Category Archives: Movies Based on Stageplays

Romantic Comedy (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Playwrights fall in love.

Just as Jason (Dudley Moore), a popular playwright, is getting ready to tie-the-knot with the beautiful Allison (Janet Eilber) he meets Phoebe (Mary Steenburgen). Phoebe is a school teacher aspiring to be a playwright and hoping to team up with Jason, who has had some success in the past, but looking for new inspiration. The two soon become a successful writing team, but begin to fall-in-love in the process, which creates a strain on Jason’s marriage.

The film is based on the play of the same name that was written by Bernard Slade, who also wrote the screenplay. Slade was at one time a television producer whose most noted creation was Th Partridge Family’, but by the late 70’s had moved into writing plays with his biggest hit being Same Tim Next Year about two married people who get together once a year to have an affair, which became a runaway international hit and inspired Slade to then write this one, which is basically just a minor reworking of the same theme. While his first play was hailed as being fresh and original this thing is much more mechanical and ultimately as generic as its title.

The story’s biggest failing is that we never get to see the relationship blossom and grow. Instead it starts out with their awkward meeting that exposes their contrasting personalities and temperaments and then jumps ahead several months later to where they’ve already become lovey-dovey to each other, but with no insight as to how that came about. Part of the fun of watching a romance is seeing how it flourishes between two very unlikely people, but here that gets glossed away making everything that comes after it seem very forced and contrived.

The film also offers no insight into the collaboration process and how two people can work together to create a play, which could’ve been both interesting and amusing. It also could’ve been revealing seeing what kind of plots their plays had and why some of them are flops while others are hits. Having a story within a story concept where the two write about the secret emotions that they have for the other into their characters could’ve added a unique angle, but like with a lot of other things here becomes another missed opportunity.

Moore and Steenburgen have no chemistry and there was a big 18 year age difference between them. Moore is too acerbic and having him go from being sarcastic and abrasive to suddenly loving and tender is unconvincing. Steenburgen’s young girl voice makes her seem empty-headed and not the sophisticated, witty type who would be able to write the type of plays that she supposedly does. Why Mia Farrow and Anthony Perkins, who played the parts in the original Broadway play, weren’t cast in the same parts here is a mystery, but they would’ve been far more effective choices.

The expected drama and conflicts involving the wife never culminates into anything making her presence virtually pointless. The laughs are non-existent as well. In fact the only time it ever gets even mildly amusing is when Moore and Steenburgen would argue and it would’ve been funnier had they been portrayed as hating each other, but teamed up anyways simply because they somehow managed to write hit plays when they worked together.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: MGM/UA

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The Owl and the Pussycat (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sometimes opposites do attract.

Felix (George Segal) works at a bookstore, but dreams of becoming a successful novelist only to receive rejection letters every time he sends a manuscript out. One night while residing in his cramped New York apartment he spots, through his binoculars, his neighbor Doris (Barbra Streisand) accepting payment for sex and he immediately calls his landlord (Jacques Sandulescu) to report this and it gets her evicted. In anger she goes to Felix’s apartment at 3 in the morning to argue with him about what he did. The two share little in common, but eventually after hours of bickering they form a bond.

The film was originally written as a Broadway play, which in-turn was inspired by a poem of the same name written by Edward Lear in 1871. The play, which ran during the 1964-65 season, starred Alan Alda and Diana Sands and differed considerably from the film in that it had only two characters and one setting. The biggest change though was that in the play the Doris character was a black women, but the studio feared mainstream audiences weren’t ready for that, which is a shame. Streisand is amusing, but she’s unable to convey a tough street-smart attitude. Having an African American woman and a white man come together with vastly different socio-economic backgrounds would’ve made the polar opposites theme even more pronounced and their eventual bonding far more profound.

In an attempt to make the story more cinematic director Herbert Ross had the couple kicked out of Segal’s apartment and then forced to go to his friend Barney’s (Robert Klein) apartment. Initially this seemed fun as Segal and Streisand are allowed to sleep in the living room while Klein and his girlfriend (Marilyn Chambers) remain in the bedroom, but Segal and Streisand continue with their bickering, which forces Klein and Chambers to leave their own apartment, which made no sense. If the guests are the ones causing the racket then they’re the ones asked to leave not the people paying the rent. This also becomes a missed opportunity because it could’ve heightened the comedy by having the couple forced to move to seedier locations each time they’re kicked-out of the previous one.

During the second half Segal and Streisand enter a large home, which was apparently the residence of his fiance’s family, but this is jarring since there had been no mention of the fiancee earlier. It also works against the theme as these characters were portrayed as being lonely and forced to deal with each other despite their many differences because they had no where else to go, but then throwing in Segal’s connection to affluence ends up diminishing the desperation angle.

I also didn’t like that Doris got portrayed as being so painfully uneducated that she couldn’t understand some of the words Felix said, which was heavy-handed since his language wasn’t all that elaborate. I’ve found that most sex workers are quite defensive when it comes to the ‘they must be dumb’ stereotype and make concerted efforts to play against this. Most people, especially with someone they’ve just met, would never admit to not understanding some words spoken by the other because it would make that other person believe that they were intellectually superior and therefore given unfair leverage.

There are few funny moments but it mainly comes during the first half while the second and third act drone on.  The only real distinction are the opening credits, where a jazzy score by Blood, Sweat & Tears gets played while a greenish moon sets behind a cropped cutout of the New York skyline, which is pretty cool.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 3, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD

Bye Bye Birdie (1963)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen idol gets drafted.

Based on the hit stageplay of the same name, the story deals with Conrad Birdie (Jesse Pearson) a rock ‘n’ roll teen idol who gets drafted into the army.  As a big send off Conrad is chosen to perform in Sweet Apple, Ohio on the Ed Sullivan Show. As a special treat one lucky teen girl (Ann-Margaret) gets picked to give him a kiss while he sings the song ‘One Last Kiss’ written by Albert (Dick Van Dyke) a fledgling songwriter who hopes that the publicity of having a song sung by a big star will be just the ticket he needs to find success and enable him to finally marry his secretary (Janet Leigh) and get away from the clutches of his meddlesome mother (Maureen Stapleton).

The story was loosely based on the real-life incident in 1957 when Elvis Presley got drafted and in fact the part was originally intended for him, but his agent turned it down. While some may consider the humor here to be engaging satire I really felt it was lame and uninspired and only saved by the song and dance sequences. My main gripe was the way the teens get portrayed as being overly clean-cut kids, no leather jacket crowd here who smoked cigarettes even though they did exist, who are too benign and show no evidence of individuality. It would’ve been nice for the sake of balance to have at least one girl that was not into the rock star and didn’t faint or swoon the second she saw him, like all the others, and instead looked on with disdain at everyone who did.

While I did like Janet Leigh, who wears a black wig, and enjoyed her dance number at a Shriner’s convention I did feel overall that the adults here, with the exception of Paul Lynde, were boring and not needed. Van Dyke again gets straddled in another Rob Petrie type role who shows no pizzazz and having him a ‘mama’s boy’ at the age of 38 is more pathetic than funny. What’s worse is that Stapleton who plays his mother was in reality Van Dyke’s same age and despite some white in her hair really didn’t look that old and having the part played by an actual old lady would’ve given it more distinction.

The story should’ve centered around the teens, but in a more interesting way by entering into all the side dramas that almost always occur in these types of situations, but doesn’t get explored here. For instance there could’ve been some jealous classmates of Ann-Margaret’s upset that she got picked to kiss Birdie and not them and devised a scheme to ruin her big moment, or having all the boys, who admitted to hating Birdie because their girlfriends were so into him and not them, kidnapping him in revenge.

Despite having his name in the title Birdie has only a few lines of dialogue and needed more to do than just swiveling his hips, which becomes a derivative running joke. One idea would be to have him scared about going off to the army and secretly coming up with a plan with his fans to go undercover, so he could escape going, which would’ve added more depth to the satire, which is too placid, by showing how celebrities in private can be the opposite of their public image.

Beyond my many grievances with the story, which is even more flimsy than most musicals, I still found the songs, dances, and colorful sets to be fun and Paul Lynde has a few great lines. If one watches it for the musical quality while treating it as a relic of its time then it should still go over modestly well.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 4, 1963

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: George Sidney

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

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