Tag Archives: David Carradine

Fast Charlie…….the Moonbeam Rider (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cross country motorcycle race.

Charlie Swattle (David Carradine) is a WWI veteran and full-time conman who decides to enter into a transnational motorbike race that goes from St. Louis to San Francisco and will offer a big money payout to the winner. He tries to get his army buddies to help him, but they’re reluctant due to the belief that he’s a deserter. He then meets up with a sassy waitress (Brenda Vaccaro) who agrees to offer assistance, but only under stringent conditions.

The film is adequately entertaining but hurt by an uninspired, modest budget look. While efforts were made to make it appear like it were the 1920’s there’s no style to the direction nor any atmosphere. Too much emphasis gets placed on the cutesy comedy, which further erodes any semblance that this is an authentic period piece, which it clearly isn’t.

It takes a full hour before the race even gets going with the whole first half spent on the comic interpersonal relationships/banter that Charlie has with those around him. The race does have a few exciting moments including the point-of-view shots shown from the rider’s perspective as the motorbike careens down the bumpy backwoods dirt roads, but having the entire film shot in Oklahoma is a letdown. This is a race that is supposed to go across many different states and landscapes, but instead we’re given only one type of topography, which was obviously done for budget considerations, but ultimately comes-off like a cop-out.

Things do improve with the presence of Vaccaro, who only did the film due to contractual obligations with the studio. Leonard Maltin, in his review of the movie (or whoever wrote the review for him), incorrectly states that she plays an “early-day biker groupie” , which couldn’t be further from the truth. A groupie as defined by a dictionary search is someone who is: ‘An enthusiastic uncritical follower’ which Vaccaro clearly isn’t. The two instead share a very combative, contentious relationship where she is constantly putting him down and not trusting him, which certainly does not conform to the idol worship of the conventional groupie.

Carradine’s performance is okay. Some of his appearances in other films make it seem like he was sleepwalking through the part, but here he manages to show some oomph. He at least does better in this one than in the other similarly themed movie Death Race 2000where his face was hidden by a mask and he seemed almost like a robot. L.Q. Jones offers good support as his one-legged war buddy, who initially wants to kill Charlie, but then reluctantly agrees to be a part of his team. There’s also a good moment where the two try to desperately outrun a train while on a bridge, which is similar to the famous scene in Stand by Me, but this one was shot five year earlier.

My biggest complaint is that it follows the Rocky formula too closely. Despite being in a different time period it still has all the corny cliches of a feel-good sports movie. The ending is in no way ‘exhilarating’ as intended, but instead painfully predictable. Nothing is more frustrating than watching a movie where you know exactly how it’s going to end right from the start.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 4, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Steve Carver

Studio: Universal

Available: None at this time.

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

Thunder and Lightning (1977)

thunder and lightning

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: More southern fried nonsense.

This is incredibly contrived good ol’ boy nonsense about competing moonshiners that gets taken into overdrive and just an excuse for a lot of smash-up car chases.

The filmmakers seem compelled to come up with every southern stereotype they can think of. There is the grizzled, uneducated, overall wearing, backwoods moonshiners, as well as the beer swilling pick-up truck driving rednecks with names like Bubba and Scooter, virtuous, but spunky southern daughter with an annoying hick accent and even a scene where a couple of down home boys jump into a car and shout “yahoo!” as it takes off. After about ten minutes this one-dimensional, uninspired mess makes you feel like you are brain dead.

The production values are poor with muffled sound and fast edits that makes some of the action hard to follow. The whole thing looks rushed and haphazardly put together simply so it could quickly cash in on the success of Smokey and the Bandit.

David Carradine’s performance is much too subdued as he seems to have no energy and is just mouthing his lines. Kate Jackson is pretty, but her personality is much too strong. The only fun piece of casting is Sterling Holloway in his last film appearance. He is probably best known as the voice of Winnie the Pooh and here plays a moonshiner.

The film does manage to have a few good moments. One is a unique speed boat chase done on a large swamp as well as is a segment where a minister preaches his sermon while wrestling with an alligator. There are also two hit men who like in Pulp Fiction have unusual conversations. Some of the strange topics include too much violence on TV, Captain Kangaroo, and even Norman Vincent Peale. There is even a cool inside joke that occurs when actor Charles Napier is having a fight with Carradine and he shouts out “Hey asshole knock off the Kung Fu shit!”

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 24, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Corey Allen

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Death Race 2000 (1975)

death race 2000

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: New meaning to roadkill.

Based on the novel ‘The Racer’ by Ib Melchior the year is 2000 and a highly rated cross-country race takes place on television between many colorful individuals. There is Frankenstein (David Carradine) who has lost an arm and a leg in past races and must wear a leather mask to cover up his facial scarring. Then there is his chief rival Machine Gun Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone) and also Calamity Jane (Mary Woronov) Nero the Hero (Martin Kove) and Matilda the Hun (Roberta Collins). Of course this is no ordinary race as crossing the finish line isn’t really as important as how many innocent bystanders they can kill along the way.

The idea is outrageous and for the most part director Paul Bartel manages to pull it off especially within the limitations of the budget. There are real kick-ass car explosions here and none of that computerized crap, which in itself gives it a few extra points. I liked the scene were an actual car is seen dropping down a steep cliff and how they were able to block off long sections of highways in order to be the only cars on the road. Some of the dark humor is funny although more so in the beginning. The best moment is when a group of doctors and nurses wheel up some elderly patients onto the middle of the roadway in order to be slaughtered by the racers as part of the their annual ‘euthanasia day’.

Sly is really funny. I know some critics have gotten on him over the years about his acting, but here he steals it from his costars and the film wouldn’t have been as effective without him. Carradine is pretty good in his part and his more subdued acting style makes a nice contrast to Stallone’s flamboyant one. The two even end up in a nice fist fight. However, I liked the idea of having the Carradine character being this walking gimp of a man so intoxicated with winning that he continues to drive and compete even as his body falls apart. Having him take of his mask and look completely normal and making that all a sham was disappointing and took away the unique gritty mystic of the character.

The initial treatment of the script was written by producer Roger Corman and then Bartel was hired in to put a more humorous spin on it. Although I like the idea of having some comedy I still wanted more gore and grittiness. Instead it becomes too campy and cartoonish and losing the potential edge that it has at the beginning. There also needed to be more of a focus on the race itself. As it is it goes too fast with pit stop segments that bogged the whole thing down. They manage to get from New York to St. Louis in one day, which if going on I-70 would be 953 miles and doesn’t seem possible even at high speeds. There is also a question of the speed of these cars. Supposedly they are ‘real fast’, but there is one segment where Joe tries to run down a kindly fisherman and the guy is able to out run the car for quite a distance before he is hit, so they can’t be all that fast.

There is also a secondary storyline involving an underground group called the People’s army that is trying to sabotage the race and put an end to it. Initially I felt this thread would allow for more intrigue, but instead it makes the whole thing too over-the-top. The short running time doesn’t allow for such a convoluted plot and the whole thing would have been better served had they stuck to the race and racers personalities itself. The sappy ‘feel-good’ twist ending is terrible and ruins whatever potential edge the film had.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 27, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 20Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Bartel

Studio: New World Pictures

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

Q (1982)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giant bird eats humans

In celebration of cult writer/director Larry Cohen turning 72 on July 15th all this month on Mondays I will review five of his films that he did during the 80’s. Now Cohen will probably never win an Academy Award and may never be mentioned in the same context as Spielberg, Kubrik, or Hitchcock, but the man has had one hell of a career nonetheless. He has been writing for either television or movies since the late 50’s and continues to churn out creative, innovative stories and scripts. Not all of them are completely successful and some of them do misfire, but his ability to survive in the difficult, competitive Hollywood landscape and make his movies on his terms with virtually no studio interference is an amazing achievement in itself and therefore deserves recognition.

larry cohen 3

This film like most of his others has a completely outlandish plot this time involving a giant lizard-like bird that is actually the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl brought back to life and nesting inside the top crown of the Crysler Building in downtown Manhattan. The bird lays a giant egg and feeds itself on unsuspecting people.  Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty) is an out-of-work lounge singer who comes upon the bird’s nest accidently while running from the cops after a botched jewelry store robbery. He decides to use his knowledge of the whereabouts of the bird to his advantage and demands that the city pay him a million dollars before he leads them to it.

Despite the crazy plot the execution is rather conventional. There are long periods of seemingly unending dialogue that is not interesting and does not propel the movie along. The bird attacks are too brief and needed to be strung out more. The movie would have worked much better and had it had a consistent tongue-in-cheek approach and editing that was more kinetic and lucid-like.

Moriarty saves the film with entertaining, edgy performance. This is a man who is known for his erratic behavior off-screen, which pretty much killed his career. In 1971 while performing on stage in a play in Houston he suddenly broke from character and told the audience as well as his fellow cast members that he felt tired and didn’t want to continue and then promptly walked off stage and went home. He was also fired from his most famous role as Ben Stone in the hit series ‘Law and Order’ for similar types of odd incidents and yet that is exactly why he is so perfect here. He gives the thing a much needed boost of weird energy and I especially liked the part when he leads two of his partners in crime up to the bird’s nest and when the bird starts feeding on them he climbs down the ladder shouting:

“Eat them! Eat them! Crunch! Crunch! Eat them! Eat Them!”

I also enjoyed when he is sitting at the bargaining table with the city and police officials demanding a million dollars before he tells them the whereabouts of the bird and insisting that it all must be tax free because:

“I’ve never paid taxes before in my life and I don’t intend to start now.”

His character is lazy, conniving, cowardly, bombastic, self-centered, egotistical, talentless, and deluded and yet strangely endearing and I even felt a bit sorry for him at the end. Candy Clark as Joan his more grounded and conscientious girlfriend makes for a good contrast.

I wasn’t as crazy about David Carradine as the tough New York cop who deals with Jimmy during his investigation. Carradine seems too aloof and detached and this doesn’t help to create any tension. Richard Roundtree as his partner is much better and I would have had him the sole investigator and cut Carradine out completely.

The special effects are a little bit better than what I had initially feared for a low budget 80’s flick, but they are not real great either. The bird when shown flying through the air just doesn’t seem gigantic or frightening enough and ends up looking like a poor man’s Ray Harryhausen creation. The final shootout with the bird was clearly done on a matted screen and looks very tacky. I actually thought the baby bird that comes out of the egg was the only halfway scary and effective moment in the whole film.

What Cohen does get right is reflecting the ambience and culture of the New York neighborhoods and crowded street culture. The aerial footage of New York’s skyline is also spectacular.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 29, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Cohen

Studio: Larco Productions

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray