By Richard Winters
My Rating: 8 out of 10
4-Word Review: The one room schoolhouse.
Thunderbolt (Clint Eastwood) is a former bank robber hiding out as a Montana preacher while trying to avoid Red (George Kennedy) and Eddie (Geoffrey Lewis) who are his former crime partners that mistakenly believe he double-crossed them. One day they manage to catch up with him and try gunning him down during one of his church services. Thunderbolt escapes by hopping into a car driven by Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges). Despite their contrasting temperaments and ages of the two end up hitting-it-off and even manage to bring Red and Eddie into the fold once it’s explained to them that Thunderbolt hadn’t sold them out. Now the four plan to rob the same bank again using a 20 millimeter cannon to break into the safe.
This was the Michael Cimino’s first foray behind the camera after having success co-writing the screenplays to Silent Running and Magnum Force. For the most part it’s a success and I particularly enjoyed the way he captures Montana’s majestic landscape, which helps add a strong flavor to the story. Some of the comical bits and throwaway lines are hilarious and gives the film an edge over the usual bank robbery storyline.
The drawback is that like with Cimino’s other films it takes too long for the story to get going. The Thunderbolt’s backstory doesn’t get explained until almost 50 minutes in and we never learn much of anything about Lightfoot or why he would simply appear almost out of nowhere in this tiny, isolated town for literally no reason. There are certain scenarios that get introduced, but offer no payoff and the robbery itself gets pulled off a little too easily while not taking enough advantage of its unique premise.
The acting though is uniformly excellent including Bridges who is at his most engaging and even looks weirdly sexy when disguised as a woman and I loved the part when he talks to himself in the mirror. Kennedy gets one of his better post Cool Hand Luke roles as the cantankerous Red and Lewis is funny as his dim-witted partner.
The film also has some great bits for its supporting cast. Cliff Emmich is amusing as an overweight security guard with a porn fetish and Jack Dodson has a memorable moment when he finds to his shock that his teenage daughter isn’t quite as ‘innocent’ as he thought she was.
Bill McKinney is goofy as a crazy man driving around in a car with a trunk full of rabbits, but like with a lot of other things in the film it introduces something that doesn’t get fully explained including the fact that the character seems to be acting erratically because he is overcome by toxic gas fumes from his own car, but when Thunderbolt and Lightfoot take over the car and drive it for themselves they don’t for some reason end up having the same issue.
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Released: May 22, 1974
Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes
Director: Michael Cimino
Studio: United Artists
Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video
Posted in 70's Movies, Buddy Movies, Fast Cars/Car Chase, Heist Movies, Movies with a rural setting
Tagged Bill McKinney, Cliff Emmich, Entertainment, Geoffrey Lewis, George Kennedy, Jack Dodson, Jeff Bridges, Michael Cimino, Movies, Review
By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: An illegal car race.
Wacky participants convene in Santa Monica to take part in an unsanctioned cross country car race. All drivers are accountable for any speeding tickets or injuries that they may accrue and the only rule is that the first person to arrive at a designated spot in New York City wins. Yet the race’s top driver Coy ‘Cannonball’ Buckman (David Carradine), who is on parole, risks being sent back to prison if he crosses the state line, but he decides to proceed any ways despite the objections of his lawyer girlfriend (Veronica Hamel) who eventually rides along with him.
This film is based on the same real-life race that inspired The Gumball Rally, but critic Leonard Maltin incorrectly states in older versions of his book that this film plagiarizes that one, which isn’t true as this movie came out first and adds in many different story angles.
Despite the fact that the production is plagued with the typically cheap Roger Corman look and seems more like an extension to Death Race 2000 I still preferred this to Gumball. Both films have characters that are decidedly cartoonish and neither film makes any attempt to recreate what really happened, but this movie has a darker edge and most thankfully a better soundtrack that doesn’t have a kiddie-like melody.
This film also reverses the race’s starting and end points. In both the real-life event and in Gumball the starting point was New York, but here it’s California, which is actually a plus. In Gumball the drivers seemed to go from the Big Apple to the desert southwest in a matter of only a few minutes, which made no sense. Here the film crew is allowed ample time to take advantage of the closed desert roads to do their car stunts, which aren’t bad, and it also sets up an ending in which driver Mary Woronov arrives in New York, but then gets lost in the congested traffic and can’t find the finish line, which is the film’s funniest bit.
The cast is much more eclectic. I really enjoyed Judy Canova in her final film appearance as her facial expressions are a hoot especially as she has her car gets rear-ended by Carradine’s. Dick Miller is entertaining as a man that tries to rig the race and Bill McKinney is very effective as the bad guy. Director Paul Bartel and producer Roger Corman have bit parts as does Carl Gottlieb the man who penned the screenplay for Jaws. Other directors make cameo appearances including Jonathan Kaplan, Allan Arkush, Joe Dante and even Martin Scorsese.
Yet what I really liked is the massive car pile-up that occurs near the end that features car after car crashing into an already existing accident and then exploding one after another into a ball of flames. This was considered quite controversial amongst the crew and star Carradine tried to convince Bartel not to put it in, but he insisted and I’m glad he did. Yes it’s morbid, but it helps put a touch of reality into the whole thing. The ‘70s were filled with a lot of silly car chase movies all with the running theme that people needed their ‘freedom’ and having a speed limit takes away all the ‘fun’, but there is a reason why those rules were put into place as what starts out as a good time can easily turn into something horrific in a matter of seconds. To me this was Bartel’s way of spitting-in-the-face at all those other inane road race movies that always took an innocuous angle while conveniently ignoring the ugly realities that existed just beneath the surface.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: July 6, 1976
Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes
Director: Paul Bartel
Studio: New World Pictures
Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video
Posted in 70's Movies, Black Comedy, Cult, Fast Cars/Car Chase, Low Budget, Movies that take place in the Big Apple, Road Movies, Sports Movies
Tagged Bill McKinney, Entertainment, Judy Canova, Mary Woronov, Movies, Paul Bartel, Review
By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Alcoholic cop escorts hooker.
Ben Shockley (Clint Eastwood) is a down-and-out cop and borderline alcoholic who’s given the assignment of escorting a hooker named Gus Mally (Sandra Locke) from a prison in Phoenix to a trial in Las Vegas where she will be a key witness. Ben is initially told that it’s a ‘nothing witness to a nothing trial’, but finds that to be anything but the truth as the two are shot at and chased by both the mob and his fellow policeman convincing him that he’s been set-up and making him determined to ‘even the score’.
This film overall is great fun and has enough well-choreographed action sequences to be entertaining for just about anyone who watches it. The story also manages to have some intrigue and a certain symbolic message. The on-location shooting done in and around Phoenix gives it an added flair particularly the long shots of the dessert landscape.
The film is best known for its climatic sequence involving Eastwood and Locke riding in a bus that travels slowly down the main streets of Phoenix while being shot at by hundreds of cops lining the sidewalk that ultimately puts thousands of holes into the vehicle. As a visual this is exciting and memorable, but I still kept wondering why the cops didn’t simply aim at the bus’s tires, which would’ve disabled the vehicle instantly and they would not have had to bother shooting up the rest of it.
Another action segment in which Eastwood and Locke are riding on a motorcycle while being chased and shot at by men in a helicopter brought up some similar issues. Again the segment itself is exciting and surprisingly prolonged although it would’ve done better without the bouncy jazz score being played over it. Either way the helicopter begins to attack Eastwood while he is standing at an outdoor phone booth. He then runs inside to an indoor food market where the Locke character already is, but instead of staying there where they are shielded he instead leads her out of the building and onto the motorbike where it would be more dangerous because it makes them an open and vulnerable target.
I also wasn’t too crazy about Locke’s performance or her character. For one thing Locke approaches the part in too much of a one-dimensional way. A hardened, snarky prostitute may be realistic, but hardly interesting or appealing and the character would’ve been more fun had their being some sort of unique or funny trait about her instead of leaning so heavily towards the stereotype.
The other supporting characters though are great. Pat Hingle is excellent as Ben’s nervous, hyper friend who finds himself unwittingly in the middle of the fracas. I also enjoyed William Prince playing an extension of the corrupt, jaded corporate-like character that he did in Network. Bill McKinney is also good as a hick cop who has an interesting ‘conversation’ with Locke about her ‘profession’.
If you’re looking for a bubblegum, action-packed escapism then this film should do the trick and still holds up well today even when compared to modern-day action flicks.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: December 21, 1977
Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes
Director: Clint Eastwood
Studio: Warner Brothers
Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video
Posted in 70's Movies, Action/Adventure, Dry Humor, Fast Cars/Car Chase, Movies with Nudity, Police Drama, Road Movies
Tagged Bill McKinney, Clint Eastwood, Entertainment, Movies, Pat Hingle, Review, Sondra Locke, William Prince