff. I kept waiting for that great dramatic moment that seems from the very beginning to be just bubbling underneath the surface, but it never materializes. I wanted more of an arch that the characters and material seemed ripe for and to have it just end the way it began with not much occurring in between is a real disappointment. Again, the performance and camerawork keep you captivated, but it all adds up to being much ado about nothing and the story’s ultimate message/point being quite murky.

Alternate Title: The Guest

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 2, 1963

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Clive Donner

Studio: Janus Films

Available: DVD (Region 2)

Butterflies are Free (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Blind man digs blonde.

Don (Edward Albert) lives alone in a studio apartment as a blind composer trying desperately to break into the music scene while his mother (Eileen Heckart) wants him to move back home with her, but he resists. In comes free-spirited new neighbor Jill (Goldie Hawn) who has a hard time remaining in long-term relationships. The two quickly hit-if-off, but when Don pushes for a commitment she begins to back away.

The film manages to retain the charm of the hit Broadway play that it is based on and this is mainly due to the fact that that Leonard Gershe, who wrote the play also did the screenplay and Milton Katelas, who directed the Broadway version also does the film, but the claustrophobic setting becomes a detriment. To some degree I liked the apartment’s layout, which was shot on-location in an actual apartment building that still stands today at 1355 Grant Avenue in San Francisco, but the gray decaying walls and overall grimy interiors become depressing to look at and having almost all the action take place in it makes the film visually boring.

Changing the story’s setting from New York to San Francisco though is a major plus. The bit done over the opening credits showing the hippie subculture of the area gives off a great vibe and helps to explain Jill’s very free-spirited ways that may not make much sense to viewers living in today’s world. Seeing a man staring at her from the neighboring apartment may scare most women today and have the guy considered a ‘creep’, but Jill instead sees it as a ‘turn-on’ and even playfully flashes him, which is something that back then, in a more trusting, experimental, and ‘anything goes’ culture might have been even predicted and this goes along with her hopping into bed with Don on the first day she’s met him without even a second thought.

The scenes showing the couple walking down the city sidewalks has an eclectic energy because regular people were used in the background instead of paid extras, which helps to create an  authentic feel. All shapes and sizes of the subculture folks that made up the city’s neighborhoods get captured including one guy seen walking around with what looks to be a headcast. More scenes should’ve been done outdoors as it’s the one thing that gives the film an added ambiance and the fact that there aren’t enough of them causes an unintended static quality.

Albert, who is the son of actor Eddie Albert, is pretty good, but I was surprised why the introducing label gets listed next to his name in the opening credits as if this were his first film when just 7 years earlier he appeared prominently in The Fool Killer with Anthony Perkins. Hawn is solid too in a part tailored made for her persona and she also looks great running around in her skimpy underwear, but Blythe Danner who played the role in the stage version, might’ve given the character a more earthy quality.

My favorite person though was Heckart who adds some much needed drama with her presence and the film drags when she’s not in it. She is portrayed as being a heavy, but instead I found her to be completely relateable with her worries about her handicapped son living alone and something I would think most any other parent would also have. The fact that she starts out as controlling only to eventually let go and allow her son to finally spread-his-wings at a most critical time is the film’s best moment and deservedly helped her net an Oscar.

Unfortunately there are some dumb parts to the story as well. The first is the fact that it all takes place over a two day period, which makes Don’s emotional devastation at finding out that Jill plans to move in with some other guy seem too severe since he didn’t even know she existed just 48 hours earlier. Jill’s willingness to get involved in the personal affairs of Don and his mother and at one point even lectures the mother on her parental failings seem almost over-the-top since she technically barely even knows the woman. All this would’ve made more sense had the  relationship been going on for several months before either the mother or rival boyfriend arrived.

The segment where Jill tells Don that she’s moving in with her newfound boyfriend, which she knows will hurt him, and then goes back to her apartment to pack while Don has it out with his mother is problematic too since it was made clear earlier that the walls between the two apartments were paper thin. Therefore you’d expect that Jill would’ve overheard the conversation between the two and yet the film makes it seem like she hadn’t.

Spoiler Alert!

Having Jill reject her boyfriend and comeback to Don was a bit hard-to-swallow as most people don’t change their lifelong behaviors so quickly especially for someone they’ve just met, but fortunately the film doesn’t overdo it by having her rush back into his arms, but instead just shows them sitting down on the floor and talking. To me this signified a long lasting friendship as opposed to a romance, which in these types of circumstances is better and ultimately helps to make the movie, despite some of the grievances described above, a winner.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 6, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Milton Katselas

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Born to Win (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Junkie needs his fix.

J.J. (George Segal) is a former hairdresser now residing on the streets due to his heroin addiction. To help pay for his expensive habits he agrees to transport drugs for Vivian ( Hector Elizondo) which gets him into deeper trouble with the criminal underworld. Eventually two cops (Ed Madsen, Robert De Niro) catch up with him and agree to strike a deal, which will allow him to avoid jail time if he agrees to turn Vivian and his cohorts in. J.J. though is more concerned with getting his next fix and nothing else matters not even the hot young chick Parm (Karen Black) who he has just moved in with.

There were many 70’s films, some might say too many, dealing with the drug addiction theme. Some were quite compelling while most of the others were highly clichéd. This one though takes a slightly different angle by injecting comedy into the proceedings and surprisingly it works. J.J.’s conversation with an older woman cashier (Sylvia Syms) about enemas, which he does in order to distract her from seeing his buddies stealing the company’s safe, is quite amusing. The best part though is when J.J. is stripped naked and forced to wear nothing but a woman’s bathrobe and then when he’s held prisoner in an apartment bedroom he flashes a young woman from across the street in order to get her attention to call the cops, but instead she proceeds to just flash him back, which is a laugh-out-loud moment especially when the viewer later gets to see Segal running down the city’s streets in the pink bathrobe with startled pedestrians looking on.

The film though fails when it tries to get serious. The dramatic moment where J.J.’s friend Billy (Jay Fletcher) takes some corrupted heroin and it kills him gets botched. Maybe it’s just me as I’ve seen many movies, but I could tell where this scene was headed right from the start and the intended ‘shock’ and ‘surprise’ of it instead becomes boring and overly played-out.

Karen Black’s presence helps. Her character is quite goofy to the point that she gets turned-on by J.J. when she catches him trying to steal her car and even invites him back to her place afterwards. Normally this behavior would be considered too wacky to be believable, but Black’s ability to channel her inner freak gives the whole thing an authentic feel and her later conversations dealing with how many men she has slept with is a gem as well.

Segal’s performance is solid, but we never effectively get inside his character’s head. The film would’ve been far stronger had we seen what his life was like before he became an addict and the jarring contrast in his lifestyles could’ve made for a powerful statement, which unfortunately is lacking. We also never get to see him actually putting the needle into his arm. We see at one point the needle marks in his skin, but seeing him taking the drug would’ve hit the message home visually.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is frustrating as he is given a bag of heroin that he knows may be tainted and ultimately will kill him if he takes it and yet it is left wide open as to whether he tries it or not. The idea that someone would be so strung out to get a high that they would knowingly take something that they knew could instantly kill them is an intriguing quandary that needed to be answered and the fact that it doesn’t is why this film despite a few good moments ultimately misses-the-mark.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 1, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ivan Passer

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Only When I Laugh (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Actress is an alcoholic.

Georgia Hines (Marsha Mason) has just been released from a 12-week alcohol rehab program and returns to her Manhattan apartment looking to readjust to civilian life with the help of her two friends; Jimmy (James Coco) a gay unemployed actor and Toby (Joan Hackett) a woman unhappy at turning middle-aged. To Georgia’s surprise Polly (Kristy McNichol) her 17 year-old-daughter shows up wanting to move in with her and ‘patch things up’ from their tumultuous past. Georgia isn’t sure she’s emotionally ready, but forges ahead and things start out okay, but then the demons from the past rear their ugly head forcing mother and daughter to face some harsh realities both about themselves and each other.

The film is based on Neil Simon’s Broadway play ‘The Gingerbread Lady’ that starred Maureen Stapleton and ran for 193 performances. It was not considered a success and when adapted to a film Simon made changes to the story, but to me it all seemed like every other Neil Simon dramedy that he’s done before. Both this film and The Goodbye Girl that also starred Mason featured male characters that were struggling to become professional actors. Both this film and Chapter Two, which again starred Mason, had characters who were playwrights going through writer’s block. His films always take place in New York and have characters who see analysts, and can apparently make enough to afford them. I realize there’s the old adage ‘write what you know’ and that’s exactly what Simon is doing, but it would be nice if he’d get a little bit out of his comfort zone as nothing that gets shown here seems fresh or original.

The first hour is way too serene and I would’ve expected much more of a frosty relationship between mother and daughter, but instead for the most part they get along great, at least initially. There are some passing references to previous drama, but I felt this should’ve been shown and not just talked about. The second half improves significantly with some strong scenes, but I’m afraid that with such a lifeless beginning most viewers will have fallen asleep before it even gets there.

McNichol is excellent and every bit Mason’s equal, but this exposes another of Simon’s weaknesses, which is that although he’s good at writing character parts for adults he seems unable to do so for anyone younger. In The Goodbye Girl the Quinn Cummings character seemed too infantile for a 10-year-old and here McNichol is more like a 20-something and the intended mother-daughter drama more like just two girlfriends rooming together.

Coco and Hackett are excellent and help hold things together and the movie does manage to deliver, at least in the second-half, but I couldn’t help but feel that Simon had gone to this well too often and was starting to lose his edge. You can also spot young Kevin Bacon as a college dude trying to pick and Mason and McNichol as they eat at a café.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1981

Runtime: 2Hours

Rated R

Director: Glenn Jordan

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available:  DVD-R, Amazon Video, YouTube

Switching Channels (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Reporter shields convicted killer.

Christy Colleran (Kathleen Turner) is a dedicated news reporter working at a satellite news network who decides to take a much needed vacation. On her trip she meets the dashing and very rich Blane Bingham (Christopher Reeve). The two hit-it-off and decide to get married, but when she informs her ex-husband John (Burt Reynolds), who just so happens to also be here employer, he does everything he can to prevent the marriage from happening. Part of his scheme is to get her so involved in covering the impending execution of Ike Roscoe (Henry Gibson) that she won’t have time for Blaine, but when the execution goes awry and allows Ike to escape Christy agrees to shield him from the authorities.

The story is based off of the very famous Broadway play ‘The Front Page’ that was first performed in 1928 and has been remade into a cinematic film (not including the TV-movie versions) three different times before this one. The first was in 1931 and the second in 1942 with His Girl Friday starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, which was probably the best version, and then in 1974 director Billy Wilder took a stab at the story that starred Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.

Why it was felt that this story needed to be done again is a mystery as this version is by far the weakest and hardly funny at all. The premise itself is solid, but structured in a way that makes it come off as an unfocused mess. It starts out as this sort of romantic love triangle scenario then jarringly shifts into the execution until it seems like two entirely different movies crammed into one. None of the original dialogue from the play was retained making the attempted banter here benign and uninteresting.

Although it’s been a while since I’ve seen the three other versions, which I found to be highly entertaining and funny, but this one is dizzying and confusing instead. As I remember the other versions kept the focus solely on the three leads and had them remain in the same setting with the action basically coming to them. Here it gets diluted with the characters prancing around to too many different places with their presence getting minimized by gargantuan, overly colorful sets that swallow up both the actors and story.

Reeve is excellent in what I consider his best role outside of Superman. Reynolds though looks uncomfortable in an ensemble-type comedy structure and he shares absolutely no chemistry with Turner with behind-the-scene reports saying that the two couldn’t get along at all. It’s almost like they cast the parts based solely on the name recognition of the stars over whether they were truly right for the parts.

Turner had already lost her youthful appeal here that had made her so sexy in Body Heat that had just been done 7 years earlier.  She comes off as more middle-aged and frumpy and not at all the type of woman two guys would fight over. I admire her attempts at expanding her acting range by taking a stab at frantic comedy, but her constant breathless delivery becomes tiresome and redundant.

The entire production gets overblown. Director Ted Kotcheff’s attempts to make the story more cinematic ends up draining it of the amusing subtle nuances that made it so special when it was done onstage. Switching channels is indeed an appropriate title for this because if it were shown on TV I would be pressing the remote to a different station.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Release: March 4, 1988

Runtime: 1hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Studio: TriStar Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dad fucks the babysitters.

Rita (Siobhan Finneran) and Sue (Michelle Holmes) are two friends from high school who babysit for Bob (George Costigan) and his wife Michelle (Lesley Sharp). One night while Bob is taking the two babysitters home in his car he decides to make a sexual overture to them and they both enthusiastically reciprocate, which ends up turning into a mini sex orgy. Soon the three are routinely getting together for sexual trysts until Michelle eventually catches on and leaves Bob while taking the kids with her. Sue’s parents find out too, which causes a great deal of stress and infighting amongst the three.

This offbeat comedy unexpectedly became a big worldwide cult hit that made stars of the three leads particularly the two women whose first film this was. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the film’s director Alan Clarke or its writer Andrea Dunbar who both tragically died just 3 years after the film’s release. Clarke from cancer while Dunbar, who was living on welfare and an alcoholic, passed away at her local pub at only 29 years of age.

The film comes off as an odd mix of lighthearted comedy and gritty drama that doesn’t completely work. The story jumps from the upscale middle class neighborhood of Bob’s house to the abject poverty of Sue and Rita’s family life with their apartments so vividly rundown that it’s almost horrifying to imagine anyone could live in such squalor. Part of the reason for this shift is that the film was based on two of Dunbar’s plays, the first being ‘The Arbor’, which was an autobiographical story of her growing up in the slums and at the hands of an abusive father, which she wrote at the age of 15 as a class project, and the other on a later play that she wrote with the same title as the film.

Why director Clarke choose to mix the two plays together into one film I’m not sure. Maybe he thought it would give the story more substance, but it really doesn’t. The antics that go on here could’ve happened in any neighborhood and income bracket making the stark, dramatic scenes of the girl’s sad home life seem inconsequential and meandering.

I didn’t like the film’s abrupt start either as it jumps almost immediately to the three getting-it-on inside the car without any backstory. I kept wondering when did Bob get the idea to make a pass at the two girls and why are the girls so unsurprised when he does? I would think most young women would be shocked when an older man that they babysit for would suddenly make an aggressive sexual come-on and yet here these two aren’t, but why? What sort of signals were the two sending out to Bob to make him feel that he could behave the way he does? Was he already getting ideas when they first came to babysit for him, or did it evolve later? These questions and scenarios never get shown or answered, but should’ve.

We also never see Rita and Sue interacting with the children. The scenes involving their babysitting shows them either sitting watching TV or stuffing their faces with snacks after raiding Bob’s refrigerator while the two children remain complete afterthoughts that are only shown briefly for a few seconds at the 54 minute mark and that’s it, which then brings me to another crucial question. Why is it necessary to hire two babysitters to watch over two kids? When I was younger and babysat I could easily watch my neighbor’s two kids without any help. When I was a child only one babysitter was hired to look after me and my two siblings. Hiring two teen girls to look after two kids is highly impractical and quite unusual to the point that it makes no sense.

The ending leaves open a lot of questions making the film seem almost like an incomplete treatment to a wider story. For instance the three end up moving in together without showing whether this unusual living arrangement would be able to sustain itself long term. I was also curious to see how Bob would explain this arrangement to his children when they came to visit. There is also a side-story dealing with Sue’s relationship with a Pakistani boyfriend (Kulvinder Ghir) that seemed better suited for another movie altogether.

The scenes involving the three inside the car are the funniest, but otherwise I’m not sure why this movie became the hit that it did.  There’s also too many tracking shots almost like director Clarke found himself a new toy that he couldn’t help playing with. Initially the constantly moving camera comes off as innovative and gives the film added energy, but it ends up getting overdone.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 12, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alan Clarke

Studio: Film Four International

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Star Spangled Girl (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Norman obsesses over Amy.

This film is based on a Neil Simon play, which despite his tremendous success on Broadway became his only critical and commercial failure and was inspired by a political conversation/debate he overhead at a bar between writer Paddy Chayefsky and a very conservative housewife. The plot here deals with Amy (Sandy Duncan) a very old-fashioned young lady from rural America who moves to the big city of L.A. and meets up with two young men named Andy and Norman (Tony Roberts, Todd Susman) who publish an underground newspaper expounding radical/liberal ideas. Norman immediately falls for Amy and becomes so obsessed with her that he can no longer concentrate on writing for the paper. In order to allow the paper to meet its deadline Andy convinces Amy to come work for them to act as a muse for Norman, but Amy resists as she not only doesn’t agree with the paper’s politics, but she can’t stand Norman either.

The film’s biggest downfall is that it never touches on the political element. Had there been some substance, it might’ve worked, but the political issues are completely glossed over in the broadest way imaginable. The film really isn’t aimed for young adults anyways, but instead romantic diehards in need of an old-fashioned sugary romance where love somehow solves all problems, even when the two sides are at complete opposite ends of the political spectrum, making this thing severely contrived and dated even for its own era.

Roberts, who was already over 30 at the time, was too old for the role as the college kids of the day, who were the true radicals, felt anyone over 30 was the ‘enemy’ and a part of the ‘establishment’. The two men should’ve had long hair, beards, love beads and joints. Outside of one hanging picture showing the peace sign, their home decorations don’t look much different from a family home in Kansas and true radical guys from that era would’ve had posters on their walls of rock groups, naked women, Woodstock and maybe even Timothy Leary.

The Norman character is quite annoying and the way he obsesses over Amy by going through her garbage each day and following her around would get him pegged as a stalker and in serious trouble these days. What’s intended as a humorous take on a ‘love smitten guy’ is done so broadly that it gets dumb quick and eventually comes off like a mentally ill looney in serious need of some meds.

Sandy Duncan, who resembles an elf with a high pitched-voice, isn’t exactly the kind of gal that a guy suddenly goes ga-ga over anyways and it would’ve made more sense had Ali MacGraw or Cybill Shepherd been cast instead as they were more the conventional type of beauty that guys would normally get excited about. Unfortunately they both declined the role after being offered it. Having Norman get so excessively aroused over Amy simply because of the way she ‘smelled’ is pretty pathetic and equates love/romance to mindless urges controlled by animalistic scents similar to that of rodents attracted to the odor of rotted food in a dumpster.

Saying this film would’ve been better suited for an episode of ‘Love American Style’ which was a weekly anthology series that aired during the early ‘70s and focused on cute, comical love stories is not that far off-the-mark since the film was co-written by Arnold Margolin who was that show’s producer. The film even has a similar garishly colorful opening with background vocals sung by Davy Jones.

Overall it’s an embarrassing waste of celluloid with no bearing in reality whatsoever. Elizabeth Allen can be spotted briefly as the landlady wearing an ill-advised blond wig with ponytails that makes her look like the blonde lady seen on the Swiss Miss cocoa products. She never says a single word and is basically just on-hand to force the two men do go with her on all sorts of daring stunts, like parachuting, in order to help pay the rent since they lack the necessary monetary funds otherwise, which like everything else in the movie is just forced humor at its worst.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: December 22, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Director: Jerry Paris

Rated G

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Extremities (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: She traps her attacker.

Marjorie (Farrah Fawcett) decides to grab a snack late one night at a convenience store. Since she plans on being in the store for only a minute she neglects to lock her car, which is enough time for her would-be rapist Joe (James Russo) to sneak into the vehicle and hide in the backseat. When she returns he attacks her, but she is able to break free and runs out. Unfortunately she leaves her purse behind and he’s able to find her address from her driver’s license. A few weeks later he attempts to attacker her again at her home, but she fights back and is able to turn-the-tables on him by tying him up and trapping him in her fireplace. She then plans on killing him by burying him in her backyard as she’s afraid she won’t get a fair trial, but when her roommates (Alfre Woodard, Diana Scarwid) return home from work they try to convince her otherwise.

The film is based on the 1982 off-Broadway play written by William Mastrosimone and starring Susan Sarandon, who eventually got replaced by Fawcett and then later by Lauren Hutton when the play opened in Los Angeles. The play was notorious for its intense violence where the stars would routinely get injured while going through the motions of their parts and audience members would become so upset by it that they would sometimes storm the stage in an attempt to protect the actress. The stage version is also different from the film one in that it doesn’t show the backstory, but instead starts right away with the Marjorie being attacked in the home and then the later aftermath.

The film was directed by Robert M. Young, whose best known effort previously was his film version of the stage play Short Eyes about a child molesters experiences inside a harsh prison. While that film was excellent this one isn’t as he approaches it too much like it’s a thriller with way too much loud, pounding music getting played when Joe attacks Marjorie inside the house, which actually takes the viewer out of the scene. The approach should’ve been more on the gritty drama side with no music and a handheld camera used to capture the action, which would’ve given the viewer a voyeuristic feeling like they are watching this from some hidden camera.

The scene where Marjorie ties up her killer and then hops into her car to go to the police only to have the vehicle mysteriously not start is ridiculous. This cliché has been used in movies way too many times and should be outlawed forever. Had she been in a cold climate we could’ve attributed it to the weather, but she wasn’t. Or if it had been mentioned earlier that her car has had problems starting then it might’ve worked better, but having it conk-out for no reason when it drove just fine before is a total cop-out and a sign of weak writing.

I was also disappointed that no backstory is given to James Russo’s character. Earlier in the film we are shown that he is actually a family man with a daughter, so I was intrigued to see what drove him to have this Jekyll and Hyde personality and how being a father and husband he could justify what he does and yet no explanation is ever even touched on, which I found highly disappointing.

Fawcett is good particularly with her big blue, expressive eyes. I also enjoyed Scarwid’s nervous persona and how she becomes torn at how to approach the dilemma at hand. The conversations between the three women are strong and should’ve been extended, but the film as a whole misses-the-mark and isn’t as penetrating, or groundbreaking as it could’ve been.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 22, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert M. Young

Studio: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video