Category Archives: Movies with a Hotel setting

The Comedians (1967)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life under Papa Doc.

Based on the novel by Graham Greene the film centers on Brown (Richard Burton) an emotionally detached British hotel owner residing in Haiti. He has spent years avoiding the political turmoil of the region and the Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier regime, but finds now that the walls may finally be closing in. He must deal with the suicide of a government official that occurs on his grounds in his pool as well as a visiting American couple (Paul J. Ford, Lillian Gish) with strong political connections. His ongoing affair with the wife (Elizabeth Taylor) of a South American diplomat (Peter Ustinov) risks him further trouble as does his friendship with an illegal arms dealer (Alec Guinness).

The film ebbs-and-flows unevenly and isn’t compelling despite some strong moments here and there. What grabbed my attention was the vivid on-location shooting that gives the movie an interesting visual appeal. Because of the political environment going on in Haiti the producers were not allowed to film there and instead choose the small African country of Benin, which was still called the Republic of Dahomey at the time, as their substitute setting. The contrast of the serene tropical landscape juxtaposed with the abject poverty of its citizens is stunning with the most impactful moment coming when they visit Duvalierville a planned city with expensive buildings and homes being constructed with poor homeless people scurrying around begging for money as the structures go up.

The acting though by Richard Burton is atrocious and a major hindrance. I like Burton and consider him in most productions that he has been in to be a very strong actor, but here he doesn’t seem into the part at all. His presence is quite aloof and conveys little emotion to the point that he seems to be just walking through his role and mouthing his lines.

Taylor on the other hand is quite strong and manages to speak with an authentic sounding German accent. She made many bad film choices later her in career that ended up stigmatizes her acting reputation, but if given the right script and a competent director she could clearly convey an onscreen brilliance, which she does here. Unfortunately she is not seen enough and appears only sporadically throughout. If this is supposed to be a Taylor/Burton picture then the two needed equal screen time and prominent roles instead of one being relegated to what seems like only a minor part.

The supporting cast is excellent and this is a great chance to see up-and-coming African American actors when they were just starting out including: Raymond St. Jacques, James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, George Stanford Brown, and Zakes Mokae.  Gish and Ford offer a surprisingly profound moment when they follow a procession of singing happy young children into a forum for what they think will be a religious ceremony only to find to their shock that everyone is there to witness a firing squad execution instead.

The story has its moments, but I would’ve preferred if it had been a little more focused. At times it is compelling, but it drifts back and forth between too many different story threads and never comes together as a whole not to mention a limp ending that leaves no impact.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 31, 1967

Runtime: 2 Hours 31 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Peter Glenville

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Box Set), Amazon Video, YouTube

The Ritz (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hiding out in bathhouse.

On the run from is homicidal brother-in-law (Jerry Stiller) heterosexual businessman Gaetano (Jack Weston) decides to hide out inside a Manhattan bathhouse unaware that it’s for gay men only until he’s already stuck inside. While there the overweight Gaetano gets harassed by an amorous chubby-chaser (Paul B. Price) as well as an aging starlet named Googie (Rita Moreno) who thinks Gaetano is a Broadway producer who can finally give her the long-waited break that she feels she deserves. Things get even worse when his brother-in-law finds out where Gaetano is hiding and proceeds to shoot up the place until he is finally able to weed him out.

For a farce, which is based on the hit Broadway play by Terence McNally and has much of the same cast recreating their roles for the movie, this thing is pretty much dead-on-arrival. The plot is thin and predictable and not enough happens to justify sitting through it. There are a few snappy lines here-and-there, but overall it’s effect is flat while filled with a lot of mindless running around that eventually grows quite tiring. Director Richard Lester has had success with this genre before, but the material here is unimaginative and second-rate and having everything confined to one setting gives it a claustrophobic feel.

The supporting cast gives the proceedings a boost and to some extent saves it from being a complete misfire. F. Murray Abraham nails it as a flaming queen and manages to elicit laughs with every scene he is in. Treat Williams is quite good as an undercover detective who’s a very well built man, but stuck with the voice of a 5-year-old. Jerry Stiller is surprisingly effective as the gun-toting bad guy and this also marks the film debut of John Ratzenberger.

Kudos must also go out to Moreno whose hilariously bad rendition of ‘Everything’s Coming up Roses’ is a film highlight. I also liked the precarious way that she puts on her eyelashes and the fact that her so-called dressing room is inside the building’s boiler room. The only performance that doesn’t work is Weston’s as his character is too naïve and his over-reactions to everything that occurs around him quickly becomes one-dimensional.

There may have been a time when this type of storyline would’ve been considered ‘fresh’ over even ‘daring’, but that time is long gone. In fact I couldn’t believe how tame and shallow it was. Whatever passed for farce back-in-the-day is no longer tangible, which makes this one relic that deserves its place on the back shelf of obscurity.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 12, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Lester

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Buddy Buddy (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Suicidal man hampers hit.

Trabucco (Walter Matthau) checks into a hotel intent on completing a hit by shooting a mob informant before he can testify at trial. He’s already killed the two other informants with relative ease, but now finds this one to be much more complicated due to having to deal with Victor (Jack Lemmon) who resides in the adjoining room. Victor is upset that his wife Celia (Paula Prentiss) has left him for a sex therapist (Klaus Kinski) and proceeds to try to hang himself by tying the noose around the water pipes in the bathroom, but all he succeeds at doing is busting the pipes and creating a flood. Trabucco decides to ‘befriend’ the man in order to keep an eye on him and prevent him from trying to kill himself again, which he feels will only lead to unwanted attention from the authorities. However, Jack causes more problems for him than the police ever could.

This was the last film directed by Billy Wilder who stated in more than a few interviews that he considers this movie to be his poorest effort and his least favorite. Matthau and Lemmon have pretty much said the same thing as well. The film was a critical flop and lost 3.5 million at the box office, which helped to prevent Wilder from ever helming another movie again.

However, I was delightfully surprised at how funny I found this movie to be. It’s not exactly laugh-out-loud hilarity, but on a low-key level it works. The part where Lemmon gets tied to a chair and his mouth gagged while he screams at an ambivalent housekeeper (Bette Raya) to free him is quite good and the part where the two men going gliding down a clothes chute is fun too.

The whole thing is a remake of the French film A Pain in the A__, but it implements changes to the plot that improves it from the original. For one thing the dialogue is funnier, the two men have more genuine conversations and they even develop a bit of a bonding. The film adds more characters too like the beleaguered Captain Hubris played by Dana Elcar who tries in vain to protect the witnesses from Trubacco, but with little success. The distinctive musical score by Lalo Shifrin is also big improvement.

Lemmon is quite funny as he plays a sort-of hyped-up version of his Felix Unger character. Matthau seems a bit stymied in a role that allows for very little expression, but he still manages to make the most of it. My favorite performance though was that of Kinski who takes a rare comic turn and utters the movies best line: “Pre-ejaculation means always having to say you’re sorry.”

Having the two actually work together to complete the hit and then make an escape from the cops is good and something that did not occur in the original. The resolution, which takes place on a tropical island, is a bit of an improvement over the first one though it’s still not perfect. In either event it’s a relatively solid comedy that offers a few good laughs and deserves more attention especially for fans of Lemmon/Matthau.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 11, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated R

Director: Billy Wilder

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS

A Pain in the A__ (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Loser irritates hit man.

Ralf (Lino Ventura) works as a hit man and is hired to assassinate Louis Randoni (Xavier Depraz) who plans to testify against the mob. Ralf checks into a hotel room and plans to shoot Louis as he tries to enter the courthouse from his hotel window, which sits across the street from the court building. As he prepares for the hit he becomes distracted by Francois (Jacques Brel) in the neighboring room who attempts to kill himself after his wife leaves him. Ralf is concerned that Francois’s actions will elicit unwanted attention, so in an attempt to quiet him he ‘befriends’ him, which leads to many ironic scenarios.

The film was written by the prolific Francis Veber and based on his play. Ultimately it’s just a one-joke premise, but what makes it work are the two characters particularly the hit man who is portrayed in a serious way and never once betrays the essence of who he truly is, which is that of a cold blooded killer intent on doing his job and then moving on to his next. The comedy comes from his perturbed reactions at having to deal with a loser that despite his best intentions he can’t seem to ever get rid of.

Famous singer Brel does quite well as the clingy pest who is so wrapped up in his own personal quandaries that he fails to notice that his new ‘friend’ really isn’t his friend at all. Brel’s boyish looks plays well off of Ventura’s constantly stern expression and the plot becomes almost a constant play on errors as each one misreads the other.

The overall set design though is boring and the majority of action takes place solely inside the two hotel rooms, which eventually makes the proceedings quite static. It would’ve been nice to have had more of a conversation between the two as Brel does almost all of the talking while Ventura simply remains quiet while looking bored and angered, which is fun for a while, but more of a character arc could’ve been implemented.

The ending is a cop-out and not satisfying at all. I also felt Ventura was a bit too old and the character would’ve been more intimidating had it played by someone younger and more rugged although for the record Ventura plays the role perfectly especially when he gets injected with a drug that makes him tired and reluctantly  dependent on Brel’s guidance.

In 2008 Veber directed a remake of this film, which met with some success. Also in 1981 director Billy Wilder did an American version of this with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau playing the two leads. That film ended up adding a few changes and will be reviewed tomorrow.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 20, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Edouard Molinaro

Studio: Mondex Films

Available: VHS

California Suite (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Visitors at a hotel.

Based on the hit Neil Simon play, who also wrote the screenplay, the film follows five couples all staying at the same posh Beverly Hills hotel. Hannah and Bill (Jane Fonda, Alan Alda) are a divorced couple fighting over the custody of their teenage daughter (Dana Plato). Diana (Maggie Smith) is a famous British actress set to attend the Academy Awards ceremony and being escorted by Sidney (Michael Caine) a man she wants all for herself, but can’t because he is bisexual. Marvin (Walter Matthau) is in town to attend his nephew’s Bar Mitzvah and shocked to find that his brother (Herb Edelman) has sent a prostitute (Denise Galik) to his room to entertain him for the night only for her to promptly pass out drunk the next morning just as his wife (Elaine May) is about to arrive. The final segment deals with two bickering Dr’s (Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor) who can’t get along and seem to get themselves into one over-the-top calamity after another.

Many viewers have commented that they disliked the Fonda character as she came off as too cold and bitchy, but I’ve known many people who are like her who put up a very steely front in order to protect themselves emotionally, so for me her sarcasm worked and the way she delivered her acerbic lines is fun especially as she chews up the already transparent Alda character until it seems like he isn’t even there.

Smith and Caine’s segment seemed a bit trite and generic. The first part of it deals with her nervousness about attending the awards ceremony, which isn’t all that original. The second half examines her frustrations at the fact that Sidney can’t solely commit to her, but I couldn’t completely buy into this because she was playing a rich and famous, globe-trotting actress whom I’m sure could easily find another man if she wanted and didn’t have to cling to someone who didn’t fully want her like she were some lonely, small town housewife with no options.

The third segment dealing with Matthau and the unconscious prostitute is quite funny and had me laughing-out-loud while the scenes involving Cosby and Pryor’s constant arguing is incredibly dumb and even jarring as it features a lot of silly, slapstick humor that does not fit in with the more sophisticated tone of the rest of the film.

I was also not so crazy about the film’s pacing. The first hour deals almost exclusively with the dramatic segments while the second half focuses mainly on the comical ones, which came off as imbalanced. It would’ve worked better had the stories been evenly spread out in a rotating type fashion with a few minutes spent on each one before cutting to the next one. It would also have been cool had it taken a Slacker-like approach where the characters, who never once cross paths in this movie, would have instead passed by each other at certain points and the scene would then shift to the new characters that the other ones just passed.

I was also disappointed that we never get to see much of exterior of the hotel. We do see a bird’s eye view of it during the closing credits, but I thought shots of it should’ve been shown during the beginning. I have nothing against David Hockney’s artwork that does get used, but the hotel is a part of the film’s title and therefore should have taken precedence.

Overall though I felt it was a decent dramedy worth the price of admission. It also features a terrific and distinctive jazz score by Claude Bolling that I wish had been used even more throughout.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 15, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Hotel (1967)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Drama at the hotel.

Warren Trent (Melvyn Douglas) has been the owner of a large, luxurious New Orleans hotel for years, but finds that his old fashioned business ideas no longer mesh with the modern consumer. The place is losing money and he turns to Peter (Rod Taylor) the hotel manager and loyal employee to help find a suitable buyer.  Curtis O’Keefe (Kevin McCarthy) wants to purchase the place, but his plans call for too many changes that Peter doesn’t like. However, Curtis’s beautiful girlfriend Jeanne (Catherine Spaak) takes an interest in Peter that makes Curtis uneasy. There is also the Duke of Lanbourne (Michael Rennie) staying as a guest with his wife Caroline (Merle Oberon) who inadvertently kills a child during a hit-and-run accident that the two try desperately to cover up. On top of this is Keycase (Karl Malden) a small-time crook who has made copies of all the room keys and uses them to break into the rooms of the guests and steal their money while they sleep.

I loved the locale, but the film fails to capitalize on it. We never see a bird’s eye view of the city despite numerous references to its distinct landmarks and although there are a few outdoor scenes done in its crowded neighborhoods there wasn’t enough of them and the viewer fails to take in the full unique flavor of the region. None of the characters have southern accents or characteristics and in a lot of ways the setting could just as easily have been downtown Manhattan.

I was also disappointed that we never see an actual shot of the building. There are a few exterior shots of the entrance way, but nothing of the building as a whole despite a drawing of one on the movie poster, which then fails to give the viewer a complete sense of the hotel’s presumed immensity. The interior background has the expected gaudiness, but it is rather unimaginative and I actually felt the interior of Peter’s small, loft apartment was more visually creative and interesting.

Johnny Keating’s music score is yet another issue. It is distinctive and melodic at the beginning particularly over the opening credit sequence that features a colorful drawing of the hotel that I liked, but during the second half it becomes too jazzy, loud and obnoxious.

Catherine Spaak with her delicate beauty is a major asset. Not only is she drop-dead gorgeous, but she can act as well. McCarthy gets a good latter career role as the spiritual, but crafty businessman who will stop at almost nothing to get his way. It is also great to see Merle Oberon in her second-to-last film as the perpetually conniving Duchess.

Based on the Arthur Hailey novel it is inevitable to compare this to the classic Grand Hotel, which was far superior. However, the drama is intriguing enough to keep it interesting on a passive level. The scene involving a jammed elevator and the desperate attempts to save the occupants is exciting and well photographed and worth catching simply for that.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 19, 1967

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Richard Quine

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD (Warner Archive)