Tag Archives: Gene Hackman

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