By Richard Winters
My Rating: 1 out of 10
4-Word Review: Grow beard, lose job.
One day while out on a picnic in Central Park with his fiance Pamela (Rosemary Forsyth) Fred (Dick Van Dyke) gets stung on his chin by a bee. The sting takes too long to heal, so in order to avoid having to shave over it he grows a beard, which doesn’t go over well at his job. When his boss (Peter Turgeon) tells him to get rid of it and he refuses it leads to his firing, which mobilizes his co-workers to walk off of their jobs in protest.
Writer/director Garson Kanin has written many funny and award-winning screenplays with Adam’s Rib and Born Yesterday being two of his most famous ones, but this script seems like it was written by a completely different person altogether. The idea of Van Dyke bucking-the-system and discarding conventional mores has definite potential especially since it was filmed in the late 60’s when a lot of that was going on, but the movie goes nowhere with it. Instead of dealing with the ramifications of his rebellion the plot pivots to his ex-wife’s (Angie Dickinson) attempts at reconciliation, which is too contrived and has nothing to do with the main theme.
Van Dyke has one brief moment of non-conformity and then immediately snaps back into being his staid self without showing any real growth or change. Instead of him directly organizing the effort to have his co-workers walk off their jobs on his behalf it’s actually another associate (played by David Doyle) who inspires it while Van Dyke stands back in awe like a main character who has become a passive bystander in his own movie.
There was no need for three female love interests either. Forsyth was the youngest so in some ways it made more sense for her to connect to his rebellious side, but instead it’s Dickinson his ex-wife. However, it’s never made clear what lead to their divorce in the first place, so unless they tackle that direct issue then whatever reconciliation they have will only lead to another break-up down-the-road. Zohra Lampert, who plays this beatnik type lady that Van Dyke befriends and goes out drinking with, is far more lively here than the other two actresses and showed just enough bohemianism traits to fit with the film’s attempted non conformist theme.
There are some interesting camera shots like a close-up of the actual bee sting and a segment, which I thought was real cool when I was in the third grade and first saw this film, showing a map of the nation and then a red miniature car similar to the one Van Dyke and Forsythe are riding in driving around on it to each city on their trip. However this amounts to just being a shallow way to cover-up how boring and empty the script really is, which meanders too much on scenes that don’t propel the story along. A good example of this is when Forsyth and her two brothers (Elliot Reid, Steve Roland) chase Van Dyke around his apartment complex in an attempt to shave off his beard, which seemed like a futile waste of energy because he could just regrow it in a matter of a few days, so why even bother?
Released: October 1, 1969
Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes
Director: Garson Kanin
Studio: United Artists
Available: Amazon Video
Posted in 60's Movies, Campy Comedy, Movies that take place in the Big Apple, Obscure Movies, Quirky
Tagged Angie Dickinson, David Doyle, Dick Van Dyke, Entertainment, Garson Kanin, Movies, Review, rosemary forsyth, zohra lampert
By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Coach kills pretty students.
Ponce (John David Carson) is an awkward teen in his senior year of high school that still hasn’t been out on a date. He suffers from having erections at the most inopportune times and too shy to ask out one of the many beautiful female students that populate his school. He also finds himself dealing with a series of murders of pretty coeds who turn up dead with funny little notes attached to them and he starts to suspect that the killer may be the school’s beloved football coach (Rock Hudson).
The film, which is based on a novel by Francis Pollini with a screenplay written by Gene Roddenberry starts out well with sharp, satirical dialogue and funny situations dealing with the police investigation, but then deteriorates into smarmy sex jokes and becomes nothing more than a teasing T&A flick. The script makes it obvious early on that the coach is the killer and had it not revealed this so quickly it could’ve made the film more of a mystery and given the ending an impactful twist.
My main beef though is that it takes place in a high school instead of a college even though all the students look to be well into their 20’s. The fact that the coach has sex with the female students makes the thing seem off-kilter as does Angie Dickinson who plays a teacher who brings Ponce into her home to help him with his erection problem. If the setting was a college with the student characters over 18 than all this tawdriness would at least be legal and less outrageous.
The female students come off as being too free-spirited and reflect the counter-culture movement that occurred mainly on the college campuses of that era and not the high schools. They also all look too much like models. A realistic portrait of a high school class will have a variety of body types not just those of women ready to become cover-girls. I enjoy beautiful women as much as anybody, but the film should’ve had at least one average or overweight female in the cast simply to give it balance and avoid it from seeming too much like a tacky male fantasy, which is all this thing ends up being anyways.
Hudson, with his monotone delivery, is a weak actor and gave only one good performance in his career, which was in the film Giant. Yet here his discombobulated acting skills successfully reflect his character’s confused personality. Carson is a bland protagonist and his presence doesn’t have much to do with how the plot progresses. His character is put in solely for a dull side-story dealing with his attempts to get-it-on with his teacher in her home, which amounts to being just a dumb comic variation of Tea and Sympathy that is neither funny nor sexy.
The supporting cast is far better. Telly Savalas owns the screen as a relentless investigator. Keenan Wynn is hilarious as a dim-witted policeman in one of the funniest roles of his prolific career and he’s the best thing in the movie.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: February 26, 1971
Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes
Director: Roger Vadim
Available: DVD, YouTube
Posted in 70's Movies, Adolescence/High School, Black Comedy, Football Movies, Movies Based on Novels, Movies with Nudity, Sex
Tagged Angie Dickinson, Entertainment, John David Carson, Keenan Wynn, Movies, Review, Rock Hudson, Telly Savalas
By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Running for his life.
Last year during January we reviewed films Charles Bronson did during the 70’s, so this year we will look at some of the ones he did in the 80’s. This one is based on the true story of Albert Johnson who was a fugitive that sparked one of the largest manhunts in Canadian history.
Bronson plays Johnson a loner who lives by himself in an isolated cabin situated in the corner regions of the Northwest Territories and Yukon. He comes upon a vicious dog fight that has been orchestrated by some of the local men. Feeling sorry for the bloodied animal he tells the dog’s owner Hazel (Ed Lauter) that he will buy the animal, but Hazel refuses and Johnson ends up giving him he money and taking the animal anyways. Outraged Hazel goes to the local sheriff Millen (Lee Marvin) telling him that Johnson ‘stole’ his animal, but Millen knowing that Hazel was part of an illegal dogfight does nothing about it, so Hazel gets some men together to form a posse. A shootout ensues at Johnson’s cabin and when one of the men gets killed a reluctant Millen is forced to go after Johnson who goes on the run in the frozen, snow covered rugged mountains.
The film is an exciting high-grade adventure from the very start. The tension mounts perfectly and Jerrold Immel’s pounding orchestral score keeps the pace going. Director Peter Hunt mounts some great action sequences including the shootout and standoff at the cabin and also a heart-stopping moment where Johnson jumps off a steep cliff and onto a tall pine tree. The character’s ragged personalities perfectly reflect the raw climate and the internal bickering that goes on amongst the men as the chase Johnson creates an interesting subtext.
The film was shot in Northern Alberta, which is good because it gives the viewer a taste of the cold climate. The aerial footage of the mountainous landscape shown over the opening credits is breathtaking. However, it was clearly not filmed in the dead-of-winter as the sun was too high in the sky and although there was snow it was obviously thawing thus making the moments were the men complain about the bitter cold not ring quite as true.
Marvin is excellent and pretty much takes over the film. He looks older and tired here, but it works with the character that seems to be coasting and uninterested in getting involved with anything. Having both the main characters likable and relatable makes the chase more captivating and psychological complex from both ends.
Bronson is good in a role that takes advantage of his stoic nature although he only gets shown intermittently and it is Marvin who gets the most screen time and the best lines. I liked the character’s relentless will to survive and ability to adapt to the circumstances, but I wanted some explanation for how he was able to survive inside his cabin when it gets exploded with dynamite, but unfortunately one never comes.
Angie Dickinson who was 50 at the time and looked to have had a facelift and some work around her eyes is wasted in a completely pointless and forgettable part. Andrew Stevens who has proved effective in bad-guy roles plays a very clean-cut, rule-oriented Mountie here and does okay. Durable character actor Henry Beckman has a great small role as a shifty trapper who sits-in-the-shadows only to come out and get involved at the most surprising moments.
The film takes a lot of liberties with the true-life incident and was highly criticized at the time for being too ‘Hollywoodnized’, but it succeeds at being entertaining although I thought it would have been appropriate to have some denouncement at the end.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: May 22, 1981
Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes
Director: Peter Hunt
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray
Posted in 80's Movies, Action/Adventure, Cold Climate/Wintertime Movies, Movies Based on Actual Events, Movies with a rural setting, Outdoors
Tagged Andrew Stevens, Angie Dickinson, Charles Bronson, Entertainment, Henry Beckman, Lee Marvin, Movies, Review
By Richard Winters
My Rating: 3 out of 10
4-Word Review: Artist fakes his death.
Paul (Dick Van Dyke) is a struggling painter living in Paris who has not been able to make any money with his paintings and feels ready to give up and move back to the states. Casey (James Garner) is his roommate and best friend who tries to convince him to stay by coming up with a scheme where Paul fakes his death by jumping off a bridge and committing suicide, which should bolster the value of his paintings based on the concept that an artist’s work becomes more sought after once they are dead. The plan works, but it forces Paul to go into hiding and allows Casey to make a play at Paul’s fiancée Laurie (Angie Dickinson). When Paul finds out about this he confronts Casey and then things get really zany.
Carl Reiner’s script is trite to the extreme and although it moves at a brisk pace it is not very funny, or even passably amusing. The concept of an artist having to die in order to get his work to sell is an interesting idea to explore, but unfortunately like everything else in the film it is handled in a superficial way and used mainly as a springboard to all sorts of other wild scenarios that become increasingly sillier as it goes along. Norman Jewison’s direction is dull and unimaginative and despite the fact that it has a European setting it was actually filmed on a Universal studios back-lot, which doesn’t help give it any atmosphere or distinction.
Van Dyke’s character is unrealistically ‘goody-goody’ and clean-cut. He comes into contact with Nikki (Elke Sommer) a beautiful blonde woman who shows a strong interest in Paul, but he immediately and rigidly rebuffs her like he has no sex drive at all. The comic schtick that he does here is the same stuff we’ve seen him do hundreds of times before and he basically becomes Rob Petrie again simply transplanted into a European setting.
Although he has less comic opportunity Garner is clearly the better actor and has much more of a screen presence. It is easy to see why he continued to get choice movie roles for decades to come while Van Dyke became permanently demoted back to television.
Sommer is wasted in a transparent role. Dickinson, who three years later co-starred with Van Dyke in Some Kind of a Nut is equally forgettable and her constant propensity at fainting becomes increasingly more unfunny the more it occurs.
Ethel Merman makes the most of her role despite its limitations, but every time she speaks she seems to be shouting. Reiner is probably the most amusing out of all the characters in a brief bit as Garner’s shyster lawyer.
I wish I could tell you that there was at least one truly funny moment here, but there really isn’t. The humor is flat and dated and no better than a poor TV-sitcom and in many ways even worse.
My Rating: 3 out of 10
Released: June 30, 1965
Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes
Director: Norman Jewison
Available: None at this time.
Posted in 60's Movies, Buddy Movies, Farce, Movies for the Whole Family, Obscure Movies
Tagged Angie Dickinson, Carl Reiner, Dick Van Dyke, Elke Sommer, Entertainment, Ethel Merman, James Garner, Movies, Norman Jewison, Review