Tag Archives: Charlton Heston

Two-Minute Warning (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sniper at football game.

Based on the novel of the same name by George LaFountaine the story centers on a lone gunman (Warren Miller) who for reasons that are not clear decides to massacre spectators at a football game with his high powered rifle by sneaking into the clock tower of the L.A. Coliseum during a championship game. Eventually he gets spotted by a TV crew and the police and S.W.A.T. team are brought in to stop him before he creates any carnage.

While it may sound like I’m going off on a tangent by complaining about the unimaginative uniforms used by the football teams since the game itself is only a minor subplot it still hits-home how every little aspect of a film is important and if one part of it is sub-par it drags down the rest. Since the NFL refused to give permission that would’ve allowed them to use logos of actual football teams they were forced to make-up their own, but what they come up with is quite bland including having fans in the stands waving flags for the Los Angeles team, which are colored black and yellow while the colors of the uniforms of the team on the field are maroon and gold. The fan atmosphere isn’t authentic either as the spectators come-off looking more like people going to church with none of them immersed in their team’s insignia, which would include body and face paint that you usually see at most ballgames. Even the name of the game is boring since they weren’t able to use the Superbowl title so it gets called a very uninspiring ‘Championship 10’ instead.

The cast is made up too many people looking well over 50, almost like this was a movie made by aging old farts for aging old farts, and at least one of the three leads should’ve been a young person in order to give it balance. While I liked John Cassavetes as the S.W.A.T. team captain as he gives the film a unique intensity, I felt Charlton Heston as the police chief, who always comes off as a stiff who conveys his lines like he’s orating a lecture, could’ve been replaced by Beau Bridges, one of the few cast member who was in his 20’s and who gets wasted as a dopey unemployed father who doesn’t have all that much to do with the plot.

The rest of the supporting players are made up of B-actors and include David Janssen and Gena Rowlands as a benign bickering couple and an aging Walter Pidgeon, in his second-to-last film, as a pickpocket. Jack Klugman is somewhat interesting as a desperate gambler, who doesn’t appear here wearing his usual wig and I kind of enjoyed seeing David Groh hitting on Marilyn Hassett, who at the time was married to the film’s director, while her jealous boyfriend (Jon Korkes) is unable to do anything about it.

Spoiler Alert!

The plot is mildly interesting, but it takes too long, a full hour, just to construct the basic set-up. The second half is spent watching how the authorities plot to stop the sniper without panicking everybody in the stands, which might’ve been more riveting had they not, despite all of their best efforts, failed at it. This also creates an unintentionally funny moment where one of the S.W.A.T. team members gets shot by the sniper and his body dangles by a rope from the stadium lights, but the crowd is so into the game they fail to notice the bloody, bullet-riddled body hanging just above their heads.

The most frustrating aspect though is the fact that we learn nothing about the killer or what motivated him. I don’t mind it being a mystery initially, but at some point the viewers deserves some answers. There’s just too many questions that demand explaining like how did the killer know where to go to get into the the stadium tower and how did he know to bring along raw meat in order to quiet the guard dogs? It almost seemed like he might’ve been a former employee of the stadium, which is a backstory that eventually needed telling.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The part of the film that actually does work are the scenes dealing with the panicked crowd that becomes an out-of-control mob once the shooting starts. Many films have tried to recreate the mob atmosphere and have failed, which isn’t surprising since you’re forced to work with a lot of extras who have no acting training, but here director Larry Peerce somehow manages to pull it off making these moments quite intense and memorable and helps to overshadow its other faults.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 12, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 56 Minutes (Theatrical Version)

Rated R

Director: Larry Peerce

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Earthquake (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Los Angeles really rocks.

A jolt from a massive earthquake shakes the Los Angeles metro area one morning, but researchers at the nearby seismological institute fear that there may be another one that will be far stronger and yet they hesitate about warning the public fearing that it may create ‘too much panic’. They agree instead to alert the National Guard about it, so they can prepare for the fallout when it happens, but in the meantime many innocent people go about their day including those working in skyscrapers ill-prepared for the tragedy that is about to befall them.

Due to the success of disaster flicks during the 70’s many studios clamored to get on board and while this concept may have sounded good in theory, it really leaves on lot to be desired. For one thing most earthquakes last on average for only 10 to 25 seconds, so the majority of the film deals with boring, soap-opera-like drama of a bunch of cardboard characters both before and after the quake while there’s probably less than 5-minutes of actual quake effects.

The special effects are, despite winning a Special Achievement Award at the Oscars, not very convincing and come off looking like shots of miniatures homes and buildings made of paper that could easily fall apart without much effort. The shot showing workers falling down while on the Mulholland Dam  appears more like they’re all dancing some sort of gig and then intentionally dropping themselves to the ground as part of the dance routine.

The film is also notorious for its elevator scene in which people get stuck inside an elevator as the quake occurs and then it goes plummeting down the shaft before eventually crashing and killing everyone inside. However, due to an inability to effectively spray stage blood onto the stunt people, director Mark Robson decided to have animated blood added in during post production, which looks as cartoonish as it sounds and puts an embarrassing, amateurish mark on the entire production.

The casting is out-of-whack as well and features Charlton Heston in the lead as a sort of hunk even though he was 50 and too old for that type of thing, but is still seen sweaty and shirtless in a couple of scenes nonetheless. Ava Gardner livens things up a bit as Heston’s clingy, bitchy wife, but having her portrayed as being Lorne Greene’s daughter, who in real-life was only 8 years older than her, was ridiculous.

I did enjoy Marjoe Gortner as the psycho grocery store manager, who after the quake occurs, puts on a wig and takes part as a member of the National Guard to control the looters only to become more of a nemesis than a help. Walter Matthau, who appears in a bit part wearing an Afro wig, is funny as a patron at a bar who’s so drunk he’s oblivious to the chaos.

Spoiler Alert!

The only part of the movie that I really liked was the end where Heston is helping people out of an underground tunnel that is filling up with water and instead of climbing up out of the hole to his lover, played by Genevieve Bujold, who is waiting for him with open arms, he jumps back down to save his bitchy wife only for them to both end up drowning, which I found interesting. Too many movies especially the ones made these days, always have the hero come out of these things unscathed, or making a full recovery after being temporarily injured, but in reality saving others in treacherous circumstances has its share of risks where not everyone will come out of it alive, so it’s nice to have a film share a realistic balance.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 15, 1974

Runtime: 2 Hours 2 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mark Robson

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Airport 1975 (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stewardess pilots the plane.

A businesses man (Dana Andrews) suffers a fatal heart attack while piloting his private plane causing his aircraft to fly directly into the cockpit of a Boeing 747, which kills the co-pilot (Roy Thinnes), the navigator (Erik Estrada) and seriously injures the pilot (Efrem Zimbalist Jr).  This forces the plane’s head stewardess (Karen Black) to take control of the plane even though she has no experience. Those at the control tower try to direct her via a headset on what to do, which helps steady the jet while they devise a way to get a professional pilot onto the craft in order to land it.

Compared to Airport this is a real letdown. In the first film the individual passengers came off like real people all suffering from their own personal dilemmas, but here they’re more like cardboard caricatures that barely have any speaking lines and there only to show panicked expressions and not much else.

The dialogue and ‘drama’ quickly becomes inadvertently campy. Linda Blair plays a Pollyanna-like girl suffering from an undisclosed illness who befriends a nun (Helen Reddy) who breaks out into an impromptu song on a guitar that would have most passengers complaining of noise pollution. Playing herself is aging silent film actress Gloria Swanson who dictates her autobiography into a tape recorder as she is on the plane, which seems dumb because it allows the other passengers to overhear it although at least for their benefit it will allow them to avoid having to buy the book once it’s published since they will know all about the juicy details already. The only entertaining passenger is Myrna Loy as a tipsy old lady who enjoys drinking boilermakers.

The plane’s excessively wide interior and its large seats make it seem more like the inside of a luxury train. The plane even has a winding stairwell at the center of it for people to walk up. I’ve flown on many jets in my life and have never seen one with an upstairs/downstairs. If you’ve been on a plane that has had one then please let me know. (Note since this review was written one of the followers to this blog, Rob, has supplied us with pics of an actual 747 from that era and proves that indeed these things described above did exist at one time in a plane, so please be sure to check-out his links to pics in the comments section.)

The special effects get badly botched. The sequence involving the small engine plane crashing into the jet looks fake as the plane gets shown through the cockpit window and is quite obviously matted in on a bluescreen. You can clearly tell too that an inflatable dummy was used as the co-pilot when he gets sucked out through the hole that is formed from the crash. The scene where the replacement pilot (Ed Nelson), who tries to board the plane to help land it, is killed when his release cord becomes caught in the jagged metal, comes-off as unintentionally  funny instead of horrific.

The outdoor aerial footage shot over the Wasatch Mountains is the film’s one redeeming element. I also enjoyed Karen Black in what is likely her definitive role. She has played so many kooky, offbeat characters that it’s interesting seeing her portray a normal one. I just wished that she would’ve piloted the plane the whole way through and even landed it. Having Charlton Heston, as a professional pilot, literally ‘drop-in’ and takeover is far less compelling. It also seems quite sexist by intimating that women aren’t capable of taking on challenges to their completion and at some point a man must step-in even when the women seem to be handling the situation quite well without them.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 18, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jack Smight

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Gray Lady Down (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Submarine crew needs rescue.

Captain Paul Blanchard (Charlton Heston) is on his final submarine mission, but just as the vessel surfaces it gets struck by a Norwegian freighter, which sinks it to the ocean bottom. The navy’s rescue team is unable to get to the crew due to a rock slide that covers the escape hatch. Eccentric Navy Captain Gates (David Carradine) is brought in as he has created a submersible vehicle that can go down the depths of the ocean and remove the rocks from the sub, but his personality clashes with that of Captain Bennett’s (Stacy Keach), which further hampers the rescue efforts.

The story, which is based on the 1971 novel ‘Event 1000’ by David Lavallee gets off to a shaky start. Although the interiors of the vessel look quite authentic the exterior shots, especially those showing the crew sticking their heads outside the vessel’s port hatch, were clearly done on a soundstage in front of a green screen and nothing is worse than a film that tries hard to be meticulous in one area only to compromise in another. When the sub gets hit many of the crew, which were made up of stunt men and not professional actors, overreact giving it an unintentionally comical feel.

The cutting back and forth to scenes inside the Norwegian ship and how that crew becomes panicked was not necessary. Again, the acting gets a bit over-the-top here too and the dialogue is shown in subtitles due to them speaking in their native language. It might’ve actually added to the intrigue had we not seen what went wrong with the other ship to cause the collision especially since the focus of the film is on the rescue effort anyways.

Once the rescue gets going it gets better with a solid pace that keeps things on a realistic level and continues to throw in new twists that makes the attempted rescue continually more difficult. Although it does get to a point where it seems nightmarish scenarios are introduced simply for the sake of drama and almost like it was piling-on the problems making the submarine crew look like they were the most unluckiest people on the planet in order to have one bad luck situation happen after another.

The scenes involving Carradine and his relationship with his pal Mickey (Ned Beatty) as well as his animosity with Stacy Keach are more interesting than the ones involving the crew stuck in the ship. Part of the reason is there is no backstory given to any of the characters, so we never see them as three dimensional people and our empathy for their welfare isn’t as much as it could’ve been. A brief bit shows the wives of the crew upset at the news, but an added side-story would’ve helped. In fact I was genuinely shocked that Rosemary Forsyth, who plays Heston’s wife, has only a single line of dialogue. I realize she may not be an A-list star, but she has a respectable enough body of work to expect something more than a just a token walk-on bit and I’m surprised she took the part.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is tense and filmed in a way that you’ll never realize that the subs used were simply miniaturized models shot on a soundstage with smoked used for the underwater effects. However, the drama could’ve been heightened especially when one of the characters sacrifices their life to save the others, which should’ve come off as a shock, but the film telegraphs it, which lessens the effect.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Heston’s a stiff acting doesn’t always work, but here he’s excellent and despite being well over 50 appears amazingly young and agile. This marks Christopher Reeve’s film debut who looks absolutely boyish as well as a reunion of sorts for Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox who starred together 6 years earlier in Deliverance although here they do not share any scenes together.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 10, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 51 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: David Greene

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Soylent Green (1973)

soylent-green-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: People are the food.

This Review May Contain Spoilers.

The year is 2022 and the world is so overpopulated that people must sleep on stairwells and hallways and fight over getting their hands on the one and only food source called Soylent Green. Thorn (Charlton Heston) works as a police detective and assigned to a case involving the investigation of the murder of William Simonson (Joseph Cotten) who worked as a board member to Soylent industries. Thorn is convinced that there is more to the killing than simply an in-home robbery, but finds as he pursues the case that others are trying to prevent him from continuing on it, which makes him more determined to find the answers and connect-the-dots.

We’ll get the elephant out of the room right away by divulging that Soylent Green is made up of people who are killed to feed the rest of the population. Normally that would be considered a ‘spoiler’, but this film has become so well known for this ‘twist’ it that it seems almost absurd to avoid giving it away. If that ruins the film for you then I apologize, but the truth is I knew going into this how it was going to end, due to watching one of many parodies done on the movie particularly a SNL skit from years back involving Phil Hartman, and yet I came away enjoying it anyways. Mostly what I liked was the film’s neo-futuristic look that combines old buildings with a mod image and an opening sequence, which is the best part of the movie, used over the credits that was done by filmmaker Charles Braverman and shows visually through rapid-fire photographs how the world came into its bleak situation.

I was also really impressed with Heston’s performance. He is not an actor I’ve particularly enjoyed as I feel he is routinely too stiff and conveys his lines in an overly dramatic way that is quite stagey and even hammy and yet here he portrays a rough-around-the-edges man quite well and I consider this one of his best performances.

soylent-green-2

This also marks the final film of screen legend Edward G. Robinson who died only 20 days after production was completed. The scene where he and Heston eat fresh food, which is something the characters hadn’t done in a long time due to its scarcity, was completely improvised, but an excellent and memorable moment. I did feel though that there needed to be a backstory about why these two men, who had such contrasting differences in age, were living together and the fact that at one point both men say that they ‘love’ the other made me wonder if it was implied that they were gay.

The ending isn’t bad and I liked the way Thorn investigates the inner workings of the Soylent factory with the only noise coming from the plant’s machinery and no music, which makes it creepier. It is mentioned earlier though that this plant is ‘highly guarded’ and yet he is able to get into it rather easily and he walks through it for quite a bit before he is spotted by anyone and even then the men aren’t armed, which makes it seem like it isn’t too well guarded at all. Also, I didn’t get why Thorn, who is quite jaded for the most part, would get so noble and heroic once he found out the plant’s secret and feel the need to ‘warn’ others. The world they live in is quite bleak, so what is he ‘saving’ them from anyways as some may actually choose death over the squalor that they were stuck in.

The ultimate logic to this ‘clever’ twist ending doesn’t hold up too well either. For instance the idea that the company would just kill a few people here and there wouldn’t be enough to keep up with the demand and at one point does the overpopulation begin to go down? If so many are supposedly being killed to feed the others then the crowding should lessen, which again only reiterates the fact that the filmmakers hadn’t completely thought this thing through and if anything the film should’ve used Thorn’s discovery as springboard to a more complex and intricate plot instead simply relying on it as a ‘shock’ ending.

soylent-green-3

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 9, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Fleischer

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

The War Lord (1965)

the war lord 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Knight wants a woman.

Medieval tale set in the 11th century dealing with a Norman Knight named Chrysagon (Charlton Heston) who with his group of men take over a Druid’s Village and make it ready for the Duke who will then eventually rule it. During his time there Chrysagon meets the beautiful Bronwyn (Rosemary Forsyth) and becomes smitten. The problem is that Bronwyn has already been prearranged by her father (Niall MacGinnis) to marry Marc (James Farentino) yet Chrysagon imposes a little known right, which allows the Lord of a Domain to sleep with a virgin woman on her wedding night, but only if he agrees to return her back to her suitor by dawn. Her father complies, but then Chrysagon refuses to give her up once the night is over, which causes great outrage with the village as well as Chrysagon’s own men particularly his brother Draco (Guy Stockwell) who begins to challenge Chysagon’s authority.

The film paints a realistic portrait of medieval times by exposing the rigid social caste system that people were forced to live by with almost no ability for individual choice. The plot is compelling, but what I really enjoyed were the fighting sequences that take up almost the entire second hour and are filled with  ingenious maneuvers and creative attempts by each side to try and take advantage of the other without having the benefit of guns or any other form of ammunition.

Outside of Heston who is stiff as always the acting is uniformly strong. Stockwell who was the older brother of Dean lends a good menacing touch particularly with the way he starts out as loyal only to have his darker side slowly seep through. Richard Boone, best known for his starring role in the ‘50’s western ‘Have Gun-Will Travel’ is solid as Heston’s second-in-command and who remains amazingly stoic and sensible throughout. Forsyth is quite alluring as the love interest and Maurice Evans is also good as a meek and ineffectual Priest.

Director Franklin J. Shaffner, Heston, Evans and character actor Woodrow Parfrey all reteamed three years later to star in the much better known Planet of the Apes and while that film has gone on to become an influential classic this one has remained in relative obscurity, which is unfortunate as its production values are equally high, the story just as interesting and action sequence just as exciting making it yet another lost classic awaiting discovery by a new generation of fans.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 17, 1965

Runtime: 2Hours 3Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Franklin J. Shaffner

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray (Region B)