Tag Archives: Dennis Hopper

Kid Blue (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bandit tries changing careers.

Bickford Wanner (Dennis Hopper) suddenly realizes that being a train robber is no longer worth the hassle, so he decides to go straight by moving into the town of Dime Box where he does a variety of menial labor jobs that he finds to be thankless. When his former girlfriend Janet (Janice Rule) shows up he gets a hankering to go back to his bandit days when he was nicknamed Kid Blue and acquired a legendary status throughout Texas.

There were a lot of revisionist westerns during the early 70’s and most of them made an impact, but this one got lost in shuffle. Personally I was impressed with the first 30 minutes where the small town residents are portrayed as being prickly, cold people whose personalities reflected the harsh, dry, desolate landscape that surrounded them. The way Bickford gets treated as an ‘outsider’ simply because he wasn’t originally born there is exactly the way anyone would’ve felt in the same situation and thus it creates an accurate and vivid setting environment.

The counter-culture movement of the late 60’s gets puts it into a western motif giving the viewer a firsthand feel how oppressive the establishment (in this case the town’s citizens) were and what a lonely, frustrating experience it is to somehow try to fit into a system that doesn’t want you to begin with. Having this theme captured outside of the modern trappings makes the message stronger and when Bickford finally does lose his cool you relate to his rage and enjoy seeing him lash out.

Unfortunately it loses focus by the second act as director James Frawley can’t seem to decide whether he wants to turn this into a comedy or gritty drama. Both Ralph Waite and Ben Johnson make for good antagonists, but there’s never a satisfying one-on-one moment where Hopper stands up to either of them in any cinematic way even though you sit through the whole thing hoping that at some point he will.

Hopper looks the part of a young man even though he was already 36 at the time, but the character’s motivations are confusing. This was a man who at one point was supposedly a successful train robber, so why does he put up with all the crap and not go back to his old ways sooner? He tolerates their abuse for far longer than any normal person would and for seemingly no reason. Having the character suffer from a physical ailment that wouldn’t allow him to return to his bandit lifestyle would’ve helped make his situation more understandable.

The ending in which Bickford robs the factory and the whole town gives him chase has strong, colorful potential, but the film doesn’t go far enough with it. It also introduces too much of a bouncy musical score that gives the action a lighthearted/slapstick quality that undermines the realism. The third act should’ve focused entirely on the chase while nixing an ill-advised story thread dealing with a love triangle that adds nothing and seemingly put in solely to pad the undernourished plot. Even though the setting is supposed to be Texas it was actually filmed in Mexico.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 29, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: James Frawley

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video

Out of the Blue (1980)

out of the blue 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Daddy disappoints his daughter.

Marginal drama detailing the trials of a teen girl (Linda Manz) whose father (Dennis Hopper) is serving a five year sentence for killing a busload of kids while driving drunk. She recognizes the weaknesses in her mother (Sharon Farrell) and idolizes her father because she thinks he is better yet when he is released she realizes he has faults as well, which culminates in a shocking and unexpected finale.

One of the big problems with this film is that it becomes as aimless as the characters that it portrays. Hopper’s free-form directing style is too loose and undisciplined. Intended dramatic elements come off as weak and insignificant. The story has interesting moments, but ultimately misses the mark. The gritty scenes look staged and hackneyed and everything seems too familiar like stuff we’ve seen hundreds of times before. Director/star Hopper keeps reaching into his bag hoping to pull out another Easy Rider, but his avant-garde style now seems tiring and predictable.

The dark, ugly ending is a definite shock and it is the only thing that raises this from being a complete misfire. Had the film started with the ending and used it as a springboard for the rest of the movie than it might have been more compelling. The very graphic crash of Hopper’s truck into the school bus is the only other part that is impressive.

Manz has certainly come a long way from Days of Heaven or even as the mouthy kid in The Wanderers. She is a more poised actress and ready to carry the film. Her streetwise attitude and background is still apparent, but more polished and contained. This was the film that was going to make her a star and it probably could have had it been better.

Farrell as the mother is effective simply because her physical looks nicely reflects the rough life of her character. It is also fun to see Raymond Burr in a bit part only because he seems so out of place with the setting.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 11, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Dennis Hopper

Studio: Discovery Films

Available: DVD

The Trip (1967)

the trip

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He tries some acid.

Jack Nicholson wrote the screenplay to this film which is based loosely experiences he had while taking LSD as well as the break-up of his marriage to actress Sandra Knight. The story centers on Paul (Peter Fonda) a director of TV commercials whose marriage to Sally (Susan Strasberg) is on the rocks. He has a need to ‘find himself’ and seeks help from his friend John (Bruce Dern) who is a self-styled acid guru. John gives Paul some acid while promising that he will stay with him during his drug induced trip. The rest of the film then deals with Paul’s experiences both in his mind and in his dealings with the outside world while he is hallucinating.

To prepare for the film Nicholson, Fonda and Dennis Hopper, who appears in a minor supporting role, all took part in a group LSD trip and the various visions that they experienced are incorporated here. Director Roger Corman also tried LSD at a different time to prepare for the film. The only one not to try it was Dern who was staunchly opposed to recreational drug use and in fact even his character doesn’t take any as evidenced by a scene where everyone is taking a puff of some marijuana and when it gets passed to him he simply passes it to the next person without trying even though everyone else does.

The scenes recreating the acid trip are not all that interesting or imaginative. It’s all pretty much what you would expect with a barrage of artsy colorful designs popping up at the viewer in split second intervals that reminded me very much of looking through a kaleidoscope. The images aren’t coherent, nor meant to be, and become vapid in the process. The scene involving Paul sitting on a merry-go-round while trying to justify his existence to Hopper who is dressed in a devil-like costume gets quite tedious.

Things improve during the second half when John, who promised he would stay at Paul’s side during his trip, ends up leaving him momentarily to retrieve some apple juice. During this time Paul escapes from the home he is in and goes out onto the city streets. The editing and effects here are impressive and ahead of its time. Some of the visits he has with the people he meets prove interesting including an offbeat conversation that he has with a lady that he meets inside a Laundromat as well as one he has with a very young girl inside her house.

Although he starts out shaky I felt Fonda’s performance was pretty good and this may be one of the best roles of his career. Strasberg who receives second billing appears just briefly and has very few speaking lines. Dern is always fun when he is playing eccentric or intense characters, but here where he is playing a relatively normal one he is boring. His part was originally written for Nicholson to play and I think he would have done better.

I was expecting some sort of tragic or profound-like ending especially with the opening paragraph that starts the film and is read by a narrator with a very authoritative newsman-like voice describing the ‘horrors’ of drug use and how it is becoming a serious societal problem. However, nothing really happens. The movie just kind of stops and that is it. The weak conclusion hurts what is already a so-so film making it like the drug itself an interesting experiment, but nothing more.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 23, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Roger Corman

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Blue Velvet (1986)

blue velvet 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Whose ear is it?

Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) is a young man living in a quiet small town who one day finds a mutilated human ear in an empty field. This gets him involved with a murky kidnapping case involving Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini) and a strange sinister man by the name of Frank (Dennis Hopper).

The offbeat plot evolves well and remains if nothing else captivating. Hopper makes the most of what was at the time his ‘comeback’ role creating a memorable villain. The casting of Rossellini was an inspired choice as she adds a unique flavor to the proceedings and sings a cool rendition of the title tune. The scene involving Dean Stockwell and his strange clan leaves a memorable impression as well.

Director David Lynch keeps a tight grip on his uniquely odd vision and makes sure that it permeates every sight and sound in the picture. The best part, or at least my favorite, comes at the beginning when the camera zooms into a nicely manicured front lawn until it shows an extreme close-up of all the bugs crawling around underneath it in the dirt.

I first saw this film upon its initial release and was mesmerized by it, but now twenty plus years later it doesn’t seem quite as cutting edge as it once did. There have been so many similarly weird films in the intermittent years that this one becomes lost in the shuffle and even dated.

Several scenes get stretched longer than they should be and the second half becomes draggy. The scene where Jeffrey is chased down by an angry boyfriend of Sandy (Laura Dern) only to have the naked Dorothy jump out of the bushes where the boyfriend then apologizes profusely seems now unintentionally funny. The contrived ending, which features a chirping mechanical robin, looks cheesy and tacky.

Despite the fact that the film has not stood the test of time it still has its moments, but it is no longer as fresh or original and the Hopper character is not as frightening as he once was.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 19, 1986

Runtime: 2Hours

Rated R

Director: David Lynch

Studio: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

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