Tag Archives: Gene Hackman

Banning (1967)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Golf pro seeks revenge.

Mike Banning (Robert Wagner) was at one time an up-and-coming golf star, but then his promising career came crashing down when he was accused of trying to rig a game by bribing his competitor. In reality it was his competitor Jonathan Linus (Guy Stockwell) who did the bribing and when Mike refused to go in on it Jonathan tabbed him for the crime. Now Mike has returned to the golf club that Jonathan and his rich wife Cynthia (Susan Clark) own. He demands to be given a job or he’ll tell the truth about what happened, but after securing a position at the club Mike then must deal with the mob who bankrolled his initial PGA run and now demand repayment, which forces Mike into the type of scheme that he had earlier avoided.

This is the type of film that could be deemed ‘dead-on-arrival’ as the characters  are so painfully cliched in the most soap opera-like extreme that it’s almost laughable, but strangely it’s still captivating. Most likely this is because we as regular people still get-off seeing the rich and powerful self-destruct by not only eating up each other, but many times themselves as well. Realizing that people with a lot of money don’t really ‘have-at-all’ and in many cases can be even more miserable is sort of satisfying and to that extent this movie succeeds admirable.

Unfortunately the sets are not as gaudy and over-the-top as they needed to be. When the characters are excessive the backdrop needs to match it and in this case it doesn’t. The golf club appears to be just some set piece created inside a studio and this visual sterility defeats the campiness by ultimately stymieing the melodrama into a formulaic programmer.

Wagner though is what really kills it by performing his role like he were sleepwalking. He shows no energy or nuance and simply goes around with this perpetual irritated look on his face and nothing more. How can a movie stimulate any interest when its lead has no panache? Even Jill St. John who Wagner later married in real-life buries him with her presence to the point that he doesn’t even seem worthy enough to share the same screen with her.

In support Howard St John (no relation to Jill) is fun as a conniving elderly rich tycoon who pretends to be drunk when he really isn’t as well as Anjanette Comer playing in a rare straight role. Her career has been marked with so many cult movie parts that seeing her play someone who is normal becomes genuinely diverting. Unfortunately Gene Hackman, who is miscast as an aging golf-pro even though he was in reality the same age as Wagner, gets wasted.

The climactic golf match manages to be surprisingly captivating and proves that the game can have a certain cinematic flair if done right, but some of the film’s other stabs at action don’t work so well. The car chase is a particular problem as it becomes painfully clear that Wagner really isn’t driving a vehicle, but simply sitting in front of a green screen instead, which pretty much helps to cements this as a dated relic.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 30, 1967

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ron Winston

Studio: Universal

Available: None at this time

Twice in a Lifetime (1985)

twice-in-a-lifetime

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He has an affair.

Harry MacKenzie (Gene Hackman) is a steel mill worker living in Seattle who has just turned 50. On the night of his birthday Kate (Ellen Burstyn), his wife of 30 years, tells him that he can go by himself to the local tavern to celebrate as she is not into the drinking. When he does he meets Audrey (Ann-Margret) who has just started working there. The two immediately hit-it-off and soon are in a relationship. When Harry finally tells his wife and family about it they are devastated, but learn to cope with it in unexpected ways.

The way Harry and Audrey’s relationship begins is too rushed as he simply spots her in a crowd and then quickly becomes entranced. If eyeing an attractive woman is all that it took then he should’ve been having a string of affairs way before this one. Making Audrey more of the instigator while Harry remained hesitant only to later realize how stale his marriage had gotten once the relationship started would’ve worked better. There is also no indication at the beginning that there was anything wrong with his marriage or that he was even bored with it.

It should’ve opened with Harry simply coming home one day and admitting to the affair and then focusing on everyone’s reactions, which would’ve been less contrived. I was also annoyed that two key scenes including when Kate first gets informed of the affair by a friend as well as Kate’s later confrontation with Harry are not shown. The film just cuts away before either of these conversations gets going, which to me was frustrating.

The second half is an improvement. I liked how the film sends the message that divorce isn’t always bad, but instead can act like a rebirth for both parties. I also enjoyed the on-location scenery of the Pacific Northwest and seeing Harry and Audrey sitting amongst a crowd at an actual Seattle Seahawks football game.

It was also great having Hackman playing a character that lacked confidence and at times was even socially awkward, but it’s Burstyn’s performance that really makes it special. Watching her shy character coming out-of- her-shell and learning to become independent is the film’s highlight. Unfortunately Amy Madigan as the eldest daughter is a turn-off as her angry outbursts come off as forced and overdone while the much quieter Ally Sheedy as the other daughter is far better.

Surprisingly no studio would agree to finance the picture even though the script was written by Colin Welland who had just won the Academy Award four years earlier for the film Chariots of Fire, so director Bud Yorkin was forced to put up his own money by using the earnings he had made through producing ‘All in the Family’, which helps explain why a clip from that show gets seen briefly. It could also be the reason why the production at times has a cheap look to it and like it had originally been shot of video and then later transferred to film. Paul McCartney, whom I’m a big fan of, does the closing tune, which unfortunately has to be the worst of his career.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 8, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bud Yorkin

Studio: Bud Yorkin Productions

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Doctors’ Wives (1971)

doctors wives

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: His wife sleeps around.

Several wives of prominent surgeons at a prestigious hospital get together for a game of cards, but one of the women, the oversexed Lorrie Dellman (Dyan Cannon), gives them a shocking proposition. Seeing that they are not satisfied with their sex lives, she tells them that she will sleep with each of their husbands and then critique their ‘performances’, so as to enlightened them as to what they might be doing wrong. The women turn down her ‘friendly’ offer, but then panic when Lorrie tells them that she has slept with ’50 percent’ of them already.  They have no time to worry though because the next day Lorrie is shot dead by her brain surgeon husband (John Colicos) after she is found in bed with one of the physicians. Now the women must try to figure out which doctor it was while worrying if their husbands were also involved with Lorrie at some other point.

The film, which is based on a novel by Frank Slaughter, is just too trashy and soap opera-like to take seriously. The productions values are strong and director George Schaefer shows a flair for the visual, which makes it watchable, but the characters are one-dimensional and the dialogue seemingly stripped straight out of a potboiler paperback.

Cannon, who’s billed as being the star, is on-screen for less than five minutes, which has to set some sort of record. Who on earth would ever accept a part to be the film’s ‘star’ if they are going to only be in it for that short of a period, or why bill someone as being such if they ultimately will have that little to do? In some ways I wished the character had remained as she is so outwardly slutty that it becomes campy and her initial proposition would certainly have created a more interesting scenario than what ultimately gets played out. Besides any character whose first words out of their mouth is “God, I’m horny” can’t be all that bad.

The supporting cast, which is made up of many familiar faces, are essentially wasted especially Gene Hackman in what may be the dullest role of his otherwise illustrious career although the way he repeatedly slaps his wife (Rachel Roberts) across the face after she confides in him that she once had a lesbian affair does have a certain outrageous quality.

Colicos is competent as the heavy, but Anthony Costello steals it as a young intern who sleeps with the middle-aged wives of his superiors. In real-life he was gay and ended up dying of AIDS at the young age of 45, but here successfully comes off as a flaming heterosexual who brags of his conquests and acts like going to bed with married women is as common place as taking out the garage. His best bit comes when he beds fellow intern Sybil (Kristina Holland) who is making a sex documentary and narrates a ‘play-by-play’ of her sexual intercourse with him as it happens.

The film’s most memorable moment, and it’s a doozy, is when it shows in incredibly graphic style the operation of taking a bullet out of a man’s heart. A real pumping human heart was used and the footage would rival that of any educational film. Not only do we see them tear off the organ’s outer membrane, but we also watch as the doctor sticks his finger into it and then in one truly ghoulish shot pop the bullet out of it. It’s all real and done in close-up making it far more explicit than any gore movie out there and one of the most stomach churning things ever to be put in a mainstream Hollywood movie.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 3, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated R

Director: George Schaefer

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R

Night Moves (1975)

night moves 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for runaway teen.

Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman) is a down-on-his-luck former football player who is now working as a private detective. The cases are not interesting and when his wife (Susan Clark) begins having an affair he feels like his life has hit rock bottom. Then he gets what he thinks is just another routine case which is finding the missing runaway teenage daughter (Melanie Griffith) of an aging, alcoholic actress (Janet Ward). The case though harbors many dark and unexpected turns that eventually gets Harry wrapped up into a world of art smuggling and murder.

To me one of the lasting impressions of the film, which I have seen many times over the years, is the way it incorporates nighttime into the story. The majority of the action and dialogue take place very late and makes full use of the sound of the night bugs croaking and chirping. In fact this becomes ‘the music’ for the scenes and helps create a third character as it reveals the darkness harboring inside the characters.

Hackman gives another outstanding performance playing a protagonist struggling against loneliness and frustration while realizing that it may be an inevitable part of life and something that cannot be ‘defeated’. His best line comes when he describes where he was when the Kennedys were shot. When John F. was assassinated he was playing football and still full of dreams, but then 5 years later when Bobby was killed his life had already fallen into an apathetic rut.

Jennifer Warren is good in support and looks terrific during a topless lovemaking scene. Griffith, Edward Binns and James Woods do quite well in their respective roles and the lesser-known Janet Ward plays a pathetic, boozing old broad about as well as anyone could.

The majority of the story is talky, but still intriguing. The only action comes near the end when Harry gets attacked by a seaplane while he is out on a boat. This scene is especially good because it plays off of the famous airplane segment in North by Northwest and is almost as riveting including the memorable and unique way Harry is finally able to identify the mysterious pilot.

The script, by Alan Sharp is overall smart, but does suffer from a few moments where things don’t make complete sense. One of those is when Griffith finds out that Harry plans on taking her back to her mother which she insists will ‘never’ happen, but then in the next shot we see her getting into his car, which I would think she’d resist doing for fear that she would be placing herself into too much of a vulnerable position and he would use the opportunity to ‘kidnap’ her and take her back to where she didn’t want to go.

Another moment comes when Griffith leaves a message on his answering machine that alerts Harry about something she feels he should look into. He begins listening to it, but then shuts it off when his wife enters the room yet he never goes back to listen to the rest of it even after Griffith later turns up dead.

When a death occurs on a movie set Harry is the one who gets called in to analyze the film footage showing the mishap, which isn’t realistic as the police would’ve been the ones doing the investigation and they most likely would’ve confiscated the footage in order to be used later as possible evidence.

night moves 2

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 11, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Arthur Penn

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Lucky Lady (1975)

lucky lady

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Three’s not a crowd.

Walker (Burt Reynolds) and Claire (Liza Minnelli) make money by helping people illegally cross the Mexican border into the states, but when their third partner in the business dies and they almost get arrested they decide to get into an easier line of work. With the help of Kibby (Gene Hackman) they become rum-runners who transport liquor by boat under the cover of night during the prohibition era. As the three start to have some success and get to know each other they also form a love triangle and spend their evenings involved in a ménage-a-trois.

If you’re in the mood for non-think, grandiose style entertainment made in the same vein of classic movies from Hollywood’s golden era then you should find this more than satisfying. The plot moves along at a nice breezy pace with characters that are distinct and fun and full of snappy dialogue. The majority of the story takes place on water, but manages to remain quite exciting and ironically only becomes waterlogged when it goes on land. The lavish sets are splendid and the film could be enjoyed by simply taking in those alone.

The three leads are in top form and play against type. Minnelli, who actually looks sexy here in a flapper styled hairdo, is quite amusing with her acerbic one-liners. Reynolds is great as the klutzy member of the trio and Hackman is solid as always playing someone who seems meek at first, but eventually takes over things with his patented strong personality. Unfortunately John Hillerman, best known for playing Higgins in the ‘Magnum P.I.’ TV-series, is the only weak link of the cast playing a bad guy that never conveys enough menace to be truly threatening.

A young Robby Benson who was 18 at the time, but looks more like 14 is quite good in support. I was never all that impressed with the former teen heart throb, but here he is effective playing a shy kid who says little, but when he does say something it’s a gem. Geoffrey Lewis is also quite funny as an inept Captain of the Coast Guard. Mills Watson, who is best known for playing Deputy Perkins on the ‘The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo’ TV-series can be spotted in a couple of scenes. IMDb does not have him listed here, but I recognized him and his name does come up on the closing credits as a character named Giff.

For lightweight entertainment the film does have quite a few action sequences that are surprisingly well choreographed and even quite bloody, but the climatic sequence becomes too cartoonish. I was also disappointed that the one unique element of the story, which is the three getting into a relationship, is only mildly touched upon and basically forgotten after the first hour. The film could’ve gone a lot farther with that and even made it the centerpiece of the plot, which would’ve helped make it more character driven and groundbreaking.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stanley Donen

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

 

Marooned (1969)

marooned 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Astronauts stranded in space.

Unfortunately this film’s biggest claim to fame is that it is the only movie nominated for an Academy Award to be shown on ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’.  As much as I enjoy that show I think it is unfair to throw this movie into the pile and make fun of it as I think it holds-up well and is a solid space drama.  The story based on the novel by Martin Caidin is about three astronauts (Richard Crenna, Gene Hackman, James Franciscus) who have been orbiting the earth for several months in a space lab, but as they try to return to earth they find that their retro rocket won’t fire and they’re stranded. Initially NASA, which is headed by Charles Keith (Gregory Peck) decide they have no alternative but to leave them there however, Ted Daugherty (David Janssen) puts up enough of a raucous that they decide to allow him to head a rescue mission. An impending hurricane and the astronaut’s dwindling supply of oxygen all cause further problems and force everyone to work at break-neck speed to pull it off.

One of the things that grabbed me initially was the lack of music. Instead we just here beeping sounds of a computer and the hum of a rocket during the opening credits, which helps give the film a futuristic and distinctive flair. I also liked the cool sounding hum that the viewer hears every time the men are outside of their capsule and in space. It has kind of a hypnotic tone to it and makes things a bit surreal. The special effects were decent for its era. You do have to forgive it a little particularly the scenes showing the rocket and men floating in space, which were clearly matted over a blue screen, but at least when the men are shown floating around with no gravity there are no visible strings. My favorite moment out of the entire film is when one of the men goes floating off motionless into the dark abyss while the other two watch solemnly from the capsule door.

The narrative could have been handled better. Instead of starting things out right away with the rocket taking the men off into space I felt there should have been more of a backstory to the main characters so we got to know them better and felt more empathy to their predicament. Even having flashbacks of the characters at different times in their life dotted throughout the film would have helped make them seem less cardboard. The scenes involving all three wives of the astronauts (Nancy Kovack, Mariette Hartley, Lee Grant) talking to their respective husbands via satellite just before the rescue mission takes off becomes too extended, predictable and maudlin. However, the scene involving the conversation that the astronauts have amongst themselves when it is learned that there isn’t enough oxygen for all three and one of them must be willing to die to save the other two I found to be gripping and compelling.

Peck is as usual incredibly stiff and delivers his lines like he is preaching some sort of sermon. Here though his style works with a character that is no-nonsense and locked into being completely practical at all times. His looks of nervousness as the rescue rocket gets ready to take off are great as is his delicate conversation that he has with Crenna involving which of them must sacrifice their life for the other two. Hackman is solid as usual playing an emotional Gus Grissom-like character, but he has played these roles so much it would have been interesting to see him play one of parts that required more restraint. The beautiful and talented Grant is wasted in a non-distinguished role as one of the wives, but her line about ‘the girls’ leaving the men alone so they can get back to their jobs seemed incredibly sexist especially from her.

The rescue mission is exciting, but excruciating and the ending is way too abrupt. However, my biggest complaint about this film that I otherwise find to be realistically and plausibly handled is that no explanation is ever given for why the rockets failed to fire, which I felt there should have been especially since there is a moment showing the green light on their dashboard stating that the rockets did fire and this light mysteriously stays on even when they shut down the power to the rest of the cabinet.

marooned 2

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 11, 1969

Runtime: 2Hours 14Minutes

Rated G

Director: John Sturges

Studio: Columbia

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

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