Tag Archives: Ernest Borgnine

Sunday in the Country (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Farmer holds robbers hostage.

Adam Smith (Ernest Borgnine) is a Canadian farmer living in a rural home who becomes aware via the radio of reports of three bank robbers (Cec Linder, Louis Zorich, Michael J. Pollard) on the run in the area who’ve just killed a young man and his girlfriend who were his friends. He prepares for their arrival and when they come he shoots and kills one of them while taking the other two into his cellar where he hangs them on meat hooks. Smith’s granddaughter Lucy (Hollis McLaren) finds this treatment inhumane and wants to call the police, but Adam won’t let her and the two quarrel until he locks her in her room, but she escapes and runs for help, which enrages Adam even more.

The film almost gets ruined by an obnoxious musical score that is so heavily tinged with country twang that it seems almost like a parody of itself and makes the entire production come off as cheesy and amateurish. It would’ve been better without any music at all as it ends up taking you out of the action like having someone sitting beside you and rudely talking and not letting you concentrate on what’s happening on the screen.

As for the story it makes some good observations about just how thin the line can sometimes be between the good guy, or those that feel they’re morally justified to inflict whatever style justice they deem necessary, and the so-called bad guy. Unfortunately the character arch of the protagonist happens too quickly without much of a back story explaining why this otherwise law abiding farmer would deviate so quickly into an abuser. What makes him different from others who would’ve called the police? Just saying that he’s ‘old fashioned’ and ‘from a different era’ I didn’t feel was enough of an explanation.

With the exception of Pollard the robbers aren’t intimidating enough and it some ways came off as pathetic and not like professional crooks at all. This might’ve been intentional on the filmmaker’s part in an effort to make the viewer more sympathetic to their quandary once they are held hostage, but in the process it lessens the tension and makes them seem not as threatening.

Borgnine does a terrific job through his facial expressions of showing the character’s inner turmoil as well as constantly exposing his human side even as he forges ahead to doing some not-so-nice things. McLaren is also superb and her interactions with Borgnine are the most compelling aspect of the film.

Pollard is great here too and I was surprised as he’s not always able to find roles that match his unique talents and sometimes has been relegated to thankless and forgettable supporting parts, but here he’s viscous with a most creepy sounding laugh.

Unfortunately the eye-for-an-eye concept doesn’t get examined enough and the film could’ve gone a lot farther with it than it does. It still manages to bring out many interesting issues but the story should be remade and without the corny soundtrack.

Alternate Titles: Vengeance is Mine, Blood for Blood

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 22, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Trent

Studio: Impact Films

Available: Amazon Video

Deadly Blessing (1981)

deadly blessing

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Murder in bible country.

When her husband is killed in a mysterious tractor accident Martha (Maren Jensen) must try to forge on alone while living on an isolated farm surrounded by a religious sect known as The Hittites who show great disdain towards her due to the fact that she is not one of them. Lana and Vicky (Sharon Stone, Susan Buckner) are two of her friends who come to visit and offer solace. Soon more deaths and strange events begin to occur convincing them that the feared incubus, which is a male demon who descends onto female victims as they sleep, may soon be approaching.

This low budget foray, which was filmed in both Ohio and Texas and directed by Wes Craven, is competent enough to hold the viewer’s attention despite a convoluted story that goes on longer than it should. The best part of the film is its female cast, which to date marks the last acting role for both Jensen and Buckner as well as the first speaking part for Stone. Jensen, whose nude scenes were done by a body double, is okay, but Stone is the better actress and looks just as beautiful today as she did back then. In case you thought that actors didn’t earn their pay she certainly does here by allowing a live spider, albeit with its teeth removed, to fall into her mouth during a creepy nightmare segment that I’m not sure I would’ve been up to myself. The film also features Lisa Hartman and the ageless Lois Nettleton as her mother.

The shocks are trite and the creepiness at only a minimum. However, the segment where a large snake crawls into the bathtub while Jensen is in it had me creeped out and the scene involving Buckner having her car set on fire while she is still inside is good too, but both of these segments are similar to ones that Craven used in his later films making me believe that his horror concepts had a definite limit.

The Hittites, which are presumably so strict that they make the Amish look like ‘swingers’, are too one-dimensional and their leader, which gets played stoically by Ernest Borgnine, seems unusually hateful.  I can’t say that there aren’t religious sect leaders that are like him, but I don’t believe they would be so outwardly hostile to people from outside his group and would try to put on more of a kindly façade. I also thought the idea of the Buckner character starting a relationship with one of the Hittite boys, which is played by Jeff East, was unrealistic as they came from such vastly different backgrounds that trying to form any lasting bond or connection would be expectedly slim.

Michael Berryman as one of the more aggressive sect members gives an energetic performance and the fact that Craven advertises another one of his other projects, the TV-Movie Summer of Fear, on a theater marquee during a segment shot in the town, deserves a few merits, but what I really liked was the completely unexpected surprise ending that helps the film rise above the usual ‘80s horror and was something that was forced onto Craven by the producers and not actually of his own devising.

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 14, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: Wes Craven

Studio: United Artists

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

Willard (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He likes his rats.

Willard Stiles (Bruce Davison) is a young man still living at home with his domineering mother (Elsa Lanchester) and dealing with a demanding boss (Ernest Borgnine) at work. To escape his loneliness and frustration he befriends some rats that he finds in his backyard and starts training them to do his bidding. Soon he is getting revenge on all those who have wronged him by having his rats attack them, but ultimately the rats have an agenda of their own.

The film starts out poorly and doesn’t improve as it goes along. The main character seems too old for this type of thing and would be better suited for a bullied teen looking for revenge instead of a 27-year-old that’s still strangely living at home even though he has a job and could be out on his own. The idea that he would become so obsessed with rats after seeing one in his backyard and then be able to somehow ‘communicate’ with them and train them is highly farfetched and happens much too quickly.

The rats themselves aren’t very scary and in fact—I can’t believe I’m saying this either—they really kind of seemed cute most of the time and when Willard initially tries drowning them in a pool I was starting to feel sorry for them as I did when the Borgnine character kills one in the office. When Willard has them invade a party with snooty guests I found it to be quite funny and not ‘horrifying’ at all. The only thing I didn’t like about them was their incessant high-pitched screeching, which eventually becomes irritating.

Daniel Mann’s sterile direction lacks atmosphere or style and the film has a very cheap and dated look even for 1971. Alex North’s musical score is much too soft, melodic and playful for a horror film and at times seemed better suited for a Disney movie.

Davison with his blonde, blue-eyed all-American looks doesn’t have the right menacing quality for the part and Crispin Glover who played the role in the 2003 remake is a much better choice. Lanchester is fun as the overbearing mother as is Jody Gilbert as a meddlesome aunt who looks much more frightening than any of the rats. Borgnine adds some spunk and I loved the way his eyes grow big and round when he sees the rats invading his office and the part where he gets attacked by them is the best moment in the film.

Why this movie became the big hit that it did is a mystery to me. Only at the very end when we see hundreds of rats running across the floor does it ever get even slightly creepy, but overall it is lame and boring and a good candidate for Bad Movie honors.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 18, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Daniel Mann

Studio: Cinema Releasing Corporation

Available: VHS

The Oscar (1966)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Actor’s career on decline.

Frank Fane (Stephen Boyd) is a flippant, self-centered, and arrogant man who makes a living by setting up gigs for his stripper girlfriend Laurel (Jill St John) at local strip joints. By pure chance he watches the rehearsal of a play and in a fit of frustration jumps onto the stage to show the actors how to perform a knife fight when he doesn’t think they are doing it right. This impresses Sophie (Eleanor Parker) who uses her influence to get him signed to a contract at a big movie studio that makes Frank a star almost overnight, but as the years pass the quality and quantity of his roles diminish.  His overspending begins to catch up with him and just when he thinks his career may have faded he gets nominated for the Oscar. He feels a win will revive his career and will stop at nothing and use every dirty trick he can in order to influence the vote.

Adapted from the Richard Sale novel this is high drama at its worst. The scenarios are over-the-top and soap opera-like while bearing little relation to reality. The characterizations are on a kindergarten level and a composite of every Hollywood cliché and stereotype rolled together. The dialogue sounds like it was taken from a 50’s B-movie and comes off more like rants and speeches than anything any real person would actually say. Any attempt at gaining any insight into the behind-the-scenes world of Hollywood is lost with a script that becomes wildly off-center until it becomes absurd and ludicrous. Famed science fiction writer Harlan Ellison who scripted this mess was completely out of his realm here and the film is so botched, over-long, and redundant that it isn’t even good for laughs.

If the film had a glossy visual quality to it then it could at least be entertaining on that level, but director Russell Rouse shows no visual flair, or imagination. The scenes are lighted too brightly, which washes out the color and makes the sets look flat and one-dimensional. The music is too loud and used in a heavy-handed way similar to the canned laughter on some sitcoms. Every time there is some dramatic revelation, or shift the music comes booming out in order to alert the viewer who apparently was perceived by the filmmakers to be too dumb to pick up on it otherwise.

I did like Boyd in the lead. He has good looking chiseled features and parlays the necessary arrogance of the part, but the character is wholly dislikable and only gets worse as the film progresses and having to spend two hours watching a jerk be nothing but a jerk is too much.

The only time he shows any slight compassion is when he finds a fellow actor (Peter Lawford) down on his luck, but it is too extreme to believe that a one-time headlining movie star could one day fall to the point that he would have to wait tables to make a living and thus makes this moment as ridiculous and everything else in the movie. An ‘A’ list actor may fall down to becoming a ‘B’ list actor, or having to go from movies to guest spots on TV-shows, or even doing commercials, or infomercials, but having to become a waiter at a restaurant just isn’t plausible.

Elke Sommar gives a sincere performance and her German accent is sexy, but her character becomes too much of an emotional yo-yo. One minute she loves Frank then the next minute she hates him, only to quickly fall in-love with him again and then hate him shortly after that. Parker, as Frank’s mistress on the side, is good, but wasted despite looking as elegant as ever.

Tony Bennett is badly miscast as Frank’s best friend Hymie. This was to date his one and only film role and he may be a great crooner, but as an actor he is uncharismatic. Milton Berle fares almost as poorly playing Frank’s agent. Initially it was interesting seeing him take a dramatic turn instead of being the perennial comic ham, but his acting skills appear limited and his drama becomes as hammy as his comedy.

Ernest Borgnine gives the film’s only real solid performance as a shady and conniving private detective. The scene where Frank slugs him and it sends him flying backwards and toppling over his desk before crashing against the back wall is the film’s only good moment unless you count St John’s opening striptease.

Lots of cameos by famous stars and celebrities including famed costume designer Edith Head in a non-speaking part and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper in a part she did just before her death.

A good movie can inspire the viewer and expand their thinking and imagination, but this film had the absolute opposite effect. It made me feel like my mind had been sucked away by a giant vacuum. I felt depressed after watching it and continued to feel depressed the next day when I woke up.

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My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: March 4, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Russell Rouse

Studio: Embassy Pictures Corporation

Available: VHS, YouTube

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

Shoot (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hunters out for revenge.

Rex (Cliff Robertson) is a man who really enjoys hunting and especially likes his guns, just watch the way he cleans and caresses it at the beginning, it’s almost obscene. He takes his buddies out on a hunting party in the woods. They come upon a group of other hunters and for some inexplicable reason they begin shooting at each other until one of the men in the other party dies. Rex and his group go back home sure that the police will be contacted and an investigation to pursue, but that doesn’t happen, so Rex thinks they are out for revenge instead. He becomes convinced that the other party plans to attack his group at the exact same spot the very next week. He gets his men ready for battle and dressed in army gear as they prepare for what they believe will be all out warfare.

Part of the problem with this film, which is based on the novel by Douglas Fairbairn, is that it doesn’t make any sense. Rex and his buddies meet the other party from across the river and then the two groups proceed to just stand there in silence like zombies before all the shooting breaks out. There is no reason for why any of it happens and I found it hard to believe this could ever occur in real-life. I am not a hunter myself, but I presume different hunting parties come into contact with each other all the time and it doesn’t end up with them trying to kill each other. I would also think that they may politely greet each other and share some sort of brief conversation in passing. Having all the men not say anything seemed odd and unfounded. The story would have made more sense had the groups spoken to one another and then somebody said something that was insulting and then it escalated. Doing it the way it is done here seems stupid and it is hard for any viewer to get into the plight of characters when there is no reasonable motivation.

The logic for the second half of the story works just as strangely. There is absolutely no reason to believe that the other hunters are planning any type of revenge at the same spot for the next week. The men don’t even know who any of them are. It would have worked better had the other group sent Rex’s group some sort of threatening message, or harassed them in some way to make the threat more real. Watching them prepare and discuss at length for a battle that may never occur is a waste not only of their time, but the viewers as well.

In between there is a long, boring middle part, which includes a scene where Rex visits the widow (Kate Reid) of the man that his group shot while under the pretense that he was an old friend of the deceased. Reid gives an interesting performance, but having her come on to Rex so shamelessly and even tells him that she wasn’t wearing any underwear seemed absurd and unnecessary. A similar scene happens in Rex’s office when the wife (Helen Shaver) of one of his friends aggressively flirts with him as well. Neither of the scenes helps propel the story, or characters and just another clue of a sloppy and unfocused script. There are a few too many shots exposing the boom microphone making me wonder if director Harvey Hart was only going through the motions on this one.

Robertson and Ernest Borgnine as Rex’s friend Lou are adequate, but the characters are painted in one-dimensional ways. The hunters are portrayed as violent prone loons with a penchant for shooting at anything and unable to display any type of sophistication, or rationale. The ultimate anti-gun, anti-violence message is heavy-handed and predictable. This was a trendy theme during the 70’s, but there had been so many better films on the subject that the producers shouldn’t have even bothered to make this one.

The on-location shooting in Ontario, Canada is poorly done. The buildings used for the interior scenes are dull and unimpressive with no visual style or sense. The outdoor scenes are flatly shot and done in the dead of winter, which gives the film a very brown, gray, and drab look. It would have been better had this been done in the summer as the green foliage would have been more scenic. There is also the issue of snow cover. On the first Saturday during their initial hunting trip there is no snow, then on the following Tuesday when Rex visits the grieving widow of the man that they shot there is a good six inches of the white stuff. Then on the following Saturday when they meet in town to get ready for their trip the snow is all gone only to again appear when they get to their hunting site.

I did like the solo trumpet soundtrack although it gets overplayed. The unexpected violent ending is indeed a surprise, but only helps in creating more loopholes. This was another attempt at cashing in on the success of Deliverance by coming up with a similar theme, but lacking the superior execution of the original. Another Deliverance-rip-off that came out in the 80’s Southern Comfort will be reviewed on Monday.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 28, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Harvey Hart

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: YouTube