Tag Archives: Cameron Mitchell

My Favorite Year (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Babysitting an alcoholic actor.

The year is 1954 and Benjy (Mark Linn-Baker), who works as a junior writer at a top rated TV variety show, is put in charge of babysitting a famous matinee idol named Alan Swann (Peter O’Toole) who is set to guest star on an episode of the show. Alan is a well known alcoholic who usually finds a way to stay constantly inebriated and it’s Benjy’s job to keep him sober, which proves challenging.

The first 30 minutes of the film has some snappy dialogue and a fast, engaging pace. It’s loosely based on a real-life incident where Mel Brooks, then working as a young writer on the TV-show ‘Your Show of Shows’, was put in charge of watching Errol Flynn and making sure he stayed away from the bottle, which he apparently did making the comic situations that occur here highly fabricated.

Unfortunately by the middle half it starts to lose steam and never fully recovers. It works best during the scenes where Baker and O’Toole are together, which is where the story should’ve stayed. Instead it unwisely tries to work in a ridiculous romantic side-story between Baker and Jessica Harper, which isn’t interesting at all and even slightly creepy as Harper has clearly stated she’s not interested in getting into a relationship with him and yet he continues to pursue her and even gets jealous and acts like he ‘owns’ her when he sees her with another guy.

The film also doesn’t take enough advantage of Joseph Bologna who plays the narcissistic/ego-driven star of the show that was apparently based on Sid Caesar. Nobody can play a brash, arrogant, obnoxious guy quite like Bologna and still manage to somehow remain likable and engaging in the process, so when you got him in the cast and in top form you should use his skills to its full potential, which this film doesn’t.

The Swan character ultimately gets overblown. I didn’t have a problem with his extreme drunkenness at the start, but he begins to behave too much like some overgrown man-child like when he impulsively jumps onto a policemen’s horse and rides it for no particular reason almost like he’s from a completely different planet and no longer even slightly resembling an actual person who must deal with real consequences. Watching him meltdown without restraint when he realizes he’ll be put on live television makes him pathetic and lacking even a modicum of professionalism. Anyone as emotionally fragile as he is would never even have a chance in the real Hollywood where one must put up a tough front in order to survive in it.

Richard Benjamin’s directorial debut isn’t bad, but it does have two glaring flaws. One occurs when Baker and O’Toole are on the rooftop of a building and their images are matted over a green screen, which causes orbs to appear around their heads, which is distracting and amateurish looking.  Another one comes when at the end O’Toole saves Bologna, who’s getting beat up by some thugs on live TV, by slashing the bad guy’s clothes with his sword, which wouldn’t occur since stage props don’t actually use real blades.

The brief appearances by the raspy voiced Selma Diamond and Cameron Mitchell are gems and the film also manages to work in a few poignant moments, which is nice. Overall though the concept gets stretched too thin and becomes too cute for its own good.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 8, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Benjamin

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, YouTube

Raw Force (1982)

raw force 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ghosts of martial artists.

A group of martial arts students board a boat owned by Hazel (Hope Holiday) and piloted by Harry (Cameron Mitchell). During their ride the boat catches fire and they are forced to abandon it and get into a raft. After several days at sea they come upon an island that is the home to some ghosts of famous martial artists as well as a female slavery ring run by a group of monks. When the three groups meet it becomes a wild ride of sex and violence.

The film, which was shot entirely on-location in the Philippines, is clearly an exploitation cheapie and on the sex side it does pretty well as there is an abundance of nudity particularly during the first 45 minute or so that should satisfy any voyeur since the models for the most part are pretty good looking. However, the script is corny and dumb. Way too much time is spent on the set-up featuring a lot of stale conversations between wooden characters and comic sidelights that are silly and uninspired. The action itself is poorly captured and not very exciting while lacking in blood or realistic looking special effects.

Veteran character actress Holiday is actually the best thing playing a ditzy middle-aged woman sharing a love/hate relationship with Mitchell. Carl Anthony who plays Lloyd a man who considers himself much more of chick magnet than he really is amusing and Camille Keaton best known for her role as Jennifer Hills in the original I Spit on Your Grave and slated to star in its recently announced sequel has a bit part as a ‘girl in toilet’.

This film may be good for a few laughs on a bad 80’s movie night with friends, but the limited budget doesn’t allow it to distinguish itself from the myriad of other B-grade features that came out at the same time. The film’s one and only good moment comes during a scene at a bar where a fight breaks out and the naked lady stripper continues to dance on the bar top while remaining completely oblivious to the action around her.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Alternate Title: Kung Fu Cannibals

Released: July 9, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 26Minutes

Rated R

Director: Edward D. Murphy

Studio: American Panorama

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Midnight Man (1974)

the midnight man 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Security guard solves case.

Jim Slade is a 60-year-old out on parole after serving time for killing his wife’s lover. He finds a ho-hum job as a security guard at a local university and soon gets swept up in a murder mystery when a coed (Catherine Bach) is found dead. The local cops nab the town pervert (Charles Tyner) and take him into custody, but Slade is convinced they have the wrong man and goes on a crusade to find the right one only to realize that there are far more suspects than he initially expected and no one no matter who they are is quite innocent.

Many critics at the time and some viewers complained that the mystery was too involved and a bit confusing however I was able to follow it and it manages to remain intriguing enough to be entertaining, but it’s still no better than an average episode of Columbo. The film also doesn’t have enough action although the part where Lancaster finds himself trapped in a rural barn and must use whatever implement he can find to fight off a trio of rednecks and their ferocious dog is nifty.

On the technical end the film is a bore and looks unsuitable for the big screen. Writer Roland Kibbee in his only directorial effort shows no flair for visual style filming scenes in places with dull and ordinary backdrops and fails to capitalize on its South Carolina location where it was shot. The soundtrack though by Dave Grusin is distinctive and the one thing that shows verve, energy and I wished it had been played more, particularly the part at the beginning.

Lancaster, who also co-produced and co-wrote the script, walks through his part in an almost comatose state and the fact that his character seems so very on-top of his game in this investigation leaves little doubt in the viewer’s mind that he will ultimately solve the case, which isn’t as interesting. For a character that is so savvy he does make one glaring error when he finds a dead body in his car and fearing that he will be fingered for it decides to put the body inside a nearby hotel room, which seems foolish. For one thing to check into the room he would have to have faced a hotel clerk who could’ve easily recognized him for the police later and he also doesn’t wear any gloves leaving his fingerprints all over the room when simply dumping the body in a wooded area would have made much more sense.

Out of the entire cast Cameron Mitchell shows the most energy and it certainly is fun to see Bach in her film debut and years before she became Daisy Duke playing a foul-mouthed, snippy college student. Although she has no nude scenes there is a painting of her naked likeness shown at one point, which may be good enough for some viewers.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 14, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 54Minutes

Rated R

Director: Roland Kibbee

Studio: Universal

Available: None at this time.

Minnesota Clay (1964)

minnesota clay 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gunfighter loses his sight.

Minnesota Clay (Cameron Mitchell) is a revered gunfighter stuck in a work camp prison for a crime he didn’t commit. One day he manages to escape and tracks down Fox (Georges Riviere) the man who withheld evidence that would have gotten him off. Fox is now the self-imposed sheriff and extorting money from the citizens of a town in order to keep them ‘safe’.  One of the townspeople is Minnesota’s grown daughter Nancy (Diana Martin) although she is not aware of this and local rancher Jonathan (Antonio Casas) is the only other person that does. As Minnesota tries to figure out a way to exact his revenge while also saving his daughter and townspeople from the reign of terror he realizes that he is losing his sight and doesn’t have much time before he goes completely blind.

For a basic spaghetti western this isn’t too bad. It certainly is no Sergio Leone masterpiece, but it fortunately isn’t the cheap looking, boring mess that some of the ones on the very bottom end of the genre are. The pace is quick with enough gunfights to appease any western fan. Director Sergio Corbucci manages to camouflage the low budget with a background and sets that look reasonable authentic. The plot is nothing special, but has enough twists and turns to keep it mildly interesting although having the Estella character (Ethel Rojo) one minute set-up Minnesota to be killed and then the next minute express her undying love for him gets a bit too dizzying.

One of the chief assets is amazingly Mitchell himself. His acting career started strong in the 1950’s including his critically acclaimed role as Happy Loman in the original Broadway version and eventual 1951 film Death of a Salesman, but a rumored drinking problem lead to a decline in the quality of roles. By the 1980’s he was lodged into doing a procession of grade Z productions simply for the money including shockingly co-starring in a non-sexual role in a porn film Dixie Ray Hollywood Star. Yet here he still shows to be the solid actor that he could be. He carries the picture well and having him a bit older than the conventional gunslinger makes it interesting.

The final shootout done when Minnesota has lost his sight and must rely completely on his heightened sense of hearing is well done and the best moment in the film. It lasts for almost fifteen minutes and has a certain surreal quality due to it happening in the middle of the night and neither man able to see the other. It might have been more interesting though had the character lost his sight at the very beginning, which would have made the entire story more distinctive as the majority of it is pretty ordinary and forgettable.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 12, 1964

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Sergio Corbucci

Studio: Harlequin International Pictures

Available: DVD (Mill Creek)

Haunts (1977)

haunts

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Haunted by childhood memories

This is an extremely odd horror film that manages to be effective nonetheless. The story deals with Ingrid (May Britt) a deeply spiritual woman living alone on an isolated farmstead and occasionally visited by her uncle Carl (Cameron Mitchell).  She is haunted by strange childhood memories and visions that are never quite clear. When a killer begins murdering women in the nearby small town Ingrid feels she knows who the culprit is and when he attacks her she notifies the police, but no one seems to believe her, which leads to weird and unexpected twists.

The film has all the usual trappings that one might expect from a low budget 70’s horror film and in some cases it is even worse. The film stock is faded and grainy and while in a certain way this helps build atmosphere it also looks like someone’s amateurish home movie. The lighting is flat and the backgrounds of the interior scenes are quite bland. The voices of the actors echo and sound like they were picked up by a weak inexpensive boom microphone. There are also certain nighttime sequences that are too dark and shadowy and it is hard to follow the action and yet despite all this I still found the film to be quite captivating even more so than most horror films.

Writer/director Herb Freed captures the small town life quite well. Filmed on location in Mendocino, California the rainy, gray climate, dry fall-like landscape, and old gothic style homes helps build a great atmosphere. Pino Donaggio’s musical score is filled with long violin strains and flute solos that usually would be better suited for a romance yet the melodic sound works surprising well with the material and even heightens the dark underscore of the story. The characters have interesting flaws and although the scares are quite sparse they are still effective.

Britt gives a superior performance and casting her in the lead was astute. Her bright blonde hair and Swedish accent helps give it distinction. The scenes that she is in are compelling while the ones without her are a dull and draggy. Mitchell isn’t quite as good. He was once considered an up-and-coming star until alcoholism banished him to low budget movie hell. He openly took just about any part for the money and I couldn’t help but feel that he was phoning in this one. Aldo Ray who plays the town sheriff isn’t much better, but I felt this was more from lack of talent than effort.

The killer could have been created to be more frightening and distinguished than just some schmuck with a ski mask. The movie is also a bit overlong and at times confusing. It requires close attention and maybe even a repeat viewing to totally get it. Conventional horror movie fans may be put off by the lack of gore and its slow, but deliberate pace where the emphasis is more on mood than chills. However, the restrained and prolonged ending has to be one of the most unique in horror film history. The twist is intriguing and the final image that is captured through a mirror is memorable.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 12, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herb Freed

Studio: International Film Distributors

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube