Category Archives: Movies that take place in the Big Apple

The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Challenging a crime boss.

Kid Sally (Jerry Orbach), who works within a crime family where he’s in charge of a small group of crooks, becomes increasingly frustrated at what he feels is a lack of respect that he gets from mobster boss Baccala (Lionel Stander). When Kid is put in charge of supervising a bicycle race that does not go over well he gets demoted, which convinces him to take down Baccala and become the mob boss himself, but the men under him prove inept at every turn. Each time they try to kill-off Baccala the only ones who die are Kid Sally’s guys.

The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Jimmy Breslin and inspired by real-life mobster Joe Gallo who was also the inspiration for Crazy Joe that starred Peter Boyle. However, the Boyle film approached the material in a serious way and tried to keep things more closely tied-in with the actual events while this thing veers-off from what really happened and instead simply uses the situation as a springboard for a lot of zany, comical antics.

One of the main problems is the casting of Orbach who looks nothing like the real Gallo, Boyle was not a perfect match for him either, but he was at least in the same ballpark while Orbach appears too old and without any signs of the mental health issues that had afflicted Gallo who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia in his youth. There are also too many characters to keep track of and Orbach half the time is barely even seen becoming more like a supporting player in his own movie.

The film does have a few amusing moments including the gang’s attempts to bring in a lion, which they use to blackmail the client’s of their opposition. Van Fleet is also quite funny as Kid’s mother who looks and walks like she’s ready to die from old age, but speaks as if she’s a young tough guy. The location shooting isn’t bad either and seeing the entire group of men crammed into Joe’s mother’s apartment as they partake in their weekly spaghetti dinner brings the Italian ambience to a nice head, but director James Goldstone approaches the material in a haphazard fashion and it’s edited in a way that makes it seem more like a collection of vignettes than a story.

The only interesting element is seeing Robert De Niro, complete with long hair, as this young con who comes to New York straight from Italy. He speaks with an authentic accent, which he acquired by going to Italy for a week and recording the people around him and then playing back their voices while he rehearsed. He even prepared for his role as a thief by stealing 2 shirts from a Macy’s department store requiring producer Irwin Winkler to intervene in order to keep him out of jail. Leigh Taylor-Young is excellent as his love interest and her performance as the Kid’s younger more idealistic sister has an organic quality and a far cry from the psycho role that she played in The Big Bounce just 2 years earlier. The romance between her and De Niro and their attempts to forge a relationship while living in a cramped, rundown apartment is kind of touching and had the film focused on these two it would’ve worked better.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 22, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated: PG

Director: James Goldstone

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Crazy Joe (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gangster’s rise and fall.

Loosely based on the real-life exploits of a New York gangster named Joe Gallo (Peter Boyle) the story centers on Joe’s rise in the underground criminal world and his challenging of Mob Boss Falco (Luther Adler) as well as Don Vittorio (Eli Wallach) the head of all crime families. When Joe and his brother’s agree to carry out a hit for Falco, but are only paid $100 each for the crime they feel rebuffed and plot revenge by storming Falco’s mansion and taking member’s of his family hostage. Through Don, who acts as an intermediary, they’re able to settle the dispute, but later Joe finds that he’s been double-crossed, which sends him to jail during a sting operation. While in prison he makes friends with Willy (Fred Williamson) an African American. The two form an uneasy alliance where he agrees to help Joe settle his score once they both get out.

With all of the gangster movies that came out during the early and mid 70’s it gets harder and harder to tell them apart, or have much in the way to say about them since they all tend to be alike with very little variation. This film is a clear example to cash-in on the Francis Ford Coppola classic by quickly producing this cheapie, which was shot in the U.S. with American actors by an Italian production company, which in essence makes it a foreign film. While the plot and action lack anything original I did find the opening sequence where they carry-out the hit by shooting a man and his cronies while inside a restaurant to be captivating. The action itself isn’t what’s interesting, but seeing the men singing and joking around inside the car, both as they drive-up to the place and then again as they leave it, to be fascinating in a disturbing sort of way where no matter how viscous the act they feel no guilt and happily go back to being their playful selves almost instantaneously.

Boyle’s performance helps a lot. He was in another film just 4 years earlier with a similar title called Joe where he played a violent right-wing extremist and he got so turned off by the fan mail he received with people telling him how much they enjoyed watching the ugly acts that his character did and said in that movie that he vowed never to appear in another violent film again and yet just a few years later that’s exactly what he did, but I’m glad. He exudes a great amount of energy and liveliness into the role and helps keep the movie entertaining to the point that it’s only interesting when he’s in it and a complete bore when he’s not. Effort is made to humanize him as it see-saws between moments where he’s killing people and then other points when he’s saving them particularly when he goes into a burning building to help some children get out.

The supporting cast is strong especially the always reliable Wallach and Williamson whose angry gaze melts right through the screen. I also really enjoyed Adler as the arrogant crime boss who feels he’s ‘all-powerful’, but physically is quite old and frail and eventually into the helpless position of being put inside an iron lung while still callously giving out all the orders and demanding full compliance. Louis Guss is equally amusing as a tough guy killer who when kidnapped immediately folds by wetting his pants and begging for his heart medication.

Unfortunately Henry Winkler, in his film debut, is not as effective as his demeanor is too refined and gentile and does not reflect the savagery of the others almost like he walked in on the completely wrong film set. Rip Torn is badly miscast as well. While the other actors appear to be genuinely Italian and speak with authentic accents Torn doesn’t. Instead he keeps his Texas draw intact, which is totally out-of-place, and while a good supporting player in other movies sticks out as a completely sore thumb here.

Ultimately though the poor production values sink it. To some extent it helps on the violent end as the killings are done in a more graphic and raw way, much like an Italian horror film, which makes it more real than The Godfather where it was handled in a lyrical fashion, but the plot has nowhere much to go. You know where it’s headed right from the start with an ending that’s completely predictable and has no impact. Doesn’t particularly help either that the film’s promotional poster gives away the final scene.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 8, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Carlo Lizzani

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: Available through Non-Standard DVD (Public Domain).

The Hospital (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: An incompetently run hospital.

Dr. Herbert Bock (George C. Scott) is the chief of staff at a teaching hospital in New York where patients routinely die due to misdiagnosis and other blunderings. There’s also a protest by a group of tenants from a nearby apartment building that’s been annexed by the hospital to make room for a drug rehabilitation center. Bock not only must deal with these issues, but also his crumbling personal life which has turned him to both alcohol and thoughts of suicide. His only ray-of-light is meeting the beautiful Barbra (Diana Rigg) who has come to the hospital to seek treatment for her father (Barnard Hughes), but just as Bock starts to come out of his depression the place becomes terrorized by an unseen assailant who begins killing both the patients and staff.

In 1969 after his wife had received poor care at a local hospital Paddy Chayefsky set-out to write a script exposing what he felt was the corruption and incompetence going on inside the American medical institutions. He managed to get full control over his screenplay and final say over any proposed changes, which was a good thing since initially the studio felt it was filled with too much medical terminology that would go over many viewer’s heads. I’ll admit there’s an excessive amount of lingo, both with the dialogue between the doctors and staff as well as the opening voice-over narration by Chayefsky, that’s done at a rapid-fire pace and I really didn’t understand it, but I still kind of liked it. I have no medical background myself, so I and most viewers aren’t going to get the ‘medical speak’, but leaving it in helps make it sound more authentic. It also impresses the viewer with how much research was put into it and you basically trust what’s going on because it ‘sounds intelligent’.

Another complaint was the shift in tone where things start out in a darkly-humorous slap-dash fashion only to end up during the second act becoming quite serious. Normally this would’ve been a big problem, but I liked the shift here. I think the reason is because underneath the comedy there’s still life-and-death consequences going on and if you’re going to make a statement movie, which this is attempting to do, then at some point things have got to slow-down and get serious in order for that statement to get out, which this thing ends up successfully doing.

While I enjoyed the fluid pace that manages to encompass not only satire and drama, but even shades of horror without ever losing its realism I did find that it spends an inordinate amount of time telling us about all of the problems without bothering to give us any solutions. There’s no focus on what the underlying causes are nor any balance by showing an well-run hospital in comparison. One might start to believe that all hospitals are like this and become afraid to ever go into one even if they are really sick, which isn’t exactly a good thing. This may have been the reason why Chayefsky himself died at the relatively young age of 58 from cancer because he feared Dr.’s would “cut me up because of that movie I wrote about them” and thus refused surgery that might’ve saved his life.

Spoiler Alert!

There’s a few issues with the casting as well. Overall, I was impressed with the performances particular Scott who got his second Oscar nomination for his work here. Rigg is also quite good, in a part that seemed better suited for Jane Fonda, who was the studio’s choice, but Rigg’s British accent and terse style makes for an interesting dynamic. You can also glimpse young soon-to-be-stars in small bits including: Nancy Marchand and Robert Walden, who later went on to co-star with each other in the TV-show ‘Lou Grant’ as well as Stockard Channing, in her film debut, and Frances Sternhagen as an exasperated medical clerk. The main problem though comes with Barnard Hughes, who appears for some strange reason in two completely different roles. He is very funny as the surgeon who finds he’s been operating on the wrong person, but then later he reappears as Rigg’s father, which didn’t make much sense. Since the father turns out to be the mysterious killer many people thought the scene with Hughes as the surgeon was meant to be the father in disguise, but that was not the intention. Again, if there’s no specific/underlying purpose story-wise for an actor to play two different parts in the same movie then don’t do it. There’s no lack of actors out there clamoring for work, so one of the two parts could’ve easily have been filled by someone else and thus avoided confusing the audience for no good reason.

It’s possible that the reason Chayefsky had Hughes playing dual roles was to help explain how the killer was able to get away with his crimes for so long. While the killer is always shown off camera, so the viewer does not know the identity, the Dr.’s and nurses do seem to recognize him as being a colleague and are put at ease just before he kills them. Of course the odds of a patient entering a random hospital and looking similar to one of the staff is astronomically low, but if this was the underlying concept, and it very well may have been, then the film should’ve eventually made this clear by having a split screen scene where Hughes the surgeon bumps into Hughes the killer.

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My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: United Artists

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

Bananas (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: From nebbish to dictator

Fielding Mellish (Woody Allen) is a shy, meek individual who works as a product tester, but comes to realize that his job has too many pitfalls and wants to pursue another line of work. One night while in his apartment he receives a knock at his door and meets Nancy (Louise Lasser) who is a social activist. Fielding doesn’t have much interest in politics, but finds Nancy attractive, so he pretends to be into her social causes. Their relationship though does not survive, but Fielding decides to travel to the Latin country of San Marcos anyways, which is where the couple was planning to go to before the breakup. The country is suffering through a revolution and Fielding inadvertently gets caught up in it to the extent that he becomes their acting leader and travels back to the US to ask for foreign aid, but once home Nancy recognizes Fielding for who he really is and this soon has him put on trial.

This was done during the period when Woody was just trying to be funny and without all the pretension and nostalgia that make up so much of his later work, which I don’t care for as much. While there are draggy spots, particularly during the second act, the beginning and end are so strong that it more than makes up for it especially the climactic court sequence, which is laden with a lot of non-sequitur sight gags that didn’t come into vogue in movies until 10 years later when it was introduced to mainstream audiences with great success in the movie Airplane. 

What I really liked though is that Woody actually seems to playing a character here and not just himself. No endless whining about his hypochondriac conditions, or New York being vastly superior to L.A., or how Ingmar Bergman is the greatest film director. This stuff seems to work into many of his later scripts and characters, but here he just plays an average blue collar guy whose only ambition is to get laid, which is wonderful and I really enjoyed pairing him with Lasser. The two had already divorced  by the time this was filmed, but she agreed to remain on as his co-star, which is great as I’ve always said she’s the female version of Woody and in many ways can easily upstage him in just about every scene they share. People like Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow, who became his co-stars in his later movies, were too normal and didn’t compliment Allen’s quirky style like Lasser does and it’s just a shame she disappears during the second act as her presence would’ve prevented it from getting as draggy as it does. 

While most of the gags are quite funny and even inventive I did have a problem with a few of them. The opening bit, which features a televised assassination of the country’s leader, manages to make even Howard Cosell, an obnoxious, egotistical sportscaster that I never cared for, enjoyable especially as he fights his way through the crowd to get an interview with the dying dictator. However, if you’re going to show a guy getting shot then some blood is needed. Allen said he wanted to avoid this because he feared it would hurt the film’s ‘light comic tone’, but its been proven in movies like Shaun of the Dead that gore and comedy can still work together and having Cosell ask the leader ‘how does it feel’ as he lies there bloodied would’ve been dark comedy gold.

The segment where Woody walks into an operating room to tell his parents (Stanley Ackerman, Charlotte Rae), who are both surgeons performing an operation, that he’s traveling to another country, is for the most part an aspiring bit except that in the scene the patient (Hy Anzell) is awake and talking. There is simply no way that anyone being cut open wouldn’t be put under anesthesia, so having him speak is not only unrealistic, but not necessary as the humor from the segment comes from Woody’s interactions with his folks and not from anything that the patient says. 

Overall though this still comes as highly recommended especially for Woody cinephiles looking to take in his wide body of work. His more serious directorial efforts are good too, but in a different way. Yet its his irreverent style that tests the movie making formula, which he does here, that I enjoy the most and while he has done many comedies after this they cease to have the same rapid-fire zaniness as this one. I also have to mention the cigarette commercial that takes place during a Catholic mass, which is the best ad-spoof I’ve ever seen. It did end up being condemned by the National Catholic Office of Motion Pictures, but it was worth it.

 My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: April 28, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Woody Allen

Studio: United Artists

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

The Fan (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Obsessed fan stalks actress.

Douglas Breen (Michael Biehn) has become obsessed with aging film actress Sally Rose (Lauren Bacall) and wants to meet her. He begins by writing her fan letters, but Sally’s secretary Belle (Maureen Stapleton) intercepts them and sends an autographed picture of Sally in return, which gets Michael seething as he wanted a personal response from Sally instead. His letters become more frequent and threatening. Eventually he decides to injure Belle in order to get her out of the way as well as kill anyone else in Sally’s life, so that he can meet with Sally unimpeded and have her all to himself.

One of the quandaries that I had was the casting of Bacall who I felt was too old for the part. I realize that in the Bob Randall novel of the same name, which this film is based, the actress character was also an aging Hollywood star, but as stalking has become more prevalent since this film was released, it’s been shown that stalkers prefer younger, more attractive women with a ‘virginal’ appeal and who they feel they can better control or ‘possess’. With Bacall, and her very feisty personality, you don’t get any of that. She’s also supposedly playing someone who is 49, but looks more like 60 and was actually 56 when it was filmed. While I got more used to her as the film progressed, the script doesn’t take enough advantage of her patented bitchy side, and except for one brief spat with her secretary, her presence is too benign.

The real waste though came from James Garner, who’s given a bland part that doesn’t help propel the story in any way. Originally when the film was first released and I saw his name in the credits I thought he was the stalker, which would’ve been interesting as he’s rarely ever played a bad guy, so it would’ve been intriguing seeing him thrown out of his comfort zone, but unfortunately that ends up not being the case.

Biehn is certainly a good actor although his psycho character in the TV-Movie ‘Deadly Intentions’ is far more interesting than the one he plays here. His weapon of choice, a shaving razor, is not visually intimidating enough and the victims die too easily by slumping over dead after just one quick cut across the chest. The scene where he stabs and kills a guy by swimming underneath him in a public pool is well shot, but implausible as there were so many other people around, including in the pool that it seemed hard to believe that Biehn would’ve been able to escape undetected.

Director Ed Bianchi, who directed a lot of award-winning commercials before doing this, reveals a stylish flair and I enjoyed the way he captures New York particularly the urban cafes and city streets, but the plot itself offers few surprises. Ultimately it would’ve worked better had the identity of the killer been left a mystery until the very end. This way the tension would’ve mounted as the viewer would remain in the dark as much as Sally as to who actually was after her.

Spoiler Alert!

The climactic sequence has Bacall confronting Biehn all by herself while trapped inside an otherwise empty theater. Bacall doesn’t respond to things the same way a conventional female might by screaming, which is great, and she also literally tells the guy off right to his face just as he’s about to stab her, which is great too, but the way she props up his dead body into a theater seat seemed bizarre. Why would she bother doing this? Just leave the dead body lying on the floor and run for help. Seeing the bird’s-eye shot of the killer lying there would’ve looked creepier and instead of a voice over of him reading the first letter he sent her have another letter written by another obsessive fan read and thus creating the double-ending famous in a lot of 80’s slasher flicks where you think the threat had been defeated, but was actually still out there in another form.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 15, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ed Bianchi

Studio: Paramount

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

Playing for Keeps (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teens refurbish rundown hotel.

Danny (Daniel Jordano) has just recently graduated from high school and has big entrepreneurial dreams.  He becomes aware that his family has inherited a place called Hotel Majestic in Bethany, Pennsylvania and decides he wants to turn it into a nightclub for teens, but first he must first pay off the $8,000 due in back taxes. Together with his two friends: Spike (Mathew Penn) and Silk (Leon W. Grant) they devise a way to earn the money by pretending to be Boy Scouts and selling cookies to office workers. When they finally payoff the debt they find an even bigger challenge, which is fixing up the decrepit place while also fighting off a man named Harry Cromwell (Robert Milli) who runs a Chemical Company and wants to turn the hotel property into a waste dump.

This was Harvey Weinstein’s first directorial effort, which he did alongside his brother Bob and released under the then new Miramax studio, which was named after their parents Miriam and Max. This also marks Harvey’s first known case of sexual harassment when he invited an attractive 20-year-old waitress named Tomi-Ann Roberts, who was waiting tables in the town where they were shooting in, up to his hotel room to audition for a role he felt she’d be ‘perfect’ for and when she arrived she found him naked in a tub and requesting that she should disrobe as well to make sure she’d be ‘right for the part’ even though there’s no nudity in the movie.

If Weinstein’s name wasn’t so famous and you didn’t know who the director was you’d be convinced it was done by some talentless hack whose first and last film venture this was. While it does remain at least lively everything else about it is stupid including the corny, cliché-ridden comedy that permeates every scene. I found the three leads, who seem to be cast to meet some sort-of politically correct quota as they’re different races, to be quite bland particularly lead star Jordano who shows no varied emotions or facial expressions other than the same glossy smile all the way through no matter what other emotional situation he may be in.

The townspeople are boring caricatures too with their café jukebox having no other selections of music to play than Kate Smith, and the people behaving like they’d never heard of Billy Idol or Michael Jackson, which is ridiculous as I grew up in a small Midwestern town during the 80’s and our radio stations and juke boxes had a wide selection of the latest hits just like the big city. Having the only other open-minded person in the town being the farmer’s super hot daughter (Mary B. Ward) who magically falls for Danny was just a little too convenient.

The process of renovating the place, which takes up almost the entire runtime, gets so drawn-out that it becomes boring. I also couldn’t believe that all of Danny’s high school friends, which he recruits as ‘stockholders’, would be willing to stick through the arduous challenge of the fixing up the hotel like they do and most would’ve walked away pretty quickly. When they are finally able to complete the project the place gets filled with such tacky 80’s deco art that I found it better looking when it was rundown.

Marisa Tomei, who makes her film debut here, is quite engaging and I enjoyed her better in this role than her more famous Academy Award winning one from My Cousin VinnyI also liked Kim Hauser, who plays Danny’s kid sister, and has an appealing Karen Black-like cross-eyed look. Had these two been made the stars instead of the three transparent guys it would’ve been better.

It seems like, based off of the imdb reviews that I read, that the only reason people like this movie is because of its 80’s cheesiness and if that’s what you’re into you’ll be more than satisfied as this thing sure has a hell of a lot of it. Others though will find it shallow and mindless.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Directors: Bob and Harvey Weinstein

Studio: Miramax

Available: DVD

Jenny (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: An unmarried, pregnant woman.

Jenny (Marlo Thomas) is a young woman living in New York City who has a one night stand with a man engaged to be married and ends up getting pregnant. She fears the stigma of being an unwed mother, so when she meets Delano (Alan Alda), a struggling filmmaker who wants to marry in order to avoid the draft, she agrees. The marriage of convenience does not start out well as living together brings out all of their differences, but the closer they get to the delivery date the stronger their bond to each other grows.

This was intended to be a breakout role for Marlo, who was still doing her TV-show ‘That Girl’ at the time and filmed this while on hiatus from that one. She was hoping this would be the first of a long line of starring vehicles for her and even precipitated the ending of her series two years later in order to be available to do more movies, but the offers never came. One of the main reasons is that the movie did not do that well either at the box office, or critically. Much of the blame could be given to the limp storyline that acted like the social mores of 1939 were still intact in 1969 where having a baby without a husband would be considered ‘scandalous’ even though it was the height of the hippie movement where lovemaking outside of marriage had become the new trendy thing making this film very dated even before it was ever released.

The film should’ve been titled ‘Delano and Jenny’ as Alda’s performance is the one thing that manages to hold it together. He’s best known for playing Hawkeye in the TV-show ‘M*A*S*H’ where he was a touch-feely, sensitive 70’s guy, but here he’s character is quite self-centered and volatile. Yet this is the one thing in the movie that’s interesting. Marlo’s performance on the other-hand ends up being one-note. Watching her big, brown eyes show a constant look of pain and sadness becomes too excessive and too redundant.

The supporting players help a little. Marian Hailey plays Delano’s world-wise, jaded lover, which is a far cry from the nerdy, nasally sounding, neurotic character that she was in the cult hit Lovers and Other Strangers. Vincent Gardenia and Elizabeth Wilson, who play Jenny’s parents, also played another married couple that very same year in the movie Little Murders. The scene where everyone takes a look at a cabinet full of teeth that Jenny’s father had made during his career, as he was a dental prosthetist, and had encased in the middle of his living room did offer a rare funny moment, but the camera should’ve done a close-up on the dentures as he described them instead of  having the viewers only see it from a distance.

The first half is surprisingly watchable as it brings out the inevitable realities that would occur when simply marrying for convenience, but having the film shift to a love story at the end doesn’t jive. These two had so little in common it didn’t seem possible that they could’ve fallen in love even if they had wanted to. Jenny’s character needed to be better fleshed out as well. She comes-off as shy and cautious and yet is brazen enough to hop into bed with a guy engaged to someone else, which is a scene we needed to see played-out instead of only discussed in passing later.

Spoiler Alert!

When the nurse brings in the infant as Jenny and Delano sit in the hospital room was the one moment I thought there might be a surprise as the baby looked from the back to be African American and from the front to be Asian even though apparently he was neither. I was hoping that it was as that would’ve been something that that neither the moody Delano nor the viewer would’ve expected and helped given this otherwise sterile story the edgy twist that it needed.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: January 2, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated M

Director: George Bloomfield

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD

Deadly Hero (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bad cop stalks witness.

Sally (Diahn Williams) is a beautiful cellist living alone in a New York apartment. One day while returning home she gets abducted by an assailant named Rabbit (James Earl Jones) who forces his way at knifepoint into her apartment. Mrs. Broderick (Lilia Skala), a concerned neighbor, calls the police  and soon officers Lacy (Don Murray) and Billings (Treat Williams) arrive at the scene. When Rabbit tries to leave with Sally Officer Lacy stops him at gunpoint. Rabbit holds a knife to Sally’s throat threatening to kill her, but Lacy persuades him drop it. When he does Lacy then shoots him in cold blood. During the subsequent investigation Lacy insists that Rabbit was coming after him with a knife and had no choice but to shoot. Sally though knows the truth and while she’s reluctant to come forward at first she eventually does causing Lacy to begin stalking her and threatening her life unless she agrees to recant.

The film, which was directed by Hungarian native Ivan Nagy, has a wonderful New York City vibe that brings out the ambience of its neighborhoods and street culture better than most other films that were directed by Americans. The Seamus Murphy Dance Troupe, which makes up the artists who perform the dance numbers in the play that Sally plays her cello in, helps add an eclectic moody vibe that I liked.

The acting isn’t too bad either. Murray comes-off as a bad cop caricature, but he does it so well it can almost be forgiven though I didn’t like the segment intercut into the first act showing him speaking at a campaign rally for a local politician (George S. Irving) as he had not met this man until after the shooting when he gets deemed a ‘hero’ and therefore this scene should not have been interjected into the film before the story actually got there.

Williams is alright as the victim in what should’ve capitulated her into more film work, but during filming she found herself at constant odds with director Nagy prompting her to leave the acting profession and pursue a law career instead where she’s known as Diahn McGrath. There’s an interesting supporting cast here too including Jones who gives a colorful performance as the thug and brief glimpses of Danny DeVito and Debbie Harry in bit parts.

The main issue with the film is that the characters are not fleshed-out enough for us to understand what motivates them, or why they do what they do. Why is Lacy so angry and why does he decide to shoot an unarmed man? We’re told that he’s  had violent tendencies in the past, but we’re never shown it, nor any explanation for a possible cause. He’s also seems to be in a happy marriage with a younger woman, but you’d think such a psychotic person would be unable to hide his ugly side from his wife and yet the film portrays the spouse as being completely clueless to his dark nature.

Sally’s need to come forward with the truth even when faced with strong pressure not to adds more questions than answers. Why does she feel so compelled to put Lacy away even if so doing could risk her career and life? Many people would get intimidated and back-off on their pursuit for justice when given all the drawbacks, so what is it about her character that decides to forge on when others wouldn’t? This needed insight unfortunately never comes.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending devolves into a standard psycho-on-the-loose formula in which Lacy tracks down Sally and takes her to a remote farm in Upstate New York where he plans to kill her, but his reasoning doesn’t make sense. If she disappears he’d become the prime suspect and it’s very unlikely, whether she testified or not, that his job would ever get reinstated, so why then even bother?

The film’s first two acts examined the inner politics of a city police department and did it in a vivid, realistic manner, which is where the focus should’ve stayed. A far creepier ending would’ve had the corrupt police brass refuse to believe Sally’s allegations, which would allow Lacy to remain on the force despite his many transgressions, so she’d not only have Lacy as her threat, but all of his police friends as well.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ivan Nagy

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Games (1967)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Playing tricks on others.

Paul (James Caan) and his wife Jennifer (Katharine Ross) are an affluent upper East Side couple who are into illusion/magic trick shows and entertain their friends at posh parties that they hold inside their spacious townhome. One day Lisa (Simone Signoret) arrives at their door selling cosmetics only to fall ill when she gets inside the home. A doctor (Ian Wolfe) comes over and finds her condition to be only temporary and says she’ll recover in a day if given plenty of rest, so they decide to let her stay the night, which then becomes an extended visit as Lisa and Jennifer begin to bond. The two then start playing tricks on Paul by pretending that Jennifer is having an affair with their delivery boy named Norman (Don Stroud). Eventually Paul realizes he’s been duped, but wants to get revenge by pretending to catch Norman coming onto Jennifer the next day. This time Paul accidently shoots and kills him forcing the couple to get rid of the body without Lisa becoming aware, which they’re able to do, until Jennifer begins seeing what she believes to be Norman’s ghostly presence.

The film has potential, but consistently misses-the-mark and ultimately becomes a misfire. The games the two play are amusing, but nothing special though it’s enough to hold interest particularly at the beginning during the party scenes with all of their pretentious friends. The townhouse the two live in is ritzy and I enjoyed the design, but if you’re going to have a story take place in Manhattan then you better film it there and not on a sound stage in Los Angeles as the ambience of the neighborhood is missing and having almost all of the action take place in one setting eventually becomes claustrophobic.

The real problem though is with the characters. Signoret is fantastic and her presence helps immensely, but the way she enters into the story is ridiculous. What kind of couple would let a strange woman stay overnight in their home? If she’s sick then let her spend it at a hospital. Turning her one night visit into an extended stay is equally farfetched and where exactly did she find this wardrobe to wear when she initially just came over to peddle perfumes?

Ross’s character is a big mess too and it’s no wonder that she has referred to this film as being ‘terrible’ and it’s not her fault either. She’s quite beautiful as always and if you need an actress to give off the perfect scared expression she’s tops, but I didn’t understand why her character allowed herself to be so taken in. This was a couple used to playing tricks not only on their friends, but on each other, so why didn’t she have a more jaded reaction and presume that her husband really didn’t kill Norman and it was all some elaborate game?

Spoiler Alert!

The twist ending is a complete letdown as it hinges on Paul meeting Lisa a year earlier by chance and then springing this idea on her of scaring Jennifer to death to the point that she inadvertently kills someone, so that he can get at her fortune and split it with Lisa, but how would he know that he could trust Lisa to keep this secret and not go to the authorities, or tell Jennifer? It might’ve worked better had the third person been a lifelong friend/family member to Paul, and not just someone he met at random, and therefore not likely to betray him.

A double-ending would’ve been more satisfying as Lisa poisons Paul and walks away with the money, but Paul should’ve been cunning enough to try and poison Lisa first, or through mutual mistrust they poison each other and no one gets the money. An even better idea would’ve had Jennifer only pretending to fall victim to the ruse, so when Lisa walks outside with the suitcase full of money, after having killed Paul, Jennifer and the police squad could’ve been there waiting for her.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 17, 1967

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Curtis Harrington

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD-R (Universal Vault Series), Blu-ray

Cops and Robbers (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cops become the robbers.

Tom (Cliff Gorman) and Joe (Joseph Bologna) are two New York City policemen who are tired of their jobs and want to retire from the working world, but can’t because they need to support their families. They decide the only solution is to commit a heist by working with a local mob boss (John P. Ryan) to rob a Wall Street brokerage firm out of  bonds that cannot be traced. The two come up with an elaborate scheme  to pull it off during the day while the place is still open and they’re still in uniform. At first things go smoothly, but then two other cops show up forcing Tom and Joe to destroy the bonds they’ve just gotten their hands onto in order to avoid getting caught. While this helps them out of their immediate jam it still gets reported to the press that the place was robbed making the crime boss believe he has been taken advantage of and compelled to get revenge.

What stands out is how different this is from the conventional cop flick. Instead of having a loud, pounding score the music here is soft and tranquil like the breezy, warm climate of a tropical island, which is where both Tom and Joe wish they were. The cops aren’t portrayed as being authority figures either or compromised victims of a corrupt system, but just regular suburbanites trapped in a dead-end job like many people and looking for a way out.

The crime is done differently too. Usually, in most other cop flicks, once the robbery gets going you’ll see the pace speed up with fast edits, but here it gets played-out in real time, which actually makes it more intense. I enjoyed the camera cutting back and forth from showing things from Tom and Joe’s point-of-view as well as from the black-and-white monitor seen by the security guards. The authentic office atmosphere has many of the employees not even knowing a robbery is going on while the two main people who do realize what Tom and Joe are up to, well played by the elderly Shepperd Strudwick and a much younger African American actress named Ellen Holly, display odd reactions and facial expressions that doesn’t conform to the situation, but eventually gets explained by the big twist that comes later.

Gorman gives an awesome performance, which is made all the more impressive when you realize just 4 years earlier he was the highly effeminate gay character in The Boys in the Band, but here he’s a macho heterosexual. I kept waiting for him to reveal mannerisms of his past role, but instead he successfully pulls off being two diametrically different people with no connection to the other a feat not every actor, even some of the good ones, are able to do.

Bologna goes against type too. Usually he’s loud and brash, but here more quiet and nervous. In the Kino Lorber DVD bonus section he recounts a funny incident that happened to him during the production when he was forced to make a call home to his wife (actress Renee Taylor) in real-life. Since there were no such things as cellphones at the time he had to go to a nearby phone booth while still wearing the cop uniform of his character. It was there that he noticed a thug beating up a victim on the sidewalk and he shouted at the man to stop it. Since the man presumed Bologna was a cop it was enough to get him to run away, but then the other pedestrians started to harass Bologna for not chasing after the bad guy and arresting him. He tried to explain that he was just playing a policemen in a movie, but no one believed him.

The film’s final segment, which takes place in Central Park, is well choreographed and features a unique car chase.  It’s just a shame that Aram Avakian who burst onto the film scene with the provocative, ahead-of-its-time cult favorite End of the Roaddidn’t go on to direct more movies as he did only one more, 11 Harrowhouse, after this one before retiring to become the head of the film department at the State University of New York where he worked until his death in 1987. His approach here makes all the difference as he relies not on the typical cop formula action, but instead on the nuance.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: August 15, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Aram Avakian

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD