Tag Archives: Classic

The Longest Yard (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Prisoners play football game.

            Burt Reynolds is Paul Crewe a down-on-his-luck former professional football player who was kicked out of the league due to a point shaving scandal. After going on a long car chase with police he is thrown into the Georgia State Penitentiary where the crooked warden (Eddie Albert) tries to get him to coach the prison football team. Initially he refuses, but after some ‘convincing’ he eventually agrees to play in one game that will feature the guards versus the inmates. The prisoners use this contest as a way to get back at the guards and their brutal treatment of them while the guards approach it as a way to instill their authority.

Some consider this one of the best sports movies of all-time and I would have to agree it is up there. One of the things I liked about the movie is the way it taps into the emotional aspect of not only playing the sport, but watching it. There can be deep seated psychological reasons for why a spectator, or fan, roots for one team over the other.  The prisoners that cheer on their team use the game, as fleeting as it may be, as a sort of equalization and revenge factor to the guard’s authority and corruption. Watching the scenes showing the prisoners cheering their team as they score a touchdown is almost as emotionally charging as the action itself.  Director Robert Aldrich does a great job of using the prison setting and the game as a microcosm of 70’s society and the conflict between the counter-culture and the establishment as well as the haves and have-nots.

The game is nicely choreographed.  The hits look real and the plays are shot in a bird’s eye view just like watching an actual game on TV. The action is easy to follow and it is evident that the filmmakers have a good understanding and appreciation for the sport.  Outside of the final play that is done in slow motion there is none of the fluky, theatrical stuff thrown in that you usually see in most other films of this type. I found myself getting emotionally tied into the action even though I had seen the film many times before.

The only misgiving I had was the segment where the Richard Kiel character slams an opposing player to the ground and announces “I think I broke his fucking neck.” Of course this has become one of the film’s most popular lines and is made funnier when other players and even the game announcer repeats it several more times, but when the injured player is unable to come-to even after being given smelling salts and is carted off motionless from the field it starts to seem cruel to be laughing.

Another scene that I found surprising and had almost as much impact as the climatic contest is at the very beginning when Paul is shown arguing with his girlfriend Melissa (played by Anitra Ford one of the original models on ‘The Price is Right’ game show). She calls him a whore, which has to be the first and only time in film history that a woman has called a man that, but what is even more amazing is when he violently slaps her and knocks her to the floor.  I don’t think I can remember another time where a protagonist male character has done that to a female and yet the audience is still expected to sympathize with the male, which is interesting. The ensuing car chase is one of the better ones you’ll see and the part where he drives the car into a lake while the song ‘Saturday Night Special’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd is playing on the car’s radio and gets muffled as it goes under the water is cool.

Burt is perfect for the role. I love the glib way he delivers his lines and his laid back persona. The fact that he is an anti-hero with obvious personal flaws makes him even more fun. He seems right at home in the southern setting and filming it at an actual state prison gives the film a nice gritty subtext.

The supporting cast is unique. John Steadman as Pop, one of the prison’s oldest members, is memorable and he is the only other actor with a nose big enough to rival that of Karl Malden’s. It is nice to see Richard Kiel, one of the tallest actors you will ever see, with a speaking role.  The part where he starts to cry when he gets hit in the nose is funny.  Charles Tyner is perfectly creepy as Unger and Michael Conrad is compelling in his role as Nate Scarboro. This is also a great chance to see Bernadette Peters in an early career role as the warden’s ditzy and amorous secretary Miss Toot. She wears one of the worst looking beehive hairdos you’ll ever see although there probably isn’t a beehive hairdo that looks good anyways. Former football player Joe Kapp is good as one of the evil guards.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: August 30, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 1Minute

Rated R: (Adult Theme, Language, Violence)

Director: Robert Aldrich

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix Streaming

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Money for sex change.

Dog Day Afternoon is a 1975 film based on a true story that took place on August 22, 1972.  It tells the tale of a man by the name of John Wojtowicz, who robbed a Brooklyn bank in order to pay for his gay lover’s sex change operation.  Here the character’s name has been altered slightly to John ‘Sonny’ Wortzik (played by Al Pacino), but otherwise this Oscar-winning script by Frank Pierson pretty much sticks closely to the actual events in this incredible saga about everything that can go wrong will.

Just about everyone who has watched this film will tell you how it manages to grab and pull you in right from the start.  It achieves this without having any special effects, pounding soundtrack, elaborate camera work, or artificial lighting.  Instead of ‘telegraphing all of its punches’ the film draws back and puts more emphasis on the little subtitles like the character’s facial expressions, side conversations, and other nuances that put together make this film very rich and textured.   In essence it successfully ‘shows’ instead of ‘tells’, which is a remarkable achievement since so many Hollywood films seem to want to do the exact opposite.

Director Sidney Lumet allowed for a lot of improvisation by his actors and gave each performer full rein on how to create their character, even the minor supporting ones. The result gives each and every one of the characters a distinct personality. The bank hostages become almost as fascinating as the thieves and it is interesting seeing all the different ways each one responds to the situation and how they interact with the robbers, which at times is both amusing and surprising.

The film also vividly captures 1970’s Brooklyn atmosphere. The sights and sounds of the area as well as the people’s personalities and the anti-establishment sentiment that was still quite prevalent at the time are all right on target.  After you finish watching this movie you feel like you just got back from a trip over there.  I really liked how during the opening credits you are shown all sorts of shots and scenes of Brooklyn, so by the time the story actually begins you are already well entrenched in the setting.

Pacino gives a dynamic performance in the starring role.  Some insist this is the best performance never to be nominated for an Oscar and I might have to agree.  If you are a Pacino fan than you absolutely have to see this, but if you are not a Pacino fan you still should see it because afterwards you might become one.

The supporting cast is stellar.  Sully Boyar, who was a real-life lawyer who did not enter into acting until he was in his 50’s, leaves a strong impression as the stoic bank manager.  As the police captain, the always durable Charles Durning is a blast especially during his frenzied and frantic negotiations with Pacino that almost become the film’s highlight. Another memorable moment is the improvised phone conversation between Sonny and his gay lover played by Chris Sarandon.  John Cazale is also amazing as Pacino’s bank robbing partner.  The partner in the actual incident was only 18 while Cazale was then 39, which created some controversy. However, Cazale is so convincing in the part that it is hard to imagine anyone else doing it as well.

In the end the film’s brilliance comes from its ability to convey the humanity of its characters. You can’t help but feel for the Sonny character despite his many flaws.  This a man who craves acceptance and yet goes through life being betrayed and hurt by everyone he meets. The shocked expression he shows at being betrayed by his own hostages, who he felt he had ‘bonded’ with, is, in my opinion, the most memorable shot of the whole film.

I only have two negative comments about this film and they are both minor.  One is the abrupt ending.  Since the film was made only a few years after the incident there wasn’t much of an epilogue to the characters.  The real John Wojtowicz, who really did look a lot like Pacino, didn’t end up dying until the year 2006.  It would have been a stronger conclusion by showing what happened to the Sonny character through the years and maybe even how he might of changed or grown.  My only other complaint is the fact that actress Carol Kane appears as one of the bank employees, but is shown very little.  A quirky and unique talent such as hers should have been given a bigger role.

Overall this is a great movie that I would recommend to any serious movie fan who can appreciate great film-making in top form.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: September 21, 1975

Runtime: 2Hours 5Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD (2-Disc Special Edition), Blu-ray, HDDVD, Amazon Instant Video

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Living in the past.

This is a classic horror film that managed to resurrect the sagging careers of acting legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. It also spawned a whole new ‘psychobiddy’ genre of films. The movie is based on the 1960 bestselling novel by Henry Farrell.

The story takes place almost exclusively in an old, rundown Hollywood mansion where two aging, feuding sisters live. Baby Jane Hudson (Davis) was at one time a big child star, but never managed to cross-over to adult roles. She lives in a fantasy world, refusing to move on with her life, and takes out her frustrations on her crippled sister Blanche (Crawford), who at one time was a big movie star until a horrible car accident left her bound to a wheelchair.

The real-life feud and animosity that the two stars had for each other is now legendary. Some of the things the two said about the other is hilariously over-the-top and too many to quote here, but well worth checking out. When you hear of all the incredible things that the two did to each other behind the scenes you almost become amazed that the film was ever able to get made. I wished that a documentary had been filmed examining the movie’s production as that could have been almost more entertaining than the film itself.

All things considered, Davis is nothing short of fabulous here. She should have won the Oscar hands down and she pretty much steals the film. She also wore gaudy make-up that gives her an almost ghost like appearance. Crawford is very good as well, but her role is not as flashy. Sadly for her this was her last hurrah as her alcoholism took its toll and her roles after this were in B-movies while Davis went on strong for the next twenty years.

Of course some may argue that the real star was director Robert Aldrich. I liked the bird’s-eye shot of Blanche spinning around in her wheel chair in frustration and terror. It is brief, but gives the viewer a very unnerving feeling. The scene where Baby Jane does an old rendition of one of her routines that she did as a child in front of a mirror that she has set-up in her living room that is also surrounded by stage lights is a nice directorial touch. The campy opening that takes place in 1917 that shows Baby Jane at her peak is memorable as is the very offbeat climatic sequence on a crowded beach. I also got a real kick out of all the Baby Jane toy dolls.

Victor Buono deserves mention as he was nominated for the supporting Oscar for his role as Edwin Flagg, the fledgling composer who Baby Jane hires to help resurrect her stage show. Although best remembered for his comedic skills he was also quite good in his serious parts and his immense girth always made his presence known. I enjoyed how they form this weird quasi-relationship that is based solely on each other’s lies and delusions.

I did have a few complaints to what seemed to me to be some serious logistical flaws. One is the fact that Blanche is stuck in her upstairs bedroom with no way to get downstairs. You would think that with all the money that they once made that they would’ve been able to afford building either an elevator, or a chair lift. It also seemed implausible to believe that Blanche had been stuck in her bedroom since 1935 when she had her accident, until present day 1962, which is what the film seems to imply. As much as I liked the African-American housekeeper Elvira Stitt (Maidie Norman), who is well aware of Baby Jane’s psychosis and has no trouble standing up to her, I thought it was awfully dumb the way she set down a hammer that she was holding right in front of Baby Jane and then turned her back to her, which allowed her to be attacked that anyone else could have predicted would happen. I also felt there was a little too much background music that at times got a bit melodramatic.

Still, this is a great film that his highly entertaining from beginning to end. With the exception of some of Baby Jane’s ‘dinner surprises’ the film is devoid of any real scares and there is no gore, which may disappoint today’s younger, more jaded viewers. However, the film has a very strong, dark psychological undercurrent, which proves to be immensely fascinating and will be appreciated by those who are more sophisticated. The film’s theme, which is that of Hollywood’s fickle, vicious cycle of fame, is universal and as strong today as it was back then.

It is interesting to note that the director’s 18 year old son William, who appears at the end as a lunch attendant at the beach, produced  29 years later the made –for-TV remake of this film that starred the Redgrave sisters, but was not as good. Also director Aldrich later made two variations of this same story. One was Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice which he produced and starred Geraldine Page and Ruth Gordon and also the British classic The Killing of Sister George which he also directed.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 31, 1962

Runtime: 2Hours 14Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Robert Aldrich

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video