Tag Archives: Albert Salmi

St. Helens (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Codger refuses to evacuate.

Art Carney plays Harry Truman, an 83-year-old man who refused to evacuate from his lodge at the base of Mount St. Helens even as experts warned that the volcano, which had been inactive for 123 years, was ready to explode. Tim Thomerson is the local sheriff who tries to convince him to change his mind and David Huffman is a volcano scientist who travels to the area to study the potential eruption. Initially he tries to get Harry to leave too, but eventually decides to stay, so he can record the eruption from what he believes will be from a safe distance.

The film is based on the actual event which began on March 20, 1980 when local wildlife was observed behaving erratically, and ends with the climactic eruption, which happened on May 18th. I was alive when it occurred and the film manages to correctly reflect the energy of the period where people where both fearful, but also excited. Not everyone though was happy with the movie, David Johnston’s parents were not pleased by the portrayal of their son, played by Huffman who goes by the fictional name of David Jackson, nor 36 other scientists who knew Johnston in real-life and signed a letter of protest.

Since I didn’t know Johnston myself I’ll reserve judgement, but I was not happy about a dumb secondary storyline dealing with a helicopter pilot, played by Ron O’Neal, flying into a flock of quail, which forces him to drop a log that his helicopter was carrying onto a group of men below and almost killing them. Bill McKinney, better known for playing the mountain man in Deliverance, thinks the pilot was intentionally trying to injure them and has his buddies harass and eventually attack the pilot, but this didn’t seem necessary. The men on the ground should’ve easily seen the birds fly into the copter, as it wasn’t that high up, and when it lands there’s clearly blood and feathers on the windshield, which is spotted immediately by the sheriff therefore making the fight scene, which is what it leads to, completely pointless and just put-in as mindless action.

Carney, who was ironically Harry Truman’s favorite actor in real-life, plays the part in a highly entertaining way and helps give the film humor and human interest. Truman really did drive a pink Cadillac and swore a lot, which he does here, but he also owned 16 cats, but the film changes this to him having a dog even though the 16 cats would’ve been far more fun. I couldn’t help but wonder though with the scene where Harry talks to a group of reporters about the greatness of the US constitution and how USA was the ‘greatest country in the world’, which got the reporters to cheer, but today those same statements might give him the derogatory label of ‘nationalist’ and push-back from the reporters instead of applause.

The film is also notable for having two of its stars, who are adversaries here, meet tragic ends in real-life. For Huffman he was stabbed to death in February, 1985 when he tried to chase down a mugger and for Albert Salmi, who portrays a bar owner who plays down the fears of the volcano, ended up, in 1990, killing his wife of 26 years when she filed for divorce, before then turning the gun on himself. I’ve seen Huffman in other films and came away feeling he was a rather bland actor though here he displays a little more spunk. Salmi’s acting is okay, but I didn’t understand why he’s shown working two jobs as he’s a manager of a bar at one point and then supervisor of a saw mill at another. Since the bar he runs is apparently ‘the only one in town’ and seemed packed with people I didn’t get the need for an extra income.

We know how it’s going to end right from the start, so it’s important that the climactic eruption come-off impressively. They do cheat by showing the same footage of the side of the mountain exploding over and over as well as cropping in animated volcanic ash creeping in, which looks tacky. Off-screen wind fans were clearly used to blow dust over the actors and create a white-out effect, but overall it wasn’t too bad and I liked the final shot of a small tree sprouting up amidst the ash. For those who were living during the event, or just curious about the history of it, this is an adequate recreation.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 18, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ernest Pintoff

Studio: Parnell Films

Available: DVD

“something big” (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kidnapping the colonel’s wife.

Joe Baker (Dean Martin) is an aging bandit looking to do “something big”. He becomes aware of a hoard of treasure being hidden inside a church that sits just across the border and safely guarded by a throne of Mexican bandits. Joe figures that to be able to overpower them he’ll need a Gatling gun and turns to black market dealer Jonny Cobb (Albert Salmi) who agrees to sell him one in exchange for a woman as he’s been without the company of one for “too long”. Joe then begins robbing stagecoaches in a mission to find a woman attractive enough for Jonny’s tastes. After several attempts he finds one who just happens to be the wife of the cavalry colonel (Brian Keith) who then goes on a mission to rescue her while attempting to put a kibosh on Joe’s plans.

This is another film that was given a ‘bomb’ rating by Leonard Maltin that I didn’t think was all that desrved. It’s certainly no classic but James Lee Barrett’s script if full of dry humor and offbeat touches that manages to keep things consistently amusing. Some of my favorite bits include Martin traveling around with a small pooch in his saddle pocket, or his horse having gold crown teeth. Don Knight as his Scottish travel companion Tommy who carries his bagpipes with him at all times and will even occasionally play them as they enter new frontier towns is funny too.

Keith is spot-on as the slightly stuffy colonel who is stuck with incompetent underlings and just wants to move on with his impending retirement in peace, but can’t. His facial expressions alone are terrific and he gives a far more nuanced performance than co-star Martin and should’ve been given top billing.

The attractive and sassy Honor Blackman is great as Keith’s wife and could easily be considered a ‘milf’ by today’s male audience. Joyce Van Patten and Judi Meredith as two women living on a lonely ranch willing to have sex with any man that comes along, including the uptight colonel, are quite funny as is Salmi with his garishly discolored, tobacco stained teeth.

The climax features some nifty gun action including seeing Martin use his Gatling gun to shoot down the bandits in domino-like fashion, but for the most part the script is too leisurely paced and in desperate need of more confrontation and elaborate scenarios. Marvin Hamlisch’s soft-rock score is out-of-place for the time period and the theme song sung by former Paul Revere and the Raiders front man Mark Lindsey doesn’t have any type of western feel to it. I also got tired of hearing the phrase “something big” mentioned over and over again. Initially it seemed cute and clever to repeat the film’s title in the dialogue, but it eventually goes overboard.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 24, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Andrew V. McLaglen

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: DVD

The Crazy World of Julius Vrooder (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pretending to be crazy.

Vrooder (Timothy Bottoms) is a Vietnam Veteran who has returned from the war and is unable to cope with the stresses of everyday life, which eventually gets him checked into the psychiatric ward of a local VA Hospital. There he falls in love with Zanni (Barbara Hershey, but billed as Barbara Seagull) who works as a nurse there, but he is unhappy to find that she is already engaged to Dr. Passki (Lawrence Pressman). To escape his frustrations he hides out in an underground bunker that he has created near a local highway. The place comes complete with electricity and telephone service as well as an array of booby traps to tip him off if anyone comes near, but the heads of the local power and telephone companies’ start trying to track him down in an effort to stop his pilfering of their services, which could ultimately lead to an end to his days of freedom.

The film is cute, but a little too cute and was produced, believe it or not, by Hugh Hefner. It likens itself to being an offbeat comedy, but there really isn’t that much that is original about it and it comes off more like a tired anti-establishment flick with the proverbial authority figures portrayed in stale, one-dimensional ways. One could actually consider this as a weak cousin to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with Vrooder being McMurphy, Passki being a toned-down male version of Nurse Ratched and the suicidal Alessini (Michael Cristofer) being like Billy Bibbit.

The only slightly diverting thing about this film, that otherwise suffers from having a limited budget and looks like it was shot initially on video and then later transferred onto film, are the scenes involving the heads of the power and telephone companies (Jack Murdock, Lou Frizzell) working together to track down the culprit who’s stealing their service. The climactic scene in which Jack Colvin plays an over-the-top Dirty Harry type cop obsessed with getting Vrooder and sending an entire armed police force into the forest to find him is amusing as is the mugshots shown of past felons who had stolen electrical and phone service, which were all made up of headshots from the film’s behind-the-scenes crew.

Bottoms is rather transparent, but Hershey, with her effervescent smile and naturally carefree persona, is far better as her simple presence naturally exudes the film’s hippie-like theme. This was the second of four films in which she was billed with the last name of Seagull and this was done as a personal tribute to seagull that she had accidentally killed while filming a scene in the movie Last Summer.

Albert Salmi, in a rare appearance without his mustache, is excellent in support as Vrooder’s good-natured, fun-loving friend Splint and I found it hard-to-believe that this same man who could play such a peaceful character so well would years later in real-life murder his wife before turning the gun onto himself. Elderly film director George Marshall also does well as the aging Corky and his performance should’ve merited supporting Oscar consideration.

This obscure movie also marks the film debuts of several performers, which includes not only Murdock’s and Cristofer’s, but Ron Glass’ as well who plays an hospital orderly and Dena Dietrich playing Vrooder’s mother who later became best known as Mother Nature in a series of commercials that ran during the ‘70s.

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My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 18, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: 20th Century Fox