Tag Archives: Doris Roberts

Something Wild (1961)

something wild 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rape and its aftermath.

Mary Ann (Carroll Baker) is raped one night while she is walking home from school. For whatever reason she decides not to go to the police and instead keeps the whole incident to herself, but living with her domineering mother (Mildred Dunnock becomes too much and she decides to run away. She finds herself a cheap apartment in a seedy part of the city and a job at a five and dime store. However, the emotional effects of the rape begin to gnaw at her psychologically. She no longer wants to get close to anyone, which alienates her from those around her. She considers suicide, but at the last minute is saved by Mike (Ralph Meeker) who takes her back to his modest basement apartment. There he imprisons her and refuses to let her leave until she falls in love with him.

In some ways this film was ahead-of-its-time. The dazzling opening credit sequence by Saul Bass is eye popping. Director Jack Garfein who at the time was married to Baker and just off of his success of The Strange One continues his push of exploring ideas with dark psychological undertones. The rape scene for its time is surprisingly graphic and the film doesn’t have a single line of dialogue uttered for the first fifteen minutes. New York gets captured in a cinema vertite style reminding me of the influential ‘Naked City’ TV-series that was out at the same time. The black and white photography helps accentuate the story’s grittiness and the surreal dream sequence that Mary Ann has towards the middle of the film is visually creepy and impressive.

Although not the strongest of actresses Baker still manages to give a compelling performance and although she was already pushing 30 she still looked very much like she was 18 or even younger. Meeker an outstanding actor who unfortunately isn’t very well known is solid. The film also offers a great chance to see young stars in the making including Diane Ladd in her film debut as well as Jean Stapelton as Mary Ann’s nosy neighbor and Doris Roberts as a petulant co-worker. There is even Clifton James with a full head of hair.

Unfortunately the film ultimately misses-the-mark and part of the problem is Mary Ann’s decision of not going to the police after she is attacked, which is never explained. This could have been because of the stigma placed on rape victims at the time, but it still comes off as frustrating and even off-putting to the viewer. Mike’s apartment is just a little too bare-bones looking almost like a prison cell instead. Maybe this was the director’s attempt at symbolizing how ‘imprisoned’ Mike and Mary Ann were, but if that was the case it was much too obvious. Realistically someone usually enlivens and personalizes the place where they live by at least putting up a few pictures on the walls. Also, Mary Ann’s doesn’t seem to put up much of an attempt at escaping. Mike locks the door from the inside and then passes out drunk and she could have just gone through his pockets to get the key. She is also left alone for several hours a day while he goes to work, which would have been enough time to cut through the bars on the windows, broken through the door, or even yelled for help out the open window.

Cinematically it has its moments particularly during the first hour, but the story itself seems dated and the character’s motivations confusing and unclear ultimately making it an experimental misfire.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 23, 1961

Runtime: 1Hour 52Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Jack Garfein

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Rabbit Test (1978)

rabbit test 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: The first pregnant man.

Lionel (Billy Crystal) is a lonely young man of 24 who lives next to his obtrusive mother (Doris Roberts) and has never been with a woman. When his friend Danny (Alex Rocco) comes home from the service they go out to a war veteran’s social where he has sex with actress Sheree North on top of a bowling pinball machine and inexplicably becomes pregnant. This creates an uproar in both the media and medical world and turns Lionel into an unwanted celebrity.

This was the one and only movie directed by Joan Rivers. Like with her personality it can be mildly funny at times, but is mostly abrasive and crass. The film lacks any cinematic style and was originally shot on video. The plot is limp and the whole thing seems more like a gag reel than a movie. Her attempts at recreating the comic style of Mel Brooks, Woody Allen or even John Waters fails miserably and the viewer is left with one big amateurish mess.

Ninety-nine percent of the humor is crude and stupid and deals heavily in racial stereotypes making one almost thankful for political correctness. Some of the worst bits include the portrayal of Lionel’s Mexican-American students as being utterly infantile and the only way to get rid of them is to yell ‘immigration’. There is also a segment where Lionel travels to Africa and watches a ventriloquist act where a black man has a dummy on his lap that is played by midget actor Billy Barty in blackface. The film also takes potshots at elderly people, fat people, people with disabilities and even Jews. None of the jokes are funny and are often cruel and in the poorest of taste.

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Crystal in his film debut is the only good thing about the movie and is likable enough to help elevate it to some degree. Paul Lynde is amusing as a gynecologist and had he had more screen time it would have helped. Roberts score a few points in the caricature of a meddlesome mother as does George Gobel as the hick president. Michael Keaton also makes his film debut here, but it is in a non-speaking role as a sailor and if you blink you’ll miss him.

There is also never any explanation for exactly how Lionel becomes pregnant nor do we see the delivery or what type of baby it is which is annoying and dumb. It is almost like a bunch of twelve-year-olds got together to write the script and in many ways I think they could have done better. The film’s posters are funnier than anything you’ll see in the actual movie.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: April 9, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joan Rivers

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: VHS

A Lovely Way to Die (1968)

a lovely way to die

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cop protects sexy defendant.

Jim Schuyler (Kirk Douglas) is a tough guy cop who leaves his job after his superiors put pressure on him to change the brutal way he treats criminals, which he refuses to do. Tennessee Fredericks (Eli Wallach) a high profile defense lawyer hires Jim to protect his client Rena Westabrook (Sylva Koscina) who is on trial for conspiring with her lover (Kenneth Haigh) to murdering her rich husband. Jim takes a liking to Rena and the two soon begin a torrid affair while he tries desperately to prove that Rena is innocent even though everything points against her.

This film sat in complete obscurity for almost 4 decades having never gotten released on either VHS or DVD until Universal finally made it part of their Vault Series. Why it took so long to get out I don’t know why as it is on the most part pretty good. The mystery is intricate and entertaining and full of unusual twists. The woodsy New Jersey scenery isn’t bad and the large mansions where most of the action takes place are impressive. This film isn’t any different from any of the other myriad crime noir mysteries of that era, but it manages to be slick enough to keep it intriguing until the very end.

The opening credit sequence is a definite drawback as it shows freeze frames of scenes from the film and seems almost like an ad or movie preview that does not help the viewer get into the mood of the story. The music also gets overplayed to the point of being distracting and irritating. It also has too much of a playful tone to it that does not coincide with the dark, moody overtones of the plot or characters.

Douglas who was already in his 50’s at the time of filming looks too old for the part and his love scenes with Koscina look almost like a father and daughter, which comes off as creepy and unnatural. The part would have been better served had it been played by an actor that was at least 20 years younger, which would have made the romantic angle much more believable. Wallach’s attempts at a southern accent are futile, but his arguments and theatrics during the trial are still fun.

The film also offers a great chance to see young up-and-coming stars including Conrad Bain as the prosecuting attorney, Doris Roberts as a snoopy housekeeper and Ralph Waite as the star witness. There is also Philip Bosco and John P. Ryan as bad guys. Richard Castellano is a bartender and David Huddleston is one of his patrons. You can even spot the beautiful Ali MacGraw in her film debut at the very beginning.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 12, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Not Rated

Director: David Lowell Rich

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD (Universal Vault Series)