Category Archives: Movies with a Hospital setting

The Happiness Cage (1972)

mind snatchers

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: They control his mind.

Christopher Walken plays James Reese a veteran of the Vietnam War who has issues with aggression. After numerous arrests he gets shipped off to a hospital in Europe run by Dr. Frederick (Joss Ackland) and overseen by a U.S. General (Ralph Meeker). There they do tests on the patients by implanting special devices into their brains that connects to their pleasure centers and can quell their aggressive behavior by having them feel a pleasurable sensation every time a button is pressed from a remote.

Walken’s performance is outstanding and Ronny Cox as his fellow patient is also quite good especially the part where he has the device implanted into his own brain, which turns him into a sad, pathetic, child-like state. Bette Henritze gives an interesting performance as well as a naïve, middle-aged nurse hired to make the patient’s stay more ‘happy’ by supplying them with books and board games only to be attacked and raped by Cox and then forced to play a game of checkers with him afterwards.

The story, which was based on a play by Dennis Reardon, certainly has its moments. In fact I was surprised how caught up into I got since the production values are close to appalling. The film was shot in Denmark in a building that looks like it was formerly a rundown mansion converted into a makeshift hospital for the sake of the movie. It all looks embarrassingly cheap and the idea of having a big hospital with a full-time staff and even a barbed wire fence and guard dogs, but only three patients is quite hard to believe.

Had the budget been bigger it might’ve been able to reach a broader audience. Bernard Girard’s direction is okay for the limitations that he was given, but the film’s faded, grainy stock and overall amateurish look becomes a turn off from the beginning and something that it cannot overcome. The plot itself is interesting, but the concept has been filmed before and with better results.

Alternate Title: The Mind Snatchers

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 28, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bernard Girard

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Where Does It Hurt? (1972)

where does it hurt 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Corruption at a hospital.

It’s funny how names like Ed Wood Jr. or Tommy Wiseau get mentioned in just about anyone’s list of bad movie director’s, but Rod Amateau’s never does, but should. Not only did he produce ‘My Mother the Car’ and ‘Supertrain’, which are considered two of the worst TV-series ever to be broadcast, but he also directed the notorious Garbage Pail Kids as well as Son of Hitler and The Statue, which featured a jealous David Niven going around the bathrooms and gay bathhouses of London looking for a man whose penis matches the one that his wife created for a life-sized statue that she says replicates her lovers.

While this film isn’t quite as bad as those it comes close. It stars Peter Sellers who was at a career nadir due to financial mismanagement and willing to take on any low budget job offer he was given. Here he plays the corrupt head of a hospital that uses an array of schemes to bilk patients and insurance companies out of thousands of dollars. Rick Lenz plays a patient who becomes aware of the shenanigans going on and tries to bring Sellers and his staff down, but finds that they seem to have a trick up their proverbial sleeves at every turn.

The film manages to have a few amusing moments, but comes off more like a gag reel than a story. The characters are exaggerated and unlikable. We are supposed to side with Lenz and his predicament, but he so stupidly allows the doctors to take advantage of him at the beginning that it becomes hard to. The whole thing gets sillier by the second until by the end it’s completely inane. It also makes light of some serious issues that were handled better in Paddy Chayefsky’s The Hospital, which came out just 8 months before this one.

To some degree it’s fun seeing Sellers, who was noted for his wide range of dialects, taking a stab at an American accent and he almost pulls it off except for a few moments including the one where he pronounces orifice as AW-ifice.

The supporting cast made up of lesser known talents proves to be game here. Pat Morita, still years away from his breakout role in The Karate Kid, is genuinely amusing as a lab tech with an inferiority complex and at one point even speaks in a British accent. Harold Gould is good as an incompetent Dr. and J. Edward McKinley, best known for his many appearances on ‘Bewitched’ as one of McMahon and Tate’s primary clients, is funny as the Hospital commissioner who relentlessly tries to nab Sellers and eventually after repeated missed opportunities is able to.

In better hands this might’ve had a chance, but the low budget, irritating country music soundtrack and cheap jokes pretty much sink this thing before it even has a chance to get started.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 29, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Rod Amateau

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: None at this time.

Psychopath (1973)

psychopath 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: TV host kills parents.

Mr. Rabbey (Tom Basham) is a puppeteer who hosts a popular children’s show on TV as well as working at the local hospital where he performs puppet shows for the sick children. It is there that he becomes aware of the abuse that children receive at the hands of their parents and decides to try and put a stop to it by stalking the parents he considers to be responsible and killing them.

This low budget ‘70s excursion fails at its own novel concept by creating unlikable victims that makes the viewer enjoy seeing them get offed and to a degree sympathize with their killer. The over-the-top way the parents berate their children, which is poorly acted to boot, gives the thing a Reefer Madness-like quality. It also doesn’t explain what happens to the children after the parents are killed or who takes care of them. Whether this was made as a social statement or simply using the idea to make an offbeat horror film is unclear, but it fails on both ends.

Basham, whose next film wasn’t until 35 years later when he starred in The Appearance of a Man, certainly has a creepy look and I liked his bowl haircut and beady eyes, which are put to full use with lots of close-ups, but the banal material doesn’t allow for any interesting characterizations. The movie also marks the film debut of John Ashton who appears as a police detective as well as an early role for Margaret Avery who plays a nurse.

There are some ‘70s horror films where you have to forgive the long periods of stodgy drama, derivative dialogue and wooden characters if it can at least have a few scary moments or gory special effects, but this film never gets there. Instead it’s mechanical and unimaginative with amateurish production values that supplies zero scares or shocks.

psychopath 2

Alternate Title: An Eye for an Eye

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: September 28, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 24Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Larry G. Brown

Studio: Intercontinental Releasing Corporation

Available: VHS

Hello Again (1987)

hello again 4

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Her life after death.

Lucy (Shelley Long) is married to Jason (Corbin Bernsen) a well-off plastic surgeon, but finds that she doesn’t fit in with his snobby clientele and feels out-of-place whenever she tries to hang out with them at dinner parties. She turns to her wacky friend Zelda (Judith Ivey) who dabbles in the occult, but her spells and magic do little until Lucy chokes on a chicken ball and Zelda is able to magically bring her back to life one year later. Now Lucy finds a new lease on things. Jason has gotten remarried to her former friend Kim (Sela Ward) and she uses this news to find a new love of her own and she’ll have to do it quickly because if she doesn’t find true love by the next full moon she’ll go right back to being dead again.

This is the second collaboration between director Frank Perry and writer Susan Isaacs and while their first effort Compromising Positions was just barely passable this one doesn’t even make it to that level. The script is unable to settle on any type of genre as it dabbles in drama, romance, comedy, social satire and fantasy, but ends up being only shallow nonsense in the end. A few of the tangents that it takes has potential to be interesting, but then it doesn’t go far enough with it. The comedy is light and inconsistent with the funniest moment being the one that was shown in its trailer where Lucy comes back to life and finds her shocked husband and friend in bed together and after that there’s very little else that’s even mildly amusing.

The fantasy elements are poorly thought out and leave a lot of unanswered questions. The climactic showdown between Lucy and Kim is flat and the caricatures of the rich and snobby crowd are clichéd to the extreme. I also didn’t find the scene where she chokes on a chicken ball to be a laughing matter as according to government statistics over 3,000 people in this country choke to death each year and if they really wanted to create some sort of goofy death it should’ve been something much more over-the-top.

Long isn’t leading lady material. Her image is so ingrained with the uppity and prim Diane Chambers persona from ‘Cheers’ that having her portray someone who is kind and humble comes off as insincere and phony and her attempts at being a comical klutz is annoying and completely unfunny.

This was Perry’s final directorial effort. He burst onto the film scene in the ‘60s and showed flashes of brilliance and new age vision, but his career declined markedly once he divorced from his screenwriter wife Eleanor and the stuff he did afterwards was barely even worth a look. He eventually was diagnosed with cancer and spent the last years of his life battling the disease and in 1995 even made a documentary about his fight called On the Bridge, which was far more compelling than this tripe.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 6, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Frank Perry

Studio: Buena Vista Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Such Good Friends (1971)

such good friends 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Her husband fools around.

Julie (Dyan Cannon) is a well-off New York Housewife living in a swanky Manhattan apartment with her husband Richard (Laurence Luckinbill) who is the successful editor of a New York fashion magazine. Her life seems fulfilled and happy until Richard goes into the hospital for routine surgery, which has unexpected complications that sends him into a coma. While going through some of his personal belongings she comes upon his little black book that lists all sorts of sexual conquests he has had with her friends, which first leads the devastated Julie into considering suicide, but then ultimately into revenge.

This film can be considered Otto Preminger’s swan song as the two movies he made after this weren’t worth watching. This movie also proves to be a giant improvement from the awful Skidoo that he did just three years before where he tried unsuccessfully to get with the ‘hip generation’, but failed miserably. It has the same irreverence and satire as that one, but it is much more disciplined and sophisticated and makes its point without going overboard. It also shows that despite his renowned cantankerous nature behind-the-scenes he was still a gifted director who managed to span five decades with movies that had vastly different styles and themes and he deserves to be labeled a filmmaking legend.

I loved the way the camera spins around in a circle during a scene inside a New York art museum as well as some breathtaking shots of the New York skyline while on top of Jennifer’s and Richard’s condominium. The fractured narrative that deals heavily with flashback sequences is also nicely handled though the scenes showing a middle-aged Cannon trying to look like she is an adolescent while wearing pigtails looks tacky and should’ve been scrapped.

The film is based on the Lois Gould novel of the same name and while that book had a much more serious tone the movie gives the material more of a satirical spin much like Diary of a Mad Housewife, which Preminger had scriptwriter Elaine May (who gets credited as Ester Dale) watch before writing this one. The result is endlessly witty dialogue and some near brilliant conversational exchanges between the characters. Some of the best bits are Jennifer’s discussions with Richard’s doctors who seem reluctant to take responsibility for their medical blundering as well as Jennifer’s awkward sexual encounter with her friend Cal (Ken Howard) when he is unable to ‘rise to the occasion’.

Although she has a face that can show pain and sadness well Cannon may not have been the best choice and some other actresses would’ve been more interesting in the part. Apparently Preminger had her in tears already on the first day and she has in subsequent interviews called him a ‘horrible man’. The scene showing her naked in a snapshot is actually that of another nude model with Cannon’s face cropped on it.

James Coco is great in support and I was genuinely shocked that it didn’t get him nominated for best supporting actor. The scene where Cannon is undressing him for some sex and he tries desperately to distract her while he takes off a corset that he is wearing underneath is frickin’ hilarious. Burgess Meredith has an outrageous moment where he is seen nude while attending a posh party and only his genitals are covered by a book hung from a belt that he is wearing.

The only real negative is the ending that is too serious and somber and deflates the energy from the film’s otherwise snarky tone. Some of the music used doesn’t work with the scenes either including the O.C. Smith song played over the closing credits. Otherwise it’s as fresh, original and timely as it was when it first came out and ripe to be rediscovered by the right audience. The title sequence created by Saul Bass that is used to open the film is diverting and I wished it had been extended.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: Otto Preminger

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Splendor in the Grass (1961)

splendor in the grass 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Learning to move on.

The year is 1928 and Wilma (Natalie Wood) is a high school girl living in a small Kansas town and madly in love with Bud (Warren Beatty). The two share a strong even obsessive relationship and Bud wants to marry her, but his domineering father (Pat Hingle) wants him to wait and go to college for 4 years first. Because Wilma is a ‘nice girl’ he cannot have intimate relations with her before marriage, so in order to alleviate his sexual tensions his father advises that he have sex with a ‘loose woman’ and thus has a fling with Juanita (Jan Norris) who is also one of Wilma’s classmates. When Wilma finds out about this she is devastated and it sends her into a mental breakdown and eventually committed to a psychiatric hospital.

Despite being set in a bygone period the film is hardly dated at all. The characters are real and going through much of the same dilemmas people today have including dealing with parents who push their children to go into fields of study that they aren’t interested in. The film is amazingly frank for its era and director Elia Kazan wisely pulls back by having long takes which allows his eclectic cast to propel the film forward with their performances alone.

Although the setting is Kansas it unfortunately wasn’t filmed there and thus fails to capture the majestic beauty of the plains like Picnic did which was based on another William Inge story. The intention was to shoot it there, but due to a drought it was instead done in northern New York near the Catskills, which has a far different climate and topography. The only exterior shot of the town is that of Wilma’s house, which doesn’t allow the viewer to get any idea of the town’s layout or atmosphere.

All around there are some great performances, but Hingle is a standout in what is quite possibly the best role of his career as he owns every scene that he is in. The only unfortunate thing is that it is never explained what caused the character’s very obvious limp.

Barbara Loden who later went on to marry Kazan in real-life is a scene-stealer as well playing Hingle’s rebellious, flapper daughter Ginny. Her meltdown at a New Year’s Eve party is memorable, but the character then disappears midway through and is never seen again. There is an eventual brief explanation of her whereabouts, but I felt a scene with her at the end was definitely needed.

Wood looks quite possibly at her most beautiful here both with long hair during the first half and then with a short cut during the second part. Beatty makes an outstanding film debut. Usually he is best playing detached characters, but here he plays an emotional one and does it surprisingly well.

The film features a high amount of first time performances from actors who all look very, very young. Phyllis Diller can be seen briefly as a nightclub comedienne. Ivor Francis makes his film debut as Wood’s psychiatrist and Sandy Dennis can be spotted as Wood’s classmate while Martine Bartlett makes her debut as an exasperated English teacher. There is also Zohra Lampert as a waitress explaining to Beatty what pizza is while he tells her about Kansas and you can very briefly spot Eugene Roche and even Godfrey Cambridge.

The film makes some great statements about learning to adjust to life’s twists and turns and living in situations that are not the most fulfilling. Inge, who based many of these characters on people he knew growing up, shows a keen understanding for human nature and his script won a much deserved Oscar.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 10, 1961

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Elia Kazan

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

The People Next Door (1970)

the people next door 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Daughter is on drugs.

Arthur and Gerrie Mason (Eli Wallach, Julie Harris) are a middle-aged couple living the comfortable suburban existence, which comes tumbling apart in a matter of only a few short weeks. It starts when their daughter Maxie (Deborah Winters) dabbles in acid and is sent to a mental institution. Acrimony and in-fighting commence and even with family counseling nothing helps. As both Maxie’s and Gerrie’s mental condition deteriorates it seems like their family unit is doomed while their neighbors David and Tina Hoffman (Hal Holbrook, Cloris Leachman) have issues of their own including the shock at finding out that their son Sandy (Don Scardino) is a drug dealer and was the one that gave Maxie the acid that sent things spiraling out-of-control.

There were many movies about the drug culture made during the 60’s and 70’s and many of them weren’t very good, but this one I have always liked. It is not that it doesn’t have its share of flaws like the others although not as many, but it is the performance by Winters (no relation) that knocks this to a whole new level.  Although only 17 at the time she exudes an amazing amount of composure and tackles some difficult scenes with ease and naturalism. Her blue eyes penetrate the screen, which director David Greene takes full advantage of especially during her acid trips, which get pretty freaky.

Two scenes of hers in particular really stand out and are worth catching. One is where she takes some acid and then strips off all of her clothes and goes running outside in the nude through the snow banks of their suburban neighborhood while singing and dancing to some strange song. Another is when she runs away from home and Wallach tracks her down living in squalor in a seedy, rundown apartment building with her boyfriend. When Wallach finds her she hops out of bed stark naked and walks over to him and plants him a deep kiss, which makes him violently slap her to the ground.

There are a few other interesting moments including one that takes place during a group counseling session where a young man of 20 named Wally (played by Matthew Cowles who later went on to marry actress Christine Baranski) berates in front of everyone his elderly parents who had him at a late age and he now finds them to be too old and embarrassing. The scene where David and Tina confront their son late at night about his drug dealing is also compelling.

The script by J.P. Miller has some emotionally high moments and hits on the issues of family strife head-on in a way that I felt is still impactful and relevant. Some critics argued that because Miller and director Greene were already 50 at the time that they were ‘out-of-touch’ with the youth generation, which to some extent may be valid, but the drama itself is strong and in the end that is what counts.

The only weak link is that of Wallach and Harris two very good actors who become wasted here. Both are locked in caricatures that are too broad and rigid and at times turn the thing into a heavy-handed soap opera. The correlation to the fact that while the daughter takes drugs they continue to smoke and drink becomes a bit too obvious and overplayed.

The story was originally made as a TV-movie that was broadcast on October 15, 1968 on CBS. Winters, Scardino as well as Nehemiah Persoff who plays the doctor at the institution play the same roles on that one that they do here. Lloyd Bridges and Kim Hunter played Winters’ parents and Fritz Weaver and Phyllis Newman were the Hoffman’s.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 26, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Greene

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: None at this time.

The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970)

the mind of mr soames 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Man child faces world.

Due to a complication at birth a man (Terence Stamp) is born into a coma and for thirty years he has stayed that way. Now due to medical advancement they can stimulate the part of the brain that is asleep, thus allowing him to awaken into consciousness. The problem is that he will be a virtual infant and have to taught at a much quicker pace than a normal child.

Outside of a few implausibility’s the story is handled in an overall realistic manner. The pacing is tight and compact and the cinematography by Billy Williams is outstanding with excellent framing. Stamp plays the part with conviction and overall makes a believable grown up baby.

The story itself is much more complex than it initially looks as it takes a good examination into the science approach vs the humanistic one. It shows how truly complicated the human being is and the great balance it takes to successfully raise one. It also takes a few good potshots at the obtrusiveness of the media.

The stories most interesting angle though comes when the adult child escapes and goes out into the real world where we see what a tight inner fabric society is and the complete inability that the ‘pure’ human, with no prior connections to it would have.

However, in the end this movie is a disappointment as it gives us no conclusion and we never see the end result. Was this man child successfully raised? Which approach was the best and did he ever fully adapt to the world around him? We never know because it never tells us. The whole idea for the film looks to have been made only to bring up certain issues with no attempt at a complete story.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 12, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Alan Cooke

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R

Nuts (1987)

nuts

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fighting for her sanity.

In celebration of Barbra Streisand turning 72 on April 24th we will be reviewing three of her films, one from each decade during the week. This one is based on the Broadway play by Tom Topor dealing with a high priced call girl named Claudia Draper (Barbra Streisand) who murders one of her customers (Leslie Nielson) in self-defense and is arrested. Her mother (Maureen Stapleton) and step father (Karl Malden) think she should be diagnosed as incompetent to stand trial and sent to a mental institution, but she with the help of her lawyer (Richard Dreyfuss) fight for her right to stand trial.

The story and characters evolve in layers, which I liked, but Streisand doesn’t seem right for the part. Her presence makes it seem too much like a star vehicle instead of the character driven story that it should be. Her cantankerous outbursts become a bit excessive and self-destructive making it hard at times to cheer for her or empathize. In the Broadway play the character was played by a woman in her twenties, which made more sense and would’ve worked better instead of casting someone who was already 45.

Seeing her in provocative poises in snapshots that her lawyer obtains is a bit weird but fun as a novelty as is the scene where she spreads her legs without the benefit of any underwear for Dreyfuss, but having her constantly shown with a bright spotlight around her seems disconcerting. It gives her a ghostly appearance and makes her stand out in the wrong way.

The veteran supporting cast comes off better since they wisely underplay it as opposed to her overplaying. Stapleton is quite good especially the moving scenes showing her crying as she listens to her daughter’s testimony. James Whitmore is solid as the thoughtful judge, but it’s Dreyfuss who carries it as the feisty and sometimes exasperated counsel.

This film is also a milestone as it is the last time Leslie Neilson performed in a non-comedic role. He is surprisingly chilling as the psychotic attacker who was apparently so convincing that it scared Streisand during the filming of the scene.

There are times when it gets a bit too theatrical. The judge advises Claudia to quit disrupting the proceedings, but then she continues to do so anyways, which would have gotten most people thrown out of the courtroom. The scene where she sits on the witness stand and describes being a hooker in a very sensual and seductive way seemed over-the-top in a court of law as is the part where she is allowed to wander around the courtroom going on a long rant while everyone else just sits there and passively listens.

Still on the whole I found most of it to be quite riveting and as a drama its first- rate. I just felt Striesand’s presence didn’t help it. She can be quite good in certain other roles just not here. The part was originally intended for Debra Winger who I feel would have fared better.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 20, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated R

Director: Martin Ritt

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

End of the Road (1970)

end of the road

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review:  Too weird for words.

A bizarre adaptation of John Barth’s already bizarre novel detailing the story of a man (Stacy Keach) who goes into a catatonic state at a train station and is then sent to a strange mental hospital run by a weirdo named Doctor D (James Earl Jones). After he is considered to be ‘cured’ he takes a job as a college professor and proceeds to have an affair with the wife (Dorothy Tristan) of one of his colleagues (Harris Yulin).

It has been noted that author Barth disliked this film version of his novel and it is easy to see why. It gives only a basic outline of the story while leaving out all of the deeper meanings. It also tried to tie the story to the chaos and rebellion of the 60’s even though the book was written in 1955. The final result is a confusing mess that never comes together. The characters behave strangely and with no understanding to their motivations it becomes impossible to relate to them or anything else that goes on. Most viewers, especially those that are not familiar with the book, will easily become confused after the first five minutes if not sooner.

On the positive end the filmmaking style is refreshingly audacious in a way that is rarely seen anymore. Everything is thrown out there no matter how outrageous with little regard to mainstream acceptance. The kinetic imagery and music has a certain hypnotic effect that keeps you connected to it even if you don’t understand what is going on. The film culminates with a very intense, grizzly, and tasteless abortion sequence that will not be soon forgotten by anyone who sees it. Jones gives one of the most bizarre and over-the-top performances that you will ever see anywhere and anyone who is a fan of his or has an interest in acting MUST see him in this film.

It’s a misfired experiment that manages to be enough of a period artifact to make it interesting as a curio. It definitely has the ability to stay with you after it is over.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 10, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated X

Director: Aram Avakian

Studio: Allie Artists Pictures

Available: DVD