Category Archives: Prison Flicks

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)

the great escape 3

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’)

The Flim-Flam Man (1967)

flim flam man 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Con-man finds apprentice.

Curley (Michael Sarrazin) is a young army deserter living in an over-turned and abandoned freight car in the rural regions of Kentucky. By chance he meets up with Mordecai Jones (George C. Scott) a traveling con-man who decides to use Curly as his apprentice as well as his assistance in some of his more elaborate schemes. At first Curley goes along with it, but when he fall in-love with Bonnie (Sue Lyon) one of Mordecai’s intended victims he decides he wants out much to Mordecai’s reluctance.

Scott really shines and this may be his best comic performance. Although he was only 38 at the time he looks and acts like a genuine old man even though his gray hair looks like it was frosted on much like what is done to white Christmas trees. In some way it might have been more authentic had an older actor played the role, but Scott is so much fun in the part that the movie may not have worked as well.

Sarrazin is solid in support. His quiet demeanor and understated performances never allowed him to get the recognition that he deserved, but he was always effective in these types of roles and having the character walk the moral tightrope and sometimes fall off makes him interesting and believable. Lyon is also good as the romantic interest. Although I felt the romance bogged things down a bit I still enjoyed her natural acting style that is devoid of any pretension.

Harry Morgan is fun as the headstrong sheriff who chases after Mordecai and Curly as is Albert Salmi as his dim-witted deputy. Salmi’s blank looking facial expressions are tops and the car chase that they have with the two culprits features some impressive comical stunt work and seems to tear-up the entire main street of the town.

The soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith has wonderfully soothing melody with some great harmonica and trumpet solos. The on-location shooting in Kentucky captures the countryside and the hazy late summer sunshine of the region well.  For the most part the film is quite amiable and amusing, but predictable. The script lacks the unexpected twist or unique insight that would elevate it above being just the fluff that it is. The ending, which features Curly rigging the courthouse with dynamite and threatening it blow it up has a touching quality to it, but proves frustrating as it doesn’t show us what ultimately becomes of the characters.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 22, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Director: Irvin Kershner

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS 

The Valachi Papers (1972)

the valachi papers 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Testifying against the mob.

Based on the bestselling novel by Peter Maas this film chronicles the life of Joseph Valachi (Charles Bronson) who became the very first informant for the Mafia in their history. The story chronicles his life from a young man getting involved in the mafia culture to his eventual imprisonment and testifying in front of congress.

At the time of release this was compared closely to The Godfather with some critics outrageously saying it was better, but clearly it doesn’t come close. This film lacks the in-depth characterizations, lyrical quality, and an overall slick design. This film is also rather sloppily produced including one scene involving an exciting car chase taking place in the 1930’s. When the two cars go crashing through the wall of a warehouse and into the East river one can clearly see the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, which weren’t built until 1970. There is also the Lucky Luciano character played by actor Angelo Infanti who wears a type of glasses that did not come into style until well into the 1970’s. However, as a whole the film is still amazingly compelling flick that ends up being both entertaining and somewhat informative. The music score has a terrific ominous tone to it and the prison scenes have a nice starkness.

The film was known at the time for its violence, which by today’s standards may not seem quite as startling or as excessive although the blood and bullets do come at regular intervals. My favorite was the shooting of an old crime boss inside a barbershop although the castration of a victim on top of a table inside a restaurant is pretty wild. However, for all of its violence the film does manage to have a sense of humor as well including a very amusing scene where one of Joe’s mob bosses sits in the living room of the mother of Joe’s girlfriend and asks the mother for her permission to allow Joe to marry her daughter while Joe sits nervously behind and tries to look proper.

Lino Ventura has the perfect face of a mob boss and was ideally cast. The scene of him inside the prison where he has stays in a well-furnished cell and even seems to have his own barber is funny. Joseph Wiseman displays great zest as the opposing crime boss Salvatore Maranzano and his agonizing yells of pain as he lies dying are effective.

Bronson seems perfectly cast as an uneducated simple man who is a follower and has his own quiky code of morality, which makes him strangely endearing. His wife Jill Ireland does not fare as well. She ports a brunette wig and her Italian accent borders on being horrendous to non-existent. Fortunately she is not given very many speaking lines as her British accent is constantly seeping through.

In many ways this film could best be described as an ugly cousin to Goodfellas. While this film lacks that film’s fluid directorial flair it still manages to be an engrossing true-life gangster soap opera like that one.

the valachi papers 2

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Runtime: 2Hours 5Minutes

Released: November 3, 1972

Rated R

Director: Terence Young

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD

Breakout (1975)

breakout

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Escape from Mexican jail.

Loosely based on the actual 1971 incident involving Joel David Kaplan, who after being framed for murder and stuck inside a Mexican prison for 9 years, was able to escape when his sister hired a pilot to fly a helicopter into the prison yard and allow Kaplan to jump into it and flee. In this movie Jay Wagner (Robert Duvall) is the Kaplan character and Nick Colton (Charles Bronson) is the goofy, but lovable pilot.

Veteran director Tom Gries delivers a compact action pic that has a good mix of humor and excitement. The comedy is not forced and genuinely engaging, but once the action gets going it is entertaining as well. When the helicopter starts flying into the prison with 30 minutes left in the movie I found myself completely riveted. Gries photographs the action in a way that makes the viewer feel like they are inside the helicopter alongside Bronson. The stunts are authentic and done on-location, which is a big plus. One scene involving a man getting sliced up by an airplane propeller is surprisingly explicit and should make anyone wince when they see it.

My only quibble in the direction department is the opening where a man is shown being shot to death while Gries freezes the frame every few seconds as the victim falls down, which came off as being disjointed and distracting. There is also a shot of the dead body lying on the ground with blood stains on his white shirt. However, there are no bullet holes in his shirt and you really can’t have blood coming out of someone’s body unless you have bullet holes and if you have them piercing the skin you most likely would have them piercing the shirt, but none were found in the shot I saw.

Bronson is highly engaging and steals every scene that he is in. I was surprised how comfortable he was in a comedic role and it made me wish he had taken more stabs at comedy in his career. My favorite moment with him is his nervous, anxiety-ridden expression on his face when he tries to pilot a helicopter and finds that it is much more complicated than he realized. The running gag of him trying to pass off a bad check is also good.

Jill Ireland who plays the wife of the Duvall character and is the one who hires Nick for the job is also enjoyable. She is almost as amusing as Bronson especially with the way she becomes increasingly exasperated by the situation. The two seem to work better when they are adversarial and you could never tell that in real life they were husband and wife.

Sheree North is also great in a small supporting role. Although she was already in her 40’s when she did the part she still looks sexy in a full body shot of her in some really, really short shorts. Her very politically incorrect rape conversation that she has with Nick is good.

Duvall is wasted in a part that doesn’t allow for much range and limited screen time. I’m actually surprised that he even took the part. However, his hair style, and I’m not sure if it was a wig, or just a really good comb-over, but it completely covers up his normally bald head and makes him look twenty years younger.

Randy Quaid seems equally underused, but having the chance at seeing him in drag may make his appearance here worth it to some.

I didn’t like the part where Duvall gets buried alive while inside a coffin in his attempt to escape as it is too reminiscent of a classic Alfred Hitchcock episode entitled ‘Final Escape’, which is better and shouldn’t be touched. However, as a whole, this is a good 95 minutes of enjoyable non-think entertainment.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 22, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Tom Gries

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gotta love Sophia Loren.

This is a delightful comedy that won the Academy Award in 1964 for best foreign film. It consists of 3 vignettes all starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni and directed by the legendary Vittorio De Sica.

The first segment is entitled ‘Adelina’ and is a story about Adelina (Loren) who lives in poverty and sells cigarettes for a living. She is arrested for selling contraband products, but is released when it is found that she is expecting with the condition that six months after she delivers the baby she will be forced to serve her sentence. However, Adelina and her husband Carmine (Mastroianni) decide that the best way to avoid the sentence altogether is by keeping her continuously pregnant. Once she delivers one child she immediately gets pregnant with another, which creates overcrowding as well as an exhausted Carmine.

This segment is original and amusing throughout. Watching them trying to handle and maintain a household with such a large brood has its share of funny moments including one scene where Adelina tries to give one of her petulant children his medication. This setting vividly shows the poor side of Italian society, but unlike De Sica’s neo-realist films of the 40’s this one has a very engaging and even upbeat quality to it. The impoverished townsfolk become like a third character and their resiliency and support of one another proves to be a major plus to the story. Loren is fantastic in every scene she is in and makes this one special. Mastroianni is interesting playing against type as he is usually debonair and sophisticated, but here is simple and dominated.

The second story entitled ‘Anna’ deals with characters on the completely opposite end of the economic spectrum. Anna (Loren) is a spoiled rich woman who in an effort to alleviate her boredom with her husband who spends too much time working she has an affair with Renzo (Mastroianni). Renzo though fears that he is being used and that Anna has no intention of ever leaving her luxurious lifestyle to be with him.

All of the action takes place in a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III convertible as the two characters discuss their relationship while driving through the streets of Rome. This story is not as lively as the first and the characters aren’t as likable. However, the part where Renzo has an accident with the car and Anna’s reaction to it is quite funny.

The third and final act is entitled ‘Mara’ and deals with a prostitute named Mara (Loren) who becomes interested in Umberto (Gianni Ridolfi) a young man living next door with his Grandmother (Tina Pica) and studying to become a priest. The grandmother does not approve of Mara’s ‘profession’ and openly shuns her causing a major discord between the two, but when Umberto decide to drop out of the seminary the two work together to try and bring him back to his senses.

This story, like the first, has many amusing moments. Loren shows impeccable comic ability. I loved how the character goes from sexy seductress to a woman pleading with Umberto to go back to seminary and escape this ‘wicked world’. The shift between having Mara and the grandmother hating each other to becoming friends is equally funny. Mastroianni doesn’t have as much to do here, but still makes the most of it playing one of Mara’s customers who is just looking for a little sex, but is reluctantly thrown into the middle of the controversy.

This segment became famous at the time for a striptease that Loren does for Mastroianni. However, by today’s standards it is not much and hardly even seemed worth mentioning. I actually thought the part where Loren walks outside wearing nothing more than a towel and provocatively singing a flirtatious song to the young Umberto, who has a face that looks like it had not reached puberty, was much steamier.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 19, 1963

Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Vittorio De Sica

Studio: Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Netflix streaming, Amazon Instant Video

Zig Zag (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Framing yourself isn’t good.

            Paul Cameron (George Kennedy) is an insurance agent and family man who learns that he is dying from a brain tumor and has only a few months to live. In order to provide money for his wife and children he sets himself up as the kidnapper of a wealthy businessman in an unsolved case that offered a $225,000 reward for anyone leading to the conviction of the culprit. After he is found guilty at his trial he faints and the doctors there decide to do experimental laser surgery to remove the tumor. The operation proves to be a success forcing Paul to go on a battle to prove his innocence, or risk spending the rest of his life in jail for a crime he did not commit.

Although he has done well in supporting roles Kennedy proves to be quite weak as a leading man as he shows almost no emotion in any of his scenes. When he is told of his tumor he takes it in a very matter-of-fact way without getting upset at all, which seemed unrealistic. His performance is dull and the few times that he does get upset it comes off as forced. His presence hurts the film and a more engaging, eccentric actor could’ve made it more interesting.

Eli Wallach as Paul’s attorney is terrific and the one thing that injects some energy. He is dynamic throughout and is fun to watch even during the slow parts. It was nice to see him doing a scene with his real-life wife Anne Jackson. As of this writing the two have now been married for 64 years, which has to be one of the longest marriages in Hollywood history.

The supporting cast features a long list of familiar character actors making it like spot-the-star. They include: Dana Elcar, Douglas Henderson, Steve Ihnat, William Marshall, Joan Tompkins, Robert Sampson, Leonard Stone, and Walter Brooke in an interesting duplicitous part.

Richard A. Colla’s direction is impressive. The film opens with a diverting cinema verite-style scene showing Paul going through the examination process before entering the prison, which seems unusually elaborate touch for what is otherwise just a gimmicky script. Another innovative part is when Paul is shown planting evidence at the scene of the crime and only the sounds and ambiance of the locale is heard without any music, which is more effective.  Unfortunately the direction and story become much more conventional towards the middle and it is not as interesting. The film tries to be too many things and does not come together as a seamless whole. The courtroom scenes were too extended for my tastes as we know Paul is innocent, but wants to be convicted anyways, so his many prolonged conversations with his exasperated lawyer who does not know of his scheme seem rather pointless. However, when Paul is cured and then goes on a mission to find the real killer it becomes exciting as the mystery itself proves to be complex and intriguing.

The twist ending did not go over well with audiences at the time of the film’s initial release. It’s a downer for sure, but after seeing so many tacky happy Hollywood endings in my lifetime I can’t say I totally hated it. As a budding screenwriter I enjoy irony and the ending here certainly has that. It’s slickly handled and although I saw it coming others may be genuinely surprised by it. My only complaint is that it’s a bit abrupt and could’ve and should’ve been extended in some way, or given a more effective closure.

If you like a movie with a lot of twists then this film may be worth seeking out. The legendary Roy Orbison sings the title tune during a party scene and it sounds like some of his best stuff. I am surprised it didn’t chart and I wished they had allowed the viewer to hear the complete son before cutting away.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 11, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard A. Colla

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS (as False Witness), DVD (Warner Archive) 

Skidoo (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: They were on LSD.

Jackie Gleason plays family man Tony Banks with mob past who is now trying to go straight yet gets sucked back in by a gangster leader named God (Groucho Marx). He orders Tony to disguise himself as a prisoner so he can infiltrate a prison system and knock off another prisoner and rival named George ‘Blue Chips’ Packard (Mickey Rooney). While in prison Tony mistakenly takes some LSD and goes on a wild drug induced trip.

Story wise it is limp. The humor is weird, but not altogether funny. It tries to satirize a lot of things yet none of it comes together. There is no singular voice or vision let alone cohesion. The pacing is poor and haphazard. It becomes so sloppy and nonsensical that you almost wonder if renowned director Otto Preminger was the one taking the LSD stuff.

The idea of mixing old school comedy with the mod hipness of the day was not new. Many films (and TV shows) of that period tried it with limited success. Yet few went to the extremes as this one. It is still a complete disaster yet odd enough to grab your attention and hold it. In some ways it’s enjoyable and even entertaining if viewed as an oddity and relic of its era.

There are a few good scenes. One involves a weird hippie speech by actor John Phillip Law where he professes a need to be ‘nothing’ which will somehow make him ‘everything’ and ‘anything’. There are also some quirky commercial spoofs at the beginning, a brief glimpse of Packard’s prison cell ‘office’, and the ‘the family tree’ of a crime syndicate. Gleason’s LSD trip really isn’t that funny, but it is still weird enough to stand out.

A lot of talented character actors are wasted with boring bit parts. Gleason though still comes through as his bombastic self. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Groucho. He looks old and well past his prime. He mouths his lines with little or no energy. His conversation with actress Alexandra Hay seems particularly strange as he ‘talks to her’ but never once actually looks at her. Instead he looks off into another direction in a not so subtle attempt to read his cue cards. He does this in other scenes too. Some may still get a kick out of his presence because at the end he dresses as a hippie and even takes a puff of the weed. You also gotta love his mistress and her very low cut dress.

Austin Pendleton gives the best all- around performance playing the first in what has become a long line of nebbish, bookworm type characters. Carol Channing is a real surprise. She sings and even gives each one of the hippies a shampoo in her kitchen sink. There is also a freaky scene where she does a striptease and then lies half naked on Frankie Avalon’s bed. Her presence also gives Gleason a chance to write her a little love letter where states that how he misses her “even that voice of yours”.

Harry Nilsson’s music in Midnight Cowboy was perfect, but all wrong here. However hearing him sing EACH AND EVERYONE of the credits at the end is a goofy delight.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 19, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated M

Director: Otto Preminger

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD 

Family Business (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Any movie that casts Dustin Hoffman, Sean Connery, and Mathew Broderick as a father, son, and grandson team of robbers has me hooked before I have even seen the first frame. It was a great bit of inspired casting even if Connery was playing Hoffman’s father and in reality was only seven years older than him.  Throw in the fact that it was directed by the late, great Sidney Lumet and you should have a sure fire winner.

The story involves the grandfather Jessie (Connery) getting out of jail and trying to rekindle relations with both his son Vito (Hoffman) and grandson Adam (Broderick).  Vito wants nothing to do with his father as he has done time himself by getting mixed-up in some of his father’s old schemes and is now trying to go straight by working as a manager at a meat packing facility. However, Adam, who is going to college and has a promising career ahead of him, idolizes his grandfather and relishes the idea of pulling off a robbery himself. He has even come up with one that all three of them can do together. The robbery is unique in that they aren’t stealing from a bank, jewelry store, home of someone rich, or even a priceless artifact at a museum, but instead some important research materials at a science lab.

The crime itself is not elaborate and could have been easily pulled off with just one person. I was anticipating something a little more daring and exciting especially since Jessie and Vito were career criminals. It also takes too long to get to it. The first fifty minutes are spent with them endlessly arguing and rehashing the same old points.

The second part is a little more interesting as it deals with Adam getting caught while the other two are able to get away and all the dilemmas that they then face. Even here the drama becomes strained and talky.  The ending fizzles and leaves no emotional impact.  I saw a lot of similarities with this film and Sidney Lumet’s last film that he did before he died, which was Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.  Both of these movies deal with robberies and the consequences of family members betraying one another and yet that film was far more gripping while this one falls flat.

I thought Connery was highly engaging and would have enjoyed seeing him take over the movie. Hoffman gives a solid dramatic performance, but his character is bland.

The Adam character got on my nerves. He had been given everything in life and yet refuses to appreciate it and seems almost ungrateful to his father for working so hard to give him a better life. He acts cocky about going through with the robbery and yet when they get there he is ill-prepared and confused. I understand sometimes people become curious about those that live a different lifestyle than they do and that they don’t fully understand, but I still felt there needed to be a little more balance.  I just didn’t understand why this kid would want to throw it all away just so he could be like his career criminal grandfather.

The film gives one a good taste of New York. I liked how it showed the different neighborhoods and boroughs. Not only do we get a good feel of the Bronx, but we also see Flushing, Brooklyn, and downtown Manhattan. Most films that take place in the Big Apple seem to concentrate in only one section of it while this one tried to give a broader feel.

The indoor sets are nicely realized. Everything from the trashed halls of the prison to Vito’s modernistic, sleek apartment, to the science lab and even Jessie’s small, cramped apartment looked authentic and distinct.

I did notice a few logistical errors. One is the fact that they discuss plans of the robbery in a lot of public places, which seemed just plain careless to me especially since these were ‘professional’ thieves. One discussion takes place at a bar, another on a busy sidewalk with pedestrians going by, and the third at a funeral with mourners standing right behind them. There is also the fact that they park their car on the side of the road in front of the lab and put a sign in the windshield stating that they are out of gas and will be back in one hour. I thought this seemed dumb because a policeman could come by and do a check on the license plate to find out who the owner is. Then, the next day when the robbery is reported, they would only have to put the two together to trace the culprits. There is also a scene were Vito fires one of his employees at his plant for stealing. He punches him violently in his office that is surrounded by windows and is in full view of the other workers.  The man leaves with a broken nose and bloodied face, but the workers do not react and go on with their tasks like nothing happened, which didn’t strike me as believable.

The music score is another problem.  It has a big band, show-tune type melody and sound, which might have worked for a Broadway production, but here it seems completely out-of-sync with the mood and tone of the story.

Although competently done this thing still seems like a misfire namely because the material isn’t diverting, or interesting enough for the cast that it has. I was expecting a little more razzle-dazzle and a lot more action and excitement. I almost felt that if this same story had been approached in a comic vein it might have done better.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 15, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: TriStar Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video