Category Archives: Spy/Espionage

Outrageous Fortune (1987)

outrageous-fortune

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bitter rivals share lover.

Lauren (Shelley Long) and Sandy (Bette Midler) join an acting class and find themselves at immediate odds. Little does Sandy know that Michael (Peter Coyote) the new attractive man that she has just met is also seeing Sandy on-the-side. When Michael disappears they reluctantly work together to try and find him only to realize that he may have been using both of them for nefarious and potentially dangerous means.

This is mindless, fluffy entertainment for sure and it doesn’t mind selling itself as such, but despite a runtime that goes on too long and a plot that becomes increasingly more farfetched it still works mainly because it’s genuinely funny. In fact there are several moments where I found myself chuckling out loud with the best part in my opinion coming near the beginning when Lauren begs her parents to borrow money so that she can attend an acting class.

The two leads help a lot. I always felt that Long should’ve stayed on ‘Cheers’ and her film career was for the most part a dud, but this is one of her better movie roles that takes full advantage of her prissy persona. Midler is terrific too and I admired how she really got into her part by insisting on doing her own stunts and she even has an impromptu moment where she decided to lie down on the road, which was not in the script, while a truck came dangerously close to running her over.

Coyote is good as the duplicitous boyfriend and it was interesting seeing him in a bad guy role, which he doesn’t do often, but this was yet another movie instance where we have a character that walks with a noticeable limp one minute only to have it strangely go away the next. On the flip-side Robert Prosky’s Russian professor caricature is overdone and George Carlin may be a legendary comedian, but his acting parts are never very funny.

For amiable entertainment it’s fun as long as you’re not too demanding, but there was one part that I thought was just too implausible. It comes during a chase sequence where in effort to elude the people who are after them Lauren and Sandy decide to hide themselves in two separate clothes dryers while the machines remain running. For one thing it is impossible to close the doors from the inside as they are intentionally made this way so little children can’t accidently lock themselves in. A person from the outside would have to shut the door in order for it to latch, so even if one did this for the other there is no way that they both could’ve done it. Also once the door is closed you would need someone from the outside to open it back up in order to get out and the prospect of a grown adult body being put into a dryer while it is running would most likely disable it, which makes the scene unable to meet even the minimum requiements of logic and therefore should’ve been left out.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 30, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: Buena Vista Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Hanky Panky (1982)

hanky-panky-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Caught up in espionage.

Gene Wilder plays a man by the name of Michael Jordon, yes Michael Jordon, who is from Chicago, but staying in New York. He shares a cab ride with Janet Dunn (Kathleen Quinlan) who seems to be on the run from someone and insists that she must mail a secret package, which Michael does for her. Later he tries to visit her in her hotel room, but it finds her dead and everyone thinks he’s the one who killed her. Now he is on the run himself from people he doesn’t even know and when he bumps into Kate (Gilda Radner) she agrees to help him, but for reasons that she does not initially divulge.

I was genuinely shocked and rather disappointed to find how very similar this storyline was to many of Wilder’s earlier efforts. In Silver Streak he played a man wrongly accused of murder, but there it was fresh and funny. A few years later he was in Stir Crazy with the same type of scenario, but it still worked. Yet by this time it’s old and clichéd with Wilder typecast in a role that no longer offers him anything new to add to it. You get the feeling like you’ve seen it all before right from the start and this tired formula should’ve been put-to-sleep long ago.

Radner’s presence is especially boring and she doesn’t have a single funny line in the whole thing. The reason for why her character decides to get involved in Wilder’s quandary is contrived and seems to be constantly changing. The two show no chemistry even though they fell in love with each other behind-the-scenes and later married. The role was originally intended for Richard Pryor who would’ve been better, but even pairing Wilder with Quinlan’s character could’ve been an improvement as the two had much better contrasting personalities.

The entire plot gets badly overblown and the nonstop chases soon become tiring and nonsensical. The humorous premise of a regular guy suddenly getting caught up in a spy game he knows nothing about loses its focus when he becomes too quick-on-his-feet in his responses to things and begins behaving more like a seasoned spy than an average-joe. The film’s only good moment is when the two are stuck in a small engine plane where the pilot dies and they’re forced to land it themselves, which gives Gene ample opportunity to go into one of his hyper rants as well as some great aerial views of the Grand Canyon, which are nice, but everything else in the film falls flat.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 4, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sidney Poitier

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

The Next Man (1976)

next man

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hit lady at work.

Khalil (Sean Connery) is an Arab diplomat looking to form a bridge between the Arab and Jewish states and even allow Israel to become a member of OPEC. Naturally this creates controversy. Diplomats from around the world suddenly turn up dead. Khalil manages to avoid the attempts on his life, but realizes he can’t stay on the run forever. He forms a relationship with the beautiful Nicole (Cornelia Sharpe) unaware that she is a paid hit lady with an agenda.

The film starts out well with varied scenes shot around the world in interesting locations. The scene where a husband and wife diplomats get thrown off the balcony of their ritzy hotel by assassins disguised as room service is pretty good, but the story and pace are choppy. I could never get quite into it or even understand all the time what was going on.

Much of this can be attributed to the extremely poor transfer of the 2006 Trinity Enterprises DVD issue, which cuts the original 108 minute runtime down to only 90 minutes. Clearly several integral scenes are missing making for a muddled viewing experience and unfortunately this is the only available source of the film at this time. I was also highly unimpressed with the faded color and grainy picture quality making it seem like the whole thing had been copied directly off of a VHS tape with no attempts at restoration.

The casting of Sharpe in the lead was a mistake. She may be beautiful, but her acting is only adequate. She was wisely given only limited lines of dialogue, but in the process it makes her character one-dimensional and uninteresting.

Connery is equally miscast and shows little of his trademark charisma. He doesn’t appear until about 10 minutes in and his attempts to come off as an Arab national is unconvincing. His romance with Sharpe happens too quickly and although I liked the surprise ending it barely registered since so much of the rest of the story is boring and pointless.

Alternate Title: The Arab Conspiracy

My Rating: 4 out of 10

November 5, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 48 Minutes (Original Release) 1Hour 31Minutes (DVD release)

Rated R

Director: Richard C. Sarafian

Studio: Allied Artists Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Leonard Part 6 (1987)

leonard part 6

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: One really bad movie.

Leonard Parker (Bill Cosby) is a former CIA agent who is now retired and running a restaurant in San Francisco while trying to reconcile things with his wife (Pat Colbert) and  keeping his college-aged daughter (Victoria Rowell) from marrying a man in his 60’s (Moses Gunn). Unfortunately for him a crazed vegetarian by the name of Medussa Johnson (Gloria Foster) has managed to somehow brainwash all the animals to kill people and Leonard is appointed the only person able to stop it. He is reluctant at first, but with the help of his ever supportive butler Frayn (Tom Courtenay) he puts on his action suit for one last adventure at saving the world.

The film, which was written by Cosby, starts out okay enough with a funny bit dealing with a shootout inside the kitchen of a busy restaurant, but then quickly devolves. Part of the problem is an over emphasis on Leonard’s boring domestic life and attempts at winning back his wife, which makes the whole thing seem like two movies in one. In fact the first 35 minutes are spent with Leonard acting very much like a Cliff Huxtable while arguing with his rebellious daughter about her lifestyle choices before it even gets into the spy/action part. When it finally does get into the adventure segment it becomes weird, surreal and confusing with some of the most pathetic attempts at special effects you’ll ever see.

The film also offers no backstory for how the Medussa character was able to ‘brainwash’ the animals even though one was sorely needed. Elmer Bernstein’s musical score is generic and is pretty much made up of bits and pieces of other famous scores from other films or shows including the theme from the 80’s medical TV-show ‘St. Elsewhere’. As for the spy spoofing aspect the film fails to be funny at all and comes off like no one involved in this ever actually watched a spy film to really know what they were trying to make fun of.

The weakest link is Cosby who gives a terrible performance that shows none of his charisma that he has brought to his other projects. He appears uncomfortable and completely upstaged by his supporting cast including even that of Joe Don Baker. Foster is great as the campy villain and it’s just too bad that her efforts had to be wasted in such a bad film. Courtenay is amusing in support, but his talents deserve better material. Jane Fonda is fun in a brief bit playing herself in a send-up of her 80’s exercise videos.

Director Paul Weiland shows some potential with a wacky, stylish design, but was unfortunately too intimidated to give Cosby any real direction and simply allowed the project to become an embarrassing self-indulgent ego tangent on the part of the star. Unless you’re in the mood for a really bad movie night I would suggest staying away from this one as there are hurricanes and tornadoes that are less disastrous than this.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Weiland

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Shadey (1985)

shadey

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: His thoughts onto film.

Oliver Sher (Anthony Sher) finds out that he has an amazing ability. Not only can read other people’s minds, but he can also transfer those thoughts onto film. He tells his secret to Cyril (Patrick Macnee) a wealthy businessman hoping he can use his unique ability for some purpose and thus pay him enough money for a sex change operation, which is his ultimate goal. His only condition is that his ability not be used for military purposes. Unfortunately Cyril disregards this and strikes a deal with Doctor Cloud (Billie Whitelaw) who does experiments for the military and sees Oliver as her next guinea pig. Soon Oliver finds himself and his ability being exploited, but gets his revenge by taking advantage of Cyril’s emotionally fragile wife Constance (Katherine Helmond) in a weird and interesting way.

This film is quite original and manages to hold up all the way through. Some of the caricatures are a bit predictable mainly in the way it portrays the older brass businessman and military, but otherwise it defies all genres. It has a nice cerebral quality to it as it moves between being sad and dehumanizing to sharp and satirical sometimes in the very same scene. The humor is laced with drool, dry British wit that makes it engaging and fun.

The old British pros really help here. Macnee with his perpetually stern expression and terse delivery is fantastic. Whitelaw is also good as always as she plays her cold business-like character perfectly.

The best performance though goes to Helmond. She is best known for play Jessica Tate on the 70’s sitcom ‘Soap’ as well as co-starring in the 80’s TV-show ‘Who’s the Boss?’ yet her appearance here may be her career highlight. She has always had a wonderful ability at conveying child-like qualities in adult characters and here that comes to great use. Her facial expressions are both touching, unnerving as well as humorous and the scene where she eats coal from a fireplace while crouching on the ground is unforgettable.

The script could have gone further with its intriguing premise, but manages to be provocative nonetheless. The points it makes are good as it shows how those that are exploited will eventually do the same to others and how you never really know or understand someone no matter how much you think you get inside their head as well as examining how the image can sometimes take on more importance than the reality. The interesting chase that takes place at the end where Shadey continuously rides an elevator from the top of a building to the bottom while the bad guys busily run up and down the stairs to catch him is just one of the many unique scenes in this movie that makes it worth catching for those with an offbeat frame of mind.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 18, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Philip Saville

Studio: Skouras Pictures

Available: VHS

Into the Night (1985)

into the night 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Insomniac gets into espionage.

Ed Okin (Jeff Goldblum) is an insomniac, who has a boring job and an unfaithful wife and is unexpectedly thrown into espionage and intrigue when a beautiful jewel smuggler named Diana (Michelle Pfeiffer) literally lands on his car in the middle of the night while he is out taking a drive.

If you are expecting the surreal, cult-like comedy of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours then you can forget it. This thing actually tries to play it straight and does it in a low key way that makes for a lot of slow stretches intermingled with some slight comedy and action.

It’s a pedestrian caper with some ‘novelties’ thrown into to try to get you to forget how pedestrian it really is. The novelties are director John Landis’s casting fellow directors in cameo roles. Sure it’s nice to put faces to names, but the cameos really aren’t that interesting or funny. Only French director Roger Vadim gets anything remotely flashy. In fact it’s Landis who gets the best part casting himself as a crazed gunman with a large scar on the side of his face.

Goldblum is a solid everyman, but he underplays it and eventual becomes too dull. He doesn’t even react when a loaded gun is put into his mouth!! Pfeiffer is beautiful, but there really isn’t any chemistry between the two so having them end up ‘falling in love’ shows just how contrived this whole thing is.

David Bowie and Dan Aykroyd have very little screen time and are badly wasted.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 22, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Landis

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD

Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986)

jumpin jack flashBy Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Whoopi plays spy game.

Due to Whoopi Goldberg turning 58 on November 13th and because whenever I watch a clip of ‘The View’ on YouTube she tends to be my favorite panelist I have decided to review each of the films she starred in during the 80’s for the next 7 Mondays. Critically her films in that decade did not fare well and she has even disowned a few, but since this is a 80’s movie blog I feel it is my professional duty to review them anyways whether some of them are torturous to sit through or not.

In this one she plays Terry Doolittle a bank employee who does a lot of transactions and communications through her computer. One day she gets a message from someone using the code name Jumpin’ Jack Flash who asks for her help supposedly to save his life. This sets into motion wild adventures in which she puts her life at risk and gets involved with everything from the CIA to foreign government powers.

Whoopi is the best thing about this otherwise silly and contrived plot. Director Penny Marshall nicely allows Whoopi room to flex her comic muscles while also taking advantage of her sassy and streetwise humor. The part where she tries to decipher the lyrics of the ‘Jumpin Jack Flash’ song by the Rolling Stones is full of all sorts of Goldbergisms and it’s great. Her impressions of Ray Charles and Diana Ross are on target as well, but my favorite part is when she is drugged with truth serum and then goes into a beauty salon and tells everyone there exactly what she thinks. My only complaint to her performance is her unnecessary use of the F-bomb, which turns this otherwise kid friendly story into an R-rated movie.

It is also fun to watch a lot of up-and-coming comic stars in small roles including Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, James Belushi, Tracy Ullman and Annie Potts. There is even a surprise appearance by Jonathan Pryce at the very end, but my favorite is when Penny casts her older brother Gary as a detective who has a humorously confrontational exchange with Whoopi inside a police station.

Marshall’s directorial debut is limp. I liked all the movie posters that line Whoopi’s apartment, but otherwise the visuals are dull. Her workplace environment and conversations that Whoopi has with her co-workers seems realistic, but not particularly interesting or amusing. The opening segment limps along while barely being engaging. The part where Whoopi gets her dress caught in a shredder has up-tempo cartoon-like music played over it, which puts the thing too much at a kiddie level.

The story itself is convoluted and confusing with little that is plausible. The shootout inside the office gets particularly ridiculous, but the biggest problem I had with the script is the way the Terry character gets herself involved in the mess in the first place. If she knew the person asking for her assistance to this dangerous mission I might understand it, but she doesn’t. After she is shot at and nearly killed, gets her apartment ransacked and is verbally threatened she decides to immerse herself even more into the precarious situation even when she is given the opportunity to get out of it, which most normal people would’ve.  The viewer starts to lose empathy for a protagonist when they act irrationally, which this one does. The idea that she is doing it because she has ‘feelings’ for this other person even though she has never met him, knows nothing about him and doesn’t even know what he looks like is just plain stupid.

Although the Rolling Stones song from which the movie is named after does get briefly played later on I felt it should have been used over the opening credits. I still prefer the Stones version, but Aretha Franklin’s rendition that is used during the closing credits isn’t bad.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 10, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated R

Director: Penny Marshall

Studio: 20th Century Fox

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

Ice Station Zebra (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: It’s cold up there.

Commander James Ferraday (Rock Hudson) is assigned to head a submarine crew up to the North Pole to rescue stranded members of a weather station called Ice Station Zebra. He is told that there is another reason for the mission, but that is top secret and it will not be disclosed to him until he gets there. In addition to the crew he will be bringing along another man named David Jones (Patrick McGoohan) who is aware of the secret details. When they arrive at the location they find themselves amidst a major international crisis.

The photography is outstanding. This movie marks the first ever continuous filming of a submarine dive and the footage is breathtaking. The scenes showing the submarine trapped beneath the ice is incredible and some of the best stuff in the film. This was also done on an actual sub and the shots showing its interior are interesting. I had no idea how very roomy they can be and found it fascinating to realize how many different compartments there are. My only quibble here is that when Boris Vaslov (Ernest Borgnine) gazes at the nuclear power that propels the sub the viewer only sees the reflection of the orange glow that it gives off. The camera should have been pointed straight down, so the viewer could have witnessed the same thing as Boris.

The scenes taking place at the North Pole are impressive as well, but flawed due to the fact that it was all clearly done on a sound stage.  The snowy artic formations look like they were made from ceramic. The men are shown outside not wearing any hoods and it that bitter climate it would have mean instant frostbite. I didn’t notice it at the time, but other viewers have called to attention that their breath is not showing and in cold weather it always will. Still I was willing to forgive these small oversights because overall the production design is imaginative. The bird’s eye view of the weather station amidst the icy landscape is sprawling and the longshot of parachutes dropping from the sky is exciting.

Hudson would not have been my choice for the lead. He managed to give one really great performance, which was in Giant, but otherwise he is just a good-looking well-built guy with limited acting abilities. He always says his lines with hollow sounding voice and never any emotion. Pairing him with McGoohan, who is a much more creative performer and stronger personality, doesn’t work.

Legendary football player Jim Brown is great as Captain Leslie Anders. He may not be the best actor, but you have to love his badass stare. It has to be the best badass stare of all-time and helps give the proceedings an extra point. However, the character he plays is a bit of letdown especially when he loses in a confrontation to Borgnine, which seemed a little pathetic. Borgnine, who speaks in a Russian accent here, is fun as always.

The plot, based on the novel of the same name by Alistair MacLean, is nicely complex. The viewer is kept in the dark about the secret, which helps with the intrigue. There are some exciting moments, but it is never riveting. The movie is overlong and could have been trimmed substantially, which would have helped with the pacing.  Viewers should still find this enjoyable, but as a whole it is average at best.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 23, 1968

Runtime: 2Hours 28Minutes

Rated G

Director: John Sturges

Studio: MGM

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

Hopscotch (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Matthau goes globe trotting.

            Veteran CIA Agent Miles Kendig (Walter Matthau) is angered when his boss Myerson (Ned Beatty) decides to demote him to a desk job due to a technicality. Miles decides to get his revenge by threatening to write a book about his past exploits and divulge top secret information. He does this while traveling the globe and making it almost impossible for the government agents to find him, or keep up with him.

Matthau’s character is very similar to the one he played in Charley Varrick where we’re given someone who looks very much like an average Joe and is unwisely underestimated by those around him only to get the last laugh when he proves how very shrewd he really is. The concept is great and it is a fantastic role for Matthau, but in Charley Varrick we at least had some tension and intrigue because the bad guys where really nasty and Matthau’s cunning was a necessity for survival. Here the bad guy is nothing more than a pompous ass and Miles’s exploits, while clever and slick, are done for his own ego and to have an excuse to show-off. Without having any real threat this charade becomes derivative and redundant.

The idea to cast Glenda Jackson as his love interest and confidant is a strange one. In House Calls the two worked well because they had such contrasting personalities and styles, but here that never plays out and for much of the movie they are not even seen together. Her character is given very little to do and the sparring that made them a hit in their first feature is nowhere to be found here. However, their wine conversation that the two have near the beginning deserves a few points.

The Myerson character is over-the-top enough to get a few cheap laughs. The best moment in the whole film is when Miles hides out at Myerson’s own home and when the FBI surrounds it in order to get him out Myerson has to watch helplessly as all the windows in his place get shot out with bullets. Herbert Lom as the Russian spy Yaskov is appealing simply because after spending years playing a cat and mouse game with Miles the two end up finding a mutual friendship with the other.

SPOILER WARNING!!

            The biggest issue I have with the film is the ending. Supposedly Miles has been able to rig an old plane to be remote controlled and then when the agents track it down with a helicopter he blows it up making it look like he went down with it and thus freeing him from being chased anymore. However, aside from the fact that rigging a plane to be remote controlled should prove to be quite complex and beyond the scope of Miles, who may be smart but most likely not that smart there is also the fact that the men in the helicopter can see him on the ground running towards the plane like he was going to get into it. Of course he doesn’t, but instead somehow runs back to a shed where he controls the plane with his remote and then eventually explodes it with a press of a button. My question is, and it is the same one that I had twenty-five years ago when I first saw it, is how is he able to run back to the shed without being detected? It was an open field without any bushes, or trees, which should have made him highly visible to anyone once the plane left the ground. To me this is a cop-out ending done because screenwriter Brian Garfield had exhausted all of his clever ideas and didn’t know how else to finish it, but it is never good when a movie ends with a big loophole.

END OF SPOILER WARNING

Matthau’s laid-back charm is always entertaining even with the weakest of scripts, but he seems to be almost sleepwalking through this one. The musical score is filled with some classical works, which helps.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 26, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated R (Due to a plethora of ‘F-Bombs’ said by the Ned Beatty character)

Director: Ronald Neame

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD (The Criterion Collection), Netflix streaming, Amazon Instant Video

Marathon Man (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dentist doesn’t use novocain.

            Thomas ‘Babe’ Levy (Dustin Hoffman) is a post graduate student at Columbia University and part-time marathon runner who spends a harrowing 48 hours being tortured and terrorized by a sadistic Nazi war criminal. It all starts when his brother Henry ‘Doc’ Levy (Roy Scheider) who works for a secret government organization known as ‘The Division’, secretly tracks Dr. Christian Szell (Laurence Olivier) a dentist at Auschwitz who has traveled to New York in order to collect a cache of diamonds. When Doc moves in too close Szell stabs him and despite being covered in blood Doc manages to make it all the way to Babe’s apartment before collapsing. Szell fears that Doc might have told Babe something before he died and has his men kidnap Babe where they then tie him to a chair in an abandoned warehouse and Szell tortures him by drilling into his teeth forcing Babe to use his running skills in an effort to escape.

This is an original thriller that stays intriguing and intense throughout. In the first thirty minutes alone the viewer is treated to some interesting and exciting scenarios including watching two elderly men drag racing with each other in their antique cars down a crowded neighborhood street. There is also an exploding baby carriage and an exciting fight sequence where Doc battles an attacker who tries to strangle him from behind with a metal wire. This scene is unique in that it cuts between seeing the action up close as well as viewing it from the point-of-view of an elderly man watching from across the street.

Director John Schlesinger shows visual flair with a variety of camera angles and settings. I particularly liked the part where Doc meets Szell at the red steps statue in the Arco Plaza. Having the climactic showdown between Babe and Szell take place in a pump room at the reservoir in Central Park gives the sequence added energy and distinction. I also enjoyed Babe’s cramped, drab, and cluttered apartment that had a very lived-in look and resembled exactly what a bachelor pad with someone on a low income would look like. The scene taking place at a country house is memorable simply for its extreme remoteness. I was disappointed though that although Schlesinger does a great job in setting up the atmosphere of the scene by doing a long shot looking out at the barren landscape the weather suddenly goes from cloudy to sunny in the minute it takes for the bad guy’s car to pull up the driveway. I realize certain scenes are sometimes shot over several days and this is not the first movie to have sudden weather changes during outdoor shots, but it is distracting nonetheless.

The infamous torture scene didn’t work for me. I appreciated the set-up especially the prolonged way that Szell plugs the drill into a wall outlet while talking to Babe in a calm tone. Constantly asking Babe the question ‘Is it safe?” has become a classic line and the fact that the dental torture gets extended when you think it is over is well done. Still, it didn’t seem violent enough and although pain is implied I didn’t think that the viewer really ‘feels’ it. I wanted more shots from Babe’s point of view especially as Szell sticks his metal instruments into Babe’s mouth. A close-up of Babe’s tooth and seeing the drill touch it would have helped as well. Also, Babe needs to scream in pain a lot more, he does it once briefly, but someone going through that would be doing it constantly.  Apparently the producer’s cut out portions of this scene when it upset the test audiences who saw it, but I would like that footage put back in as I feel it would make the movie stronger and give it an added kick that otherwise is missing.

Olivier is tremendous in the villainous role. His face exudes evil and this is one of his best later career roles. Scheider has his best role here and I found Marthe Keller impressive as Babe’s girlfriend. She wears an attractive hairstyle and I couldn’t get over how diametrically opposite she was compared to her character in Black Sunday that was done the very same year. She is definitely an under-rated actress that deserves more accolades as well as more parts in American productions. However, the way Babe pursues her for a date seemed to border on ‘creepy’  and overly aggressive and act as a turn-off to most women.

The film does seem derivative at certain points especially the way it portrays New York as an urban hellhole, which was quite common during the 70’s. The fact that Babe avoids confrontation and is picked on by a Hispanic gang that lives across the street seemed too reminiscent of Hoffman’s earlier film Straw Dogs. There are several flashback sequences showing Babe as a child that is done with faded color and no dialogue and look too similar to the childhood sequences done in Midnight Cowboy, which was an earlier Schlesinger/Hoffman project. Hoffman, for what it is worth, gives another one of his dedicated performances, but this film really does show in glaring detail how very puny he is and I really could have done without having to see his naked rear.

The electronic score is nice and the part where Szell gets recognized by an elderly concentration camp survivor on a busy city sidewalk and who then begins to chase after him is memorable. However, when it is all over I still felt it didn’t completely click. I’m not sure what it is. I know the ending was changed from the one in the book, but I liked this one better and felt Babe’s revenge on Szell was creative. Although controversial and edgy for its time, the torture scene seems too toned down for today’s standards. Either way, if you are looking for a competent and entertaining thriller this should fit the bill, but it is not a classic.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 8, 1976

Runtime: 2Hours 5Minutes

Rated R: (Violence, Language, Adult Theme, Brief Nudity)

Director: John Schlesinger

Studio: Paramount

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