Category Archives: Movies for the Whole Family

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

Oh, God! Book II (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: God returns to earth.

Tracy (Louanne) is an 11-year-old girl who one day meets God (George Burns) when he invites her via a fortune cookie into the lounge of a Chinese restaurant where he asks her to help him spread the word that he exists. She then, with the help of her friends, creates posters that say ‘Think God’ which she puts up all over town, but this gets her suspended from school and then her parents (David Birney, Suzanne Pleshette) consider having her sent to a mental hospital after she keeps insisting that she’s spoken to the Almighty directly.

This follow-up to the 1977 hit lacks the freshness and originality of the first. The studio had initially wanted the John Denver character to return, but the producers insisted they wanted a ‘fresh start’ and not just continue the storyline from the first film. While the characters are different, the plot line remain the same causing the film to come-off like a boring reworking of the first one instead of a continuation.

Louanne, who now goes by Louanne Sirota, is adorable, which helps, but her hairstyle looks like something out of the 1940’s. She also believes in God right from the start even before she meets him, which doesn’t allow for any type of interesting character arch. It’s also quite  hard to believe that her ‘Think God’ poster campaign would have any affect and that a nonbeliever would somehow suddenly become a raging theist after spotting one of the amateurish looking signs.

Another issue is the God character who is full of idiosyncrasies. For one thing the concept of evolution gets glossed over and the film makes it like how we see things now in regards to animal and plant life is exactly how God envisioned them when they were created at the beginning of time. He also mentions having to sometimes sneeze, but why would a spirit need to do that? At another point he talks about answering phone calls, but why would there be telephones in Heaven?

It’s also confusing why God, who is supposedly an omnipotent being that knows what each person is thinking and feeling would need the help of a young child in order to ‘reach people’. He also seems like a cruel jerk as he coaxes this girl into this ad campaign, which puts her into a very traumatic situation as it gets her suspended from school and even on the brink of being put into an institution. If God is all-powerful why can’t he simply make himself appear on everyone’s TV at the same time in order to let everyone know that he exists instead of putting a young child through such unnecessary stress?

The humor is lacking and the only funny lines are the ones dealing with the big breasts of David Birney’s girlfriend (Denise Galik). I also didn’t understand why the word book gets put into the film’s title as there was never any second Oh God! novel written. Was this supposed to be a play-on-words in regards to the books of the Bible? If so then that joke, like just about everything else in the film, falls flat.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gilbert Cates

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Summer Rental (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Family vacations in Florida.

Jack (John Candy) is an over-worked air traffic controller who’s given a 5-week vacation to rest up. He decides to take his family down to Florida, but things prove to be even more chaotic there. First they move into the wrong rental property and then Jack has a confrontation with local sailing champion Al Pellet (Richard Crenna) who is a longtime resident that openly disdains the renters who visit during the summer. When Pellet gets ownership of the property that Jack is renting and threatens to throw Jack’s family out Jack decides to challenge him to a sailboat race even though his experience in sailing is limited.

Initially this movie comes off as a welcome change of pace from the typical 80’s comedy that usually dwelt too heavily in crude jokes and adolescent humor. Outside of one segment where a neighbor lady wants John to touch her breasts, which the viewer doesn’t see, to see how much he likes her new implants there’s no sexual innuendos at all, which is genuinely surprising since most 80’s comedies, even the tamer ones, seemed to feel the need to throw at least a few in. I even like the kids here. In most films they’re played-up in too cutesy of a way, or they’re obnoxious brats, but here the balance is just right.

The story though goes nowhere. The original idea was based on a vacation experience that producer Bernie Brillstein had in Southern California where he was a father of 5 children that rented a beach home that had two elderly sisters and a mentally challenged son as his neighbors on one side and a group of gay men on the other side, but none of these elements appear in the movie, which for the most part is uneventful.

Candy’s confrontations with Crenna, whose portrayal of a snobby, rich man is too broad of a caricature, are forced and not funny. Their climactic sailing race doesn’t work either. Sailing can certainly be a relaxing excursion, but watching it as a sporting event is not exciting. It also has Candy and his crew dumping out the contents of a freezer and eventually the entire freezer itself into the lake in an effort to get their boat to sail faster, but this is also obvious water pollution and not something a protagonist in a film should be doing.

Candy gives an appealing performance as usual and Rip Torn is fun as an aging ship captain although having him walk around with an actual hook for a hand is a bit much.  Some may even enjoy seeing Joey Lawrence when he was still a cute kid, but the plot, much like stagnant water, just sits there and the pace is too breezy making the material hardly worthy of a feature length production.

There’s also a glaring logic loophole that involves Candy and his family staying at what they think is their rental property only to be awoken in the middle of the night by the homeowners and told they were at the wrong place, but how were the keys that they were given able to open the locks on the doors if it was not the right home? They also were able to retrieve the keys from the mailbox of the place, which is where they were told they’d find them, but if that wasn’t the right house then the keys should not have been there.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 9, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Stoogemania (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Too much Three Stooges.

Howard F. Howard (Josh Mostel) is a man suffering from an obsession with the Three Stooges and it’s starting to affect his daily life and even is impending marriage to Beverly (Melanie Chartoff). He finds others that are having the same problem and the only way to cure it is to commit himself to Stooge Hills Sanitarium where he and others like him hope to rid themselves of their ailment through proper psychiatric care, but only if the inmates don’t overrun the asylum first.

It may seem hard to believe, but during the 80’s the Three Stooges franchise enjoyed a renaissance mainly due to its reruns being shown on TBS and the hit 1984 novelty song ‘The Curly Shuffle’. Personally I don’t get what the enjoyment is and  like with ‘Gilligan’s Island’ that somehow caught on with later generations, but in my opinion should’ve been forgotten instead. To me it’s just a lot of inane humor and predictable antics. If you’re 4 their routines might seem ‘hilarious’, but beyond that it most likely would bore anyone else and yet in the 80’s they were people out there that couldn’t get enough of the stooges including a former dentist of mine who had collected all of their film shorts.

If put in the imaginative hands of someone like Tim Burton this concept might’ve  worked, but with Chuck Workman at the helm it sinks fast. Workman has had a lot of success in directing documentaries and even won some awards for them, but his heart clearly wasn’t into this one. I almost wondered if he himself even enjoyed The Three Stooges or was just vomiting out some substandard product simply to collect a paycheck. The humor lacks even a modicum of cleverness and amounts to people acting incredibly stupid and equating this as being ‘funny’. No where is this more painfully evident then in the wedding scene that has first grade level pratfalls coupled with the dumb facial reactions from the actors and annoying cartoon-like sound effects, that are so stupid it starts to make the actual Three Stooges clips of which there are many that get shown here, seem brilliant by comparison.

Mostel is weak in the lead and had it actually been his father Zero Mostel, who had been cast here it would’ve done better. Zero had great ability to play off the camera and wonderful facial expressions and reactions that could keep even the worst of movies that he was in fun, but his son comes-off like some fat blob of a guy who got into the business simply by riding on his father’s coattails. Besides, if this is supposed to be a parody of the Three Stooges then why not have three men in the lead instead of just one?

There’s a host of other famous faces that drop in and out here including: Thom Sharp (who actually is kind of funny here), Sid Caesar, Victoria Jackson and Bill Kirchenbauer, but none of them can save this disaster that amounts to being an embarrassment even to the name of the Three Stooges and will most likely disappoint even those that enjoy them.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: October 10, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 23 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Chuck Workman

Studio: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

Available: VHS

Where the Red Fern Grows (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid raises two hounds.

Billy Colman (Stewart Petersen) is a 12-year-old boy living on a farm in rural Oklahoma during the depression. He becomes obsessed with owning a coon hound which he can train to hunt raccoons. His family is too poor to buy him one, so he spends his summer doing a number of odd jobs until he’s finally able to buy two Redbone Coonhound puppies, which he raises and trains into becoming championship hunting dogs.

The film is based on the 1961 novel by Wilson Rawls, who provides the opening voice-over narration and the script here closely follows the action of the book. It was directed by Norman Tokar, who seemed to specialize in stories of young boys bonding with their pets as he also directed the film versions of Big Red and Rascal. The production was clearly done on the low budget side, which is distracting at first, but eventually meshes with the stark, rural, and economically challenged setting quite nicely.

While the story seems believable enough and may open some viewer’s eyes, such as my own, to the sport of coon hunting, which still thrives today in certain parts of the country, I found certain elements of it to be hard to believe.  For instance Billy decides to walk all the way from his lonely farmhouse to the town of Tahlequah, which is 30 miles away and apparently able to do it in one day. I was also not sure how he would be able to find the town since he did not travel along any type of highway or road, but instead trudged through open fields and without the benefit of either a map or a compass.

The scene where Billy intentionally trips a nasty boy by the name of Rubin (Rex Corley) which causes the kid to fall on the ax that he is carrying and dies seemed questionable from a modern day viewpoint simply because everybody believes the story that Billy tells them and no charges were made. The film and book, which I remember reading in the 6th grade and in fact this is the only part of the story that I remembered, portray this as being an unintentional accident, which it was. However, these days the kid could potentially be put on trial for manslaughter charges especially since there was clearly bad blood between the two, but maybe it is a testament of simpler times that everyone, including seemingly the victim’s parents, believe the story he tells them without question, but in any other era that might not have been the case.

I found it interesting to see Beverly Garland, whom I first became aware of when she played Fred MacMurray’s second wife in the TV-show ‘My Three Sons’ and who looked quite middle-aged then, but for some reasons gets cast here as a young housewife and manages to somehow pull it off despite nearing 50 at the time. Petersen though, who got cast after a long auditioning process of over 500 candidates, is only adequate, but doesn’t quite hit the mark especially with his inability to convey anything other than one facial expression. I also thought the coonskin cap that he ends up wearing made him come off looking like a Davy Crockett or Daniel Boone Jr. although maybe back in the day that was considered ‘cool’.

Certain animal right’s activists of today may not take kindly to what was once considered just a ‘charming’ coming-of-age tale. Although no actual killing of any animal is ever shown it is certainly heavily implied. It got to the point where I started to feel sorry for the raccoons particularly during the hunting competition where night after night different hunters would go out into the forest to see how any many they could catch and then come back with the numerous pelts that they skinned from them making me wonder if there could possible be any raccoons left to kill.

Spoiler Alert!

The film though does manage to end on a strong note although even here this gets botched because as the family goes to the dog’s grave to see this magical red fern growing on top of it we also see a big boom microphone hanging down from the top of the screen , which completely sucks all the magic right out of the scene. This same story was remade in 2003 and in 2018 a 45-minute documentary was released showing behind-the-scenes footage/stills of the movie as it was being made and also featuring interviews with the actors.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 21, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Norman Tokar

Studio: Doty-Dayton Releasing

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

My Favorite Year (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Babysitting an alcoholic actor.

The year is 1954 and Benjy (Mark Linn-Baker), who works as a junior writer at a top rated TV variety show, is put in charge of babysitting a famous matinee idol named Alan Swann (Peter O’Toole) who is set to guest star on an episode of the show. Alan is a well known alcoholic who usually finds a way to stay constantly inebriated and it’s Benjy’s job to keep him sober, which proves challenging.

The first 30 minutes of the film has some snappy dialogue and a fast, engaging pace. It’s loosely based on a real-life incident where Mel Brooks, then working as a young writer on the TV-show ‘Your Show of Shows’, was put in charge of watching Errol Flynn and making sure he stayed away from the bottle, which he apparently did making the comic situations that occur here highly fabricated.

Unfortunately by the middle half it starts to lose steam and never fully recovers. It works best during the scenes where Baker and O’Toole are together, which is where the story should’ve stayed. Instead it unwisely tries to work in a ridiculous romantic side-story between Baker and Jessica Harper, which isn’t interesting at all and even slightly creepy as Harper has clearly stated she’s not interested in getting into a relationship with him and yet he continues to pursue her and even gets jealous and acts like he ‘owns’ her when he sees her with another guy.

The film also doesn’t take enough advantage of Joseph Bologna who plays the narcissistic/ego-driven star of the show that was apparently based on Sid Caesar. Nobody can play a brash, arrogant, obnoxious guy quite like Bologna and still manage to somehow remain likable and engaging in the process, so when you got him in the cast and in top form you should use his skills to its full potential, which this film doesn’t.

The Swan character ultimately gets overblown. I didn’t have a problem with his extreme drunkenness at the start, but he begins to behave too much like some overgrown man-child like when he impulsively jumps onto a policemen’s horse and rides it for no particular reason almost like he’s from a completely different planet and no longer even slightly resembling an actual person who must deal with real consequences. Watching him meltdown without restraint when he realizes he’ll be put on live television makes him pathetic and lacking even a modicum of professionalism. Anyone as emotionally fragile as he is would never even have a chance in the real Hollywood where one must put up a tough front in order to survive in it.

Richard Benjamin’s directorial debut isn’t bad, but it does have two glaring flaws. One occurs when Baker and O’Toole are on the rooftop of a building and their images are matted over a green screen, which causes orbs to appear around their heads, which is distracting and amateurish looking.  Another one comes when at the end O’Toole saves Bologna, who’s getting beat up by some thugs on live TV, by slashing the bad guy’s clothes with his sword, which wouldn’t occur since stage props don’t actually use real blades.

The brief appearances by the raspy voiced Selma Diamond and Cameron Mitchell are gems and the film also manages to work in a few poignant moments, which is nice. Overall though the concept gets stretched too thin and becomes too cute for its own good.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 8, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Benjamin

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, YouTube

The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bumbling buddies cause havoc.

Amos and Theodore (Tim Conway, Don Knotts) are two former members of an outlaw gang who are now trying to go straight, but as they enter the western boom town of Junction City they find their hopes of living life free of their old criminal ways to be dashed when they get mistakenly accused of robbing the town’s bank. They go on the run from the town’s relentless sheriff (Kenneth Mars) by enlisting in the United States Calvary, but accidentally cause a fire there that ends up burning the whole fort down and getting them into even more trouble.

This very weak sequel to  The Apple Dumpling Gang, has little to recommend and barely any connection to the first one. Besides Knotts and Conway no one from the original cast appears here except for Harry Morgan who plays an entirely different character. It was also the kids in the first film that were called the Apple Dumpling gang and not the two bumbling men, which just cements how unnecessary this film really is.

It’s not like any of the cast from the original film was all that memorable, but they at least helped balance the story from being just one long inane slapstick act, which is all you end up getting here. Knotts and Conway can be good comic relief in brief sporadic spurts, but trying to tie a whole movie around their bumbling act makes it quite one-dimensional.

The supporting cast isn’t any good either with Tim Matheson as bland and transparent as ever as a heroic officer and his romance with the feisty Elyssa Davalos is formulaic and cliched to the extreme. Mars goes overboard with the arrogant sheriff who goes crazy act until it becomes just as annoying and overdone as everything else in the film.

I’ll admit as a child I thought this movie was entertaining, but as an adult I got bored almost immediately despite finding the first installment to be genuinely enjoyable. Part of the problem is that the first one was based on a novel and had an actual story mixed in with the gags while this one is centered exclusively on extreme coincidences to help propel its thin plot along while throwing in slapstick bits that are predictable and unoriginal.

The only thing that surprised me at all was seeing Conway get top billing even though Knotts displayed a wider acting range while Conway merely stands around looking perpetually befuddled. Knotts also had the majority of lines and a little more dimension to his comedy while Conway just acts like a cross-eyed dope, which to me got boring real fast.

I understand that these films have a certain nostalgic appeal for those adults who remember watching it as a kid, but I honestly think that appeal will wear off quickly after about 5 minutes. If you’re under 10 you may like it better, but others should beware.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: June 27, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Vincent McEveety

Studio: Buena Vista 

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Great Outdoors (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Friends ruin their vacation.

Chet (John Candy) decides to take his wife (Stephanie Faracy) and two kids (Chris Young, Ian Michael Giatti) on a well deserved family outing up to a lake resort town in Wisconsin. Unfortunately their fun excursion  gets crashed by their obnoxious friend Roman (Dan Aykroyd) and his wife Kate (Annette Bening) who along with their two creepy twin daughters (Hilary Gordon, Rebecca Gordon) proceed to turn the pleasant vacation into a nightmare.

Calling this John Hughes script paper thin is an understatement and it reminded me of an interview I once read where Hughes bragged that he could write his screenplays in a matter of only a day or two although with this one I’m surprised it took even that long. Not only is the premise devoid of any original ideas, but it seemed more like material for the Griswold family and I was confused why it wasn’t just made as part of the Vacation series although I preferred Candy over Chevy Chase as he’s much more likable without the sneering sarcasm, and his presence here helps make it at least modestly enjoyable.

The comedy also avoids becoming too farcical or lewd, which was nice, and manages to keep things semi-believable to what might occur to a regular family in the woods including my favorite part where the two men try to kill a bat that has gotten into the cabin. The setting, which was filmed on-location in Lake Bass, California is scenic and the woodsy cabin, built specifically for the film on a studio backlot, is impressive because you would never know the difference.

However, the animosity between the two characters, which is supposedly the heart of the humor, is not played-up enough or as half as much as I was expecting. In many ways it seemed almost like it was Candy who was more the obnoxious one particularly when he tells a scary story that gets everyone upset. The scene where he puts a candy bar on the hood of his car to attract a bear makes him look really stupid, and something that should’ve been done instead by the supposedly dopey second-banana character like Aykroyd.

The kids, especially the twin girls who seemed spookier than the twins in The Shining, are annoying and I thought it was weird that they are played-off as creepy for the majority of the film only to then near the end have the viewer expected to suddenly start caring for them when they get trapped in a cave.  As for the two boys they’re dull and transparent and the scenes dealing with the romance that the oldest one has with one of the teen waitresses (Lucy Deakins) are extremely formulaic and unnecessary and almost like it were put in simply to pad the runtime.

The running gag dealing with the talking raccoons is childish and the one dealing with a man (Britt Leach) constantly getting struck by lightning is completely ridiculous.  The story is nothing more than a procession of gags that lacks momentum or pace. The laughs are sporadic and subside after the 45-minute mark making the final half a chore to sit through and that includes the climactic bear attack, which is forced and over-the-top.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 17, 1988

Released: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Howard Deutch

Studio: Universal 

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

The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Orphaned kids strike gold.

Russell (Bill Bixby) is a slick gambler living in the old West who finds that he has unwittingly become the guardian to three orphaned children ( Clay O’Brien, Brad Savage, Stacy Manning). Initially he tries to pawn them off on other people, but eventually he takes a liking to them when he realizes that they’ve inherited a mine that has gold in it, which soon makes everyone else in town want to adopt them.

This Disney film, which was based on the 1971 Jack Bickham novel of the same name, fares better than most of their other films and in fact became its biggest money maker from the 70’s. It helps that the main character of Russell isn’t as squeaky clean as the typical Disney leading man as it’s strongly implied that he cheats at the poker games that he wins and the fact that he gradually softens towards the kids through time creates a nice character arch. Susan Clark, who’s the love interest, is good here too as she plays against type for a Disney leading lady by being more tom boyish and masculine despite the fact that apparently behind-the-scenes she was scared to death of horses and every scene that required her to ride one had her instead on a mechanical one although you could never tell.

The typical Disney comical trappings are given a unique spin here too, which also helps. Instead of having another boring barroom brawl, which is so common in many western comedies, we are treated to a funny lovers spat between Clark and Bixby inside the bar where props get thrown around between the two while everyone else sits frozen and unsure of what to do. There’s no cartoonish car chase at the end either, but instead a genuinely hair-raising battle between Bixby and Slim Pickens, who plays one of the bad guys, down the white rapids of a river. The shooting was also done on-location at Deschutes National Forest in Oregon, which improves the setting from the usual studio back lot.

Even the kids are tolerable without having their cuteness or innocence get overdone even though the running joke dealing with the young girl constantly having to go pee isn’t as funny as it seems when you think about it and most likely in reality would’ve been a warning sign of a very serious medical condition instead. Also, the scene showing the kids getting trapped in the mine after an earthquake should’ve also shown how they were able to get out instead of simply cutting to the next scene with them back in town of it without any explanation as to how they got there.

The real stars of the film though are Don Knotts and Tim Conway as the comically bumbling would-be crooks. This marked the first of five film appearances that the two did together and in many ways this is probably their best effort. I always liked seeing them together because it was a rare chance for Knotts to play the smarter of the two instead of always being the dope himself although some may find Conway’s extreme ineptness more annoying than funny. In either event they help enliven the proceedings and became the stars of the sequel The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, which will be reviewed next week.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Norman Tokar

Studio: Buena Vista

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Harry and Walter Go to New York (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two vaudevillians rob bank.

Harry and Walter (James Caan, Elliot Gould) are two down-on-their-luck marginally talented comedians living in the 1920’s who go to jail when they’re caught trying to rob their audience members during a tacky onstage ‘psychic’ stunt that goes horribly wrong. While in the slammer they meet up with Adam Worth (Michael Caine) a rich man from society’s upper crust who enjoys robbing banks just for the thrill of it. They come upon the blue print for his next proposed heist and take a picture of it and then after they escape from jail challenge Adam on who will be able to rob the bank first.

This is one of those 70’s movies that I found to be refreshingly original and quite funny, but when it was released it was met with harsh reviews and was a bomb at the box office. After some bad test audience reactions it was heavily cut much to director Mark Rydell’s dismay who felt a lot of the better jokes went missing although producer Tony Bill and star Caan blame Rydell for the film’s failure and insist that much of the humor in the original script was never even filmed or used.

I can’t explain why the film didn’t do well as I personally found as bank heist movies go this one to be quite  unique. So many bank robbing films from that era, and even today, paint the scheme in a one-dimensional way by portraying the robbers, who we are usually supposed to sympathize with, as a modern-day Robin Hood, while the cops and those out to stop them are represented as being the greedy,oppressive establishment, but this film takes things a step further, which is what I found interesting. The competition aspect gives it an extra.,likable edge and really made me want to root for Harry and Walter and their gang of losers who take on the arrogant Caine and his snotty buddies. Instead of the viewer just being intrigued at how they’re able to pull of the robbery as is the case with most heist films we are much more emotionally invested with its outcome.

Caan and Gould are what Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman should’ve been in Ishtar. These guys are definite losers, but still appealing and comical at the same time. Caan has never been known for his comedy and he has referred to this movie as ‘Harry and Walter Go to the Toilet’, which is a shame because he shows nice energy here and is able to keep Gould in check by not allowing him to drone on and steal the spotlight as he can sometimes do when left alone or with a less capable co-star.

If the film fails at all it’s by entering in too many supporting players. The title mentions only Harry and Walter and they should’ve pulled off the heist alone with maybe only Keaton tagging along for balance. As it is though a whole massive group gets in on it to the point that the two leads have little to do. While the group is busily trying to figure out how to open the safe Harry and Walter are on stage trying to extend a stage play  The film still works pretty well despite this issue, but technically the two men should be at the center of the action and in a lot of ways they really aren’t and in fact become almost like supporting players by the end.

The film also goes on too long with the denouncement being far more extended than it should, but it’s still a fun, breezy watch that reflects the gilded age flavor well and uses leftover sets from Hello Dolly to enhance the scenery perfectly.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 17, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mark Rydell

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video