Tag Archives: George Kennedy

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)

 

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: The one room schoolhouse.

Thunderbolt (Clint Eastwood) is a former bank robber hiding out as a Montana preacher while trying to avoid Red (George Kennedy) and Eddie (Geoffrey Lewis) who are his former crime partners that mistakenly believe he double-crossed them. One day they manage to catch up with him and try gunning him down during one of his church services. Thunderbolt escapes by hopping into a car driven by Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges). Despite their contrasting temperaments and ages of the two end up hitting-it-off and even manage to bring Red and Eddie into the fold once it’s explained to them that Thunderbolt hadn’t sold them out. Now the four plan to rob the same bank again using a 20 millimeter cannon to break into the safe.

This was the Michael Cimino’s first foray behind the camera after having success co-writing the screenplays to Silent Running and Magnum Force.  For the most part it’s a success and I particularly enjoyed the way he captures Montana’s majestic landscape, which helps add a strong flavor to the story. Some of the comical bits and throwaway lines are hilarious and gives the film an edge over the usual bank robbery storyline.

The drawback is that like with Cimino’s other films it takes too long for the story to get going. The Thunderbolt’s backstory doesn’t get explained until almost 50 minutes in and we never learn much of anything about Lightfoot or why he would simply appear almost out of nowhere in this tiny, isolated town for literally no reason. There are certain scenarios that get introduced, but offer no payoff and the robbery itself gets pulled off a little too easily while not taking enough advantage of its unique premise.

The acting though is uniformly excellent including Bridges who is at his most engaging and even looks weirdly sexy when disguised as a woman and I loved the part when he talks to himself in the mirror. Kennedy gets one of his better post Cool Hand Luke roles as the cantankerous Red and Lewis is funny as his dim-witted partner.

The film also has some great bits for its supporting cast. Cliff Emmich is amusing as an overweight security guard with a porn fetish and Jack Dodson has a memorable moment when he finds to his shock that his teenage daughter isn’t quite as ‘innocent’ as he thought she was.

Bill McKinney is goofy as a crazy man driving around in a car with a trunk full of rabbits, but like with a lot of other things in the film it introduces something that doesn’t get fully explained including the fact that the character seems to be acting erratically because he is overcome by toxic gas fumes from his own car, but when Thunderbolt and Lightfoot take over the car and drive it for themselves they don’t for some reason end up having the same issue.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 22, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Director: Michael Cimino

Rated R

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Death Ship (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ghost ship haunts ocean.

Members of a luxury ocean liner collide with a mysterious ship that comes out of nowhere. The liner sinks, but a few of the passengers manage to survive by boarding on a raft and going out to sea. After a few days of being afloat in the watery abyss they come into contact with the ship that they collided with. Having no other options they board the vessel only to find that no one else is on it. At first they are relived, but then creepy things begin to occur making them feel that it may be haunted. When the ship begins killing off members of the group one-by-one the remaining people look for a way off, but find nothing available.

The film starts out okay with a likable enough cast filled with veteran B-actors. The collision and subsequent sinking of the luxury liner as some definite tinges of The Poseidon Adventure to it and I’ll give props to the shot showing a grand piano crashing several stories down as well as the way the engine room quickly and realistically fills up with water. The ghost ship has a nice threatening quality and is shot in a way that gives it effective creepiness and makes it like a third character.

The performers do their best and giver earnest performances although it’s hard to believe that any of them could possibly have taken the material seriously and could only have been doing this for the money. I did not like the way George Kennedy’s character goes from being this surly prick of a sea captain to a man possessed by the evil spirits of the ship as I liked the way his character’s disagreeable personality meshed with the others and made the group dynamics a little more interesting.

The ultimate problem with the film though is the fact that there is no second or third act and the whole concept would’ve worked much better as a thirty minute episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’ instead of trying to stretch it out to feature film length. There are just so many creepy shots of the ship, foreboding music and scared reactions of the cast one can take before it all becomes quite old and redundant.  

The ending is unsatisfying and doesn’t explain anything. Yes, we understand this is a ship once used by the Nazi’s to torture victims, but why is it haunting these waters and why did it decide to collide with the ocean liner and if it has collided with other ships then why hasn’t it been detected by world governments and possibly gone under attack by armies in an attempt to subdue it? Again, as a creepy short story or an episode of an anthology series it might’ve worked, but as a film it is boring, one-dimensional and lacking any type of unique spin.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: March 7, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alvin Rakoff

Studio: Astral Films

Available: DVD

Wacko (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Spoof of horror movies.

On Halloween night the infamous pumpkin head lawnmower killer murders Mary’s (Julia Duffy) older sister. Now, 13 years later, the killer has returned and this time he has his sights set on Mary, but who could he be? Is it her surgeon father (George Kennedy) who tries any chance he can to see catch his own daughter disrobing, or maybe it’s her boyfriend Norman (Scott McGinnis) who makes lawnmower sounds every time he is aroused. Either way dogged detective Dick Harbinger (Joe Don Baker) is hot on the trail determined to end the mystery that has been haunting him and the town ever since it began.

This is one of several horror spoofs that came out around the same time and although it is far from excellent it still manages to rise above the rest. The main reason is Baker who’s overacting and mugging is perfect for the part. Just watching him roll out of bed and get ready for the day is a hoot. His funniest moments though are during the flashback sequence where he is seen wearing a dress while being tied up during bondage. The part where he arrives at Mary’s parent’s house to give them the sad news of their daughter’s death while dressed as a clown and then afterwards in an attempt to ‘lift their spirits’ makes a balloon dog for them is absolutely hilarious.

Stella Stevens, sporting a brunette wig and playing Mary’s mother has some amusing moments as well particularly when she recreates an obscene phone call for her daughter as well as when she and Kennedy sniff some laughing gas. Andrew Clay, who’s billed here without the ‘Dice’ is engaging in his film debut as a Fonzie-type high school student and his conversation at the dinner table of his girlfriend’s parents is good.

The segment involving a parody of Psycho with Norman Bates’ skeletal mother being used as a ventriloquist dummy was goofy enough to elicit a few chuckles, but overall there are more misses than hits. The production values are sloppy and the film, particularly during a car chase segment, veers too much into the cartoonish and nonsensical. They could’ve also had a more original soundtrack than simply playing or having a character hum the Alfred Hitchcock TV-show theme, which isn’t all that clever.

Some of the most successful horror parodies like Scream and Shaun of the Dead are ones that manage to have an interesting story of their own as well as a nice amount of gore and scares, but here there is no special effects or horror to speak of and the limp plot makes this whole thing seem more like one long, unending gag reel than a movie.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 12, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Greydon Clark

Studio: Jensen Farley Pictures

Available: VHS

Strait-Jacket (1964)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giving them the ax.

Lucy Harbin (Joan Crawford) comes home early one night from a trip only to find her husband Frank (Lee Majors in his film debut) in bed with another woman. This enrages her so much that she grabs an ax and chops off both of their heads all while in front of her young daughter.  After being institutionalized for 20 years she is released and sent home to live with her now grown daughter Carol (Diane Baker). Unfortunately the ax murders begin happening again and all signs seem to point to Lucy having a bad relapse.

Director William Castle keeps the proceedings compact enough to be entertaining, but borrows too many elements from Psycho and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? while also adding a few to many gimmicks. Having the setting take place on a rural hog farm gives it a little extra atmosphere. The wrap-up is nice, but halfway through the film I had already figured out the twist ending and thus making the final revelation not as shocking or interesting as I think the filmmakers intended.

I realize the gore factor here is quite sanitized when compared to today’s horror movies and yet the scene where Lucy axes her hubby is actually quite effective. We see the shadow of the husband’s body with his head popping off like a cork coming out of a wine bottle. Instead of cutting away like most other films do it cuts back to Joan’s face where she continues to whack and whack and whack while her eyes get wilder with rage, which in many ways makes this far better and more fun than most other ax wielding movie scenes.

The film also brings out an interesting loophole. Namely the fact that can a woman be considered crazy for wanting to chop off her husband’s head after finding out he is unfaithful or is she simply giving the two-timing cad his just desserts.

Baker is good in support and her face is adorable. Her restrained performance nicely compliments Crawford’s more hammy and histrionic one. In fact some may consider Crawford’s acting to be over-the-top and unintentionally funny, but on a camp level it is fun. I realize both her wig and clacking bracelets become a major plot point, but I disliked both. The wig makes her look too much like an old, haggard version of her famous Mildred Pierce character and the constant clacking from the bracelets becomes annoying.

It was interesting to see Leif Erickson cast as a family friend who tries to work with Lucy and her emotional instability as he was at one time the husband of Frances Farmer an actress who also suffered from mental illness and I kept one wondering the whole time whether he was channeling those experiences into his character here. George Kennedy can also be spotted, but his almost unrecognizable as he has jet black hair here, a much thinner frame, and a pair of buck teeth.

Probably the film’s best gimmick comes at the very end where the famous torch carrying lady on Columbia Pictures logo is seen with her head cut off and having it lying on the ground beside her feet.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 19, 1964

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Not Rated

Director: William Castle

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Gaily, Gaily (1969)

gaily gaily

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Naive fellow becomes wise.

Ben Harvey (Beau Bridges) is a sheltered young man who decides to leave the safe confines of his humble little town and make a go of it in the big city of Chicago in 1910. However, soon after arriving he is robbed of all of his money and then taken in by Lil (Melina Mercouri) a Madame at the local brothel. Ben then gets a job at the city newspaper, but finds corruption at every turn and when he tries to stop it he ends up falling victim to its allure like everyone else.

The first hour is engaging. It features just the right mix of Americana and whimsy. The pace is quick with a wonderfully quirky sense of humor that comes flying fast and furiously. Opening the film by having Ben dreaming of topless women and featuring some very old turn-of-the-century black and white porno pics is funky. I also liked the scene where Ben manages to make all the prostitutes at the bordello he is staying at teary-eyed after reading them a sad story that he had written. The look at Lil’s face when he tells her that his life’s ambition is to ‘change the world’ is a hoot.

Unfortunately the second half deteriorates badly. The scenes become stretched out too long and the attempts are farcical humor lack any cleverness. The side-story about the attempts of a mad scientist Dr. (Charles Tyner) at using a serum he has invented to revive the dead is stupid. The slapstick like chase sequence gets overblown and the whole thing ends on a flat and boring note, which is a shame. The sets and costumes recreating the period atmosphere are wonderful, but put to waste by the silly script. I felt the film could have been more interesting had it taken a more realistic and dramatic route.

Bridges is actually pretty good. He has played the wide-eyed idealist so many times that it becomes a bit annoying, but here he seems to be making fun of it and it works to an extent. However, his extreme naivety at not catching on that the women he is living with are prostitutes is just too over-the-top and makes you almost want to hit him on his head in order to drive some sense into it.

Brian Keith does well playing the type of gruff, brash character that he excels at. George Kennedy though seems stiff and out of place in the setting and does not appear to be particularly adept at comedy.

Mercouri looks to be having a lot of fun here and her singing isn’t bad either. Margot Kidder is fantastic in her film debut and one of the best things about the film. She plays one of Lil’s prostitutes who takes a liking to Ben and I enjoyed how her character goes from being jaded to idealistic and rather naïve. Melodie Johnson is great simply because she is gorgeous to look at. She is now a successful novelist and judging from the pictures on her website is still looking quite attractive.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated R

Director: Norman Jewison

Studio: United Artists

Available: Amazon Instant Video, Netflix streaming