Category Archives: Prison Flicks

Harry and Walter Go to New York (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two vaudevillians rob bank.

Harry and Walter (James Caan, Elliot Gould) are two down-on-their-luck marginally talented comedians living in the 1920’s who go to jail when they’re caught trying to rob their audience members during a tacky onstage ‘psychic’ stunt that goes horribly wrong. While in the slammer they meet up with Adam Worth (Michael Caine) a rich man from society’s upper crust who enjoys robbing banks just for the thrill of it. They come upon the blue print for his next proposed heist and take a picture of it and then after they escape from jail challenge Adam on who will be able to rob the bank first.

This is one of those 70’s movies that I found to be refreshingly original and quite funny, but when it was released it was met with harsh reviews and was a bomb at the box office. After some bad test audience reactions it was heavily cut much to director Mark Rydell’s dismay who felt a lot of the better jokes went missing although producer Tony Bill and star Caan blame Rydell for the film’s failure and insist that much of the humor in the original script was never even filmed or used.

I can’t explain why the film didn’t do well as I personally found as bank heist movies go this one to be quite  unique. So many bank robbing films from that era, and even today, paint the scheme in a one-dimensional way by portraying the robbers, who we are usually supposed to sympathize with, as a modern-day Robin Hood, while the cops and those out to stop them are represented as being the greedy,oppressive establishment, but this film takes things a step further, which is what I found interesting. The competition aspect gives it an extra.,likable edge and really made me want to root for Harry and Walter and their gang of losers who take on the arrogant Caine and his snotty buddies. Instead of the viewer just being intrigued at how they’re able to pull of the robbery as is the case with most heist films we are much more emotionally invested with its outcome.

Caan and Gould are what Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman should’ve been in Ishtar. These guys are definite losers, but still appealing and comical at the same time. Caan has never been known for his comedy and he has referred to this movie as ‘Harry and Walter Go to the Toilet’, which is a shame because he shows nice energy here and is able to keep Gould in check by not allowing him to drone on and steal the spotlight as he can sometimes do when left alone or with a less capable co-star.

If the film fails at all it’s by entering in too many supporting players. The title mentions only Harry and Walter and they should’ve pulled off the heist alone with maybe only Keaton tagging along for balance. As it is though a whole massive group gets in on it to the point that the two leads have little to do. While the group is busily trying to figure out how to open the safe Harry and Walter are on stage trying to extend a stage play  The film still works pretty well despite this issue, but technically the two men should be at the center of the action and in a lot of ways they really aren’t and in fact become almost like supporting players by the end.

The film also goes on too long with the denouncement being far more extended than it should, but it’s still a fun, breezy watch that reflects the gilded age flavor well and uses leftover sets from Hello Dolly to enhance the scenery perfectly.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 17, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mark Rydell

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Switching Channels (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Reporter shields convicted killer.

Christy Colleran (Kathleen Turner) is a dedicated news reporter working at a satellite news network who decides to take a much needed vacation. On her trip she meets the dashing and very rich Blane Bingham (Christopher Reeve). The two hit-it-off and decide to get married, but when she informs her ex-husband John (Burt Reynolds), who just so happens to also be here employer, he does everything he can to prevent the marriage from happening. Part of his scheme is to get her so involved in covering the impending execution of Ike Roscoe (Henry Gibson) that she won’t have time for Blaine, but when the execution goes awry and allows Ike to escape Christy agrees to shield him from the authorities.

The story is based off of the very famous Broadway play ‘The Front Page’ that was first performed in 1928 and has been remade into a cinematic film (not including the TV-movie versions) three different times before this one. The first was in 1931 and the second in 1942 with His Girl Friday starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, which was probably the best version, and then in 1974 director Billy Wilder took a stab at the story that starred Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.

Why it was felt that this story needed to be done again is a mystery as this version is by far the weakest and hardly funny at all. The premise itself is solid, but structured in a way that makes it come off as an unfocused mess. It starts out as this sort of romantic love triangle scenario then jarringly shifts into the execution until it seems like two entirely different movies crammed into one. None of the original dialogue from the play was retained making the attempted banter here benign and uninteresting.

Although it’s been a while since I’ve seen the three other versions, which I found to be highly entertaining and funny, but this one is dizzying and confusing instead. As I remember the other versions kept the focus solely on the three leads and had them remain in the same setting with the action basically coming to them. Here it gets diluted with the characters prancing around to too many different places with their presence getting minimized by gargantuan, overly colorful sets that swallow up both the actors and story.

Reeve is excellent in what I consider his best role outside of Superman. Reynolds though looks uncomfortable in an ensemble-type comedy structure and he shares absolutely no chemistry with Turner with behind-the-scene reports saying that the two couldn’t get along at all. It’s almost like they cast the parts based solely on the name recognition of the stars over whether they were truly right for the parts.

Turner had already lost her youthful appeal here that had made her so sexy in Body Heat that had just been done 7 years earlier.  She comes off as more middle-aged and frumpy and not at all the type of woman two guys would fight over. I admire her attempts at expanding her acting range by taking a stab at frantic comedy, but her constant breathless delivery becomes tiresome and redundant.

The entire production gets overblown. Director Ted Kotcheff’s attempts to make the story more cinematic ends up draining it of the amusing subtle nuances that made it so special when it was done onstage. Switching channels is indeed an appropriate title for this because if it were shown on TV I would be pressing the remote to a different station.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Release: March 4, 1988

Runtime: 1hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Studio: TriStar Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

THX 1138 (1971)

thx-1138

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sex is not allowed.

THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) is member of a futuristic, work camp-like society where everyone has shaved heads, forced to take drugs to control their emotions and avoid having sex, which is forbidden. His days are spent on the production line where he helps build police androids and at night he goes home to an apartment where he rooms with LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie). She is unhappy with her situation and stops taking the required drugs while replacing THX’s with placebos. The two begin a sexual affair and are promptly arrested. THX is thrown into a modernistic prison that has no walls or bars and he eventually decides to attempt a daring escape with the help of SEN 5241 (Donald Pleasence) and a hologram known as SRT 9 (Don Pedro Colley).

This story is an extension to the student film that director George Lucas made while attending the University of California film school. That film was a 15 minute short entitled Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB, which dealt with a man trying to escape from a futuristic world while being chased and monitored by government run computers. It won first place in the 1968 National Student Film Festival and was good enough to gain the attention of Francis Ford Coppola who offered to produce a feature film dealing with the same basic premise, but having more of a background to the character and his reason for escaping.

Reportedly Lucas considers this to be his favorite project and despite the fact that it did not do well at the box office I consider it to be his best stuff as well. The visuals are imaginative and striking and make you feel like you are entering a whole new world unlike any that had ever been created before. I especially liked the prison scenes where the characters are surrounded by nothing but an unending white as well as THX’s medical examination done exclusively by robotic arms. Having the characters framed towards the side of the screen instead of the center while action occurs just out of view helps accentuate the off-kilter vibe and was year’s ahead-of-its-time.

Even though there is very little dialogue or music the sound becomes an integral part of the film by relying on comments made by the androids who tell the people in a HAL-like tone to ‘stay calm’ as well as the state sanctioned god known as OHM who routinely advises his followers ‘to be happy’. The best part though comes when two techs have a casual a conversation while viewing through monitors the torture of THX.

The film is visually groundbreaking and one of the greatest directorial debuts of any director living or dead, but it still comes with a few caveats. One is the fact that the plot relies too heavily on the stereotypical Orwellian view of the future where everything is worse than it is today and people no longer have any individual rights. Yet technology has proven to make life increasingly easier for people and with more freedoms and options, so why would everything suddenly revert the other way? Maybe they were survivors of a nuclear holocaust and this society was humankind’s way of ‘starting over’, but that’s never made clear and it would’ve been nice to at least get a glimpse of the person, or people who were behind-the-scenes with the ultimate authority as well as some sort of backstory.

There is also the fact that everyone in this society needs to be working, but jobs today are increasingly being lost to automation every year and that trend will continue. Certain nations like Finland are already experimenting with paying their citizens a basic salary because there are more people than jobs available.  Citizens of future societies are predicted to have more free time than ever before, so why doesn’t the world in this film follow suit? If this society can build android cops why can’t they also build robots to do the all the other jobs too, which would then allow the humans to have more of an idyllic existence than a workaholic one?

I also wasn’t too crazy about the 2004 digital restoration, which added new special effects and footage. I last saw this film in 2001 and could tell right away that this version had been tampered with. I realize that Lucas has been known to do this with his Star Wars films, but to me it’s as bad as colorization. Why mess with something that is already good? The added computer effects does not ‘enhance’ anything, but instead desecrates the original vision and treats it like it were a video game than a movie.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: March 11, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: George Lucas

Studio:  Warner Brothers

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

There Was a Crooked Man…(1970)

there was a crooked man 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Money in snake pit.

Paris Pittman (Kirk Douglas) is a rugged bandit who at times can be quite charming, but also cunning and ruthless. When he gets sent to an escape-proof Arizona prison he becomes determined to find a way out while using the skills of his fellow prisoners, who he has all promised will get a share of some stolen loot that he has hidden in the desert, to help him do it. Woodward Lopeman (Henry Fonda) is the prison’s new warden. He’s on to Paris’s manipulative ways and becomes equally determined to stop him from escaping while also subtly attempting to reform him.

During the social/sexual revolution of the late ‘60’s many film genres took on society’s new attitudes while also taking full advantage of the new found freedoms by showing things that had previously been taboo. Comedies, dramas, action films and even sci-fi movies were suddenly breaking new ground, but the western for the most part remained entrenched with the old-school values at least until the ‘70’s, but this film is one of the early entries into what became known as the revisionist western where age-old dramatic trappings where suddenly given a whole new spin and the caricatures of good and evil became much murkier.

Here the ‘good guy’ is to some extent the bandit who works outside of the system while seeing all the hypocrisies from those still working within it. The people getting robbed are no longer ‘God-fearing’ innocent town folk, but instead the greedy establishment who enslave blacks and use the façade of religion for their own self-interests.  Woman are no longer virginal maidens waiting to be properly married, but instead sexually oppressed young ladies eager to pursue their horny desires behind their parents back if they can get away with it. Those that still remain loyal to the old ways of doing things such as with Fonda’s character are now seen as being out-of-touch and unreasonably rigid to an inflexible, dated system.

Watching the western genre suddenly ‘grow-up’ as it where and show things that only a few years earlier would’ve been unthinkable is a lot of fun and the script meshes in a good amount of snarky humor, which keeps things consistently lively and comical. Even the music score gets a new slant. Typically music themes in westerns had a booming, orchestral sound, but here it’s much jazzier and modern.

Douglas is engaging and makes a great adversary to Fonda. Fonda, who just a year earlier shocked filmed audiences with his brilliantly creepy portrayal of a psychotic gunman in Once Upon a Time in the West goes back to his old form as the stoic good guy and does it quite well although I was confused why he is seen in the first half walking with a limp and a cane due to being shot only to go without it and walk normally during the second half.

The support cast, all men in their 50’s and 60’s and seen for years in the old fashioned westerns, but now clearly relishing the chance to be bawdy and irreverent are in fine form as well. Burgess Meredith is quite funny as an old codger who has worn the same underwear for 35 years and refuses to take it off even for a bath. Hume Cronyn lends equally good support and I loved the scene where he adds giant tits onto a drawing of an angel. This also marks the film debut of Pamela Hensley who became best known for her work on the TV-shows ‘Buck Rogers in the 25th Century’ and ‘Matt Houston’.

There are clearly other comical westerns out there, but this one, with a script co-written by Robert Benton, manages to still have a good story, some very exciting moments and even a great twist ending. The prison used in the film was built specifically for the production and great effort was put in to make it seem authentic to the period. The detail that was put into it along with the rock quarry where the prisoners work in is impressive and worth catching just for that.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1970

Runtime: 2Hours 6Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

King Rat (1965)

king rat 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: An island prison camp.

British and American POWs are held on an Island prison camp run by the Japanese during WW II. This camp is unlike the others as it does not have any walls, barbed wire fences, or prison guards. The men are allowed to roam freely while trapped on a tiny island with nowhere to go. Corporal King (George Segal) manages to wheel-and-deal his way to the top of the food chain by getting involved with the underground black market, which allows him to live the relative good-life while the other prisoners remain near starvation. He befriends Marlowe (James Fox) who can speak the Malaysian language, which he feels can come in handy as he gets involved with a diamond smuggling operation as well as selling deer meat, which unbeknownst to his customers is actually meat from rats who’ve feed off of the bodies of the other dead prisoners.

To some extent one can find some similarities to this and The Great Escape or Stalag 17 in that the prisoners have managed to create their own underground network without their captors being aware, but that is pretty much where the comparisons end. This film is darker and examines more the psychological deterioration that the men go through while realizing its themselves and each other that is more the enemy than the actual Japanese guards who are shown very little and have no presence at the camp or in the movie.

Segal gives a star making performance as a anti-hero who could easily be quite unlikable, but Segal’s engaging on-screen persona gives the character an added spark making him and his constant conniving more amusing than anything particularly with the way he barters with the Malaysian guards during their discussions on the price of the transfer of diamonds.

The supporting cast is outstanding as well especially Fox as the only sympathetic character and Tom Courtenay as the overzealous Grey and his never-ending crusade to take King and his cronies down. James Donald is also good as the no-nonsense Dr. with a very matter-of-fact bedside manner and a young Richard Dawson who gets the shock of his life when he comes in after the Japanese surrender to free the men of their enslavement only to find that they’re strangely reluctant to leave.

The film works in episodic fashion and while it maintains a gritty level it also has some lulls and few too many shifts in tone. There are though many unique and memorable moments including the ending where the men find themselves free to return home, but respond much differently than you’d expect. There is also a scene where the men kill a dog after it attacks some chickens and then later eat it as if it were a delicacy.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 27, 1965

Runtime: 2Hours 14Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Bryan Forbes

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Pursuit of Happiness (1971)

 

pursuit of happiness 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Justice isn’t always fair.

Everything seems to be going William Popper’s (Michael Sarrazin) way. He is a young college student with a great looking girlfriend (Barbara Hershey) and from a rich family. One night he takes a trip to the grocery store. It is raining and he accidently hits and kills a woman who walks out onto the street between two parked cars. Since William has several unpaid traffic tickets, is part of the anti-establishment movement and seems to have a generally belligerent manner he gets arrested for her death. His rich father (Arthur Hill) hires a successful lawyer (E.G. Marshall), but William is a major idealist who doesn’t want to compromise on anything and the more he fights for his ideals the deeper it gets him into trouble.

The film, which is based on a novel by Thomas Rogers, certainly makes some great points about our modern day American justice system where everything seems more based on the image that the defendant tries to present than the actual facts. Unfortunately most viewers today are already quite jaded by this and the message comes off as old and redundant.

The biggest problem is with Sarrazin. He has always had a bit of a transparent quality and I’ve defended him in some of his other roles, but here he helps to bring the whole thing down. He conveys no anger or emotion of any kind even though it’s supposedly his passion for the truth that causes him to behave the way he does. His comes off as limp and lifeless making me wonder how such a bland guy could attract a girlfriend at all let alone a really beautiful one. His character is also a bit too stubborn and strangely naïve to the point that the viewer isn’t completely empathetic with his cause as it becomes painfully obvious that he is only hurting himself by refusing to back down at all while most rational people would’ve likely buckled under just enough to get themselves out of the jam.

The script unfortunately is more intent on making a statement than telling a story as we are given no conclusion to the character’s plight. He escapes from jail and takes a flight to Mexico, but then it just ends leaving open a wide array of unanswered questions and making the viewer feel like they’ve seen only half a movie.

Ruth White, in her last film appearance, gives a strong performance as Walter’s Archie Bunker-like grandmother. It’s also great to see Marshall playing a more hard-lined version of the defense attorney role that he was famous for from ‘The Defenders’ TV-show. Robert Klein is engaging as Walter ‘60s radical college friend and David Doyle is good as Walter’s cellmate. Charles Durning, Ralph Waite and Rue McClanahan can be seen in small roles and this also marks William Devane’s film debut.

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 23, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Robert Mulligan

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Body Heat (1981)

body heat 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lawyer kills lover’s husband.

Every Monday for the month of August I’ll review an 80’s film that has the word ‘heat’ in its title starting with this modern-day film noir classic. Ned Racine (William Hurt) is a shyster lawyer looking for some action and on one sultry hot Florida night finds it when he spots the beautiful Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner) at an outdoor concert. The two soon fall into having mad passionate sex, but there is one problem. Matty is married to Edmund (Richard Crenna) who is rich, but boring. She plants the seed in Ned’s head to kill him and thus allow the two to live happily ever after with the money they will get from his will. Ned jumps into the scheme with his eyes wide-open only to later realize after it is too late that Matty has other plans that don’t involve him and thus making him a schmuck of the first kind.

I still enjoyed Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice better, but for a modern day film noir this one isn’t bad and rates superior to most of the others. Writer/ director Lawrence Kasdan creates characters that are amoral, but fascinating. The dialogue is snappy and the production stylish without ever getting too overdone or pretentious.  The first hour is a bit slow and it takes too long to get to the killing, but once the second half kicks in it becomes a wild ride of twists and turns that remains as entertaining as ever.

The movie also has numerous references to the heat even more so than most movies that takes place in a hot climate. Overall I enjoyed this as it makes the viewer feel sweaty and muggy even if the weather outside isn’t. The sweat glistening off their naked bodies is effective and not an irritating cliché like in most other movies. The only problem I had was that Matty lives in this giant, luxurious mansion and yet must rely on fans and open windows to cool off when in reality the place would have been wired with indoor air conditioning.

Turner, in her film debut, looks stunning and it is just unfortunate that due to illness and age she no longer looks anything like she did here. Her nude scenes are brief and from far away, but still hot.

Hurt is excellent as usual, but the character was a bit irritating. I realize that the guy is thinking with his penis and not his brain, but it still seemed hard to believe that he wouldn’t once just for a second step back and contemplate whether he was being set-up especially since her ‘tactics’ to convince him to do it weren’t in any way novel or sophisticated. The minute she brings up wanting to change the will like she does here so that she gets all the money instead of Edmund’s ex-wife should have been a red flag to even the dumbest and horniest of males that this woman is in love only with money and a good signal that he is being used and to dump her.

Ted Danson looking almost unrecognizable in horn-rimmed glasses is a stand-out in support and almost ends up stealing the film as Ned’s lawyer buddy. He also gets the movies best line. As everyone is sitting in a smoke filled room looking over the will and someone offers him a cigarette he states “No thanks. I don’t need any. I’ll just breathe in the air.”

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 28, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated R

Director: Lawrence Kasdan

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Lonely Are the Brave (1962)

lonely are the brave

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A modern day cowboy.

Jack Burns (Kirk Douglas) is a loner cowboy still trying to live the lifestyle of the old west in the modern day world and who must elude the police and all of their modern technologies when he escapes from jail.

Kirk is excellent. He really connects with the character and allows the viewer to do the same. The cinematography is first rate with spectacular shots of the western landscape. The cowboy’s escape through the rugged terrain as well as the police pursuit is exciting most to the way and there is a terrific well-choreographed barroom brawl between Douglas and actor Bill Raisch who later went on to star as the one-armed man in ‘The Fugitive’ TV-series. This is also a great chance to see some young actors just starting out including Carroll O’Connor and Bill Bixby.

On the negative end I wasn’t too crazy about Walter Matthau and William Schallert as the two policemen who are played too much for laughs. Some of their goofy exchanges are amusing, but it hurts the tension. I also disliked the ending. It does indeed leave an impression and was obviously done to make a statement, but it is not completely effective and is a real downer. It also leaves too many issues open including whether the Douglas character was able to survive.

The high production values help immensely and the story structure keeps things interesting and offbeat as well as exciting. The film though cannot overcome its ending, which isn’t very original and no more profound than hundreds of other stories and movies dealing with the same subject.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 24, 1962

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Not Rated

Director: David Miller

Studio: Universal

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

The Great Escape (1963)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Tom, Dick and Harry

Based on a true story involving POW’s in an ‘escape proof’ German Prison camp who devise a way to get out by digging three tunnels, which will go under the barbed wire fence and allow them to get out under the cover of a nearby forest. They decide to build three tunnels and call them Tom, Dick and Harry, so if the German guards discover one of the tunnels they can simply continue to work on the other two.

The producers built a complete replica of Stalag Luft III were the actual events took place and used Wally Floody who was a prisoner of the camp and took part in the escape as an advisor. The movie moves at a polished pace grabbing in you immediately and keeping you involved all the way through. The characters share a great camaraderie and it’s a terrific testament to teamwork and how by everybody playing a little role can help make great things happen. Their resolve and ‘can-do’ spirit is infectious and one of the major reasons the film is so compelling. The bouncy, upbeat patriotic music is good although it gets played a lot and most viewers will most likely hear it playing in their head long after it is over.

I did feel that the depiction of the camp seemed a bit too cozy. The men are allowed to freely walk around and congregate in large meetings where they make their plans and it seemed to me that a heavily fortified prison camp wouldn’t allow for that, or at least be more on top of things. I wouldn’t say the German’s are portrayed on a ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ dumb level, but at times it gets close. For instance when the James Garner character lifts the wallet out of the pocket of one of the guards he does not become aware that it is missing for what seems like several days and then when he does he doesn’t suspect the Garner character and instead goes back to him and naively asks for his help in finding it. When the Germans find one of the tunnels there are no reprisals even though I and some of the others in my movie group who watched it with me felt that there should have been. Also, when the Steve McQueen character attacks one of the German guards when they shoot his friend who is trying to escape he is not sent to the cooler even though he had previously been sent there for far less infractions.

On the acting side it is all top-notch. McQueen is as cool as ever. I love his detached manner and rugged willing to take risks personality. His escape by motorcycle, which was added into the story by his request, is exciting and one of the most memorable moments in the film. Charles Bronson is good as one of the characters who are most instrumental at digging the tunnels however I felt that it seemed a bit far-fetched and like tacky Hollywood melodrama that he had spent so much time working inside the tunnels only to suddenly get claustrophobic about them just as they are trying to escape. David McCallum has very few words, but gets gunned down in exciting style at a train station. I normally love James Coburn and his character is appealing, but his attempt at an Australian accent is atrocious.

Spoiler Alert!

Despite its title the film really doesn’t seem like all that great of an escape. For one thing out of the predicted 250 that were supposed to escape through the tunnel only 76 made it out before the Germans caught onto it and closed it off. Of those 76 there are 50 who get caught, rounded up and shot at point blank range. 12 get returned to the camp and only 3 actually make it to safety. When the Steve McQueen character gets sent back to the cooler in the film’s final scene I felt a bit frustrated and depressed and that the big ballyhooed escape had really lead nowhere.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 4, 1963

Runtime: 2Hours 52Minutes

Not Rated

Director: John Sturges

Studio: United Artists

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

The Family (1970)

the family

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hit man wants revenge.

Jeff (Charles Bronson) is a retired hit man who finds himself set-up and nearly killed by girlfriend Vanessa (Jill Ireland). When he unexpectedly survives the ambush he plots his revenge by planning on killing her as well as her secret lover who put her up to it, but along the way he becomes harassed by Al (Telly Savalas) who wants to bring Jeff into their crime organization any way they can.

The movie features a great acid rock-like soundtrack that pumps the adrenaline and gives the proceedings a nice edgy feel. The scene where Jeff shoots a man from a distance while the victim is participating in a car race and blowing out his tire, which sends him crashing through a brick wall, is creative. However, the best part of the whole movie, which comes at the end and almost makes sitting through it worth it, is watching two people getting shot as they ride up a glass elevator by a gunman sitting on top of a roof of a building from across the street.

On the whole though the film, which credits six writers to the screenplay and includes the legendary Lina Wertmuller is rather standard. Somehow it always seems the more people that work on the screenplay the less creative it becomes and this proves no exception. The characters are one-dimensional and the twists aren’t all that clever. Outside of the action sequences the story plods at too slow of a pace and you feel the whole time you are watching it that you’ve seen it all before.

For a savvy hit-man Jeff seems to be too much of a pushover. I can understand getting double-crossed once, but then he keeps going back to Vanessa and she does it to him again and again making him seem like a schmuck. The Vanessa character is equally annoying.  She is too wishy-washy and would have gotten a better emotional response from the viewer had she been better defined, or written as being a complete and total bitch.

Bronson is okay in the lead although he doesn’t have too much to say, which is good. His best moments come when he is silent particularly the scene inside the prison cell when he allows a giant tarantula spider to crawl all over him while he serenely sits smiling and the other prisoners look on with shock and awe.

Ireland looks great as always and shows a lot of skin. There is a scene where there is a close-up of her breasts as well as her backside while she is lying in bed. There is a moment of frontal nudity when she gets out of shower and she can be seen through the slightly fogged glass of the shower door. However, her face is always conveniently hidden during all of these shots making me believe that a body double was used although none is credited.

Savalas, who is the only one that gives the film any real energy, is wasted and doesn’t appear until the second half.

The complete and uncut version of the film done on the recent Blue Underground DVD release features scenes that were omitted from earlier English language prints. Unfortunately because these scenes where never dubbed into English they are shown in their original Italian language format. This becomes quite distracting as characters will be speaking in English and then during the same scene start talking in Italian and then back to English. The DVD features subtitles during these moments, but the version on Amazon Instant Video, which is what I saw, doesn’t. What is worse is the fact that these added scenes really don’t add much and they could have just been left on the cutting room floor. Fans will many times flock to purchase the ‘complete and uncut’ versions of films while failing to realize that there was probably a reason this extra footage was cut in the first place, which is namely that they were perceived as being boring or pointless and usually are.

If you are looking for non-think formula action that has just enough style to make it passable then this film should fit the bill, but it is no classic.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Alternate Title: Violent City

Released: September 17, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sergio Sollima

Studio: Universal Film

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video (as ‘Violent City’)