Category Archives: Obscure Movies

Warm Nights on a Slow Moving Train (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Prostitute on the weekend.

Jenny (Wendy Hughes) is an elementary catholic school teacher during the week, but on weekends she’s a prostitute riding a train that travels across the Australian countryside. She picks up lonely men that she meets at the train’s bar and takes them to her cabin for sex, but makes sure they’ve left by 3 AM. While she’s friendly and conversational with them during the night by the next day she virtually ignores them. She does this to help pay for her handicapped brother’s needs and for many years she’s able to juggle these dual lifestyles without much of a hitch. Then she meets a suave businessman (Colin Fields) who gets her involved in an assassination plot that not only disrupts her routine, but sends her precariously close to losing her freedoms.

Director Bob Ellis said the idea for the film was inspired by a long train ride that he took with actor Denny Lawrence and the two wrote the script during the duration of their trip. In order to get the needed funding it was contingent that Wendy Hughes be cast in the lead, which Ellis felt was wrong for the part, but eventually agreed to simply to get the film made. Ultimately though he and the film’s producer, Ross Dimsey, had a different vision for the story and Dimsey greatly trimmed the final cut turning what Ellis felt was one of the best scripts he had ever written into something he would later disown. The full director’s cut had been stored at his residence and he was hoping to eventually release it to the public, but it got destroyed during a house fire.

The version definitely has issues with the biggest one being the slow, plodding pace. I was also disappointed that it starts with Jenny already a seasoned hooker as I would’ve been more interested in seeing how she came up with the idea and seen the awkward moments she most assuredly would’ve gone through when she first jumped in and did it. The fact that she had no ‘Plan-B’ for the potential times when a male client might get aggressive, or not promptly leave at the agreed to time, was a weak point for me. There’s one scene where one of her johns follows her out of the train and won’t leave her alone, but she calls out to a nearby security officer to get him away from her, but if she’s a seasoned sex worker she should have another line of self-defense to use, like a gun or something, to take out if things got out-of-control and no one else was around to help her and the fact that she doesn’t have this makes it seem like she’s not as streetwise as we’re supposed to believe.

Having Jenny suddenly let down her guard and fall for one of her johns (Colin Friels) didn’t make much sense either. After years of being defensive around her clients why now get all emotional about this one who comes-off just as sleazy and aggressive and just as potentially dangerous? The assassination subplot doesn’t get introduced until 60-minutes in and the way she’s able to off the target by simply scratching the guy lightly on his back with a fingernail dipped in poison seemed much too easy.

I did like the juxtaposition of a catholic school teacher being a prostitute, but the film doesn’t explore this contradiction enough. You’d think after having done this for a long time her superiors might catch-on, or have it filter back to them, which could’ve created more conflict and added tension to a story that for the most part is too leisurely paced to hold one’s sustained attention.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 10, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bob Ellis

Studio: Filmpac Distribution

Available: dvdlady.com

Libido (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Four stories about sex.

The genesis for this movie came about during a series of workshops held in southern Australia that was sponsored by directors and producers as a way to help writers craft a good story and create believable characters. The challenge was for each writer to come up with a different story built around a same theme, in this case sex, or the sex drive. Four of the best stories picked were then produced by the Australian Council for the Arts and put into the film. A sequel was planned called ‘The Bed’, which would’ve had 4 stories dealing around the idea of a bed in someway, but ultimately the funding was never able to be attained.

The first segment is called ‘The Husband’ and was written by Craig McGregor and directed by John B. Murray and is the weakest. It details the plight of a husband named Jonathan (Bryon Williams) who becomes jealous when his wife Penelope (Elke Neidhardt) starts to openly fool around with Harold (Mark Albiston) who had been the best-man at their wedding. The segment does have a provocative dream-like moment where Penelope has sex with four different men, but outside of that it’s rather flat. The dynamics of the marriage are confusing and both the characters and relationship needed to be fleshed-out better for the situation to make sense and it relies too heavily on explicit moments thrown in to make it seem more interesting than it really is.

‘The Child’ is the title of the second segment and was written by Hal Porter and directed by Tim Burstall. The setting is the early 19th century and deals with a young boy named Martin (John Williams) whose father dies on the Titanic. His mother (Jill Foster) then begins a relationship with a suitor named David (Bruce Barry), which causes Martin to feel alone and neglected. This though changes when a governess named Sybil (Judy Morris) is brought in to take care of him while the mother is away. Martin grows a special fondness for Sybil and even begins to fall-in-love with her despite their age difference, but he then becomes shocked and upset when he finds her having sex with David in the backyard greenhouse, which ultimately leads to tragedy.

This story has a lot of potential and for awhile had me intrigued. It’s also interesting seeing Morris, who is probably best known as the uptight college professor in The Plumberplaying a polar opposite here as someone who is sexually promiscuous. Unfortunately the story leaves open too many loose ends, which I found frustrating.

The third story, which had to be cut from the Spain release as it was feared it would offend too many people, is called ‘The Priest’. The plot involves Father Burn (Arthur Dignam) who falls for Sister Caroline (Robyn Nevin). Father Burn wants them to both leave the church and get married, but she resists, which causes him to have a nervous breakdown and be sent to an insane asylum. This segment, which was written by Thomas Keneally and directed by Fred Shepisi, has a few insightful moments, but gets bogged down with endless dialogue and an ending that doesn’t offer any type of satisfactory conclusion.

The best segment is the last one, which was written by David Williamson and directed by David Baker. It deals with the story of a womanizer named Ken (Jack Thompson) who chases after women for cheap one-night stands even as his own wife lies in the hospital giving birth to his child. His pal Gerry (Max Gillies), who does not have as much luck with women, looks up to Ken and is impressed with his prowess. Ken decides to show Gerry ‘how it’s done’ by taking him out to a bar where they meet up with two women (Debbie Nankervis, Suzanne Brady) that they eventually take home to Ken’s oceanfront home. Things though start to take a dark turn when the women show more fondness to Gerry than Ken, which causes Ken to lash-out in a jealous rage, which forces Gerry to see an ugly side to his friend that he didn’t know existed.

This segment gets unexpectedly tense, but is played-out in a realistic manner. It’s great too seeing Thompson portray the playboy type, which he seems born to play and honed to an even finer level a year later in the movie Petersen. This story also features a surprise ending, which isn’t bad.

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 6, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Not Rated

Studio: British Empire Films Australia

Available: dvdlady.com

Weekend of Shadows (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Manhunt for murder suspect.

In rural Australia during the 1930’s a farmer’s wife is found murdered inside her home. Suspicions immediately fall on a Polish laborer who had always been deemed ‘peculiar’ by the locals and while there’s no other evidence pointing to his guilt it’s enough to get the men in the community together to form a posse. Sergeant Caxton (Wyn Roberts) hopes that if he can capture the suspect it will help mend his reputation, which had been tarnished while working in Sydney and got him demoted to the small town that both he and his wife (Barbara West) don’t like. Vi (Melissa Jaffer) feels this will be a perfect opportunity for her shy husband, Rabbit (John Waters) to bond with the other men by going along on the hunt, but he resists thinking that the whole thing is just a knee-jerk, mob reaction and wants nothing to do with it, but at the behest of his constantly prodding wife he eventually joins, but learns to regret it.

Out of all of the manhunt movies that are out there this one may be the most unusual in that it doesn’t focus on the suspect at all, in fact you barely ever see him, but instead on the various men in the group. Surprisingly though this manages to be quite effective and I found myself wrapped-up in the various personalities of the participants and how all of them clash with each other at various times. The budget though is quite low, screenwriter Peter Yeldham and director Tom Jeffrey were forced to make many concessions on the script just to get the necessary funding, and while the stark production values will initially be a turn-off, the overall drama, which is based on the novel ‘The Reckoning’ by Hugh Atkinson, will eventually compensate.

I didn’t though like the flashbacks showing Vi and Rabbit’s courtship, which I felt wasn’t necessary and bogged down the tension. The relationship between them is intriguing on a certain level as it shows how wives can have a strong influence over their husbands and get them to do things they wouldn’t otherwise, this same scenario also gets played-out between the constable and his wife, but the scenes showing their dating period offers no further insights and no effort is made to make the actors appear younger even though the courtship had been many years prior.

Spoiler Alert!

While the film was a hit with the critics it sank at the box office recouping only $61,000 of the $495,000 that had been put into it, which soured Jeffrey from directing movies and he helmed only one other, The Last of the Knucklemenafter this one. Ironically Hugh Atkinson was quite impressed with the finished product, which was odd since most of the time author’s of the book which the movie is based are usually not happy with the director’s interpretation of their work, but Atkinon felt Jeffrey ‘got it’ particularly with the ending, which he stated represented the crucifixion. Personally I didn’t see this connection, and neither did Jeffrey, who felt like I did that the story was more about how group dynamics can get out of hand, but Atkinson insisted the crucifixion element was the centerpiece. The ending will be a surprise to many and leaves open many questions, but what you ultimately make of it will be up to your own personal perspective.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 12, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Tom Jeffrey

Studio: The South Australian Film Commission

Available: VHS

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).