Tag Archives: Frank D. Gilroy

The Only Game in Town (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: A Vegas love story.

Fran (Elizabeth Taylor) is an aging Las Vegas showgirl living alone in a two-bit hotel room while awaiting the return of her lover (Charles Braswell) who has disappeared yet again while he goes off to his wife that he consistently promises he will eventually divorce. In her loneliness she decides to go out to a piano bar and order a pizza. It is there that she meets Joe (Warren Beatty) and the two quickly hit-it-off while also spending the night together. Joe has a gambling problem, but promises that the minute he saves up $5,000 he’ll be out of Vegas for good. He moves into her hotel room where she helps him save up the necessary dough to achieve his dreams even though with his gambling addiction he will fritter it all away the moment he gets his hands on it. Then Fran’s long lost lover returns and ready for marriage. Will she go back with him, or stay with the self-destructive Joe that she has despite her better judgement fallen in love with?

The script by Frank D. Gilroy is based on his stage play and it’s not particularly rich in character development or plot. In fact the play itself fared poorly when it ran on Broadway and had only 16 performances before being shut down. However, despite its lack of originality I still found myself enjoying it and a major reason for this is the casting.

Taylor shines in a role that didn’t seem to be a particularly good fit for her. She spent the latter part of her career playing bitchy old dames that always seemed one step away from the sanitarium or a nervous breakdown. Here her character merits some sympathy and her usual overacting is actually entertaining and helps propel the flimsy plot along. The pairing of her with Beatty is an odd one, but then again the relationship is supposed to be awkward, so it ends up working to the script’s advantage.

Beatty’s performance is equally impressive. Normally he specializes at playing characters that are cool, calm and in control, but here he portrays one that is quietly crumbling and manages to pull it off to complete perfection. The scenes of him at the craps table and compulsively blowing all of his hard-earned money away is genuinely difficult to watch, especially since real cash gets used, and one of the most effective looks at the gambling addiction that I’ve seen.

This also marks the last film to be directed by the legendary George Stevens. He was known for helming some epic Hollywood productions, so it is a bit surprising that he choose to do this one since the storyline and setting were far more constrained from what he was used to working with. In fact the majority of it was shot in Paris, France and not Las Vegas, which many critics at the time felt was a detriment, but to me it made it even more fascinating to watch because of it. For one thing the crew did spend 10 days in Vegas shooting some of the outdoor shots, so you still get some legitimate Sin City scenery regardless. What I enjoyed though was the way Stevens was able to camouflage the rest of the scenes including having the bright daytime light seeping through the hotel room windows, which convincingly looked like the natural sunlight reflecting off of the sandy desert landscape. The recreation of the giant Las Vegas grocery store was impressive as well and strangely one of my favorite moments from the movie.

If you enjoy quirky love stories particularly between characters who are painfully human and less than glamorous you may enjoy this film better than most. It’s also a terrific chance to see two very fine actors playing against type and doing so in splendid fashion.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: January 21, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated M

Director: George Stevens

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: Blu-ray

Desperate Characters (1971)

desperate characters

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A marriage without love.

Sophie and Otto (Shirley MacLaine, Kenneth Mars) are stuck in a marriage that has fallen into a real rut. They no longer are able to communicate. Sure they ‘speak’ to each other, but neither one listens or seems to even care. Sophie has had a past affair, which Otto became aware of, but forgiven. The two now try to march on like nothing has happened, but the cracks clearly show even when they both deny it. Sophie looks for some answers from her friends, but finds that their marriages aren’t any better and that there may not be any solution other than just sticking with it.

The film to a degree has a provocative flair and seems almost cutting edge for its day. There is no music and the background sound is made up of the ambience of everyday, big city life. The opening shot consists of the camera slowly zooming into the couple’s New York loft with only the distant sound of children playing, which not only helps the viewer feel very integrated to the city that the characters live, but their quiet isolation as well.

The film also has very little action. The only real moment where things happen is when Otto chases a stray cat through their apartment in order to box it up and take to a vet to test for rabies after its bitten Sophie, which for what it is worth is quite interesting. The rest of the film deals with dialogue, but handled in a more sophisticated way than most as it has a consistent conversational tone that not only makes it more genuine, but something that the viewer must ‘read into’ in order to understand. Frank D. Gilroy’s script, which is based on a novel by Paula Fox, never once ‘tells’ the viewer what to think or feel. Instead we are shown regular people with everyday issues discussing the same things that real people do and it’s all left up to the viewer to interpret what it means, which in many ways I found highly refreshing.

Mars gives an outstanding performance in what was apparently his personal favorite and quite atypical from his other body or work, which mainly consisted of over-the-top comic characterizations. Even more surprisingly is that he gets featured in a nude scene from the back. MacLaine is also exceptional in what many fans consider her best work. She is usually effective with strong characters, but here she’s quietly vulnerable while being featured in a rare nude scene for her as well and her case from the front.

The film’s greatest weakness is that it comes off as rather cold and distant. It would’ve been more revealing had it shown even in flashback when the couple was happy and when or what seemed to happen to turn things for the worse. The film also has the philosophy that there is no alternative to their situation and that being in a ‘bad’ or unhappy marriage is better than being alone as it doesn’t even bother to ever touch upon the benefits of single life or an alternative lifestyle, which in the end makes this film seem old fashioned and dated despite its otherwise Avant-garde approach.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 22, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated R

Director: Frank D. Gilroy

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

The Subject Was Roses (1968)

subject was roses

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: This homecoming isn’t happy.

Tim (Martin Sheen) arrives home from the war to find that things aren’t going well with his parents John and Nettie (Jack Albertson, Patricia Neal). Their aloofness towards each other slowly becomes more apparent and seems to come to a head when Tim decides to buy his mother a bouquet of roses and his dad pretends it was his idea. When Nettie realizes it wasn’t John who bought them she leaves the house and doesn’t return, which causes John to panic and try to find her.

This movie has a compelling quality to it and is the old-fashioned type of drama that they don’t seem to make anymore. The characters are real and believable and will probably remind one of their own parents, or even themselves and their marriages. The dialogue has a great conversational style and the viewer feels like they are eavesdropping onto an actual household. The action happens slowly, but deliberately and is devoid of any neat and tidy wrap-ups.

However, the film is also a bit frustrating. We are never explicitly shown what it is that is troubling Nettie so terribly. We are given some definite hints of things bubbling just underneath the surface, but there is nothing that completely comes out into the open. The viewer becomes primed for some great revelation, but when it doesn’t come and the characters end up remaining in the same situation as when it began it makes the whole thing seem pointless.

Neal is outstanding and the main catalyst for why this works. This was her first film after she had suffered several near fatal strokes in 1965. Although she does very well one can still see some subtle effects of it like the way she walks and her speech being just a little bit slower, but in context with the role it makes her seem older than she really is and therefore better for her role. I was surprised at how physically demanding the part was including having her dance rigorously around the living room with Sheen as well as having to aggressively fight off Albertson’s unwanted advances. Her sad and pained facial expressions leave the most lasting impressions.

Although it was Neal who I felt should’ve won the Oscar it was actually Albertson who did. His performance, which he recreated from the Broadway play that also netted him the Tony, is solid especially for doing a character that at times is off-putting. He does get the film’s best line “The humping that I am getting isn’t worth the humping that I am getting.”

The story takes place in the 1940’s and is basically a loose autobiographical story of Frank D. Gilroy who wrote both the award winning play and screen version. For the most part it succeeds with its retro look, but the music by Judy Collins doesn’t fit. Personally, I love Collins as a vocalist, but her raw, moody folk music sound seems out of place for a 40’s setting and takes the viewer out of the story in the process.

Transferring a story done for the stage to the big screen is never easy, but director Ulu Grosbard manages to make it cinematic. None of it was done on a soundstage, but instead the apartment was built inside a warehouse in the same Bronx neighborhood where Gilroy grew up and painstaking detail was done to give it an authentic lived-in look. The scenes done at their lakeside cabin is also effective as it captures the blossoming spring time landscape and gives a nice soothing feeling. You also get to witness Sheen skipping stones across the lake several times something that I could never get the hang of myself.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 13, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ulu Grosbard

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS, DVD (Warner Archive)

From Noon Till Three (1976)

from noon til 3 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: This western gets weird.

Graham (Charles Bronson) is a part of a four member bank robbing gang on their way to another hold-up. Before they get there Graham’s horse gets injured and has to be shot. Later on they come upon an isolated mansion sitting all alone in the rolling hills of the west. The gang asks the woman owner Amanda (Jill Ireland) if she has a horse for sale. She says no despite the fact that she does, so Graham stays with her while the other three rides off to rob the bank and assures them they will be back with the money at three. During this time Graham and Amanda fall in-love and when three o’clock hits everything goes off-kilter featuring one wild twist after another in this highly unusual one-of-a-kind western.

This film is so offbeat it is hard to describe any of the twists without giving too much away however, after a rather slow start it does become entertaining in a quirky sort of way and filled with amusingly ironic twists. Writer/director Frank D. Gilroy seems to be challenging himself at coming up with one weird plot device after another and keeping the viewer off balance throughout. While this is basically fun it does end up making it more like a gimmick than an actual plot driven, character motivated movie. Categorizing this more as a fable or fairy tale might be more accurate and Elmer Bernstein’s playful, lighthearted score helps cement this.

Bronson is amazingly game for the offbeat material that goes completely against his persona. The change of pace is refreshing and although the part does not call for any great acting range he is still quite engaging and endearing. The part where he talks to Amanda about his inability to ‘get it up’ and the erectile dysfunction that he has suffered from for the past seven years is priceless as is the scene where years later when he meets Amanda again and he unzips his pants and takes out is shriveled penis to show her in order for her to recognize him.

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Ireland is good and I loved the variety of dresses that she wears and hairstyle that is put up into a bun. This may be her best performance of her career and certainly the best one that she did with Chuck. She actually becomes the star of the story and even ends up with more screen time than him. As an added treat she sings the film’s closing song over the credits, which she does quite well.

I loved the image of this big mansion all alone in an otherwise stark and barren landscape, which has definite shades of Days of Heaven to it. I was interested in knowing if this was an actual house and where it was located, but the closing credits stated that the entire production was filmed at the Warner Brothers studios in Burbank California making it pretty clear that the home was just a prop built for the movie and most likely torn down after filming, which is a shame.

It is clear visually that Gilroy’s background was more in the writing end than in directing. While the story is full of unbridled wackiness the camera angles, editing, and staging is dull. There is also an opening segment where the men ride up on horseback to the bank and sky is completely cloudy. Then as the camera cuts to show them getting off their horses the sky is now suddenly sunny without a cloud in it. I realize most scenes are not shot in synchronized order and it is hard when filming outdoors to make the weather cooperate, so I am usually forgiving in this area, but this did seem extreme.

If you are in the mood for something different this novelty may do the trick and Bronson fans will be interested in seeing their favorite star in a more lighthearted type of role. The movie also makes a great statement at how the legend can sometimes overshadow the reality and at how people will sometimes perceive things the way they want to see them as opposed to the way they really are.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Frank D. Gilroy

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video