Tag Archives: Barry Levinson

…and justice for all. (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lawyer fights the system.

Arthur (Al Pacino) is a defense attorney who becomes increasingly more frustrated and disillusioned with the court system. He’s fighting to get one of his clients, Jeff (Thomas Waites), out of jail as he’s been sitting behind bars for over a year simply because he was mistaken for somebody else while also being forced to defend Judge Fleming (John Forsythe), a man that he vehemently hates, from a rape allegation.

The script by the husband and wife team of Barry Levinson and Valerie Curtain is chockfull of great insights into the American legal system and how messed up and prone to corruption it can sometimes be. Defense lawyers have in the past been glamourized in TV-shows like ‘Perry Mason’, but here the viewer gets a more stark assessment of their profession as they watch them being forced to defend those that they know are actually guilty. Yet it also balances this by showing how public defenders can also be the lone voice to those who are truly innocent and have no one else to speak up for them.

The film has a weird comedy/drama mix that doesn’t work and ends up getting in the way. When I first saw this many decades back I liked the humorous undertones as it gave production a surreal, satirical edge, but upon second viewing I didn’t find it to be as amusing. The script makes good hard-hitting points and adding in the humor only diminishes this message and takes away from the seriousness of the subject matter.

The side-story dealing with the suicidal judge, played by Jack Warden, should’ve been excised. I’ll admit the images of him eating lunch while sitting out on a ledge of a tall building, or trying to kill himself with a rifle are memorable, but pointless and by coupling this judge character with Forsythe’s crooked one seems to imply that all judges are either bad or crazy, which isn’t fair.

The storyline dealing with Arthur visiting his senile grandfather, played by Lee Strasberg, should’ve been cut out as well as it has nothing to do with the main plot. It also brings up many unanswered questions like why is Arthur close to his grandfather and not to his own parents and why did his parents apparently ‘abandon’ him? This backstory never gets sufficiently addressed and seems like material for a whole different movie altogether.

Spoiler Alert!

The storyline involving Judge Fleming is the most intriguing and should’ve been made the film’s primary focus, but I was disappointed with the way the judge glibly admits to his crime, which takes away the mystery angle and I would’ve preferred the truth coming out in a more dramatic manner. The film also has a very old-fashioned take to his situation by saying that just because the character is involved with BDSM activities that somehow makes him ‘deviant’ and more prone to committing rape, which has been proven untrue as there are plenty of people who can enjoy kinky activities with consenting partners and still remain ethical.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall the film is worth catching and has many interesting moments including Pacino’s final speech that he gives to a packed courtroom, which is a gem. This also marks the film debuts of Christine Lahti and Jeffery Tambor as Pacino’s lawyer friend who slowly goes crazy.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 16, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes

Director: Norman Jewison

Rated R

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

Street Girls (1975)

street girls

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father searches for daughter.

Angel (Christine Souder) is a young woman out on her own for the very first time. To make ends meet she gets a job at a topless bar, but this leads to working as a prostitute and getting hooked onto heroin by her brutal pimp boyfriend. When her father Sven (Art Burke) goes searching for her he finds himself swept in the seedy side of life and the people who populate it almost as much as her.

This otherwise low budget and forgotten film’s biggest claim to fame is that it is the first feature credited to Barry Levinson as the screenwriter who also worked as the assistant cameraman during the production. Levinson has never talked about it in any interview and it is easy to see why. The script is filled with a lot of rambling dialogue that goes nowhere. The story is basic and boring and seems preoccupied with taking advantage of the ‘shock value’ of its topic which these days has lessened.  It’s more clichéd than anything although the scene where one of Angel’s johns asks her to put on some goggles so that he can, to her shock, pee all over her does deserve mention.

This film is very similar to Paul Schrader’s Hardcore that starred George C. Scott and came out four years later and deals with a desperate father’s search for his daughter who has gotten into the world of porn. I actually like this film a bit better to that one. For one thing this one focuses more on the daughter and her experiences while that one solely centered on the father, which wasn’t as interesting. The father here isn’t quite as one-dimensional either. Yes he has all the caricatures of a middle-aged Midwestern man from the period including being homophobic, but I got a kick out of the way he initially gets into the naked girl dancers and likes it as long as of course it isn’t his daughter that’s doing it.

The acting swings from tolerable to really bad, but I did like Carol Case as Sally who has the most screen time and looks like a cross between Susan Anton and singer Carly Simon. Paul Pompain has a certain menacing quality as the brutal pimp although watching him constantly beat up his prostitutes and even kill one didn’t seem to make any sense as these girls were his may source of income and as my friend stated who watched this movie with me “He’s hurting their resale value.”

The picture is grainy with a faded washed out look and muffled sound that makes it seem almost like someone’s cheap homemade movie and yet it is well enough paced that it remains watchable. The scene where the father and daughter finally meet I found to be surprisingly touching.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: January 16, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 14Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Miller

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: None at this time.