Tag Archives: Elmore Leonard

The Moonshine War (1970)

moonshine1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Battle over illegal distillery.

John (Alan Alda), who goes by the nickname of Son, and Frank (Patrick McGoohan) were buddies during the war, but now Son has started up a profitable moonshine business while Frank has become a government agent in charge of arresting those that run illegal distilleries. Frank though is also corrupt and willing to look the other way as long as Son gives him a take of the profits, which Son refuses to do. This forces Frank to bring in Emmett (Richard Widmark) and Dual (Lee Hazlewood) who have violent ways of getting what they want, but when Son still refuses it turns into a shootout with the rest of the town sitting on the sidelines and viewing it as spectators.

The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Elmore Leonard who also penned the script, but Richard Quine’s poor direction impedes the story from achieving its full potential. There’s only a couple of interesting bits one of which takes place inside a café where Dual forces a young couple, played by Claude Johnson and a young Teri Garr who sports a brunette wig, to strip and run around naked, but outside of this there’s not much that’s unique. The editing is choppy as the action jumps from the middle of one scene to another with no set-up in-between. The atmosphere, which is supposed to be the 1920’s does not seem authentic, and the homes, which appear more like shacks, look like they were built in an unimaginative way on a studio backlot. The setting is Kentucky but filmed in Stockton, California where the dry, sandy landscape doesn’t look anything like the Bluegrass state.

I’ll give some high marks to the casting, McGoohan is fun as the agent especially as he tries to speak in an odd sounding American accent, but when Widmark comes along he completely upstages him, which is a big problem. There’s so many offbeat characters within the bad guy clan that putting them all together ends up hurting their potential since Widmark steals it away from all of them. I did like Hazelwood, who’s better known as Nancy Sinatra’s singing partner, in a rare acting bit where he’s genuinely creepy, but not used enough to make the lasting impression that it should’ve. The same goes for Suzanne Zenor, making her film debut, who’s quite delightful as the ditzy blonde, (she played the original Chrissy Snow in the first pilot for ‘Three’s a Company’), but needed to be in more scenes to make her presence truly worth it. Alan Alda is also problematic as his character isn’t seen enough to justify having the viewer root for him and things would’ve worked better had it simply been McGoohan versus Widmark.

The ending is amusing seeing the whole town sitting on the riverbank observing the shootout as if it were some sort of sporting event and the explosive finale, which comes as a bit of surprise, isn’t bad either, but the heavy-handed direction really sinks it. In better hands it might’ve worked better, but ultimately comes-off as a head-scratching misfire that is not one of the author’s best work.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 5, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Richard Quine

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive)

Mr. Majestyk (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t touch his watermelons!

Vince Majestyk (Charles Bronson) is a Colorado watermelon farmer who gets into a conflict with Bobby (Paul Koslo) who wants to force Vince to use unskilled drunks to harvest his crop instead of migrant workers. When Vince successfully forces Bobby and his crew off of his property Bobby then goes to the police with assault charges, which lands Vince in jail. It is there that he comes into contact with Frank Renda (Al Lettieri) a notorious hit man. While the two are being transferred by bus to another prison Renda’s men attack it in a shootout, but when the driver is killed Vince takes control of the bus and drives it off into the Colorado wilderness. There he holds Renda hostage while trying to broker a deal with the police where he’ll ‘trade’ Renda for his freedom, but things don’t go quite as planned.

Many people don’t realize that during the ‘70s Bronson did quite a few offbeat films with St. Ives and From Noon Till Three being his two biggest, but this one comes in as an honorable mention. I’ve watched a lot of movies in my lifetime and can usually guess where they’re going, but this one kept me genuinely intrigued most of the way. The script is enlivened with its vivid on-location shooting done mostly in La Junta, Colorado, which includes a well-staged shootout done in the center of town as well as a car chase that takes advantage of an area with scenic rock formations.

The biggest surprise though is Bronson. Sometimes he comes off as stiff and wooden, but here he’s engaging and even reveals a playful side. His character also makes a few miscalculations, which helps him seem more human as opposed to the standard rugged good guy who is always able to think-on-his-feet and constantly able to achieve miraculous split-second decisions.

I was disappointed though with Al Lettieri. He was so effectively nasty in The Getaway that I didn’t think it could be topped or even attempted and yet just two years after that one he again gets cast in virtually the same type of role making it seem like typecasting to the extreme. I was hoping that he would expose a softer side to his persona at some unexpected moment, but it never occurs and he just proceeds to being one mean, angry s.o.b. which quickly becomes boring and one-dimensional.

Lee Purcell though is terrific as his girlfriend. She had played only rural, country girl types before this, so it was great seeing her portray someone more sophisticated and despite her young age, only 26 at the time, she shows great composure alongside her much older male co-stars. Her cool, collected manner makes for an intriguing contrast to Lettieri’s hyper one and should’ve been explored more.

Linda Cristal as Bronson’s love interest is less impressive. Playing a feisty Hispanic woman comes off almost like a cliché and their relationship is forced. She does come in handy as the getaway driver, which I feel is the only reason her character was put into the story to begin with.

Despite the unpredictable touches the beginning is quite contrived, which includes an opening title sequence better suited for a TV-show. The script was written by Elmore Leonard, which made it disappointing as I was expecting there to be some sort of subtext to it, but in the end it’s rather run-of-the-mill with the offbeat elements not enough to make it anything more than a transparent diversion.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 12, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Fleischer

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

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