Tag Archives: Barry Newman

Fear is the Key (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He has secret motives.

Based on the 1961 novel by Alistair MacLean the story centers around John Talbot (Barry Newman) who finds himself inside a small town courtroom standing trial for the murder of a policeman that he did not commit. He manages to escape while kidnapping a woman named Sarah (Suzy Kendall) who he takes as his hostage. He evades the authorities only to ultimately end up inside the home of Sarah’s father (Ray McAnally) where another man named Vyland (John Vernon) hires him to operate a submarine that will salvage a cargo of diamonds housed inside an underwater plane wreck.

I never read the novel, but to me the whole thing comes off in a haphazard style where the twists aren’t interesting at all and only help to make the plot even more confusing and unfocused. The car chase sequence is genuinely well done to the point that it had me riveted and quite impressed with how it was shot and looking like one of the more realistic chases I’ve seen amongst the many that are already out there. Unfortunately to go from what initially seems to be a fugitive-on-the-run-flick to an underwater espionage, sci-fi thriller is not intriguing, but jarring instead and comes off like two entirely different movies crammed together with only the thinnest of plot threads to hold it together.

Spoiler Alert!

The biggest disappointment though is when at the film’s midway point John confides to Sarah that everything that we’ve seen before has been staged and none of it was real. For that to happen though would’ve taken many different people working together to pull it off and it’s never explained how he was able to do that. For instance who gave John the blank bullets to shoot at the police officer to escape from the courtroom and why did the policeman agree to pretend he was shot if he really wasn’t and what was in it for him to get in on John’s elaborate scheme? None of this gets explained and only helps to make it even more absurd and ludicrous until you can’t take any of it seriously.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Newman is not strong enough actor for the part and conveys a rather transparent presence when he should’ve had the exact opposite effect. His appearance here is too similar to the one he just gotten done doing in Vanishing Point including driving around in a similar type of car making this film seem like an extension of that one. It also comes-off like typecasting and makes viewers think this is the only type of role he can play, which could explain why his leading man career pretty much tanked after this.

The film’s only interesting aspect is the appearance of Ben Kingsley in his film debut, which was his only movie role during the 70’s as he didn’t appear in another one until 10 years later when he starred in Gandhi. Here he plays one of Vyland’s henchmen who figures prominently in the climactic finish where they must fight for air after the oxygen in the sub gets turned off, which isn’t bad.

This is also a rare production that was financed by a British studio, but filmed on-location in the US. The result captures America through a European perspective, which makes the entire thing a bit off-kilter from the very beginning.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 26, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Tuchner

Studio: Anglo-EMI

Available: DVD (Region 2), Amazon Video, YouTube

Vanishing Point (1971)

vanishing point 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Racing to San Francisco.

Kowalski (Barry Newman) is a car delivery driver whose next assignment has him driving a white Dodge Challenger R/T 440 Magnum from Denver to San Francisco. He is a former cop who seems disillusioned and detached from the world around him. To give his existence some meaning he decides to ‘challenge’ himself by making the delivery in record time and even makes a bet with a local drug dealer while purchasing some ‘uppers’ that he can get to San Francisco by 3:00 the next day. As his record drive proceeds he gets the attention of the local law enforcement from every state that he drives through, but none of them are able to stop him despite all efforts. He also attracts the attention of a local blind, black DJ named Super Soul (Cleavon Little) who has access to the police radio frequency and able to help Kowalski with his goal.

Richard C. Sarafain’s direction and John Alonzo’s cinematography are the real winners here. In fact my favorite scenes from this film are the long distance shots capturing the car driving along the lonely highways to the backdrop of the stunning western skies and its rugged, sandy landscape. This is a movie that will appeal to one’s emotional senses and bypass the need for logic. Certain things aren’t fully explained particularly Kowalski’s past, but the fact that it isn’t makes it more enjoyable. It’s the connection with his need for speed, escape and non-conformity that attracts us and it’s the adrenaline that propels the movie and viewer’s interest forward thus making this one of the quintessential road movies from its era or any other.

Capture 1

 

Capture 2

Newman seems an unusual casting choice as he really doesn’t have the dynamic star power or all that many lines of dialogue. He is also clearly in his mid-30’s for a part that seems better suited for some renegade, long haired 20-year-old, but in some ways his presence makes the movie more intriguing and distinctive by showing middle-aged people can have a dormant desire to rebel as well and sometimes even more so.

Little is terrific in what is probably the best performance of his career even though it seemed highly improbable and even ridiculous for a black DJ playing soul tunes at a radio station located in a small, isolated town inhabited by conservative, white, racist people. Severn Darden is edgy as a traveling evangelist and Dean Jagger is appealing as an old-time snake hunter. On the flip side of the 20th Century Fox DVD you can see the extended U.K. release that features a brief scene with Charlotte Rampling as a hitch-hiker. This sequence was intended to be allegorical, but really isn’t that impressive even though Rampling is quite attractive with her hair highlighted with blonde streaks.

Spoiler Warning!

The ending, which features Kowalski intentionally driving into some bulldozers parked in the middle of the road, which kills him instantly in a ball of flames, has proved through the years to be quite controversial and filled with many interpretations. I found it to symbolize Kowalski’s ultimate need for escape as he realized that he could never achieve the true freedom that he wanted, so he decided in a way to become a martyr and take his chances in another world beyond this one. The wry smile seen on his face just before he does it signifies the ‘fuck you’ that he gives to the authorities who are convinced that they finally have him cornered but really don’t. It also connects to the death of the counter-culture movement who by that time had realized that their dream of a utopian society filled with complete individual freedom and outside of mainstream control was never going to happen.

End of Spoiler Warning!

vanishing point 4

 

vanishing_point

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: January 15, 1971

Runtime:  1Hour 45Minutes (U.K. Version) 1Hour 39Minutes (U.S. Version)

Rated R

Director: Richard C. Sarafain

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray