Category Archives: Road Movies

The Grasshopper (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Runaway becomes  a showgirl.

Christine (Jacqueline Bisset) is a 19-year-old who’s bored with her life living in rural British Columbia and decides one morning to run away from home and meet up with her fiance Eddie (Tim O’Kelly). He gets her a job as a bank teller, but she finds this boring too, so she runs away from him and moves in with a Vegas comedian (Corbett Monica) who gets her work as a showgirl, but Christine’s inability to ever settle down and her impulsiveness leads her to spiral downhill until she’s eventually forced into prostitution.

Initially I was leery about this one as it was directed by Jerry Paris an actor-turned-director who mainly directed episodes from TV-shows as well as the infamous sequels to the Police Academy franchise and for awhile this thing did not look much better than those, but just when I thought it would be nothing more than a sanitized TV sitcom-like foray into the runaway scene it improved. The second-half has some genuinely gritty moments and the behind-the-scenes look of the showgirl lifestyle is well handled and realistic.

Bisset is excellent and her performance pretty much makes the movie, but she’s not completely right for the part either. For one thing she doesn’t look anything like 19 and was in fact 25 when she did this. She also wears too much make-up. I had no problem with this when she became a showgirl as it’s expected, but initially she should’ve had more of a plain look, which would’ve made her transition into the jaded world more visually striking.

On the flip-side I enjoyed her character and found it refreshing that she wasn’t portrayed as being so completely innocent, but in many ways her own worst enemy. The scenes where she goes out on the Vegas runway with her teeth painted black shocking some in the audience as well as handing a bank customer a note pretending that the place is being robbed reveals some intriguing self-destructive tendencies. It also makes her seem very much like a grasshopper, which was a far better title than ‘The Passing of Evil” that was used for the Mark McShane novel that the film is based on.

Jim Brown, who traditionally plays intimidating characters comes off as surprisingly gentile and sympathetic one here and the inter-racial marriage that he has with Bisset was way ahead-of-its-time. Ramon Bieri gets a great role in his film debut as a rich, arrogant tough who always expects to get his way and watching him chow down on his food is memorable. This also marks the film debut of Ed Flanders, who wears a wig here and looks far older than he did in the ‘St. Elsewhere’ TV-show that he starred in 12 years later.

The ending in which Bisset talks a airplane pilot (William Callaway) into writing ‘Fuck It’ in the sky, is funny, but the film’s overall impact is light. Adding in scenes of Bisset’s home-life growing up and during more innocent times might’ve made her transition stronger, but overall despite a few good moments it never quite comes together as a fluid whole.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 27, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jerry Paris

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video, YouTube

Slither (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for embezzled money.

Dick Kanipsia (James Caan) is a former car thief who has just been released from jail and is now trying to go straight. While in prison he started up a friendship with Harry Moss (Richard B. Shull) and decides to go to his rural home for a visit. It is there that Harry suddenly gets shot by a mysterious gunmen, but just before he dies he informs Dick about a secret stash of stolen money that can only be retrieved by contacting his former partners in crime: Barry Faneka (Peter Boyle) and Vincent Palmer (Allen Garfield). Dick then goes on a road trip trying to find these two men while also coming into contact with a lot of oddball characters and situations along the way.

When I first saw this film over 20 years ago I really loved it and was impressed with W.D. Richter’s offbeat script that relies heavily on quirky scenarios and dryly humorous non sequiturs to help propel it. A theme he later polished to perfection in his most famous film the cult hit The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension While I still enjoy the engaging set-up I’ve found that during subsequent viewings the unsatisfying ending ruins everything else that comes before it and ultimately hurts the movie as a whole, but first lets go over what I did like.

The chase element that gets incorporated into the story is cool and has a strong connection to the one in Duel. The idea of having these large black vans driven by a person we cannot see constantly chasing after our protagonist no matter where he goes is intriguing and helps create an interesting mystery angle. The unique design of the vans, which was a 1973 Dodge Rectrans Discover 25R,  featured no front doors, which coupled with its all-black exterior gives them a very threatening presence that is almost creepier than the truck used in Duel.

Caan’s detached persona helps separate him from all the nuttiness around him and makes him likable in the process. Boyle is amusing as his eventual cohort and Louise Lasser is surprisingly restrained as Boyle’s wife. You also get to see  film director Paul Thomas Anderson’s real-life mother, Edwina Gough, in a small role during a scene at a bingo tournament.

The only character though that I didn’t care for was Sally Kellerman’s who plays this semi-crazy lady that proceeds to just slow-up the pace of the film with every scene that she’s in. I admit the part where she robs a diner at gunpoint is kind of fun, but I’ve never been a fan of her breathless delivery and didn’t feel there was any need for her reappearing after her character was pretty much dropped from the story and forgotten and there’s never any explanation for how she was able to successfully track Caan down after he abandoned her.

Laszlo Kovac’s cinematography is good although it would’ve been nice had this been a genuine road movie where our main character would’ve been required to travel to highly varied settings/landscapes  in his quest to find the hidden money. I realize this would’ve upped the budget, but having to constantly stare at the dry, brown landscape of Stockton, California, where the majority of the shooting took place, is kind of depressing.

As I stated earlier it’s the ending that hurts the film more than anything. To sit through what is otherwise a creative plot only to find that it all just leads to nothing is a big letdown. I know that during the 70’s it was trendy to have anti-climactic movie finishes, but here there needed to be more of a payoff . Movies should also have the main character change in some way from what they were at the beginning, which doesn’t occur. Caan just quietly walks away from the chaos around him like everything he’s just went through was nothing more than a blip on his life’s radar and ultimately that’s the way the movie becomes with the viewer as well. Goofy enough to hold your attention, but never memorable enough to stay with you.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 7, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Howard Zieff

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), YouTube

Jackson County Jail (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Deputy rapes his prisoner.

Nothing seems to be going right in Dinah’s (Yvette Mimieux) life. She quits her job as an advertising executive only to come home to find that her husband (Howard Hesseman) has been cheating on her. She decides to travel across the country and back to her old digs in New York. Along the way she picks up two hitch-hikers (Robert Carradine, Nancy Lee Noble) who end up robbing her at gunpoint and driving off with her car and money. When she walks to the nearest town she finds that no one is willing to help her since, without any identification, she can’t prove who she is. The sheriff (Severn Darden) throws her in jail temporarily until her identity can be confirmed. While there she gets raped by one of the deputies (Fredric Cook) and then goes on the run with Coley (Tommy Lee Jones)  a small-time crook and drifter.

This is yet another Roger Corman produced cheapie made to capitalize on the exploitative low budget drive-in fervor that was so popular during the early to mid 70’s. This one fares better than most as it manages to retain its gritty tone throughout without ever resorting to campiness. The car chase doesn’t have any of the cartoonish or humorous stunts as most others did during that time period, but instead like in Cannonball! shows more of the potential ugly side to them by having several of the vehicles crash and blow-up in flames and killing those that were inside them, which helps accentuate the realism.

The police aren’t quite as inept either although I did find it curious that the cops in the helicopter once they found where Mimieux and Jones’s hideout was didn’t continue to chase the two via the air as they tried to escape down the road in their pick-up. The part where the cop shoots at Jones who collides on foot into a marching band is absurd too as no policeman with half-a-brain would fire into an open crowd as it’s too dangerous and would almost assure innocent victims getting hit.

Mimieux is adequate and the funky 70’s style compact car she drives in with its roundish flying saucer body and oversized steering wheel is a laughable relic. However, for someone whose lived in L.A. she didn’t seem savvy especially when she decides to pick-up two hitch-hikers, which is just asking for trouble, or naively unaware that the obviously drunken, leering cafe owner (Britt Leach) is only being ‘helpful’ so he can have a chance to pounce on her.

Jones is excellent in support, but I found it odd that despite being considered a ‘good guy’ he makes no effort to stop her rape, which he witnesses by being in the adjoining cell, but then when she kills the rapist by beating him over the head with a stool he reaches through the bars and stops her.

The film’s most interesting performance is Fredric Cook’s who plays the rapist. His film career never really took off and he spent most of his life working as an acting teacher, but here in his film debut he really shines. I liked the way his character starts out as a redneck dope who seems put in for comic relief and then quietly becomes menacing as he serves Mimieux her food, explodes into a sudden massive rage, and then after the act is committed becomes guilt ridden and even ashamed, which creates a very interesting portal into the mindset of most male attackers.

The second half unfortunately slows up creating boring segments when the pace and tension should instead be revved up. The wide-open ending offers no conclusion to Mimieux’s ultimate fate and the film’s message is vague and transparent.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 2, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Miller

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Shaker Run (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Transporting a deadly virus.

Judd (Cliff Robertson) is an aging stunt driver who along with his young protege Casey (Leif Garret) is finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. With barely any money on hand they decide to take up an offer from a mysterious woman (Lisa Harrow) who asks them to carry inside the trunk of their car a large container with a secret substance across New Zealand for undisclosed reasons. The desperate Judd reluctantly agrees only to later find that inside the container is a deadly virus sought after by the military who will stop at nothing to get their hands on it.

The wide-eyed plot mixes the genre of a cross-country road chase with that of an end-of-the-world sci-fi flick and the result is as cheesy as it sounds. It’s also hampered by cheap production values that makes it look more on par with a TV-movie than a theatrical one.

I didn’t care for the cold climate setting either. Filmed in July of 1984, which would be wintertime for the southern hemisphere, the New Zealand landscape looks quite bleak and brown with occasional pockets of snow and the  characters are all bundled up in heavy jackets. A good road movie should elicit inside the viewer the feeling of wanting to get out onto the open highway instead of longing to stay inside by a fireplace like it does here.

Robertson manages to add some life to the otherwise sterile material, which is nice to see as his film career nosedived in 1977 when he accused Columbia studio head David Begelman of forgery and was blacklisted as a result. When he was finally offered film roles again they were of the thankless supporting kind although here he gets the star treatment and it’s great seeing a guy in his 60’s handling the action as opposed to a young 20-something hunk like in most other films.

Leif Garrett, the androgynous teen hunk from the 70’s is adequate as his loyal young side-kick and has grown to be more filled-out and masculine looking. However, the remaining cast members are dull and this includes Shane Briant in a boring caricature of a cold, calculating villain as well Harrow who tags along with the two men on their drive, but comes-off more like unnecessary dead-weight.

Spoiler Alert!

The more the chase goes on the more contrived it gets and there’s an uneasy balance between realistic crashes to slapstick comedy. The resolution, in which Harrow ties a chain dangling from an overhead helicopter piloted by the CIA onto Robertson’s car so that they are whisked into the air while the evil government agents that had been chasing them drive off over a cliff, is not satisfying because the film made clear earlier that the CIA was just as deceitful as the other bad guys and couldn’t be trusted. Yet it never bothers to explain what ultimately happens to the virus, or whether it got into the right-hands and was destroyed.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 15, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Bruce Morrison

Studio: Mirage Films

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Bronco Billy (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rich lady and cowboy.

Bronco Billy (Clint Eastwood) is an aging modern-day cowboy who runs a traveling wild west show that is no longer attracting customers and making it hard for him to pay his employees. While at a gas station he meets Antoinette (Sondra Locke) a rich heiress with a haughty attitude who has just gotten dumped by her husband (Geoffrey Lewis) who also absconded with all of her money. Billy decides to hire her onto his show despite the fact that her presence causes animosity amongst the rest of his crew.

After Locke’s recent death, one person on Twitter, I don’t remember who, stated that this was the ‘greatest movie ever made’ and I’m not sure if he was joking or not, but if he wasn’t then I adamantly must disagree.  The film does start out okay and even has a certain charm to it, but the story and situations get too exaggerated until it’s impossible to take any of it seriously while also being too hokey to find funny.

The biggest logic gaps occur during the story thread dealing with Lewis being convinced to lie to the authorities that he killed Locke even though he really didn’t, so that he can get his share of her inheritance once he gets out. He’s told that if he pleads insanity that he will be ‘guaranteed’ to be released in only 3 years, but when in the history of the world has this ever happened and who would ever be dumb enough to believe it?  And that staying at a mental hospital is ‘no big deal’ and almost like a ‘resort’, which describes no mental hospital that I’ve ever head of.  There’s also no attempt by the police, or at least none is ever shown, to investigate the case to make sure Locke really has been murdered and try and retrieve her body.

The proverbial barroom brawl segment (must every western-themed film have this?) that occurs in the middle is as cliched and silly as it sounds and puts the whole rest of the film on a very cartoonish level. What’s even dumber is that during the brawl Locke goes outside to the parking lot where she gets accosted by two men, but just before they’re able to assault her Eastwood and his buddies magically appear to save her, but how could they have no known that she was in trouble when just a minute before they were shown taking part in the wild ruckus inside?

Locke’s rich-bitch personality is too much of a caricature and quickly becomes irritating to the point that when she eventually does soften, which takes awhile, it still doesn’t help. Having her able to shoot a pistol just as well as Billy seems out of character and never sufficiently explained. It would’ve been funnier had her dainty, cushy lifestyle been challenged more by throwing her into a rugged experience that she wasn’t used to, which doesn’t get played-up half as much as it could’ve or should’ve.

Eastwood’s character isn’t likable either. I would hate working for somebody that couldn’t pay me fore several months straight nor not allowing his employees to ad-lib any of their lines that he writes for them during the western skits that they put on even though people work better in their jobs when their allowed to have creativity and leeway in what they do and how they do it.

Why he would immediately fall head-over-heels for this woman is a mystery as Locke is only average in the looks department and her arrogant attitude is such an extreme turn-off that just about any guy would quickly dump her and never look back instead of continually pursuing her like Billy pretty much does here. Having them consummate their relationship should’ve only occurred at the very end while displaying much more of their personality clashes, which gets underplayed.

The scene where Billy and his gang try to hold-up a train is really funny and I enjoyed the inspired casting of having Woodrow Parfrey, who usually plays weirdo types, being cast as the head of the mental hospital, but other than that I felt the film was too predictable. You know where it’s headed right from the start and the theme of the old-fashioned, rugged individualist fighting more modern-day sensibilities has been done in so many other Eastwood films that here it becomes redundant.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Release: June 11, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 56 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Clint Eastwood

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Rolling Thunder (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: No hand no problem.

Major Charles Rane (William Devane) returns home to a hero’s welcome after spending 7 years a prisoner of war. As part of the ceremony he’s given 2,555 silver dollars to commemorate each day that he was held in captivity. A few days later a group of thugs invade his home looking for the silver dollars and when Rane refuses to tell them where they are they stick in his hand into his garbage disposal before shooting both his son and wife dead. Now with a hook for a right hand he goes on an unrelenting search for the killers determined to kill each and every one of them while using his hooked hand as a weapon.

What might’ve been considered violent and groundbreaking back in 1977 seems awfully trite and formulaic now. Paul Schrader’s original screenplay portrayed Rane as a racist and the story culminated with him indiscriminately shooting a group of Mexican’s as a metaphor to America’s involvement in Vietnam, but of course studio execs considered this ‘too edgy’ so everything got watered down and all that gets left is a benign and predictable revenge western updated to the modern-day.

The much ballyhooed violence isn’t all that gripping either. Originally there was a graphic shot that showed a prosthetic hand being sliced up in the disposal, but test audiences became repulsed by it causing the studio execs to take the shot out of the film even though by today’s standards that might not be considered as disturbing as it was back then and might even have given the film some distinction, which it is otherwise lacking.

The scene where the son and mother are killed is poorly handled too because we never see them actually shot as it’s done off camera. This then negates the horror of it and makes it less emotionally compelling with even a quick shot of their bloodied bodies needed for the necessary strong impact. I also thought it was weird that when Rane comes back to the scene of the crime we’re shown the sofa where the two were killed on, but there are no blood stains on it even though most likely there should’ve been.

Devane’s performance is a detriment as well as he is unable to effectively convey the character’s intense, brooding nature. The film would’ve worked better had Tommy Lee Jones, who appears here briefly, been given the lead as he, even in the few scenes that he is in, gives off the required intensity perfectly while Devane is seemingly overwhelmed by the part’s demands making it easy to see why he never became the big screen star that the producers were hoping for.

Linda Hayne’s role was not needed and despite her beauty pretty much just gets in the way. She plays Rane’s girlfriend who begins to date him after his family’s slaughter and tags along with him in tracking the killers, but she tends to be a bit annoying with too many conversations centering around Rane’s need to ‘get over’ his family’s death and seemingly treating his loss like it should be a minor inconvenience that he should simply ‘move on’ from. There is a moment where he seems ready to throw her out of the car and leave her stranded in a field, which would’ve nicely illustrated the character’s obsessed and loner nature, but like with everything else in the film it gets softened by having him dump her later on in a more civil way, which again becomes like a cop-out to the story’s otherwise rough theme.

The shoot-out inside a chapel is pretty good and I really liked James Best as the bad guy with all the sweat pouring down his face, which was apparently accomplished by having him wear ice cubes underneath his hat. Having Devane use his hook to grab, quite literally, Luke Askew by the balls I suppose deserves some kudos too, but overall it’s a bland viewing experience that fails live up to its hype with the whole hooked hand as a weapon concept needing to be played up much more. The movie’s poster makes it seem like it will be a lot cooler flick than it actually is.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 14, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Flynn

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD

Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lost souls go traveling.

Rafferty (Alan Arkin) works as a driving instructor and is also an alcoholic. One day while relaxing at a park he meets him up with a kooky lesbian pair known as Frisbee (Mackenzie Phillips) and Mac (Sally Kellerman) who have both been recently released from prison. Initially the pair kidnap Rafferty at gunpoint and force him to take them to New Orleans, but Rafferty soon develops a bond with them as they go jaunting around the west looking for excitement and diversion from their otherwise boring lives.

This film works differently from the usual road movie as there’s no real structure to it at all. In some ways this is more realistic as the romanticism is erased and we’re left with nothing more than random events that leads to no conclusion other than dispelling the myth that hitting-the-road will somehow lead to some new self-awareness as these character’s lives remain just as directionless upon their return as it was when they left. Watching the petty crimes that they commit in order to survive ends up being the film’s only entertaining value in what is otherwise a meandering and flat story.

Phillips gives a good performance as a tough, street smart juvenile delinquent who I felt was channeling her own precarious upbringing as the daughter of singer John Phillips in order to have been able to play the part with such a vivid authenticity. If anything she gives the film a much needed edge and is the only real good thing about it.

Kellerman is okay and even sings a country tune, but what impressed me most was how young they made her appear as she was nearing 40 at the time, but she looked more to be in her early 20’s. Arkin surprisingly manages to stay restrained and never once goes into one of his patented hyper rants, but in the process comes off as too mellow and allows his two female co-stars to act circles around him.

The film also features some good supporting work by a cast full of faces who you’ve seen before, but don’t quite know what their names are. Alex Rocco is particularly engaging as a shyster that Arkin meets in a casino who clings to the trio as a hanger-on before getting inadvertently dumped, which was a shame as I liked his energy. Charles Martin Smith has an engaging bit as a naive soldier on a 15-day army leave who gets robbed by Phillips and then tries to relentlessly track her down.

Director Dick Richards won many accolades for his first flick The Culpepper Cattle Company and the realism it gave to the old west and he seems to be taking the same approach here by connecting the modern-day road movie to the rugged individualism of the bygone cowboy, but it doesn’t come off as effectively as it could’ve. A stronger cinematic approach that captured the western landscape would’ve made it more visually appealing as well as having a soundtrack that wasn’t so generic.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is a bit perverse by today’s standards as Kellerman leaves them so Arkin then poses as Phillips’ father in order to get her out of the orphanage and allow the two to travel to Uruguay. The intent at the time may have seemed innocuous as Arkin was simply filling the role as her surrogate father, but these days many viewers will consider it ‘creepy’ and presume that the middle-aged man was trying to take advantage of this 15-year-old’s desperate situation in order to have a sexual relationship with her.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 2, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Dick Richards

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS

Ladies and Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen forms punk band.

Corinne (Diane Lane) is an angry 17-year-old who lashes out at a TV-reporter during an interview when she describes the challenges of trying to make-ends-meet while working at a fast food place after the death of her mother. Her tirade resonates with other teens and this new found celebrity gives her the idea to form her own punk band called The Stains.  She goes on tour with two other bands and makes a splash by going out on stage wearing a wild skunk-like hair-do and a see-through blouse. This gets her media attention and a fan following, but will her new found fame last, or will it just go to her head?

This interesting look at the punk band scene, that could make a great companion piece to The Decline of Western Civilization, was filmed in a sardonically humorous pseudo-documentary style, but unfortunately did not fare well when it was initially released. After getting a bad response when it was first shown in Denver in October of 1982 the studio shelved the film for 2 years,inserted a new tacked-on ending and then sold it to the USA Network where it became a staple to their weekend, overnight programming and quickly garnered a cult following.

The film still does not get as much attention as I think it deserves and tends to get overshadowed by the overrated This is Spinal Tap. This film though is a lot grittier and that fact that it was directed by Lou Adler, who worked for many decades in the music business, helps give it an authentic appeal as it analyzes the underside of the music business by showing how the majority of bands live on society’s fringe while excising the glitz and glamour completely. It also astutely examines the inner-conflicts and raging egos that go on behind-the-scenes and how the almost constant back-stabbing infects the mind-set of those trying to break-in.

The script was written by Nancy Dowd who is best known or penning Slap Shot and this film works in much the same way as that one by placing it in a similar setting of an economically strapped, working class Pennsylvania town. The shots of the gray, rundown region is what really gives this film an extra edge and helps the viewer identify with why the characters will do almost anything to get out of it. One of the best shots comes while watching Corinne walking around outside as she makes plans for her band while in the backdrop we see the grimy steel mill life that she’s grown-up in and hitting-home how her dreams for her punk band isn’t based so much on rebellion, but more on hoped for escape.

I loved Lane’s acerbic personality and her hilariously caustic opening interview with a TV-reporter really sets the tone for the rest of the film while also helping to solidify that this isn’t going to be just another mainstream Hollywood flick like Almost Famous, which I felt painted rock band life in too much of a sugar coated way, but instead something with a real attitude. In fact I was disappointed that Lane’s salty sarcasm wasn’t played-up even more as it’s funny and on-target and made it easy to see how her character was able to galvanize such a mass following.

On the slight downside I felt her relationship with her two band-mates (Marin Kanter, Laura Dern) with one of them being her sister and the other her cousin got underplayed. The irony is that Dern sued her mother, actress Diane Ladd, in court in order to work on the movie as Ladd felt she was too young to travel on-location to do the shoot. Dern obviously won the battle, but the fight seemed hardly worth it as she ends up having very little to say or do.

Spoiler Alert!

The only time that things becomes insincere is when the Looters head singer (Ray Winstone) performs the opening act for The Stains and is met with a hostile response by her fans, so in retaliation he informs them that Corinne is a corporate sell-out and just like that they all turn on her. Having an entire stadium of young people go from rapid fans to extreme haters in a matter of seconds is just not realistic and one of the reasons why I believe this film did not do well upon its initial release and required a different ending put in, which was filmed several years later, in order to help salvage it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Release: October 16, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Lou Adler

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Hambone and Hillie (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dog reunites with owner.

Hillie (Lillian Gish) is a 90-year-old grandmother returning to Los Angeles from her stay in New York. In order to board the plane she must put her dog Hambone in a cage, so that he can be transported separately. Unfortunately a young girl opens the cage and allows Hambone to escape, but only after the plane carrying his owner has already taken off. Hambone then goes on a cross-country trek to reunite with Hillie and has many adventures in-between.

Most dogs that are abandoned from their owners become strays and live on the streets, in rescue shelters or are taken in by a new owner, but they are definitely not homing pigeons that can somehow smell their owners scent from thousands of miles away. They also can’t read maps or road signs or even tell direction making this film’s premise totally ridiculous. Also, dogs, like with most animals, have very short attention spans, so the idea that this mutt is harboring a long-term ‘strategy’ even as he meets other people is absurd. Yes dog/owner reunions do sometimes occur but they almost always require another person getting involved in order to bring the pet back.

The film also cheats things by having the dog in Philadelphia during one scene and then in the next shot he is in Chicago, but without showing how he did it. His ability to survive on his own is also highly questionable. Since he is a domesticated pet he’d have no hunting or foraging skills especially when he goes through the forest and desert. We sometimes see strangers giving the dog water during his trek, but never showing him eating anything. After he crosses the desert you’d expect him to be at a near starving state with his ribs showing, but they aren’t. What’s even crazier is that after walking through the desert he then spots Hillie in a car driving away and he runs after the vehicle at full speed even though after what he’s been through he should barely be able to walk at all.

The acting is pretty bad too with O.J. Simpson and Candy Clark, whose birthing contractions become almost comical, giving the two worst performances. I also chuckled at how Timothy Bottoms gets listed in the opening credits as having a ‘special appearance’ even though there’s absolutely nothing special about it unless you count the moment where he refers to Gish, a woman who was 90 at the time and 60 years older than him, as a ‘young lady’.

The two children (Marc Bentley, Nicole Eggert) who take in the dog for a while are so squeaky clean that they become Stepford-like. The fact that their mother (Nancy Morgan) had brown hair, but they were blonde didn’t make sense either. Granted the father is never shown and maybe he did have blonde hair, but darker hair is the stronger gene, so unless they were adopted that’s what they should’ve had.

The only interesting bit is when a handicapped girl (Sidney Greenbush) puts a cross around the neck of a dog that was traveling with Hambone and tells this dog that the cross will help protect her, but then later this same dog gets hit by a car and dies, which was odd since the movie seemed pro-Christian and even has a scene where the girl’s grandfather (Alan Hale Jr.) reads from the Bible, so you’d think they’d show the dog that wore the cross not getting hurt, or miraculously escaping a close-call, but it doesn’t. What’s even more revealing is that when the dog gets buried the cross is then hung on the grave marker and the camera does a close-up on it that seems to be pushing a subtle pro-secular message by reminding the viewer that wearing the cross did nothing to help save the dog’s life.

Another odd element is that the dog shown on the movie’s promotional poster is not the same one that was used in the film. This might be because, and I’m only guessing here, that the dog in the movie had a freaky looking pair of eyes– not sure the breed– that made him look almost possessed and the film studio worried that his appearance might scare the children away from seeing the movie.

In either case this schmaltzy family film is a dud and even dog lovers will find it hard to take as only they or the most indiscriminating children could possibly enjoy it. Others should beware.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: April 24, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Roy Watts

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: VHS

Bless the Beasts and the Children (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kids free the buffalo.

Six adolescent boys (Barry Robins, Bill Mumy, Miles Chapin, Darel Glaser, Robert Jayson Kramer, Marc Vahanian) room together during summer camp and become known as the ‘bedwetters’. Through flashbacks we learn that the six children have difficult times at home with their individual parents and are routinely picked on by the other kids at the camp. Their camp counselor Wheaties (Ken Swofford) decides to take them to a buffalo corral where the boys witness to their horror the buffalo being shot by various hunters in an effort to ‘thin the herd’ from the weaker or more sickly ones. The boys decide to sneak off one night and free the herd from their corral, but various complications inevitably ensue.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Glendon Swarthout and one might expect from the movie’s poster, for another topical, preachy, dramatically charged production from director Stanley Kramer, but instead the film is amusing and breezy. If you went to summer camp as a child then this will be sure to bring back a flood of memories. Some of the pranks that the other kids play on our six protagonists are cruel, but there’s also fun moments that effectively recreate the carefree summer days of youth.

In a lot of ways this could be described as early version of The Bad News Bears as these ‘losers’ decided to show everyone who doubts them up and to a degree you could say this one does it better. In the bears film we never saw how the kids related to their parents and their family background, but here we do in a nice fragmented style, which allows the viewer to connect to the kids in a deeper and more emotional level, which makes us root even more for them to accomplish their mission.

The dialogue is banal and Sammy, played by Chapin, is annoying.  He’s supposed to be ‘funny’ with his lame impressions of famous celebrities, mostly those of a very bygone era that viewers today won’t even know, and the fact that he continues to do them throughout the movie made me think he should’ve been ostracized by the others just for that and it would’ve been justifiable. The on-location shooting though shot throughout Arizona helps, and Robins who plays Cotton their leader is a standout especially given the fact that he was 24 when this was filmed, but looked to be only about 14 like the other kids.

The only issue that I had with the movie is the music particularly the opening song sung by the Carpenters. Richard and Karen Carpenter were a terrific brother and sister duo, but they represented the conservative establishment. This is a movie about junior high boys and they most likely would never listen to the Carpenters or like their music. A film’s soundtrack should reflect the attitude and personality of its protagonists and the songs selected here really don’t as the boys represented rebellion while the Carpenters were all about conformity. It’s possible that director Kramer, who was nearing 60 at the time, didn’t know the difference. The Carpenters were getting chart toppers at the time, so from his generation’s perspective that made them ‘hip’ and the ‘in-thing’, which shows how out-of-touch he was to his subjects, which becomes a bit of a drawback.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 1, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Stanley Kramer

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video, YouTube