Tag Archives: Comedy

The Scalphunters (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t steal his furs.

Joe Bass (Burt Lancaster) is a trapper who has all of his furs stolen from him by a group of Indians. In return they give him Joseph Lee (Ossie Davis) a very educated black slave. The two do not hit it off right away and Joe becomes determined at getting his property back by following the Indians and waiting for them to get drunk off the liquor that he had hidden with the hides that they took. Just as he is ready to make a move the Indians are attacked and killed by a group of scalphunters led by Howie (Telly Savalas) who take Joe’s pelts for themselves. Joe chases after them determined to get back what he feels is rightfully his and plays a crafty game of cat-and-mouse with Howie and his group. Joseph Lee on the other hand decides to travel with the group and become the personal servant to Howie’s grouchy wife Kate (Shelly Winters) as they plan on going to Mexico where slavery is outlawed.

This is a highly engaging and amiable comedy/western. It is hard to dislike this movie, or not to be entertained by it. The performers play their parts to the hilt. Lancaster is perfect as the not-so-bright, but highly resourceful trapper who has the perseverance you gotta love. Savalas has always done well in villainous roles and the fact that he adds some comic touches to it as he consistently finds himself outsmarted by Joe and nagged by his wife is funny. Winters always shines in caricatures of desperate and pathetic people and this one proves no exception. However, it is Davis that really makes the film work. This is probably the best role of his career. The amusing way he deals with everyone who are all quite convinced that they are smarter than he is, but aren’t is what really makes the movie fun. His bantering and arguing with Joe is good as well.

The comedy is nicely balanced as it stays consistently humorous, but manages to avoid becoming farcical. There are still enough gritty elements to call it a true western, which is good. Some of the best moments though are Joe’s ongoing ‘negotiations’ with Howie as well as an avalanche of rocks that Joe creates on Howie’s caravan when he refuses to give him his furs. I also enjoyed the long and stretched out fist fight between Joe and Joseph at the end that continues even as a bloody Indian attack occurs all around them. The two end-up tumbling through a muddy lake and seeing their bodies and faces covered in thick, caked-on mud is a hilarious sight.

Director Sydney Pollock is in fine form. I loved the way he captures the surrounding landscape, which is lushly photographed with a wide lens. It was filmed on-location in Mexico and a wide variety of picturesque locales were chosen.  The DVD version is an especially clear transfer with bright, vivid colors that make you feel you are right there alongside the characters.

Although I found this enjoyable I still felt that the script by William Norton seemed to be missing something. The scenario is a little too simple and one-dimensional and I was hoping for something more maybe even a side-story, or added twist. The movie is sufficient for entertainment, but lacks the added element to make it a classic. There was potential, but it’s kept it at a mild level making it fun, but not memorable.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 2, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour, 42Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Sydney Pollock

Studio: United Artists

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

Lost in America (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Living in a winnebago.

            David Howard (Albert Brooks) becomes upset when he doesn’t get his expected promotion and decides the corporate life isn’t for him and that he and his wife Linda (Julie Hagerty) will drop-out by liquidating all of their assets, buying a Winnebago, and roaming the countryside as free-spirits. Things go horribly wrong right from the start when, in a fit of gambling fever, Linda loses their entire savings at the roulette wheel. This forces David and Linda to desperately look for jobs in the first small town they come to.

The concept is fantastic. Who hasn’t dreamed of doing this at one time or another? Reportedly top executives who saw the film admitted having these very same fantasies at some point. In many ways this film is perfect testament to the 80’s where everything seemed to backtrack to the materialism and conformity of past eras and the idealism of the 60’s became lost. Writer-director Brooks plays it in a realistic and believable way with just enough subtle comedy to bring out the absurdity in each situation, which is what makes it fun.  Had the characters been over-the-top it wouldn’t have worked.

The dry, cynical wit that is Brooks’s signature is in full swing here. It may be an acquired taste to some, but it is distinct and hilarious for those that enjoy it. Some of the best moments include David’s funny rant when he tells off his boss and demands that the company give back the eight years he invested into it and won’t leave until it does. There are amusing conversations between David and the casino owner (Gary Marshall in an excellent cameo) where he begs him to give back the money Linda lost as well as his visit to an employment agency. The couple’s argument at the Hoover Dam is another highlight as is his lecture to Linda about the ‘nest egg’ concept. However, the funniest scene that had me literally laughing out of my seat was when David takes a job as a crossing guard for $5.50 an hour and some ten-year-old boys start to mock him. Even the little things, like when David tells a hotel clerk that they did not make reservations because they have ‘dropped-out of society’ and ‘just living for the moment’ is funny when done with Brooks’s impeccable deadpan delivery.

Julie Hagerty is so ingrained in my mind for her appearance in the cult-classic Airplane that I had a hard time adjusting to her here. Initially, when she is shown in the corporate setting and acting as a serious, responsible adult, I felt it didn’t work because I kept expecting her to say, especially with that high-pitched voice of hers, something dippy and spacey like her character in Airplane always did. However, when she gambles away their savings by incessantly screaming out the number twenty-two she is hilarious and when David lectures her afterwards and she looks up at him with that blank, blue-eyed, deer-in-headlights stare, she is perfect and the casting astute.

The opening sequence is probably the only part that doesn’t work. Having a taped audio interview between talk show host Larry King and film critic Rex Reed played over the opening credits is certainly novel, but David’s prolonged, whiny conversation with Linda while in bed is annoying.  A scene involving a conversation between Linda and a co-worker could have been cut. There is also the fact that everything goes downhill too quickly making the viewer feel almost cheated. It would have been nice to have seen them living the hippie lifestyle for a while and then have the problems begin gradually. There could’ve been a lot of great comedy had it been played straight without the irony of the money problem. Either way it’s entertaining, but brief. Hearing the entire rendition of ‘New York, New York’ by Frank Sinatra is worth the price as is the sight of seeing a giant Winnebago driving up a busy, downtown Manhattan street.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 15, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R (For a Couple of ‘F-Bombs’)

Director: Albert Brooks

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Glass Bottom Boat (1966)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Doris is a spy.

            This is an energetic and zany Doris Day vehicle featuring her as Jennifer Nelson a tour guide at the NASA Space Center. She meets Bruce Templeton (Rod Taylor) who at first she can’t stand, but when she finds out that he is one of the top scientists at the lab and makes a lot of money she immediately becomes infatuated. This certainly does nothing to help fight the gold-digger stigma that some women have, but it was made over forty years ago, so I guess it was more acceptable. Through quirky circumstances she comes under suspicion as being a Russian spy and spends the rest of the time trying to prove otherwise while continuing her romance with Bruce.

Day looks gorgeous and is hammy at just the right level without going overboard and becoming cartoonish. Her best segment is when Taylor imagines here as a Mata Hari spy complete with skimpy outfit, which she looks great in, as well as dreaming that she is blindfolded and speaking in a foreign accent while ready to be shot by a firing squad. She sings the film’s title tune, which is bouncy, and even does, later on, a goofy rendition of her signature song ‘Que Sera Sera’.

Taylor is perfect as the love interest and I think he is the best out of all of Day’s male co-stars. His funniest moment, although brief, is when Day crosses her eyes to be goofy and then keeps them that way, which makes him momentarily panic. I got a kick out of his model of the solar system that he had in his office that displayed the planets in a symbolic fashion after the Greek gods they were named after.

The supporting cast is full of familiar comic pros. Alice Pearce and George Tobias appear as Jennifer’s neighbors and a variation of the Kravitz couple that they played on the ‘Bewitched’ TV-series. Pearce is hilarious and it was a shame that she wasn’t in more scenes and died before the movie’s release. Dom Deluise is amusing as the actual spy, who goes undercover as an electrical repairman. Normally his goofy fat-guy persona becomes tiring, but here it worked especially during the climatic sequence. Paul Lynde, who was always hard to cast and in the process usually got meaningless parts, has one of his best roles as the lab’s security guard and even dresses up in drag at the end. Dick Martin, Edward Andrews, and John McGiver help round out the cast. Arthur Godfrey, as Jennifer’s father, is the only one who is boring, but his part was dull, so it might be hard to completely blame him.

Director Frank Tashlin creates sets with bright, vivid colors and each scene is a Technicolor dream. Being a former cartoonist he creates some nicely played-out comic scenarios including Bruce’s hands-free futuristic kitchen that has a little robot that comes out of the wall and cleans-up any messes that are left behind and ends up attacking Jennifer. The out-of-control boat ride is also amusing, but the best part is the wild, fast-paced ending when Jennifer decides to turn the tables on her accusers.

Sure it is silly, but you know that going in and on a non-think level it is perfect entertainment for all-ages.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 9, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated G

Director: Frank Tashlin

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Bunny O’Hare (1971)

bunny

By Richard Winters

My Rating 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bette becomes a hippie.

Extremely odd Bette Davis vehicle made in her later years when her career had crested and she was forced to be less choosy about her projects. The story has to do with a lonely widow named Bunny O’Hare (Davis) who losses her home to foreclosure and is rendered homeless. She meets an older man named Bill Gruenwald (Ernest Borgnine) who is an escaped bank robber. Together they dress up as hippies and rob banks throughout the state of New Mexico in order to survive.

Davis is exceptional. Usually she plays cold, manipulative characters, but here she gives a perfect, touching performance as a nice old lady. She is terrific in every scene that she is in and the only bright spot in what is otherwise a misfire. Borgnine though seems wasted and thrown in only as a stock character.

The story really has nowhere to go. The intention was to make the film a mixture of social satire and slapstick, but it fails on either end. The novelty wears off quickly and it soon becomes derivative. Initially their ploy to rob the banks seemed clever as Bill releases a bird into the bank, which causes such a distraction that they are able to rob it without detection, but it becomes tiring when it gets played-out again and again. The police are portrayed as being universally bumbling and making it seem like a six-year old could rob a bank and easily get away with it. I also did not like the banjo music being played as they are trying to get away from the cops as it seems too similar to the much better film Bonnie and Clyde and in fact the original title for this movie was going to be ‘Bunny and Claude’.

The casting of Jack Cassidy as Lieutenant Greely, the policeman who becomes obsessed with capturing them, should’ve worked.  He was very adept at playing cold, cunning, slightly offbeat characters as evidenced by his Emmy Award winning performances on the old Columbo TV-show as well as the cult TV-series He and She. He was the husband of actress Shirley Jones and the father of Shaun and David Cassidy whose career was unfortunately cut short when he ended up dying in a fire in 1976 after falling asleep with a lit cigarette. His unique talent here is stifled because the character is portrayed as being unrealistically dimwitted and saps any possible energy from the scenes that he is in.

Actress Joan Delaney makes a terrific addition as his female counterpart R.J. Hart. She is young, attractive, and hip. She plays off of Greely’s old, regimented ways quite well and it is a shame that, with the exception of a very brief appearance in the 1991 comedy Scenes From a Mall, this ended up being her last film.

The New Mexico landscape is nice, but I got the feeling that the location shooting had not been scouted out sufficiently. The police station didn’t look authentic at all. It seemed like scenes where shot in any building that they were able to attain a film permit. The lighting consists of one bright spotlight put on the subject while the sides of the frame and the background are dark and shadowy. Sometimes, in a good movie, this is done for artistic effect, but here I felt it was more because that was all they could afford. This one is for Bette Davis completest only.

Well known character actors John Astin and Reva Rose appear as Bunny’s two grown children, but are essentially wasted. The then acting governor of New Mexico, David Cargo, plays one of the state troopers.  Larry Linville, who would later become famous for playing Major Frank Burns on the classic TV-series M*A*S*H, can be seen very briefly at the end, but has no lines of dialogue.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 18, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gerd Oswald

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: Netflix Streaming

The Notorious Landlady (1962)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Landlady could be killer.

            William Gridley (Jack Lemmon) is an American who has arrived in London and looking for a place to stay. He rents a room from a home owned by Carly Hardwicke (Kim Novak) a gorgeous woman who Bill immediately becomes smitten with. The problem is that many people think Carly has killed in her husband even though his body has not been found. When Bill gets word of this he becomes determined to investigate the case and prove her innocence.

You would think a script written by Larry Gelbart and Blake Edwards would be funnier and full of zany scenarios and slapstick, but instead it gets grounded in a lot of dialogue for much of the first hour and forty-five minutes and only starts to get interesting during the final fifteen. The conversations lack any wit, or sharp one-liners, and the premise plods along at a much too leisurely pace. There is a segment where Bill accidentally sets fire to the patio, but I think this was simply thrown in for some action as there is very little else of it. The plot is formulaic and fails to add any new twist or perspective and once it is over it is easily forgettable. Lemmon’s character is bland and transparent and more than a little naïve since he falls in love with her immediately and is then convinced that she is innocent even though he has only known her for a day.

The best part comes at the very end where the two find themselves at a recital for a group of senior citizens that are all sitting in covered wheelchairs. This scene gets drawn out amusingly and includes a bit where an old lady named Mrs. Dunhill (Estelle Winwood) is pushed down the side of a hill, which is nicely captured in a silhouette style with Bill chasing after her. Winwood, who was already seventy-nine at the time, hams it up perfectly as the daffy old woman.  Of course all this comes much too late to really help the picture, or story, but at least it saves the film from being a complete bore, which it otherwise would have been.

Novak gives a surprisingly strong performance and a convincing British accent that I wish she had spoken in for the entire duration.  She was always a stunner, but here she may look her all-time best. One scene taken with her in the bathtub was highly risqué at the time and doesn’t leave much to the imagination. British character actor Lionel Jeffries is engaging as the inspector, but Fred Astaire is essentially wasted as Bill’s boss. The production values are decent, but the results are middling.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 26, 1962

Runtime: 2Hours 3Minutes

Rated: NR (Not Rated)

Director: Richard Quine

Studio: Columbia

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 1 & 2)

The Longest Yard (1974)

longest1

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

Semi-Tough (1977)

semi

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Got to go pee.

            Billy Clyde Puckett (Burt Reynolds) and Marvin Tiller (Kris Kristopherson) are two players for the Miami football team who just happened to live with the daughter of the team’s owner Barbra Jane Bookman (Jill Clayburgh). Strangely enough they do not have sexual relations and despite seeming like an odd arrangement to others the three manage to get along just fine until Marvin proposes to Barbra, which starts to make Billy jealous. Billy then spends the rest of the time trying to win her over and break-up the impending marriage.

This movie, based on the novel by Dan Jenkins, has an interesting premise, but I was disappointed that it didn’t start from the beginning when the three met and started rooming together. It certainly seemed to be an unusual set-up and I wanted more background to these characters and a history and the film doesn’t give any making it incomplete. The plot itself is a bit under-developed and at times seems to have nowhere to go. To make up for it the film delves into some odd comic scenarios that have nothing to do with the characters, or story. Some of these are interesting on their own terms while the others fall flat.

One of these segments features silent film actress Lotte Lenya in her last film appearance. Today’s audiences will know her for her outstanding performance as the villainess Rosa Klebb in the James Bond classic From Russia with Love. Her she plays a massage therapist named Clara Pelf who has some really weird and painful ideas about physical therapy. The scene seems just thrown in there for its own sake and doesn’t do much for the film as a whole, but seeing Lotte banter with Burt is a lot of fun regardless.

Another and even more bizarre segment features Bert Convy as a motivational speaker who hosts a marathon 48 hour self-help seminar, but will not allow any member of the audience to get up and go to the bathroom for the first 12 hours, which seemed too implausible even for satire. However, this scene does feature the film’s best line and quite possibly one of the best lines in film history, which occurs when one of the female members of the audience gets up and states in front of everyone “I just peed in my pants and it feels great!”

The football scenes don’t gel and in fact I wouldn’t even categorize this as a sports movie, or even a football one. For one thing director Michael Ritchie and writer Walter Bernstein didn’t seem to put much thought, or research into the sport, or how teams function. This becomes obvious in the segment where the players are shown staying up late and drinking at a bar the night before a big game and even bringing women back with them to their hotel rooms without having any type of curfew. There is another scene featuring Brian Dennehy as a big, intimidating player T.J. Lambert who dangles a woman off a roof and threatens to drop her when she does not give-in to his kinky sexual demands. He does this in front of the rest of the team who laugh it off like it is no big deal and state that he does it frequently when in reality the man would probably have a lot of lawsuits on his hands, jail time, and league suspension. It also paints big players too much as a stereotype and being nothing more than dumb out-of-control morons bordering on sociopathic.

The team logos and uniforms worn by the players during the games are unimaginative. The ones worn by the players representing the Denver team in the movie look almost exactly like the Texas Longhorns and I am almost surprised that they didn’t sue.

Burt of course is highly engaging throughout. The guy has terrific comic timing and I love the way he delivers his humorous lines. It is his presence alone that really makes this movie work. My only problem with his casting was that he was forty at the time and looking just a wee bit too old for the part. His hair also resembles a toupee and I don’t know of any player in football history who smokes a long pipe, or listens to Gene Autry records. What is worse is that he plays a lot of Gene’s records and forces the viewer to have to listen to the tunes although he makes up for it a bit with his Gene Autry quotes, which are funny.

Kristopherson as an actor has never connected with me even though I love him as a singer/songwriter. In the movies I have seen him in he always seems either half-a-sleep, or stoned. His presence and delivery is too laid back for my tastes however, the part where he is shown half-naked in bed and doing a commercial for a deodorant and then uses the product to create a mock erection is great.

Clayburgh is passable as the female lead, but I didn’t like her southern accent.  Robert Preston, who plays her father and the team owner, is okay, but his role is rather meaningless. The scene showing him crawling around on his office floor is stupid and pointless.

For some reason, despite certain flaws and an overall superficial treatment I still enjoyed this movie and found it entertaining. This is a great example of a 70’s romance with all the expected elements and clichés nicely put in place. It is also a chance to see Ron Silver in an early role as the team’s kicker who has no lines of dialogue, but ends up being a scene stealer anyways.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 18, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Ritchie

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD (Widescreen Edition)

Paper Lion (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Scrawny guy plays quarterback.

            Lighthearted adaptation of George Plimpton’s best-selling novel detailing his account of playing for the Detroit Lions football team as a back-up quarterback despite having no real experience.  Alan Alda plays Plimpton and the movie’s main focus is during the team’s training camp and his shock at just how hard and rigorous being a pro-quarterback really is.

The film’s most amusing moments come during the many weeks of practice when Plimpton finds that even throwing a pass is difficult because the defenders are so quick that they are in his face and have him on the ground before he is even able to react. Even taking a hand-off from his center proves to be a difficult process as it jams his thumb. Director Alex March does a fine job of giving the viewer a feeling of Plimpton’s experience by having the defenders come barreling towards the camera until you feel like you’ve been tackled yourself.

What makes the story interesting is the fact that despite being an intellectual man from Harvard Plimpton still ends up having the same competitive spirit as the rest of the players. He becomes determined to prove himself by memorizing the playbook and practicing until he is able to function decently in the position. He even finds himself getting into a potential fist-fight with another man at a bar when the man makes a disparaging remark about the team.  Although the players quickly realize that he is not a legitimate athlete and try to scare him away they become impressed enough with his perseverance and fiery spirit to eventually be willing to play for him, which is a nice touch.

The cast is loaded with actual players and coaches incluing: John Gordy, Mike Lucci, Alex Karras, Sugar Ray Robinson, Roger Brown, Frank Gifford and the then head coach Joe Schmidt. All of them are given a lot of screen time and a surprising amount of lines. Despite what one may think they do an exceptionally good job. They are likable and believable especially coach Schmidt. In fact it is their presence that really helps make the movie succeed and gives the viewer the impression that they are experiencing the NFL as it is, or at least as it was at that time. There is even a segment featuring legendary coach Vince Lombardi, which is special.

Probably the only character that I felt wasn’t necessary was Lauren Hutton as Plimpton’s super-hot model girlfriend.  Now, I have never read the book, so I am not sure if Plimpton had an attractive girlfriend in real-life, or not, but the character here seemed to be put in for eye candy and added little if anything to the story.

The footage shown of an actual exhibition game that the Lions play against the St Louis Cardinals at the old Busch Stadium is vivid. So many times film of this nature will borrow footage from another source and then incorporate it in, but the grainy film stock always makes this evident and distracting and here that wasn’t the case. The camera gets right down on the field with the players and you see the plays and hits up close. You even hear the trash talk and a bit of cursing although they do edit some of that out.

The film’s drawback is that it is too serene for its own good. There is never any dramatic tension, or conflict. The pace and music is so easy going that at times it seems ready to put you to sleep. The film had the backing of the league, which I felt ended up compromising it. Some of the harsher ugly elements of football boot camp were clearly glossed over. I would have wanted something a little bit meatier, even if it had been for a only a few brief scenes. The film hasn’t particularly aged well. The ‘big’ players of yesteryear look rather puny by today’s standards. The game and conditioning has evolved a lot and I felt this story should be revisited in the modern day setting.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 23, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Alex March

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, Netflix streaming

The Best of Times (1986)

best of times

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10 

4-Word Review: Play the game over.

            Robin Williams plays Jack Dundee, a man who on November 15, 1972 dropped a sure touchdown pass in a football game with their chief rival Bakersfield. Now, 13 years later, he still dwells on it all the time and even watches old film footage of it in his basement. He becomes obsessed with playing the game again with all of the same players. The problem is that most everyone has moved on including their star quarterback Reno Hightower (Kurt Russell) who is now working as a local car mechanic due to a knee injury that he suffered during that game. Jack persists and eventually gets a game scheduled, but that proves to be only part of the battle.

The script, by Ron Shelton, has an interesting point that could touch anybody. Who out there doesn’t want to go back and relive some past mistake, or regret, and make it better? The fact that he also lives in a small town and is constantly being reminded of it hits home as well. I was born and raised in a small, Midwestern town, so I know it can be hard to live down certain things. So, in context, it is a great theme. As people age and fall into a dull routine of a dead-end job and marriage it is sometimes an event that happened to them when they were younger that matters and in that capacity it is a great idea.

The problem is that the execution of it is contrived and dull. The first 45 minutes are spent with endless conversations of the ‘dropped pass’ that goes nowhere. Some of the psychological tactics that Jack uses to motivate not only his teammates and those from the other team into playing the game is somewhat interesting, but not terribly funny. In fact there is very, very little in this movie that is funny, or even halfway creative for that matter. It seems to be nothing more than the regurgitated ‘feel good sports formula’ that has been done a million times before without adding anything new. The final game sequence has all the expected clichés and what should be exciting and thrilling becomes boring and tiresome. I was almost hoping that Jack would drop the damn thing again when he had his second chance, which gets shown in annoyingly slow motion, as it would have been funnier and if anything given us some sort of surprise as everything else is painfully predictable.

The only time this movie that gets even slightly amusing, and I do emphasize amusing as there is nothing in here that is at any time hilarious, is when they bring back all the old players who are now middle-aged and out-of-shape and try to hold a practice. Having now grown to middle-age myself I can say succinctly that you can’t go back again even if you want to and the movie brings this up in some of the vignettes, but then doesn’t go far enough with it.  Instead, just as the film should be gaining some sort of momentum, it gets bogged down with a meandering segment involving the men trying to reconcile with their wives after some inconsequential tiff.

There is also the fact that if someone who has not moved on in their life and dwells on something as much as Jack does than in most cases would be unable to have long-term relationships with other people, or even hold down jobs. Yet here our hero is in a pretty good marriage and a cushy job. It would have been more interesting and probably funnier had the Jack character been a crook, or living on the absolute fringes of society and not been able to adjust to life until he had a second chance at the catch. Of course this would have been considered too ‘edgy’ by most Hollywood producers and I’m sure test audiences of which Hollywood is very dependent on would not have approved, which probably explains why the character is so boringly normal.

For what it’s worth Williams gives an energetic and engaging performance. The character is not all that well developed, but Robin gives it some life and helps make the movie passable. Russell seems a bit a dull here despite being an always durable actor. I realize the character is a bit passive, but having him transform into an aggressive, angry leader at the end seemed forced and phony. I was also disappointed that legendary character actors appear here including Carl Ballantine, Dub Taylor, Kathleen Freeman, and R.G. Armstrong and are given nothing more than a line of dialogue a piece and in the case of Ballantine only one word, which seems outrageous.

I have nothing to recommend here. I am giving it two points simply because the production values are high enough that it doesn’t look amateurish, but the flat, slightly implausible storyline needs to be injected with some sort of originality. Even for fans of Williams I would say stay away from it as seeing him in such blah proceedings doesn’t make it worth it.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: January 31, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Roger Spottiswoode

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The April Fools (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Affair between married people.

Director Stuart Rosenberg was on a high note in 1967.  He had just won rave reviews for his cult hit Cool Hand Luke and many felt he was well on his way to being Hollywood’s next top director only to follow it up with this incredibly vapid and stupid romance movie.

It involves a married man by the name of Howard Brubaker (Jack Lemon) who meets an attractive woman named Catherine Gunther (Catherine Deneuve) at a party. They spend the evening walking around outside and having nothing more than a casual conversation, which is enough to make him decide to leave his wife (Sally Kellerman) and child, quit his high paying executive job, and run off with her to Paris.

The story is pretty threadbare and filled with a lot of characters and situations that are not fleshed out at all.  This almost seems like a partial treatment to a main script that never got completed.  This movie provides no real tension, conflict, or subplots.  Most movies dealing with potential romances usually has one or both of the participants second guessing themselves as to whether they should move ahead with the relationship especially when both of the people are married like they are here.  These two fall in love so amazingly quickly that they make the art and act of dating seem completely unnecessary.

A much better idea would have been to have this quick romance act as only the starting point.  The film then should have cut to 5 or 10 years later where we could have seen how this relationship fared, or evolved. This would have given much better perspective to both the movie and characters.

I also have never felt that two people having an affair is a real good catalyst for a love story because it seems to go against the whole ‘true and everlasting love’ theme that propels most romance stories.  After all if someone can’t stay fully committed to one person what is to say that they will be able to do so with someone else.  To give the argument that they are just ‘crazy’ about this new person doesn’t work because at some point they must have been ‘crazy’ about the person they are currently with or they wouldn’t have married them. So what is to say that in a few years time when the newness of the relationship wears off that the whole vicious cycle won’t just get repeated.  I don’t have the exact statistics in front of me, but research has shown that people who cheat on one person are prone to doing it with their next partner simply because it is in their nature.

In some ways I could see why Catherine would consider leaving her husband, which is well played by Peter Lawford, simply because the guy is a womanizing lout in the worst way.  It is understandable that she may have been initially mesmerized by his wealth and charisma and only had her eyes opened to his shallowness years later.  However, Howard’s marriage didn’t really seem that bad and what is worse is the fact that he had a 5 year old son whom he seemed to have no problem abandoning without even a second thought.

The whole thing comes off like some uninspired idea by some studio head who wanted to make a ‘sure-fire’ hit by throwing together every contrived romantic element he could think of, piecing it together with a flimsy script, and then using the star-power of Lemon and Deneuve to cover up all the holes.  Everything here seems forced and that includes the humor.  Lemon’s duel with Charles Boyer is overdone and irrelevant.  There is also a scene where Howard’s friend (Jack Weston) drives him to the airport while being completely drunk and weaving in and out of on-coming traffic.  Today’s audiences would find this to be highly irresponsible and also terribly unfunny, which it is.

There are some potentially funny ideas that scriptwriter Hal Dresner never seems to think of.  For instance Catherine ends up being the wife of Howard’s new boss.  This could have been a goldmine of a lot of funny scenarios as the two tried sneaking around behind his back. The Lawford character does eventually corner Howard at the airport just as he is ready to board the plane and go off to Paris with Catherine, but even this potential confrontation gets botched badly.

I did really like Deneuve and her presence is the only real good thing about this movie. She looks radiant and I enjoyed the cool, chic way she responds to all the situations she is put in. This also marked her American movie debut.

Lemon though does not fare as well.  He overplays the high-strung businessman persona until it becomes tiresome.  He is nervous and befuddles every second that he is on the screen until you wonder how he was ever able to impress anyone enough to be able to obtain the prestigious position that he has at his company.

The supporting cast is stellar, but not used enough.  Jack Weston has a funny bit as he explains the goofy way that he handled an affair of his own.  Harvey Korman is amusing as a man who tries stealing the alluring Deneuve away from Lemon at the last minute.  It is also fun to see Melinda Dillon in her film debut.  She is best known for her supporting dramatic roles, but here she plays a giggling, ditzy blonde.  She is paired up with comic character actor Kenneth Mars and the two have the makings of being a great hammy couple. Unfortunately they are not given enough screen time, nor enough good lines, to really make it gel. Myrna Loy and Charles Boyer, as a long-time married couple, are essentially wasted.

Besides Deneuve there were a few other things that I did like about the movie.  The Burt Bacharach score is certainly pleasing on the ears.  There is a funky, mod 60’s party that takes place at the beginning of the film that features a lot of weird art exhibits that are nicely realized by award-winning set designer Richard Sylbert. I found the exhibit that featured a faucet dangling in mid-air while running a constant stream of water to be fascinating. I also enjoyed the scene where Deneuve and Lemon go to a wild nightclub where they are handed pop guns as they sit down which they can use to shoot at the rear-ends of the waitresses when they want to get their attention. I thought this was a genuinely neat idea that should be used at every restaurant.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 28, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stuart Rosenberg

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD (Import)