Tag Archives: George C. Scott

The Formula (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nazis create synthetic fuel.

While investigating the murder of his former police mentor, Lt. Barney Caine (George C. Scott) stumbles upon a an underworld of drug money and illicit funds that connect back to a petroleum company run by Adam Steiffel (Marlon Brando). He later learns that it has to do with a synthetic fuel invented by the Nazis during World War II that could be created from coal instead of oil, which if unleashed would unbalance the world markets and those that know about it are now being silenced permanently.

MGM offered to make the movie before Steve Shagan had even completed the novel of which is is based figuring that the topic of synthetic fuel would grab audiences since it conformed to the issue of the energy crisis that was making headlines during that era. Unfortunately the story works better in novel form because as a movie it amounts to nothing more than scene after scene of talking heads with no visual style or cinematic quality to it and the only interesting images, which include watching a frog swim across a chlorine filled pool and alligators munching on their lunch, has nothing to do with the actual plot at all.

Scott’s character is equally dull. He’s seen at the start leaving a movie theater with his son (Ike Eisenmann), which I guess is a cheap attempt to ‘humanize’ the character, but then he’s never seen with him again. He’s also initially straddled with a police partner (Calvin Jung) and their relationship gets off to a rocky start, which I thought would offer some secondary drama, but then he disappears too leaving him only with Marthe Keller, who replaced Dominique Sanda who Scott disliked because of her French accent, who acts as a potential love interest that is both stale and unneeded.

The film’s only entertaining aspect is Brando who manages to steal every scene he’s in by playing up the comic angle. He demanded complete control over how his character dressed and in the process sported a goofy comb-over and a hearing aid, which gives the guy a quirky charm. He also mostly ad-libbed his lines and refused to learn the ones in the script, which helps enliven the otherwise staid drama with some nice offbeat touches that I wished had been played-up more and it’s a shame that he wasn’t made the star as he’s the only thing that saves it.

The plot does have some intriguing qualities to it, but Shagan who also acted as the film’s producer, gives away all the secrets too early. Instead of waiting until the very end to find out what the code name Genesis stands for we’re told the answer at the halfway mark making the second half seem pointless and petering itself out with one of the dullest, most anti-climactic finales ever filmed.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 19, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John G. Avildsen

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD

Firestarter (1984)

firestarter

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Girl has fire power.

Andrew (David Keith) and Victoria (Heather Locklear) are two struggling college students who in an attempt to make some extra money decide to take part in medical study where they receive injections of a drug that give them telepathic abilities. They later get married and have a child named Charlene (Drew Barrymore) who has the same type of abilities except hers allows her to start fires using only her mind. Now a secret governmental agency known as The Shop seeks to kidnap Charlene so they can use her abilities for their own nefarious means, which sends Charlene and her father on a cross-country run to try and escape the agency’s clutches.

If there is one thing that really stands out in this movie and makes it worth the watch it’s Drew’s performance. She was only 8 at the time, but has a presence and acting awareness that was well beyond her years and she easily upstages her more seasoned co-stars. Her character isn’t completely fleshed-out and I’ll agree with Roger Ebert in his review that she was created more like a “plot gimmick”, than anything, but Drew still makes it engaging nonetheless. My only real complaint with her character is why, when she does get apprehended by the governmental agency, that she doesn’t she just use her fire ability to burn down the door of the room that she is trapped in to escape?

George C. Scott is an equally interesting as the bad guy even though he ends up being trapped into the same type of contrived character with motivations, particularly his reasons for befriending the girl, that seem quite nebulous and even illogical. However, his presence lends an added edge and I loved his ponytail as well as the contact lens put into his left eye that gives him an android-type appearance.

The rest of the cast though does not fare as well. Art Carney and Louise Fletcher, two Academy Award winners, get stuck in a small, almost insignificant roles as a father and daughter farm family who temporarily takes in Andrew and Charlene when they are on the run, which is okay, but the idea that this same couple would later happily take in Charlene again after they had witnessed her frightening ability first-hand and the burning deaths of several people that she helped create is ridiculous. In reality they would’ve seen her as some sort of ‘freak’ to be wary of and scared that she might do the same thing to them one day and thus want nothing to do with and certainly not welcomed back into their home.

As for the plot it’s okay, but it takes quite a while to get going and only becomes moderately gripping during the second-half. The script is based of course on a Stephen King novel and the scenes showing Charlene setting various people and things on fire seemed too much like an offshoot to King’s more famous Carrie character and thus the originality is lost. There’s also just so much objects/people being set on fire one can watch before it starts getting redundant, which makes the climactic finish boring, lame and even laughable.

I also wasn’t sure how Charlene was able to stop bullets from hitting her. This subject gets discussed in a thread on IMDb with some posters surmising that it was apparently a ‘heat shield’ that she was able to create through her pyrokinesis. However, if that was the case then it should’ve gotten explained earlier otherwise it comes off looking like the filmmakers were just making up the rules as they went whenever it was convenient for them.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 11, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 54Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark L. Lester

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Petulia (1968)

petulia 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: A very brief affair.

While attending a medical fundraiser Petulia (Julie Christie) who is a married rich socialite, decides to come-on to Archie (George C. Scott), a doctor who performed a life-saving surgery on a young Hispanic boy (Vincent Arias) that she brought to him a few months earlier. Archie is still hurting from his recent divorce to his wife Polo (Shirley Knight) and not sure he wants to jump into another relationship so quickly especially with a woman that behaves in such an eccentric way. However, her kooky personality and good-looks get the better of him and the two spend the night together. In the days that follow Archie learns of her abusive relationship with her husband David (Richard Chamberlain), but when he makes an attempt to help her get out of it she resists, which causes him a great deal of frustration as he is unable to get a good grasp on why she behaves the way that she does.

The film is based on the novel ‘Me and My Arch Kook Petulia’, which was written by John Haase who worked as a dentist and wrote his stories between his appointments. What makes this plot stand out from the rest of the romances is that it focuses on the chance meeting between two people who share an immediate attraction, but are unable due to various extraneous circumstances to ever get it into a relationship stage. They become like two-ships-passing-in-the-night and go on with their lives and even other relationships while quietly longing for ‘the-one-that-got-away’. Most movies portray romances where everything falls into line and works out while blithely ignoring the ones that get shown in this film even though these are much more common.

Director Richard Lester, who is better known for his slapstick comedies, shows an astute eye for detail and his fragmented narrative works seamlessly. I enjoyed the quick edits and color detail as well as the subliminal symbolism including showing the David and Petulia characters wearing all-white to display their sterile marriage as well as capturing David’s father (Joseph Cotton) sitting in front of a giant window that looked like a cobweb to help illustrate how he had entangled Petulia into his own personal web. The film, which was shot on-location in San Francisco, features great shots of the Golden Gate Bridge and the world famous cable cars as well as an interesting scene at the Jack Tar Motel, which has now been demolished but was famous for its ability to check customers into their rooms without the use of a live clerk, but instead through close circuit TV and a room key that would light up when the person passed by their assigned room.

The two leads give strong performances particularly Scott who for a change doesn’t play a character with a forceful personality, but instead someone who inadvertently gets bowled over by a woman who has an even stronger one than he. Even Chamberlain does well. Normally I find him to be quite bland, but here he is surprisingly effective.

This movie also marks the film debuts of many performers who are seen in brief, but quirky bits including: Richard Dysart as a virtual hotel clerk, Howard Hesseman as a hippie, Rene Auberjonois as a seat cushion salesman and Austin Pendleton as a hospital orderly. Members of the Grateful Dead get some funny moments while inside a grocery store and Janis Joplin can be seen onstage singing during the opening party sequence.

Romance fans will like this, but so will those living in the Bay area during the ‘60s as the city gets captured well. However, fans of that decade will also like it as it expertly exudes the vibe from the period and making it seem very real to the viewer even if they weren’t alive during the time it was made. Also, John Barry’s haunting theme nicely reflects the character’s mood and evasive film style.

petulia 1

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: June 10, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Lester

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

The Changeling (1980)

the changeling

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dead child haunts house.

Still grieving from the sudden loss of his family in a freak accident composer John Russell (George C. Scott) decides to move to the Pacific Northwest where he finds a large stately mansion to move into. He feels it would be the perfect place to reflect and continue with his work, but instead realizes that it is haunted by a child who was murdered there years earlier. With the help of Claire (Trish Van Devere) who had procured the property for him they investigate its history and find that there is a connection between the killing and an influential senator (Melvyn Douglas).

One of the aspects about this film that I did like was that it was given a big budget and the on-location shooting that was done from New York, Seattle and even Toronto gives it a strong visual backdrop and makes it light years ahead of the average horror film that is usually crippled from the start by its meager funding. The mansion is impressive at least the outside of it, which was actually only a façade that was constructed when they couldn’t find a real one to fit their needs. However, the idea that a single man would move into such a large place seems ridiculous and there’s nothing that says ghosts can’t haunt small homes that would be more practical place for one person to live in.

Scott gives an unusual performance in that he shows little of a frightened reaction when the scares occur. To some extent I liked this as the screams and shocked expressions in most horror movies become overdone, but when a vision of a ghostly boy appears in a bathtub and all Scott does is calmly back away it seems to be underplaying it a bit too much.

I also felt that Van Devere’s character was unnecessary and was put in only because she was Scott’s real-life wife at the time, but it seemed unrealistic that a real estate agent who was merely an acquaintance to John would get so wrapped up in his quandary or even believe him to begin with. No relationship is ever implied, but it would have made more sense had the character been written in as a girlfriend.

I realize there are those that consider this to be a ‘really scary’ movie, but I found it to be pretty flat. The ‘scares’ as it where consist of nothing more than a child’s ball rolling down a staircase twice, whispery voices, a runaway wheelchair and a few doors slamming. There is also a fiery finale that borders on the hooky and a tacky séance and if that is enough to keep you up all night then have at it.

Spoiler Alert!

The idea that this child, who was sickly and if he died before his 21st birthday the family fortune would go to charity, so the father kills him and has him replaced with another child who later grows into being this powerful aging senator, didn’t make sense in that I didn’t see where the ‘justice’ was in getting back at the senator who had nothing to do with the killing or even knew about it. He was simply an innocent child taken from an orphanage and the product of a nefarious scheme by the father, so why not go after the dead soul of the murdering father and leave the senator alone? The senator dies from a heart attack that we are lead to believe was caused by the ghostly presence of the angry child, which to some extent makes the protagonists look like the bad guys since they were the ones that precipitated the meeting that lead to the death and instead should’ve tried to prevent it.

I was also confused by the whole backstory about John’s family being killed in a roadside accident that begins the movie since it really didn’t have much to do with the main plot and could’ve easily been left out completely.

End of Spoiler Alert!

I first saw this film over 20 years ago and wasn’t all that impressed with it then and I’m still not. I realize it has its legion of fans, but to me it’s just an average ghost story and far from being a classic.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 28, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Medak

Studio: Associated Film Distribution (AFD)

Available: VHS, DVD

They Might Be Giants (1971)

they might be giants

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He thinks he’s Holmes.

After the death of his wife Justin Playfair (George C. Scott) starts to think he is Sherlock Holmes and begins playing the part by smoking a pipe, wearing a deerstalker cap and playing a violin. His brother Blevins (Lester Rawlins) feels he needs to be institutionalized and hires a psychiatrist named Dr. Watson (Joanne Woodward) to analyze him. Watson finds Justin’s fantasy role-playing to be intriguing and reluctantly begins following him around on his fanciful jaunts to find clues from the evil Professor Moriarty and eventually the two begin a quirky romance.

The film, based on a play written by James Goldman, starts out with some potential. The musical score by John Barry has an interesting ominous quality to it. The idea of pitting the practical minded Dr. against the fanciful Playfair is initially engaging. Watching Woodward getting more and more exacerbated by Scott’s constant whims of fancy and refusal to ever to see reality is funny and lightly satirical. The film though drops off terribly when Watson loses all judgment and falls in love with the man despite the knowledge that he is clearly mentally ill. Watching the two frolic through New York City searching for meaningless clues to a mystery that doesn’t really exist makes the film pointless as well as losing all tension, momentum and plot. Having her fall in love with him at the very end might have worked, but having this otherwise sensible and intelligent woman get sucked into Playfair’s fantasy world so quickly is jarring and unbelievable. What is worse is that initially Playfair seems to be working on a real case and there is even a scene where he gets shot at, but then this side-story is frustratingly dropped without any explanation or conclusion.

Scott is in top form and this is an interesting follow-up to his Patton role that he did just before this. Woodward though steals it. She has never done much comedy in her career, but proves to be quite adept to it here. One of the funniest scenes has her trying feebly to cook a meal for Playfair in her cramped apartment despite having no skill at it.

Anthony Harvey’s direction is okay. I liked the way he captures the downtown streets of Manhattan during the rain. However, the film’s most interesting segment takes place in an all-night grocery store where over a loudspeaker are announcements of great sales and deals despite the fact that there are no customers. Eventually a police chase takes place inside there, which ends up being genuinely amusing on a silly level.

The vague wide-open ending cements this as being a complete waste of time and makes the whole thing a big build up to nothing. I realize that this is intended to be whimsical, but even then there needs to be some grounding and this film has none.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 9, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated G

Director: Anthony Harvey

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Netflix streaming