Category Archives: Movies that take place in the Big Apple

She-Devil (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Jilted wife gets revenge.

Ruth (Roseanne Barr) is an overweight, plain-looking woman who is married to Bob (Ed Begley Jr.) a womanizer who can’t keep his eyes or hands off other beautiful women that he sees. At a party he spots Mary (Meryl Streep) a wealthy author of romance novels and the two quickly begin a torrid affair. Ruth becomes jealous of all of this and plots a very elaborate, multi-step revenge.

This film marked a change of pace for director Susan Seidelman who burst onto the movie scene during the early 80’s with indie tinged/punk themed films like Smithereens and Desperately Seeking Susan that were subtle on the humor and heavier on the character development. Here it’s the exact opposite as the emphasis is on camp, which is fun for awhile especially the gaudy color schemes that permeate each and every shot, but eventually the broad caricatures become too one-dimensional.

Streep’s  performance as a prissy, stuck-up rich lady is the main part of the entertainment, but the motivations of her character were confusing. I didn’t understand why such a beautiful woman that was loaded with money and could get virtually any man that she wanted would want to settle for such a bland, dopey dweeb like Begley. I also couldn’t understand why she’d stick with him after his kids move into her mansion and turn her life into a living hell. She wasn’t married to him, so why not just throw him and his litter out instead of going through the torment that she does?

I liked that fact that Barr truly fits her part physically. Too many times Hollywood casts good-looking women in roles that require someone homely and feels that by cropping up their hair and putting glasses on them will do the trick, which it doesn’t, so at least here we get someone that more than looks the part especially with the giant mole that gets put on her upper lip.

However, I had issues with her character intentionally setting her house on fire by overloading the circuits and putting aerosol cans into her microwave, which would be easily detected by an inspector once the fire gets put out, so why doesn’t she end up getting arrested for arson? Also, she gets a job at a senior living facility despite not having any experience. Doesn’t anyone check an applicant’s references anymore?

The film is based on the novel ‘The Life and Loves of a She-Devil’ by Fay Weldon, but the movie strays from the original story in many ways. In the book Ruth has  sex with various men, which doesn’t get touched on here at all. She also through plastic surgery ends up resembling Mary and ultimately becoming her after the real Mary dies, which the film doesn’t show at all, but should’ve since it would’ve given it some much needed irony. Weldon also insisted that her story was about envy and not revenge, which is a point that Barry Strugatz’s script misses entirely.

Eccentric character actress Sylvia Miles gets perfectly cast as Streep’s obnoxious mother, which is great and dwarf-looking actress Linda Hunt is enjoyable as Barr’s pal, but the film comes off as a one-note joke that doesn’t know when to stop and ultimately becomes annoying.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 8, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Susan Seidelman

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

My Favorite Year (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Babysitting an alcoholic actor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 8, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Benjamin

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, YouTube

Oliver’s Story (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Adjusting to wife’s death.

It’s been 6 years since Oliver (Ryan O’Neal) lost his wife to leukemia and he’s still having a hard time learning to move on from it. He hasn’t been in a serious relationship since and his friends including his step father (Edward Binns) are pressuring him to start dating. Finally by chance he meets Marci (Candice Bergen) while she is out jogging. She is secretly an heiress to a massive fortune, which allows the two to connect due to their similar well-to-do upbringings, but when things start to get serious Oliver finds himself  resisting unable to cut the ties from his past and move forward.

This is definitely a sequel that nobody asked for and in fact both O’Neal and Bergen initially had no interest doing it. The original film worked because it centered on the couple and when you take away one of them you have only half a movie. Oliver on his own is boring and watching him learn to adjust to life as a single person is not compelling and no different than the hundreds of other movies dealing with the dating scene.

John Marley, who played Jenny’s father in the first film, refused to appear in this one because he was unhappy with how his name was going to be placed in the credits, so he got replaced by Edward Binns who seems to be playing a completely different character. Here the father-in-law and Oliverhave acquired a chummy friendship and even hang out together despite this never having been established in the first film. Ray Milland reprises his role as Oliver’s father, but gets portrayed in a much more likable way while in the first one he came off more as a heavy.

The film’s only interesting aspect is seeing how much the social norms have changed. Here being single is considered like a disease and his pesky friends are emboldened enough to set Oliver up on dates and openly telling him that he needs to ‘get out more’ even though by today’s standards the single lifestyle is much more prevalent and accepted and doing these same types of actions now by well meaning friends would be considered intrusive and obnoxious.

Having one of the women that he meets at a dinner party invite him back to her place despite barely knowing him is something not likely to occur today either. The way though that Oliver meets Marcie is the most absurd as he quite literally chases her down while she is jogging, which would scare most women into thinking that they had a crazy stalker on their hands.

On the production end the film is competently made with the springtime scenery of New York as well as shots of the couple’s trip to Hong Kong being the only thing that I enjoyed. The story though lacks punch and drones on with too many side dramas. O’Neal’s performance is good, but his chemistry with Bergen is lacking, which ultimately makes this a production that had misfire written all over it before a single frame of it was even shot.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 15, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Korty

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video,  YouTube

After Hours (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t stay out late.

Paul (Griffin Dunne) is a single man living in New York, who’s bored with his job and looking to spend his Friday night on the town in hopes that he might hook-up with an attractive woman. While at a late night cafe he meets Marcy (Rosanna Arquette) who tells him that she lives with a sculptress who makes and sells paperweights. Paul decides to use the excuse that he wants to buy one as his ruse to go over to her apartment in hopes of ‘getting lucky’. Yet when he arrives things quickly become surreal where everybody he meets behave in strange ways making his night-on-the-town a nightmarish event.

The film is based on a screenplay by Joseph Minion, who has written two other produced screenplays 1999’s On the Run and 1991’s Motorama that play off the exact same theme, and was done for the screenwriting class that he was taking at Columbia University, which got the attention of Dunne who optioned it as a project he felt would be a perfect fit for his acting style. Unbeknownst to him though was that the first part of it was based on a 30 minute-monologue piece called ‘Lies’ written by Joe Frank and broadcast on NPR radio in 1982 and when the film came out the studio was forced to pay Frank an out of court settlement because of it.

Many have felt the film’s theme is Paul’s emasculation by all the women that he meets, and to an extent that’s probably true, but for me I found it more interesting to see how despite the film’s surreal quality it’s still not that far off from truth. It’s like going out on a first date with a really attractive person who your’e excited about only to find as you get to know them that they’re really screwed-up, or meeting a new group of people who you initially think you have something in common with only to learn as you talk to them that you really don’t. It also nicely satirizes the hip/happening patrons of the club scene who walk around with a perpetual arrogant attitude of coolness, but in reality are quite hollow.

The production was filmed at night, which forced the crew to work for 10-straight weeks from sundown to sun up and then catch-up with their sleep during the day, but the effort was worth it as it helps create this underworld feel with no connection to the ‘proper’ daytime one. I also loved how it tries to explore New York’s club scene and the artsy SoHo district with all the eccentric personalities that make up that subculture, which helps to make New York the unique place that it is and which gets criminally ignored in most other movies that take place there.

The acting is excellent with everyone perfectly cast although the scenes I enjoyed the most involved Dunne’s exchanges with some lesser known performers like Murray Moston as a subway attendant and Clarence Felder as a nightclub bouncer. Credit must also go to Dunne himself who plays the normal guy role perfectly. Had he been too over-the-edge with it, or too nerdy it wouldn’t have worked as the character had to be someone the viewer could relate to while behaving/reacting to things in plausible ways in order to feed off the paradox that the more rational he was the more irrational everything else around him  became.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending proved to be the toughest part for director Martin Scorsese to implement. Originally Dunne’s character was driven away in the van still trapped in a the plaster sculpture that Gail (Verna Bloom) had put him in, but this got a negative response from the test audience, so they then considered having Dunne crawl into Bloom’s womb to hide and then getting ‘reborn’ out on the highway, but that was too bizarre.

The one that they finally came up with, which was suggested by director Michael Powell who came on as a consultant, has Dunne ending up at the office where he worked, which has added irony since most offices are boring places that people usually can’t wait to get out of.  However, it never shows how these experiences changed him and a scene should’ve been added showing Dunne afraid to ever leave and continuing to work late in the night after everyone else had gone before finally getting dragged out by the security guards.

The film also fails to explain how Dunne ever got back into his apartment since the bartender (John Heard) had taken his keys to his place earlier. A good alternative ending would’ve had Dunne falling out of the van not at the office, but at his apartment instead where he would’ve then be let in by his landlord. He would fall asleep in his bed feeling safe only to awaken with everyone that had been chasing him earlier now standing around his bedside having been let in by the bartender with the keys.

Overall this is the type of film that you wished had gone on longer as it gets funnier the more it goes on. My only quibble is that Dunne should’ve been forced to get the Mohawk when he was at the club as seeing him with one would’ve accentuated his beaten down mindset and made his appearance when he returned to work even more absurd.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: September 11, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Martin Scorsese

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, YouTube

American Hot Wax (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: DJ plays the hits.

The film centers on real-life disc jockey (Alan Freed) who was instrumental in bringing rock ‘n’ roll music to the airwaves during the late 50’s and even credited with coining the phrase. Unfortunately he also got wrapped up in a payola scandal in which record companies paid him under-the-table to play their records on the air, which destroyed his career and left him in virtual poverty before dying in 1965 at the young age of 43 from cirrhosis of the liver.

I’ll admit I never longed for the nostalgia of the late 50’s or early 60’s.  Everything from that period seemed silly and antiquated to me and yet this film nicely brings out the excitement that people living then had. There clearly was a feeling of change on the horizon particularly in the music scene and it’s fun seeing all the young people jumping in and trying to become a part of it. The recreation of that energy is great and the one thing that this movie does well. Unfortunately it quickly becomes one-note with an unending procession of different music groups clamoring to become the next big act. Watching people stop Freed on the street and giving him a impromptu audition is at first fun, but seeing that scenario get repeated continuously is tedious.

There are some famous fresh young faces in the cast including Jay Leno, Fran Drescher, and Laraine Newman, but their parts are small and their appearances erratic. The story desperately needed a central character for the viewer to latch onto and none gets forthcoming. The barrage of people that get thrown in and then just as quickly forgotten makes the film unfocused and lacking any type of real plot.

McIntire is excellent, but his character badly undernourished. There’s a hackneyed dramatic segment where we see him conversing with his father on the phone and are given the idea that he is on rough terms with him, but it never gets explored further and for the most part we learn nothing at all about his personal life including the fact that he was married three times and had four kids, which never even gets mentioned while the payola scandal is only briefly touched on. The film would’ve had more substance had they explored the man’s personality and life more, but instead he remains as a frustratingly distant figure.

Clearly the filmmakers were looking to cash-in on the success of American Graffiti and hence the similar title, but just recreating the look and music of a bygone era isn’t enough. Even the appearances of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis fail to save a superficial effort that justifiably bombed badly at the box office.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 17, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Floyd Mutrux

Studio: Paramount

Available: None at the time.

Manhattan (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Writer has relationship issues.

Isaac (Woody Allen) is an unemployed TV writer who’s currently dating Tracy (Mariel Hemingway) a 17-year-old girl, but he feels guilty about this and thinks it’s only a matter of time before she moves on to someone else that is more her age. In the meantime he begins seeing Mary (Diane Keaton) who is the mistress to his best friend Yale (Michael Murphy). Eventually Isaac falls for Mary, but she then goes back to Yale forcing Isaac to beg Tracy to come back to him even as she’s prepares to go off to London to study acting.

Although this film became a critical darling I agree more with Allen himself who considers this to be the least favorite out of all of the movies he’s directed. The much ballyhooed black-and-white cinematography is a detriment especially when it shows the fireworks going off above the skyline, which if done in color would’ve been vibrant, but here it’s less than thrilling. The film also doesn’t give you much of a feel for the city since all it does is give brief shots of the skyscrapers and never any of its eclectic neighborhoods, shops, street life, or people. Looking at various photos of the city in Wikipedia gives one a far better visual taste of Manhattan then this film ever does and the George Gershwin score has unfortunately lost its uniqueness since United Airlines used it for many years for its ad campaign and I kept thinking of that the whole time it gets played here.

Allen’s trip with Keaton to a planetarium is interesting visually and their facial expressions during a visit to a concert is amusing, but otherwise the storyline dealing with their budding romance is boring and predictable. It’s fun to see, and a testament to Keaton’s great acting ability,  her playing a completely different type of person than the one she did just two years earlier in Annie Hall, but the character itself is off-putting and not someone most men would want to warm-up to. Maybe it’s the way she thinks that just because she’s from Philadelphia that makes her or anyone else from there morally superior, which I realize is meant to be amusing, but I didn’t find it that way mainly because I know people in real-life who are actually like that.

Allen’s visits with his ex-wife, played by Meryl Streep doesn’t jive either because I could not believe that they were ever compatible enough to ever have gotten married in the first place.  It’s also weird that her new partner Connie (Karen Ludwig) remains so civil and calm when in Allen’s presence since he apparently tried at one time to run her over with a car, which to me would make her not want to be anywhere near him, or even allow him into her home.

Allen’s relationship with Hemingway is the film’s only interesting aspect. Some of course may consider this to be controversial due to the wide age differences between the two although technically in the state of New York the age of consent is 17, so in the eyes of the law it was legal even though the characters themselves amusingly don’t seem aware of this. What I liked though was that Hemingway, despite being so young, comes off as the mature one in the relationship and when they’re shown walking side-by-side she is actually taller, which I found to be the funniest part of the whole movie. She also does a very convincing cry, which isn’t easy.

Unfortunately the relationship also leaves open a plethora of questions that the movie never bothers to answer. For instance where are her parents and what do they think of her living with a 42-year-old man? What do her friends think of Allen and what exactly does she see in this scrawny, whiny little man to fall-in-love with him anyways?

Supposedly her character is based on actress Stacey Nelkin who had a on-going relationship with Allen for 8 years starting when she was 16, but that made more sense because she was a young would-be starlet who most likely was mesmerized by Allen as a well-established director and who she probably saw as being her ticket to possibly breaking into the business, but here Isaac is an unemployed nobody yammering incessantly about things like Ingmar Bergman, which is something most teens can’t get into, so again I ask what does this Hemingway character see in this guy that would make her want to move in with him?

I’ve been a fan of many of Allen’s other films especially his comedies from the early 70’s and some of his dramas too, but this one left me cold. I felt that way when I first saw it over 20 years ago and nothing changed upon the second viewing as it seems to be cramming in three diametrically different storylines giving it kind of a jumbled narrative instead of just focusing on one.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 18, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Woody Allen

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Unfaithfully Yours (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Conductor suspects wife’s infidelity.

Claude Eastman (Dudley Moore) is a famous orchestra conductor who’s married to Daniella (Nastassja Kinski). While he is on vacation his friend Norman (Albert Brooks) hires a detective (Richard B. Shull) to keep an eye on her and he mistakenly thinks that she’s cheating on Claude with Maximillan (Armand Assante). When Claude finds this out he comes up with a crafty plot to kill her and frame it on Maximillian, but once he tries to put the plan into action everything goes awry.

This is a remake of the film with the same title that was released in 1948 and starred Rex Harrison. That film was quite funny especially the second-half, but it wasn’t perfect and this one makes several changes to the original script that I felt actually improved it. One of the changes is that while Claude is conducting the orchestra he comes up with the plan of how he wants to kill her, but in the original it was three different ideas while here it is only one. Some viewers have complained about this, but the truth is that the other two ideas weren’t very funny or interesting, so whittling it down to only one works better.

I also felt that it was dumb at how in the original Harrison had no interest in reading the report that the private eye hands him and at one point even tries to set it on fire, but I would think any reasonable person, even if they wanted to believe that their partner wouldn’t cheat on them, would still be curious enough to want to take a look at it. In this version Moore initially resists but eventually his curiosity gets the better of him, which is how I think 99 % of other people would act if in the same situation, which therefore makes Moore’s attempts at retrieving the report after initially discarding it all the more comical.

The actual murder plan though is better handled in the first one, where if done exactly right was rather ingenious and even believable. Here though the idea that Moore comes up with has a lot of glaring holes in it right from the start including the fact that he attempts to record his wife’s laughter/screams while inside a restaurant, but the noise of the other customers would conceivably drown out the wife’s voice. The recorder is also placed too far away from where the wife is sitting making whatever noise it does pick-up from her come off as quite muffled and distant.

I felt that Harrison’s acting in the original was what really made it work, but Moore does just as good here particularly in the animated way he conducts, which is a laugh onto itself. However, the scene where he mistakenly drinks some coke that is laced with crushed tranquilizer pills, which presumably should’ve knocked him out completely, but instead it makes him behave in a slightly drunken state is too reminiscent to the alcoholic character that he played in Arthur and therefore should not have been done here due to the comparison.

Although it doesn’t quite hold-up and loses steam by the end it’s still an entertaining ride. If you’re more into classic Hollywood films, or you want to watch and compare both, then I’d say the black-and-white original is just as good as both films had me laughing-out-loud at several points and both deserve a 7 out of 10.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 10, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Howard Zieff

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

Shamus (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Detective uses unorthodox methods.

Shamus (Burt Reynolds) is a down-and-out private detective who uses a pool table for a bed and seems more able to attract woman that he doesn’t know for indiscriminate sex than he does at finding cases to solve. Eventually he gets hired by a millionaire businessman (Ron Weyand) to retrieve diamonds stolen during a violent robbery, but the more he pursues the case the more convinced he becomes that it’s a set-up.

This film has the perfect blend of funny Burt/tough-guy Burt and it’s one of the main reasons why it manages to remain engaging. Most other films that he was in never had the right balance. By the late 70’s his humorous side had gotten overused to the point that his image had become that of a silly country boy, but then in the 80’s he over-corrected by starring in a lot of sterile action flicks where his characters were overly-serious and moody and even less entertaining than his comical side. Here though it’s a fun mix as he playfully jumps from saying quips with a twinkle in his eye to beating the crap out of the bad guys when he needs to and the opening bit where he wakes-up and tries to get ready for the day after a long night of partying is a total gem.

The actions of his character though gets a bit over-the-top particularly with the way he extorts information from those he encounters. Unfortunately he’s no Jim Rockford who would use his cunning and wit to get people to talk, but here Shamus gets physically rough with them to the point that he literally strangles a man with a chain until his face turns purple making it look like he was as bad as those he was pursuing. It also made me wonder how long he could go on using these unsavory methods before it would finally catch-up with him.

He also doesn’t use much of his own brain power as he gets underlings at a bar he frequents to do most of the research for him making it seem like they should be the ones receiving the pay. I was also confused why he’d stay on the case even after the person who had hired him cuts off his funds. For the majority of the film he’s emotionally detached and only doing what he needs to, to get paid, so why continue to pursue something when the incentive is gone especially when there’s nothing in it personally for him?

The story has a lot of twists and complications, but it all ends up circling back to the person that we had suspected from the very beginning making the ending not only predictable but boring. It would also have been nice since this film does make some attempts at being gritty to not have every lead that he comes upon always magically pan out. In real-life many so-called ‘hot leads’ go nowhere and for the sake of balance the film should’ve shown Burt coming to a few dead-ends before finally getting the clues that he needed.

As for the action it’s okay and the foot chase outside of a warehouse is good not so much for what happens, but more because it was shot in late autumn and the orange sunlight coupled with the bare trees gives off a surreal feeling, which gets ruined later during another foot chase where everything is suddenly plush and green and strangely turned springtime without warning. The fact that Burt is always able to jump into vehicles that routinely have their keys already in the ignition hurts the credibility and how he was able to get a forklift to drive itself during the warehouse segment is even more perplexing.

The film starts off with a bang and I was hoping this would be something really different, but ultimately it becomes like a slow, leaking tire that gets flatter as it goes along. That’s not to say it isn’t adequate as it is, but there’s nothing about it that’s truly memorable. Dyan Cannon’s is particularly wasted. Supposedly she had to be coaxed out of semi-retirement to do this after her bad experience in Such Good Friends, but I failed to see the point as her character doesn’t have much to do with the story and could’ve easily been cut out altogether.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 31, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Buzz Kulik

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Harry and Walter Go to New York (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two vaudevillians rob bank.

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 17, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mark Rydell

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Love at First Bite (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dracula dates fashion model.

After being kicked out of his castle by the Romanian government Count Dracula (George Hamilton) moves to New York City where he starts up a relationship with the beautiful, but troubled fashion model Cindy (Susan Saint James). Her boyfriend Jeffrey (Richard Benjamin) who also acts as her psychiatrist, is not pleased by this and becomes obsessed with destroying the count by using all the old vampire killing methods, but the count always stays one step ahead of him, which is enough to send Jeffrey to the mental hospital.

Although this film isn’t well remembered it was a big hit when it came out and a comeback movie of sorts for Hamilton whose dramatic leading man roles during the 60’s and early 70’s had completely dried-up by this time. His foray into comedy was a last ditch effort to save his floundering career and the gamble paid off as he’s quite funny and almost like a natural.

Saint James on-the-other-hand seemed too old for her role as she was already in her mid-30’s, but she manages to pull it off surprisingly well. Normally having a film character invite a stranger, in this case the Count, who she has just met at a club back to her place would be considered insane, but here it works as a nice satire on the one-night-stand fad of the 70’s and the on-going conversation that the two have as they proceed to make-out is by far the funniest bit in the film. I also liked how her messy apartment nicely reflected her screwed-up life and personality.

Unfortunately the film falls flat when it introduces the Jeffrey character. Benjamin has played this obnoxious jerk-type one time too often and although he is quite good at it, it was still getting to be old shtick and it’s easy to see why he quit acting soon after and went into directing. The whole thing would’ve worked better had it focused exclusively on Saint James and Hamilton and analyzed their attempts to make their offbeat relationship work, which could’ve put a fresh spin on the vampire theme instead of devolving it into Jeffrey’s dumb attempts at trying to destroy the Count  by using all the cliched methods like garlic, mirrors, etc., which quickly becomes stale and cartoonish.

The film does have a lot of famous cameos including the two stars of ‘The Jeffersons’ TV-show who appear separately in bit parts. Arte Johnson also successfully hams it up as the Count’s faithful assistant in a comic send-up of Dwight Frye’s role in Dracula. Overall though there’s more misses than hits, which includes the ill-advised flying bat special effects that comes off looking so hokey that it almost demotes this to a B-movie level.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 13, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stan Dragoti

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray