Tag Archives: Charles Durning

Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nuclear silo under siege.

Loosely based on the novel ‘Viper Three’ by Walter Wager the story centers on Lawrence Dell (Burt Lancaster) a former military general who was sent to prison on trumped on murder charges, but manages to escape and is now out for revenge. With the help of three accomplices (Paul Winfield, William Smith, Burt Young) he breaks into a nuclear silo and threatens to launch it unless the President (Charles Durning) agrees to come clean on the government’s secret agenda in regards to the Vietnam War.

I’ve never read the film’s source novel, but have been told that this takes many liberties with it. The biggest problem is that it jumps ahead too quickly showing the four men right away breaking into the silo when it should’ve started back further to when they escaped from the prison and how they were able to get the access codes in order to break into the silo system to begin with. Winfield has a few great lines and Smith’s hair-trigger personality allows for interesting conflict, so these characters should’ve remained, but instead they are unwisely killed off leaving only Lancaster to pace around nervously, which quickly becomes boring.

Whenever someone escapes from prison the nearby area gets warned usually through the media. Certainly military personnel would’ve been put on high alert and thus making Dell’s ability to break into the silo, which was too easy to begin with, much less likely. The fact that a crazed general could break into a silo system and threaten to start WW III and have it never leaked to the media is highly unlikely as well, which along with various other loopholes makes this thing hard to fully get into.

Charles Durning is a great supporting actor, but here is badly miscast as the President. His facial expressions during his phone calls with the other Generals warning him of what is going on are unintentionally comical and too much time gets spent focusing on him contemplating on whether he’ll given into Dell’s demands until it seems like he is the star and Lancaster only a secondary player. Having him described as being an ‘honest politician’ and ‘a President who would never lie’ seems like an oxymoron as I don’t think a politician could even survive in Washington if they weren’t able to spin the truth sometimes and only helps to make the character seem too idealized.

Spoiler Alert!

This thing though really ‘jumps-the-shark’ at the end as I cannot imagine any circumstance where the secret service would allow the President of the United States to enter into a nuclear silo all alone and be used as a hostage. If they were real desperate they might try to pawn off an imposter in an attempt to fool them, but never the actual President as it would put him into too vulnerable a position. Also, the ‘shocking secret’ about why the U.S. got involved in the Vietnam War really isn’t all that earth shattering and certainly not worth sitting through simply to find out.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Director Robert Aldrich’s prolific use of the split screen is the one entertaining aspect and almost enough to overlook its other many faults, but at best it’s only a mindless programmer that manages to elicit minor tension only if you don’t think about it too hard.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 9, 1977

Runtime: 2 Hours 26 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Aldrich

Studio: Allied Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Hindenburg (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Blow up the zeppelin.

Based on the 1972 novel by Michael M. Mooney the story centers on Colonel Franz Ritter (George C. Scott) who was a part of Luftwaffe, which was the aerial warfare branch of the Nazi government and was employed to protect the Hindenburg zeppelin on its voyage across the Atlantic. Rumors had swirled that hostilities towards the Nazi party could cause a terrorist attack on anything connected to them and since the airship is German made it made it a prime target. Martin Vogel (Roy Thinnes) assists Ritter in his investigation, but the two find themselves at constant odds as they must sort through a wide array of suspicious passengers all of whom have the motivation and ability to cause harm to them and everyone else.

The film of course is based on the actual explosion of The Hindenburg zeppelin that occurred on May 6, 1937 in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Although there had been bomb threats made against The Hindenburg before its flight and the theory was investigated there has never been any hard proof that is what caused its destruction. The story is completely speculative, which is primarily the reason why the film is so weak and uninvolving. Conspiracy theories can be interesting if there is some hard evidence to back it up, but this thing makes it all up as it goes along. The fact that it occurred so long ago only heightens how pointless it is. Everyone that was involved is now dead, so even if there is some truth to what it is propagating what difference could it possibly make now?

Richard Levinson and William Link who wrote the script where known for their love of mysteries and helped to create both the ‘Columbo’ and ‘Murder She Wrote’ franchises, but their character development was not one of their stronger suits. The cast of characters here are bland and cardboard with nothing interesting to say. I’m surprised that they managed to corral a decent list of big name stars to appear as they have little to do and for many of them are seen only briefly. William Atherton gives the film’s only interesting performance and I did like Charles Durning as the ship’s captain as well, but that is about it.

The recreation of the airship, which was painstakingly done by a group of 80 artists and technicians who worked around-the-clock for 4 straight months on it is impressive and resulted in a highly detailed 25-foot-long model. Watching it glide through the clouds are the film’s best moments as is the scene where Atherton’s character tries to repair a hole in the outer fabric and almost slips to his death.

(Below is a pic of the actual Hindenburg along with the model used in the film.)

The climactic explosion, which should’ve been the film’s most exciting moment, comes off instead, like everything else in the movie, as protracted and boring. Director Robert Wise decided not to recreate the ship’s fiery end through special effects, but instead spliced in scenes of the character’s trying to escape the burning wreck with black-and-white newsreel footage from the era. This results in distracting the viewer and emotionally taking them out of the movie at its most crucial point because up until then everything had been in color and then suddenly it shifts to black-and-white making it seem like we are no longer following the same movie. The actual explosion and subsequent fire happened very quickly, in less than 2 minutes, but here it gets stretched to almost 8, which makes it seem too ‘Hollywoodnized’ and not authentic or compelling.

(Below is a pic of the Hindenburg explosion along with the burned out skeleton of the ship as captured the day after the incident.)

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1975

Runtime: 2Hours 5Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Wise

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Tough Guys (1986)

tough guys

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Old guys go 80’s.

Harry Doyle (Burt Lancaster) and Archie Long (Kirk Douglas) are two old-time crooks, the last men to rob a train, who are released from prison and find life on the outside to be tough going.

The comedy and story are extremely predictable and too exaggerated to be entertaining or humorous. Having two elderly seventy-year-old guys beat up two young gun wielding punks or a street gang is unrealistic and the film loses any validity in the process. The film also plays-up 80’s fashions and attitudes until they are no longer funny. The musical soundtrack stinks and Kenny Rogers’s opening song isn’t much better.

Yes, it is fun to see Douglas and Lancaster together again, but it would have been better if they weren’t wearing those tacky, dated suits. Eli Wallach as a severely nearsighted hit-man is the best thing. His lines are amusing and he needed to have had more screen time. Charles Durning also does well in support.

This uninspired film should have been much better especially when considering the star quality. It does come to life a bit during the final train robbing sequence, but only marginally and I really could’ve done without having to see Douglas’s bare bottom.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jeff Kanew

Studio: Touchstone Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 2), Amazon Instant Video

Tilt (1979)

tilt 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: She’s a pinball wizard.

Brenda (Brooke Shields) who goes by the nickname Tilt is a 14-year-old pinball machine champion. When she becomes fed up with her overbearing father she decides to run away from home. She meets Neil (Ken Marshall) a man in his 20’s who is struggling to establish himself as a country music singer. He schemes to use Tilt’s pinball talents by hustling pinball patrons at bars and arcades around the country, but his real motivation is to have Tilt beat Harold Remmens (Charles Durning) who is nicknamed ‘The Whale’ due to his immense weight. The Whale is an arrogant bar owner who seems unbeatable at pinball and due to a few run-ins that he has had with Neil the two have become bitter enemies. Neil hopes to shatter his ego by having him get beat by an adolescent girl in a so-called pinball showdown, but Tilt has other ideas.

It is easy to see why this movie bombed at the box office and basically sat on the studio shelf for years. It seems to have no idea what audience to play too. There are too many adult references in it to make it suitable for teens especially preteens, but the story itself is so vapid that adults will be bored with it. The concept is offbeat enough that it might have worked as a comedy, or even parody, but director Rudy Durand approaches it as a standard drama, which due to the subject matter seems almost awkward. The 110 minute runtime is much too long for this kind of material and although it manages to move itself along it is never all that interesting with extraneous footage that should have been cut. Having faster cuts, juxtapositions, and even a non-linear narrative would have given it more energy and cinematic flair.

Having the action revolve solely around pinball games isn’t interesting. It is hard to follow the games and the constant footage of showing the inside of the arcade game as they are playing it becomes monotonous and fails to elicit any excitement. They is never any explanation as to what special skills Tilt or The Whale have that allows them to be so good, but it might have been a little more enlightening had one been forthcoming.

Shields is terrific and helps keep things afloat. She looks cute and wears pants with the words ‘pinball champ’ stenciled along her rear. Her ability and confidence at sharing scenes and holding her own with her much older adult counterparts is what makes her so special. One of the best scenes is when she hitches a ride with an ornery trucker (Geoffrey Lewis) who complains about the lack of morals in today’s world, but then turns around and tells her he has condoms in his shirt pocket and invites her to a rendezvous in the nearest hotel. Tilt says she will just as long as she can do it with both him and his wife, which gets her immediately booted out of the truck for being a ‘pervert’.

Marshall doesn’t have as much charisma as his younger female co-star and his Texas twang was a bit too strong for my taste. He travels the country and stays in the same hotel room with the girl knowing full well that she is only 14, but makes no sexual advances, which of course is good, but I kept wondering if this where the real world that he would most likely have tried something. I also found it strange that Tilt’s father (amusingly played by Gregory Walcott in a brief bit) wouldn’t have every police force in the country looking for her and once caught Neil would be thrown in jail even if he didn’t do anything because most likely no one would ever believe him.

Durning is excellent as always and gives the part a nice hammy turn and makes the movie, at least when he is in it, like the campy comedy that it should be. The little dance and moves that he makes while he plays the pinball games are amusing. His stomach bulges out even more than normal making it seem almost like he is pregnant. When Neil meets him after several weeks of not seeing him and states “You look like you have lost some weight” is the film’s one and only funny line.

The film’s final sequence in which Tilt and The Whale get together late at night in an empty bar and challenge each other to a pinball contest is the best scene in the whole movie. Their banter and interactions with each other gives the film a unique flavor. The surprise twist that occurs at the very end is cute and endearing and helps give this otherwise flat film more points than it deserves.

Also, look quick for Lorenzo Lamas and Fred Ward in small roles.

tilt

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 3, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Rudy Durand

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS

Dealing: or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues (1972)

dealing

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Drugs are a trip.

This review was originally slated to post in February, but due to the death on Christmas Eve of Charles Durning I decided to post it now. Durning was one of the all-time great character actors who always brought an amazing amount of energy to every role he played and could do a wide variety of character types well. Although he has very few lines of dialogue in this movie he still manages to become the most interesting part of the proceedings and helps enliven an otherwise slow moving film.

The plot, based on a novel by Michael Crichton, pertains to Peter (Robert F. Lyons) who is a recent Harvard graduate hired by John (John Lithgow) to transport a suitcase full of marijuana from Boston to Berkeley, California. Peter is new at this and things do not go as planned, but he meets beautiful Susan (Barbara Hershey) along the way and the two fall in love. John next hires Susan to transport another suitcase of narcotics, but when she loses the luggage at the airport and then tries to go back and get it she is arrested by corrupt cop Murphy (Durning) who resells some of the recovered stash back out onto the street. In order to get Susan out of jail Peter plays an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse with the cop, which culminates in a violent showdown.

The story is done in a laid-back style similar to the approach taken by many European films. The emphasis is on mood and subtle nuance yet when the Europeans do it this style seems refreshing, but here it is more off-putting. I really had a hard time getting into it as the first hour is slow with too many scenes going on longer than it should. The set-up is too quick and there is not enough background, or history shown to the main character.

The second hour improves. Durning gives the proceedings some pizazz and Peter’s scheming is fun. The shootout done in the snow has flair and style.

The music by Michael Small is impressive. It is one of the most original scores I have heard and really fits the mood of the script. The best is over the opening credits.

Hershey is as always gorgeous and fans may like that she is shown topless. The part of a free-spirited hippy chick seems to be her forte and she excels. However, having her fall for a guy that is rather dull and ordinary didn’t make sense. Sure they make love right away, but I thought that was more just because it was a part of her lifestyle and she does after all go around in a dress without wearing any underwear. She just seemed to be diving into the free love atmosphere of the era. Obviously having Peter fall for her made sense because she is hot, but why would she go head-over-heels for this schmuck when there are so many other guys that would be more than willing to do it with her. The romantic angle was forced and hurt the credibility of the story.

Lithgow is okay in his film debut, but I had problems with the character. One minute he is cool, conniving, brash, and arrogant and then in the next instant he becomes scared, confused, and meek, which was too much of a quick transition.

The under-rated Lyons is excellent and makes for a terrific lead especially with this type of part. Despite being in his 30’s he looks and acts very much like a college kid from that period. His performance is nicely understated and believable throughout.

The on-location shooting in Boston is vivid and people from the area may like to view this just to see how much it has changed. The DVD transfer from Warner Archive is excellent with a nice clarity and vivid colors. The movie itself is slick, but it also has a detachment to it that doesn’t allow the viewer to get as connected with the characters, or the situations like they should and thus making it an interesting period artifact, but nothing more.

Also, Demond Wilson can be seen briefly as one of the drug dealers. He did this just before his signature role of Lamont in the hit TV-series ‘Sandford and Son’. Ellen Barber is real cute as Peter’s girlfriend and so is Joy Bang who later became a registered nurse. Normally I don’t like women with buck teeth, but with her it actually looks sexy.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 25, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Williams

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive)