Category Archives: Satire

Head Office (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Climbing the corporate ladder.

Jack (Judge Reinhold) is a recent college graduate and business major who gets a job at a prestigious Chicago company named INC. Jack has very little ambition and more interested in making it with the women than climbing the corporate ladder, but despite his lack of effort he keeps getting promoted. He begins to realize that his ascension may not have anything to do with who he is and more with the fact that his father (George Coe) is a influential senator and the company’s CEO (Eddie Albert) wants to gain his favor in order to have a textile plant moved to a Latin American country that will allow them cheap labor and more profits.

The film, which was written and directed by Ken Finkleman, starts off with a bang and has many funny gags, but eventually wears out its welcome by relying too heavily on age-old clichés and caricatures.  Everyone knows the business world can be corrupt and filled with eager boot lickers driven by those with power-hungry career aspirations and willing to backstab anyone that might get in their way. Trying to fill 90-minutes with this same point-of-view that just gets repeated over and over is not amusing nor insightful and if anything becomes boringly predictable.

The characters lack distinction and are more like yes men robots than real people. I worked at several Fortune 500 companies during my lifetime and can attest that there are indeed the proverbial ass-kissers, but they’re plenty of people that have no interest in playing the company game and realize it’s sheer folly because the more you work up the ladder the more a pawn to the system you become. Some are simply satisfied to have a job and provide for their families and yet the film does not show these folks at all, which makes it one-dimensional and ultimately unrealistic.

Reinhold is weak in the lead, which is another reason it doesn’t work. This is a film that is in desperate need of a socialist or someone that is very anti-corporate and just there to openly thumb their  nose at the system and try to muck it up if they can and yet half the time it’s confusing what Reinhold’s position is. He’s too transparent and has no strong presence at all.  There’s also a scene where he gets shot at by a disgruntled ex-employee, which would’ve been enough to make most people never want to go back to that company again as no job is worth that and yet Reinhold returns like it somehow was no big deal.

The supporting cast is interesting and includes such familiar faces as Danny DeVito and Rich Moranis, but they die-off quickly. What’s the use of bringing in big-name stars if they’re going to be killed off right away? It’s fun seeing Jane Seymour playing against type as a power hungry boss. She made her mark in romantic roles for the most part, so it’s impressive seeing her doing a different type of part and doing it well and it’s just a shame she wasn’t in it more. Eddie Albert is good too and plays the violin in a convincing way, or at least is smart enough to know how to move his fingers so it looks realistic.

Spoiler Alert!

However, the gag involving Reinhold inadvertently destroying an expensive Stradivarius violin that gets handed to him by Albert gets ruined when it’s made known that it wasn’t authentic, but simply a prototype. That was the only moment in the film where I had laughed-out-loud, but leave to this dumb movie to botch even that.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 29, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Ken Finkleman

Studio: TriStar Pictures

Available: DVD

The Virgin President (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: The President is incompetent.

The current President (Severn Darden) has become too elderly and can no longer handle the job, but because term limits have been vanquished he keeps getting elected anyways. His staff decide he needs to go and the only way to do it is to have him killed, but make it look like an accident, so they set-it-up to where he gets bitten by a poisonous parrot. Once he is gone his young son, Fillard Millmore (also played by Darden) takes over. Fillard has lived a very sheltered life and is not privy to the corrupt ways of Washington and his advisors try to use this to their advantage. To help improve their international relations with China they have him get married to a Chinese bride (L’nelle Hamanaka), but because he’s inexperienced with sex he is unable to please her on their wedding night, which angers the Chinese officials who threaten nuclear retaliation, but the President’s advisors plan on striking China first.

The film is a low budget effort cast with members from Chicago’s Second City Improv group that has its moments, but doesn’t completely come together. One of the main issues is that it was directed by Graeme Ferguson, who specialized in doing documentaries and the opening sequence, which shows the behind-the-scenes footage of the actors getting ready for a scene underneath the credits is quite awkward. It made me feel like I was watching somebody’s home movie and not a feature film and does not in anyway help grab the viewer. It was also filmed in black-and-white and by the late 60’s almost all movies were done in color and this one should’ve been too because it just accentuates it’s amateurish quality otherwise.

Once the film gets going with the plot it does have some inspired moments. Darden is quite funny as the old man especially his death scene. I got a kick out of the little electronic box hidden inside a cabinet at the White House that would allow any American President to dial-up any country he wanted to bomb and pick the number of casualties, including a switch for ‘bonus kills’. Darden’s attempts to ‘make friends’ with the protestors outside the White House who are against his policies is amusing too.

They are unfortunately some bits that don’t work including Paul Benedict’s character who gets sexually aroused watching flowers pollinate. The pacing is off too with some scenes going on longer than they should and too much emphasis on the actors improvising their lines with dialogue that at times veers off from the main story.

The thing though that got me most annoyed, as a person who likes to be very fact oriented, was the scene where the President and his advisors are discussing which American city to nuke, which they hope to make it look like China did it and then give them the excuse to nuke China in return. Darden says they should bomb some ‘insignificant city’ like Fargo, South Dakota, but anyone familiar with geography would know that Fargo is in North Dakota and not South Dakota. What I found even more irritating is that another character instead of correcting the President on his mistake just reiterates the same thing making me believe that the entire cast and crew didn’t know what state Fargo was really in, which I found to be rather pathetic.

While this is clearly not a perfect movie and does have its share of drawbacks I still found it a fun watch simply as a relic of its era. It’s surprising in many ways how little has changed in Washington. The politicians back-in-the-day still had American imperialism on their minds and everything revolved around how to ‘brainwash the masses’ so they could remain in power, which unfortunately isn’t any different from how it is now.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 18, 1968

Runtime: 1 Hour 11 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Graeme Ferguson

Studio: CMB Films

Available: None at this time.

The Stepford Wives (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Suburban wives become robots.

Joanne and Walter (Katharine Ross, Peter Masterson) decide to move with their two children (Mary Stuart Masterson, Ronny Sullivan) from the big city to the quiet suburb of Stepford, Connecticut. While Walter immediately starts to fit-in with the exclusive men’s club that they have there Joanne feels unable to connect with the other wives who all behave in a robotic fashion and more concerned with keeping their husbands happy and cleaning their homes than anything else. She manages to find one other woman named Bobbie (Paula Prentiss) who like her find the women’s behavior in the town to be a bit odd and they team up to investigate what the cause of it may be.

When this film was first released it was met with controversy particularly by feminists who felt the storyline was misogynistic and one protester even went as far as attacking director Bryan Forbes with her umbrella. When the movie was screened to a group of feminists they all hissed and groaned at it during the viewing while some other women, like screenwriter Eleanor Perry, came to the film’s defense calling it more of a sharp satire on men and their superficial views on women than on the women themselves.

I saw it more as a trenchant take on the suburbs, which can initially seem like a quiet, safe refuge, but ultimately can become a trap with a lot of hidden strings that you don’t initially see. While the Stepford wives do behave as overly conforming to domestic roles it’s really not all that much different than what you’d find in reality making you wonder if the rest of us suburbanites all slowly getting sucked into the Stepford trap too and just don’t realize it.

While the ill-advised 2004 remake tried to turn the concept into a comedic tale the story really works best as a horror film, which is what the 1972 Ira Levin novel, of which the film was based, intended and there are some good creepy moments. I particularly liked the moment when Joanne is talking to her therapist, played by Carol Eve Rossen, about how she feels the men in town are turning the women into robots and she fears she will be next. Her therapist advises her to grab her kids and leave town, but Joanne admits her other family members are dead and she has nowhere to go, which brought out what the truly frightening aspect of this story truly is, which is that women back then were completely dependent on their husbands for everything. Many of them weren’t in the job force and simply living off of their husband’s income. If the marriage went bad they were pretty much trapped in it, so even if a woman wasn’t getting turned into a robot like these women were they still weren’t really free either.

I also enjoyed the moment when Katharine Ross stabs Paula Prentiss, Ross had grown to like Prentiss so much during the production that she was nervous about doing this so director Forbes shaved the back of his hand and used it in place of Ross’ when the scene was shot. You may have seen many stabbing scenes in your film watching lifetime, but the one here is truly unique and quite memorable and voted as one of the 100 Scariest Film Moments by the Bravo Film Institute.

The film though still does have its share of faults. I liked how the viewer initially doesn’t know anything more than the main characters about what is going on, but ultimately the viewer starts to catch onto things more quickly than the protagonist, which proves frustrating. Joanne comes upon the creepy house where the exclusive men’s club meet, filmed at the historical Lockwood-Matthews Mansion in Norwalk, Connecticut, which looks quite ominous at night, at the film’s 60 minute mark, but then doesn’t go back to it until 50 minutes later. The viewer has already connected-the-dots that the bad things are happening inside that place, but instead of Joanne investigating the place more she goes on a wild-goose-chase with Bobbie about researching that town’s water supply, thinking that may have a chemical in it that is brainwashing the other women, which is clearly just a waste of time.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s ending has a several issues as well. In the novel Joanne gets chased down by the town’s men, which should’ve been in the film as it would’ve allowed for some much needed action, but wasn’t. William Goldman’s script had originally called for Joanne to fight violently for her life when she gets attacked by her prototype robot, but Forbes decided to simply fade to black and not show the struggle, which makes it look like Joanne allowed herself to go down too easily.

When Joanne confronts the sinister Diz, played by Patrick O’Neal, he alludes to the idea that she wasn’t necessarily going to die, but would simply be ‘moving onto another phase’. He then describes to her about how nice it would be for a woman to be married to a husband who would adore her even when she grew ‘old and flabby’ making me think that Joanne was simply going to be taken away to another suburb somewhere else where the husbands would be the robots that the women controlled while the men remained in Stepford enjoying the wife robots. Seeing this scenario would’ve been a more interesting and unexpected twist and ultimately was later done in the 1986 TV-Movie The Stepford Husbands. 

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 12, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bryan Forbes

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Le Jouet (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: A rich kid’s plaything.

Eric (Fabrice Greco), the son of Pierre (Michel Bouqet) a rich business tycoon, is used to getting his way, so when he goes to a toy store, where he’s informed he can have anything he wants, he chooses Francois (Pierre Richard). Francois is a struggling journalist looking for income and decides to go along with the outrageous proposition of being a child’s toy because of the money he’s offered, so he gets put into a crate and ‘delivered’ to the home just like a regular large ‘toy’ would. He’s then forced to amuse the child at all times and catering to any whims of fancy that he may have. While this arrangement is initially quite awkward Francois is eventually able to form a bond with the boy and the two then set out to teach the arrogant father a lesson.

The script, which was written by the prolific Francis Veber, who also directed, lends keen insights into capitalism and the corporate company structure. While Pierre seems to be the one that is being put into a degrading position and treated like a puppet, it’s actually the company yes men that surround Eric’s father and obediently do anything he demands who are the real toys and yet none of them see it.

Richard does quite well in the lead and despite being put in a humiliating situation ends up showing much more self respect than many of the other characters. Greco is equally good in this his only film appearance. Initially I thought I was going to really hate this spoiled kid, but Veber’s adept writing creates a child character who’s very savvy to the foibles of the adult world  and ends up showing a hidden motivation for why he does what he does that eventually comes out later.

The only performance that I didn’t care for was that of Bouquet. While he has an impressive acting resume and is still appearing in movies at the ripe old age of 95 having just starred in one that came out this year and working steadily in films since 1947, which makes for one of the longest career spans of any actor ever, I still felt here he wasn’t right for this part. His facial expressions are dull and one-dimensional and he’s never funny with his grey hair making him seem too old to be the father of such a young boy.

The film does get a bit heavy-handed at times making its targets too obvious, but it’s still filled with some acerbically funny moments including my favorite scene where Eric and his father walk-in on a family eating dinner and he offers them a lot of money if they agree to on-the-spot sell their home and leave, so after a brief conference the family immediately starts packing. Even with some minor blemishes it’s still far superior to its American remake, which will be reviewed tomorrow.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 8, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Francis Veber

Studio: AMLF

Available: DVD (Region 2), Blu-ray (Region A/B/C), Amazon Video (Dubbed), YouTube (Dubbed)

Wild in the Sky (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hijacking a B-52 bomber.

Three Vietnam protesters (Brandon De Wilde, George Stanford Brown, Phil Vandervort) are arrested and taken to jail via a paddywagon driven by Officer Roddenberry (Dub Taylor). Along the way Roddenberry pulls over to relieve himself and while he’s outside one of the prisoners uses a wire to pull on the gear shift and make the vehicle move, which runs over Roddenberry who was in an out-house. The three then escape to a nearby air force base and get on a plane carrying a bomb that they threaten to drop onto Fort Knox unless they’re given their freedom.

This very budget-challenged production has a grainy look and a lame soundtrack that quickly makes it a relic of its era. There were so many other better produced films that came out in the same time period that took the same potshots at the army, politicians, and the establishment that it seems virtually pointless why anyone would feel the need to sit through this one as it adds nothing new to the already tired anti-war spoof genre.

The script though, which was co-written by Dick Gautier, who also gets cast as the plane’s co-pilot, and famous ‘Hollywood Squares’ host Peter Marshall, does have a few engaging moments. The conversation that Larry Hovis, who probably comes off best out of the entire cast, has with army general Keenan Wynn, is quite amusing. The moment when macho pilot Robert Lansing spontaneously kisses George Stanford Brown smack on the lips as they attempt to wrestle a gun from each other is pretty out-there especially for the time period. The bit at the end where the army personnel are stuck in an enclosed room and busily kick a live grenade away from each other and to someone else, who just kicks it back to the person who sent it to them, has an amusing quality to it as well.

Unfortunately the film creates a lot of strong characters and then doesn’t know what to do with them. Stanford Brown makes for a formidable lead, in fact the film was reissued with the title BLACK JACK because of his very dominant presence, but then he parachutes out of the plane along with most of the other air crew just as the dynamics between them were getting interesting. Had the film remained focused on the men inside the plane and made it more of a character study showing how their interactions between them changed during the course of the stand-off/flight this might’ve been interesting, but instead it spends too much time on the ground dealing with a petty, bickering fight between Wynn and Tim O’ Connor, which becomes cartoonish and silly.

De Wilde, whose last film this was before his untimely death in a car accident in July, 1972, is boring. He certainly looks the part with his long hair and jaded hippie-like facials expressions and light years away from the innocent child characters that he played in Shame and The Member of the Wedding, but his character has no pizzazz and nothing to say that is interesting or even remotely funny. Stanford Brown was the one that gave it energy and once he goes this already flimsy production goes with it.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 16, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: William T. Naud

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: None at this time.

Water (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Island nation fights back.

Governor Baxter Thwaites (Michael Caine) runs the British Colony island of Cascara a largely peaceful place that is mostly ignored by everyone else. Then one day one of the oil rigs on the island taps into a underground reservoir of water that has all of its impurities already removed. The delicious tasting drink, that can also be used as a laxative, becomes much sought after from bottling companies across the globe. Now suddenly the British government wants everyone on the island to move out and find some other island to live on while taking over and turning this one into a profit making venture.

The film is patterned after many British satires of the 50’s through the 70’s like The Bed Sitting Room and O Lucky Man that mixes in wacky characters with absurd comic scenarios and also trying to make sharp political observations in-between. Unfortunately this film, which is based on a story by Bill Persky who appears briefly as a TV director, goes soft and is too similar in its vapid tone to Persky’s other social satire flop, Serial, which came out 5 years earlier. The message is too ambiguous and the plot too cluttered with insignificant characters that it becomes almost nonsensical.

The characters are so eccentric that the viewer cannot identify with, or care about any of them. The film in a way comes off as almost racist since the island is populated with black people, but the main characters are all white while the blacks folks get completely pushed into the background. If anything the viewer could’ve sided with the islanders and their quest to protect their homeland, but since all focus is put on the British people who control them, that never happens.

The eclectic cast is the only thing that somewhat holds it together. Brenda Vaccaro, who normally plays in dramatic roles, is very funny as Caine’s feisty wife although I could’ve down without her misguided accent. Valerie Perrine, with her clear blue eyes is fun too as an idealistic social activist although she was already in her 40’s at the time in a role which would’ve been better served by someone in their late teens or early 20’s.

Caine on-the-other-hand isn’t all that entertaining with the exception of the scenes showing him wearing a cocked hat, which are amusing.  He at least seems more comfortable here than in Blame it on Rio, which he did the same year as this one, but due to the subject matter in that one he clearly looked quite awkward and stiff while here he’s having a fun time even if the audience really isn’t.

This also marks the last feature film appearance of Leonard Rossiter, who died in his dressing while waiting to go on stage in a play he was in just a few months after completing his filming here. Normally he’s enjoyable to watch even when he’s playing a stuffy character, which is what he usually did anyways, but here he’s too much of a jerk and I did not find him to be humorous or interesting in any way.

If there is one person that ultimately does comes-off best it would be Billy Connelly who’s hilarious as this rebel leader who refuses to speak and instead communicates everything through singing. Dick Shawn is also quite good as this arrogant actor whose career has declined and now forced, much to his dismay, to being a spokesperson for informercials. You can also spot Joyce Van Patten very briefly in an uncredited role as a TV news reporter.

George Harrison, who also produced the film, appears near the end playing the bass guitar in front of political leaders at the UN while Ringo Starr handles the drums and Eric Clapton does the vocals, but the movie would’ve been more entertaining had all three of them been given roles to play, or at  least it couldn’t have hurt. The film’s title is a bit misleading too as the water ultimately has nothing to do with what saves the island from takeover, or allows them to keep their independence.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 11, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Dick Clement

Studio: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD

Repo Man (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Alien in the trunk.

Otto (Emilio Estevez) has trouble accepting authority, which causes him to get fired from many of his jobs. He eventually gets courted into the car repossession business, which he at first resists, but then, especially with its lure of quick cash, he grows into. This then leads him in pursuit of a Chevrolet Malibu with a $20,000 bounty on it driven by a very strange man (Fox Harris) who harbors a glowing radioactive substance in its trunk that kills anyone who comes into contact with it.

The film’s best selling points is that it gives one a gritty feel of what being stuck in society’s poor underbelly is really like as it traps the viewer inside the inner-city of Los Angeles with its almost non-stop capture of its rundown buildings, which becomes like a dominant third character. The viewer then begins to share the same anxiety, anger and frustrations of the people in a place they don’t really want to be, but with no idea of how to get out of it. The only time the film shows the more vibrant area of L.A. is during a brief shot of the skyline from a distance making it come off like a far away place that’s out-of-reach.

The rebel mystique gets better explored and examined here than in other 80’s films where the term ‘rebel’ seemed to apply exclusively to mouthy suburban teens who didn’t like their parent’s rules and would wear punk attire because it was ‘trendy’. Here you get a much more authentic feeling of being an outsider and the unglamorous, desperate qualities that comes with it.

Writer/director Alex Cox also examines the thin, merging line between being a conformist and non-conformist and the ironic/contradictory results that can occur. This gets best captured with the character of Duke (played with gusto by Dick Rude) who is an in-your-face-I-don’t-like-any-rules street punk one minute only to turn around and tell his girlfriend at another moment that he wants to get married and have kids because ‘everybody else is doing it’.

Estevez gives his signature performance here though his excessive cockiness becomes a bit of strain, which fortunately gets tempered in the scene where he gets shot at and panics showing that even a streetwise brash kid like himself has  his limits, which makes it all worth it. Harry Dean Stanton as his partner is terrific and the vast 40 year age difference between the two isn’t apparent at all. Olivia Barash is quite good too without even trying. Her likable unrehearsed quality makes for a refreshing contrast to all the rest who are more compelled to put on a facade and for the this reason I wished she had been in it more.

Honorable mention should also go to Fox Harris who plays Parnell the driver of the much sought after car even though in real-life he couldn’t drive and he got the vehicle in a few accidents and even damaged other props on the set in the process. Normally this would’ve gotten him fired, but because he had been the only actor who was nice to Alex Cox when he worked as a lowly security guard at the Actor’s Studio and before he became a director, he choose to stick with him despite the problems, which shows that if your nice to everybody even those that have very little social standing it can come back in rewarding ways in the long term.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 2, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alex Cox

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Video, YouTube

Le Sex Shop (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bookseller turns to pornography.

Claude (Claude Berri) runs a Paris bookstore, but finds his business slumping. In an attempt to make a profit he decides to start selling pornographic materials, which soon makes his place a popular hangout. It also attracts a different type of clientele including Lucien (Jean-Pierre Marielle) a local dentist who along with his beautiful wife Jacqueline (Nathalie Delon) are swingers who try to get Claude and his wife Isabelle (Juliet Berto) into their lifestyle, which ultimately begins to put a strain on their marriage.

Although billed as an X-rated movie it is really more of a satire of the public’s zest for sexual fantasy and the extremes they will go to enliven their sex lives only to in some ways end up needlessly complicating it. The film is full of a lot of keen moments that are both insightful and funny including both Claude and his wife lying in bed next to each other while each simultaneously having fantasies about sex with someone else. The part where Claude’s two kids, who are both under 10, sneak into the shop and start playing with the sex toys is a hoot too as is the scene where Claude lies in bed between two naked women and spends the whole time talking about his kids and sharing family photos.

I also liked how the sex shop itself gets captured. In real-life these places are usually quite dark and dingy giving off the idea that there’s something ‘sinister’ or ‘shameful’ about sexual fantasy while here the shop is bright, colorful and inviting with clientele not just made up of men either, but with equal amounts of women too.

Director Berri casts himself in the lead and while this can sometimes come-off seeming narcissistic I felt in this case it was a perfect touch as he looks very much like Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean character and watching some of his shocked expressions as he gets himself more and more immersed into the seamier side of things is quite funny. I also enjoyed Beatrice Romand, as a young lady looking like she’s no older than 16, getting hired as a sales clerk at the shop and who shows great familiarity to all the sexual paraphernalia and expounds on how to use them to the older male customers like a teacher lecturing to her class.

The two women who play prostitutes (Francesca Romana Coluzzi, Catherine Allegret) are a lot of fun too and become the symbols of the old way of life as they fear that their services will no longer be needed. The scene where they challenge a topless author at a book signing in regards to the authenticity of her sexual conquests and how she, in their eyes, is not a ‘real whore’ is quite amusing.

The film though could’ve used a better buildup. The couple move into the sex business too quickly and thus watching their transition into swingers isn’t as impactful or interesting. The ending is too ambiguous and outside of the sex shop the film fails to have any type of visual flair. There is an abundance of nudity, but none of it is erotic or arousing. Maybe this was the intention, but a film about sex should have at least a few spicy moments while this thing, despite its very adult rating, falls completely flat in that area.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 25, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated X

Director: Claude Berri

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD (Out-of-Print)

Bye Bye Birdie (1963)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen idol gets drafted.

Based on the hit stageplay of the same name, the story deals with Conrad Birdie (Jesse Pearson) a rock ‘n’ roll teen idol who gets drafted into the army.  As a big send off Conrad is chosen to perform in Sweet Apple, Ohio on the Ed Sullivan Show. As a special treat one lucky teen girl (Ann-Margaret) gets picked to give him a kiss while he sings the song ‘One Last Kiss’ written by Albert (Dick Van Dyke) a fledgling songwriter who hopes that the publicity of having a song sung by a big star will be just the ticket he needs to find success and enable him to finally marry his secretary (Janet Leigh) and get away from the clutches of his meddlesome mother (Maureen Stapleton).

The story was loosely based on the real-life incident in 1957 when Elvis Presley got drafted and in fact the part was originally intended for him, but his agent turned it down. While some may consider the humor here to be engaging satire I really felt it was lame and uninspired and only saved by the song and dance sequences. My main gripe was the way the teens get portrayed as being overly clean-cut kids, no leather jacket crowd here who smoked cigarettes even though they did exist, who are too benign and show no evidence of individuality. It would’ve been nice for the sake of balance to have at least one girl that was not into the rock star and didn’t faint or swoon the second she saw him, like all the others, and instead looked on with disdain at everyone who did.

While I did like Janet Leigh, who wears a black wig, and enjoyed her dance number at a Shriner’s convention I did feel overall that the adults here, with the exception of Paul Lynde, were boring and not needed. Van Dyke again gets straddled in another Rob Petrie type role who shows no pizzazz and having him a ‘mama’s boy’ at the age of 38 is more pathetic than funny. What’s worse is that Stapleton who plays his mother was in reality Van Dyke’s same age and despite some white in her hair really didn’t look that old and having the part played by an actual old lady would’ve given it more distinction.

The story should’ve centered around the teens, but in a more interesting way by entering into all the side dramas that almost always occur in these types of situations, but doesn’t get explored here. For instance there could’ve been some jealous classmates of Ann-Margaret’s upset that she got picked to kiss Birdie and not them and devised a scheme to ruin her big moment, or having all the boys, who admitted to hating Birdie because their girlfriends were so into him and not them, kidnapping him in revenge.

Despite having his name in the title Birdie has only a few lines of dialogue and needed more to do than just swiveling his hips, which becomes a derivative running joke. One idea would be to have him scared about going off to the army and secretly coming up with a plan with his fans to go undercover, so he could escape going, which would’ve added more depth to the satire, which is too placid, by showing how celebrities in private can be the opposite of their public image.

Beyond my many grievances with the story, which is even more flimsy than most musicals, I still found the songs, dances, and colorful sets to be fun and Paul Lynde has a few great lines. If one watches it for the musical quality while treating it as a relic of its time then it should still go over modestly well.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 4, 1963

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: George Sidney

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Police Chief kills prostitute.

Dottore (Gian Maria Volante) is the police chief in the homicide division of his department. He is by all measures a man above suspicion and decides to one day put this to the test by killing his mistress (Florinda Bolkan) who was also a prostitute. To make the challenge even more interesting he plants obvious clues, which should lead to his indictment, but they don’t. Instead the police inspectors come up with a maddening array of warped reasons why the police chief is not the killer even when the evidence clearly points to the fact that he is.

This film, which won the Academy Award for best foreign film of 1970, touches on an issue rarely seen in American cop movies outside of maybe The Fugitive, where the police get a tunnel vision on who they think the suspect is, in this case the woman’s gay husband, and tune-out all other potential angles in their zeal to ‘get their guy’.  This is something that happens in real-life cases much more often than people realize where inspectors, in an effort to get the case solved and move-on, will make the evidence fit their own preconceived narrative instead of vice-versa.

The story also analyzes how having a rigid protocol system can be dangerous. What on the surface may seem ‘orderly’ can underneath be covering up all sorts of corruption. Everyone is so afraid of keeping their jobs and saving the reputation of the police department that all sorts of corrupt acts are allowed to pass through unhindered as everyone becomes ingrained with the yes-man mentality. Even having some of the most cutting edge police technology in the world doesn’t help if it falls victim to human overseers whose subjectivity only allows them to see what they want to see.

Gian Maria Volante, who in real-life was known as a left wing radical and was arrested many times during the 70’s by police for taking part in political demonstrations, is excellent as the reactionary authority figure. His piercing stare is more than enough to own every scene that he is in and ironically he played just three years earlier in the film We Still Kill the Old Way  done by the same director, a character is on the opposite end who fought corruption to get to the truth over a murder.

Elio Petri’s direction is nothing short of excellent and had his life not been cut short by cancer he most assuredly would’ve gone on to become one of the greats of Italian cinema. Ennio Morricone’s distinctive score is terrific too. Normally I tend to prefer as little music in films as possible, but the soundtrack here helps accentuate the film’s stylish presentation and gives it a real attitude and should’ve been played-up even more including over the film’s opening credits, which are strangely silent.

The film’s only defect is the fact that since we already know who’s committed the crime there’s not a lot of tension. It might’ve worked better had the police chief not been the main character and the perpetrator of the crime remained a mystery until later on. One of the lead investigators could’ve been made the protagonist who follows the evidence, which eventually leads to the police chief, but then he finds stiff resistance to his findings from the department, which could’ve been more impactful, but the film still has its share of strong scenes including its surreal-like ending.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: February 12, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Elio Petri

Studio: Euro International Film

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Video, YouTube