Category Archives: Movies with a rural setting

Amateur Night at the Dixie Bar and Grill (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Five minutes of fame.

A bar on the outskirts of a nameless small town becomes the social setting for a group of everyday people who flock to it one night in hopes of winning an amateur act contest. Every one of the contestants is fighting some inner demon or insecurity and critiqued by a judge (Henry Gibson) that is being bribed by different parties to choose their candidate over the others. There’s also a dangerous serial killer lurking about known as the Disco Killer, who has shot up several other venues in the area and may be eyeing the Dixie bar as his next target.

This TV-movie, which was written and directed by Joel Schumacher, seems way too similar to Robert Altman’s Nashville to be considered original. Clearly that film was this movie’s inspiration and this one does not go far enough with the concept and would’ve been better had its runtime been extended and the characters more fleshed out. Certain actors, such as Don Johnson and Candy Clark, are underused and there’s not enough of an understanding of the town that the bar was in. Some shots of rundown buildings in an isolated area would’ve helped give the viewer a better feel for how bored these people were and why they would be motivated to go on stage and essentially make fools of themselves just for the lofty chance at somehow escaping their otherwise hopeless existence with a small shot at fame.

What I did like is that the entire story takes place in one setting. The only time the camera ventures outside of the cramped place is when it goes into its parking lot for brief periods, but otherwise this bar is the center of the universe for these characters, which for many small town people, especially before the advent of the internet, is what bars such as these represented.

The stage acts themselves were a bit disappointing and could’ve been played-up more as I was expecting something a little more along the lines of stuff seen on the old Gong Show or stupid human tricks from David Letterman. The scene where a big fight breaks out in a dressing room that is far more exciting than anything occurring on stage does allow for some irony and the part where actor Rick Hurst attempts to crack open a coconut by using nothing more than his bare teeth is engaging, but more acts in this vein was needed.

Having Tanya Tucker appear as this shy woman who lacks confidence despite possessing the talent and walks off the stage in humiliation at the start only to redeem herself later, is too manufactured. I much preferred Pat Ast as this homely, overweight woman who unexpectedly wows everyone with some rousing showstopping numbers that should’ve made her the winner instead. I also felt that the so-called prize, which was simply the privilege to appear on stage at that same bar for two straight weeks, was too skimpy. People have bigger dreams than that even in a dusty small town and want more of a reward like  a trip to Hollywood, New York or a contract with an agent in order for them to be excited enough to go through what they do.

There is also no payoff to the Disco Killer storyline. He gets discussed quite a bit and there are even TV news reports about him, but then he never appears, which feels like a letdown. I’m not saying there needed to be a bloody sequence where a killer shoots people dead, but maybe a scenario where the contestants, who are quite competitive with one another otherwise, manage to come together enough to subdue the bad guy, or some other lighthearted element that would’ve at least brought a conclusion to the subplot instead of just letting it hang.

Sheree North as an embittered alcoholic easily steals it and has some of the best lines. There is also a long tracking shot in which the camera starts out at the back of the bar and then slowly weaves its way up onto the stage that is great too. The film certainly has its share of moments and as a TV-Movie it’s impressive, but lacks finesse for the big screen.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 8, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Director: Joel Schumacher

Studio: Universal

Available: None at this time.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)

 

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: The one room schoolhouse.

Thunderbolt (Clint Eastwood) is a former bank robber hiding out as a Montana preacher while trying to avoid Red (George Kennedy) and Eddie (Geoffrey Lewis) who are his former crime partners that mistakenly believe he double-crossed them. One day they manage to catch up with him and try gunning him down during one of his church services. Thunderbolt escapes by hopping into a car driven by Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges). Despite their contrasting temperaments and ages of the two end up hitting-it-off and even manage to bring Red and Eddie into the fold once it’s explained to them that Thunderbolt hadn’t sold them out. Now the four plan to rob the same bank again using a 20 millimeter cannon to break into the safe.

This was the Michael Cimino’s first foray behind the camera after having success co-writing the screenplays to Silent Running and Magnum Force.  For the most part it’s a success and I particularly enjoyed the way he captures Montana’s majestic landscape, which helps add a strong flavor to the story. Some of the comical bits and throwaway lines are hilarious and gives the film an edge over the usual bank robbery storyline.

The drawback is that like with Cimino’s other films it takes too long for the story to get going. The Thunderbolt’s backstory doesn’t get explained until almost 50 minutes in and we never learn much of anything about Lightfoot or why he would simply appear almost out of nowhere in this tiny, isolated town for literally no reason. There are certain scenarios that get introduced, but offer no payoff and the robbery itself gets pulled off a little too easily while not taking enough advantage of its unique premise.

The acting though is uniformly excellent including Bridges who is at his most engaging and even looks weirdly sexy when disguised as a woman and I loved the part when he talks to himself in the mirror. Kennedy gets one of his better post Cool Hand Luke roles as the cantankerous Red and Lewis is funny as his dim-witted partner.

The film also has some great bits for its supporting cast. Cliff Emmich is amusing as an overweight security guard with a porn fetish and Jack Dodson has a memorable moment when he finds to his shock that his teenage daughter isn’t quite as ‘innocent’ as he thought she was.

Bill McKinney is goofy as a crazy man driving around in a car with a trunk full of rabbits, but like with a lot of other things in the film it introduces something that doesn’t get fully explained including the fact that the character seems to be acting erratically because he is overcome by toxic gas fumes from his own car, but when Thunderbolt and Lightfoot take over the car and drive it for themselves they don’t for some reason end up having the same issue.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 22, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Director: Michael Cimino

Rated R

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

House on Straw Hill (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10      

4-Word Review: Writer battles his secretary.

Paul (Udo Kier) is a writer who had success with his first novel and now working on his much anticipated second one. To help him get the manuscript done faster he hires a secretary (Linda Hayden) who comes to his isolated, countryside home to type it up, but the two don’t get along. Soon Paul becomes convinced that she is out to kill him and he just may be right.

This pseudo horror film has an enticing visual style.  I liked the close-up shots of the typewriter keys banging on the paper as well as the giant wheat field surrounding the home, which to a degree helps create an interesting atmosphere, but writer/director James Kenelm Clarke goes back to these things too often eventually making the film one-dimensional and monotonous.

The film is also loaded with a lot of explicit sex. If this were a porno then that would be great, but for an intended horror film it goes off the mark completely. We really don’t need to see Linda constantly masturbating. Having Paul find a dildo in her suitcase as he does would’ve been enough. Linda’s ultimate seduction of Paul’s girlfriend (Fiona Richmond) in a provocative lesbian sequence is completely pointless to the story and clearly just done to grab the crowd that’s into watching mindless sleaze.

The characters come off as weird, half-human caricatures whose motivations and actions are confusing. Both Paul and Linda needed to be better fleshed out for the viewer to have any compelling reason to care what happens to either one of them. The scene where Linda masturbates in the wheat field and is then attacked and raped by some locals only for her to turn-the-tables on them and kill them is particularly stupid because she is somehow able to immediately compose herself afterwards and come back to the house and act like it never happened when with anyone else it would’ve been an emotionally traumatic experience that would’ve taken months maybe even years to get over if even then.

The film’s twist ending is particularly weak and the film should’ve used flashbacks and other subtle clues to help the viewer figure it out for themselves the reasons for Linda’s motivations instead of having it all explained to them by her at the end. I also didn’t like the title as it is too reminiscent to Straw Dogs, which also took place in a remote home in the English countryside and dealt with a rape by some of the local thugs. This might’ve been intentional, but it was a big mistake because it just reminds the viewer of that movie, which was far better.

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My Rating: 3 out of 10

Alternate Titles: Trauma, Expose

Released: March 15, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 24Minutes

Rated X

Director: James Kenelm Clarke

Studio: Norfolk International Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Final Terror (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer in the woods.

A group of young forest rangers go camping out in the woods only to find themselves quietly stalked by a menacing presence. When some of them go missing and then turn up dead they become convinced that it was caused by Eggar (Joe Pantoliano) a member of the group who was kicked-out for his anti-social behavior, but the killer may actually be more evasive than they thought and somehow able to track them down no matter where they try to go.

The film takes a different approach to most other ‘80s horror flicks in that it emphasizes the tension instead of the shocks or gore, which might’ve worked had the story been better plotted and the characters more rounded. As it is though it comes off like a weak rip-off to Deliverance and nothing more.

The characters are less cardboard here, but the viewer is still forced to slog through a lot of formulaic stuff that seems to have to appear any scary movie dealing with campers including the tacky ghost story told around a campfire, which in this case is even cornier than usual. The opening sequence, which was filmed later after the rest of the movie had already been shot and done by a different director, is completely pointless and should’ve been discarded.

The biggest issue I had though with the movie is that you barely ever see the killer. In fact out of its entire runtime you probably only see the killer’s figure for less than a minute. When you do spot him he comes off looking like a giant human-sized fur ball made by Stan and Marty Kroft for one of their Kroft Superstars show.

The acting is okay and much of the cast went on to have distinguished careers including Daryl Hannah and Rachel Ward who both look beautiful and should’ve been given more to do. Since this was filmed in 1981 it is technically Adrian Zmed’s film debut who manages to do a pretty good howl.

The music, which was inspired by Billy Idol’s ‘White Wedding’ has a good funky beat and the killer’s ultimate demise is well shot, but overall it’s rather lame with not enough to distinguish it from slew of other slasher films already out there. I also thought the title was stupid. Just exactly what is so final about this terror? It never gets explained or addressed and was apparently just tacked on once they found a distributor 2 years after it was already shot. The original working title was ‘Bump in the Night’, which would’ve been better.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 1, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Rated R

Director: Andrew Davis

Studio: Aquarius Releasing

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video 

The Beast Within (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen turns into monster.

On the night of their honeymoon Eli and Caroline (Ronny Cox, Bibi Besch) become stranded on the side of a road. Eli goes for help while Caroline remains in the car only to end up getting raped by a mysterious beast that escapes from a nearby farmhouse. 17 years later Michael (Paul Clemens), who became the product of that ugly incident, begins to show signs of erratic behavior that doctors are unable to find the cause to. Eli and Caroline decide to go back to Nioba, Mississippi where the assault took place in order to find out who it was that raped her and see if he or his family may have any genetic abnormalities that Michael may have inherited. However, before they can do anything Michael’s condition worsens and he changes into a monstrous, homicidal maniac that resembles the spirit of an abused child that had long ago been buried away by the townspeople.

One of the pluses to this film is its supporting cast that is filled with B-movie regulars who do their best to liven up the proceedings with their eccentric characterizations. Logan Ramsey is a lot fun as the town’s newspaper editor and in some ways proves even more entertaining as a corpse. R.G. Armstrong is good as the town’s physician and I especially liked his squeeze toy. Luke Askew has a few choice moments as an embalmer and Don Gordon, who wears a wig, has a solid bit near the end as a corrupt judge.  John Dennis Johnston as an overprotective father and L.Q. Jones as the sheriff help round it out.

Unfortunately the three leads are boring although I was amused at how much Besch resembles actress Eleanor Parker who was star Clemen’s mother in real-life. Clemens though as an actor is weak and looks too creepy from the beginning especially his eyes which make his transformation into a monster less dramatic and would’ve worked better had he had more of a clean-cut blonde, blue-eyed look.

Tom Holland’s script tries to cover every type of horror niche by treating the viewer to elements of southern gothic, ghost stories, possession, monsters, slashers and gore, which may sound interesting, but eventually becomes overplayed. There are also some loopholes to it that doesn’t quite make sense and the rape segment shouldn’t have been shown right away, but instead used as a flashback later on. Also, Michael is described by his father as being ‘normal kid’ who never showed any signs of odd behavior, but it would’ve been more vivid had we seen him as a regular teen instead of it starting out with him already acting strangely.

The transformation scene in which Michael turns into a grotesque looking creature might actually make you sick to your stomach, but it’s impressive. This was the first film to use air bladders, which were made up of condoms that were connected to air hoses that were put underneath the actor’s face casting and then inflated to give the appearance of the skin ‘bubbling’, which is pretty cool and worth checking out for this scene alone, which is by far the best moment in the movie.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 12, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Phillippe Mora

Studio: United Artists

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

The Cars That Ate Paris (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lots of car accidents.

The residents of a poor Australian town known as Paris come up with a scheme to cause car accidents to those traveling through it which will allow them to salvage what’s left of the vehicle and resell it for goods or cash.  Things go smoothly for a while until Arthur (Terry Camilleri) and his brother George (Rick Scully) become victims to one these ‘accidents’. George dies, but Arthur survives and is too traumatized to get back into a car again or leave town. He takes up residence with the town’s mayor (John Meillon) who gets him a job as a parking enforcer, which causes problems when Arthur gives a citation to some rowdy young people who do not take kindly to this and seek a violent revenge.

This decidedly odd story marks director Peter Weir’s feature film debut and it’s hard to know what genre to place it into. Originally it was intended as a wacky comedy, but then dark elements were added in. Eventually it was distributed as a horror film, but it didn’t do well at the box office, so it was reissued as an art film and only fared slightly better. The film has managed to obtain a cult following and the story is original with funny moments, but the unexpectedly gory ending could leave some viewers cold as it did when it was first screened at the Cannes Film Festival back in ‘74.

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One of the best things about the movie is the casting of Camilleri in the lead. He’s very soft-spoken and has an almost transparent demeanor, which helps heighten the interest because you become intrigued at seeing how this schmuck is going to potentially take down this small town criminal organization, which would’ve been fun, but unfortunately the plot doesn’t get played-out in quite that way.

Meillon is solid as the mayor and I enjoyed seeing how his character puts up this calm façade while simultaneously trying to bottle up all the tension that he has inside. Bruce Spence is effective as the town crazy as well as Chris Haywood playing an average-joe who seems quite benign and good-natured at the beginning only to become increasingly more menacing as the film progresses.

The entire movie was shot on-location in Sofala, New South Wales which has a population of only 208 people and quite possibly the narrowest main street of any town in the world. Weir captures its rundown look well and helps convey how poor and isolated the residents were, which allows the viewer to understand why the people resorted to such desperate measures. However, I didn’t like how these same people immediately flee the town the minute the young adults get out-of-control. People who’ve lived somewhere all their lives become emotionally bonded to it and will not move the moment something goes wrong. They would try to control the threat if they could and only up-and-leave months or years later if they had to. Besides where would these people go as they had no money and limited job skills.

If you’re into offbeat comedy then this one may do for a slow evening although those looking for something in the horror vein will be disappointed.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 10, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Weir

Studio: The Australian Film Corporation

Available: DVD

Persona (1966)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two women become one.

Elisabet (Liv Ullmann) is a famous stage actress who one day decides to quit speaking. Alma (Bibi Andersson) is a nurse at a mental hospital in charge of trying to get Elisabet to talk again, but her efforts prove futile, so the hospital administrator (Margaretha Krook) offers the two her island cottage hoping the quiet, secluded locale will prove more beneficial. As the days wear on Alma begins seeing Elisabet less as a patient and more like a therapist and divulges secrets about her life to her, which causes Alma to feel quite close to Elisabet and treat her almost like a confidant. Then she reads a letter that Elisabet has written where she describes Alma in a condescending way, which creates tension between the two that eventually spills over into a long ongoing confrontation.

This film was considered for many years to be one of the most bizarre and shocking movies ever made and this is mainly due to the strange and eclectic mix of images that gets shown at the beginning. Visions of a lamb being slaughtered, a nail getting pounded into a hand and a close-up of an erect penis flash before the screen while later there is even stock footage of a man setting himself on fire and moments where the film itself gets a hole burned through it.

For me the more subtle moments is what I enjoyed with my favorite scene being the one that occurs in the early morning hours when Elisabet quietly walks into Alma’s room as she sleeps while we hear the distant sound of a boat horn blowing in the background. The shot where the left side of Elisabet’s face gets superimposed next to the right side of Alma’s is also quite amazing.

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There have been many interpretations through the years over what this film’s ultimate message is. For me it shows how we are more alike than different and how what bonds two people to each may not always be readily apparent and might be something that comes out much later after initially seeming like they are two opposites. I also think it is a great examination at how fragile and interchangeable societal roles can be where someone can seem like the stronger one at one point only to later be shown as the weaker. Alma’s emotional meltdown is the most striking especially after seeming so confident and stable at first while Elisabet’s silence is initially perceived as a rejection to the ugly world around her, but later gets exposed as being more of a rejection of herself and the selfish nature that she harbors.

Andersson, who ironically and sadly can no longer speak in real-life after suffering a debilitating stroke in 2009, gives an excellent performance and I enjoyed how her character exudes ugly emotions like jealousy, envy and even anger and yet still manages to remain likable and relatable. Ullmann has the challenge of keeping her character interesting despite saying very little, but with her ever expressive eyes she does.

The scenic locale of the Faro island where this was filmed is nice, but a patient and doctor sharing someone else’s seaside resort and treating it more like a retreat than a therapy session seemed dubious and almost enough to make anyone fake mental illness if it could get them time off to go there. There is also no explanation to Alma’s fiancée and his feelings about her staying with Elisabet and not him. The sudden arrival of Elisabet’s husband is equally confusing. I liked the scene due to the symbolism that it brings out, but I didn’t understand how he was able to find them at such a remote location especially since he appeared to be blind. The segment seems almost like a dream, which is how I had initially interpreted it when I first saw this film year’s earlier, but it’s never made clear.

On the whole though these issues prove minor and in many ways help make the film even more interesting. My only real complaint is when Alma speaks to Elisabet in regards to her child and the camera stays glued onto Elisabet’s face, which captures her increasingly pained expressions, which is great, but then the scene gets played over while showing Alma’s face as she says the exact same things again, which was too repetitious in a film that is otherwise quite brilliant and a landmark in many ways.

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My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: October 18, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Instant Video

Mad Max 2 (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 10 out of 10

4-Word Review: A battle for gas.

Years after a nuclear holocaust has depleted the planet former rogue cop Max (Mel Gibson) travels the scorched countryside looking for food and fuel. He meets up with a pilot (Bruce Spence) who guides him to an oil refinery that is under attack by a gang of marauders led by Lord Humungus (Kjell Nilsson). Max agrees to help out those trapped inside by driving a tanker truck carrying the fuel out of the refinery and through the makeshift gauntlet, but even he wasn’t prepared for the relentless and violent attack that awaits him.

The film is such a massive improvement over the first installment that viewers could just skip that one and go straight to this as it is far more polished and comes off like an epic while the first seemed more like a rough draft done by amateurs looking to get their feet wet. All the problems that I had with the first one get smoothed out here including a good intro that helps explain how the characters got to where they are. Dean Semler’s widescreen photography of the vast, flat desert landscape is outstanding and the violence is far more graphic, although significant portions of it were trimmed to achieve the R-rating, but it still realistically replicates the savage nature of the desperate characters living in a lawless land and willing to do whatever it takes to get what they want.

The vehicle chase at the end is one of the best ever filmed. The editing is quick with no ill-advised slow motion sequences or annoying cutaway or close-ups. The action happens just like it would in real-life where everything is split-second. The good guys don’t miraculously avoid injury or death either and in fact there’s enough bloodshed from both sides that you begin to wonder if anyone will make it, which creates far more authentic tension than most action pics. Yet what I really liked was that there were no irritating computerized effects. The vehicles used are all real with expert stunt driving and incredible stunt work that rates as some of the most dangerous ever to be tried on film.

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The only minor letdown is the fact that Gibson’s character no longer has that clean-cut, choirboy image and is now more of the moody, clichéd loner dressed in a getup that doesn’t look much different than the bad guys. The first film had more of an interesting contrast, but here he at least gets partnered with a dog, which the producers managed to save from being euthanized, and a feral boy (Emil Minty) who has a nice ability to throw a mean metal boomerang.

Many critics at the time considered this to be the best action flick to have come out of the ‘80s, but I’d consider this to be quite possibly the best action movie ever made! Absolutely everything clicks from the first shot to the last and remains intense, exciting and gripping even after repeated viewings. However, watching it on the small screen will not do it justice and only broadcasting it in the cinema or a very large screen HD TV will do.

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My Rating: 10 out of 10

Alternate Title: The Road Warrior

Released: December 24, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated R

Director: George Miller

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Desperate man finds water.

After he is betrayed by his two friends (L.Q. Jones, Strother Martin) and forced to survive in the middle of the desert without the benefit of food, water, a gun or even a horse Cable Hogue (Jason Robards) goes on a mad search for an oasis. After four days in the heat he collapses and just as he is ready to die he suddenly finds water in the most unlikely place. He uses this untapped spring to create a way station for the stagecoaches that travel through the area and becomes quite rich, but deep down he harbors the dark desire to get revenge on the two who wronged him and one day he finally gets his chance.

Theoretically a person can survive up to 4 ½ days, or 100 hours, without water if they are in a climate with a temperature of 72, but in much hotter conditions such as the one shown here it would be far less, so having the character survive like he does seems to be a an extreme stretch, but if you can get past that then the film is quite enjoyable at least at the beginning. The script was written by John Crawford and Edmund Penney who spent the majority of their careers working as character actors in B-movies and this was their one and only foray as writers. The story’s biggest asset is the main character that is expertly portrayed by the gifted Robards. His determination to beat long odds and find success even as he starts from rock bottom should resonate with most viewers and the character’s grit meshes well with director Sam Peckinpah’s perennial theme of rugged individualism.

The addition of David Warner as a dubious minister who helps Cable build his station is excellent and the film could’ve been an engaging buddy movie had it remained at this level. Unfortunately it felt the need to add in a love interest in the form of Stella Stevens, sans make-up, who portrays a whore that takes a liking to Cable. Stevens is not as strong of an actor as Warner and doesn’t know how to carry a scene like he does, so her time in front of the camera is boring and does nothing but bog down the pace while pushing Warner’s character out, which severely hurts the film’s rugged but whimsical chemistry.

Spoiler Alert!

Strother Martin’s character becomes yet another issue. He again gets straddled with the creepy, cowardly bad guy role of which is plays to perfection, but eventually made it seem almost like typecasting. To some extent I was happy to see him become humanized as it went along, but I didn’t like how Cable decides to leave his way station to him instead of the Warner character as he was the one who helped build it. Maybe Cable realized that with the invention of the automobile his station would no longer be prosperous and he would then be sticking Martin with a stinker instead of the goldmine that he thought, which is okay, but then he saves Martin’s life just a few minutes after he was ready to kill him, which became too much of a contradiction.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The film has some funny moments, but I didn’t like the fast motion running as it made it seem too cartoon-like. The numerous potshots at religion and those that expound on it are hilarious and I enjoyed how Peckinpah looks at capitalism from both sides where it is shown to greatly benefit an individual who is able to take advantage of a market demand, but also how it can coldly abandoned that same person the second that demand goes away.  The first 40 minutes are great, but then the story loses steam with comical moments that become too drawn out and have little to do with the main story as well as a protracted ending that really fizzles.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 8, 1970

Runtime: 2Hours 1Minute

Rated R

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

It Rained All Night the Day I Left (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stuck in the desert.

Robert and Leo (Tony Curtis, Louis Gossett Jr.) are two losers working as gun runners who transport their goods in an old beat-up VW that looks to be seriously on its last leg. They meet up with The Colonel (Sally Kellerman) who is the widow of an actual Colonel that fought during WW II. She is now living alone with her nineteen year-old daughter Suzanna (Lisa Langlois) in an isolated ranch in the middle of the African desert. She hires Robert and Leo to help her oversee the water that she pumps to a nearby village. Since she feels that the members of this village had something to do with her late husband’s murder she has cut off their supply to it and only lets them have access to it at certain times of the day, which the two men feel is harsh. They do some investigating on their own and believe that it is neighboring rancher Killian (John Vernon) who is the real culprit to the murder, but trying to convince The Colonel of this, who has a romantic interest in Kilian, is another matter completely.

This obscure, low budget film is pretty much a botched mess from the get-go. Too much emphasis is put on comedy, but filmed by people who have no idea what is funny which forces the actors to carry-on with broadly written banter and insipid slapstick-like scenarios that is intended to be humorous, but falls resoundingly flat instead. The story and setting has some potential, but resorts to contrived, uninspired romance that becomes completely boring.

I’ll give Kellerman credit for lasting over six decades in the business, but her acting never seems to be effective. Her character is supposed to be a domineering, tough-as-nails lady, or at least that is how she is introduced as she even insists that the men refer to her as ‘sir’, but this quickly evaporates until she becomes just another aging, lonely female looking for love and companionship, which isn’t compelling, or original. Langlois as the daughter is equally transparent while delivering her lines as if she were half asleep. Why an attractive young lady such as herself would ever fall for a struggling 55-year-old man like the one Curtis plays here makes little sense and is pretty dumb.

The film is saved to a minor degree by the presence of Curtis. He was a top billed star during the ‘50s and 60s, but by the ‘80s his career had plummeted severely to the point that he was accepting minor, supporting roles in direct-to-video fare that next to no one saw. This film isn’t much better than those, but here at least he retains his engaging persona and helps lift the dead material to a somewhat tolerable level and his pairing with Gossett is odd enough to make it semi-intriguing.

This is a sad, almost embarrassing follow-up project for director Nicolas Gessner who had achieved critical acclaim with the Jodie Foster hit The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane. Why he would choose this oddball thing to tackle next is a mystery as I’m sure he must’ve been offered better scripts, but in either case it’s a misfire that never manages to click at all.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 6, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 24Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Nicolas Gessner

Studio: Gaumont

Available: None at this time.