Tag Archives: Donald E. Westlake

Hot Stuff (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: A phony pawn shop.

Tired of seeing the criminals they apprehend getting off on legal technicalities three cops (Dom DeLuise, Jerry Reed, Suzanne Pleshette) decide to turn-the-tables by opening up their own pawn shop, which will work as a front to reel in the crooks that try to resell stolen items. They use the magic of a hidden camera and video tape, which was a new thing at the time, to record the criminals as they bring in the stolen loot and therefore leave no question as to their guilt, but their plan gets off to a rocky start and only gets more convoluted as they proceed with it.

The film, which was directed by DeLuise, starts out fast and includes a car chase before the opening credits even occur, but once the premise is established it bogs down. Supposedly much of what occurs is based on real-life accounts taken from various police cases, but it lacks cohesion. There are gun battles and a wide array of criminal characters that pop up out of nowhere with the pawn shop setting being the only thing that loosely ties it together. Any element of reality gets lost during its farcical ending, which involves all the criminals attending a party that quickly turns into a long drawn slapstick-like battle that resembles something found in a cartoon and is really inane particularly the pathetic ‘fights’ that occur between the various characters where it is clear the actors are pulling their punches and not doing a very good job of disguising it.

The film does make an effort, at least at the beginning, to show the private side of a cop’s life and many of the frustrations that go along with doing the job, but by the end the characters seem too comically inept to be believable. I also found it amusing that DeLuise uses his own children to play the kids of his character even though with their blonde hair they looked more like they should be Reed’s offspring instead.

The one funny moment comes when DeLuise smokes some weed and goes off on a long laughing binge that is genuinely memorable, but otherwise this thing, which was shockingly co-written by the normally reliable Donald E. Westlake, suffers from an uneven focus that is more content at showing slapdash comedy than conveying something that is original, interesting or multi-dimensional.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 10, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Dom DeLuise

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD

The Hot Rock (1972)

hot rock

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stealing back stolen gem.

Having just been released from prison Dortmunder (Robert Redford) has no intention of ever going back because if he does it will be life, but even so he still can’t help but get caught up with the enticing offer that his brother-in-law Kelp (George Segal) has planned. The idea is to steal a valuable jewel from a New York museum where Dr. Amusa (Moses Gunn) will pay top dollar for what he believes was stolen from his African ancestors during colonial times. He even offers to help fund the mission and everything goes well until Greenberg (Paul Sand), who is one of the men on Dortmunder’s team, gets caught with the diamond and forced to swallow it. He then hides it inside the police station after he was forced to relieve himself. Now sitting in prison he promises the others he’ll show them where it is, but only if they agree to break him out of jail, which they do only to find further complications involving Greenberg’s dubious, double-crossing father (Zero Mostel).

Based on a Donald E. Westlake novel this film has all the trappings of being a fun, breezy outing and for the most part it is. The actors are game and Redford gives a surprisingly strong performance and maybe one of the best of his career while the supporting cast fall into their roles perfectly especially Mostel who easily steals it from the rest despite having only limited screen time. Director Peter Yates nicely paces the material although the set-up could’ve been more extended as the film spends only a few minutes on the planning phase and then jumps jarringly right into the actual crime making me feel more scenes of the preparation were filmed and then excised for possible shorter runtime purposes.

Spoiler Alert!

The actual crime is where the film falls apart as it starts getting a little too creative for its own good by incorporating too many offbeat touches that it can’t logically get its characters out of without going overboard into the implausible. The first issue comes when Dortmunder and Kelp try to break into prison in order to break Greenberg out of it. To me it just seemed too easy and they routinely open up prison doors that should certainly sendoff loud alarms almost immediately, but strangely don’t. I also couldn’t believe that Dortmunder would ever break into a place he so dearly wanted to stay out of. One misstep and he’d be stuck there for the rest of his life, so why even take the chance?

Later we learn, after they manage to get Greenberg out, that he has hidden the diamond inside the police station, which involves them flying a helicopter onto the roof of the police building, cutting off the power and phones lines and then releasing smoke bombs in order to get the officers out, which they do only to find that someone else has already gotten to the diamond, which was hidden inside the grimy sewage pipes. Later they find that it was Greenberg’s father, but how could some old man have been able to get to it when it took these four men a lot of effort just to get into the building?

The biggest implausibility though and the one that ‘jumped-the-shark’ for me is when, in an attempt to retrieve the diamond which Greenberg’s father has hidden in his safety deposit box in the bank that only he can access, they have a hypnotist hypnotize one of the bank employees, so that all Dortmunder needs to do is say a magic word and the bank employee will open up the father’s box for him.

I’ve tried hypnotism in the past and I can assure you that there is no way that someone can put anyone else into a trance-like state like they do here. It just doesn’t work that way a person’s conscious state doesn’t shut off nor can they be ‘tricked’ to do something against their will or that they are not aware of. If it was so easy to manipulate people in this way then we’d have robberies all over the world committed like this, but we don’t.

It also brings out more questions than answers like how were they able to get this woman to help put this bank employee into a trance? Did they offer her a part of the cut in order to keep her quiet and how would they know that they could trust her to begin with?

End of Spoiler Alert!

I really wanted to like this movie and the production is slick with a nice jazz score by Quincy Jones and a thrilling look at New York’s skyline from a helicopter, but the numerous plot holes became too much to overlook and ultimately made the story impossible to believe at all.

hot rock 3

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 26, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Peter Yates

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

The Split (1968)

the split

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Robbery during football game.

Since today is Superbowl Sunday I wanted to come up with a film from the 60’s with some sort of football theme and decided to dig this one out of the obscure pile that has just recently been released onto DVD through the Warner Archive label. The film has two special distinctions. For one it is the first movie to ever get an R rating under the MPAA’s then new rating system. It also shows scenes from two actual football games. The first one is a game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Atlanta Falcons that was played on December 3, 1967 and won by the Rams 20 to 3. The second game shown was one played a week later between the Rams and the Green Bay Packers where the Rams also prevailed by a score of 27 to 24.  Both games were played at the L.A. Coliseum with the plot of this movie taking place at another part of the stadium during these games although it is clear that the scenes involving the actors was done on a studio soundstage.

The story, which is based on a novel by the prolific Donald E. Westlake, involves a group of criminals who pull of a daring robbery during the football game, but when it comes to splitting up the money things go awry and they are soon turning on each other.

The crime itself isn’t all that interesting and tends to be a bit plodding with a minimum of suspense. Having things go wrong at the end and the group start turning on each other is redundant since they had been bickering amongst themselves from the very beginning. The characters are all unlikable making it hard for the viewer to get wrapped up into the plight of which of them gets the dough and which doesn’t. Personally I was hoping they would all just get killed off and no one would get any money because their constant yelling and fighting quickly becomes tedious and tiring.

The film’s one main highlight is a fight between Jim Brown and Ernest Borgnine, which carries the novelty of the fact that the two had a similar type of confrontation just a year earlier in the film Ice Station Zebra. Here, like in that film, Borgnine seems to get the best of Brown, which doesn’t make any sense because Brown was athletic, muscular and twenty years younger. There is also a scene where Borgnine puts his fist through a picture on the wall and shatters the glass. However, not only does he not wince in pain, which would be expected, but it somehow doesn’t even cause him to bleed.

Brown can sometimes be good in certain supporting roles, but as a leading man he can’t carry the picture. His facial expressions make him look like he is almost bored and just walking through the role. I know he was a great Hall of Fame running back, but that doesn’t mean he will turn into a great actor and casting him in lead roles of major studio pictures seemed awfully risky.

Warren Oates is terrific as always in a supporting role as one of the group’s henchmen. Donald Sutherland is also really good as another member of the group. I loved his Cheshire cat-like grin as well as his bowl haircut that gives him a creepy look. Julie Harris also sports a different style of hairdo from her usual short cut and she looks attractive as well as being near perfect in her part as an icy cold bitch that has no qualms about torturing a man to death in order to find her money.

SPOILER ALERT!

One of the biggest problems I had with the film was a plot twist that should have made it more interesting. It involves the James Whitmore character who plays the landlord of Diahann Carroll who is Brown’s girlfriend and hiding the stolen money in her apartment. Whitmore enters her place when she is alone and tries to rape her. Seeing an old wrinkled guy attacking a hot young black woman is wild in itself, but he also finds a machine gun in her dresser and holds it like he is masturbating with it and spews its bullets into her body like it is his ejaculation, which I found to be edgy and cool. He also finds the money and takes it for himself while making an anonymous phone call to the police to implicate Brown as the killer. However, when the police detective played by Gene Hackman investigates the case they quickly find out it was the landlord who did it, but it was never explained or shown how they came this conclusion as well as the fact that they end up killing him, which is completely glossed over and mentioned just briefly when the other characters read about it the next day in the newspaper. To me this created a major plot hole that needed to be filled.

The film also has a twist ending that doesn’t work and is very confusing. It happens as Brown is walking through the airport at the end with his share of the money and he hears what sounds like Diahann Carroll’s voice calling his name and he turns around with a shocked expression before the frame freezes and cuts to the credits. However, Carroll’s character was clearly killed and Brown saw the dead body, so how did she come back to life? Some viewers have stated that they think the voice was all inside Brown’s head, but that still needs to be explained and would normally prove frustrating to the viewer, but since the film is so bland it really doesn’t matter.

I feel I am being very generous in giving this picture 5 points, but the direction is fast paced and nicely compact and the jazzy Quincy Jones score is groovy. However, it certainly isn’t worth missing the big game for, nor any other game for that matter.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 4, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Gordon Flemyng

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video