Tag Archives: Barbra Streisand

The Owl and the Pussycat (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sometimes opposites do attract.

Felix (George Segal) works at a bookstore, but dreams of becoming a successful novelist only to receive rejection letters every time he sends a manuscript out. One night while residing in his cramped New York apartment he spots, through his binoculars, his neighbor Doris (Barbra Streisand) accepting payment for sex and he immediately calls his landlord (Jacques Sandulescu) to report this and it gets her evicted. In anger she goes to Felix’s apartment at 3 in the morning to argue with him about what he did. The two share little in common, but eventually after hours of bickering they form a bond.

The film was originally written as a Broadway play, which in-turn was inspired by a poem of the same name written by Edward Lear in 1871. The play, which ran during the 1964-65 season, starred Alan Alda and Diana Sands and differed considerably from the film in that it had only two characters and one setting. The biggest change though was that in the play the Doris character was a black women, but the studio feared mainstream audiences weren’t ready for that, which is a shame. Streisand is amusing, but she’s unable to convey a tough street-smart attitude. Having an African American woman and a white man come together with vastly different socio-economic backgrounds would’ve made the polar opposites theme even more pronounced and their eventual bonding far more profound.

In an attempt to make the story more cinematic director Herbert Ross had the couple kicked out of Segal’s apartment and then forced to go to his friend Barney’s (Robert Klein) apartment. Initially this seemed fun as Segal and Streisand are allowed to sleep in the living room while Klein and his girlfriend (Marilyn Chambers) remain in the bedroom, but Segal and Streisand continue with their bickering, which forces Klein and Chambers to leave their own apartment, which made no sense. If the guests are the ones causing the racket then they’re the ones asked to leave not the people paying the rent. This also becomes a missed opportunity because it could’ve heightened the comedy by having the couple forced to move to seedier locations each time they’re kicked-out of the previous one.

During the second half Segal and Streisand enter a large home, which was apparently the residence of his fiance’s family, but this is jarring since there had been no mention of the fiancee earlier. It also works against the theme as these characters were portrayed as being lonely and forced to deal with each other despite their many differences because they had no where else to go, but then throwing in Segal’s connection to affluence ends up diminishing the desperation angle.

I also didn’t like that Doris got portrayed as being so painfully uneducated that she couldn’t understand some of the words Felix said, which was heavy-handed since his language wasn’t all that elaborate. I’ve found that most sex workers are quite defensive when it comes to the ‘they must be dumb’ stereotype and make concerted efforts to play against this. Most people, especially with someone they’ve just met, would never admit to not understanding some words spoken by the other because it would make that other person believe that they were intellectually superior and therefore given unfair leverage.

There are few funny moments but it mainly comes during the first half while the second and third act drone on.  The only real distinction are the opening credits, where a jazzy score by Blood, Sweat & Tears gets played while a greenish moon sets behind a cropped cutout of the New York skyline, which is pretty cool.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 3, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD

For Pete’s Sake (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Can’t make ends meet.

Henrietta ‘Henry’ (Barbra Streisand) struggles with hardly any money in the bank as her husband Pete (Michael Sarrazin) works a low paying job driving a cab while he tries to finish college. Then Pete gets a tip from a fellow driver telling him to invest in potbellies as they are expected to have a huge gain in the market, but to do so he will need $3,000. Since he does not have this Henry decides to do some jobs that will pay her quick cash including prostitution and hauling stolen cattle, but everything that she does just gets her further into trouble.

Part of the fun of watching films from decades past is seeing how things have changed and in certain circumstances how they haven’t. Here you get to see virtually the same struggles that a young couple of today face and how the companies and banks joyfully screw them over if it means helping them either save or make a buck. Some of the segments at the beginning where she argues with representatives of these companies over either bills or loans are funny and helps give this otherwise innocuous comedy a bit of an edge.  It also allows for a great chance to see Anne Ramsey in an early role playing a rep at a phone company who not only looks way younger than from her better known role in Throw Momma From a Train, but even marginally attractive and with a much softer sounding voice.

Barbra is great in the lead that takes advantage of her rambling, fast-talking manner which she gets whenever she’s exasperated with the best bit being the running joke where she is constantly calling a distant relative in Dallas begging them for money while also updating them on her latest calamity. It’s also great seeing her play against her Hollywood celebrity image by effectively portraying a very drab everyday person sporting short hair, which was a wig created for her by her romantic partner at the time, hair stylist Jon Peters. It’s also interesting seeing this very liberal icon in a very anti-PC moment when she hands a box of Fruit Loops to an effeminate store clerk (played by Vincent Shiavelli) and tells him “I’m sure you’ll love these.”

The comedy has consistent laughs although the first hour works best and I particularly enjoyed the interplay that she has with the male customers she brings into her apartment while working as a prostitute and I wished this segment had been extended more. She also gets in a few juicy jabs towards Estelle Parsons, who plays the snotty, rich wife of Pete’s brother (William Redfield), that are delightfully savage.

Unfortunately the final third gets a bit too silly and exaggerated making the story lose its footing by becoming too frantically dizzying.  There’s still a couple of good bits here like watching the stolen cattle crash through a movie screen that is showing a film with a herd of cattle on it. I also enjoyed The French Connection parody where Babs plays the same cat-and-mouse game on the subway that Gene Hackman did with Fernando Rey only she does it with a police dog. However, some of the other bits including the appearance of Bill McKinney in a weak tribute to Deliverance are sterile  and helps to deflate an otherwise sparkling Streisand vehicle.

The script also suffers from illogical loopholes. Like the fact that despite having financial difficulties they still employ a housekeeper (played by Vivian Bonnell), but why would a young couple struggling with money and living in a tiny one bedroom apartment with no kids and a wife who stays home all day need hired help?

Pete gets exposed as having some major chauvinistic traits too by forebiding his wife from working full-time because ‘his ego couldn’t take it’, which doesn’t make him seem like a ‘great catch’ at all. Forcing his wife to stay stuck in the kitchen/home because that’s where he feels ‘she belongs’ while he’s unable to provide for her with his own job makes him seem like a total dud that’s not only not worth helping, but, especially in today’s world,  have him deservedly kicked to the curb in no time.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 26, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Yates

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Main Event (1979)

main-event

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Babs promotes a boxer.

Hillary Kramer (Barbra Streisand) is an owner of a successful perfume company who suddenly finds that all of her financial assets have been stolen by an unscrupulous business manager. The only thing she has left is a contract with a down-and-out boxer named Eddie ‘Kid Natural’ Scanlon (Ryan O’Neal). She decides to become his manager and promote him even though he is through with boxing and much more content at working as a driving instructor.

Barbra is quite enjoyable and the one thing that manages to hold it all together even though I couldn’t stand her frizzy hair look and wished she had just kept it straight, but as a comic character she is good. I was amazed at how much she makes fun of herself including an open bit that takes potshots at her world famous nose. There are other segments that reverse her feminist stance as well where the man, or in this case the O’Neal character, feels like he’s being ‘objectified’ by her and after they sleep together feeling ‘used’ when she isn’t quite ready to get into a relationship. Amazingly she even allows herself to be clad in very tight fitting shorts and in one rather explicit moment bends down in them, which again being the famous feminist that we know she is in real-life seemed surprising, but I liked the fact that she can show a playful side and that she doesn’t take herself too seriously.

Unfortunately O’Neal is the wrong man as her co-star as he is too weak of an actor and cannot keep up with her strong personality. Trying to play these two off as equals doesn’t work as he has no ability to counter her comic punch and his attempts at seeming exacerbated are forced and not funny. Sure they had success earlier with What’s Up Doc? but that was because he played a character that got run over and dominated by hers, which is the only way their contrasting styles would succeed on celluloid.

The film though still manages to be funny and I was ready to give this a 7 until it peters out like air coming out of a tire during the second half. Having the group cooped up in a winter cabin stifles the action as this is the type of story that should’ve stayed permanently on the road. The contrived love angle that gets thrown in is formulaic and not believable. These two could never get along even if they wanted to. They may at some point gain a begrudging respect for the other, but to think they could cohabitate in a lasting relationship is ridiculous and besides it was the bickering between them that was entertaining and once that goes so does the movie.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 22, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Howard Zieff

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Up the Sandbox (1972)

up the sandbox 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Housewife has secret fantasies.

Margaret (Barbra Streisand) is a neglected housewife taking care of her two children while her husband Paul (David Selby) busily works on his novel and thesis. She lives in a rundown New York apartment that seems to have bugs crawling from everywhere. Her nagging mother (Jane Hoffman) pressures her to move back with them to the suburbs, but she enjoys the excitement and independence of city life over lily white suburbia, so she resists. Now she finds that she is pregnant with her third child and this along with the other stresses causes her to slip into secret fantasies that become more and more outlandish.

This film didn’t do well upon its initial release and is a bit forgotten, but deserves a look simply for its unique and memorable fantasy segments. The scene where she joins a black militant group that gets inside the Statue of Liberty and wires it with explosives is pretty good as is the part at a party where her stomach suddenly balloons out as if she is pregnant and when she pushes it in it makes her breasts larger. The scene where she meets a Fidel Castro-like dictator who takes off his shirt to expose that he has female breasts is funny and the finale that takes place inside an abortion clinic is interesting. The best though is when she is captured by an African tribe of topless women. The shot of their grossly overweight leader whose gigantic, sagging breasts seem to overlap her entire body ends up being the film’s most lasting image.

Hoffman is hilarious and a perfect caricature of a meddling mother of adult children. The part where Margaret fantasies about stuffing her mother’s face into an anniversary cake and then the two roll around on the floor where Margaret then punches her in the face had me laughing-out-loud.

Paul Zindel’s script nicely balances the fantasy with the gritty reality of urban living. It also envelopes the feminist issues with the social upheaval of the times and the speech that Margaret gives about women needing to be less like men and more like themselves is excellent.

Director Irvin Kerschner makes fine use of the New York locales giving the viewer an eclectic taste of its crowded neighborhoods and street culture as well as its epic skyline. I loved the cinema vertite style that has a sophisticated and trendy feel.

Streisand herself seems to be having a lot of fun and purportedly this is her favorite out of all the films that she has done. This was just before she went through her frizzy hair phase and the long straight style that she has here I feel makes her look sexy.

The pace is unusual especially for a comedy in that it isn’t frantic and does not have any quick edits. Instead the set-ups are quite slow and seem at times to be almost dramatic before throwing in a surprise punchline. Personally I liked this approach, but the unconventional style might have proved confusing to certain audience members who didn’t know what genre to place it in and may have been the reason for the poor box office returns, which is shame as the production overall is excellent and intriguing.

up the sandbox 1

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 21, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Irvin Kerschner

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD

Funny Girl (1968)

funny girl

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fanny’s rise to stardom.

Barbra Streisand, in her film debut, plays Fanny Brice in this loose biography about the Jewish comedian’s rise to stardom in the Ziegfield Follies during the 20’s and 30’s. The story examines how she uses her homely looks to her advantage by honing in her comedic skills to allow her to stand-out. The second half of the film examines her romance and eventual marriage to professional gambler Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif).

Streisand recreates her Broadway role in grand style and deserved her Oscar win in which she famously tied Katherine Hepburn that year for Best Actress. I’ve always liked her best when she is doing comedy and she has always shown a good knack for timing and delivery. Although stories abound how she was very difficult during the production and showed a tremendous ego, which culminated in the film going through two directors and cinematographers she still plays the very insecure Brice effectively and it’s this appealing ingredient the carries the film and character.

William Wyler’s direction is also outstanding and helps make up for a story that at times seems pretty light. He replaced Sidney Lumet early on and gives the film an added flair with lavish sets. I loved the French-style restaurant and expansive old fashioned New York train station. There is some excellent dance numbers in which Wyler takes full advantage of the visual element including a nifty ballet segment. The recreation of the period is authentic and there are even a few moments of dazzling camera work including the shot showing Fanny singing on top of a tugboat all alone in the New York harbor while the camera circles above her and then careens down.

Kay Medford adds good support as Fanny’s mother and it earned her an Academy Award nomination for supporting actress. Sharif is always solid, but the character seemed poorly fleshed-out and more of a personal background needed to be explored to help explain why he was so infatuated with the extremely insecure and awkward Brice when he could have easily attracted any girl. Walter Pidgeon lacks the commanding presence needed in the part of Florenz Ziegfield and instead comes off as a tired old man getting badly upstaged by Streisand in every scene he has with her.

The songs are pleasing and you may find yourself humming some of them for days afterwards, but I was surprised how few of them there really were with long dramatic intervals in-between. The story itself is placid as Brice’s rise to the top happens too quickly and too much time is spent on the romantic angle making the film seem unbalanced but it manages to be entertaining anyways due mainly to the high production values.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 18, 1968

Runtime: 2Hours 30Minutes

Rated G

Director: William Wyler

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

Nuts (1987)

nuts

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fighting for her sanity.

In celebration of Barbra Streisand turning 72 on April 24th we will be reviewing three of her films, one from each decade during the week. This one is based on the Broadway play by Tom Topor dealing with a high priced call girl named Claudia Draper (Barbra Streisand) who murders one of her customers (Leslie Nielson) in self-defense and is arrested. Her mother (Maureen Stapleton) and step father (Karl Malden) think she should be diagnosed as incompetent to stand trial and sent to a mental institution, but she with the help of her lawyer (Richard Dreyfuss) fight for her right to stand trial.

The story and characters evolve in layers, which I liked, but Streisand doesn’t seem right for the part. Her presence makes it seem too much like a star vehicle instead of the character driven story that it should be. Her cantankerous outbursts become a bit excessive and self-destructive making it hard at times to cheer for her or empathize. In the Broadway play the character was played by a woman in her twenties, which made more sense and would’ve worked better instead of casting someone who was already 45.

Seeing her in provocative poises in snapshots that her lawyer obtains is a bit weird but fun as a novelty as is the scene where she spreads her legs without the benefit of any underwear for Dreyfuss, but having her constantly shown with a bright spotlight around her seems disconcerting. It gives her a ghostly appearance and makes her stand out in the wrong way.

The veteran supporting cast comes off better since they wisely underplay it as opposed to her overplaying. Stapleton is quite good especially the moving scenes showing her crying as she listens to her daughter’s testimony. James Whitmore is solid as the thoughtful judge, but it’s Dreyfuss who carries it as the feisty and sometimes exasperated counsel.

This film is also a milestone as it is the last time Leslie Neilson performed in a non-comedic role. He is surprisingly chilling as the psychotic attacker who was apparently so convincing that it scared Streisand during the filming of the scene.

There are times when it gets a bit too theatrical. The judge advises Claudia to quit disrupting the proceedings, but then she continues to do so anyways, which would have gotten most people thrown out of the courtroom. The scene where she sits on the witness stand and describes being a hooker in a very sensual and seductive way seemed over-the-top in a court of law as is the part where she is allowed to wander around the courtroom going on a long rant while everyone else just sits there and passively listens.

Still on the whole I found most of it to be quite riveting and as a drama its first- rate. I just felt Striesand’s presence didn’t help it. She can be quite good in certain other roles just not here. The part was originally intended for Debra Winger who I feel would have fared better.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 20, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated R

Director: Martin Ritt

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video