Saint Jack (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: American pimp in Singapore.

Based on the 1971 novel by Paul Theroux the story centers on Jack Flowers, an American who comes to Singapore in hopes of starting-up a profitable brothel and then moving back to the states a rich man. He finds the challenges more staggering than he initially thought and is constantly looking over his shoulder for the syndicate who would like to crush his business so it won’t compete with the other more established brothel’s in the region. In order to cover what he’s doing he works with a Chinese executive as a liaison for his clients. One such person is William (Denholm Elliot) a timid British accountant with a heart condition who has traveled to the area on an assignment. Jack enjoys William’s quiet demeanor and grows fond of him only to be heart-broken when he dies suddenly, which eventually changes Jack’s perspective on things specifically when he’s asked to take part in the blackmail scheme of a U.S. Senator (George Lazenby).

By the late 70’s director Peter Bogdanovich had fallen on hard times. He began the decade doing the acclaimed and award winning The Last Picture Show and followed it up with the equally impressive Paper Moon However, after the critically panned musical At Long Last Love his career began to tumble. He tried following this up with Daisy Miller, but it appealed to only a small audience. Nickelodeon was his attempt at returning to slapstick comedy that had won him success with What’s Up Doc, but it dived at the box office too making this once promising young talent feel fully washed-up. In an attempt for a revival he decided to go in a completely different direction by doing something with a gritty realism.

Cybill Shephard, whom Peter was in a relationship with at the time, had read the Theroux novel when it was given to her by Orson Welles in 1973. She had suggested he make it into a movie, but he had initially resisted. Then in 1978 when she sued Playboy for publishing unauthorized nude photos of her she got rights to turn the book into a movie as part of the settlement and Bogdanovich decided at that point he would do the project. Since Singapore officials were aware of the book, which had not portrayed their country in a positive light, he was forced to create a mock synopsis called ‘Jack of Hearts’, a benign love story that he used to convince the government that was the movie he was making so he could get the permission to film there, which was worth the effort as the unique ambiance of the setting is the main thing that propels the movie and could not have effectively been recreated had it been done inside a Hollywood studio lot.

Gazzara’s performance is another chief asset as he’s never at a loss for quick quips, or sarcastic replies. I loved the way he’s shown constantly moving, never sitting still in one place for too long, which nicely accentuated his situation of needing to ‘on the move’ in order to stay one-step ahead of the bad guys. Elliot is excellent as well in an atypical role. Usually he does well playing stern, jaded, and detached types, but here conveys a genuinely sensitive person who seems cut-off from the worldly ways. Lazenby, best known as the one-and-done James Bond from Her Majesty’s Secret Service, gets a small, but pivotal role as a closeted gay politician who takes a stroll in the middle of the night to hook-up with a male prostitute while Jack secretly follows him that has a great voyeuristic quality and the film’s most memorable moment.

Out of all of his movies Bogdanovich has stated that this one and They All Laughed were his two favorites. Some may not agree as the story has a fragmented style where things happen all of sudden and without forewarning. Yet for me this helped emphasize the reality of Jack’s shaky environment. While hailed by many as a great director’s least known work it deserves to be seen more and when compared to his other output clearly unique and original.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 27, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Studio: New World Pictures

Studio: DVD, Blu-ray, Fandor, Plex, Tubi, Amazon Video

Crossover (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s slipping into insanity.

Mr. Patman (James Coburn) works as a nurse at a psychiatric ward in Canada. While he enjoys his work and the patients respond well to his methods he’s put-off by some of the other doctors and administrators who he feels don’t really care about the people they’re supposedly trying to help. He’s also carrying on an affair with two women. One is Nurse Peobody (Kate Nelligan) who works at the same hospital he does and the other is Abadaba (Fionnula Flanagan) the wife of his landlord. While trying to juggle these two women and dealing with the pressures of his job he begins seeing strange visions and fears the he may be losing his mind.

This is quite similar to Beyond Reasonwhich starred Telly Savalas. This one though fared a bit better at least for the first 20 minutes. I liked the way the hospital and the patients are portrayed where their impulsive and unpredictable behavior gives it a certain creepy vibe and the staff needs to be high alert at all times, or face the consequences, which for me brought out the realistic stresses of doing a job like that. The bleak, gray, and rainy setting of Vancouver, shot there to take advantage of the Canadian tax concessions that were given to film production companies at the time, helps accentuate the grim elements.

The film though fails to take advantage of what could’ve been an intriguing plot. Not enough weird visions are seen and the few that are, are underwhelming. It should’ve been approached as a thriller and filled with all sorts of nightmarish and surreal imagery that could’ve helped build the tension, but instead it gets treated as a drama with long talky segments between Coburn and his two girlfriends that bogs the whole thing down until you don’t care what happens. John Guillermin, the director, had helmed many successful features before this one including: King Kong, Death on the Nile, and The Towering Inferno, but shows no panache here and seems to be giving the material only a half-hearted effort. It might’ve done better had John Huston, who was the original choice to direct, had been hired instead.

Coburn, who stated that he did the movie due to an interest in the character who decides he finds the crazy world inside the hospital more comforting than the outside one, but later admitted that had he read the script after its numerous rewrites instead of accepting the offer upfront, he most likely would’ve rejected it, is excellent and the only good thing about the movie. Nelligan, who described the film as being a ‘nightmare’ while working on it as well as calling it an embarrassment, is not as interesting and the entire supporting cast is blah though the young woman patient named Miss Montgomery, played by Tabitha Harrington, who enjoys walking around nude at least offers some diversion.

The script was written by Thomas Headly Jr. in 1971 who later went on to write Flashdancewhich storywise is quite different from this. There’s also a twist ending, though I figured it out long before it gets there and others most likely will too. I feel this was the type of concept where it started with the ending and then gotten written from there, but more side elements were needed instead of just relying on the twist to make it interesting, which for a 30-minute episode of ‘Twilight Zone’ might’ve worked, but as a feature film it gets stretched too thin.

Alternate Title: Mr. Patman

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 5, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Guillermin

Studio: Film Consortium of Canada

Available: DVD-R (j4hi.com)

Tapeheads (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Starting a video company.

Ivan (John Cusack) and Josh (Tim Robbins) are two slackers who can’t hold down a job for too long. After getting fired as security guards they decide to start-up their very own music video production company, which they name ‘Video Aces’. They find it tough going with many people, like with one producer, the sly Mo Fuzz (Don Cornelius), trying to get them to do the work on spec where they’re forced to make the video using their own funds with the vague promises of potential money later on after they’re ‘discovered’. They finally hit-on the idea of promoting the singing duo the Swanky Modes (Sam Moore, Junior Walker) a soul group that the two idolized in the 70’s when they were kids. Their plan is to hijack a Menudo concert and have the Swanky Modes sing in their place and thus exposing their music to a whole new audience.

The film is produced by the former Monkee Mike Neismith, who had earlier produced the very successful cult hit Repo ManUnfortunately this one doesn’t work quite as well. Much of the problem is that it’s directed by Bill Fishman whose background is in music videos and not filmmaking and it shows. Repo Man succeeded because it was centered around a character and it also had a better mix of quirky comedy and story development. This one is handled in a more slap-dash way. Cusack and Robbins both give excellent performances, but are only seen intermittently and they never really grow or evolve like a character in a good movie should nor do they earn their way into the next scene. Instead they become almost like Barbra Eden from ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ where they just seem to pop in and out of these weird scenarios with bizarre people. The plot is thin and more like a collection of wacky skits. Even as satire it fails because it pokes fun of so many various things, in a completely rambling way, that it becomes unclear what the point, or message is supposed to be. There are certainly some clever, funny bits, but ultimately it comes-off more like an experiment gone awry than a movie.

While the cast is filled with a lot of recognizable faces most of them aren’t seen much. I was disappointing that Doug McClure, as Josh’s exasperated and disapproving dad, wasn’t in it more as he had he potential of creating some interesting confrontations. Susan Tyrrell gets wasted too, which is a shame as she talks here with a high society accent, but  I do remember her saying in an interview that she considered herself a ‘lazy person’ who only did movies for the money and would drop-out altogether if she didn’t need to earn a living, so in that respect maybe she didn’t mind the small bit. Lee Arenberg, who plays a security guard, is only in the beginning, but should’ve returned as he’s seen eating Twinkies while sitting on a toilet inside a public stall and anyone who does something that gross deserves more attention.

Some of the roles are bigger. Mary Crosby, the daughter of Bing Crosby, who starred in the infamous Ice Pirates, 5 years before this one, which virtually killed her film career before it began, does quite well here as a duplicitous agent and actually seems to get more screen time than the two stars. The aging Clu Gulager is quite funny as a Presidential candidate with major skeletons in his closet. The best one though is King Cotton (real name Richard Sony) who was the lead vocalist of the blues band Navasota in the 60’s. Here he plays a restaurant owner who partakes in a wacky music video to promote his business with one version shown during the film and another one called ‘Roscoe’s Rap’ that gets played at the end over the closing credits with both being quite memorable.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: January 22, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bill Fishman

Studio: Filmstar

Available: DVD, Plex

The Farmer (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Country man seeks vengeance.

Kyle (Gary Conway) returns from fighting in WWII a decorated hero, but finds when he gets back home that trying to run a profitable farm to be tough going and risks having it foreclosed on by the bank. One night while swerving to avoid an animal on the road professional gambler Johnny (Michael Dante) gets injured in a car accident near were Kyle lives. Kyle and his friend Gumshoe (Ken Renard) nurse Johnny back to health and for repayment Johnny gives Kyle $1,500, which is enough to help his farmstead survive for a little while longer. Johnny though soon gets into trouble with racketeer Passini (George Memmoli) who permanently blinds him by dumping acid on his face. Johnny wants revenge and hires Kyle, who’s farm continues to struggle, to do it by having him use his superior shooting skills to kill-off Passini and his men while using Johnny’s inside knowledge to track them down. At first Kyle resists, even after Johnny offers him $50,000, but when one of Passini’s men (Timothy Scott) burns down Kyle’s barn, kills Gumshoe, and rapes his new girlfriend (Angel Tompkins) he then decides to go on the warpath.

This has become, especially in the past decade, known as a ‘lost film’. It had never been shown on broadcast TV nor cable and had never received a DVD release, or Blu-ray, or even VHS. It became impossible to find even a bootleg copy and many had become convinced this was the obscure of the obscure. Code Red promised 10 years ago, much to the excitement of rare film collectors, to release it on DVD, but after some promotion the deal fell through, which frustrated many and gave this film even more of a cult status. Some had come to believe that maybe the movie was simply a ‘myth’ and really didn’t exist at all. Just when everything looked bleak Scorpion Rising gave it a Blu-ray release in February of this year and the print is excellent and the film itself isn’t bad either.

It’s noted for its graphic violence, which may have been the chief reason it never got shown on TV or cable. Some of it is quite cruel, particularly the acid scene and the rape is quite intense too. This tough does effectively get the viewer emotionally riled-up making them want to see Kyle get revenge and relishing the third act when he does. The revenge scenes are just as bloody, but I was disappointed that, as graphic as the movie is, the segment where Kyle shoves one of Passini’s men out a high-story window is not shown. The camera cuts away when Kyle pushes him instead of seeing the body drop down which might’ve been hard to film since a parade was going on below, but an effort should’ve been made.

Conway’s acting is only adequate though he does at least convey a stoic quality. Angel Tompkins does better and while some of her other B-movie roles weren’t so great this one is clearly her best and proves she could act versus just looking pretty. Memmoli is memorable as the slimy villain and he should’ve been in it more, but he got injured on the set while riding in a stunt car and was cooped-up in a hospital during most of the production, which also ultimately lead to his career downfall and death. The former comic who graduated into character actor roles had always struggled with weight, but had gotten himself down to 190 pounds when he was in this movie, but when the accident occurred and he was laid-up his weight ballooned out to as high as 490 and causing him to have to turn down subsequent film parts due to his physical limitations.

The review in Maltin’s book claims that there’s a lot of ‘anachronistic errors’ in the movie and having read the review beforehand I kept my eagle-eye out looking for them, but I really didn’t see any. Again I never lived in the 40’s and technically Maltin, who was born in 1950, didn’t either, but to me I felt it came-off okay. I liked the way it approaches the era in a gritty way versus a nostalgic one and the frequent use of the hand-held camera, which was ahead-of-its-time. The surprise twist at the end isn’t bad either.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 9, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Berlatsky

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: Blu-ray

Sonny and Jed (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Couple steal from rich.

Jed (Thomas Milian) is an outlaw bank robber who sees himself as a modern day Robin Hood. Franciscus (Telly Savalas) is the sheriff determined to bring him in. When Francisus gets hot on Jed’s trail Jed uses the aid of beautiful young Sonny (Susan George) to evade capture. Sonny immediately becomes smitten with Jed despite the fact that he’s a very vocal misogynist. Sonny though ignores this as she’s so deeply wants to be in a loving relationship that she puts up with the abuse and even asks him to marry her, which he does, but his abuse continues. Jed then sets his sights on Linda (Rosanna Yanni) the wife of rich land baron Don Garcia (Eduardo Fajardo). Jed likes the fact that she has big breasts, which Sonny doesn’t, but when he puts the moves on her Sonny fights back by turning the tables on him and treating him in the same way that he did her.

After watching only a few minutes it’s easy to see why the spaghetti westerns went out of style as this lacks the lyrical quality of a Sergio Leone film, which put this unique genre on the map. Leone had that special knack that could mesh violence with subtle humor and make every scene, even one as insignificant as seeing flies fly around a person’t face, interesting. Sergio Corbucci, who directed this one, lacks that same ability and while he helmed some westerns in the 60’s this one doesn’t have a good balance. The action is bereft of any excitement while the humor is heavy-handed. The musical score by the always reliable Ennio Morricone is excellent, but everything else falls flat.

The storyline is the most annoying as Jed is too unlikable for anyone to want to fall in love with. His caustic comments on women are quite outlandish by today’s standards, which may offend some though others may get a kick out of it simply for the outrageousness. I have no doubt men back then may have been very much like his character, so on that end you could say it’s realistic, but having Sonny grow attached to him was off-putting. If he had reformed and then gotten married it might’ve made more sense, but to have the marriage occur in the middle when he’s still treating her like crap including one scene where he rapes her, just doesn’t work. His character does change a little at the very end, but it’s not enough to justify all she goes through and there’s no resolution as it shows them continuing to bicker without answering whether they were ever able to work things out, or ultimately broke-up.

Having Sonny so desperate to be loved, even at one point spying on another couple who are kissing and feeling envious, isn’t a sufficient enough reason for her to put up with the awful way he treats her. If she had been homely then maybe, but she’s actually quite attractive and could easily hold-out for something better making the way she throws herself at him too precipitous. Her character also needed more of an arc. The film teases this concept, but ultimately pulls-back when it should’ve pushed forward.

Milian’s performance is an acquired taste. Besides being vulgar and crude he also at one point scarfs up his spaghetti in such a slobbering manner that it’s genuinely disgusting and in another scene he gets under a cow and puts his lips directly over its teat and sucks the milk right out. Savalas, who is usually quite good in villainous roles, is only okay here. He’s supposed to be a relentless pursuer, but then allows Jed to escape while on a water raft instead of shooting him making him seem less threatening than he should.

Overall, this was George’s vehicle as she’s thoroughly engaging even able to mask her accent, which not all British performers can do, and at her most beautiful. I can only presume it was because of Milian’s star power that his character wasn’t downplayed because the movie would’ve worked better had it been solely centered around her and it’s just a shame she wasn’t given the keys.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 11, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sergio Corbucci

Studio: Titanus

Available: DVD-R

Old Enough (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Friendship over the summer.

Lonnie (Sarah Boyd) is a pre-teen living in an upscale neighborhood of New York while 14-year-old Karen (Rainbow Harvest) resides in a working class area. The two have many differences including Karen being Catholic while Lonnie is secular. Despite their contrasts they forge a tenuous friendship where Karen gets Lonnie to do a lot of things she wouldn’t do normally. Lonnie though enjoys the change of pace and getting away from having to go to summer camp everyday. However, when a sexually promiscuous woman named Carla (Roxanne Hart) moves into an apartment next to Karen’s she worries that her father (Danny Aiello) is having an affair with her. Lonnie knows it’s really Karen’s brother Johnny (Neill Barry) that’s been sleeping with her, but when she tries to tell Karen Johnny threatens Lonnie with violence.

The 80’s was known for its abundance of teen oriented flicks and with the exception of the John Hughes movies many of them were low grade. It seemed like it was impossible to make a movie about adolescents that didn’t require wild parties, abortions, crude language, and sexually provocative themes and yet this one manages to avoid all of that and is way better for it. It’s not like they’re squeaky clean either as they do at one point engage in shop lifting, but it’s all on a smaller scale focusing more on the little coming-of-age moments that happens to all of us when growing up without the over-the-top nonsense.

The acting by the two leads is perfect though Leonard Maltin in his review, or whoever wrote it for him, complained that Rainbow Harvest didn’t have much of a ‘screen presence’ though I felt she did just fine. One thing is clear is she definitely had hippie parents as that’s her given name and not a stage one. What I got a kick out of most about her character is that she’s streetwise in certain areas, but glaringly unsophisticated in others much like a teen at that age would be. Her indoctrination into Catholicism I found the most intriguing as she’s required to attend Catholic school and go through all the necessary rituals when she does something bad like reciting a specific prayer out loud and going to confession, which she does yet she continues to be susceptible to temptation including stealing money from a sleeping lady at one point. This made me wonder if having kids go to a religious school versus a public one really builds the ‘moral character’ that it’s intended, or they just end up doing what they want anyways and getting into just as much mischief as a regular kid who was not raised with any religion.

Boyd is excellent though she looks a bit too young. She states in the movie that she’s 11 and a half (IMDb incorrectly says her character is 12), but she looks more like she’s only 8 or 9. It was possible the intention was to make her younger than Karen in order to convey that she was more sheltered, but I think this could’ve been done with the girls being the same age. Again, I enjoyed Boyd’s performance, but her tiny frame made me nervous that she wouldn’t be able to defend herself and there are a few moments with guys where it comes close. Fortunately the movie never takes these moments too far, but it still ends up coming off like she’s a child more than someone ready to enter adolescence though the  shocked looks on her face, which happens frequently, are the film’s highlight.

Alyssa Milano is great too in her film debut playing Lonnie’s kid sister. She’s better known for her work in her other 80’s movie appearance Commandobut her acting here is better and while she’s not in it a lot she does manage to steal the scenes that she has.

Maltin complained the film was ‘too mild’, but for me that’s the selling point. Keeping it on a microcosmic level made it more relevant and reminded me of my own experiences growing up in the 80’s. In fact I’d rate this as being one of the better teen films from the decade and it’s no surprise it ended up winning first prize at the 1984 Sundance Film Festival.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 24, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Marisa Silver

Studio: Orion Classics

Available: DVD, Tubi, Amazon Video

Class of 1984 (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teacher battles teen gang.

Andrew Norris (Perry King) is the new teacher at Lincoln High, which is an inner-city school prone to a lot of violence and drugs. He’s been hired to teach a music class while replacing another teacher who left suddenly. Almost immediately he’s at odds with Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) the leader of a school gang that constantly disrupts his class. He eventually is able to kick him out, but Peter continues to harass Norris in the off-hours where they vandalize his car and attack his wife (Merrie Lynn Ross). Norris eventually decides he’s had enough especially after the principal (David Gardner) and even the police detective (Al Waxman) show him little support, so he takes matter into his own hands by violently confronting Peter and refusing to back down.

The film, which was directed by Mark L. Lester, who as a B-movie director has done some compact, quality stuff, has definite shades to Teacherswhich came out 2 years later, but with the same type of theme. This one though is harder edged, which makes it a bit better though it’s still weaker than Unman, Wittering, and Zigowhich it also has some similarities to, but without the intriguing mystery element. Lester has stated that he wanted to make an updated version of Blackboard Jungle, but with a grittier feel and while it may have succeeded in that respect it still comes-off as needing an updating. The school gangs dress in an over-the-top way and at times it’s hard to tell whether this wants to be taken seriously, or intended as camp. As violent as it sometimes gets it still doesn’t touch on school shootings, which was unheard of at the time, but would make a modern day high school movie that would deal with that subject more violent and scarier and making this stuff, as edgy as it tries to be, seem tame by comparison.

The ratio of black and white students doesn’t mesh. This was supposed to be an inner city school, so you’d think there would be more students of color than white, but instead it’s 98% white with only 1 or 2 black kids per class.  Norris’ roomy home in the plush suburbs seemed too nice for someone working off of a teacher’s salary, so unless his wife had a high income job, which is never confirmed, then the home he lives in wouldn’t be realistic. The reason for Stegman becoming a gang leader doesn’t make sense either. Normally kids get involved in gangs due to being stuck in poverty, but Stegman lives in the suburbs where gang life is quite rare. If he was from an abusive family then it might justify, but his mother (Linda Sorensen) takes his side on everything, so again his motivation for joining a gang isn’t believable and in a lot of ways quite absurd.

I did enjoy King n the lead. He’s played some creepy parts quite effectively in the past, so I wasn’t sure if he could pull-off a good-guy role, but he does it quite admirably. Roddy McDowall is great too in the last film he appeared in with brown hair as after this he began sporting an all gray look. The scene where he teaches a class while holding all the students at gunpoint is by far the best moment. It’s fun too seeing Michael J. Fox (billed without the ‘J’) as a high school student even though he was already 21 at the time of filming. He looks more pudgy and has a bowl haircut though ultimately other than getting stabbed doesn’t have much to do. The weakest link is Van Patten who’s not scuzzy enough to give the role the nastiness that it needed.

The table saw death deserves kudos and the gas fire one isn’t bad either. Having he teachers turn-the-tables on the students and violently fight back gives the movie a novel edge though I wished that King and McDowall had teamed-up together to take on the kids instead of doing it individually. The story though doesn’t get interesting until the violent third act. The theme has also been tackled many times before and this one doesn’t add anything unique to the mix and for the most part is painfully predictable.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 20, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark L. Lester

Studio: United Film Distribution Company

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Pluto, Tubi, Freevee, Amazon Video

Junior Bonner (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: An aging bull rider.

Junior (Steve McQueen) is a rodeo star whose better days are behind him. As he enters his 40’s, he needs to find other ways to make a living and returns to his boyhood home of Prescott, Arizona where the rest of his family including his father Ace (Robert Preston), his mother Elvira (Ida Lupino), and brother Curly (Joe Don Baker) reside. When he gets there he finds that his father’s home is being bulldozed by his brother’s company in order to make way for a track of newer homes. Junior decides that the only way to make ends meet for both himself and his father is to win the prize money by riding the ornery bull Sunshine during the rodeo competition. He had attempted to ride Sunshine at another rodeo, but was quickly bucked-off and injured, but this time he feels it will be different and convinces the rodeo owner Buck Roan (Ben Johnson) to give him one last shot.

This film is different from any other Sam Peckinpah movie you’ll see and many viewers/critics at the time didn’t know what to make of it. Peckinpah was known and even stigmatized for his violent movies including The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs, which were deemed, especially the latter one, quite controversial and to an extent even glorifying violence. To help find a balance he decided to do something opposite from those by making a movie that was laid-back and didn’t feature any fighting except for one moment during a bar fight, which is done with a delightfully comic flair where everyone in the place gets punched except for Junior who goes off to a corner to makes-out with Charmagne (Barbara Leigh) even though he was the catalyst for why it began in the first place.

Unfortunately audiences and critics could not adjust to the extreme change in tone. They came to the theater expecting, based on Peckinpah’s reputation, bloody shoot-outs and got none and the end result is it doing quite poorly at the box recouping only $2.8 million from the original $3.2 million budget, which poisoned Peckinpah’s career as he was now deemed a financial risk and seriously affected the choice of projects he could do afterwards and how much control he’d have over them. Even normally friendly critics like Roger Ebert, who had been a fan of the director’s earlier works, bailed on this one calling it a “flat-out disappointment” and describing the material as being “terribly thin”. Another critic, Gary Arnold, described it as a film that “drifts across the screen and fades from your mind an instant later” and that there was “no compelling reason to see or remember it.”

I’ll admit the way it starts out had me a baffled. The story doesn’t go anywhere even after 30-minutes in and McQueen, normally this energetic, rugged action hero, looks like he’s in his 60’s and appearing perpetually tired. I started wondering whether this was just footage caught from a closed circuit camera that examined the slow way of life of small towns.

Things though do improve by the second act. The rodeo riding is captured in a vivid way making you feel like you’re riding the bull itself. Peckinpah’s uses his patented slow motion, but this time in a humorous vein like when Junior and Ace go riding away from a 4th of July parade and through the backyards of some houses where they inadvertently get caught up in some clothes lines. There’s even a couple of touching moments like Junior’s conversation with his father at a train station as well as Ace’s reconciliation with his wife. I was impressed with Joe Don Baker’s performance as well. I know some film-goers have mocked his acting in other movies, but I believe if given the right material he can be quite good though he wasn’t the director’s first choice as it was originally intended for Gene Hackman, but when his salary demands proved too high it was given to Baker much to Peckinpah’s regret as the two had many arguments during the production, which almost came to blows and only prevented when McQueen would get in the middle and calm both sides down.

For a modern day western this is one of the better ones and precipitated a boon of rodeo style movies  during the early 70’s. While its initial reception was not kind its been viewed in a better light today and even revered as being one of Peckinpah’s better works.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 20, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Stigma (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Venereal disease on island.

Calvin (Phillip Michael Thomas) is a doctor recently released from prison who gets a job assisting Dr. Thor (David E. Durston) at his island clinic. When Calvin gets there he’s given a cold greeting by the islanders who do not like a man of color, nor does the town’s racist sheriff (Peter Clune). When he arrives at the clinic he finds that the doctor has already passed-away as well as a tape he left behind warning of an epidemic on the island, but not saying specifically what it is. While staying at the clinic he’s met late one night by Jeremy (William Magerman) an old man residing at the nearby lighthouse. He complains about being in a great deal of pain and upon further testing is found to have syphilis. Calvin tries to go on a crusade to warn the others while also searching for who else may have it, which ultimately leads him to the sheriff’s rebellious daughter D.D. (Josie Johnson).

It’s always interesting seeing how low budget films from a bygone era before the advent of computerized special effects could succeed or fail on the merit of story alone. This one, which was done by David E. Durston who had previously directed the cult-hit I Drink Your Blood just a year earlier, manages to for the most part, blemishes and all, to hold it together. The difficulties though of filming on a shoestring is still widely apparent especially at the beginning where there’s a lot of shaking camera movement and jump cuts. Where Calvin goes to hitch a ride is particularly amusing. Since they didn’t have money to get a permit, or hold-up traffic on a legitimate highway, the scene had to be done on an isolated dirt road that looked like it hadn’t been traveled on in 10 years and normally Calvin would’ve had to have stood there that long with his thumb out before he ever saw a car and yet here this non-descript road gets quite busy by using the film’s crew members driving by with their own vehicles in order to give it a well-trafficked look.

This is also one of those films were the genre is unclear. Some have listed it as a horror film while others label it a drama, or even a comedy. My guess is that it was intended as a drama with some side comedy thrown-in as ill-advised ‘comic relief’. The story though never gets tense enough to need a lighthearted moment and the funny bits are eye-rolling making the production seem even more amateurish than it already is. There’s also a surprisingly graphic moment where pictures of actual syphilis patients are shown including close-ups of their sores and deformed noses, which some could find genuinely stomach-churning.

Thomas is best known for his co-starring role in the 80’s cop drama ‘Miami Vice’, but I found him far more engaging here. Magerman is memorable playing a mute with no teeth, who never says a word, but does have an amusing giggle. Johnson is certainly beautiful, which makes up for her lack of acting, but Clune as the villainous sheriff is all-wrong. He may have looked the part of an aging bigot, but he never gives the role the necessary energy or panache. Lawrence Tierny was original choice for the part, but due this drinking problems was eventually passed over, which was ashame.

In recent years this film has gained notoriety due to it being directed by David E. Durston (1921-2010) and some movie podcasts connecting him to the mysterious deaths of both Diane Linkletter (Art Linkletter’s daughter) and actress Carol Wayne. Durston was with Diane the night she jumped to her death from her apartment window in 1969, which authorities deemed a suicide though some wondered if Durston may have pushed her out. Durston was also dating Carol Wayne in 1985 when the two had an argument while vacationing in Mexico and she left their hotel room only to be found drowned in a lake later on. Further research though has concluded that the man in question in both of these events was Edward Dale Durston, a Los Angeles car salesman born in 1942, and no connection with the film director.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 18, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: David E. Durston

Studio: Cinerama Releasing

Available: DVD-R (Code Red)

Real Men (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: CIA negotiates with aliens.

Insurance agent Bob Wilson (John Ritter) gets reluctantly recruited into becoming a CIA agent by another agent named Nick (James Belushi). Nick needs Bob because he looks very similar to an agent named Pillbox (Ritter) who was killed in the line of duty while going through a practice run of delivering a glass of water to some outer space aliens. The aliens had agreed to help the human race when the humans accidentally spilled a deadly chemical into the ocean that’s expected to destroy all life on earth in 5 years. The aliens give the earthlings two choices either the package that will help them clean up the toxic spill, or the other package, which is a deadly weapon that will destroy the planet. The only thing the aliens want in return is a glass of water delivered directly to them by Pillbox, but agents from other countries as well as rogue CIA members don’t want this deal to go through as they’d rather get their hands on the deadly weapon, so they kill Pillbox and now it’s up to Bob to make the water/package trade-off in Pillbox’s place, but Bob thinks Nick is crazy and doesn’t believe the story he’s telling him. Bob is also very timid and hates confrontations, so it’s up to Nick to give him the needed confidence while also stopping him from running away, which he does routinely.

Extremely odd mix of weird humor and sci-fi works for the first half before taking a completely downward spiral by the third. The script was written by Dennis Feldman, who spent years as a still photographer before deciding to try his hand at script writing after his brother Randy sold a couple of his own scripts that were made into movies. Dennis’ first one was Just One of the Guys and then his second was Golden Child, which sold for $330,000 and he was also given the opportunity to direct, but he declined the directing option feeling he wasn’t ready only to regret it when the director who ultimate was hired, Michael Ritchie, changed his story in ways he didn’t like. When the opportunity to direct came again he made sure to choose it.

Much like an indie flick the quirkiness is strong, but engaging. The humor is centered on the way it twists the logic around, so nothing works the way you’d expect while also playfully poking fun at tropes used in other spy genre movies. Ritter is terrific playing against type. Usually he’s the center of the comedy, but here he responds to the zaniness around him with perpetually nervous, shocked expressions. Belushi, with his glib responses and stoic nature where no matter how dire the situation he remains completely calm and collected, is funny as well and the two make a unique pair.

Unfortunately during the second half the chemistry gets ruined when Ritter’s character has this extreme arch where he goes from timid to overly confident. His confident side isn’t as funny and the way he’s able to beat-up anybody with just one punch gets highly exaggerated. I was okay with it occurring once or twice, but at some point his brazenness should catch-up with him. The movie acts like confidence is all you need to find success, but it can also backfire by putting one in situations that gets them way over-their-heads and for balance the story should’ve had this ultimately occur. You’d also think Ritter’s hand would be hurting, or even broken with the way he is constantly punching everybody. Belushi’s diversion into dating a BDSM queen bogs the pace down and takes away from the main action. The wrap-up offers no pay-off and the film despite its bright start fizzles.

Like with most 80’s movies it’s always fun seeing how things have changed as well as stayed the same. Humor-wise there’s a moment where at the time it was considered innocuous, but by today’s standards would be deemed offensive. It occurs when Belushi takes Ritter home to meet his parents where it’s revealed that his father (played by Dyanne Thorne of Ilsa movie fame) has had an operation to become a woman. This is spun as being ‘comically freakish’, but in today’s gender fluid culture would be portrayed differently. The element that remains the same is the portrayal of Russia, which at the time was considered the enemy and rival of the US and now even after the fall of communism and the supposed ending of the cold war, it’s still the same arch rival.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Dennis Feldman

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray