Tag Archives: Ali MacGraw

Murder Elite (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sisters feud over estate.

The story centers on Diane (Ali MacGraw) who moves in with her sister Margaret (Billie Whitelaw) at the family’s estate in England. Diane has frittered away her inheritance while living in America and now comes to Margaret in a near penniless state. Margaret expects Diane to ‘earn-her-keep’, but Diane resists doing any farm work and instead schemes at how to take control of the family’s fortune while having a fling with one of the farmhands named Ron (Ray Lonnen). She realizes that if Margaret dies then the estate will go to her, so she convinces Ron to kill Margaret when she goes out for one of her late night walks and then blame the death on a mysterious lady killer who has been terrorizing the countryside. However, things don’t go as planned as Diane and Ron soon find themselves being the ones in danger.

The film works as a weird hybrid between a slasher flick and an old-fashioned Agatha Christie-like mystery. The only interesting element is MacGraw’s presence who seems completely out-of-place in the English setting. This could easily be described as her career swan song as she never starred in another theatrical film after this one. In fact she only did four more movies, two of them being TV ones, and no film appearances at all since 1997. Usually when someone’s acting career has nosedived they turn to overseas projects, which is exactly what this was as she hadn’t had a hit movie in 13 years and was well over 40, so in many ways she had no choice, but to take it.

It might’ve worked had she had genuine acting talent, but it becomes painfully clear in her scenes with Whitelaw that she’s being seriously upstaged by a far more superior actress. Casting MacGraw as antagonist doesn’t gel as she’s unable to convey the necessary evilness. As sisters the two look nothing alike and Whitelaw is supposed to be ‘way older’ than MacGraw, but in reality they look practically the same age. During the early ‘70s Ali had long hair that came down to her waist and it looked great, by the later part of the decade she had cut it real short and it was okay, but her she wears it shoulder-length, which isn’t sexy at all.

The plot is only mildly intriguing and all the action takes place on the drab estate, which quickly becomes dull visually. There are a few twists to keep it watchable, but the one that comes at the end, which reveals who the true killer is, is full of loopholes making this little known mystery excursion come-off as flat and pointless.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 13, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Claude Whatham

Studio: Tyburn Entertainment

Available: VHS 

The Getaway (1972)

getaway 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bank robbery goes bad.

Based on pulp writer Jim Thompson’s novel the story centers on Doc McCoy (Steve McQueen) who is stuck in the Texas State Prison and itching to get out. He gets his wife Carol (Ali MacGraw) who is on the outside to strike a deal with Sheriff Jack Benyon (Ben Johnson) where he will get a release as long as he agrees to rob a bank using Benyon’s men. Doc is somewhat reluctant, but agrees to go along with it only to find that after the robbery he has been double-crossed and now along with his wife must make a dash for Mexico while being chased by the cops and going through a wide assortment of unexpected obstacles.

Action director guru Sam Peckinpah has done many classic films most notably The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs, but this one has always been my favorite as it’s a nice mix of action, character study and comedy. In fact it’s the subtle humor that I like best. I get a kick out of the shot showing Benyon’s brother’s henchman riding in a convertible down a highway while having their hands on their cowboy hats in order to keep them from blowing off. I also chuckled at the book actor Dub Taylor has in his back pocket while cowering under a table during a shootout or what actor Al Lettieri immediately does after finding a dead man hanging in a bathroom.

Peckinpah also makes great use of sound particularly at the beginning where during the opening credits we hear no music, but instead the monotonous sounds of the machines inside the prison workshop, which helps convey Doc’s increasing frustration and this sound doesn’t stop until the exact second that the prison doors open up and allows him out. When there is music it’s effective and distinct particularly the harmonica solos by Toots Thielemans.

Of course Peckinpah’s trademark action sequences are excellent and maybe even superior to his other films because the situations are more unique including an exciting segment showing the couple trapped inside a garbage truck as well as an impromptu shootout along the main street of Fabens, Texas. The only complaint is the scene where Doc’s car goes crashing through someone’s front porch and yet the car shows no visible damage; one shot does show a crack in the corner of the windshield, but then in the next shot it has magically disappeared.

McQueen’s ability to show effortless cool and make an edgy character likable proves what a legendary actor he is and it’s a shame that he doesn’t get placed with the best of them amongst casual movie fans because he really should. MacGraw is at the peak of her beauty here and her moments of vulnerability are great. Struthers gives the best performance of her career as an unfaithful wife of a kindly veterinarian (Jack Dodson) and Lettieri, who unfortunately died at the young age of 47 just 3 years after this film’s release by a heart attack brought on by severe alcoholism, which was already painfully apparent to the cast and crew during the filming of this adds great tension as Doc’s double-crossing partner.

The film also makes great use of its Texas locations bringing out the ruggedness of the region without overdoing it. I particularly liked the scenes in the junkyard as well as footage shot on-location inside the Huntsville prison using actual prisoners and the longshot showing the flat, barren landscape that Doc first sees when he gets out.

I’ve watched this movie many times and never cease to grow tired of it. In fact it seems even more original after multiple viewings. It was unwisely remade in 1994 that starred Alec Baldwin, who doesn’t come close to McQueen’s stature. This version is by far the better one and the other should be avoided.

getaway 2

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 13, 1972

Runtime: 2Hours 2Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Studio: National General Pictures

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

Goodbye, Columbus (1969)

goodbye columbus 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dating a rich girl.

One day while at a pool party Neil (Richard Benjamin) becomes infatuated with beautiful Brenda (Ali MacGraw) and proceeds to begin a relationship with her. He has just recently graduated from college and still not quite sure what direction he wants to take in life. He doesn’t want to fully ‘drop-out’, but isn’t so excited about diving in to the corporate business world where making a lot of money is the only focus. Brenda on the other hand is from a rich Jewish family who enjoys her privileged lifestyle, but not always the pretension that comes with it.  She continues to date Neil simply out of spite to her mother (Nan Martin) who doesn’t approve, but as things progress their differences and values become more pronounced and sends the relationship teetering on the brink.

Director Larry Peerce did some high quality films during the sixties and it is unfortunate that by the seventies his output dropped off. I think overall this is his most complete work and a wonderful compliment to the Philip Roth novella from which it is based. The location shooting is outstanding and one of the main things that gives the film a personality. The giant suburban house in which Brenda’s family lives makes one of the biggest impressions not only with its large exterior, but interior as well where every room is wallpapered with its own distinct color and design. The library where Neil works is also visually impressive especially with its large marble columns and painted cathedral ceilings.

The film is filled with a lot of memorable and amusing scenes. Neil’s interactions with Brenda’s ten-year-old younger sister Julie (Lori Shelle) is entertaining not only with a game of hoops that the play, but most especially their ping pong contest that they play later. Neil’s attempted conversation with a deaf man while inside the library is funny as is seeing Neil sneaking into Brenda’s bedroom each night when the parents are asleep. You also got to love Neil’s shocked response when he finds out Brenda has not been taking the pill and the scenes at the wedding reception of Brenda’s brother is filled with a lot of keen observations. If you look closely you will be able to spot Bette Midler, Michael Nouri, Jacklyn Smith and Susan Lucci as wedding guests.

MacGraw has never looked more beautiful and Peerce spends several minutes lovingly photographing her swimming in the pool, which isn’t bad. Her performance as a spoiled rich girl going through fits of rebellion, but not quite ready to completely break from her soft lifestyle is on-target and proves that she is not just a pretty face, but an excellent actress as well. Although already 30 at the time she plays a 20-year-old quite convincingly.

Michael Meyers as Brenda’s older brother Ron is a scene stealer not only with his empty ‘discussions’ with Neil, but also with the way he orders around the other workers as a supervisor at a job he wouldn’t have had, had he not been the owner’s son. This proved to be his one and only movie appearance. He eventually became a physician in real-life and wrote an autobiography entitled ‘Goodbye Columbus, Hello Medicine’.

In some ways I saw a lot of similarities to this film and The Graduate and consider it to be just as much of a classic. I enjoyed the way the film explores the different stages of the relationship and the final argument the two have is quite revealing.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: April 3, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Peerce

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Laser disc, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

A Lovely Way to Die (1968)

a lovely way to die

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cop protects sexy defendant.

Jim Schuyler (Kirk Douglas) is a tough guy cop who leaves his job after his superiors put pressure on him to change the brutal way he treats criminals, which he refuses to do. Tennessee Fredericks (Eli Wallach) a high profile defense lawyer hires Jim to protect his client Rena Westabrook (Sylva Koscina) who is on trial for conspiring with her lover (Kenneth Haigh) to murdering her rich husband. Jim takes a liking to Rena and the two soon begin a torrid affair while he tries desperately to prove that Rena is innocent even though everything points against her.

This film sat in complete obscurity for almost 4 decades having never gotten released on either VHS or DVD until Universal finally made it part of their Vault Series. Why it took so long to get out I don’t know why as it is on the most part pretty good. The mystery is intricate and entertaining and full of unusual twists. The woodsy New Jersey scenery isn’t bad and the large mansions where most of the action takes place are impressive. This film isn’t any different from any of the other myriad crime noir mysteries of that era, but it manages to be slick enough to keep it intriguing until the very end.

The opening credit sequence is a definite drawback as it shows freeze frames of scenes from the film and seems almost like an ad or movie preview that does not help the viewer get into the mood of the story. The music also gets overplayed to the point of being distracting and irritating. It also has too much of a playful tone to it that does not coincide with the dark, moody overtones of the plot or characters.

Douglas who was already in his 50’s at the time of filming looks too old for the part and his love scenes with Koscina look almost like a father and daughter, which comes off as creepy and unnatural. The part would have been better served had it been played by an actor that was at least 20 years younger, which would have made the romantic angle much more believable. Wallach’s attempts at a southern accent are futile, but his arguments and theatrics during the trial are still fun.

The film also offers a great chance to see young up-and-coming stars including Conrad Bain as the prosecuting attorney, Doris Roberts as a snoopy housekeeper and Ralph Waite as the star witness. There is also Philip Bosco and John P. Ryan as bad guys. Richard Castellano is a bartender and David Huddleston is one of his patrons. You can even spot the beautiful Ali MacGraw in her film debut at the very beginning.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 12, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Not Rated

Director: David Lowell Rich

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD (Universal Vault Series)