Category Archives: Movies Based on Stageplays

I Never Sang for My Father (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father and son clash.

Based on the Broadway play of the same name written by Robert Anderson, who also wrote the screenplay, the story centers on college professor Gene (Gene Hackman) who tries to mend his relationship with his father Tom (Melvyn Douglas) a very bull-headed man who can’t seem to get along with anyone. When Gene’s mother (Dorothy Stickney) passes away suddenly it becomes a concern what to do with the father who is showing early signs of dementia and other health issues. Gene, who has recently been widowed himself, wants to remarry and move off to California, but his father prefers him to stay close by in New York. When Gene offers to move his father to California the old man refuses leading to a bitter feud between the two that also opens up old wounds.

To show just how good this movie is one only needs to compare it to Dad, which was an 80’s film starring Ted Danson and Jack Lemmon, which had a similar subject matter, but that film conveniently glossed over the many negative aspects of taking care of an elderly parent while this one tackles the downside head-on. Hearing the arguments that Gene has with his sister Alice (Estelle Parsons) and how neither one of them want to be straddled with the responsibility of being a round-the-clock caretaker I found to be refreshingly honest. Too many modern movies, in their attempt to make the lead character likable, never address these very real concerns. Also in the movie Dad the Ted Danson character flies across the country to help his father with no explanation for how this affected his job or finances while this one does touch on the economic realities. It also shows how elderly people aren’t always that lovable and can at times be genuinely nasty.

Douglas is outstanding as he manages to bring out different sides to his character. While the viewer finds him exasperating I still enjoyed the shots showing him kneeling at his bedside in prayer, which gave him, even as old and crotchety as he was, a child-like dimension. The conversations that he has about his own father and the poor relationship he had with him are quite revealing as it shows how the same issues can go across many generations with Douglas inadvertently treating his own son in the same shoddy way his old man treated him and not even realizing it.

With Douglas’ powerhouse performance Hackman gets overshadowed. He has fleeting moments where he displays his trademark anger and pent-up frustrations, but it doesn’t come-off as quite as genuine as it does in some of his other roles. It also would’ve been nice had there been some flashback scenes showing past altercations between the two, which would’ve helped the viewer emotionally connect to what he was feeling instead of having their differences just briefly touched on through dialogue. In many ways Parsons comes-off better and the reasons for her anger at her father is more clearly and eloquently explained.

The only complaint that I had with the film is when Hackman goes touring the assisted senior living homes. While the film had approached the material in a straight forward dramatic manner, which stays quiet true to the play, it suddenly shifts during this segment to becoming more artsy and cinematic by blocking out the dialogue and instead playing loud, moody score with a more subjective, hand-held camera. While this is all right I still felt it wasn’t needed and goes against the tone of the rest of the film, which had been very minimalist up until the then. The sudden pounding music doesn’t make the visuals showing the bleak living conditions of those places anymore shocking or disturbing and if anything becomes unnecessarily jarring and in-the-way.

These scenes also feature a very early appearance of James Karen as one of the directors of the senior facilities that Hackman tours. However, with the dark curly hair that he has here and the thick horn-rimmed glasses that he wears, you most likely won’t recognize him unless you look closely and even then you still might not think it’s him. With the decision by director Gilbert Cates to play music over these scenes we unfortunately never get to hear hear what he was saying or how he was trying to sell the dismal looking place to the potential customer, which could’ve been interesting.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 18, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Gilbert Cates

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Miss Firecracker (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Entering a beauty contest.

Carnelle (Holly Hunter) lives in Yazoo City, Mississippi where she works in a factory and suffers from the reputation of being promiscuous. In order to improve her lot in life she decides to enter into The Miss Firecracker Contest, which is held annually in her town every 4th of July. She is hoping to emulate the success of her cousin Elain (Mary Steenburgen) who won the contest years earlier as well as proving to both herself and others that she isn’t a loser, but the competition proves harder than she thought forcing her to reevaluate what’s really important to her.

The film is based on the stageplay written by Beth Henley, who is better known for writing Crimes of the Heart, which won many accolades while this one didn’t. Part of the reason is that when this play was first produced in 1980 many critics thought it was going to be a pro-feminist satire poking fun of beauty contests, which it isn’t, while others disliked it because they perceived it as being an antifemist since Carnelle takes winning the contest very seriously.

For me I was expecting something along the lines of Smile, which was a very funny, on-target 1970’s look at beauty contests, the flawed people who run them, and the superficial women that enter them. I was thinking this would be an 80’s update to that one and was sorely disappointed to find that it wasn’t. The two people who run the contest, which are played by Ann Wedgeworth and Trey Wilson are hilarious in the few scenes that they are in and the film could’ve been a complete winner had they been the centerpiece of the story.

I was also hoping for more of buildup showing Carnelle rehearsing her routine for the pageant as well as her interactions with the other contestants, which doesn’t really get shown much at all. For the most part the pageant is treated like a side-story that only comes to the surface in intervals while more time is spent with Carnelle’s relationship with Elain and her other cousin Delmount (Tim Robbins) which I did not find captivating at all.

Hunter gives a very strong heartfelt performance, which is the one thing that saves it, and Alfre Woodard, who normally plays in dramatic parts, shows great comic skill as the bug-eyed character named Popeye and yet both of these actresses screen time is limited. Instead we treated to too much of Steenburgen, who comes off as cold and dull here, and Robbins, who plays a borderline psychotic that is creepy in a volatile way and not interesting at all.

First time director Thomas Schlamme, who had only directed documentaries and comedy specials  before this, employs a few things that I enjoyed like tinting the flashback scenes with a faded color, but overall he doesn’t show a good feel for the material. Too much of the time it see-saws from being a quirky comedy to maudlin soap opera, but nothing gels.

Even the film’s setting gets botched. In the play the town was  Brookhaven, Mississippi, but for whatever reason the film changed it to Yazoo City where the on-location shooting took place. While it does a nice job in capturing the town’s look it doesn’t reflect the right vibe, or any vibe at all for that manner as the townspeople seem more like something taken out of a surreal Norman Rockwell painting than real everyday folks.

The soundtrack is also an issue as it gets filled with a placid elevator music type score that got started in Steven Spielberg’s Amblin films and was played in a lot Hollywood comedies during the 80’s and 90’s. While it may have a pleasing quality to it also lacks distinction. The music should’ve had a more of a southern sound that would’ve reflected the region and composed specifically for this production instead of  stealing a generic tune that had been used in hundreds of other movies already.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 28, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Thomas Schlamme

Studio: Corsair Pictures

Available: DVD

Godspell (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Jesus is a hippie.

A group of modern day young adults dissatisfied with their mundane lives decide to follow the calling of John the Baptist (David Haskell) to learn the teachings of Jesus (Victor Garber). They spend their days roaming the vacant streets of New York City while doing song and dances that are inspired by the Gospel of St. Matthew.

This film is based on the hit Broadway play that in turn was the brainchild of John-Micheal Tebelak. Tebelak was a student at Carnegie Mellon University in 1970 when he attended an Easter Vigil at St. Paul’s Cathedral only to end up getting frisked for drugs by the police simply because his clothing attire resembled that of a hippie. He became incensed that the modern day Christian was out-of-touch with the younger generation and became compelled to bridge-the-gap by going home and writing this play, which lead to him getting offers to produce and direct it, first at experimental off-Broadway theaters and then finally Broadway itself.

While this film’s intentions may be noble, it doesn’t completely succeed although its ability to take advantage of the New York City locations is a chief asset. Many prominent sites of the city get used including the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, and even a breath-taking dance sequence on top of the still being built World Trade Center. The film also manages to somehow, outside of the very beginning and very end, clear out all the other people from the city making the Big Apple seem like a giant ghost town, which in a way gives off a good surreal vibe, but it also would’ve been interesting seeing this troupe dealing with the everyday person and the reactions that would come from that.

The song and dance numbers are well choreographed, but there ends up being too many of them. The story lacks a plot and to a degree comes off as nonsensical. I realize they’re singing about parables from the Bible, but the viewer isn’t paying attention to that and instead focused on the colorful locales and comical antics of the hammy performers and it’s quite doubtful that a non-believer would suddenly get ‘inspired’ by anything that goes on here. Young children will most likely by confused and even frightened by it while teens and young adults, which was the target audience, will by today’s standards roll-their-eyes and consider it a relic of a bygone, drug-trippy era.

The cast shows a lot of energy and many of them were from the original stage version, but ultimately there’s no distinction between them. While most musicals have at least some dialogue and drama between the songs this one has none. It’s just two hours of non-stop singing and unless you’re deeply into the message this won’t really gel well with most viewers. The clothing styles, which at the time may have been ‘hip’, now look silly including having Jesus with an afro and walking around in over-sized shoes, which to me resembled a clown.

This might’ve worked better on stage where the intimate setting would allow one to feed off the vibe of the other audience members, but as a film it’s off-putting and the dazzling visual direction cannot overcome its other shortcomings.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 21, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated G

Director: David Greene

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

There’s a Girl in My Soup (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Playboy falls for hippie.

Robert (Peter Sellers) is a dashing playboy who enjoys having random sexual encounters with women, even having sex with a bride on her wedding day. Despite being in his 40’s he shows no signs of wanting to settle down and get married. Then he meets Marion (Goldie Hawn) a groupie for a rock band who finds out that its lead singer Jimmy (Nicky Henson) has been unfaithful to her. With nowhere else to go she lets Robert pick her up and take her back to his pad where he tries to seduce her, but without much luck.

Although the stageplay for which this film is based did quite well its translation to the screen leaves much to be desired.  Despite director Ray Boulting’s efforts to liven up the scenery by placing several scenes in exotic locales while also sprucing up Robert’s place by inserting his bathroom to have all mirrors in it that cover both the walls and ceiling, the film still ends up coming off like a filmed stageplay that lacks both energy and action. Even the dialogue, that usually helps  keep other plays that have evolved onto the big screen, lacks bite and becomes as stale as the rest of the proceedings.

The relationship is only funny when Marion rebuffs Robert’s advances and openly tells him how unsexy he really is, but when she foolishly ignores her better judgement and starts falling for the cad is when the whole thing goes downhill. There’s also confusion for why Robert, who openly enjoyed his single life and sleeping around with various beautiful women, which he seemed to have no trouble getting, would suddenly fall for a young woman that he didn’t have much in common with. For a relationship to begin both sides have to initially be looking for one and there is absolutely no hint that is what Robert wanted, so what about Marion got him to suddenly change his mind?

Sellers is okay although critics at the time complained that his performance was ‘lifeless’, which it is, but he makes up for it with his Cheshire cat grin. The role though doesn’t allow him to be inventive, or put on many of his different accents or personas, which he is so well known for. The character and situation are also too similar to the one that he played  in I Love You Alice B. Toklas, which he did just two years earlier.

Hawn is great and I enjoyed seeing her playing a snarky woman instead of the spacey blonde that she usually does, you even get a nice shot of her naked backside, but her character is too similar to one that she did in Butterflies are Free. In fact the two people that come-off best here are not the stars at all, but instead John Comer and Diana Dors as a middle-aged, bickering couple who should’ve been given more screen time.

Overall there’s just not enough laughs here to make sitting through it worth it. The plot has no point and the characters don’t grow or evolve making it a waste of time for its two leads whose talents are above this type of material.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 15, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ray Boulting

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Children of a Lesser God (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Romance with deaf woman.

James (William Hurt) gets a job as an instructor at a school for the deaf. He’s brought in to try and teach the students to become less reliant on sign language and to speak more. It is there that he becomes infatuated with Sarah (Marlee Matlin) a 23-year old janitor who used to be a student there. She refuses to speak despite James’ efforts to get her to. Eventually they get into a relationship where James still insists that she must learn to speak, which creates a wedge between the two that could eventually drive them apart.

The film is based on the play of the same name by Mark Medoff, which in turn was based on the real-life experiences of deaf actress Phyllis Frelich  and her relationship with her husband Robert Steinberg. The play was quite successful and ran for 887 performances, but when it transitioned to film several changes were made most notably that in the play the Sarah character was a former student to James, but here that’s not the case, which to me didn’t make a lot of sense. It almost seemed like James became more obsessed with a janitor than his own students even though they suffered from the same fears of speaking as she did and the story could’ve been just as riveting had it stuck to his dealings with them, who otherwise end up getting seen only intermittently.

The whole romance angle comes off as forced especially since James blurts out the ‘I love you’ line before any relationship had even been established as they had  previously gone out to dinner as friends and not as a date. In many real-life situations when one partner says the ‘love’ statement too soon it can drive the other person away instead of bringing them closer and with Sarah being as defensive as she was that’s exactly what I think would’ve happened in this case.

It would’ve been better, especially since film is a visual medium, had we seen the relationship go the next level through actions and not words perhaps by having James impulsively jump into the pool that Sarah is swimming in and then have the two playfully splash each other before ending up with a passionate embrace and kiss, which would’ve hit-home the same point to the viewer, but without the melodramatic dialogue.

The constant use of the sign language that the two used to communicate with each other I liked, but got annoyed with the way James had to not only verbally repeat everything he said with his hands, but everything Sarah communicates with her hands as well. I would presume that a conversation done with sign language should be in silence, much like at the party that Sarah goes to with her deaf friends where everyone speaks with their hands while saying nothing with their mouths. I realize that it’s to the viewer’s benefit that James verbally ‘narrates’ what’s being said, but it comes-off as unrealistic and using subtitles during these segments would’ve been better.

Matlin’s Academy Award winning performance is excellent and proves that great acting isn’t just about conveying lines, which she, sans one sentence, doesn’t have, but also about facial expression which she does brilliantly. The scene where she goes swimming in an indoor pool and the viewer hears nothing but silence is excellent as well and helps us get inside the head of a deaf person and sense what their world is like. The story though goes on a bit too long and never really confirms if their relationship permanently works out long term, or not and for having to sit through so many of the couple’s ups-and-downs that’s one question that should’ve gotten answered.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 31, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 59 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Randa Haines

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

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