Category Archives: Movies that take place in the Big Apple

Only When I Laugh (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Actress is an alcoholic.

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1981

Runtime: 2Hours

Rated R

Director: Glenn Jordan

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available:  DVD-R, Amazon Video, YouTube

Death Wish 3 (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Vigilante defends senior citizens.

Paul Kersey’s (Charles Bronson) vigilante act returns this time he goes back to New York City and defends the senior citizens in a neighborhood of his war buddy Charley (Francis Drake) who was killed by members of a street gang lead by Manny Fraker (Gavan O’ Herlihy).

The third entry in the series goes completely off-the-rails with a neighborhood setting resembling an apocalyptic world better suited for a surreal dystopian sci-fi film. The gang members behave like vile creatures straight out of somebody’s worst nightmare and look like leftover cast members from a cheesy version of The Warriors while the senior citizens seem ready to be ordained into sainthood.

After the first movie was released and met with criticism Bronson argued in interviews that his films did not promote violence and yet here that’s all you see. Not only does it brazenly promote vigilantism as being an effective deterrent to crime, but advocates that it’s the only option.

It also portrays the police in a horrible light. Yes, there are bad cops and films have every right to expose that, but there are some good ones too and this film never bothers to show that. All the viewer gets to see are brutal monsters dressed in uniform openly ignoring a suspect’s due process, or just being cowardly and inept when dealing with the real criminals. It got so bad that I was surprised that the police force nationwide didn’t boycott this flick in protest.

The only one looking like he’s having a good time is Bronson who actually appears relaxed and able to convey other emotions besides just anger. This is also the first film in the series where there is an actual clear reason for why the thugs hound him. For instance he drapes an expensive Nikon camera around his shoulder to entice the gang members to mug him and when they do he shoots them, which is the precise type of thing that should’ve been in the first two movies.

He also gets two unintentionally funny moments. One is where he is having a nice peaceful dinner with an older couple, but then excuses himself to shoot two men who are robbing his car before returning to his dinner like it was no big deal. Another scene has him getting out of his car to go grab something from a grocery store while leaving the attractive Kathryn (Deborah Raffin), who he has just started seeing, in the vehicle. While he is away the thugs break the passenger side window and knock Kathryn out before putting the car in neutral and letting it roll down the street and ultimately crashing into another car. Bronson runs down to initially save her, but once he sees the blaze he nonchalantly turns around and walks away almost like saying ‘Fuck, looks like that hot babe I wanted to date has just been burnt to a crisp. Guess now I’ll just have to find somebody else’.

The final 30 minutes is one of the most violent that I have ever seen in a film. It’s literally just one graphic image after another put to a rapid fire pace. Director Michael Winner seems compelled to throw in as many repugnant images of death, blood and rape that he can making it almost laughable in its audaciousness if it weren’t so nauseating instead.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 1, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

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

Death Wish (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Architect becomes a vigilante.

In connection with the Eli Roth/Bruce Willis reboot that is set to be released to theaters this Friday I thought now would be a good time to go back and take a look at the original. The story centers on Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) who works as an architect and lives a comfortable life with his wife Joanna (Hope Lange) and adult daughter Carol (Kathleen Tolan). One day while he is at work his New York apartment gets invaded by three thugs (Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Logan, Gregory Rozakis) who kill his wife and rape his daughter. Paul becomes outraged that the police can’t seem to make any headway on the case and decides to take matters into his own hands by becoming a self-styled vigilante shooting random thugs on the street late at night, which in turn has him becoming a cult hero to the many residents of the crime ridden city.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Brian Garfield. Garfield was inspired to write the story after his car got vandalized. He initially fantasized about tracking down the criminals and killing them before eventually speculating what would happen if someone actually went through with these feelings and decided to take the law into their own hands. The main difference between the novel and film is that in the book the vigilantism becomes more of the problem while in the movie it’s considered the solution.

Many critics at the time gave the film unfavorable reviews as they felt it advocated violence, but I found the movie to have a certain uplifting quality. While the message is certainly simplistic and one-sided it still nicely conveys the idea that ordinary citizens can make a difference and it is up to us, the American public, to foster change and not to simply leave it up to someone else. The film doesn’t completely promote violence as the solution either as there is one scene where an old lady (Helen Martin) scares off her attacker simply by using her hat pin.

The problem that I had with it was why does Bronson constantly get harassed by these thugs in the first place? Whether he is at a restaurant or on the subway the bad guys constantly hone in on him for no apparent reason even when there’s plenty of other people around. In the book it made more sense because the title character would intentionally set traps for the thugs like abandoning his car and putting an ‘out of gas’ sign on it, so the criminals would try to rob the vehicle and then when they did he’d shoot them. Of course this would make the character’s motives more questionable, which the film wanted to avoid, but in the process it becomes less believable.

While this has become Bronson’s signature role it still would’ve worked better had a less brawny actor played the part. In the book the character is a meek accountant and someone like Jack Lemmon, who was originally considered for the role, would’ve been a more authentic fit. Bronson’s image is so entrenched as a ‘tough guy’ that his presence here seems like just another of his action themed vehicles. Chuck should’ve also not known how to use a gun right away either and maybe even been initially clumsy with it as it would’ve made the character arch from peaceful novice to sharp shooting vigilante stronger.

I liked Michael Winner’s directing particularly the way he shot the interiors of the apartments and his grimy portrayal of the urban New York setting that perfectly played-up the city’s crime ridden paranoia at the time. This is also a great chance to see some young performers before they were famous including Christopher Guest as a patrolman. I also found it amusing that Paul Dooley and Vincent Gardenia share a brief scene together as they both went on to play the dad character in Breaking Away. Dooley portrayed him in the movie version while Gardenia played the part in the short live TV-series.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 24, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Paramount

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

Endless Love (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Romance turns into obsession.

Based on the acclaimed Scott Spencer novel the story focuses on two teens locked in a relationship built around complete infatuation. Jade (Brooke Shields) is only 15 while David (Martin Hewitt) is a high school senior and 17. Jade’s parents (Don Murray, Shirley Knight) are aware that the two teens are having sex, but choose to be ‘open-minded’ and allow it, but when Jade’s grades begin to suffer her father demands that David not see her until the school year is over. David is upset at this ultimatum and decides, through advice from one of his friends (Tom Cruise) to set Jade’s house on fire and then at the last minute come in and ‘save’ them while making him look like a ‘hero’ and get back into their good graces, but things don’t work out as planned.

The film’s biggest detriment is that it chooses to emphasize mood over substance. The teen’s sex sessions are shot with a soft focus lens and gives off too much of a dreamy, fantasy feel. We are never shown how the relationship actually began as the film starts off with the two are already madly in love. It gets mentioned that they were introduced to each other by Jade’s older brother (James Spader) but it would’ve been interesting to have seen this played out as the really good movies ‘show it instead of just tell it’.

Shields has the face of an innocent 15-year-old, but her acting is not up to par and I never got the feeling of any genuine chemistry between the two. Hewitt, in his film debut, doesn’t have the acting chops to carry the movie and gets badly outperformed by Spader who would’ve played the David character far better and could also help explain why Spader has remained in the acting profession while Hewitt since 1993 has been running a home inspection business and no longer acting in movies at all.

The film’s second-half shifts too much focus on David to the point that Jade becomes this mysterious enigma. The father bars David from seeing Jade at their house, but the two could’ve easily have gotten together at school or some other place. If the two were both equally infatuated then they would’ve found a way to see each other, but they don’t, so what does this mean? Was Jade not as in to David as it was thought and what exactly was she doing and thinking during those two years when David was stuck in a mental hospital? None of this gets explained, which becomes the film’s biggest plot hole.

The story relies too heavily on extreme circumstances. For instance David’s friend gives him the idea to set the place on fire by using a stack of old wet newspapers. David then immediately goes to Jade’s home where almost like magic is a stack of old newspapers sitting on the front porch just waiting to be doused in flames. David’s chance meeting with Jade’s father in the middle of New York on a crowded highly traveled sidewalk seemed to pushing the odds as well.

Knight gives a good performance as the mother, but having the lady literally throw herself at David when he gets out of the mental hospital even after he tried to set her family on fire makes her seem crazier than he is. Murray is equally good as the father, but the fact that the guy allows the two to have sex in their house at such a young age makes him unlike most parents. Just about anyone else would’ve seen the red flags far sooner and the fact that he doesn’t until it’s too late makes him seem unusually naïve.

Spencer once stated in an interview how very disappointed he was with this film and how he felt director Franco Zeffirelli missed the whole point of what his novel was about. I agree as Zeffirelli seems driven to turn the whole thing into a modern day Romeo and Juliet while equating unhealthy obsession with love, which it isn’t. This all comes to a glaring clarity with the film’s final shot, which is the most annoying thing about this already annoying movie.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 17, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Rated R

Director: Franco Zeffirelli

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Girlfriends (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: She misses her friend.

Susan (Melanie Mayron) and Anne (Anita Skinner) are best friends and roommates, but when Anne decides to get married to Martin (Bob Balaban) and move out Susan can’t handle the solitude. She picks-up a hitch-hiker named Ceil (Amy Wright) who moves in for a bit, but it doesn’t work out. She then gets into a relationship with Eric (Christopher Guest) and even a 60-year-old married rabbi (Eli Wallach), but both of these end in heartache. The more Susan tries to ‘move-on’ the more she longs for the old days with Anne and Anne starts to feel the same way.

This was Claudia Weill’s feature film debut that met with high accolades including director Stanley Kubrick who considered it his favorite film of 1978. There’s a nice understated quality here that not only brings out a vivid late ‘70s feel, but also the very real day-to-day struggles of a young adult trying to swim through the quagmire of relationship and career obstacles. Melanie Mayron is certainly not a beauty by the conventional standard, but her plain appearance helps accentuate the challenges of the regular person trying to break-out and get noticed.

Susan’s struggles at trying to become a full-time photographer had me hooked the most as it portrays the universal challenges anyone can have in trying to get ‘their foot-in-the-door’ no matter what the profession, but I was a bit stunned when she forgets about the exhibition of her work at an art show. If someone is truly excited about getting their first big break then there is simply no way that would happen. It’s also hard for the viewer to completely empathize with someone’s career struggles if they themselves aren’t doing all they can to achieve it.

Another misguided wrinkle to the story was Susan’s relationship with a married rabbi who was almost 40 years older than her. These types of relationships suffer from extraordinarily long odds  and just about anyone would realize that from the get-go, which makes Susan’s ‘shocked’ reaction when the rabbi is unable to get together for a date due to family obligations seem almost  irrational. How a relationship like this could even begin to blossom is a whole other issue that never even gets addressed.

The film suffers from a few awkward scenes too. One has Wallach sitting down to play a game of chess with Melanie only for him to get up a minute later and leave for no reason. Why does he bother to show up for a chess game if he isn’t even going to make a single move on the board? Later Viveca Lindfors appears wearing a neck brace and yet no explanation is ever given for why she has it on. Later she’s shown without it, so why did she have it in one scene and not the other? Maybe it was for a minor accident, which can happen, but film is a visual medium and when something slightly askew gets shown it needs to get addressed even if it’s just in passing otherwise the viewer will key in on that and not the story.

Even more amazingly, and I can’t believe I’m saying this as I’ve never seen it in any other movie that I’ve ever watched before, but there’s an actual scratch on the camera lens that can be spotted in just about every scene. It appears on the top right hand side as a small white mark. If the sun is shining through a window it will reflect the light and be more pronounced. If a character walks in front of the window it fades a bit, but you can still see it and this continues throughout the entire run of the film. I can only presume that cinematographer Fred Murphy was aware of this, but due to the budget constraints they didn’t have enough money to replace the lens and decided to simply chug along with the scratch in place and hope no else would notice.

Ultimately though I found the story, in its simple way, to be touching and poignant this is particularly evident at the end where the viewer can see firsthand how friendships help add insight and support to a person’s life and are an important dimension to the human experience.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 4, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Claudia Weill

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), YouTube

Puzzle of a Downfall Child (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fashion model is troubled.

Lou Andreas Sand (Faye Dunaway) was a once famous fashion model who now sits in an isolated seaside cabin telling her life story to Aaron (Barry Primus) who records her conversations which he plans to use as a basis for an upcoming film. Through her stories she describes of being molested at the age of 15 by a much older man, her bouts with drugs and alcohol, her time spent inside a mental hospital and how she jilted her fiancé (Roy Scheider) by running out on him on their wedding day.

This film marks the directorial debut of Jerry Schatzberg who up until that time was best known as a still photographer and having captured the cover of Bob Dylan’s seventh album Blonde on Blonde. The inspiration for the movie was the life of model Anne Saint Marie who Schatzberg interviewed much the same way that the Aaron character does in the movie.

Unfortunately the director clearly doesn’t understand what makes his main character tick as she comes off as this one-dimensional, self-destructive cliché whose perpetually sad tales of woo become increasingly more contrived as the film goes on. We get no insight as to why she behaves the way she does turning her into a maddening caricature that frustrates the viewer and allows for no empathy.

A great deal of effort was put into the film’s visual style and on that level it’s a fascinating achievement. Adam Holender’s cinematography is quite vivid and makes you feel like you’re right there in the same room with the characters, but the fragmented narrative that comes with it is unappealing. Certain interesting dramatic moments get dropped and never gone back to, or readdressed at a much later time long after the viewer has lost interest. I suppose this is the reason that the word ‘puzzle’ gets used in the title as we are supposed to ‘piece together’ this woman’s life and personality through the erratic bits that she gives us, but she only succeeds at becoming an enigma.

Dunaway is a great actress, but tends to do better in parts calling for strong or emotionally ambivalent women. Playing the roles of vulnerable people is definitely not her forte. She’s managed to do it a few times, but it’s not easy for her and here she fails at it completely as she doesn’t understand her character’s motivations any better than the viewer.

The one actress that does do well here is Viveca Lindfors who was a beauty in her day, but by this time was already aging into her later years and yet she commands the screen with the brief time that she is on it and had she been seen more she might’ve saved it. However, the story lacks substance fails to be compelling and leaves the viewer with a lot of fleeting, fragmented images and nothing more.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jerry Schatzberg

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD (Region 2), Blu-ray (Region B/2)

Nighthawks (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Street cop versus terrorist.

Deke DaSilva (Sylvester Stallone) and Matthew Fox (Billy Dee Williams) work as New York Street cops only to be suddenly pulled off of their beat and put into an elite anti-terrorism division. At first DaSilva resists the tactics taught during the training, which puts him at odds with the instructor (Nigel Davenport). However, once he gets past his initial reluctance he begins to use the methods that were taught to him by getting inside the mind of the international terrorist (Rutger Hauer) that they are after, which eventually helps him beat the man at his own game.

The film’s biggest achievement is that it was shot on-location in three major cities across two continents. Normally it’s nice when a film can just get out of a studio backlot and into a vibrant setting, but this film manages to get in three simultaneously and creates an almost head-spinning, globe-trotting visual show, which helps heighten the international intrigue. My favorite spot was where DaSilva and Fox go into the ghetto to do a drug bust. Normally film crews avoid the bad areas and try to compensate by dressing up a soundstage to look like one, but it always fails while this scene comes off as the real deal with the garbage strewn decrepit buildings being more prominent than the action.

The story succeeds to a degree as it nicely details the psychological aspect of police work as well as showing the many dead-ends investigators must go through before they are finally able to catch a break, but then the gritty reality unfortunately gets erased.

The main issue occurs when Stallone thinks he has spotted Hauer at a nightclub and wants to get nearer to him to get a ‘closer look’ only to proceed to just stand and stare at him in the most obvious way imaginable until it becomes achingly clear to Hauer that the guy is a cop, which causes him to panic and taking out a gun and running while killing a club patron in the process. It made me wonder if the Stallone character was a seasoned cop at all because why bother being undercover if you’re going to just stupidly give your identity away at the most inopportune moment?

Later Stallone gets blamed by Dee Williams for not shooting Hauer when he ‘had the chance’, but the truth is that Hauer had draped himself with a woman hostage and giving Stallone no clear view of him. Aren’t police trained not to shoot unless they do have a clear view? If anything Stallone’s character should’ve been commended for showing restraint. Being goaded into taking a risky shot would not have been ‘macho’ or ‘brave’ but seriously reckless and in no way was a sign of weakness despite the film portraying it like it was.

The film also fails to make much use of the buddy formula and in fact Dee Williams gets boxed out and becomes almost transparent. Stallone is excellent and Hauer is the epitome of a creepy villain, but the film could’ve been stronger had it not devolved into the formulaic tormented-cop-struggling-with-his-inner-demons thing and instead kept the two leads on equal footing as there are a few moments at the beginning where they share some engaging banter.

Lindsay Wagner is equally wasted with only two scenes and less than 10 minutes of total screen time. Davenport though is strong as the aging British instructor and quite engaging in his own right while Persis Khambatta, best known for playing the bald women in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, is effective as Hauer’s partner in crime.

The scene where a group of people are held hostage inside a cable car is intense and well shot. There is also an exciting foot chase inside the New York subway, which has traces to the one done in The French Connection, but the story itself doesn’t amount to much and seems more clichéd than original.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 10, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bruce Malmuth

Studio: Universal

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

If Ever I See You Again (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rekindling an old romance.

Bob Morrison (Joe Brooks) is a successful composer of commercial jingles, but despises the many compromises he is forced to make in order to please his clients. He wants to write a film score and his agent Mario (Jimmy Breslin) gets him a meeting with some movie producers in Hollywood and while there he decides to look up Jennifer (Shelley Hack) his former girlfriend while in college. He finds that she still has feelings for him and they begin dating again only to have her, like in college, back off when the relationship starts to get too serious.

Brooks was coming off great success with the box office hit You Light Up My Life that won him the Grammy for song of the year (1977) the Academy Award for best original song as well as the Golden Globe and the ASCAP award. His over-confidence though exceeded his talents as he followed it up with this trifling mess that reeks of self-indulgence and is so unrelentingly schmaltzy that it will make even the most die-hard of romantics feel like gagging.

The film starts out okay as it analyzes the rigors of the music business and its overly demanding clients. You even get to listen to some cheesy jingles that he is forced to write, which are kind of funny. Had it stayed as a behind-the-scenes look at the commercial jingle world it might’ve been passable

The romantic storyline though kills it. The idea that this beautiful woman would have no other male suitors and simply jump back into the arms of a dopey guy that she had dumped years before is ridiculous.  At least having her married or in some other relationship would’ve made it realistic and allowed for added drama, which is lacking and the love songs that are played during this segment sound worse than the goofy jingles.

Brooks had no acting experience, but casts himself in the lead anyways, which was a terrible mistake as he mumbles his lines and shows no emotion or inflection. His hair looks disheveled and with his glasses off like a beady-eyed, would-be stalker. The character is portrayed too ideally turning the production into a narcisstic foray instead of a story.

The supporting cast is filled with non-actors as well including newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin and author George Plimpton who are just as blah and my guess is that Brooks did this to make his own bad acting seem not quite so glaring by comparison. Hack for her part is okay and at least has a beautiful face although I wished she hadn’t covered it up with her big, bulky glasses.

The most interesting aspect to the film is what occurred behind the camera as Brooks was nothing like the sentimental songs he wrote or lovable guy that he tried to play. Instead his friends labeled him an egomaniac and his daughter, actress Amanda Brooks, accused him of abusing her as a child while his son Nicholas was convicted of murder in 2013. Brooks himself was accused of raping over 13 women whom he had lured to his apartment through Craiglist ads under the disguise of being a film producer looking for fresh young talent. In 2011 while awaiting trial he killed himself, but not before becoming one of the creepiest looking guys you’ll ever see (pictured below).

Capture 282

However, the biggest irony is that in 2005 he wrote and produced a play about a woman with OCD who is brought together with a man who suffers from Tourette’s by a jingle singling God, which Playbill descried as being ‘one of the strangest shows to ever grace the Broadway stage.’ and even though it clearly sounds absurd I’d still take it over this crappy film any day.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: May 24, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joe Brooks

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS

Just Tell Me What You Want (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rich tycoon gets dumped.

Max Herschel (Alan King) is a rich and successful businessman who’s used to getting what he wants. He’s rude and crude and doesn’t mind displaying his anger or contempt for others at a moment’s notice. After 14 years Bones (Ali MacGraw), his mistress, has decided she’s had enough. She leaves him for a much younger man (Peter Weller). This enrages Max who does whatever he can to win her back, or at the very least ‘punish’ her for leaving him.

The film, which is based on a novel by Jay Presson Allen has a delicious New York flavor with the majority of the action taking place at the Old Westbury Gardens estate that fronts as Max’s home. The interiors of the stately mansion are at times more interesting than the conversations and the exteriors coincidently were also used in Love Story, which was another MacGraw vehicle. Director Sidney Lumet gives the dark comedy a classy air with a rousing, distinctively jazzy score by Charles Strouse, which I wanted to hear more of and wouldn’t have minded if it had been played all the way through the movie.

The story has sharp dialogue and a deliciously acerbic edge, but becomes preoccupied with Max’s business dealings, which most viewers may find too complex to follow and aren’t that integral to the story. The first hour is spent focused on Max, whose obnoxious ways quickly become off-putting and tiring. The catalyst is his love-hate relationship with Bones and more scenes should’ve been shown with them together while having her break-up with him come much sooner.

King was a comedian known for angry monologues and that emotion gets channeled into his character. I’ll give them props for creating an unlikable lead and not holding anything back as too many times films create abrasive people only to soften them too soon or not go all-the-way with it. Here it gets pushed to the limit, but I was still hoping for Max to have more of an arch and was disappointed that he remains for the most part a callous jerk to the very end.

MacGraw’s restrained approach works well off of King’s flamboyance and the highlight is when she corners him at a luxury department store, which was filmed on-location at the Bergdorf Goodman, and tackles him while destroying everything in sight. However the character’s nickname of ‘Bones’ I did not care for especially with no explanation for why she was given it. Was she called this because she was thin, or was it for some other reason? An attractive female should be given a pleasant name not something that sounds demeaning.

Legendary actress Myrna Loy, who had been around since the silent film era, plays Max’s long suffering secretary and earns her pay here. Loved the scene where King cries right into her bosom while she holds his head and acts like his mother, but also the part where he shouts directly into her face even throws out the C-word and she doesn’t flinch. Keenan Wynn is likable and speaks with an accent in a sympathetic role as a Russian businessman and Dina Merrill’s emotional breakdowns as Max’s mentally fragile wife are impressive and could’ve been extended.

Spoiler Alert!

Overall though it fizzles and it’s not because it’s filled with a lot of extraneous dialogue and scenes that should’ve been cut, but more because it plays itself as this sort-of anti-romance only to sell-out at the end. There is simply no way anyone could truly fall-in-love with Max because there was nothing about him to love. Having him do one nice thing shouldn’t erase all the other bad things he did before. Bones had already spent 14 years with him which should be more than enough time to realize things won’t be any different moving forward. Having them reconcile by working together as business partners maybe, but a marriage is simply a disaster waiting to happen. Just because audiences long for the ‘happy ending’ doesn’t mean that’s what you give especially by having two people magically find love for each when none had ever existed before.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 18, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube

Cactus Flower (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pretending to be married.

Julian (Walter Matthau) is a dentist who enjoys duping the women he sees into believing that he is married, so he can have the benefit of fooling around with them without the commitment (a sort of ‘friends-with-benefits’ scenario before it became in vogue). Problem is that his most recent girlfriend Toni (Goldie Hawn) wants to get married and threatens to kill herself unless he divorces his wife. Julian readily agrees, but Toni wants to meet his wife first, so he gets Stephanie (Ingrid Bergman) who works as his receptionist to pretend to be his wife. Things though don’t go smoothly as Stephanie has feelings for Julian and Toni realizes this, which makes her reluctant about pursuing her marriage plans with him.

The film is based on the hit Broadway play by Abe Burrows, which in-turn was based on a French play by Pierre Barillet. The plot may sound funny, but it’s actually rather dumb. There’s plenty of men who pretend not to be married when they are in order to have the excuse to fool-around and they’re women who pretend to be married when they really aren’t in an effort to ward off a guy who’s hitting on them, but a guy pretending he’s married to get women to go to bed with him seems pretty strange and I really didn’t get the logic. From his perspective I get it, sex without-the-strings, but what exactly is the woman getting out of it?

Had Toni been using Julian just like he was using her it would’ve made more sense by having her get into the relationship to benefit off of the money he was willing to spend on her, but Toni actually wanted commitment and marriage! Besides that why is she suddenly so concerned about the wife’s feelings now as she’d been having a relationship with Julian for a whole year before and not worried about it then?

There’s also the issue of why this swinging bachelor who’s commitment-phobic already is going to want to get tied-down by a ditzy lady who threatens suicide every time she doesn’t get what she wants. Better for him to dump her now and find some other chick to dupe.

I had problems with Bergman’s character too. For one thing I wanted to see more of a character arc. Having her portrayed as a sexually oppressed, cold, bitchy lady at the start who only softens at the very end once she finally finds ‘true love’ would’ve been more dramatic, but Bergman plays the part too nicely and the bitchy side gets underplayed. Lauren Bacall originated the part on Broadway and I was surprised she was that she wasn’t given the opportunity to reprise the role for the film because if there is one woman who can play a bitch to perfection it’s her.

Gene Saks’ lifeless direction is another detriment. The sets are dreary and unimaginative. The scene at the club is boring because the place has no pizazz. This was the late ‘60s and they should’ve attended some far-out psychedelic place with heavy rock music and people strung-out on acid. Toni could’ve felt comfortable being there while Julian and Stephanie wouldn’t be. This then would’ve given the opportunity to focus on the generational gap between the two as Julian was 25 years older than Toni, but the film really never touches on that.

Hawn’s Academy Award winning performance is excellent especially the close-up shot where her big blue eyes well up and a single tear trickles down her face. The scene at the club where Bergman comes up with ‘the dentist dance’ that everyone else imitates is funny. Otherwise the trite plot is too superficial to be either believable or interesting.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1969

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated M

Director: Gene Saks

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube