Category Archives: Movies that take place in Texas

The Last Picture Show (1971)

last picture show 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: A Texas sized drama.

Based on the Larry McMurtry novel, who also co-wrote the screenplay, the story deals with the inter-workings and relationships of a people living in a small Texas town known as Anarene during the years of 1951 and 1952.  There’s Duane (Jeff Bridges) and Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) two high school seniors who are also best friends. Duane dates the highly attractive Jacey (Cybill Shepherd) who seems more geared to playing the field with every guy in town and even makes a play for Sonny, which seriously affects his relationship with Duane. There’s also Ruth (Cloris Leachman) the lonely coach’s wife who begins a brief affair with Sonny until he decides to bail-out for the more attractive Jacey. Sam (Ben Johnson) makes up part of the older generation still stuck in the dusty town and trying to make ends meet by running the local movie theater and pool hall both of which come to a halt when he dies suddenly.

I saw this film just recently outside on the big screen as part of the Texas Film Heritage and Preservation Society here in Austin. Although I had seen it before I was hit with how much more impressive and visually sumptuous it is on the big screen. Robert Surtees’ black and white cinematography is top-notch and the main ingredient to what makes it so spellbinding, so much meticulous attention is taken into each and every shot that one could almost watch this with the sound down and still find it thoroughly compelling.

Director Peter Bogdanovich takes great care to make sure that all of the elements are there and spins them together like a well-crafted machine so the viewer learns bit and pieces about these characters and their attitudes through each shot and camera angle that comes along. Filming it on-location in Archer City where McMurtry grew up helps accentuate the authenticity as does playing the country music from the period although I could’ve done with a little less of that and more of the sound of the wind and dust crackling across the barren region instead.

What surprised me most was how interesting and varied the love making scenes where and how instrumental they became to the film as a whole. One of the most memorable ones is when Sonny first tries to make love to Ruth, but is quite awkward about it. We see the pained expressions on both of their faces, hear the rusty springs of the mattress, and then finally witness Ruth’s attempts to shield her crying and frustration from Sonny. Duane’s futile attempt at sex with Jacey later on is also good particularly the fiery look of anger spewing from Jacey’s eyes when he is unable to perform. The scene involving a mentally challenged young man pushed into attempting sex with an obese and caustic prostitute inside the backseat of a cramped car is both darkly funny and sad, but the most provocative love making moment comes near the end when Jacey has sex with her mother’s boyfriend (Clu Gulager) on top of a pool table inside a dark and lonely pool hall while bracing the table’s side pockets with her hands for leverage.

The performances are all-around outstanding and both Leachman and Johnson won the Academy Award for their work here, but I still came away feeling, just like I did twenty years ago when I first saw this film, that Shepherd does the best job and leaves the most lasting impression. I love how her character slips between being insecure and indecisive to cunning and conniving and Shepherd’s facial expressions are completely on-target all the way. Her striptease done on top of a diving board is still pretty hot and my only complaint about the character is the way she elopes with Sonny and then completely bails on him the next day. I realize she didn’t love the guy and she’s just used him like she did others, but I didn’t understand what her motivation was in this instance as she seemed to get little if anything out of it.

I was also a bit disappointed that the Coach Popper character played by Bill Thurman didn’t have a bigger role in the story. The way he berates his players during practice is amusing and would most likely get coaches in today’s more sensitive world in hot water. I also found his constant spitting of tobacco juice into a cup that he carries around with him to be grotesquely amusing, but my biggest beef is the fact that we have a main character screwing his wife and the whole town knows about it, but never any reaction from the man himself. Maybe he was aware and didn’t care, but the movie should’ve made an attempt to show this, or at least some interaction between Sonny and the Coach since Sonny was at one time one of his players, which would have to make things quite awkward whenever they would bump into each other and in a small town that would most likely happen on more than a few occasions.

Overall though this is a great movie and I was surprised at how frank and explicit it was despite its 1950’s setting. Some may argue that it was done with too much of a revisionist mindset and things weren’t quite this wild, but others, like myself, will insist that it probably was, but just not talked about as much.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: October 22, 1971

Runtime: 2Hours 6Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Rated R

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

My Best Friend is a Vampire (1988)

my best friend is a vampire

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen turns into vampire.

Jeremy (Robert Sean Leonard) is just your average teen attending high school in Houston while also working as a grocery delivery boy part-time. On one of his deliveries he meets a mysterious, but beautiful woman named Nora (Cecillia Peck) who bites him on his neck, which slowly turns him into a vampire over the course of several days. It also causes a vampire instructor named Modoc (Rene Auberjonois) to appear who helps mentor him on what life as a vampire is like while also giving him a vampire instruction manual to read. Once the initial shock is over Jeremy begins to enjoy the change, but still must avoid a couple of overzealous vampire hunters (David Warner, Paul Willson) who are out to pierce his heart with a wooden stake.

The film starts out amusingly enough and has a nice balance between being funny and still maintaining an interesting plot. It even manages to throw in a few original spins to the genre, so it doesn’t come off as just another mindless vampire movie retread, at least initially. Leonard is engaging in the lead and the dialogue between the teenagers is more realistic than in most other high school flicks from the ‘80’s.

Unfortunately the film starts to go south when, after faced with all these changes, Jeremy still decides to ask a geeky looking girl named Darla (Cheryl Pollak) out on a date, but I would’ve thought with all the stresses he was going through that starting a relationship would be the last thing on his mind. The romantic angle is boring and adds nothing to the mix. Pollak is a weak actress and her character’s presence could’ve easily been cut out altogether.

The finale is a real letdown and comes off like a typically uninspired farce where the writers have run out of creative ideas and thus try to wrap things up with a benign car chase and frantic running around by the characters. The story is full of logic loopholes and the promising elements at the start ultimately devolve into inane silliness by the end.

I’ll give director Jimmy Huston credit for managing to raise himself up from his humble beginnings, which was as a director to an Earl Owensby produced movie, which is about as low as one can go, but this film becomes just another tired casualty in a long line of films hoping to be the next vampire cult classic, but not making the cut.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 6, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jimmy Huston

Studio: Kings Road Entertainment

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)

legend of billie jean 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen becomes media sensation.

Billie Jean (Helen Slater) is a teen living in a small Texas town who one day decides to take a ride with her brother Binx (Christina Slater) on his motor scooter to a lake for a swim. Along the way they come into contact with some red neck boys who harass the two and damage the scooter. The police do nothing about it, so Billie Jean decides to approach Pyatt (Richard Bradford) who runs a convenience store and is the father to one of the boys. When she asks him for the money that it will cost to repair it he attempts to sexually assault her and Binx ends up shooting the man in the shoulder. This causes the two to go on the run and creates a statewide car chase, which makes Billie Jean a media hero to thousands of teens nationwide.

The movie is a real mixed bag with strong shifts in tone and no clear point-of-view. It starts out as a rather boring, run-of-the-mill teen bullying flick only to turn into a whimsical tale as the teens go out on the road and have one quirky adventure after another. It’s similar to Steven Spielberg’s The Sugarland Express as both lead characters are females and go on the run from the law in Texas while become inadvertent media darlings in the process. Spielberg’s movie is the better film, but this one delves more into the media angle and could’ve made some strong statements, but unfortunately pulls back and keeps things on too much of a lighthearted, innocuous level instead.

Slater is fantastic in the lead and it’s great seeing the boyish Slater in his film debut. I felt though that Martha Gehman and Yeardley Smith as two teen gals who tag along with the other two on their adventure added nothing and should’ve been cut out completely.

Bradford makes for a pretty good heavy, but I had major issues with Peter Coyote as the sheriff. For one thing when Billie Jean reports that her brother’s bike has been stolen he does not immediately pursue the case, but instead decides to ‘wait on it for a few days’, which seemed like he was not doing the job that the tax payers put him into position to do. Then when the chase expands across the rest of the state he somehow gets in charge of tracking her down, which is ridiculous. Once she crosses over the county line, or gets outside of his jurisdiction then it is up to the authorities from that region to handle it, or the state highway patrol and certainly not some two-bit sheriff from a no-name, hick town.

The scene where Billie Jean saves a boy from his abusive father while hundreds of teens look on is great, but everything else is so-so. The film would’ve worked better had it taken a consistent satirical tone from the beginning and not have been so compelled to conform itself to the more simplistic sensibilities of its targeted teen audience.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 19, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated R

Director: Matthew Robbins

Studio: TriStar Pictures

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

Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

pee wee big adventure

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for his bike.

Due to the release this weekend of Pee Wee’s Big Holiday I thought it would be appropriate to go back and take a look at the ‘80s classic that started it all. Here we have Pee Wee (Paul Reubens) living with his small pet dog Speck inside a home full of colorful contraptions. His prized possession is his bicycle, which he takes great care of and carefully chains up every time he leaves it alone. However, a hateful bully named Francis (Mark Holton), who is from an affluent household and used to getting whatever he wants, decides that he wants Pee Wee’s bike for himself. When his monetary offer gets rejected he then hires a professional thief to steal it for him, which sends Pee Wee on a mad frenzy across the country to try and retrieve it.

The movie is an exercise in high camp that could’ve easily failed, but instead it succeeds mainly because it doesn’t put the eccentric main character into the real world, but instead pulls the viewer into the quirky 10-year-old mindset of the protagonist. Here we don’t deal with people who reject or mock him, but instead much like with all children he becomes the ‘king of his own domain’ where he is liked and accepted by most everyone he meets and in control of all situations while the harsher realities get ignored or overlooked completely.

The film also manages to accentuate Pee Wee’s odd personality with garishly colorful set-pieces and odd contraptions that almost become the film’s main attraction. Reubens plays the role in an engaging manner, but the character’s persona is one-dimensional and could border on getting annoying had it been the film’s sole avenue of humor, but fortunately director Tim Burton manages to give the film a complete vision by instilling a storyline and visual design that match the weirdness of its protagonist and makes the proceedings come off as fresh and inventive.

I also liked that it wasn’t geared completely towards children, but instead made to attract those of all ages with a taste for the offbeat and absurd. Going the kiddie flick route would’ve made it come off as formulaic and infantile, but instead by emphasizing the surreal it becomes intriguing and impossible to predict.

The loosely structured script, which was co-written by Reubens and actor Phil Hartman, manages to go a long way on what amounts to being pretty much just a one-joke premise, but it does eventually start to lose steam by the 60-minute mark only to recover in grand style at the end with a delightful chase through the backlot of the Warner Brothers studio. It is similar to the ending used in Blazing Saddles where the film breaks the fourth wall and becomes a movie-in-a-movie although I felt this one was funnier than the Mel Brooks version.

The film is sprinkled with a lot of cameo appearances as well with my favorite ones being Milton Berle as well as James Brolin playing Pee Wee in the Hollywood movie version and Morgan Fairchild as the Hollywoodized version of his girlfriend. I also got a kick out of Jason Hervey who is best known for playing Fred Savage’s older brother in ‘The Wonder Years’ and who does a very funny caricature of a spoiled child film star here.

The film is also known for making the ‘50s instrumental ‘Tequila’ by the Champs a very recognizable melody. In fact it is almost impossible to think of the Pee Wee character and not have that melody start to play in your head, or if you do hear the melody playing somewhere you can’t help but have the image of Pee Wee pop-up when you do. However, in the actual film the song ends up being played only briefly.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 26, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Tim Burton

Studio: Warner Brothers

Independence Day (1983)

independence day 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Getting out of Texas.

Mary Ann Taylor (Kathleen Quinlan) works as a waitress at her father’s café, but dreams of leaving her sleepy Texas town and going to school in California to study photography. Her mother (Frances Sternhagen) though is in declining health and her current boyfriend Jack (David Keith) wants her to stay which makes her decision to leave all the more difficult.

Shot on-location in Anson, Texas the film is a pleasant time-filler that fortunately doesn’t go overboard with Texas stereotypes, but it’s also rather bland and predictable. Feeling trapped in a small town is by no means a unique feeling and the film doesn’t go far enough with that theme and for the most part just touches the surface. Adding in a second storyline dealing with Jack’s sister (Dianne Weist) being abused by her husband (Cliff De Young) is a bit jarring and doesn’t really fit as there are long periods where Mary Ann is not seen at all and it would’ve made more sense had it been her sister that was being abused and not Jack’s and thus giving her more screen time.

The dramatic arcs are a bit too obvious as well and at times even bordering on being corny. For one thing the abuse issue gets introduced by having Jack visit his sister and asking her husband to borrow some money and then for no reason the husband begins throwing lit matches at his wife while right in front of Jack. Abusive people can certainly be cruel, but they’re not stupid and hurting a woman while her well-built brother sits right there is most assuredly going to get the husband into trouble, so why do it? Having Jack find out about the abuse by coming to the home one day unannounced and hearing shouting and maybe looking into a window and seeing the husband hit her would’ve made far more sense.

Having Mary Ann’s mother, who otherwise looks and acts quite healthy, suddenly fall over with fainting spells and suffering from some disease that never gets explained seemed too manufactured. Mary Ann’s arguments with Jack over whether she should go to school or stay in Texas is equally transparent especially since the two really didn’t have all that much in common and could’ve easily found other dating partners quite quickly.

Having one of the official’s from the photography school drive out to her rural home and personally offer her a full scholarship while telling her she was one of the greatest photographers he had even seen was pretty loopy too. All she did was take pictures of the town’s buildings and people’s faces, so what this guy managed to see that was so ‘brilliant’ and ‘special’ from that is hard to figure.

Quinlan and Wiest give great performances, but the movie is nothing more than lightweight drama that fails to distinguish itself from all the other B-dramas out there.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: January 21, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Mandel

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive)

The Hitcher (1986)

hitcher

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Chased by homicidal hitchhiker.

Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) who is driving from Chicago to California finds himself falling asleep at the wheel as he travels late at night down a lonely desert highway. To keep himself awake he decides to pick-up a hitchhiker named John Ryder (Rutger Hauer) who immediately begins to behave strangely. Jim manages physically kick John out of the car when his life gets threatened, but then notices that he is continually coming upon him as his drive progresses. Soon the police are after him thinking that he is the one committing the murders that are really being done by John.

This film manages to be a nice blend between Spielberg’s TV-movie Duel and the classic episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’ in which Inger Stevens constantly sees the same hitchhiker as she drives her way through the desert. There are some really good suspenseful moments and a great performance by Hauer that almost makes up for its many transgressions, which unfortunately become more and more numerous.

Now, I did like this movie and tried to overlook a few of the logic loopholes, but eventually they become just too overblown. The biggest one is that John somehow manages to steel Jim’s wallet while also planting a knife on him that has blood from the victims that he has killed, but the only time they are together is when they are traveling in the car and I think Jim would’ve noticed John fishing through his pockets if that were the case. There’s also a lot of timing issues. For instance passengers stop and get off a bus to go inside a roadside café presumably for lunch, but then go right back into the bus just a couple of minutes later, which isn’t enough time for them to eat, go to the bathroom, or even stretch their legs. Another scene has Jim’s girlfriend Nash (Jennifer Jason Leigh) getting kidnapped from her hotel room by John who somehow is able to enter the room without explanation and then takes her out to the parking lot and ties her up between two trucks before the police get called in and try to intervene, but this all occurs in seemingly only a couple of minutes as Jim is in the bathroom when he hears Nash being taken out and he quickly runs out into the parking lot only to see Nash already tied up and the police there.

There is also the issue of how is John able to escape out of a police van after he is caught and handcuffed, which the movie doesn’t even bother to explain or show. Another question some viewers have brought up is why is Jim driving through Texas anyways, which is where this all occurs, since it seems too far to the south from where he needs to go. Some have speculated that maybe he was going to the southern portion of California and therefore would need to pass through the Panhandle of Texas to get there, which is plausible, but the landscape is all wrong. I live in Texas and know that the panhandle region, which I’ve been to, is flat and green and has farmland while the place Jim goes through is barren, sandy and very much a desert.

The film wasn’t even shot in Texas, but instead done in the Mojave Desert in California, which made me wonder why the setting couldn’t have been there since that was supposed to be Jim’s ultimate destination anyways. Then I realized that the police are portrayed as being quite hick and redneck and since Texas unfairly still has that stereotype I’m sure that was the reason for why it was chosen.

The script could’ve certainly been better thought out, which wouldn’t have required the viewer to take such massive leaps in logic in order to enjoy it, but overall I still liked it. I think this was mainly because of Hauer who is terrifically creepy as well as for an extremely exciting car chase that features incredible stunt work and without relying on any of computerized crap either.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 21, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Harmon

Studio: TriStar Pictures

Available: DVD

 

Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)

COME BACK TO THE FIVE & DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN, Sandy Dennis, Cher, Karen Black, 1982, (c) Cinecom Pictures

COME BACK TO THE FIVE & DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN, Sandy Dennis, Cher, Karen Black, 1982, (c) Cinecom Pictures

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Disciples of James Dean.

Twenty years after his untimely death five women (Cher, Sandy Dennis, Karen Black, Kathy Bates, Marta Heflin), who were big fans of James Dean and called themselves his disciples, decide to hold a reunion at a thrift shop in a small town not far from Marfa, Texas where the film Giant was made. However, the reunion is not a happy one as old wounds and secrets come to light that forces the women to analyze themselves and their lives in uncomfortable and unpleasant ways.

One of the things that really annoyed me about this movie and at times just downright confused me is that the characters show no signs of aging at all as it shifts between 1955 and the present day of 1975. Twenty years is a significant period of time and most everyone will show some signs of age, or at least changes to their hairstyle and outfits and yet with the exception of the Joe character there is no distinguishable differences between the others from one period to the next. The Cher character was particularly perplexing as her hair remains jet black for two decades and even the same exact style. One could argue that maybe she dyed it, okay, but she also manages to somehow retain her same girlish figure, which is even less likely.

I also found it hard to believe that she could afford to make a living by working at little thrift store for 20 years, or that she would even be needed as the place was small enough for one person to run and through the course of the entire movie never once does a single customer even enter the place. Her character was attractive enough to find a man, get married and run off to another town or place that had more potential. We learn through the course of the movie that she was married at one point, but then dumped, however I would think she would’ve been able to find someone else in a 20 year time span especially since she was still quite good looking.

Keeping all of the action inside the thrift store makes the film seem almost claustrophobic. I realize this was based on a stage play, but most plays that get transferred to film will have certain scenes, or cutaways added in to avoid this feeling. Even having some outdoor shots done over the opening credits would’ve given it a little more of a visual variety.

The performances are the best thing about the movie and probably the only reason to see it. All three leads recreate their parts from the stage version. Cher is sensational and in my opinion gives the best performance. Dennis is solid doing her patented fragile caricature and who displays some interesting emotional eruptions at completely unexpected times. Black is excellent as well. Usually she plays flaky types, but here is more reserved and steely. Bates is good as a loud and abrasive woman and Sudie Bond lends fine support as the shop’s overtly religious owner.

The script is passable, but the revelations that come out are stuff you’d find on a second-rate soap opera. I also found it hard to believe that these women would get together after 20 years and not have other things to talk about. Usually when people meet after not seeing each other for an extended period of time there’s always a lot of ‘catching up’ to do where they talk about all the things that have happened to them since, but here there’s none of that. Instead they come off like people frozen in time clinging to bygone issues that just about anyone else would’ve moved on from long ago.

The film ends with several shots of the store shown in an abandoned and rundown state, but with no explanation of what time period it was taken in. At first I thought this meant that maybe the reunion had never occurred. That maybe it had just been imagined, which is a concept that I liked and would also have filled in some of the gaping plot holes that I’ve described above, but then I saw the reunion banner still hanging in a tattered state from the ceiling. Others on IMDb have debated that it may represent the reunion that they had planned for 1995 that never came about, which is a good guess, but with business being as slow as it  was at that place I think it would’ve been abandoned long before 1975 let alone 1995.

come back 1

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 12, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: Cinecom Pictures

Available: DVD

Slacker (1991)

slacker

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: A movie about nothing.

A look at a day-in-the-life of society’s left behinds that filter the streets, bars and coffee shops of Austin, Texas. The viewer hears a wide variety of weird topics, theories and extreme political points-of-view from the detached 20-something crowd as the camera winds its way from one conversation to the next and never stopping on any one person for longer than a few minutes.

This was considered at the time of its release to be a major breakthrough for the independent film movement and one that remains an inspiration for many indie filmmakers today. It succeeds because it proves you don’t need a big budget, state-of-the-art effects or even a compelling story to work. It washes all those things away and gets down to the very essence of why we watch movies, which is because we are all secretly voyeurs intrigued with seeing how the ‘other half’ lives without having to get our own feet wet in the process. The characters, as offbeat as they and their conversations may be, have a definite element truth to them and this film manages to convey reality far better than 95 percent of the other movies out there.

Some of my favorite conversations, which seem mostly ad-libbed, involved the one with the guy who was obsessed with the JFK assassination and his ‘shocking’ new revelations involving Jack Ruby’s dog. There are also the two young men inside a bar who talk about the ‘subliminal messages’ of the Smurf cartoons and the film’s director Richard Linklater who opens the film with a discussion on how every choice that we don’t make continues off and has a reality of its own. I also liked the anarchist (Louis Mackey) who talks about the man who assassinated President McKinley simply because all you ever hear about are the Kennedy and Lincoln assassinations and never anything about anything about the other two.

I also liked Teresa Taylor, who was the former drummer for the Butthole Surfers, playing a woman trying to sell a vial containing singer Madonna’s Pap smear and the guy who locks himself inside a room with what seems like hundreds of TV’s that run all day and night. However, I was a bit disappointed that during this scene we get shown a video of a man who supposedly shots the camera with his rifle and although he does indeed aim his gun at the lens he never fires it, which I found to be a letdown.

Some may consider these characters, in our very job oriented culture, to be ‘losers’ simply because they ‘aren’t working’ and being ‘productive members of society’, but director Linklater takes a different perspective by stating in an interview that he feels slackers are instead a ‘step ahead’ and ‘rejecting the social hierarchy before it rejects them’.

To some extent I agree as I was pretty much the same way at that age, but I also couldn’t help but think what these same characters were doing now 20 years later. It’s easy to be detached when you’re younger, but when a person reaches middle-age and the financial responsibilities become stronger, it’s not, so I kept wondering if these same people may have now ‘sold-out’ or even ‘grown up’. I also wondered how they may have evolved in other ways for instance the guy who was so into the conspiracies of the JFK assassination may now have crossed over to ones involving 9/11 and the young man that was really into TV’s may now be a Blu-ray player nut instead. If anything this is a movie crying out for a sequel and one that could easily be just as fascinating as the first one especially if it involved the same people.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 22, 1991

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Linklater

Studio: Orion Classics

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Instant Video

 

 

When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder? (1979)

when you comin back red ryder 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Terror at a diner.

The year is 1968 and the setting is a small, lonely diner nestled at the border of Texas and New Mexico. Richard (Hal Linden) and his violinist wife Clarissa (Lee Grant) arrive for a morning cup of coffee. There is also Angel (Stephanie Faracy) the diner’s lone waitress and Stephen (Peter Firth), who was nicknamed Red during his youth due to his red hair at the time, but besides them the place is empty and peaceful. Then Teddy (Marjoe Gortner), an unhinged Vietnam vet and his hippie girlfriend Chery (Candy Clark) enter. They are without money and stranded with a broken down van, which makes Teddy particularly volatile as he begins harassing the others with evasive questions before eventually terrorizing them all by trapping them inside the place and forcing them to do whatever weird, sick thing he asks.

The film is based on the 1973 Off Broadway play by Mark Medoff, who also wrote the screenplay. In many ways it’s similar to the 1967 black-and-white drama The Incident in which Tony Musante and a young Martin Sheen trap several subway riders inside a subway car and spend the rest of the night terrorizing them simply for their own personal amusement.  Both films are structured the same with the first part examining the characters before they arrive at the scene and revealing a bit of the personal dramas that each of them face and then spending the second half showing them trapped in a claustrophobic setting and forced to deal with their reluctance at confronting their fears.

The 1967 film though outshines this one as there were more characters, which gave it a better variety of personalities as well as bad guys that were menacing and believable. Gortner is too much of a ham making him more irritating than scary. The part was originally played by Kevin Conway during its Off Broadway run and his performance won many accolades, which should’ve been enough for them to have offered him the chance to reprise the role here. Gortner, who also produced seemed intent at trying to use this as a vehicle to promote himself as being a ‘serious’ actor, but he was too old for the role from the beginning since he was already in his mid-30’s at the time this was shot while vets coming back from the war during the ‘60s where only in their late teens or early 20’s.

The film only gets mildly interesting during the confrontation sequence inside the diner, which takes 45 minutes of the film’s 2-hour runtime just to get there. The way the characters respond to Gortner’s scare tactics and the supporting cast’s performances, who are all far better actors than Gortner, is the movie’s only compelling element, but even here there are issues. The biggest one being that the people seem too wimpy and today’s viewers will get frustrated at how overly compliant they are to Gortner’s demands and never once try to overpower him despite having ample opportunity.

The movie is also notorious for featuring some rather shocking moments of nudity. It starts out with a full body shot of Candy Clark in the buff, who was married to Gortner in real-life at the time this was made and that isn’t too bad, but then it proceeds to later show 48-year-old Linden in nothing but speedo shorts doing sit ups with his butt crack clearly exposed. Still later there is a scene where 52-year-old Lee Grant has her shirt hoisted all the way over her head with her breasts in full view and then paraded around the diner in mocking fashion. The film’s most over-the-top moment though comes when Gortner himself is stripped naked and bent over a table while having a proctoscope shoved up his rectum as he continues to have a conversation with the man who’s doing it.

Filmed on-location in Fabens, Texas, which was also the site of a famous scene in The Gateway, and Las Cruces, New Mexico the movie just doesn’t convey enough tension to make it compelling or worth catching. It would’ve worked better had it skipped the first half dealing with the backstories of the characters, which was never a part of the original play anyways and just gone straight into the diner sequence while also casting a leading actor that had some actual acting training.

when you comin back red ryder 1

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 9, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes

Rated R

Director: Milton Katselas

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS

The Chase (1966)

chase 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A town on edge.

Bubber Reaves (Robert Redford) has escaped from prison and looks to return to the small Texas town where he grew up in. It is there that his wife Anna (Jane Fonda) resides, but she is now having an affair with Jason (James Fox) who is the son of the town’s influential millionaire Val (E.G. Marshall). Deep-seated tensions that had long remained dormant eventually rise and boil over. The sheriff (Marlon Brando), who is not particularly popular with the locals, wants to bring Bubber back alive, but a certain group of men have other ideas and are willing to physically and violently stop the sheriff if they have to in order to get their way.

The film was notorious in its day for its behind-the-scenes discord that was almost as entertaining as the conflicts onscreen. Producer Sam Spiegal gave director Arthur Penn no authority over the final cut and screenwriters Horton Foote and Lillian Hellman who along with Penn where in constant disagreements over the story angles and character focus. Yet with all that going on the final product is still slick enough to remain entertaining and compelling.

Much of this can be attributed to the talented supporting cast. Janice Rule is spicy as the haughty husband stealer and Robert Duvall is memorable in an atypical role as a timid man who avoids all confrontation even when his wife (Martha Hyer) openly makes out with another man while right in front of him. Miriam Hopkins, in her second-to-last film appearance, leaves a strong impression as well playing Bubber’s elderly, but still feisty mother.

On the other end there is Fonda who is wasted in a small role that gives her little to do. Redford, with his All-American good looks is miscast and fails to reflect the grittiness of the rest of the characters. Brando’s presence is also a detriment as his patented moodiness becomes off-putting instead being the portal to the character’s ‘inner angst’ as it’s intended although the scene where he gets beaten to a pulp and then walks all bloodied out in front of the other townspeople who stare at him with indifference is an impactful moment.

The ending culminates with an explosive finale inside a junkyard, but the majority of the film lacks any action. It’s more of a soap opera than a chase, which makes the title misleading and even disappointing to those that may come into it expecting an action flick, which it isn’t. The setting is also supposed to take place in Texas and even though certain shots do resemble the Lone Star landscape it was actually all filmed inside the borders of California.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 17, 1966

Runtime: 2Hours 15Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Arthur Penn

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video