Tag Archives: Austin Pendleton

The Great Smokey Roadblock (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Old man keeps truckin’.

John Howard (Henry Fonda) is an aging truck driver laid up in a hospital while his rig is repossessed. Feeling that his life may soon be ending he decides to escape from the hospital, take back his rig, which he has named Eleanor after the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and go for one last cross-country run. He picks up a spiritual hitch-hiker (Robert Englund) as well as a group of prostitutes who hide in the truck in an effort to escape the law, but the authorities are onto John’s plans and try to stop him before he can complete his trip.

If there is one reason to watch this otherwise flat and forgettable flick it is for the performance of Fonda, who despite his ailing health still had what it took and easily commands the screen from his other co-stars. In fact Fonda creates such a strong presence that many of the ‘colorful’ supporting characters could’ve been scrapped completely as the most enjoyable moments come with Fonda conversing with Englund who has a diametrically different personality and perspective, as the two drive down the highway.

Eileen Brennan lends good support in a rare dramatic role and it’s fun seeing Susan Sarandon, who also co-produced, playing a minor part as one of the prostitutes. She looks so young here and it was hard to believe that only a decade later she would have aged so much that she would be playing a prostitute again in Bull Durham albeit a much more mature one.

Dub Taylor is enjoyable as a crazy, hick, which he has done many, many times before and it should’ve gotten old by now, but he always exudes so much energy in his parts that its highly diverting anyways. However, the efforts by Austin Pendleton, John Byner, and Valerie Curtain aren’t as entertaining and the motivations of their characters so unclear that it would’ve been better had they not been in it at all.

The only action comes when John takes his truck and crashes it through a police barrier, which gets shown in slow-motion. Whether a truck would’ve actually been able to plow through several police cars and not cause any injuries or fatalities and no significant damage to the rig itself is highly dubious and only helps to prove how trite and whimsical this whole thing is.

There are moments when the film seems to be straining for something deeper, but it never gets there. There are so many other, far better road movies out there that this one doesn’t even deserve an honorable mention. Writer/director John Leone is clearly working over-his-head here and it’s no surprise that this was his only feature in a movie that amounts to being a passable time waster at best and nothing more.

Alternate Titles: The Last of the Cowboys, The Goodbye Run

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 7, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Leone

Studio: American Cinema Releasing

Available: DVD

The Thief Who Came to Dinner (1973)

the thief who came to dinner 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Detective hounds jewel thief.

Webster (Ryan O’Neal) is a bored computer programmer who has grown cynical of the business world and decides to become a modern day Robin Hood. He does so by stealing paperwork listing illegal activities of a corrupt politician (Charles Cioffi) and uses this to blackmail him into giving the addresses of his rich and equally corrupt pals. He then robs them of their jewels while with the help of a local fence (Ned Beatty) resells them and keeps half the profits. He even manages to get into a hot relationship with a beautiful woman (Jacqueline Bisset), but just as things start to click insurance investigator Dave Reilly (Warren Oates) gets on the case who’s determined to expose and nab Webster anyway he can.

The film, which was written by Walter Hill and based on a novel by Terence Lore Smith, has a slick even smug attitude about it. It has some interesting ingredients, but never really gels. Webster pulls off these robberies with such relative ease that they are barely interesting to watch. The scene where he gets rear-ended by an old lady and then chased throughout the streets of Houston when he cannot produce proper identification to the police is fun, but there needed to be more of this and the otherwise laid-back pace does not help.

the thief who came to dinner 2

Despite his good looks O’Neal is a weak leading man although here he isn’t too bad. Still the supporting cast easily upstages him especially Oates and had he been made the star this film would’ve been far better. The scene where his car breaks down while tailing O’Neal and then having O’Neal turn around to help him fix it is quite amusing as is Oates’ final act of defiance towards his superiors after he gets fired.

Austin Pendleton is quite funny as an obsessed chess player and Beatty is great as a caricature of a ‘good ole’ boy’ Texas con-man and he really deserved more screen time. Bisset is wasted, but looks beautiful as always and I really digged her ritzy, spacious house that outside of a two lamps had no furniture at all.

The production has very much of a European flair, but its sophisticated façade quickly wears thin. You keep waiting for it to catch its stride, but it never does making it fluffy and forgettable including its wide-open non-ending.

the thief who came to dinner 1

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 1, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bud Yorkin

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS