Tag Archives: Blythe Danner

To Kill a Clown (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Couple harassed by veteran.

Timothy (Heath Lamberts) and Lily (Blythe Danner) are a couple suffering through a rocky marriage. In an attempt to try and save it they decide to rent a beach house for a summer where they hope the quiet seaside scenery can help mend the friction. Their landlord is Evelyn (Alan Alda) a crippled war veteran with two dobermans who resides in a large house next to theirs. Evelyn considers Timothy to be effeminate and ‘unfocused’ and decides to challenge him to a psychological game where he will put Timothy through the rigors of army training. Initially Timothy finds this challenge amusing, but the game becomes much harsher than he expected and when he tries to get out of it Evelyn won’t let him, which eventually leads to Timothy and Lily becoming hostages inside their own home where Evelyn’s two ferocious dogs guard them.

The film is based on the short story ‘The Master of the Hounds’ by Algis Budrys that appeared in the August 1966 edition of the Saturday Evening Post. The plot certainly has some intriguing qualities, but the pace is too laid-back and I spent much of the time rather bored with it. The tension comes in spurts and when it does get going it cuts away just as it gets interesting. The Timothy character is overly smug and to some extent I actually enjoyed some of the harassment that Evelyn gives him, which ultimately minimizes the ‘horror’ that the viewer is supposed to be feeling.

In the story the setting was supposed to be the Jersey shore and in the film it’s somewhere off the New England coast, but in actuality it was filmed in the Bahamas and in an attempt to mask the tropical surroundings they found one of the blandest looking beaches to film it on. The lack of scenery gives the film no visual flair and it ultimately comes off like something done on the cheap end by a director lacking talent of vision.

The only interesting aspect is seeing Alda, who was known throughout the 70’s and 80’s as being a very liberal, ‘sensitive’ male, playing someone who is the exact opposite and to a degree he does it well, but it could’ve and should’ve been played-up much more. Lamberts is good too, but it would’ve been better had the character been an actual army deserter, which would’ve then made the men’s contrasting personalities even more vivid.

Danner though, in her film debut,  comes off best by acting as a buffer between the two men. The dobermans though are the real stars and I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of them. In fact the film’s best moment involves one of them standing guard as it holds the frightened couple hostage in their living room and growling threateningly if one of them even moves their head in he slightest.

Unfortunately the action takes too long to get going and the whole thing gets misguidedly underplayed. I found the freeze-frame shots, which the film uses to transition from one scene to the next, distracting and overly artsy especially for a movie that is supposedly trying to be reality based.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 23, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes (Reissued at 1 Hour 26 Minutes)

Rated R

Director: George Bloomfield

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS

Hearts of the West (1975)

hearts of the west

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Budding writer travels west.

Lewis (Jeff Bridges) is a young man who dreams of becoming a famous western writer. He applies for and is accepted into a college that will supposedly teach him all he needs to know about the western-style novel. Unfortunately when he travels to where the college supposedly is he finds that it doesn’t really exist and is nothing more than a big scam run by two con-men (Richard B. Shull, Anthony James) who fleece thousands of dollars from unsuspecting people just like Lewis. They even try to rob Lewis further when he temporarily stays at a boarding house and is asleep, but he manages to escape from them by jumping into their running car, which has all of the money that they’ve stolen inside of it, and drives off into the desert. There he comes upon a western movie set and soon lands a job as a stunt man before quickly moving up the ladder into a western star while the bad guys continue to tail him and are determined to get back their money.

The film’s charm comes from its ability to mix the harsh realities of the movie business with a terrific sense of quirky comedy. Even better is that it avoids the condescending attitude that some period pieces have. The characters are not portrayed as being overtly naïve, sheltered or uneducated and instead come off as real people who just so happen to have lived in a different time period and although the recreation of the period isn’t exactly authentic it still gives one a good, general sense of the way things most likely were.

Bridges gives one of his best performances in a role perfectly suited to his persona as a naïve, wide-eyed young man full of ideals, but lacking in real-world sensibilities. The part where he is in a bathtub when the bad guys burst in on him reminded me of his similar scene in The Big Lebowski.

Blythe Danner makes for a solid love interest and I was amazed at how in certain shots she does very much look like her more famous daughter Gwyneth. Andy Griffith is great as well and becomes one of the more memorable parts of the film as Lewis’ duplicitous friend Howard.

The supporting cast is filled with recognizable faces that are on top of their game and make the most of their small roles including the always engaging Dub Taylor as a postal employee. There is even Woodrow Parfrey as a film producer, who for some reason appears unbilled.

The comedy is consistently amusing and directed by a man who had a flair for this type of material. The script, by Rob Thompson, remains fresh by introducing different twists along the way in a period piece that wipes away the nostalgic charm just enough to keep it real, but still remains cute.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 8, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Howard Zieff

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Lovin’ Molly (1974)

lovin molly

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two men one woman.

Molly (Blythe Danner) is a free-spirited woman living in a small Texas town during the 1920’s. Gid (Anthony Perkins) and Johnny (Beau Bridges) are best friends who also both like her. Molly likes them as well, but can’t seem to decide which of the two she loves better, so to solve things she gets married to Eddie (Conard Fowkes). This doesn’t go over well with the other two, but as time goes by she continues to see them and even has children from both of them, which causes a stir in her small community. Not only does she become the product of the local gossip, but virtually ostracized as well. However, Molly is undeterred about what everyone else thinks and sticks to her independent ways.

Based on the Larry McMurtry novel the film was directed by the legendary Sidney Lumet, but you would hardly know it. The production looks cheap and rushed and lacks atmosphere or period detail. The scenes are flatly shot with very little visual design or imagination. The whole thing comes off as something that did not get any major studio backing and was forced to look to private investors for funding, which unfortunately was just not enough.

Filming it on location in Bastrop, Texas which is also the setting of the story helps a little as the town has many historical buildings, which heightens to some extent the period atmosphere, but I would’ve liked to have seen more of it. The dry Texas landscape is also nicely captured and makes the viewer feel like they are living in the state themselves with each and every shot. The one thing though that really impressed me was how realistically the characters aged as the story, which spans 40 years, progresses. In most films the actors are forced to wear a ton of makeup, which gets overdone, but here very little of it was used and it looked far better.

Danner, who these days is best known as the mother of Gwyneth Paltrow, is excellent in a rare turn as a leading lady and even appears fully nude from the front and back. Perkins is solid in support and I enjoyed seeing Bridges with a bowl haircut. The star though that really steals it is Edward Binns as Perkins’ father whose caustic and to-the-point remarks are gems.

Fred Hellerman’s flavorful bluegrass score is pleasing, but the film itself fails to elicit much emotion. The only times that it does become mildly interesting is when the characters do a voice-over narration by reading off of passages lifted directly from its source material making me believe that this should never have been filmed in the first place and left simply in its novel format.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 14, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD (Region 2), Amazon Instant Video