Tag Archives: Cliff Robertson

Malone (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hit-man saves town.

Richard Malone (Burt Reynolds) is a former CIA hit-man who decides that he’s had enough of the dirty business and wants to retire. He uses his savings to leave the profession and travel the countryside. On the way his car breaks down and he’s forced to push the vehicle to the nearest small town service station, which is run by Paul (Scott Wilson). Since the parts to repair the transmission will take several days to arrive he stays at the place and befriends Paul’s teen-age daughter Jo (Cynthia Gibb). He also becomes aware of a plot by billionaire Charles Delaney (Cliff Robertson) to buy up the town and force everyone to sell and if they don’t they end up dying. Despite his initial reluctance Malone ends up getting involved in the dispute and becomes Delaney’s number one target in the process.

The movie is based on the novel ‘Shotgun’ by William P. Wingate, which in turn was modeled after the formula from the western Shane. It reminded me more of High Noon particularly the way Malone single-handedly takes on not only Malone, but all of his cohorts during a gun battle at the end, but without that film’s strong emotional impact. The story and characters are highly uninspired and this thing is aimed towards those that like their action flicks on a very simple and predictable level.

Reynold’s presence is the only interesting ingredient. This was during the downside period of his career where he was desperately trying to get back to the tough guy action roles that had made him famous. However, during the 70’s his action guy persona worked more in the humorous vein where his character would always approach the situation with a twinkle in his eye and funny side-quip, but here he’s all stiff and serious. To a degree this proves he’s a good actor in that he can play either type of role effectively, but the funny-Burt is far more entertaining than the serious one. Either way it’s doubtful that this middle-ager would’ve been able to run so vigorously and climb onto the rooftop of buildings as he does when he gets onto Delaney’s estate and I’m pretty sure a stunt double was used since we only see him doing this from a distance.

An element of the film that audiences today may take issue with is his relationship with the teen girl who starts to admire him to an emotional extreme. Clearly she represents the Brandon deWilde role from the Shane film, but the fact that she is underage and starts to have a romantic interest in the 50-year-old and he in her and even kisses him on the mouth may make certain viewers uncomfortable.

As for the villain he is as dull and transparent of a caricature as it gets and Robertson plays him very poorly by conveying no menace on the screen and creating zero tension. It would’ve worked better had Kenneth McMillan, who plays the sleazy sheriff would’ve been cast in the Delaney part as he’s an actor with genuine panache and owns whatever scene he’s in no matter how big or small the role.

The ironic thing about this otherwise mindless excursion is it’s all about this far-right nutty guy who wants to take over the government to ‘save the country’ and even requires all his followers to say a corny patriotic-like pledge and yet it wasn’t even filmed in the US, but instead British Columbia, Canada. Even more frighteningly is that given today’s political climate it doesn’t seem quite as farfetched and over-the-top as it once did.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 1, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Harley Cokeless

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Man on a Swing (1974)

man-on-a-swing

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Psychic knows too much.

On one sunny afternoon Maggie Dawson (Dianne Hull) goes out shopping and never returns. 24-hours later her strangled body is found on the floor of her car. Police detective Lee Tucker (Cliff Robertson) heads the case, but finds few clues. After all leads dry up they turn to Franklin Wills (Joel Grey) who purports to be a psychic who can help them find the culprit. Initially the police are quite impressed with his abilities, but Franklin begins to show too much knowledge about the crime and the victim making them believe that he may be the actual killer.

The film is based on the novel ‘The Girl on the Volkswagen Floor’ by William A. Clark, which itself is based on an actual incident that occurred on June 12, 1968 in Kettering, Ohio. In the real-life event a young 23-year-old school teacher by the name of Barbara Ann Butler went shopping at a discount store one day only to end up being found murdered later. Police were, like in the movie, baffled and eventually ended up using the services of a psychic named Bill Bosheers, who goes under the pseudonym of Norman Dodd in the book. Like in the film Bosheers seemed to know an extraordinarily high amount of unauthorized info about the case including the fact that the victim used prescription glasses for just one eye. Bosheers also predicted another similar crime would occur in the near future, which it did and police have long suspected that the two were done by the same person.

What makes this film interesting is the way it meticulously follows the police investigation and keeps everything at a real level including having them pursue what turns out to be a lot of false leads, which other Hollywood movies rarely tackle. Nothing gets overblown and in fact the film’s strength comes from keeping everything on a nice creepy, low-key level with the focus on Robertson’s interaction with Grey. I also liked that there is very little music and the only time that there is some is when Grey is onscreen and even then it’s quiet and nonobtrusive accentuating the creepiness without over doing it.

Although he gets stuck with a non-flamboyant part I felt Robertson does quite well and I enjoyed how his down-to-earth sensibilities continually clash with Grey’s more flighty ones although the scene where the Robertson’s character discusses the case with his wife (Dorothy Tristan) at home didn’t really mesh. The character is also seen drinking constantly to the point of being a full-fledged alcoholic and this should’ve been touched on, but isn’t.

Grey, who ironically starred in a TV-movie called Man on a String just before doing this one, is outstanding and the whole reason to watch the film as he commands every scene that he is in. The way he goes into his psychic ‘trances’ is riveting and the part where he makes his entire face turn dark red, without the use of any makeup, is genuinely startling as is his drooling after he passes out. The film is also littered with many familiar faces of up-and-coming stars too numerous to mention here, but worth spotting at seeing what they were doing before they were famous.

I enjoyed the on-location shooting done in Milford, Connecticut which takes full advantage of the small town locale and helps make the story seem even more vivid. There are several uniquely memorable moments including an exercise that Grey is forced to take to measure his psychic ability as well as his visit to a pair of psychiatrists, which is wonderfully played by Elizabeth Wilson. However, even with all these good elements the ending is a letdown as it leaves to many questions unanswered and plays like an intriguing mystery that ultimately goes nowhere.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 27, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Frank Perry

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

J. W. Coop (1971)

jw 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rodeo star makes comeback.

J.W. Coop (Cliff Robertson) has just spent 9 years in prison. After finally being released he finds that the world has changed quite a bit. He’s no longer the big rodeo star that he once was and younger, more educated men have now taken his place. There’s also the new hippie movement that he isn’t quite sure what to make of. With his mother (Geraldine Page) growing senile and no other friends to turn to he decides to take one last stab at the rodeo circuit and determined to beat the odds and become the champion because for him second place is the same last.

The film has a wonderfully gritty quality to it that fully immerses the viewer into the western rodeo landscape and lifestyle. The rugged characters and conversations seem authentic without ever being condescending. The film reveals a lot about the inner toughness needed to survive in that environment as well as the competiveness and eventual loneliness.

Robertson’s stab at directing is flawless and convinced me that he should’ve done more movies behind the camera. He uses several techniques that make the rodeo experience vivid for the viewer including filming a point-of-view shot from on top of the bronco as well as even more impressively showing one taken from underneath a horse as it is running. I also liked the shot where the screen gets split into four squares with each of them showing some of the many hotels that he stays at during his travels on the circuit, which visually hits home how exhausting life on the road can be. There’s also a haunting segment shot late at night at a lonely oil rig that is brief, but quite memorable.

Former model Cristina Ferrare, who is probably best known as being the ex-wife of automaker John DeLorean as well as host of ‘Home and Family’ gets a rare turn at acting playing a hippie who falls in love with Coop.  Her performance is solid even though I found it hard to believe why such a young woman would fall for a man who is so much older, less educated and having not much more money than she does. Their relationship goes on far longer than I realistically would expect, but I still liked the idea of how two people from two very different backgrounds and generations can still manage to connect. Robertson’s performance is equally good and the film also has the novelty of casting Page as his mother even though in real-life she was actually one year younger than he was.

The segment where a throne of teen girls jump out of a trailer and beg for Coop’s autograph as well as the ending in which Coop, with his leg in a cast, attempts to ride a bull are the only two times that it overreaches in a film that is otherwise quite honest and uncompromising and particular good at mixing subtle comedy with stark drama.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 52Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Cliff Robertson

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Star 80 (1983)

star 80

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He kills his girlfriend

This film looks at the life of Dorothy Stratten (Mariel Hemighway) a teen from Vancouver who with the enticement of her controlling boyfriend Paul Snider (Eric Roberts) came to Hollywood to be a Playboy model. Soon she became a centerfold and budding film actress, but her boyfriend felt left behind and his ensuing jealousy lead to tragic results.

The film takes for granted that you know the story, which is based on fact and has shots from the final tragic scene sprinkled throughout. It was considered quite ‘topical’ and even in vogue at the time and yet for those born later this really won’t have much impact or significance. Stratten was just a young naive girl who got in over-her-head and her husband/manager was much the same way. For today’s audiences Stratten’s cult status has diminished significantly and probably should.

The plot has a sort of excruciating affect because we know what is going to happen and therefore sitting and watching it unfold seems almost tantamount to self-inflicted pain. The conclusion is intense, but leaves you feeling flat afterwards. There seems no reason to have made this film except for the sake of cashing in on its sleazy and provocative elements.

Director Bob Fosse creates a nice look for the movie with shades of soft lighting much like ones used for a photo shoot, which helps give it a distinctive quality.  However his direction is too manipulative and heavy-handed. It is structured like a documentary featuring talking head segments of supporting characters describing their take on the situation. These are spliced in throughout and really hurt the flow of the story and do not seem genuine. If they were going to take this route then they might as well have made it into an actual documentary and used the real people involved.

The two main characters are underwritten and overplayed. Hemingway has a cute young girl voice and her excited inflections are a nice addition to the character. However, her character is too sweet and naive almost to a Chrissy Snow-type extreme. She is also unable to stand up for herself at any time and it is hard for the viewer to sympathize with someone who can never help themselves.

Her boyfriend is just as bad in the opposite way. He is like the son-in-law from hell who wears suits that are so loud even your average pimp wouldn’t be seen in them. Roberts does give a good performance and supplies the film with a lot of its energy. This may be his best work and the film should be viewed for his presence only especially since it emphasizes him over Stratten anyways.

Cliff Robertson seems an odd choice to play Playboy founder Hugh Hefner as he doesn’t resemble him at all and never effectively creates his persona. The fictionalized character of director Peter Bogdanovich is no good either. He was supposedly the man who broke her away from the clutches of her boyfriend and gave her some independence. Yet here he seems just as creepy and controlling. Carroll Baker does the best of the supporting players as Dorothy’s mother a woman who can easily see through the man that her daughter can’t and at 52 she was really looking super.

In the end this film becomes as empty as the characters it is portraying. Even fans of the sleazy side of Hollywood will be disappointed. The disclaimer admits to being only a fictionalized account and therefore puts into question how fair or accurate any of it really is.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 10, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bob Fosse

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD

The Interns (1962)

the interns

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Training to become doctors.

Based on the Richard Frede novel the film looks at a group of medical students going through a rigorous first year internship at the New North Hospital. All aspects of an intern’s experience are analyzed from their various moral quandaries to dealing with deaths of patients that they’ve become attached to and even sexism. We also get a glimpse of their private lives from their relationships and stresses to even their partying.

Although the film is entertaining and well-paced it is a bit too much like a soap opera. This comes to a particular head during the relationship sequences.  The characters seem to fall in love at first glance and the word ‘love’ gets expressed excessively until it becomes as irritating to hear as nails on a chalkboard.  It also has a mentality that every character ‘must’ magically find their life mate even if it seems particularly forced like with John (Cliff Robertson) who relentlessly chases after fashion model Lisa (Suzy Parker) even though she continually gives him the cold shoulder and the two can’t agree on anything including her need for an abortion from a unwanted pregnancy she had with another man. Alec’s (Michael Callan) is the only thread in this area that works as he proceeds to try to juggle two at the same time and the way he avoids a confrontation with the two while at a party is amusing.

There are some good scenes and even memorable moments. The best is when Lew (James MacArthur) finds an interest in obstetrics and delivers his first baby. The acrimonious relationship between Dr. Riccio (wonderfully played as usual by Telly Savalas who has hair here and isn’t completely bald as he usually is) and Dr. Bruckner (Haya Harareet) who he looks down upon simply because she is a woman, but eventually learns to respect is great. I also liked the party sequence the one moment in the film that gets lighthearted especially when 37 people try to cram themselves into a small closet in order to beat the world record.

The cast is interesting and eclectic. One can spot either an older veteran actor, up-and-coming star, or famous character actor in literally every shot. Robertson who sometimes comes off as stiff gives a strong all-around performance, which may be his best. MacArthur who would later costar in the long running series ‘Hawaii Five-O’ is also really good. Buddy Ebsen does well as a wise-cracking chief surgeon and it is great seeing the very young and beautiful Stefanie Powers as a nurse. John Banner who would later become famous for playing the incompetent prison guard Shultz on the long-running sitcom ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ can also be seen, but he is not given a single line of dialogue.

The film is glossy, but still compelling and if anything gives the viewer a good taste of what life of a medical intern is like. In 1965 the film was followed by a sequel The New Interns, which will be reviewed next Sunday.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1962

Runtime: 2Hours

Not Rated

Director: David Swift

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD

Shoot (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hunters out for revenge.

Rex (Cliff Robertson) is a man who really enjoys hunting and especially likes his guns, just watch the way he cleans and caresses it at the beginning, it’s almost obscene. He takes his buddies out on a hunting party in the woods. They come upon a group of other hunters and for some inexplicable reason they begin shooting at each other until one of the men in the other party dies. Rex and his group go back home sure that the police will be contacted and an investigation to pursue, but that doesn’t happen, so Rex thinks they are out for revenge instead. He becomes convinced that the other party plans to attack his group at the exact same spot the very next week. He gets his men ready for battle and dressed in army gear as they prepare for what they believe will be all out warfare.

Part of the problem with this film, which is based on the novel by Douglas Fairbairn, is that it doesn’t make any sense. Rex and his buddies meet the other party from across the river and then the two groups proceed to just stand there in silence like zombies before all the shooting breaks out. There is no reason for why any of it happens and I found it hard to believe this could ever occur in real-life. I am not a hunter myself, but I presume different hunting parties come into contact with each other all the time and it doesn’t end up with them trying to kill each other. I would also think that they may politely greet each other and share some sort of brief conversation in passing. Having all the men not say anything seemed odd and unfounded. The story would have made more sense had the groups spoken to one another and then somebody said something that was insulting and then it escalated. Doing it the way it is done here seems stupid and it is hard for any viewer to get into the plight of characters when there is no reasonable motivation.

The logic for the second half of the story works just as strangely. There is absolutely no reason to believe that the other hunters are planning any type of revenge at the same spot for the next week. The men don’t even know who any of them are. It would have worked better had the other group sent Rex’s group some sort of threatening message, or harassed them in some way to make the threat more real. Watching them prepare and discuss at length for a battle that may never occur is a waste not only of their time, but the viewers as well.

In between there is a long, boring middle part, which includes a scene where Rex visits the widow (Kate Reid) of the man that his group shot while under the pretense that he was an old friend of the deceased. Reid gives an interesting performance, but having her come on to Rex so shamelessly and even tells him that she wasn’t wearing any underwear seemed absurd and unnecessary. A similar scene happens in Rex’s office when the wife (Helen Shaver) of one of his friends aggressively flirts with him as well. Neither of the scenes helps propel the story, or characters and just another clue of a sloppy and unfocused script. There are a few too many shots exposing the boom microphone making me wonder if director Harvey Hart was only going through the motions on this one.

Robertson and Ernest Borgnine as Rex’s friend Lou are adequate, but the characters are painted in one-dimensional ways. The hunters are portrayed as violent prone loons with a penchant for shooting at anything and unable to display any type of sophistication, or rationale. The ultimate anti-gun, anti-violence message is heavy-handed and predictable. This was a trendy theme during the 70’s, but there had been so many better films on the subject that the producers shouldn’t have even bothered to make this one.

The on-location shooting in Ontario, Canada is poorly done. The buildings used for the interior scenes are dull and unimpressive with no visual style or sense. The outdoor scenes are flatly shot and done in the dead of winter, which gives the film a very brown, gray, and drab look. It would have been better had this been done in the summer as the green foliage would have been more scenic. There is also the issue of snow cover. On the first Saturday during their initial hunting trip there is no snow, then on the following Tuesday when Rex visits the grieving widow of the man that they shot there is a good six inches of the white stuff. Then on the following Saturday when they meet in town to get ready for their trip the snow is all gone only to again appear when they get to their hunting site.

I did like the solo trumpet soundtrack although it gets overplayed. The unexpected violent ending is indeed a surprise, but only helps in creating more loopholes. This was another attempt at cashing in on the success of Deliverance by coming up with a similar theme, but lacking the superior execution of the original. Another Deliverance-rip-off that came out in the 80’s Southern Comfort will be reviewed on Monday.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 28, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Harvey Hart

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: YouTube