Category Archives: Psychological

The Hand (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He loses his hand.

Jon Lansdale (Michael Caine) is a gifted comic book illustrator who loses his hand in a freak car accident. They are unable to locate the missing limb at the scene and therefore unable to reattach, so he’s fitted with a prosthetic one made of metal. In the meantime the severed one goes on a murderous rampage killing all those that Jon has a problem with.

The film, which is based on the novel ‘The Lizard’s Tail’ by Marc Brandell, can best be described as an experimental horror and to some degree is quite intriguing. I liked the psychological subtext showing the hand as being a symbol to Jon’s subconscious and acting out the anger that he felt from others, but ordinarily too reluctant to do anything about. The story conveys a very universal message that we are in many ways two people, the one we choose to display to the world and the other more politically incorrect one that we try to hide from it.

Had it remained more on a subtle, intellectual side it might’ve worked, but showing the severed hand as much as it does is its biggest downfall. The scenes showing the hand strangling people looks quite tacky as instead of seeming like the victim is trying to pull the hand off of their throat it looks more like they are trying to hold it in place so it doesn’t fall off. It also brings up all sorts of unanswered questions like how is the hand able to move around so quickly and sneak inside buildings and cars and where does it get the strength to strangle people, or jump up to their throats when all the muscles connected to it have been severed away.

It would’ve worked better had the hand not been shown at all and kept a mystery as to what was causing the murders and then only at the end expose the hand as being the culprit, which would’ve made Jon’s final confrontation with it much more startling and impactful. An even better idea would’ve been to have the metal hand act as the one that does the killing since this one resembled Freddy Kruegar’s and looked far creepier.

Oliver Stone’s direction is interesting especially his technique of going from color to black and white and then back again, but the story drags on longer than it should and seems to give too much away. The twist at the end is great because it’s actually a logical one that makes perfect sense, but then at the last second Stone sells-out by throwing in tacky ‘second twist’ that is nothing but a gimmick that makes the whole thing seem too commercial.

On the acting side Caine is adequate, but I found his wavy hair far more fascinating than the hand and I especially enjoyed seeing how progressively disheveled it gets the more insane that he becomes. Andrea Marcovicci is standout as his wife. Initially I thought she was too young to play his spouse as there was a 16 year difference between the two, but her very expressive face particularly her blue eyes and the way it conveys fear helps heighten the suspense.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 24, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Oliver Stone

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Killing Kind (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Always a good boy.

Terry (John Savage) is an angry man suffering from the inner torment of being sent to prison for a gang rape he was forced to participate in. Once he gets out he moves back in with his oppressive mother (Ann Sothern) who dotes over him and ignores all the troubling signs that he clearly displays. Instead of getting a job he spends his time exacting revenge on those who wronged him and then sets his sights on an attractive young lady (Cindy Williams) who has rented a room in his mother’s house. When Terry ends up murdering her his mother decides to help him cover it up because in her mind he will always be a ‘good boy’ no matter what he does.

The film is cheaply made with faded color, grainy film stock and an annoying humming sound that is apparent throughout, but Curtis Harrington’s direction gives it life and keeps you intrigued with its offbeat approach. It reminded me a lot of Paul Bartel’s Private Parts particularly with its emphasis on voyeurism especially how Terry secretly watches their tenant while the neighbor lady (Luana Anders) does the same to Terry.

Unfortunately there’s not enough of a payoff. The action is spotty and the gore is kept at a minimum. It starts right away with the gang rape, but then steps back with the shocks and pretty much implies all the other dark aspects of the story without showing it. The characters are molded into caricatures and more subtlety could’ve been used as to their intentions particularly the repressed neighbor lady blurting out her inner desires and thoughts to Terry without ever having spoken to him before.

Sothern is impressive especially since she was from Hollywood’s Golden Age and spent years working with sanitized scripts, so seeing her jump into such tawdry material with seemingly no hesitation is interesting. Savage’s performance I found to be frustrating as he seems to play the role like someone we should sympathize with, which is hard to do when he kills so many people.

Williams is the standout. Her murder scene is memorable as she struggles quite a bit and then forced to stay still in stagnant water with the same facial expression for several minutes. Later she’s shown lying in a junkyard as rats crawl over her, which proves she’s a dedicated to her craft to allow herself to go through that.

The ending fizzles and seems almost like a cop-out while not taking enough advantage of the other offbeat scenarios that it introduces. Had I directed it I would’ve done it differently. In my version the nosy neighbor lady, would threaten to go to the police about the crime, which she sees, but says she won’t if Terry, who had rejected her advances earlier, agrees to have sex with her. She then forces both his mother and her wheelchair bound elderly father (Peter Brocco) to watch, which would’ve given this potential cult classic the extra oomph to the dark side that it needed instead of coming tantalizingly close, but never truly delivering.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 23, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Curtis Harrington

Studio: Media Cinema Group

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The Swimmer (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Swimming his way home.

On a hot summer afternoon Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster) decides to something out of the ordinary. He notices that all of his neighbors have backyard pools and he could essentially ‘swim’ his way home by jogging from house to house and diving into each pool before moving onto the next one. At first it seems like a great idea and the people he meets along the way are happy to see him, but things grow increasingly darker the more pools he goes to as some of the home owners do not welcome his presence while exposing uncomfortable elements from his past. His seemingly successful, happy persona takes a beating and slowly reveals instead a lonely man who’s badly out-of-touch with those around him.

The film is based on a short story written by John Cheever and first published in The New Yorker magazine on July 18, 1964. The story amounted to only 12 pages, but screenwriter Eleanor Perry manages to expand on the idea to create a film full of nuance and interesting dialogue that reveals just enough of the characters to make it insightful without becoming heavy-handed.

Director Frank Perry does a fine job in creating atmosphere by having each residence Ned enters into completely different from each other. Some have jubilant outdoor parties going on while others have just one person there and one pool doesn’t have any water in it at all. The best scenes include a slow-motion segment where Ned and a young lady named Julie (Janet Landgard) jump over hurdles like they are at a track meet as well as the scene where Ned and a young boy named Kevin (Michael Kearney) go to the bottom of an empty pool and pretend like to swim across it like it were still filled with water.

Lancaster gives an excellent performance and it initially comes off almost like a vanity project as the viewer gets to see him practically nude the entire time and in one brief segment his buttocks gets fully exposed. What’s so impressive is the fact that he was in his mid-50s at the time, but has a muscular physique like that of an athletic 20-year-old. His deep blue eyes give a lasting impression especially when they reveal the character’s shocked realization that the bubble he had been living in has now burst.

This also marks the film debut of Joan Rivers who appears as a party goer who has a brief conversation with Ned. The scene lasts for only a few minutes, but apparently took 7-days to film because of repeated arguments between director Perry and Lancaster over how they wanted to convey her character. Perry pushed for a ‘happy girl’ who Ned rejects, while Lancaster wanted a jaded woman who ends up rejecting Ned, which is how it ultimately plays out and which I preferred.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending where Ned gets to his home only to find it empty and abandoned and he’s unable to get inside is excellent because it helps bring together everything else that came before it. My interpretation is that the pools represented memories of his life and his attempts to somehow reconcile his selfish nature with those that he had abandoned or forgotten from his past. The house symbolizes his empty soul created through years of striving for material gain while callously ignoring, or exploiting others along the way. His inability to get back inside corresponds to his failure to reconcile with himself about his behavior and the empty feeling one ultimately gets when material success ends up not being fulfilling.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The film went through a difficult production that saw many conflicts between Lancaster and Perry that ultimately got Perry fired and replaced by Sydney Pollack who reshot several scenes including the one with Janice Rule who replaced Barbara Loden whose scenes were scrapped entirely. Despite these behind-the-scenes complications the film still comes together as a fluid whole and has a nice visual style that makes it well deserving of its strong cult following.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 15, 1968

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Frank Perry, Sydney Pollack (Uncredited)

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Circle of Power (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Weekend retreat becomes brutal.

Executives of a company spend a weekend at a hotel where they’re a part of a large group awareness training that will better prepare them to achieve their full potential in both their business and personal lives. The encounter group is headed by Bianca Ray (Yvette Mimieux) who implements disturbing activities for the participants to go through that become increasingly more abusive and degrading.

This film is based off of the non-fiction novel ‘The Pit: A Group Encounter Defiled’ by Gene Church which documented a 1972 four day encounter group of top executives from the Holiday Magic company and many of the outrageous activities they were required to go through all under the cloak of learning to ‘bring out their inner dynamic’. Many of the activities that the characters in the film are forced to perform are similar to the ones depicted in the book, but amped up for the sake of drama. Some definitely get disturbing including having one participant, played by Walter Olkewicz, forced to strip naked in front of the group and then told to stand on a chair while the others mock his overweight body before having him locked into a cage and feed scraps of food that he must eat up directly from the floor.

Unfortunately the shock value gets muted by having characters that are too cardboard.  The viewer ultimately has no emotional bond to any of them and therefore the increasingly degrading circumstances that they go through achieve no profound impact. It also happens much too quickly as right from the start they are asked to do crazy things. I have no doubt that these encounter groups can sometimes go too far and there have been documented evidence of some even resulting in deaths, but it occurs gradually. A level of trust needs to be achieved to the point that the participants let down their guard and then the darker and twisted stuff gets introduced instead of just having it from the beginning like it gets played here, before any of the people have been psychologically ‘neutered’.

There is also no background given, or at least not a sufficient one, to the people who run the encounter group who are portrayed in a very one dimensional, creepy way that quickly becomes boring.  The issues of how did they decided to get into this line of work and what makes them so brazen to think they can get people to do these outrageous acts and get away with it is never addressed.

The ending is limp. What happens to the employees once they return to work is never captured nor the fate of the people running the retreat and whether they were ever sued or arrested. The idea is an intriguing one and there’s a potential for a really interesting movie to be had, but the plot needed more context and the characters to be better fleshed out.

Alternate Titles: Brainwash, Mystique, Naked Weekend

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 19, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bobby Roth

Studio: Ambassador Film Distributors

Available: VHS

Bad Timing (1980)

bad-timing-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He needs to control.

Alex Linden (Art Garfunkel) is an American psychiatrist teaching at a Vienna University who falls for a free-spirited young lady named Milena (Theresa Russell). Despite still being married to the much older Stefan (Denholm Elliot) she decides to leave him and move in with Alex, but their relationship soon becomes rocky. Alex gets jealous of her flirtatious ways and wants to control her, but she resists. Their constant fighting sends her into a depression and she begins to abuse both drugs and alcohol. One night Alex finds Milena’s comatose body inside her apartment apparently the victim of an overdose. She gets rushed to the hospital, but the police detective on the case (Harvey Keitel) isn’t so sure that Alex is being completely honest with him about how the events unfolded and through a fragmented narrative the viewer slowly becomes aware of Alex’s very dark and possessive side.

This movie, which was labeled by its distributor as being “a sick film made by sick people for sick people”, still remains as fresh and provocative as when it was first released. The possessive boyfriend theme was at the time a new concept and thus thankfully avoids the annoying clichés we now see in today’s movies while still coming off as groundbreaking and edgy instead. Yale Udoff’s script nicely weaves a complex texture between examining the dark psychological undercurrents of its characters to also creating an intricate and original mystery that keeps you on edge until its final and still quite shocking ending.

Director Nicolas Roeg crafts a mesmerizing visual design with each shot and edit and I especially liked the way he intercuts between showing Milena unconscious inside the emergency room to scenes of her and Alex making love. Their cluttered apartment is interesting as well and tends to be messier when the two are at odds and more organized when they’re apart. Roeg employs a wide range of music styles instead of just choosing one and playing it over and over like in most other movies.

The film’s main defect is Garfunkel’s presence whose acting talent is limited. His character is interesting particularly with the way he majored in psychiatry and yet seemed to be suffering from many of the same problems that he was studying making it seem almost like people who get into that line of work do it not so much to help others, but instead as a sort-of self-analyzation for themselves. However, his performance is wooden and his only memorable bit is when he and Milena hitch-hike a ride with some farmers and he gets stuck in the back of their pick-up with the goats while she rides up front with the two guys and he jealously looks in on them from the rear window.

Russell, who went on to marry director Roeg after this film was completed, goes in the exact opposite direction by overplaying her character until it becomes almost campy. Why this beautiful woman, who gets lots of attention from just about every guy she meets, would fall for such a dull dope like Alex makes no sense nor does her need to constantly try and win him back every time he mistreats her.

The best performances come from the supporting players. Keitel nails it as the cunning detective and Elliot has a great moment where he continues to casually eat his lunch while Alex harangues him on the other end of the telephone receiver.

Despite the miscasting of its two leads and the fact that the movie saw only a limited engagement when it was first released the film has still managed to gain a strong cult following. Much of this can be credited to Roeg’s artsy direction as well as the dark ending that still packs-a-punch.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 21, 1980

Runtime: 2Hours 2Minutes

Rated R

Director: Nicolas Roeg

Studio: Rank Film Distributors

Available: DVD (Criterion Collection), Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video

The Arousers (1972)

sweet-kill-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10       

4-Word Review: He suffers from impotence.

Eddie (Tab Hunter) is a good-looking high school athletic coach who is a magnet to the young southern California women that inhabit the area. Unfortunately Eddie cannot perform in bed and the stress and shame that he feels because of this causes him to murder the women that he attracts.

The original title for this film was Sweet Kill, which I liked better, but because it did not make any money at the box office it got reissued as The Arousers, with nude scenes of voluptuous women added in, which doesn’t really improve it. The film is indeed pretty slow, but I still found it strangely captivating. The story has a real-time approach with more emphasis on seeing the characters as real people than on the chills or shocks. Charles Bernstein’s acoustic musical score is excellent and helps build the tension by being soft at the beginning to the point of barely being detected and then becoming increasingly more present as the film progresses.

Hunter’s excellent performance is not only the best of his career, but one of the better psycho’s in horror film history. The way his eyes glare with evil is impressive and the film makes attempts to show the character’s frustration at suffering from inner shame and not just a one-dimensional killer.

It’s great that the film brings out an important social issue, which at the time was still quite taboo and not at all talked about. Unfortunately the story makes no attempt to explain the cause. Impotence can be caused by many different factors, so the character didn’t necessarily need to be pinpointed with one, but more of a background would’ve helped the viewer understand his inner demons better.

The killings themselves aren’t interesting and the story is too one-sided as we see everything from the killer’s perspective where the tension would’ve been heightened had there been a side-story dealing with a police investigator on his trail. The ending offers no payoff outside of seeing Hunter give off a menacing scowl that rivals Jack Nicholson’s from The Shining. The movie also offers a glimpse of Angus Scrimm, who later became famous for playing The Tall Man in Phantasm, in his film debut.

sweet-kill-2

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Alternate Title: Sweet Kill

Released: May 15, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Rated R

Director: Curtis Hanson

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD

Don’t Go in the House (1980)

dont-go-in-the-house

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He burns his victims.

Donny (Dan Grimaldi) is a grown son living at home with his mother (Ruth Dardick) and suffering from the nightmares of his childhood where she would routinely burn his arms on an open flame every time he misbehaved. When she dies he decides to use his new found freedom to pick-up women at random, bring them back to his place and then burn them to death with his blow torch. Afterwards he dresses the corpses up, puts them into a bedroom where he routinely visits them and has ‘conversations’.

The film uses its low budget to great effect by becoming a grainy, starkly realized journey into a madman’s mind. The large, rundown 21-bedroom home that Donny lives in and has now become the Strauss Mansion Museum in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey offers a terrific backdrop. The decayed, rundown interior becomes a motif to Donny’s deteriorating mind. The faded color matches the grim subject matter and even the sound, which has a constant popping noise like it was taken from a corrupted tape, gives off an eerie feeling like listening to muffled dialogue from a secret, underground source. The cold, gray, wintery landscape adds even more to the bleak ambience.

Director Joseph Ellison seems intent on forcing the viewer to get inside the killer’s head and understanding things from his point-of-view. Instead of having a robotic, evil killing machine we get an overgrown man-child, so tormented from his upbringing that he is unable to know right-from-wrong and burns his victims under a misguided notion that it is somehow ‘cleansing’ them from their sins. The surreal dream done along a lonely beach in which Donny sees his victims come back to life and who drag him down a hole is well captured with just the right amount of atmosphere that easily makes it the best moment in the movie.

Some viewers have found the scene where Donny burns a woman alive inside a metal room while she dangles from a rope to be ‘repugnant’ and ‘going too far’ and has helped the movie achieve a notorious reputation. The scene though is really not all that graphic. We never see the victim actually burned just the lighted blow torch coming towards the screen and then it cuts away. The masks worn by the burn victims isn’t any different from those worn by dead decomposed bodies in other films, so it’s really more what’s implied that upsets some people than what is actually shown.

The film’s only real drawback is that it is much too similar to William Lustig’s Maniac that starred Joe Spinell and came out at around the same time. Both film’s deal with killer’s that have a severe mother complex, hear voices inside their heads, dress the bodies of their victims up, store them in their homes, have ‘conversations’ with them and even harbors visions of them coming back to life to seek revenge. The similarities between the two movies are so striking that they come off like a carbon copy to the other, which seriously hurts the tension because you feel like you’ve seen it all before.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 28, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Ellison

Studio: Film Ventures International

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Pin (1988)

pin-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He befriends a dummy.

Leon (David Hewlett) and Ursula (Cynthia Preston) are brother and sister growing up in a large home run by their stern father (Terry O’ Quinn) who works as a doctor and has an anatomically correct dummy named Pin in his office. Sometimes to entertain the children he gets the dummy to talk, by throwing his voice to make it seem like it’s the dummies. As the children get older Leon remains convinced that the dummy can speak and begins to have an unhealthy fixation with him that concerns his sister. When the parents end up dying in a tragic car accident the sister and brother get the house all to themselves and Leon becomes even more possessive about Pin and anyone who dares make fun of him or Pin pays the ultimate price.

This intriguing film manages to be captivating throughout thanks mainly to an intelligent script and some excellent performances by its two leads. The casting is top-notch including the fact that the different actors who represent Leon and Ursula as they grow from children to young adults look very similar, which is a major achievement since many other movies aren’t as adept with this and cast child performers that do not effectively resemble their adult counterparts.

It’s also refreshing that Leon’s character is not a complete derelict, but instead quite cultured and educated, which makes his weird child-like fixation with the dummy all the more creepy. I also enjoyed O’Quinn as the father and the scene where he performs an abortion on his own daughter and tries to force his son to watch it is really twisted.

The scares though are lacking and there are only a couple of murders, which aren’t all that dramatic or impressive. Pin is also not frightening to look at and in fact becomes downright boring. Most horror films would’ve exaggerated some characteristic of the dummy to give him more of a creepy effect, which is what this one should’ve done. It also would’ve helped had there been a surreal moment where we saw things from Leon’s point-of-view and witnessed the doll actually speaking or even just moving.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s ending though is the script’s weakest point. It involves Ursula attacking Leon with an ax after she realizes that he has just killed her boyfriend (John Pyper-Ferguson), but then the film cuts away making it confusing as to what happens. It then cuts to show Leon sitting in a wheelchair and having taken on the personality of Pin as apparently that’s who she cut up, but the film would’ve been more interesting had it shown the doll getting destroyed and even doing some of it in slow-motion especially since its devoid of much action otherwise.

The idea of a person taking the personality of an inanimate object that they earlier thought was real is nothing new. The same fate occurred to the Anthony Hopkins’ character in Magic where he played a ventriloquist who thought his dummy could talk as well as to another ventriloquist character in a classic episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’, which makes the twist here less interesting and almost predictable. A more surprising element would’ve been to have the dummy suddenly come to life when Ursula attacks it and then killing her.

It also seemed ridiculous that Leon would remain living in his large, stately home in a sort of vegetative state after being caught attempting to murder the boyfriend while apparently being cared for by a round-the-clock nurse is not believable as the cost of his medical care would dry up any funds that he had in his inheritance and making his continued stay at the home completely impractical. In reality the court appointed doctors would’ve deemed him mentally ill and a menace to society while also advising that he be sent away to a secure and monitored mental facility.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 25, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sandor Stern

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD

The Walking Stick (1970)

walking-stick

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Polio victim becomes pawn.

Deborah (Samantha Eggar) is a shy, lonely woman who suffered from polio as a young girl and now must rely on the use of a cane to get around. She still lives with her parents while suffering from claustrophobic tendencies due to being locked inside an iron lung as a child. She meets Leigh (David Hemmings) a struggling artist at a party and he asks her out. Initially she resists his advances, but eventually gives in. The two form a tight bound and even move in together, but her fairytale romance is short-lived once she realizes that she’s been pegged as a pawn and simply used by his gang for her inside knowledge of the auction house where she works to pull off a daring robbery.

The film, which is based on the novel by Winston Graham, is quite leisurely paced. To a degree I didn’t find this to be a problem as it still managed to hold my interest, but too much time is spent on the romance making it seem more like a drama.

The robbery and its planning doesn’t come into play until well over an hour in and seems like a whole different movie altogether. Certain hints should’ve been brought in from the beginning to make it clear to the viewer that despite all the romance this was still meant to be a thriller, which is just not obvious at all. The crime scenes do at least provide some action and quick edits, which normally would’ve made it exciting, but because it takes so long to get there it comes off as off-putting instead. The intended tension doesn’t work because we are less concerned if Leigh and his gang are going to get away with it and more upset at seeing Deborah being taken advantage of.

Eggar gives an outstanding performance and seeing this normally effervescent woman wearing a perpetual frown seemed almost startling, but she conveys her characters inner unhappiness quite well and mostly through her facial expressions alone. However, her character is also quite cold and acerbic. To a degree this is understandable as it’s clearly just a defense, but the viewer never sees enough of her softer side and therefore doesn’t emotional bond with her as they should.

Hemming’s more outgoing personality creates a nice contrast to Eggar’s introverted one, but his character is pretty benign. Dudley Sutton who plays his cohort would’ve made a better boyfriend as he is good at showing a dark side and would’ve kept the viewer more on edge.

The ending doesn’t provide any type of clear wrap-up and leaves a lot of loose ends hanging, which is a pity. The production values are decent and I liked the flashback scenes showing Debora being put into an iron lung, which is the film’s best cinematic moments, but the pace needed to be tighter with more emphasis placed on the story’s twists and turns.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 15, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Eric Till

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video

Going Home (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father and son reunite.

One night during a drunken rage Harry Graham (Robert Mitchum) kills his wife (Sally Kirkland), which gets witnessed by their 7-year-old son Jimmy (Jan-Michael Vincent). 13 years later Harry is paroled and Jimmy uses this opportunity to try and reconcile with his father and find out why he did it, but Harry has moved on. He has a new job and a girlfriend named Jenny (Brenda Vaccaro) and when Jimmy appears it creates an awkward tension that gets progressively worse.

One of the biggest problems with this film is that the characters and their motivations are not fleshed out enough and their actions make little sense. I’ve watched a lot of true-life crime shows and have found that in cases where this situation has occurred in real-life that the adult child will usually cease communication with their father and completely disown them, so it seemed strange why Jimmy would want to restart their relationship. If he was curious to know why Harry did it then he could’ve simply writing him a letter with that question, which he never bothered to do while the man was incarcerated.

The film also fails to show what happened to Jimmy during the time Harry was in prison. He is shown arriving at an orphanage, but nothing about what does when he gets there or being put into a foster home and getting adoptive parents, or moving in with relatives, which is what usually occurs. He somehow has no friends or job and if this is because of his childhood trauma then it should get explained or more strongly implied, but it isn’t and it leaves a big void in the story.

Harry’s actions are equally confusing. The murder gets played out at the beginning and we see the stabbed mother crawl down the stairs and beg Jimmy for help and then Harry comes down and looks at the dead body before turning towards the boy with a guilty expression, but if  he feels so bad about what he has just done and the traumatic impact he’s put his son through then he should’ve thought of that beforehand. I would’ve expected to see a completely different set of emotions in the man’s eyes like anger, rage, insanity or even fear because now he knows he’ll will be going to prison, but guilt wouldn’t play into it, at least not that quickly if ever.

Mitchum’s character is straddled with conveying only one emotion throughout, which is guilt. We never tap into the other side of the man that propelled him to commit such a heinous act and his explanation, which is that he ‘just got drunk’ is insufficient. The character also pops up too conveniently at times. One moment is when Jimmy goes back to their former home, which has now been turned into a whorehouse and he hides in the basement. Harry comes looking for him and despite the fact that there are many people there and it’s a large place he immediately goes to the cellar, but how would he have known to look there? Another segment has him magically coming to Jimmy’s rescue when his son is accosted by a group of sailors underneath a boardwalk even though he was bowling in another building and would have no way of knowing what was occurring outside.

The film has solid production values and director Herbert B. Leonard shows flair with the location shooting, which was done in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. There is also a good scene inside a chicken coop  and actor Josh Mostel (Zero’s son) has an interesting film debut playing Harry’s young, flippant parole officer who delights in demeaning his client as much as possible, but the story leaves open too many unanswered questions and isn’t impactful or relevant.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 1, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Herbert B. Leonard

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive)