Category Archives: Obscure Movies

Shirley Thompson Versus the Aliens (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lonely girl meets spaceship.

Shirley Thompson (Jane Harders) is an alienated young adult living in 1956 Australia who one day makes contact with a group of aliens. It happens while her and her biker gang sneak into Luna Park after dark, which is a amusement place for children and when they go into after it’s closed they can go on the rides for free. It’s while doing this that Shirley sees a spaceship and starts communicating with it while the rest of the gang gets scared and leaves. The aliens within the ship tell her that they plan on invading earth and it’s up to her to warn the others of their intent, but if she does it right they’ll reward her with ‘power’, which is what she’s always wanted as she’s felt insignificant otherwise. The aliens then produce a massive rain storm that creates much damage and then the next day they interrupt a radio broadcast to proclaim what they’ve done, but no one believes them especially Shirley’s parents (Marion Jones, John Llewellyn) who thinks it’s a joke. Everyone else responds to Shirley’s alien warnings like she’s a kook, which ends up getting her committed to the mental institution where she then recounts her tale to a cynical staff.

This is the first feature length movie directed by Jim Sharman better known to American audiences for having helmed Rocky Horror Picture Show and to Australians for his work in experimental theater of which he is highly regarded. This film works in line with many of his other Avant Garde efforts where the emphasis is more on the imagery than the story. For mainstream audiences though it may be considered inaccessible as it bucks all areas of conventional storytelling including having it alternate between black and white and color with each scene. There’s also very little dialogue with the focus more on mood. The film does have its share of interesting moments, but how much one appreciates it is completely up to one’s own temperament.

I was struck by how similar the theme was to Sharman’s later film The Night, The Prowler with both movies dealing with an alienated young adult woman still living at home with her parents who feels that no one can understand her and has inner anger/disdain at the world around her. It also has shades of Liquid Skywhich came out 11 years later and dealt with a young woman who befriends some aliens, but instead of being scared of them like everyone else she has a special connection to them and feels as much like a stranger on this planet as they do.

If you’re looking for a typical sci-fi flick then you’ll be sorely disappointed as you won’t even end up seeing any aliens or spaceships. I’m not sure if this was due to budgetary restraints, but in any event the camera stays fully locked on Shirley and becomes more of a satire on life in the burbs and in that regard it succeeds. While not a perfect movie it does have its share of memorable moments especially the ending where Shirley gets strapped to a spinning hospital bed while laughing maniacally.  Why I found this part to be so cool I don’t know, but that’s how the movie works. You either go with the flow or you don’t, but those who are game may find it a fun ride. It’s certainly different than anything you’ll find released today and could only have been made in the early 70’s.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 6, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 11 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Jim Sharman

Studio: Kolossal Piktures

Available: None

The Moonshine War (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Battle over illegal distillery.

John (Alan Alda), who goes by the nickname of Son, and Frank (Patrick McGoohan) were buddies during the war, but now Son has started up a profitable moonshine business while Frank has become a government agent in charge of arresting those that run illegal distilleries. Frank though is also corrupt and willing to look the other way as long as Son gives him a take of the profits, which Son refuses to do. This forces Frank to bring in Emmett (Richard Widmark) and Dual (Lee Hazlewood) who have violent ways of getting what they want, but when Son still refuses it turns into a shootout with the rest of the town sitting on the sidelines and viewing it as spectators.

The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Elmore Leonard who also penned the script, but Richard Quine’s poor direction impedes the story from achieving its full potential. There’s only a couple of interesting bits one of which takes place inside a café where Dual forces a young couple, played by Claude Johnson and a young Teri Garr who sports a brunette wig, to strip and run around naked, but outside of this there’s not much that’s unique. The editing is choppy as the action jumps from the middle of one scene to another with no set-up in-between. The atmosphere, which is supposed to be the 1920’s does not seem authentic, and the homes, which appear more like shacks, look like they were built in an unimaginative way on a studio backlot. The setting is Kentucky but filmed in Stockton, California where the dry, sandy landscape doesn’t look anything like the Bluegrass state.

I’ll give some high marks to the casting, McGoohan is fun as the agent especially as he tries to speak in an odd sounding American accent, but when Widmark comes along he completely upstages him, which is a big problem. There’s so many offbeat characters within the bad guy clan that putting them all together ends up hurting their potential since Widmark steals it away from all of them. I did like Hazelwood, who’s better known as Nancy Sinatra’s singing partner, in a rare acting bit where he’s genuinely creepy, but not used enough to make the lasting impression that it should’ve. The same goes for Suzanne Zenor, making her film debut, who’s quite delightful as the ditzy blonde, (she played the original Chrissy Snow in the first pilot for ‘Three’s a Company’), but needed to be in more scenes to make her presence truly worth it. Alan Alda is also problematic as his character isn’t seen enough to justify having the viewer root for him and things would’ve worked better had it simply been McGoohan versus Widmark.

The ending is amusing seeing the whole town sitting on the riverbank observing the shootout as if it were some sort of sporting event and the explosive finale, which comes as a bit of surprise, isn’t bad either, but the heavy-handed direction really sinks it. In better hands it might’ve worked better, but ultimately comes-off as a head-scratching misfire that is not one of the author’s best work.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 5, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Richard Quine

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive)

Hoodwink (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pretending to be blind.

Martin (John Hargreaves) is in jail for bank robbery and with very little chance for escape he comes up with the idea of pretending to be blind, which he hopes will gain sympathy from the court and ultimately a lighter sentence. The con eventually pays off as he’s transferred to a minimum security prison with only a 3-year sentence to serve even though the Dr.’s who examine him are unable to determine if he’s faking or not and the guards within the prison believe he’s making it up and routinely set traps for him to fall into hoping it will will expose the lie. Things though get complicated when Sarah (Judy Davis), a minister’s wife, takes a liking to him, which allows him to leave the prison grounds during the day, so that he can, under her tutelage, learn to become self-sufficient with his handicap so that he’ll be prepared to live on his own in the real-world once he’s formally released. The two though fall-in-love causing her jealous husband (Dennis Miller) to threaten to come forward with Martin’s charade, which could put him in terrible jeopardy.

To some extent it’s hard to believe this could’ve happened, but it’s all based on the true story of Carl Synnerdahl, who was able to fool everyone that he couldn’t see for over 18 months while inside the Australian penal system and it allowed him, like with Martin, to be given special privileges that he wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. What perplexed me though was that testing someone’s so-called blindness should’ve been easy as you could act like you’re going to poke you’re finger into his eye real quickly and if he’d blink, or recoil his head, then you’d know he was able to see it and was a faker, and yet no one in this movie thinks to do that.

If you’re able to get past this issue, then it’s a fun movie most of the way. I liked the scenes shot at Bathurst Jail, the same prison that Synnderdahl was in, that has a very old-time jailhouse look and quality. I also enjoyed the sumptuous, sprawling countryside view from Sarah’s living room window that could beat or rival any one else’s. That acting is great too with Hargreaves able to create, despite all of his shenanigans, a sympathetic character. Davis though is the scene-stealer, she won the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Supporting Actress, as the sexually repressed wife who’s in constant flux about whether she wants to leave her situation, or stay faithful.

The drama though becomes less compelling when Martin almost immediately admits his ruse to Sarah, who then goes forward with it to her husband even though I thought him trying to pretend he was still blind with them in their house could’ve created some interesting dynamics that unfortunately never get played-out. The affair and her husband’s jealous rage is toned down instead of ramped-up causing the third act, which should’ve had a lot of fireworks, to fizzle. The couple had vast potential to being key players, but instead get treated more like ornaments that don’t throw as much of a monkey wrench into the proceedings as they should’ve, or that you’re expecting.

Spoiler Alert!

The conclusion, which is far different than what occurred in the real-life incident, has Martin stealing a car and escaping, but this leaves too many questions unanswered. Will he eventually get caught, which is most likely, and what happens to him then when the prison system finds out that they had been duped? These issues should’ve been examined and leaving it wide-open isn’t satisfying and I suspect the reason that lead to it doing poorly at the box office.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 5, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Claude Whatham

Studio: New South Wales Film Corporation

Available: DVD (Import Region 2)

The Winnipeg Run (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Winning a snowmobile race.

Randy (Lance Henriksen) has been institutionalized for several years after suffering from PTSD from fighting in Vietnam. His Dr. (Peter Michael Goetz) feels that he’s ready to go back out into the real world, but must continue to take his medications, which Randy refuses to do. He travels back to his hometown in northern Minnesota, but finds obtaining a steady income to be tough, so he participates in a local snowmobile race that offers a cash prize. He does well enough in that it compels him to travel to Canada to take part in a race called The Winnipeg Run, which runs from Manitoba to St. Paul, but as he prepares for the competition his mental problems return.

This marked Henriksen’s film debut as well as Goetz’s and even though Lance has described this project in interviews as being ‘the worst movie he has ever done and will remain the worst movie he’s ever done’, he’s still the best thing about it. He adds conviction and nuance, which allows the character to rise above the middling material and become a multi-dimensional person that you want to root for.

The location shooting is excellent. While it was never shot in Winnipeg, despite its title, but instead Thief River Falls, Minnesota it’s great to see a movie that truly captures the frigid climate of the region. Most films with a Minnesota setting are usually shot in the summer when the weather is pleasant, or done on a soundstage with fake winter effects, but this one goes the extra step to show the massively high snow hills that you can get there, I was born and raised in the region so I know, and the icy clouds of breath that encircles each individual as they walk outside. The cold temps can also be quite brutal on the film equipment, so kudos to the crew for being brave enough to fight the elements in order to bring authenticity. The racing footage isn’t bad either and I could can only think of one other movie, the Disney pic Snowball Expresswhich came out the same year, that has snowmobile racing in it, so it gets credit for originality.

Spoiler Alert!

However, what I didn’t like is that after having this long, drawn-out build-up watching Randy prepare for the race and describing in detail the  grueling aspects of it, it then never actually occurs. Instead we find that, due to his mental illness, it’s all inside his head. While he does get on a snowmobile and drive it around it’s not a part of any competition and just him speeding alongside a lonely highway while his nervous girlfriend (Cynthia Subby) drives in a car next to him and screams for him to come home.

If the writer and director thought that this was some kind of ‘clever twist’ then it was they who had the real mental problem as it’s more of a bait-and-switch to the viewer who are primed for an action packed climax only to be left with something that has no impact at all. Even as a character study it’s misguided and it’s assessment of mental illness quite dubious. While I initially thought Lance’s take of this movie was a bit harsh, as it does start out okay, I could ultimately see why he now considers it a black mark on his resume.

Alternate Title: It Ain’t Easy

Released: November 10, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Maurice Hurley

Studio: Dandelion Films

Available: None

The Stoolie (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Con man heads south.

Roger (Jackie Mason) is a small time crook who works with Police Detective Alex (Dan Frazier) to trap other thieves by using bait money that Alex gives to him in other to set-up criminal deals that will eventually lead to their arrest. Roger though feels he’s shown little respect giving him the gumption to take the bait money and run off with it to Miami. Alex relentlessly chases after him, but finds many obstacles while Roger meets-up with a lonely woman named Sheila (Marcia Jean Kurtz) who was ready to jump off a bridge until he talked her out of it. The two eventually fall-in-love and get married only to have Alex appear at their door demanding his bait money back, which Roger has already spent forcing him to come-up with other underhanded ways to steal it back.

This was Mason’s film debut in what has amounted to being a very short-lived film career with only two other starring vehicles to his resume that were spread far apart and include the critically panned Caddyshcack II in 1988, and then Goldberg – P.I. in 2011. While Mason was already an established nightclub comedian at the time his foray into television had been rocky including the infamous ‘Middle Finger incident’ on the October 18, 1964 live broadcast of the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ that got him banned from appearing on it and effectively blacklisted from going on other shows or movies. While his humor and outspoken politics have made him an acquired taste he comes off here as not only likable, but genuinely endearing. Director John G. Avildsen manages to use Mason’s frumpy physique to his advantage creating a lovable loser type that makes the viewer want to cheer him on from start to finish and really the only reason why this otherwise oddball film is able to work.

Initially I wasn’t sure if the love angle that gets thrown-in halfway through would appeal quite as well, but fortunately Kurtz acts as Mason’s female counterpart even sporting the same curly mop-top making their romance seem organic. I enjoyed too that the after their first meet it doesn’t suddenly cut to showing them immediately in bed together like in so many other 70’s movies, but instead having them touring a parrot farm. In fact the Florida locations get captured well here as Avildsen stays away from the chic side while delving more into it’s emptiness where lonely souls come looking for some happiness.

Frazier is effective and the second act in which the film cuts back and forth between Mason living it up and Frazer doggedly chasing after him is where it gels, but the minute the two get back together it bogs down as there’s no chemistry between them. Mason becomes too much of a passive observer watching Frazier doing all the scheming, but the hero needs to be the one propelling the action. While the charm remains it’s not as strong by the end and the film would’ve been better served had it stayed with the cat-and-mouse theme.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 17, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: John G. Avildsen, George Silano

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video

Tulips (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Choosing love over suicide.

Leland (Gabe Kaplan) is a depressed man who has tried to kill himself several times, but been unsuccessful at it. He hires a hitman named Avocado (Henry Gibson) to shoot him, but Avocado isn’t so sure he wants to do it and advises him that once he decides he’ll leave an ad in the personals section of the newspaper with the word ‘tulips’ in it, which will be the code word for ‘yes’. While Leland awaits his fate he meets Rutanya (Bernadette Peters) who he saves from a burning car after she too tries to kill herself. Eventually they form a relationship, which blossoms into a romance and then marriage only to realize that Avocado has decided to go through with the hit forcing Leland and Rutanya to desperately try to stop him.

While I’ve never been a fan of Kaplan’s acting ability in the past I thought his performance here was alright although the combination of his thick beard and mustache makes him resemble a rabbi and a clean shaven look would’ve been preferred. It’s also a bit perplexing with his extremely bushy head of hair why he would require hair transplants as his character does here.

Peters is delightful, at least at the beginning, but when the two get together the whole thing bogs down into one long  talkfest with nothing much being said that’s funny. The way the two first meet gets botched as initially she bumps into him while roller skating down the road, while also grabbing onto her psychiatrist’s car, which knocks Leland over a bridge wall and he then clings desperately to it in order to avoid falling into the river, but the film then cuts away and we never see how he got out this predicament making it on par with a mindless Road Runner/Wiley E. Coyote cartoon where crazy antics occur without any after effect.

The hit man angle where the intended victim changes his mind had already been done in movies 6 times before this one and therefore wasn’t an original concept nor does it get played-out in a way that’s interesting. Gibson is a good character actor, but here his one-dimensional performance, due mainly to the poor writing, lacks amusement or charisma. There’s also never any action just endless talking, first with an extended bit where Leland contemplates whether he should or shouldn’t look in the newspaper to see if ‘tulips’ is in it, then more discussions about how they can try to stop him and eventually Rutanya sitting down with Acocado directly to try and talk him out of it, which cinematically is not entertaining especially with dialogue that lacks any bite.  The music score is bad too with a silly cartoon-like sound effects that you’d hear on a kiddie show.

Spoiler Alert!

However, it’s the twist ending that I found to be the most annoying as it features a bomb placed by Leland into a car with Avocado and Rutanya inside. First there’s no explanation for how Leland was able to build this bomb as it’s not something just anyone can do, so one has to wonder where he acquired the expertise, but no answer is given. The dumbest thing though is that Leland chases after the vehicle screaming at Rutanya to get out before it goes off and then watches as it explodes convinced she died only to have her reappear later telling him that both she and Avocado where able to get out ‘just in time’, but if that were the case then wouldn’t Leland have noticed since he was looking right at it when it blew up? Also, when the bomb goes off the car doors are shut though it’s hard to believe that Avocado and Rutanya, in their desperation to get out, would’ve made sure to close them when they jumped out.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Rex Bromfield, Al Waxman, Mark Warren

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Crazy Joe (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 8, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Carlo Lizzani

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

Midnite Spares (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for his father.

Steve (James Laurie) returns to his hometown of Sydney to team up with his dad to be a part of a sprintcar racing team. However, when he visits the towing company that his dad owned along with his business partner Tomas (Max Cullen) he cannot find him and is told that he mysteriously disappeared weeks ago without a trace. After further investigation he becomes convinced that it has something to do with a local car thief ring headed by corrupt cop Howard (Tony Barry) and uses the help of tow truck drivers Wimpy (Bruce Spence) and Rabbit (David Argue) to reel them in while also falling for a local girl named Ruth (Gia Carides) much to the chagrin of her conservative mother ( Tessa Mallos).

On the one hand this is a well set-up comedy with all the necessary ingredients to have been a top-notched funny movie. I really enjoyed the character actors who are in top form especially Bruce Spence, probably best known for his starring role in the cult film Storkwho plays a happy-go-lucky mechanic who always has greased caked-on his face no matter where he goes even when off the job and out in public. Tony Barry gives an interesting performance as well. Just a year before this film was shot he in starred in the New Zealand cult classic Goodbye Pork Pie that’s one of the best road movies ever made. In that film he played the nonconformist running from the cops while here plays the obnoxious oppressive authority figure and he’s able to play both types of roles quite convincingly. I also enjoyed the set pieces, which resembles very much the dingy, grimy look of a car repair shop as well as the distinctive score that has a creepy tone to it, which helps accentuate the late-night, underground vibe of the story.

There’s also a few very engaging moments as well including a segment where a guy hijacks a mobile hot dog stand and drives it around the track with the perplexed staff still inside while the sprintcar race is delayed due to an accident, which is pretty funny. I also loved the scene where the thieves steal a car, bring it into their shop and in a matter of literally seconds are able to completely dismantle it piece-by-piece until only its bare shell is left much like the famous scene in The French Connection where a car gets taken a part in the search for drugs, but here it’s done even more quickly and thoroughly.

What I didn’t like was the editing, which is done in too much of a choppy style. It’s very hard to get into the characters when their scenes and conversations are limited to only a couple of minutes and a few lines of dialogue before it quickly cuts away to another scene somewhere else. It would’ve worked better had it slowed the pace down a bit and allowed the elements to percolate instead of having this rushed feel. There’s also a some storylines that had potential, but aren’t followed through enough including the conservative mother of James’s girlfriend, which could’ve been ripe with far more confrontation than it ultimately does.

The action gets captured in too fleeting of a way and there isn’t as much of it as you’d expect despite its reputation as being an action movie. The climactic car chase showdown is too brief though it does feature some good camera angles that makes the viewer feel like their a part of it, but this also ended up taking the life of one of the cameramen, David Brostoff, who got too close to one of the cars and ended up getting run over. (The footage that he shot was left in while the movie is dedicated to his memory)

As crazy as it sounds it also would’ve been nice had it come with an English subtitle option. While the language is in English the Aussie accents are strong and it’s not always completely clear what they’re saying. I felt like I was missing a few words here and there especially with its quick pace where an actor would say a short line and then there’d be an immediate cut to something else.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 17, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Quentin Masters

Studio: Roadshow Films

Available: DVD-R (Domestic Import Region 0)

The Last of the Knucklemen (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Isolated miners living together.

A group of miners, some of them with criminal records and no other means of employment, survive together in the remotest area of the Outback as they make a living working for Tarzan (Gerard Kennedy) who leads the team and gives them their paychecks. At night they sleep via bunkbeds in a small tin shack where they also play card games, drink, and occasionally brawl. Pansy (Michael Preston) is the de facto leader, who uses his quick temper and husky build to intimidate anyone who challenges his authority. The only one he doesn’t fight is Tarzan, but only because he’s the employer. Then a new man arrives named Tom (Peter Hehir) with a mysterious past. He has karate skills that allow him to take-on Pansy’s fist-fitting ability, but Pansy has a secret weapon of his own when he brings in Carl (Steve Rackman) from a nearby town who’s a huge guy with very few teeth, who he feels can beat Tom in a fight and everyone else in the camp takes bets on who they think can win.

The film is based on the stage play of the same name written by John Powers who himself had never worked in a mining camp, but had always been intrigued with the ruggedness, wildness, and overall isolation of them after growing up hearing bawdy tales from his Uncle Harry who had been employed at one of them. 20 years after hearing his uncle’s stories he then decided to turn those rustic tales into a play while also incorporating it with the adventures of Ronald Biggs who was a train robber who managed to evade the authorities for many years. Pitting a known criminal trying to just hide-out at a remote camp with the gruff nature of the men who worked there he felt would make for an interesting dynamic and the play, which opened in 1973 in Australia and 10 years later in the U.S. where it starred Dennis Quaid, was met with rave reviews.

Director Tim Burstall was looking to do a male bonding pic and had a choice between doing this one or The Odd Angry Shotwhich was reviewed last week, and came to the determination that this was the better fit. He particularly liked the outback setting and became focused on finding the most remote town to film it in and eventually chose the itty-bitty one of Andamooka, which at the time had only 316 people living there and today has even less. While the town certainly met the rustic quality it had no police and the inhabitants, much like the characters in the story, had previous criminal records forcing the producer to sleep with a gun at his side and the production’s payroll under his pillow. It also at times caused interruptions with the filming when one day one of the locals threatened to blow up the set with a stick of dynamite, which sent the cast and crew running, until the special effects man realized the stick had no detonator.

The interior scenes were done on a soundstage in Melbourne, though it’s so impressively camouflaged you’d never know it. My only complaint with the outdoor shots is that filming took place during September and October, which is Springtime in Australia where temps aren’t as hot, and in fact they were quite chilly, so that intense hot Outback feel, which is the whole basis of the story, never really comes through.

As for the story, it’s surprisingly engaging despite the fact that there’s really not much of a plot and everything hinders on the interactions of the characters. Fortunately the characters are so well defined that you enjoy and are even intrigued at how they all relate to each other and the love-hate relationship that they share. One of the most gripping moments has nothing to do with the climactic fight, but instead on an intense poker game between Pansy and the elderly Methusela (Michael Duffield), where each tries to bluff the other while also raising the money stakes to drastic heights.

The fight itself, which you wait through the whole movie to see, wasn’t as exciting, or captured in as intense of a way, as I was expecting. The animosity between Tom and Pansy wasn’t played-up enough either and only comes to a head during the third act while I felt it should’ve been brewing from the very start. Tom as a character is quite dull and is seen a lot less than Methusela who’s the scene-stealer. The sequence between Tom and Carl’s battle is surprisingly quick while the big showdown between Tarzan and Pansy gets captured from a distance and shown over the closing credits, which I found quite disappointing. There’s no answer to who ultimately wins the fight either, which despite the film’s other good qualities, is a big letdown.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 11, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Tim Burstall

Studio: Hexagon Productions

Available: DVD (Import Region 0)

Mahoney’s Last Stand (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to find solitude.

Leroy Mahoney (Alexis Kanner) wants to be away from the rat race and out in the Canadian wilderness where he feels he can live in peaceful harmony with nature. He finds a rundown home in a vacant area and begins the process of renovating it only to meet a woman named Miriam (Maud Adams) who lives nearby and routinely comes over to visit. Felix (Sam Waterston) is his old friend from the city who hitches a ride to the country and moves-in. Later, so does Felix’s girlfriend Joy (Diana Leblanc) making Mahoney feel like he’ll never find the solitude he craves and will always be surrounded by people who annoy him.

The film was the inspiration of Kanner, who not only starred in it, but wrote the script, co-directed, and even produced. The quirky tone is what helps it stand out as it’s a mixture of the man-in-the-wilderness theme meets the counter culture and to a great degree it works. Some of my favorite moments are things that might seem off-putting, or even boring when put in any other film, but here it helps add to the offbeat quality like the scene featuring Mahoney sitting on his porch endlessly twiddling with his garden hoe, or the segment where he remains trapped in his outhouse as he’s too afraid to come out and meet with Miriam when she arrives unannounced.

The Mahoney character, if you can get past his odd accent and crusty exterior, is quite engaging. Initially he comes off as this rugged individualist only to end up getting scared late at night over the least little noise that hears outside. The scene where he tries to pretend he’s a seasoned horseback rider in an attempt to impress Miriam and his love-hate friendship with Felix and Joy are all amusing as well, but what I really liked is that he remains a true introvert all the way through. Most other films make the broad presumption that everyone secretly craves companionship and can only be truly happy with other around, but here Mahoney only finds his ultimate utopia when he’s finally all alone.

The film’s rustic landscape, which was shot in and around King City, Ontario, helps add to the ambiance. It was filmed between October and December of 1971 with the idea that filming would wrap before the snow and cold moved in as there was no heating in the cabin, but fortunately an early season snow hit the production in late November and gets incorporated into the story. Although it only blanketed the area with an inch or two it still at least gave a preview to what living in Canada year round would be like and if you’re going to do a pic about the rugged adventures of dealing with the northern climate then there better be some snow and cold in the mix or it’s just not fully authentic otherwise.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s ending really stands out as it recreates the feeling of solitude in a way I’ve never seen done before and will stick with you long after it’s over. It features Mahoney wondering around his property naked with only the faint sound of a water drip in the background, which gives the viewer a total sense of peace and freedom and has a soothing meditation-like quality.

Alternate Title: Mahoney’s Estate

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: Unreleased theatrically until 1976.

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Harvey Hart, Alexis Kanner

Studio: Topaz Productions

Available: None