The Moonshine War (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Battle over illegal distillery.

John (Alan Alda), who goes by the nickname of Son, and Frank (Patrick McGoohan) were buddies during the war, but now Son has started up a profitable moonshine business while Frank has become a government agent in charge of arresting those that run illegal distilleries. Frank though is also corrupt and willing to look the other way as long as Son gives him a take of the profits, which Son refuses to do. This forces Frank to bring in Emmett (Richard Widmark) and Dual (Lee Hazlewood) who have violent ways of getting what they want, but when Son still refuses it turns into a shootout with the rest of the town sitting on the sidelines and viewing it as spectators.

The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Elmore Leonard who also penned the script, but Richard Quine’s poor direction impedes the story from achieving its full potential. There’s only a couple of interesting bits one of which takes place inside a café where Dual forces a young couple, played by Claude Johnson and a young Teri Garr who sports a brunette wig, to strip and run around naked, but outside of this there’s not much that’s unique. The editing is choppy as the action jumps from the middle of one scene to another with no set-up in-between. The atmosphere, which is supposed to be the 1920’s does not seem authentic, and the homes, which appear more like shacks, look like they were built in an unimaginative way on a studio backlot. The setting is Kentucky but filmed in Stockton, California where the dry, sandy landscape doesn’t look anything like the Bluegrass state.

I’ll give some high marks to the casting, McGoohan is fun as the agent especially as he tries to speak in an odd sounding American accent, but when Widmark comes along he completely upstages him, which is a big problem. There’s so many offbeat characters within the bad guy clan that putting them all together ends up hurting their potential since Widmark steals it away from all of them. I did like Hazelwood, who’s better known as Nancy Sinatra’s singing partner, in a rare acting bit where he’s genuinely creepy, but not used enough to make the lasting impression that it should’ve. The same goes for Suzanne Zenor, making her film debut, who’s quite delightful as the ditzy blonde, (she played the original Chrissy Snow in the first pilot for ‘Three’s a Company’), but needed to be in more scenes to make her presence truly worth it. Alan Alda is also problematic as his character isn’t seen enough to justify having the viewer root for him and things would’ve worked better had it simply been McGoohan versus Widmark.

The ending is amusing seeing the whole town sitting on the riverbank observing the shootout as if it were some sort of sporting event and the explosive finale, which comes as a bit of surprise, isn’t bad either, but the heavy-handed direction really sinks it. In better hands it might’ve worked better, but ultimately comes-off as a head-scratching misfire that is not one of the author’s best work.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 5, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Richard Quine

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive)

Movie Madness (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Three very unfunny stories.

If you’re ever needing to show someone why drugs aren’t a good idea there’s no reason to go back to that old TV ad with an egg frying in a pan that said ‘This is your brain on drugs’ instead you could simply show them this movie. Not that it pertains to drugs, or even mentions them, but it was done by people heavily on cocaine, the top drug of choice in Hollywood at that time, who were apparently so coked-up that they thought this movie was ‘hilarious’ even though no one else that saw it thought so.

With the success of Animal House National Lampoon’s was considered the big comic venue, so much so that United Artists gave them top-dollar, a whopping $15 million, to make another feature. In response National Lampoon brought together 5 writers, all of whom had written for their humor magazine, but had no screenplay experience, to compose the movie. The idea was to create 10 short vignettes that would make fun of a different movie genre, but this was ultimately too difficult, so it got pared down to just 4, with only three of them ultimately making it to the big screen. What’s perplexing is that the production values are good (I actually liked the opening song sung by Dr. John and the opening animation), there’s even some big name stars, but the material itself is unbelievably lame to the extent that it purportedly caused a test audience in Rhode Island to tear up their theater seats to show their disgust.

The first story, which is entitled ‘Growing Yourself’ stars Peter Riegert as a suburban father/husband who packs up his wife’s (Candy Clark) bags and tells her to leave so he can ‘grow’ as a person. Though confused with the reasoning she immediately obliges, but ultimately the husband finds raising the kids and finding a new more interesting career to be far more of a challenge then he expected.

The problem with this story, like with the other two, is that the characters and their motivations are unrelatable to real everyday people. For a story to work, even as satire, there still needs to be a connection to reality and this thing is too daffy. Even on a surreal level it goes nowhere and becomes simply a glimpse to weird individuals saying and doing stupid things with no intrinsic point at to it at all.

The second segment, entitled ‘Success Wanters’, suffers the same fate. It has to do with recent college grad Dominique (Ann Dusenberry) getting a job as a stripper, which almost immediately leads to her becoming heiress to a massive fortune of a margarine company when the owner (Robert Culp), who she was fooling around with, dies. This then leads to more affairs, and more money and ultimately even a relationship with the President of the United States (Fred Willard).

Again nothing that happens here has any bearing in reality, never in the history of the world has this happened to any college grad out there, especially in only a few days time. To be funny it still needs to make sense, but like with the first story you’re left scratching your head wondering what the point of it was although Dusenberry does look fabulous naked, both topless and bottomless, making catching it for that reason almost worth it.

The third and final segment, entitled ‘Municipalians’ has rookie cop Brent (Robby Benson) paired with jaded, crabby veteran Stan (Richard Widmark) as they go out to find a bizarre serial killer (Christopher Lloyd). Supposedly this was meant as a parody of the cop buddy movies, but too silly and over-the-top to be even slightly amusing. I will admit it’s fun seeing veteran star Widmark in such an odd project and his cantankerous ways is slightly engaging, including one moment when he’s caught reading Hustler magazine, but the story structure is faulty. It might’ve gotten a few more points from me had the scene where Benson and Lloyd start singing a duet of ‘Feelings’ and then had Widmark barge in to form a trio, but since that doesn’t happen this one like the other two fails miserably. It also ends with the camera focusing on Benson struggling to get up after he’s been shot several times, which comes-off as cruel like it’s making fun of someone who’s in pain, which I found disturbing.

There was a fourth segment entitled ‘The Bomb’ that starred Kenneth Mars and Marcia Strassman and was a parody of disaster movies, but when screened United Artists’ vice president of production found this segment to be ‘of an awfulness that made the whole picture look unreleasable’. so it got taken out. However, he did also find the first three stories to be ‘good, funny segments with high commercial promise’ making you wonder if he was coked-up on the white stuff too.

Alternate Title: National Lampoon’s Goes to the Movies

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: April 23, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Directors: Bob Giraldi, Henry Jaglom

Studio: MGM/UA

Available: DVD-R (MGM Limited Edition Collection), Amazon Video, Tubi

Hoodwink (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pretending to be blind.

Martin (John Hargreaves) is in jail for bank robbery and with very little chance for escape he comes up with the idea of pretending to be blind, which he hopes will gain sympathy from the court and ultimately a lighter sentence. The con eventually pays off as he’s transferred to a minimum security prison with only a 3-year sentence to serve even though the Dr.’s who examine him are unable to determine if he’s faking or not and the guards within the prison believe he’s making it up and routinely set traps for him to fall into hoping it will will expose the lie. Things though get complicated when Sarah (Judy Davis), a minister’s wife, takes a liking to him, which allows him to leave the prison grounds during the day, so that he can, under her tutelage, learn to become self-sufficient with his handicap so that he’ll be prepared to live on his own in the real-world once he’s formally released. The two though fall-in-love causing her jealous husband (Dennis Miller) to threaten to come forward with Martin’s charade, which could put him in terrible jeopardy.

To some extent it’s hard to believe this could’ve happened, but it’s all based on the true story of Carl Synnerdahl, who was able to fool everyone that he couldn’t see for over 18 months while inside the Australian penal system and it allowed him, like with Martin, to be given special privileges that he wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. What perplexed me though was that testing someone’s so-called blindness should’ve been easy as you could act like you’re going to poke you’re finger into his eye real quickly and if he’d blink, or recoil his head, then you’d know he was able to see it and was a faker, and yet no one in this movie thinks to do that.

If you’re able to get past this issue, then it’s a fun movie most of the way. I liked the scenes shot at Bathurst Jail, the same prison that Synnderdahl was in, that has a very old-time jailhouse look and quality. I also enjoyed the sumptuous, sprawling countryside view from Sarah’s living room window that could beat or rival any one else’s. That acting is great too with Hargreaves able to create, despite all of his shenanigans, a sympathetic character. Davis though is the scene-stealer, she won the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Supporting Actress, as the sexually repressed wife who’s in constant flux about whether she wants to leave her situation, or stay faithful.

The drama though becomes less compelling when Martin almost immediately admits his ruse to Sarah, who then goes forward with it to her husband even though I thought him trying to pretend he was still blind with them in their house could’ve created some interesting dynamics that unfortunately never get played-out. The affair and her husband’s jealous rage is toned down instead of ramped-up causing the third act, which should’ve had a lot of fireworks, to fizzle. The couple had vast potential to being key players, but instead get treated more like ornaments that don’t throw as much of a monkey wrench into the proceedings as they should’ve, or that you’re expecting.

Spoiler Alert!

The conclusion, which is far different than what occurred in the real-life incident, has Martin stealing a car and escaping, but this leaves too many questions unanswered. Will he eventually get caught, which is most likely, and what happens to him then when the prison system finds out that they had been duped? These issues should’ve been examined and leaving it wide-open isn’t satisfying and I suspect the reason that lead to it doing poorly at the box office.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 5, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Claude Whatham

Studio: New South Wales Film Corporation

Available: DVD (Import Region 2)

R.P.M. (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10′

4-Word Review: Caught in the middle.

Paco Perez (Anthony Quinn) is a college professor given the position of acting university president after a group of students overtake an administration building, which forces the other president out. Paco now has the duty of negotiating with these students in order to meet their requests and have them leave the building, but their list of 12 demands are extreme and Paco cannot agree to all of them. Eventually he accepts 9 of the conditions, but Rossiter (Gary Lockwood) the head of the student movement refuses to budge unless all 12 are met, which continues the standoff until Paco feels he has no other choice but to have the police called in and the students forcibly removed.

For a film with the title of Revolutions Per Minute this is woefully lacking in action. There had already been other films dealing with the campus unrest of the day including The Strawberry Statement and Getting Straight and while neither one of those were perfect they at least had violent confrontations between the protesters and authorities, but this thing is mainly all talk. These students are also the most uninteresting ‘radicals’ that I’ve ever seen and spend most of their time just looking out the window. I would think at their age they’d be partying, doing drugs, drinking, listening to rock music, sex, and maybe even some infighting amongst themselves in between meeting with Paco, but instead it has the atmosphere of a retirement community.

Writer Erich Segal and director Stanley Kramer, who later admitted this was the least favorite of his films and the first to do poorly at the box office, were too old and out-of-touch with the young generation to effectively tackle the subject in any meaningful way. The kids are bland and the scenes with them stagnate. All of the emphasis is put on Quinn and while some of the issues that it brings out, which mainly consist at how the older generation sees things and approaches things differently, is not enough to keep it compelling despite the arguments that he has with his much younger live-in girlfriend, played by Ann-Margret, which are the only times when the movie gets quasi-lively, but even then it’s not enough to save it.

The biggest disappointment is when the police finally do invade the building. I was hoping for a big battle to make up for all the boredom that came before, but Kramer fails to deliver. He unwisely uses music during these clashes, which should not be necessary as the yelling, screaming, and other noises from the chaos would be more than enough to keep it riveting, much like in Medium CoolHe also blurs out the images, so we just see these fuzzy little dots on the screen, which I guess was his idea of being ‘artsy’, but it doesn’t allow for any emotional impact. Ultimately it becomes just another run-of-the-mill flick looking to cash-in on the screaming headlines of the day, but offers no new insight. Kramer was famous for making ‘relevant’ films that tackled difficult topics like Judgement at Nuremburg, The Defiant Ones, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and while those were a success this one was an overreach and he should’ve quit while he was ahead.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 16, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Stanley Kramer

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R

Skin Deep (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Womanizer tries to rehabilitate.

Zach (John Ritter) is a successful, best-selling author, but hasn’t written a novel in quite awhile and his constant philandering has gotten his wife Alex (Alyson Reed) to leave him. Depressed about his circumstances he becomes an alcoholic, but uses the advice of his kindly bartender (Vincent Gardenia) to try and win her back, but finds fighting his hedonistic urges to be challenging.

This marked Blake Edwards fourth film dealing with the mid-life crisis issue that started with 10 in 1979 and was followed up with S.O.Bin 1981 and then That’s Life in 1986. All four had a similar setting (Malibu/Hollywood) and involved middle-aged men at a crossroads in their career/marriages. When 10 came out it was considered ‘fresh’, but by 1989 the storyline was becoming quite redundant and came-off looking like Blake’s creative well had run dry. Edwards also exposes himself as being too entrenched in the Hollywood scene and out-of-touch with the middle-class lifestyle as Zach is never in any type of financial distress despite a career lull and having his mansion burn down (he wasn’t able to collect on the insurance money due to it being caused by arson) and yet still able to stay at posh beach houses and luxury hotels. In the end his only concern is his insatiable appetite for hot women, which ultimately comes-off as plastic problems for plastic people.

The women look too much alike, including Chelsea Field, who plays Amy and Jean Marie McKee who is Rebecca. Both of these women were brunettes, the same age, and with similar hairstyles and when seeing them from behind I thought they were the same person. Zach also states that he loves ‘all women’, but only beds the hot ones. The film tries to make-up for this by having him have a sexual encounter with a female bodybuilder (Raye Hollitt), but overall they still end up looking too much like the caricature of a Hollywood Hooker.

Even Ritter, as engaging as he usually is, flops here. A lot of it has to do with his beard, which I hated. I suppose they wanted him to look different from his more famous Jack Tripper character, but turning him into an image resembling the guy on the packages of Brawny paper towels wasn’t it. Since his character does go through a transition they should’ve had him start-out clean-shaven and then as his life goes into turmoil gotten the beard only to shave it off once things returned to normal.

Zach’s incessant whining at trying to win his wife back is what really got on my nerves the most. She was right to walk out on him and he didn’t deserve a ‘do-over’. Besides not everyone is going to find happiness in a committed relationship and, even though this might’ve been ahead-of-its-time for 80’s audiences, an alternative lifestyle would’ve been a better fit like having him get into polyamory, or sex workers. As mentioned the women all looked like hookers anyways and since he seemed to have a boundless cache of cash he could’ve easily afforded them.

I did like the glow-in-the-dark condom scene, which is the film’s only funny moment and happens at the 50-minute mark. Gardenia as the intuitive bartender is amusing too and I didn’t think there was any need for Zach to see an actual therapist as the bartender’s advice was just as good and much less costly.

There are a few bits that have not aged well including Zach’s penchant for kissing a bar maids without her consent and with him sitting on a small dog and seemingly killing it. Overall, I found it superficial and trite and the only successful thing about it is that it lives up to its title.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Release: February 28, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Blake Edwards

Studio: 20th Century Fox

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

White Dog (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dog attacks black people.

Late one night while driving home aspiring actress Julie (Kristy McNichol) hits a stray dog, which she takes immediately to an emergency vet. They find that his injuries were minimal and she’s allowed to take him home until his owner can be found. She soon starts to bond with the White Shepherd dog, who at one point saves her from a would-be rapist. She also becomes aware that he attacks black people when he goes after one of her African American friends unprovoked. She takes him to an elderly dog trainer named Carruthers (Burl Ives) who advised that the dog should be put to sleep, but another trainer named Keyes (Paul Winfield), who is black, wants to rehabilitate the animal, but finds this undertaking far more challenging than he initially expected.

The story is based on a real-life incident of novelist Romain Gary and his actress wife Jean Seberg, who during the early 60’s took in a stray dog that had previously been an Alabama Police dog, who they later learned, was trained to attack black people. Gary wrote about this experience in a short story that was published in Life Magazine in 1970 and this was eventually turned into a novel. The novel though incorporated many things that had not occurred in real-life, nor in the movie, including having the dog trainer being an angry black Muslim who gets the dog to start attacking white people including Gary himself.

The story rights were purchased by Paramount in 1975 with Roman Polanski set to direct, but when he was forced to flee the country due to statutory rape chargers the projects was put on hold. Then after the success of Jaws producers decided to turn it into a ‘jaws with paws’ storyline with the racism angle taken out, but when director Samuel Fuller was signed on he returned the plot to its original theme, which caused controversy when the NAACP, without ever having seen the film, accused it of being ‘racist’, which frightened Paramount executives enough that they gave the movie a very limited engagement with no promotion, which led to it recouping only $46, 509 out of its original $7 million budget. Despite eventually getting released on VHS and shown sporadically on cable outlets such as Lifetime, it languished in obscurity until finally getting a DVD/Blu-ray issue in 2008 where it’s now seen in a totally different light.

For me the biggest problem is the hackneyed drama starting with the dopey way the dog gets hit by a car and yet miraculously healed enough to go home that very same night and never showing any lingering injuries. The potential rape scene is too manufactured as well as it has the rapist magically appearing in the apartment without showing how he broke-in and later having one of the cops state that he had just arrested the same guy earlier that year for another rape attempt, so if that’s the case then why wasn’t he still in jail? It also has the dog sleeping as the bad guy sneaks in, but I’ve found dogs have a keen sense of awareness and would’ve heard the guy trying to bust in and growling or barking long before he actually made it into the apartment. Having Kristy go on a late night jog with the dog and then being chased by a masked assailant, which the dog would scare away, would’ve been a better way to have done it.

I also didn’t like the part where Kristy meets the dog’s owner and he openly admits to training him to attack black people, which to me didn’t seem believable. I liked the idea of having the owner being this seemingly kindly old man, played by Parley Baer best known for voicing the Keebler Elf, that you’d never expect as being someone who’d train an animal to do such a thing. However, freely admitting this to a stranger is like a murderer admitting to their crime. Most won’t fess up because they know it would get them into a lot of trouble if they did. Movies should also not be obligated to explain everything and like in real-life should leave a few things open-ended. When Kristy accuses him of this he could reveal a funny look on his face, giving the viewer insight that he most likely was guilty, but then have him verbally deny it like most people would.

While I could’ve done without the slow motion and booming music I did find the dog’s retraining sessions with Keys to be the film’s best moments and Winfield’s strong presence is excellent. However, trying to use a dog as a metaphor to racism doesn’t really work, nor hold-up to logic. Winfield explains that the dog was most likely beaten by a black person hired by a white man to get the dog to become the way he does, but I don’t think this could be achieved as the dog would just hate that one individual and not connect it to the man’s skin color unless he was abused by a whole group of black people. We’re also told that the dog does not hate black people he just fears them, but if that’s the case then why does he go out of his way to attack and kill them. Animals will only go on the attack if they feel threatened, but if the perceived threat keeps their distance then the dog shouldn’t feel the need to be aggressive making the blood splattering attacks that the dog does come off as quite over-the-top.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 12, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Samuel Fuller

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD/Blu-ray (Criterion Collection)

The Pirate Movie (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nerd dreams of pirates.

Mabel (Kristy McNichol) is a nerdy girl living in Australia as an American exchange student who does not fit-in with the three sisters (Kate Ferguson, Rhonda Burchmore, Catherine Lynch) of her host family. One day the four visit a sword play demonstration being put on at a local festival. All four immediately become infatuated with Frederic (Christopher Atkins) the handsome swordplay instructor who later on invites them on a boat ride except the sisters don’t want Mabel to come along, so they untie the boat from the dock before she can board. Mabel then rents another boat to catch-up to them, but gets caught in a storm and washed up to shore in an unconscious state where she has a dream about a crew of 18th century pirates lead by The Pirate King (Ted Hamilton) who cast Frederic off their ship when he refuses to become a pirate like them. Frederic then washes up to shore where he meets Mabel and her sisters, but this time the sisters are all nerdy while Mable is the beautiful maiden that he immediately falls in love with. However, they must also avoid the clutches of The Pirate King and his men who also come to the island looking for women to kidnap.

The story is loosely based the the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta from 1880 called The Pirates of Penzance, but jacked-up with a lot of campy comedy and modern day, teeny-bopper songs that, unless you’re really into 80’s cheese, makes it an almost excruciating experience to sit through. I don’t mind some campiness, but there still needs to be an exciting plot and a story that has a sense of adventure and even a few moments of tension for balance, but all this thing has is one lame gag after another. There’s also a ton of anachronisms including an Inspector Clouseau-type character and even light sabers that have absolutely no place in a movie set in the 18th Century.

The dream concept gets poorly played-out as this is supposedly Mabel’s, but when a person is having a dream then everything is from their perspective and they’re involved in someway with everything that goes on in it and yet here there’s a great number of scenes where Mabel isn’t even present. She also mentions at one point that since this is ‘her dream’ she wants a ‘happy ending’, but people don’t usually know they’re dreaming while they’re having it and only become aware after they’ve awaken.

Kristy is much more entertaining in the nerd role (she looks literally like Peter Billingsley from A Christmas Story) and she should’ve remained in that character and then earned her way into becoming a beautiful, confident women at the end instead of having her change over to one in a split second like here. Atkins is amusing simply because he has a big-brawny body with the high-pitched voice of an 8th grader though his poor acting, which at first works since the movie itself is bad, eventually got on my nerves.

The only funny bits are the behind-the-scenes outtakes that get shown during the closing credits although Ted Hamilton, who also served as the executive producer, does have a few amusing moments even though as the villain he’s too hammy.

Spoiler Alert!

The romance I didn’t like because it happens too quickly as romances are more interesting when there’s a challenge to overcome and since Frederic had no experience with women many funny awkward scenarios could’ve been incorporated, but aren’t. What really annoyed me is that when Mabel does finally wake up Frederic is right there, almost like magic, and kisses her, so they fall in love just like in the dream, but what’s the use of having a dream concept if the reality is going to play-out in exactly the same way? Could’ve been funnier had they gotten together only to eventually realize they couldn’t stand each other, which would’ve added a smidgen of reality that this otherwise vapid thing is sorely missing.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: August 6, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ken Annakin

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

Conversation Piece (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Obnoxious tenants take over.

Burt Lancaster plays an aging Professor who lives alone in his giant palazzo situated in Rome along with the exquisite art pieces that he has collected through the years. His only connection with other people comes through the form of his servants headed by his live-in maid Erminia (Elvira Cortese), but even here his communications with them is distant and detached. Then one day a Countess (Silvana Mangano) arrives asking if she can rent his upstairs room, which he rarely uses. The Professor is initially reluctant, but the Countess is looking for a place to harbor her young, left-wing lover Konrad (Helmut Berger) from her right-wing husband as well as using it as a sanctuary for her teen daughter Lietta (Claudia Marsani) to spend time with her boyfriend Stefano (Stefano Patrizi). After a great deal of insistence he finally agrees. The new tenants then immediately begin remolding the room using outside contractors, which creates a great deal of noise and distraction, causing the Professor to regret his decision and feel like his once peaceful abode has now been invaded.

The behind-the-scenes had more drama than anything you see in front of the camera as director Luchino Visconti had suffered a stroke that left him confined to a wheelchair and made it hard to find funding as backers believed he was in such bad shape that the film wouldn’t be completed only to have Lancaster assure them that he would take over directing should it become necessary. To help compensate everything was shot on a soundstage, which is the most impressive thing about it as the interiors were so meticulously created that it genuinely looks like an old lived-in mansion complete with a wide assortment of artifacts that you’d find in an home resided in by an elderly person. There’s even a hidden room and the major renovation by the tenants to the upstairs is visually intoxicating. Ultimately though it becomes static and having at least a few scenes done outdoors, or in a different locale, would’ve helped.

Lancaster is excellent and comes-off seeming quite old even though he was really only in his late 50’s. His facials expressions and body language are enough to carry it even as his voice gets dubbed into Italian, which is weird at first, but eventually you get used to it. Still I didn’t understand why since it was shot in English that the dubbing even was necessary as they could’ve used subtitles for Italian viewers while allowing the authentic voices of the actors to remain.

Spoiler Alert!

The biggest disappointment though is the story, which essentially doesn’t lead to anything interesting. I sat through it convinced there was some subtle context beneath the surface that was sure to come out as I couldn’t believe these tenants could be as obnoxious as they were without intentionally doing it in order to drive the guy mad, so they could  take over the residence, steal his paintings, and resell them on the black market, at least that’s what I thought would be the twist, but instead there really isn’t any. Despite the way they annoy the Professor at every turn he still ends up appreciating their presence and calling them his ‘family’ while anyone else would’ve had them forcibly removed and the locks changed. No matter how lonely one might be dealing with these idiots and the massive upheaval that they brought including criminal elements and even sexual perversity would be considered NOT worth it to any rational person. The fact that the film acts like it is and goes as far as rehabilitating their image to that of ‘well meaning losers’ by the end made it corny and not worth the effort, as talky as it already is, to sit through.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 10, 1974

Runtime: 2 Hours 1 Minute

Rated R

Director: Luchino Visconti

Studio: Cinema International Corporation

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

The Winnipeg Run (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Winning a snowmobile race.

Randy (Lance Henriksen) has been institutionalized for several years after suffering from PTSD from fighting in Vietnam. His Dr. (Peter Michael Goetz) feels that he’s ready to go back out into the real world, but must continue to take his medications, which Randy refuses to do. He travels back to his hometown in northern Minnesota, but finds obtaining a steady income to be tough, so he participates in a local snowmobile race that offers a cash prize. He does well enough in that it compels him to travel to Canada to take part in a race called The Winnipeg Run, which runs from Manitoba to St. Paul, but as he prepares for the competition his mental problems return.

This marked Henriksen’s film debut as well as Goetz’s and even though Lance has described this project in interviews as being ‘the worst movie he has ever done and will remain the worst movie he’s ever done’, he’s still the best thing about it. He adds conviction and nuance, which allows the character to rise above the middling material and become a multi-dimensional person that you want to root for.

The location shooting is excellent. While it was never shot in Winnipeg, despite its title, but instead Thief River Falls, Minnesota it’s great to see a movie that truly captures the frigid climate of the region. Most films with a Minnesota setting are usually shot in the summer when the weather is pleasant, or done on a soundstage with fake winter effects, but this one goes the extra step to show the massively high snow hills that you can get there, I was born and raised in the region so I know, and the icy clouds of breath that encircles each individual as they walk outside. The cold temps can also be quite brutal on the film equipment, so kudos to the crew for being brave enough to fight the elements in order to bring authenticity. The racing footage isn’t bad either and I could can only think of one other movie, the Disney pic Snowball Expresswhich came out the same year, that has snowmobile racing in it, so it gets credit for originality.

Spoiler Alert!

However, what I didn’t like is that after having this long, drawn-out build-up watching Randy prepare for the race and describing in detail the  grueling aspects of it, it then never actually occurs. Instead we find that, due to his mental illness, it’s all inside his head. While he does get on a snowmobile and drive it around it’s not a part of any competition and just him speeding alongside a lonely highway while his nervous girlfriend (Cynthia Subby) drives in a car next to him and screams for him to come home.

If the writer and director thought that this was some kind of ‘clever twist’ then it was they who had the real mental problem as it’s more of a bait-and-switch to the viewer who are primed for an action packed climax only to be left with something that has no impact at all. Even as a character study it’s misguided and it’s assessment of mental illness quite dubious. While I initially thought Lance’s take of this movie was a bit harsh, as it does start out okay, I could ultimately see why he now considers it a black mark on his resume.

Alternate Title: It Ain’t Easy

Released: November 10, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Maurice Hurley

Studio: Dandelion Films

Available: None

The Stoolie (1972)

stoolie1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Con man heads south.

Roger (Jackie Mason) is a small time crook who works with Police Detective Alex (Dan Frazier) to trap other thieves by using bait money that Alex gives to him in other to set-up criminal deals that will eventually lead to their arrest. Roger though feels he’s shown little respect giving him the gumption to take the bait money and run off with it to Miami. Alex relentlessly chases after him, but finds many obstacles while Roger meets-up with a lonely woman named Sheila (Marcia Jean Kurtz) who was ready to jump off a bridge until he talked her out of it. The two eventually fall-in-love and get married only to have Alex appear at their door demanding his bait money back, which Roger has already spent forcing him to come-up with other underhanded ways to steal it back.

This was Mason’s film debut in what has amounted to being a very short-lived film career with only two other starring vehicles to his resume that were spread far apart and include the critically panned Caddyshcack II in 1988, and then Goldberg – P.I. in 2011. While Mason was already an established nightclub comedian at the time his foray into television had been rocky including the infamous ‘Middle Finger incident’ on the October 18, 1964 live broadcast of the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ that got him banned from appearing on it and effectively blacklisted from going on other shows or movies. While his humor and outspoken politics have made him an acquired taste he comes off here as not only likable, but genuinely endearing. Director John G. Avildsen manages to use Mason’s frumpy physique to his advantage creating a lovable loser type that makes the viewer want to cheer him on from start to finish and really the only reason why this otherwise oddball film is able to work.

Initially I wasn’t sure if the love angle that gets thrown-in halfway through would appeal quite as well, but fortunately Kurtz acts as Mason’s female counterpart even sporting the same curly mop-top making their romance seem organic. I enjoyed too that the after their first meet it doesn’t suddenly cut to showing them immediately in bed together like in so many other 70’s movies, but instead having them touring a parrot farm. In fact the Florida locations get captured well here as Avildsen stays away from the chic side while delving more into it’s emptiness where lonely souls come looking for some happiness.

Frazier is effective and the second act in which the film cuts back and forth between Mason living it up and Frazer doggedly chasing after him is where it gels, but the minute the two get back together it bogs down as there’s no chemistry between them. Mason becomes too much of a passive observer watching Frazier doing all the scheming, but the hero needs to be the one propelling the action. While the charm remains it’s not as strong by the end and the film would’ve been better served had it stayed with the cat-and-mouse theme.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 17, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: John G. Avildsen, George Silano

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video