One is a Lonely Number (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Adjusting to being single.

Amy (Trish Van Devere) is shocked to learn that her husband (Paul Jenkins) of 10 years wants to move out and get a divorce. She thought they had a happy marriage, but apparently he was seeing another woman on the side. Now she must learn to survive on her own and get a job despite not having any work experience.  She must also get back into the dating scene but finding quality men is tough as most are only interested in having sex while others pretend to be single when they’re really not.

David Seltzer’s script, which is based on the short story ‘The Good Humor Man’ by Rebecca Morris, is full of interesting insight on just how tough divorce can be on women particularly from that era where wives much more dependent on their husbands financially and not expected to venture into the work world as much as they are now. Mel Stuart, best known for directing documentaries as well as the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,  proves quite adept with the material making it seem almost like a documentary and I especially liked his use of the hand-held camera and the way it would glide through the different settings that Amy was in and making the viewer feel like they were right there with the characters.

Although her name has come back into the headlines in 2017 when she and her adult son were accused of imprisoning a teenage girl in their Malibu home against her will, Van Devere has otherwise fallen into complete obscurity having not appeared in anything since 1993. I have often wondered if her career would’ve achieved more prominence had she not gotten married to George C. Scott when she did, which obligated her during the 70’s to star with him in many of his film’s which were box office bombs and critically panned and tarnished her star power. Here though she’s excellent playing an even keeled woman who isn’t sterotypically emotional. Her only gaffe comes when she breaks down crying while inside a clothing store, which didn’t come off as genuine and should’ve been taken out especially since she ends crying later on in two other scenes.

Janet Leigh is equally good as Amy’s snarky, man-hating friend. I was also impressed with Jonathan Goldsmith, who goes by the last name of Lippe here, who is better known by today’s audiences as the ‘Most Interesting Man in the World’ from the Dos Equis beer commercials. Here he plays a creep who doesn’t look or act anything like his TV- counterpart, as a job coordinator who expects to be ‘rewarded’ by Amy for finding her a job.

The film’s only drawback is that it doesn’t analyze the marriage enough as we’re never given any understanding for why Amy misses her husband, or why she would’ve fallen in love with him in the first place since he pretty much comes off as a selfish, indifferent jerk every time he is shown. Having some flashbacks to when she was married might’ve helped flesh out the character’s personality by showing her at different stage in her life instead of just focusing on the one. Otherwise this is a solid sleeper that hasn’t dated too badly and is waiting to be discovered by a new audience.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 19, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mel Stuart

Studio: MGM

Available: YouTube

Nothing in Common (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father needs his son.

David Basner (Tom Hanks) is leading a happy life as a successful advertising executive yet he’s forced to put it all on hold when his parents (Jackie Gleason, Eva Marie Saint) of 36 years announce that they’re getting a divorce. His father also loses his job as well as being diagnosed with diabetes forcing David to give him round-the-clock care despite the fact that they don’t get along.

The best thing about the film are the performances of its two stars. For Hanks this marked his transition from comedy to more serious roles, but for the most part his charm still comes from his comic edge especially with the way he greets each of his co-workers when he returns to the office after a vacation. It’s really Gleason though, who was dying from cancer as he performed in this, that is the most compelling and he should’ve been in the movie more and better yet made the star as he literally owns every scene that he’s in and despite his cantankerous personality manages to elicit a lot of sympathy from the viewer.

Unfortunately the script doesn’t focus enough on the father/son relationship and instead goes off on many tangents like David’s struggles to come up with a creative ad for one of his clients, which isn’t as compelling or interesting. There’s also several running jokes that digresses the whole thing down to almost a sitcom level especially with Hector Elizondo’s, who plays David’s boss, desperate attempts to come up with a suitable hairpiece. The bits involving David’s pranks on an office receptionist in order to try and get her to laugh makes him seem more annoying than funny and she would’ve been justified to have him reported for harassment.

Dwelling into David’s love-life dilutes the story even further. Initially I thought his courting of Sela Ward had some spark as she played-hard-to-get and part of what makes potential relationships so interesting is the chase itself, but after putting up a cold front for a few minutes she then jumps into bed with him, which just takes the air out of everything. Bess Armstrong, who plays his former girlfriend, seemed more his type. However, the scene where he barrages into her apartment drunk late at night and hassles her and the new guy she’s sleeping with made him seem extremely obnoxious to the point that I was hoping he’d get punched in the face.

Saint’s character does nothing but add to the dramatic clutter in a bland role that  offers little to the story. It would’ve been more effective had she died instead of divorcing the husband, which would’ve offered more of a catalyst for Hanks and his father to get together.

The film ends where it should’ve began with Hanks deciding to move in with his father in order to help him with his health problems. Watching these two with very diametrically opposed personalities trying to get along inside this very cramped apartment could’ve been quite revealing and insightful and yet we see none of it. Instead we’re treated to a rambling narrative that offers generic drama and little else.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 30, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gary Marshall

Studio: TriStar Pictures

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

Breezy (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hippie falls or businessman.

Edith Alice ‘Breezy’ Breezerman (Kay Lenz) lives the life of a hippie after losing both her parents to a car accident years earlier. Her transient lifestyle consists of one-night-stands and hitching rides from strangers. One day she jumps into a car owned by Frank Harmon (William Holden). Frank is a middle-aged man who went through a tumultuous divorce years earlier and isn’t interested in getting into a relationship especially with someone young enough to be his daughter and yet Breezy’s carefree ways begin to grow on him and despite his reluctance the two slowly form a bond.

The script was written by Jo Heims who also penned Clint Eastwood’s earlier hit Play Misty for Me. Originally she wanted Clint to play the part of Frank, but he felt he was too young for the role and decided he would direct instead although you can still spot him for a brief second leaning against a wooden rail during a scene at a boardwalk. Unfortunately his fan base  was expecting to see more of an action or western flick and not some laid-back counter-culture love story and much of his following gave it a-bad-word-of-mouth to others who then stayed away. After some bad reviews from an initial screening the studio decided to shelve it for a year before finally releasing it to select theaters with very little promotion, which caused it to tank at the box office, but this is definitely a movie that deserves a second look.

One of the things that I liked is that it tackles the controversial subject of relationships with a wide age difference something that is still sometimes considered ‘gross’ even by otherwise liberal minded people today. Yet the subject gets examined in a refreshingly non exploitative way where it is actually the man who is reluctant to get involved and even at one point outright rejects her while she continues to pursue it convinced that despite one of them ‘being on this planet a little bit longer than the other’ they still have the same wants and needs.

The film like its title has a nice ‘breezy’ pace too that reflects its Bay area setting quite well and allows the viewer to get to know the characters and their interpersonal dynamics without ever feeling that it gets rushed or is forced. The introspective script makes many key insights particularly with the Holden character and how his ‘old school’ upbringing and fear of being judged by others makes him hesitant to get involved despite the strong feelings that he has for her.

Eastwood shows astute direction as well. I particularly liked the scene where Holden writes down the phone number from a lady guest and then the camera follows the woman out of the house and remains focused on her through the front window as she gets into a cab while we also see the back of Holden’s hand who crumples up the piece of paper with the phone number on it and throws it into an ashtray, which shows us his disinterest in her visually without having it verbally explained and is a hallmark of good filmmaking.

The motivations for Breezy’s character particularly the reasons for why she falls so quickly for Holden isn’t clear. There is also a scene where Holden puts an injured dog that he rescued from the side of the road into his car, but it never shows what he did with it. Then an hour later that same dog comes back into play as we realize he had taken it to a vet., but I felt that segment should’ve been shown since it ends up being integral to the story otherwise this is a really well made sleeper looking to find new fans who can appreciate an intelligently done romance.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 18, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Clint Eastwood

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B), Amazon Video, YouTube

Simon (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: College professor becomes brainwashed.

An underground group of scientists who enjoy playing elaborate pranks decide to brainwash a college professor named Simon Mendelssohn (Alan Arkin) into believing that he is an alien from another planet. After he is successfully brainwashed he then escapes from the institution and gets in with a religious cult who have a transmitter that can block the TV airwaves and allow him the ability to be seen by the entire nation where he tries to reform American culture while also becoming a celebrity sensation.

This extremely odd comical satire  seems out of place for a studio backed film and more in tune with a independent project as it’s unclear what specific type of audience the filmmakers were hoping to attract as mainstream viewers will most likely find the humor off-putting. One could describe it as being ahead-of-its-time, but the banal potshots at such overused targets as TV and American consumerism makes it seem more dated instead.

The movie would’ve worked better had it remained focused on one intended target and then ravaged the hell out of it instead of soft jabs at various safe targets, which makes its overall message muddled and unclear. There are some funny bits including watching Austin Pendleton, who is the head of the research group, making love to a giant telephone receiver, whose voice is supplied by Louise Lasser. It’s also funny having a brainwashed person such as Simon trying to brainwash others via the airwaves, which could’ve been really hilarious had they gone farther with this idea.

There’s signs that writer/director Marshall Brickman hadn’t fully thought through the quirky story idea to begin with. For instance why would this underground group of scientists allow a video crew in to film what they are doing as the members are seen at the beginning talking directly to the camera and answering questions by some unseen interviewer. Wouldn’t this allow their secret to get out and get them into trouble? The army that takes over the institute is too incompetent as Simon and his girlfriend Lisa (Judy Graubart) are able to escape from it too easily and their inability to locate Simon’s rogue TV transmitter even after days of searching is rather pathetic. I realize this is meant to be ‘funny’, but even a comedy should have some tension to it to make it more interesting and the army’s extreme buffoonery isn’t humorous at all, but just plain dumb instead.

Arkin is the one thing that saves it. His unusual acting style makes him hard to cast, but here he really delivers especially during the segment where he plays out the evolution of man, but without using any dialogue although it might’ve been funnier and more of an interesting contrast had his character not been so kooky to begin with, but instead some stuffy intellectual only to become zany once he was brainwashed.

Judy Graubart makes for a good anchor as the one normal person in the whole movie. She was best known for her work on the children’s TV-show ‘The Electric Company’ and this was her live-action film debut, which should’ve lead to a long line of film appearances, but instead she only had brief bits in two other movies and that was it.

There are signs of a great movie trying to break out and the overall concept has brilliant potential, but this is the type of film where you’ve got to go full-throttle and Brickman seems either unable or too timid to do that making what could’ve been sharp satire into a transparent, benign mess that offers only a few chuckles, but not much else.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 1, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Marshall Brickman

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive) Amazon Video, YouTube

Mister Buddwing (1966)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s lost his memory.

A man (James Garner) wakes up one morning to find himself on a bench in Central Park unaware of how he got there or who he is. He finds a crumpled up piece of paper in his coat pocket and when he calls it a woman by the name of Gloria (Angela Lansbury) answers, but talking to her makes him even more confused. He then spends the day wondering around the city while coming up with the name Buddwing after he spots the word Budweiser on a passing truck and then looks up into the sky and sees the wings of a jet plane. He bumps  into women who remind him of someone that he knows as Grace, but every time he meets someone it just leads to more dead ends and things get even worse when he gets mistaken as being an escapee from a mental hospital.

The film is based on a novel by Evan Hunter and initially holds some intrigue. I was impressed by the opening shot that’s done with a cinematic flair. I was hoping especially with its evocative black-and-white cinematography and jazz score by Kenyon Hopkins that this would have a strong cinema vertite feel, but any potentially artsy style gets lost by a draggy script that bogs down in Buddwing’s past romantic memories that amounts to nothing more than extended talky scenes that cripples the mystery angle until you end up not caring what the answers are.

Garner’s usual appeal gets seriously strained, which is probably why in his memories ‘The Garner Files’ he calls this “The worst movie I ever made” and then asks “What was I thinking?”. Normally I admire actors that are willing to go out of their safety zone, but his constant deer-in-headlights look becomes tiring and one-dimensional and the crying that he does while inside Lansbury’s apartment seems insincere.

The one’s that come off best are the four women that he bumps into as he wonders around. All are portrayed by famous leading ladies: the fore mentioned Lansbury as well as Suzanne Pleshette, Katherine Ross, and Jean Simmons who give outstanding performances and helps keep the otherwise rocky picture afloat. However, during the flashback sequences the different actresses all end up playing the same Grace at different times, which I found confusing and off-putting.

The explanation for Buddwing’s amnesia, which apparently ends up being just the result of having some stressful event occurring in his life, is highly suspect as I’ve not read of this happening to anyone in real-life, or if it does it is extremely rare. Not only does the credibility get pushed, but Delbert Mann’s direction, with the exception of the opening shot, lacks creativity, which makes this already flat story even more of a strain to sit through.

Released: October 11, 1966

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Delbert Mann

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube

So Fine (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Jeans that expose ass.

Bobby Fine (Ryan O’Neal) is an English professor at a college waiting to get tenure who inexplicably becomes the head of his father’s clothing company, which produces women’s apparel, when his father Jack Fine (Jack Warden) is unable to pay off a debt that he has with a local loan shark named Eddie (Richard Kiel). Bobby knows nothing about the clothing business, but inadvertently strikes on a hot idea, jeans that look like they’re revealing a woman’s butt cheeks, which becomes a huge fashion sensation. Unfortunately Bobby also starts having an affair with Eddie’s wife Lira (Mariangela Melato) which jeopardizes not only his newfound success, but his life as well.

The film was written and directed by Andrew Bergman who was just coming off great success as the screenwriter for The In-Laws and was fully expecting this film to do just as well, but instead it had less than a 2-week run in the theaters. Much of this can be blamed on the humor, which is lowbrow and farcical while failing to give any new insights into the clothing business, or anything else for that matter. The jeans themselves don’t look sexy either as plastic gets used in replacement of the real butt cheeks where exposing the actual ass would’ve been far more provocative.

O’Neal’s affair with Melato is both unfunny and dumb. Why would such a good-looking guy, who could easily get women to fall for him,  fall suddenly head-over-heals to a wife of a mobster who will kill him instantly if he found out? This guy teaches at a college, so why not get into a sexual relationship with one of the coeds, who are most likely younger and better looking than this middle-aged woman and does not have the baggage of a marriage?

The climactic sequence, which takes place at an opera is when this thing really jumps-the-shark as it features Melato coming out of the audience and agreeing to replace the leading lady on stage when she falls ill, but how would Melato have known all the words to the music without having been to any of the rehearsals? This segment also features Kiel getting on stage and becoming a part of the opera as well where he sings in fluent Italian even though it was never established earlier that he knew the language.

It was fun seeing Kiel, who built a career by playing a lot of mindless hulks most notably in the James Bond films, being given more speaking lines than usual, but I noticed the very apparent lump on his forehead, which in his other films I didn’t. Maybe this was because in the Bond movies he was given metal teeth, which is what got the viewer’s attention and took away from the lump, which here I found became a distraction.

Melato, who was a big star in Italy particularly with the films she did with director Lina Wertmuller, gets completely wasted in a thankless, one-dimensional role of an over-sexed vamp that is neither funny nor interesting. O’Neal, whose best bit may just be the perplexed expression he conveys in the film’s poster seen above, is adequate, but upstaged by Warden who is far funnier and the movie would’ve worked better had he been the star.

The jeans angle, which features a TV-ad that has Anita Morris as one of the dancers, is brief and more of a side-story while the emphasis is on O’Neal’s fling with Melato that isn’t very inspired and no surprise why this ultimately failed at the box office.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Andrew Bergman

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), YouTube

The Molly Maguires (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Spy infiltrates secret group.

In 1876 a group of Irish immigrants form a secret society known as the Molly Maguires. Their aim is to retaliate against the cruel and unfair working conditions of the mining company that they work at by secretly sabotaging the company’s work site whenever they can. Police Lieutenant Davis (Frank Finley) hires undercover detective James McParland (Richard Harris) to infiltrate the group and find out who the culprits behind the vandalism are. He becomes friends with the group’s leader Jack Kehoe (Sean Connery) which puts into question whether he will turn them in or become a part of the protest.

The story is based on the real-life incident that occurred in 1876 in Reading, Pennsylvania and an actual James McParland who infiltrated a group of Mollies and brought them to justice after their actions ended the lives of several men. The term Molly Maguire comes from the name of an actual woman who lived in Ireland during the 1700’s and helped lead a revolt against rent collectors.

On the technical end the film is well done. The majority of it was shot in Eckley, Pennsylvania whose authentic buildings remained virtually unchanged from when they were built in the 1870’s making it easy for the filmmakers to recreate the period without much effort. The coal plant was built specifically for the film and still stands today, but what impressed me most was that director Martin Ritt allows the natural ambiance of the working conditions to permeate the soundtrack to the point that not a word of dialogue is spoken until 15 minutes in and Connery, who gets shown on and off, never speaks a word until the 40-minute mark.

Despite being made on a large budget of 11 million it managed to only recoup 2 million of its investment at the box office. Personally I feel this was a direct result of exposing the Harris character as an undercover agent right from the start. Usually movies try to keep this element a mystery, which then allows for a surprise reveal at the end, but here that gets ruined.

What’s worse is that the Harris character never changes in any way. He stoically sticks to his mission of turning the men in and betraying the trust that he had earned from them, which I found frustrating. As a viewer you start to bond with Connery and his men and connect to what they’re fighting against. Yes, they do commit crimes of vandalism, but for good reason as they were clearly being exploited by their corporate masters. You’d expect Harris to internally quarrel with this as he becomes friends with them, but he doesn’t and without any insight given to his background it becomes, despite the otherwise high production standards. off-putting and emotionally defeating to have to sit through.

Ritt later directed Norma Rae which dealt with the same subject of worker unions, but that film made unions the center point of the story. Here the union issue seems to be only a side element while Harris’ ongoing con game the main drama, which ultimately creates a nebulous point-of-view.  I walked away wondering what message if anything the film was trying to convey, which could be yet another reason why viewers never warmed up to it despite being otherwise well executed.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 27, 1970

Runtime: 2 Hours 5 Minutes

Rated M

Director: Martin Ritt

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Obsession (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: She resembles his wife.

Michael Courtland (Cliff Robertson) is a wealthy land developer living in New Orleans whose wife Elizabeth (Genevieve Bujold) and daughter (Wanda Blackman) become victims of a kidnapping and die during the police shoot-out. Michael becomes tortured with guilt feeling he should’ve done more to save them. 16 years after the crime was committed he meets a woman (also played by Bujold) who looks strikingly like his former wife. He becomes infatuated with her and the two eventually marry only for him to find that she holds a deep, dark secret.

This film marks yet another attempt by director Brian De Palma to emulate his idol Alfred Hitchcock with a film loaded with fancy camera work, but not much else. For the most part, at least visually, it’s tolerable and not quite as overdone as De Palma’s other Hitchcock imitations. To some degree the camera work and soft focus lens is the most entertaining thing about it although having the camera go back and forth from one talking head to another during a scene where Robertson and co-start John Lithgow have a conversation at a restaurant becomes unnecessarily dizzying.

The casting of Robertson is a problem as he’s unable to convey the demands of the part effectively as his constant staring at Bujold becomes creepy and unnatural and he’s obviously way older than any of his costars. They should’ve at least hired an actor his same age as his business partner as Lithgow was 26 years younger than him and it shows. For the most part Lithgow isn’t too good here either as he wears a wig and speaks in an over-the-top bayou accent, which borders on being annoying and it makes him come off as slimy and creepy right from the start.

Bujold on the other hand gives an excellent performance that rises far above the trite material, but she looks too young as a wife to Robertson during the flashback scenes. Turning around and having her also play a 10-year-old girl during some brief sequences comes off as awkward.

The story, which was based on a script by Paul Schrader, but highly truncated by De Palma is full of loopholes. I thought it was unbelievable that the crooks didn’t spot this green police van with a very odd looking antenna on top of it, which was needed to track the honing device that was put into the briefcase with the supposed ransom money that the crooks retrieved, that was following them around at a much too close distance. I thought it was equally unbelievable that the crooks would not have immediately opened the briefcase the minute they retrieved it and made sure there really was money inside it instead of driving all the way back to their hideout before opening it while naively trusting that there was no chance that they might’ve been duped.

There’s also not enough of a visual transition during the 16 year time period that the story takes place in. Except for a few extra white hairs Robertson’s appearance remains virtually the same while the commercial boat that he rides on to deliver the ransom remains exactly the same as does the deserted dock that he throws the briefcase onto even though after such an extended period of time both things most likely would’ve changed or evolved in some way.

Spoiler Alert!

The twist ending where we learn that Michael’s new wife is really just his grown daughter who he had thought had died during the kidnapping does nothing but produce even more loopholes. Supposedly she died with her mother when the car they were in burst into flames and went into the river and supposedly the police tried to recover the vehicle, but found it to be too difficult, so they gave up, but in reality I don’t think this would’ve occurred. After some setbacks they would’ve kept trying until they were able to retrieve it as they knew the approximate spot where the vehicle went in and a river is not an ocean, so it shouldn’t have been that hard anyways.

In order to avoid the controversy of promoting a film with an incest story line the producers decided to reedit the marriage sequence to make it look like it had been a dream, but this ends up just bringing up even more questions. Like how is Bujold able to get into Robertson’s dreams and continue her scheme by telling him he must prove himself all over again by putting a briefcase of $500,000 of his money back onto the same dock he had done 16 years earlier?

The final shot, which is done in slow motion and features Robertson and Bujold reuniting at an airport, is by far one of the corniest things ever put on celluloid and will surely cause most viewers to either roll their eyes or breakout into laughter.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The funniest thing though about this so-so film is probably just Rex Reed’s overly fawning review of it, which gets printed on the promotional poster seen above. In it he calls this movie ‘an immensely important cinematic piece of work’, but how is that as it’s just a tacky Hitchcock rip-off with no message to it at all? He also calls it ‘better than anything Hitchcock has ever done’, which just isn’t true. I know Reed has gotten criticized in recent years for many valid reasons including his fat shaming of Melissa McCarthy, but his career should’ve ended after writing this over-the-top glowing take of a film, which ultimately is nothing more than a third-rate mystery with fancy camera work, as it makes him look like he was a hack paid by the studio to write a puff piece about the movie simply to help promote it.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 1, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Brian De Palma

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, YouTube

March or Die (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Battle in the desert.

French Foreign Legion Major William Foster (Gene Hackman) suffers from memories of leading 8,000 of his own men into a failed battle, which has driven him to alcoholism. Now he and his regiment are assigned to protect an archaeology dig lead by Francois Marneau (Max Von Sydow) that sits in the middle of the Moroccan desert and is under constant threat  by an army of Arab revolutionaries lead by El Krim (Ian Holm).

The film was a labor of love for director Dick Richards who grew up watching the French Foreign Legion films in his youth and wanted to recapture that magic, but like with his earlier and much acclaimed western flick The Culpepper Cattle Company do it with a revisionist slant. Aesthetically it looks gorgeous and all the more impressive when you factor in that the majority of it was filmed in Nevada, but because the dunes in Morocco had a  different shade of color than the ones in North America the sand was flown in to camouflage this and you’d never know the difference. Watching the harsh treatment that the men had to go through as they trained to become soldiers is quite revealing as well and made the first hour of the film captivating.

Hackman though looks uncomfortable in his role and this could be attributed in large part to the fact that he fell off his horse during filming and was suffering from a great deal of back pain during the shoot. In either case he ends up getting sorely upstaged by Italian star Terence Hill, who up until this time had mainly done comedic styled westerns with his onscreen pal Bud Spencer, but here shines as a soldier who challenges authority and galvanizes the rest of the troops.

Marcel Bozzuffi is equally memorable as the cruel Lieutenant Fontaine who treats the men under him quite harshly most notably Top Hat played by Andre Penvern, but the theatrical/DVD release omits a crucial scene with him that was only shown in the TV print.  In that version he and his men chase after two deserters and then get involved in an ill-advised battle with some tribesmen, which ultimately causes him to break down in fear and kill himself, which would’ve been an interesting transition to witness since for the majority of the movie he remains cold and aloof otherwise.

Despite being a great actor Von Sydow’s presence here is a detriment as it will only remind viewers especially during the archaeology dig sequence of his work in The Exorcist where in the beginning of that film where scenes of him doing essentially the same thing. Catherine Deneuve is another excellent talent who is wasted in a part that doesn’t allow her much to do and only helps to slow down the already sluggish film with each scene that she’s in.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s most disappointing aspect though is with its ending, which should’ve been its strong point. The final battle is exciting and the shots of hundreds of chanting Arab soldiers coming over the dunes to attack is indeed impressive and even harrowing to see, but watching the systematic slaughter of the French soldiers and ultimately learning that they walked themselves into a trap is quite dispiriting. I know I’ve complained about the formulaic happy endings from time-to-time in some other films, but this one is too much of a downer and offers the viewer no payoff at all for having to sit through it. It’s almost like giving someone a reasonably enjoyable ride only to drive the car off the cliff at the end and expect them to thank you for it.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 5, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Dick Richards

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

She-Devil (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Jilted wife gets revenge.

Ruth (Roseanne Barr) is an overweight, plain-looking woman who is married to Bob (Ed Begley Jr.) a womanizer who can’t keep his eyes or hands off other beautiful women that he sees. At a party he spots Mary (Meryl Streep) a wealthy author of romance novels and the two quickly begin a torrid affair. Ruth becomes jealous of all of this and plots a very elaborate, multi-step revenge.

This film marked a change of pace for director Susan Seidelman who burst onto the movie scene during the early 80’s with indie tinged/punk themed films like Smithereens and Desperately Seeking Susan that were subtle on the humor and heavier on the character development. Here it’s the exact opposite as the emphasis is on camp, which is fun for awhile especially the gaudy color schemes that permeate each and every shot, but eventually the broad caricatures become too one-dimensional.

Streep’s  performance as a prissy, stuck-up rich lady is the main part of the entertainment, but the motivations of her character were confusing. I didn’t understand why such a beautiful woman that was loaded with money and could get virtually any man that she wanted would want to settle for such a bland, dopey dweeb like Begley. I also couldn’t understand why she’d stick with him after his kids move into her mansion and turn her life into a living hell. She wasn’t married to him, so why not just throw him and his litter out instead of going through the torment that she does?

I liked that fact that Barr truly fits her part physically. Too many times Hollywood casts good-looking women in roles that require someone homely and feels that by cropping up their hair and putting glasses on them will do the trick, which it doesn’t, so at least here we get someone that more than looks the part especially with the giant mole that gets put on her upper lip.

However, I had issues with her character intentionally setting her house on fire by overloading the circuits and putting aerosol cans into her microwave, which would be easily detected by an inspector once the fire gets put out, so why doesn’t she end up getting arrested for arson? Also, she gets a job at a senior living facility despite not having any experience. Doesn’t anyone check an applicant’s references anymore?

The film is based on the novel ‘The Life and Loves of a She-Devil’ by Fay Weldon, but the movie strays from the original story in many ways. In the book Ruth has  sex with various men, which doesn’t get touched on here at all. She also through plastic surgery ends up resembling Mary and ultimately becoming her after the real Mary dies, which the film doesn’t show at all, but should’ve since it would’ve given it some much needed irony. Weldon also insisted that her story was about envy and not revenge, which is a point that Barry Strugatz’s script misses entirely.

Eccentric character actress Sylvia Miles gets perfectly cast as Streep’s obnoxious mother, which is great and dwarf-looking actress Linda Hunt is enjoyable as Barr’s pal, but the film comes off as a one-note joke that doesn’t know when to stop and ultimately becomes annoying.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 8, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Susan Seidelman

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video