Tag Archives: Alan Arkin

Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lost souls go traveling.

Rafferty (Alan Arkin) works as a driving instructor and is also an alcoholic. One day while relaxing at a park he meets him up with a kooky lesbian pair known as Frisbee (Mackenzie Phillips) and Mac (Sally Kellerman) who have both been recently released from prison. Initially the pair kidnap Rafferty at gunpoint and force him to take them to New Orleans, but Rafferty soon develops a bond with them as they go jaunting around the west looking for excitement and diversion from their otherwise boring lives.

This film works differently from the usual road movie as there’s no real structure to it at all. In some ways this is more realistic as the romanticism is erased and we’re left with nothing more than random events that leads to no conclusion other than dispelling the myth that hitting-the-road will somehow lead to some new self-awareness as these character’s lives remain just as directionless upon their return as it was when they left. Watching the petty crimes that they commit in order to survive ends up being the film’s only entertaining value in what is otherwise a meandering and flat story.

Phillips gives a good performance as a tough, street smart juvenile delinquent who I felt was channeling her own precarious upbringing as the daughter of singer John Phillips in order to have been able to play the part with such a vivid authenticity. If anything she gives the film a much needed edge and is the only real good thing about it.

Kellerman is okay and even sings a country tune, but what impressed me most was how young they made her appear as she was nearing 40 at the time, but she looked more to be in her early 20’s. Arkin surprisingly manages to stay restrained and never once goes into one of his patented hyper rants, but in the process comes off as too mellow and allows his two female co-stars to act circles around him.

The film also features some good supporting work by a cast full of faces who you’ve seen before, but don’t quite know what their names are. Alex Rocco is particularly engaging as a shyster that Arkin meets in a casino who clings to the trio as a hanger-on before getting inadvertently dumped, which was a shame as I liked his energy. Charles Martin Smith has an engaging bit as a naive soldier on a 15-day army leave who gets robbed by Phillips and then tries to relentlessly track her down.

Director Dick Richards won many accolades for his first flick The Culpepper Cattle Company and the realism it gave to the old west and he seems to be taking the same approach here by connecting the modern-day road movie to the rugged individualism of the bygone cowboy, but it doesn’t come off as effectively as it could’ve. A stronger cinematic approach that captured the western landscape would’ve made it more visually appealing as well as having a soundtrack that wasn’t so generic.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is a bit perverse by today’s standards as Kellerman leaves them so Arkin then poses as Phillips’ father in order to get her out of the orphanage and allow the two to travel to Uruguay. The intent at the time may have seemed innocuous as Arkin was simply filling the role as her surrogate father, but these days many viewers will consider it ‘creepy’ and presume that the middle-aged man was trying to take advantage of this 15-year-old’s desperate situation in order to have a sexual relationship with her.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 2, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Dick Richards

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS

Catch-22 (1970)

catch 22 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: The insanities of war.

Having to fly numerous combat air missions has sent Word War II fighter pilot John Yossarian (Alan Arkin) to the brink of insanity. He goes to his unit’s psychiatrist Dr. Daneeka (Jack Gilford) asking him if he can be sent home. The doctor admits that anyone who feels that they are going crazy shouldn’t be flying, but there’s a problem known as ‘Catch-22’, which states that anyone who no longer wants to fly combat missions isn’t crazy but normal and therefore John’s request is denied and he is forced to remain while observing how utterly ridiculous everyone else is, particularly his military superiors, even though they’re considered to be the ‘normal’ ones.

The film is based on the best-selling novel by Joseph Heller, who started writing his novel in 1953 and would only spend 1-hour each day working on it until finally completing it 8 years later. The story is very loosely based on some of his experiences and emotions that he had as a fighter pilot during the war and it’s always nice watching something that was done, no matter how satirical, from an insider’s perspective and his numerous potshots at the nonsense that makes up the military hierarchy could easily be parlayed to anyone who has had to deal with bureaucracy at any level.

Certain changes were made in the novel’s transition to the big-screen, but overall screenwriter Buck Henry does well in bringing the fragmented narrative vibe of the book to the film. I was really impressed with the aerial sequences, which used the B-25 Mitchell and took 6 months to film. The cinematic style was years-ahead-of-its-time as well including having things occur in the background of a scene that has no connection to what the characters in front of the camera are discussing and at times even oblivious to.

The film features many laugh-out-loud segments with my favorite being the part where Yossarian attends a military award ceremony and accepts his medal while being, to the shock of the military brass that is handed out the medal, stark naked. Anthony Perkins, who plays the hopeless chaplain, is also quite funny in a rare, but interesting turn in a comedic role.

One of the things that I didn’t like about the film, although it didn’t bother me quite as much as it did when I first saw the movie many years ago, is the way the tone shifts from being quirky and hilarious at the beginning to somber and serious towards the end. I realize that the novel works in the same way, but the first half of the film successfully balanced the line of exposing the absurdities of war in a comedic vein while still showing the serious consequences without ever getting overwrought, so it’s a shame that the second half couldn’t have worked the same way instead of leaving the viewer with a gloomy, depressed feeling when it’s over and almost forgetting completely about the comedy that came before it. I also believe this is why this film failed at the box office while the similar M*A*S*H succeeded simply because that movie remained funny all the way through.

Arkin, in the lead, is miscast and seems too old for the part. His nervous, hyper persona doesn’t work and would’ve been more effective had it been toned down by being played by a younger actor who was more emotionally detached. The rest of the supporting cast though is great including Martin Balsam who makes cinematic history by being the first actor to ever appear sitting on a toilet in a movie.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: June 24, 1970

Runtime: 2Hour 2Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mike Nichols

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Chu Chu and the Philly Flash (1981)

chu chu 4

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Goofy couple steals briefcase.

Flash (Alan Arkin) is a former big league pitcher who is washed up while living on the city streets selling stolen watches that don’t work. Emily (Carol Burnett) is a former dance instructor who is equally down-and-out and now makes a meager living doing dance routines on the streets while wearing a Carmen Miranda outfit. The two inadvertently meet one day while coming into contact with a briefcase that has stolen government documents. They agree to give it back to the men who are demanding it, but only for a price, which only helps to get them into more and more trouble.

This offbeat comedy, which was written by Barbara Dana who at the time was married to Arkin, has a few funny, dry humored moments at the beginning that makes it somewhat passable, but it’s unable to sustain any type of momentum and does not have enough action or comedy to keep it engaging. The middle half is slow and boring and the ending, which takes place at an amusement park, is too full of forced humor and sloppy slapstick to be considered either funny or entertaining. The film also never explains what specifically these secret plans are, or who these men are that are chasing after it, which only proves how poorly thought out and threadbare the plot really is.

The relationship between the two main characters doesn’t work either. They seem to let their guards down too easily for people that have been living alone and on the skids for so long and having them share more of a bickering and distrustful chemistry would’ve made it more realistic and edgy. The whole middle half is spent hearing them telling each other about their woeful pasts, which is neither compelling nor insightful and only bogs the film’s already slow pace down even further. These are the type of wacky character who can only be effective if put into comically frantic scenarios of which there needed to be much more of.

Arkin manages to give a pretty good performance playing a surprisingly subdued character that does not go off on hyper rants like the characters in some of his other film roles do, which is a good thing. However, Burnett is completely wasted despite seeing her in a Carmen Miranda outfit, which is a definite hoot. The only one who is genuinely funny is Danny Aiello as the exasperated bad guy.

Danny Glover can also be spotted in an early role as a homeless person trying to spy on Burnet and Arkin to see what they’re up to, but his part is one of the corniest ones in the movie and should’ve been dropped completely. The San Francisco setting may remind one of the classic comedy What’s Up Doc?, which also took place in that city and had a similar storyline dealing with a misplaced briefcase, but that film was far more consistently funny and took more advantage of the bay area locales while this one only focuses on the rundown areas of the city.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 28, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG

Director: David Lowell Rich

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS

Improper Channels (1981)

improper channels

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: The system is screwed.

Jeffrey Martley (Alan Arkin) is a middle-aged man soon to be divorced from his wife Diana (Mariette Hartley) who is driving along in his car with his 5-year-old daughter Nancy (Sarah Stevens) when he is forced to put on the brakes quickly in order to avoid hitting another vehicle. Sarah, who was not wearing a seatbelt since there were no such seat belt laws at the time, falls to the car floor and hits her head. It is a minor bruise, but Jeffrey takes her to the hospital as a precaution. As the doctors are examining her social worker Gloria (Monica Parker) overhears Jeffrey’s conversation with the medical staff and thinks that the injuries may have come from child abuse. She takes the child out of his custody and puts her into a protected foster home while she uses the help of a computer expert (Martin Yan) to come up with as much dirt from Jeffrey’s past as she can in order to prevent him from getting her back. Jeffrey and Diana hire a lawyer and try to fight the charges, but find that the system is against them.

This is a wretched attempt at satire that never gets off the ground. Director Eric Till’s bland direction makes this thing look like a TV-movie and the majority of it is more like a drama. The comedy is not very funny and the little that there is comes off as forced and out of place. Jeffrey’s and Diana’s situation becomes more harrowing as it goes along and this thing probably would have worked better and been more riveting had they kept it at a realistic and dramatic level all the way through.

The social workers are portrayed as being completely inept, incompetent, and malicious without any balance making me wonder if the writers had a major grudge against them in real-life. Gloria’s boss Harold Cleavish (Harry Ditson) is particularly unlikable and comes off as an all-around prick in every way. However, he does get the film’s one and only funny line when he chastises Gloria for believing that the social services profession is about helping people:

Harold: I have been in social services for 9 years and in that time I haven’t helped anyone and I hope to God that I never will. If you really want to help humanity then become a prostitute.

Hartley is a wonderful actress and I will never forget her Emmy award winning performance in a guest spot on ‘The Incredible Hulk’ TV-show unfortunately her career never took off despite a great debut in Sam Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country. Today most people probably know her for her Polariod commercials that she did with James Garner back in the 80’s. Even so she is great here and gives the material more effort than it deserves. Arkin who has played the man against the system many times seems strangely reserved.

The most annoying thing about the film is the ending where Jeffrey turns-the-tables and tries sticking it to the system. Having an average man who works as an architect and has no special computer experience break into the computer systems of the social welfare office and erase his records and send everything on the fritz is too exaggerated. Having him dump out streams of computer printout paper from the office windows and line the city streets with it is too goofy and unbelievable to be even slightly humorous. The filmmakers display a limited and confused understanding of the technological revolution and treat it like it is nothing more than a passing fad that can be easily taken down by the common man. The pat and silly wrap-up makes light of an otherwise serious issue and thus makes the entire production stupid and pointless.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: April 17, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Eric Till

Studio: Crown International Pictures

Available: VHS