Tag Archives: Don Stroud

Games (1967)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Playing tricks on others.

Paul (James Caan) and his wife Jennifer (Katharine Ross) are an affluent upper East Side couple who are into illusion/magic trick shows and entertain their friends at posh parties that they hold inside their spacious townhome. One day Lisa (Simone Signoret) arrives at their door selling cosmetics only to fall ill when she gets inside the home. A doctor (Ian Wolfe) comes over and finds her condition to be only temporary and says she’ll recover in a day if given plenty of rest, so they decide to let her stay the night, which then becomes an extended visit as Lisa and Jennifer begin to bond. The two then start playing tricks on Paul by pretending that Jennifer is having an affair with their delivery boy named Norman (Don Stroud). Eventually Paul realizes he’s been duped, but wants to get revenge by pretending to catch Norman coming onto Jennifer the next day. This time Paul accidently shoots and kills him forcing the couple to get rid of the body without Lisa becoming aware, which they’re able to do, until Jennifer begins seeing what she believes to be Norman’s ghostly presence.

The film has potential, but consistently misses-the-mark and ultimately becomes a misfire. The games the two play are amusing, but nothing special though it’s enough to hold interest particularly at the beginning during the party scenes with all of their pretentious friends. The townhouse the two live in is ritzy and I enjoyed the design, but if you’re going to have a story take place in Manhattan then you better film it there and not on a sound stage in Los Angeles as the ambience of the neighborhood is missing and having almost all of the action take place in one setting eventually becomes claustrophobic.

The real problem though is with the characters. Signoret is fantastic and her presence helps immensely, but the way she enters into the story is ridiculous. What kind of couple would let a strange woman stay overnight in their home? If she’s sick then let her spend it at a hospital. Turning her one night visit into an extended stay is equally farfetched and where exactly did she find this wardrobe to wear when she initially just came over to peddle perfumes?

Ross’s character is a big mess too and it’s no wonder that she has referred to this film as being ‘terrible’ and it’s not her fault either. She’s quite beautiful as always and if you need an actress to give off the perfect scared expression she’s tops, but I didn’t understand why her character allowed herself to be so taken in. This was a couple used to playing tricks not only on their friends, but on each other, so why didn’t she have a more jaded reaction and presume that her husband really didn’t kill Norman and it was all some elaborate game?

Spoiler Alert!

The twist ending is a complete letdown as it hinges on Paul meeting Lisa a year earlier by chance and then springing this idea on her of scaring Jennifer to death to the point that she inadvertently kills someone, so that he can get at her fortune and split it with Lisa, but how would he know that he could trust Lisa to keep this secret and not go to the authorities, or tell Jennifer? It might’ve worked better had the third person been a lifelong friend/family member to Paul, and not just someone he met at random, and therefore not likely to betray him.

A double-ending would’ve been more satisfying as Lisa poisons Paul and walks away with the money, but Paul should’ve been cunning enough to try and poison Lisa first, or through mutual mistrust they poison each other and no one gets the money. An even better idea would’ve had Jennifer only pretending to fall victim to the ruse, so when Lisa walks outside with the suitcase full of money, after having killed Paul, Jennifer and the police squad could’ve been there waiting for her.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 17, 1967

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Curtis Harrington

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD-R (Universal Vault Series), Blu-ray

Joe Kidd (1972)

joe kidd

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bounty hunter tracks revolutionary.

Joe Kidd (Clint Eastwood) is a bounty hunter sitting in jail on trumped up charges. As he is about to have his case heard the courthouse is invaded by Luis Chama (John Saxon) and his band of Mexican revolutionaries who are angered that their U.S. land claims have been denied. They threaten a full scale war against the American government and suddenly Kidd finds himself in the middle when powerful landowner Frank Harlan (Robert Duvall) wants to use Kidd’s abilities to track Chama down so that he can kill him before he can ferment any more unrest. Kidd and Frank do not like each other, but Kidd reluctantly goes along while planning at some point to stop Frank and his men before they can do anymore harm.

If there is one thing to take from this film it is Duvall’s performance. This is the movie where he really came into his own and his career transitioned from small character parts and guest spots in TV-shows to an all-around dynamic lead actor. His presence here is commanding and he plays the bad guy with such zeal that it ends up taking over the entire picture while smothering the usually reliable Eastwood until he and his character become bland and transparent.

Unfortunately the script written by Elmore Leonard cannot match the same energy or creativity. It starts out well and has all the rugged ingredients one expects from a good western and it’s even directed by John Sturges who’s noted for putting together great action flicks, but unfortunately at some point it goes flat and this is mainly because there is not much of a second or third act. The scenario itself is too predictable and gets played out in a mechanical, by-the-numbers fashion. It is also devoid of much action. The part where Kidd uses his telescope rifle to pick off a shooter at long range that the others can’t is okay, but the scene where he derails a train and sends it crashing through a saloon seems implausible and not as exciting to see as it may sound.

I enjoyed Kidd’s antagonistic relationship with Lamarr (Don Stroud) who is one of Harlan’s men and a young, long haired cocksure guy that immediately gets a vendetta against the more stoic Kidd, which adds some zest, but then the film squashes it too soon by having Kidd kill Lamarr in a rather unimaginative and uneventful way. In fact the whole climactic finish works in the same way with Kidd mechanically knocking off each of Harlan’s men in a fashion similar to what Gary Cooper did to the bad guys in High Noon, which was a far better movie. Kidd’s final shootout with Harlan is a particular letdown and should’ve been played out more while only helping to cement this as one of Eastwood’s weakest and more forgettable westerns that he has done.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 14, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Sturges

Studio: Universal

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

Death Weekend (1976)

death weekend

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: She can defend herself.

This Canadian thriller, which is loosely based on actual events deals with a rich playboy named Harry (Chuck Shamata) who invites Diane (Brenda Vaccaro) who is also a model to spend the weekend with him at his isolated lakeside cabin that is miles from anywhere. On their way there they run into a biker gang whose leader (played by Don Stroud) takes an intense disliking to Harry. The gang tracks the two down at their cabin where they proceed to terrorize them before eventually killing Harry and forcing Diane to defend herself alone, which she does valiantly.

In a way this is a poor man’s version of I Spit on Your Grave or Straw Dogs, but not nearly as effective. For one the violent scenes aren’t very intense. This is due mainly to the fact that writer/director William Fruet keeps the camera too removed from the action and never once uses a hand held. There is also no gore as Fruet always cuts away just before anything happens and what little you do see looks tacky. Of course a film doesn’t have to be gory to be scary or intense, but if it is going to have this type of violent theme then it should at least equal it in style. The tension also ebbs and flows and the four hoodlums are too dumb and seem like cardboard cutout caricatures that possess no human qualities whatsoever.
The Harry character does allow for some added dimension, which helps and hurts. I liked the way he sees himself as this ‘refined’ gentlemen and yet views women in the same Neanderthal way as the thugs. He brags of having money and power, but when that gets stripped away from him he becomes amazingly spineless. This makes for a good commentary of the rich and successful, but unfortunately also turns him into being too much of a jerk and when the bad guys proceed to tear his place apart we are not ‘horrified’ at all, but instead enjoy seeing it.

There are actually a few good elements one of which is the music score, which effectively creates an ominous feeling. It was also filmed in Ontario Canada during the autumn and the desolate, bleak landscape helps match the bleakness of the situation and characters. I also loved the morning mist captured during the final chase sequence that gives things a very eerie look. There is also a well-staged car chase at the beginning that was done at high speeds and features some great stunt driving.

The film is saved somewhat by Vaccaro’s interesting performance as a victim. She is independent and self-sufficient and refuses to allow herself to be seen or used as a sex object. This goes along with the film’s overall theme which seems to run on the emergence of the woman in a man’s world and the basic redefining of the female role in society. Yet I felt it would have worked better had the character harbored the old female traits at the beginning and then had these new traits come out as the film progressed.

death weekend

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Alternate Title: House by the Lake

Released: September 17, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Fruet

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: VHS