Tag Archives: Donald Pleasence

The Caretaker (1963)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Homeless man moves in.

Based on the Harold Pinter play the story centers around Aston (Robert Shaw) who suffers from an undisclosed mental illness and lives alone in a cramped, cluttered room of an abandoned home that his brother Mick (Alan Bates) is trying to renovate. Mac Davies (Donald Pleasence) is a homeless man that Aston invites to stay with him, but Mac proves to be a difficult roommate and when Aston asks him to leave Mac refuses and instead tries connive with Mick to have Aston thrown out instead.

From a purely technical standpoint this is a brilliant film as Clive Donner’s direction perfectly captures the claustrophobic setting. It can be hard to recreate a truly cluttered interior, but this room really comes off looking like a storage closet with so many items crowded into it that you wonder how the performers were even able to move around or how the camera crew could fit in to film it. You eventually lose touch with this being a movie at all, but instead start to feel like you’re right in there with the characters as the camera creates an incredible intimacy with the people on the screen until it’s like they’re breathing right on you.

The performances are impressive and the one thing that keeps the viewer captivated as there is very little action otherwise. All three starred in the stage production and basically did this for free as the budget was so low that they couldn’t be paid upfront and were promised a percentage of the profits if the film went into the black. Shaw is particularly interesting as he has played so many dominating characters in the past that watching him portray someone who is shy and unassuming and still do it with equal effectiveness is a testament to his talents while Pleasence, who wears heavy make-up to make him look much older than he really was, is almost unrecognizable.

My only complaint is that not enough happens. I’ve seen and enjoyed many of Pinter’s other plays that were turned into films and although this one is well crafted it still lacks the necessary payoff. I kept waiting for that great dramatic moment that seems from the very beginning to be just bubbling underneath the surface, but it never materializes. I wanted more of an arch that the characters and material seemed ripe for and to have it just end the way it began with not much occurring in between is a real disappointment. Again, the performance and camerawork keep you captivated, but it all adds up to being much ado about nothing and the story’s ultimate message/point being quite murky.

Alternate Title: The Guest

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 2, 1963

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Clive Donner

Studio: Janus Films

Available: DVD (Region 2)

THX 1138 (1971)

thx-1138

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sex is not allowed.

THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) is member of a futuristic, work camp-like society where everyone has shaved heads, forced to take drugs to control their emotions and avoid having sex, which is forbidden. His days are spent on the production line where he helps build police androids and at night he goes home to an apartment where he rooms with LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie). She is unhappy with her situation and stops taking the required drugs while replacing THX’s with placebos. The two begin a sexual affair and are promptly arrested. THX is thrown into a modernistic prison that has no walls or bars and he eventually decides to attempt a daring escape with the help of SEN 5241 (Donald Pleasence) and a hologram known as SRT 9 (Don Pedro Colley).

This story is an extension to the student film that director George Lucas made while attending the University of California film school. That film was a 15 minute short entitled Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB, which dealt with a man trying to escape from a futuristic world while being chased and monitored by government run computers. It won first place in the 1968 National Student Film Festival and was good enough to gain the attention of Francis Ford Coppola who offered to produce a feature film dealing with the same basic premise, but having more of a background to the character and his reason for escaping.

Reportedly Lucas considers this to be his favorite project and despite the fact that it did not do well at the box office I consider it to be his best stuff as well. The visuals are imaginative and striking and make you feel like you are entering a whole new world unlike any that had ever been created before. I especially liked the prison scenes where the characters are surrounded by nothing but an unending white as well as THX’s medical examination done exclusively by robotic arms. Having the characters framed towards the side of the screen instead of the center while action occurs just out of view helps accentuate the off-kilter vibe and was year’s ahead-of-its-time.

Even though there is very little dialogue or music the sound becomes an integral part of the film by relying on comments made by the androids who tell the people in a HAL-like tone to ‘stay calm’ as well as the state sanctioned god known as OHM who routinely advises his followers ‘to be happy’. The best part though comes when two techs have a casual a conversation while viewing through monitors the torture of THX.

The film is visually groundbreaking and one of the greatest directorial debuts of any director living or dead, but it still comes with a few caveats. One is the fact that the plot relies too heavily on the stereotypical Orwellian view of the future where everything is worse than it is today and people no longer have any individual rights. Yet technology has proven to make life increasingly easier for people and with more freedoms and options, so why would everything suddenly revert the other way? Maybe they were survivors of a nuclear holocaust and this society was humankind’s way of ‘starting over’, but that’s never made clear and it would’ve been nice to at least get a glimpse of the person, or people who were behind-the-scenes with the ultimate authority as well as some sort of backstory.

There is also the fact that everyone in this society needs to be working, but jobs today are increasingly being lost to automation every year and that trend will continue. Certain nations like Finland are already experimenting with paying their citizens a basic salary because there are more people than jobs available.  Citizens of future societies are predicted to have more free time than ever before, so why doesn’t the world in this film follow suit? If this society can build android cops why can’t they also build robots to do the all the other jobs too, which would then allow the humans to have more of an idyllic existence than a workaholic one?

I also wasn’t too crazy about the 2004 digital restoration, which added new special effects and footage. I last saw this film in 2001 and could tell right away that this version had been tampered with. I realize that Lucas has been known to do this with his Star Wars films, but to me it’s as bad as colorization. Why mess with something that is already good? The added computer effects does not ‘enhance’ anything, but instead desecrates the original vision and treats it like it were a video game than a movie.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: March 11, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: George Lucas

Studio:  Warner Brothers

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

Watch Out, We’re Mad! (1974)

watch out were mad

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Replacing a red buggy.

Kid (Terence Hill) and Ben (Bud Spencer) are two race car drivers who participate in a race that ends in a tie that forces the two to settle on sharing the prize, which is a red dune buggy. The two though want the vehicle all for themselves and decide to settle on who gets to keep it by having a hot dog eating contest at a local bar. As they busily eat their hot dogs a local mobster known as The Boss (John Sharp) orders his men to destroy the place in an effort to get local businesses to leave, so that they can then use the land to build a giant skyscraper. Ken and Ben don’t mind the chaos, but when the mobsters then destroy the buggy they get mad…really mad! They confront The Boss and his equally nefarious psychiatrist (Donald Pleasence) insisting that the buggy MUST be replaced and it MUST be the same red color, or there will be trouble. The mobsters initially scoff, but find that these two men are far more resourceful and determined than they could’ve imagined.

This is the seventh teaming of Hill and Spencer who did their first movie together in the 1967 spaghetti western Blood River. They work well together and it is clear that they share a deep camaraderie. The film is full of all sorts of zany slapstick and I enjoyed most of it particularly the bar scene as well as a bumper car segment at a carnival. The best moment though is when they ram their car through the doors of a ritzy restaurant where the mobsters are dining and proceed to drive the car through every inch of the place while popping hundreds upon hundreds of giant balloons that lay all over.

The biggest issue though it that it doesn’t make any sense why these two would be so cocky and arrogant in the face of otherwise dangerous mobsters. Yes, it’s funny that these two ordinary schmucks seem oblivious to danger and can more than handle themselves, but it would’ve worked better had they been initially intimated and then slowly evolved into being more confident. You also have to question how these men acquired such powerful fighting skills, which made me believe that the characters should’ve been portrayed as police or government agents with some kind of combat training instead of just ordinary car mechanics that would not in any way be able to fight these bad guys off as consistently as they do.

The story is one dimensional and there really isn’t much of a third act with the broad plot simply an excuse to showcase a lot of slapstick. The humor is clearly on a kiddie level, but funnier than you might think even though there are certain routines that go on longer than they should and some that seem to repeat themselves. Still it’s refreshing to watch a film made in an era where slapstick was still considered a legitimate form of entertainment and not simply relegated to kid flicks and cartoons.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 29, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated G

Director: Marcello Fondato

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD

Soldier Blue (1970)

soldier blue 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: They massacre the Indians.

Two survivors of a Cheyenne Indian attack, the young and beautiful Cresta (Candice Bergen) and Honus (Peter Strauss) a private from the Calvary must travel through treacherous western terrain avoiding other attacks while also finding the Calvary’s base camp. Along the way the two start a romance despite wide differences in their temperaments and perspectives. Honus supports the position of his country and government without question while Cresta is more sympathetic to the Indians, but this all comes to a crashing halt when they witness an assault by the U.S. army on a peaceful Indian camp, which shocks Honus and changes his perspective on things forever.

The film is mainly known for its notoriously violent ending, which at the time was unprecedented for its use of explicitly savage imagery and remains controversial to this day, but before we get to that I’d like to go over what I did liked about the movie, which for the most part is still watchable.

Filmed in Mexico in October of 1969 the stunning views of the wide open terrain  is sumptuously captured by cinematographer Robert B. Hauser, which is enough to keep one enthralled with it despite its otherwise flimsy plot. I also enjoyed Buffy Sainte Marie’s rousing opening title tune, but the rest of the music score by Roy Budd seems misplaced. During the attack that starts out the film it is booming and orchestral almost like it wants to replicate the sound and mood of a conventional western even though this is supposedly a revisionist one. At other times it takes away from the potential grittiness by being played when it was not needed and sounding too modern for the time period.

Strauss in only his second film is marvelous and makes his naïve and rigid character believable and likable, but I was perplexed how someone lost in the wild for days and weeks and sometimes without food or even a gun could still remain clean shaven. Bergen as his female counterpart is great as well and beautiful. The fact that she is foul mouthed and very self-sufficient while Honas is more timid makes for a nice reversal of the sexual stereotypes, which helps propel the film during the first half. However, it eventually gets overplayed as Bergen’s character starts to display too many attitudes and behaviors from someone that was ahead-of-her-time until it seemed like she was really a late ‘60’s student radical that somehow got pulled into a western setting instead of a person that had actually lived during that era.

Donald Pleasence, a highly talented character actor who played many varied roles during his career, gets one of his best ones here while wearing false teeth that make him almost unrecognizable. His chase of the two when they destroy his wagon lends some much needed tension in what is otherwise a dull romance.

The Indian massacre that climaxes the film is based on the Sand Creek Massacre that occurred on November 29, 1864. Although the film incorrectly states during its denouncement that is was led by Nelson A. Mills it was actually U.S. Army Colonel John Chivington who ordered a band of 700 men to attack a peaceful Indian village where between 150 and 200 Indians were killed most of whom were women and children.

The film portrays Bergen’s character as being the only white person outraged at the slaughter, which isn’t true as many people from the era where appalled by the news when it was found out and the attack was condemned by the army after it was investigated.  Chivington was then forced to resign where he lived out the rest of his life in almost total ostracism by every community he moved to. There were also two officers in the Calvary who refused Chivington’s orders to attack and told the men under their command to hold their fire, which doesn’t get shown at all.

Although the movie does leave some effective haunting images it would’ve worked better had it been a documentary, or a reenactment that concentrated fully on the attack while also showing its aftermath and what lead up to it. It should’ve also been better researched, accurate and balanced instead of feeling the need to pander to the political fervor of its day with stagy over-the-top dramatics and a clumsily attempt to tie it into the My Lai Massacre that has forever stigmatized this as being nothing more than dated emotionally manipulative propaganda.

soldier blue 2

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 12, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ralph Nelson

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray (Region 2), Amazon Instant Video, YouTube