Tag Archives: Dean Jones

Snowball Express (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Family rehabilitates rundown hotel.

Johnny (Dean Jones) works as an accountant in New York, but is bored with his job and looking for a way out. He finds his escape with an inheritance that he receives naming him the beneficiary of the Grand Imperial Hotel in Colorado that he’s promised can bring in $14,000 a month. He immediately quits his job and moves his reluctant family to the snowy Rockies where they find the hotel to be in bad shape, but Johnny is determined to still make a go of it and turns the place into a ski resort. At first they have some success with it, but calamity strikes, which destroys the place and forces Johnny to enter into a snow mobile race where he hopes to be the winner and use the earnings from the prize to rebuild the place.

There were aspects to the film that I liked. For one I felt Jones was quite engaging here. Usually his performances in some of his other Disney films were flat and one-dimensional, but here his resiliency had an emotional appeal. I also liked how even though the film is aimed for kids it still dealt with real-world adult issues like going to a bank to get a loan and then how to allocate that money to build equity. Even though children may be too young to grasp all of it, it’s still good to condition them into working world scenarios and what it takes to create a business from the ground up.

The story though lacks the physical comedy that is so prevalent in other Disney comedies. It does have a scene where Jones skis down a hill backwards while knocking over everyone else that is in his way, which is funny, but then the film repeats this same scenario two more times until it’s no longer funny and instead just boring. The scene where Harry Morgan’s character accidentally crashes his logging engine through the hotel is more depressing than funny since the family had spent so much time rebuilding it it was frustrating seeing it get destroyed for such a silly reason.

The climactic snowmobile race is okay and I liked seeing some of the wipeouts, which I wished there had been more of. However, having this really old guy played by Keenan Wynn beating out everyone else year after year as the snowmobile champion seemed weird. Granted he was actually only in his 50’s at the time it was filmed, but with his gray beard and hair he looked to be more in his 70’s, so it seemed a bit goofy why such an elderly guy, who was nothing more than a bank manager during the day, would have such an ability to always beat out everybody else.  Why the race required two men on each snowmobile didn’t make much sense either. I was born and raised in Minnesota and say a few snowmobile races in my time and they had only one person on each vehicle, so I couldn’t understand why it was necessary to have a second person behind the driver since they did nothing but  act like a spectator while holding for dear life as the driver cruised through the snow.

The film needed a more aggressive bad guy. Disney films from the 70’s were fun because the villains were usually so colorful, but here Keenan Wynn just sits behind his desk for most of the film and does nothing more than deny Jones a loan. It would’ve been better had Wynn instead sneaked around behind the scenes doing things that hurt Jones’ business, which would’ve created more of an antagonistic feeling from the viewer and thus made the final confrontation between the two, which gets underplayed anyways, more interesting.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 22, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Norman Tokar

Studio: Buena Vista

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Million Dollar Duck (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Duck lays golden eggs.

Albert Dooley (Dean Jones) is a research scientist who brings home a duck as a pet for his young son Jimmy (Lee Montgomery) after the bird accidentally gets exposed to radiation while at the lab. To his shock he finds that the duck can now lay eggs with a golden yolk every time she hears the sound of a barking dog. Albert decides to use this to his advantage as he is drowning in unpaid bills, but his neighbor (Joe Flynn), who works at the United States Treasury Department, tries to take the duck away from Albert, so that the government will control it and used the eggs for their own purposes.

The film became notorious as being one of the three that critic Gene Siskel walked out of during his film reviewing career and to which he would brag about for many years later. Roger Ebert described it as “one of the most profoundly stupid movies I have ever seen.” and while I agree it’s no classic I failed to see how it was any sillier than any of the other Disney movies that came out during the same decade.

With that said the plot is loopy although it does define what the term bullion means, so in that respect it’s actually a bit enlightening. The concept though of having a duck lay an egg every time it hears barking is pretty dumb especially when the barking comes from humans who don’t sound anything like a real dog especially Jones’s pathetic attempts. I also didn’t understand why a pinging noise resembling a bell had to be heard each time an egg was laid. Did the radiation cause this to occur too?

The action is pretty light for Disney standards and the only two funny parts are when Sandy Duncan, who plays Jones’s wife, tries to a deposit a golden yolk at a bank as well as when they try to find their duck on a farm amidst hundreds of other ducks who all look the same. The film also comes with a car chase finale that seemed to be a standard plot device for Disney movies of that era although this one is more restrained and not as funny or exciting.

Jones is bland while Duncan and Tony Roberts, who plays Jones’s lawyer friend, are far more amusing. Both Roberts and Duncan had starred together that same year in Star Spangled Girl and they could’ve easily have played the couple while Jones been cut out of it completely and not missed at all.

Montgomery is cute in his film debut and Flynn is funny as the exasperated neighbor. He had co-starred in many Disney films during his career and seemed to have a different color of hair with each role. In some of them his hair was graying while in others it was jet black and here it had a reddish tint. I also found it ironic that he plays a character with a backyard pool and at one point he gets pushed into it as in real-life he ended up drowning in his own backyard pool just three years after this film came out.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 30, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Vincent McEveety

Studio: Buena Vista Distribution

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Any Wednesday (1966)

any wednesday 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Wednesday is hump day.

Ellen (Jane Fonda) is a single lady of thirty living in an apartment building in New York City that is about to be bought out. Ellen wants to remain there and the only way she can is if she allows the place to be purchased by millionaire John Cleves (Jason Robards) who will allow her to stay rent free just as long as Wednesdays remain available so he can use the place to bring in his lady friends for sexual trysts. John has been cheating on his wife Dorothy (Rosemary Murphy) for years and uses the excuse of ‘business trips’ to fool around with other women. John also has his eyes on Ellen and after he buys her place he succeeds in getting her where he wants her, but then young Cass Henderson (Dean Jones) drops in and much to John’s consternation starts to have an interest in Ellen and her to him. Things get really crazy when Dorothy also shows up and turns the thing into a madcap bed-hopping farce.

Although this is not one of her better known roles Jane is terrific. The character to me is believable. A young attractive woman living alone who is racked with insecurities and indecision is almost a given. In many ways she is like how the Cass character described her as a ’30-year old child’ and Fonda plays the part humorously with a very goofy whine and cry. Some may find the character offensive due to the fact that her only ambition is to get married and feels like she is ‘not a complete woman’ unless she does. She even asks Cass to marry her after only knowing him for a day, which may be extreme, but I felt in that era women were under that type of pressure and thinking process, which is why I bought into it.

The Cleves character borders on being highly obnoxious. He seems to feel that because he has a lot of money he can act arrogant and get anything he wants, which could easily rub most viewers the wrong way. Fortunately Robards manages to craftily infuse his charm into the performance, which therefore makes it tolerable.

Jones lends some nice stability and Murphy is surprisingly alluring. She was already 40 at the time, but is seen provocatively bathing in a tub, which was unusual since older women especially in that time period were never shown that way and she pulls it off in an interesting way.

Director Robert Ellis Miller tries to keep what was originally a stage play from getting too stagy yet the story really can’t hide its roots. I did like the bright vivid colors of the set and the way New York was captured in the spring time. However, the scene where Ellen and Cass go to a sunny park is initially nice, but I didn’t understand when they sat down on some swings that it had to cut away to them in front of a blue screen inside a studio. The blue screen technique, which is rarely done anymore, was always tacky looking. Here it was even worse because the actors were at a real park, so he should have just left them there.

The story itself is trite, but for the first half I found it enjoyable. An older man having an affair with a younger woman that at times acts like an adolescent was rather edgy for the period as was their open discussions about sex. The conflicts create some interesting tensions and character development, but falls apart in the second act.

Spoiler Alert!

The problem really comes when Dorothy finds out about the affair and instead of being upset by it treats Ellen like a friend and even lets her move into John’s mansion while Dorothy takes up residence in Ellen’s old apartment. However, nothing is ever shown in Dorothy’s personality to forewarn us that she would respond in such an unusual way and thus making this comic twist not as clever as intended. Yes, there is an amusing irony at having Ellen come back to her old place and feeling ‘betrayed’ at finding John and Dorothy in bed together, but having John rekindle his passion with his wife is forced and contrived ultimately making this as silly and forgettable as all the other fluffy romances from that period. Fonda’s terrific performance is the only thing that makes if slightly above average.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 13, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Robert Ellis Miller

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video