Tag Archives: George Segal

California Split (1974)

california split

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Guys addicted to gambling.

There is a scene in The Gambler, which is a similar movie to this one and came out around the same time, where actor James Caan’s character is on the beach with his mother. He writes in the sand $44,000. This is the amount he owes in gambling debt and the amount he needs from her. He can’t bring himself to ask her directly so he writes it instead. His mother gasps when she sees the amount and then asks “How is such a thing possible?!” It is for that reason that making a movie about someone with a gambling addiction is so intriguing. What exactly is it that could propel someone to act so foolishly with their money? Unfortunately both films promised a lot, but delivered little. Worse yet both are uninvolving and boring.

In this case the film fails to ever get inside the character’s heads. We have no idea what personality traits a gambler may have nor their background or relationships. We simply see two rather bland middle-aged men getting together and going through their gambling paces. Apparently the idea was to show a gambler doing his thing and hope to find some ‘truth’ from it. Well it doesn’t work. It’s tantamount to a novice writer scribbling out some rambling prose and hoping to get a story. It all just proves that the filmmakers have no more insight into this phenomenon than anyone else.

Director Robert Altman seems more interested in keeping things light and entertaining. Normally his eccentric touches help compliment the film, but here it gets in the way. For example there is a long drawn out scene featuring Bert Remsen’s character that likes to dress up like a woman that is completely unnecessary and bogs everything down.

Elliot Gould’s wise guy, wise cracking ways become obnoxious and never once does he come off as a man gripped by an addiction. George Segal shows a little more of an emotional downside, but it seems forced.

The film hits its mark only once and that is when it focuses on a big poker game, played in Reno, by the country’s top players. Listening to Gould describe to Segal all the traits of each player is interesting. It helps show what a psychological game poker really is, but unfortunately it doesn’t get to this part until the very end and then only for a short while.

In the category of ambiance Altman scores as usual. The faces of the people at the casinos are etched in character. You can almost smell the hanging second-hand-smoke and Dorothy Showalter’s brassy, slightly off-key singing gives the soundtrack a distinct flavor.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 7, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Rollercoaster (1977)

rollercoaster

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Extortionist blows up rollercoasters.

A young man who is never given a name and is played by Timothy Bottoms is able to make home-made radio controlled bombs that he attaches to roller coaster rides at amusement parks. He threatens to blow up a major one during a big event unless he is given 1 million dollars. It is then up to Harry Calder (George Segal) the chief investigator to find the extortionist and the two end up playing an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse.

The film’s pacing is poor. It opens with the extortionist blowing up a roller coaster and Segal coming to investigate and then all of a sudden it cuts to an uninspired ten minute segment involving Segal’s family life before it finally gets back to the investigation. Outside of seeing a young Helen Hunt as his daughter, the family scenes offer nothing and should have been scraped completely.

Despite having ‘disaster epic’ written all over it the filmmaker’s unwisely decided to make this more of an ‘intellectual thriller’ with very little action or special effects. The only real action/special effects come at the beginning when Bottoms blows up a coaster and everyone on it comes crashing down. However, it looks too sanitized and fake as it is far too obvious that it is dummies inside of the coaster cars and not real people.

As the villain Bottoms has got to be one of the dullest you will ever see. Absolutely nothing about him is interesting and there is no back story given as to why he is doing this or how he manages to be so very clever. Henry Fonda is wasted in a ridiculously small and insignificant role and one wonders why he would have even taken it.

Segal plays his part with a good ‘everyman’ quality that makes him easily relatable and it is nice to see him living in an apartment that is reasonably sloppy. It is also fun to watch him ride a roller coaster while everyone else is screaming he just sits there looking bored. Richard Widmark is equally good and possibly at his most gruff and abrasive and the sparing relationship that he has with Segal is entertaining. The intricate cat-and-mouse game that Segal plays with Bottoms isn’t too bad either. There are a few impressive shots where the camera is mounted on the front roller coaster car and then is glided along the tracks at high speeds giving the viewer of a very realistic feeling of actually being on a roller coaster.

Ultimately the film just does not live up to expectations and needed more special effects, more action, more suspense, and just plain more disaster. The bad guy should’ve been more distinctive and a much more prominent role for Fonda as some feel he may be one of the great actors of all time so if you got him use him.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 17, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes

Rated PG

Director: James Goldstone

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD

The New Interns (1964)

the new interns

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: More interns more drama.

It’s another year and time for a new set of young interns to infiltrate the New North Hospital.  Lew (Dean Jones) and Gloria (Stefanie Powers) who became engaged at the end of the first film are now married, but Lew is diagnosed as being sterile and the couple cannot have children, which causes a strain on their marriage.  The caustic Tony (George Segal) who used to be a gang member on the streets and has worked his way up to being an intern looks to leave his troubled past far behind only to have his new girlfriend Nancy (Inger Stevens) attacked and raped by his former gang member friends, which sends him on a one man mission for revenge.

Although the film goes on a bit too long and isn’t quite as compelling as the first one I still felt it was an improvement.  The stories and themes are grittier and don’t have the fluffy or formulaic romance angle. The fact that the interns are housed in a rundown condemned building in order to save on costs allows for some amusing moments as the tenants must make due with all sorts of quirks that come with the old building. There is also a rather startling scene showing an actual baby coming out of the womb who is not crying or breathing  and the doctors attempts to revive it, which is both disconcerting and vivid.

The only story thread that doesn’t work is the rape one. The biggest issue here being that Nancy flirts and even jokes with Tony while she is in the hospital and only a few hours after being attacked, which seemed highly unrealistic as is her acting like the whole incident was ‘no big deal’ and they should just move on from it and not bother to catch the perpetrators. Then a couple of days later she attends a party and something there subtly reminds her of the incident, which sends her into an irreversible catatonic state, which seemed too extreme in the other way. However, Tony’s confrontation with the rapist inside the hospital and his later operation on him to save is life is good.

Segal is impressive. He played so many touch feely lead roles during the 70’s that he acquired almost a benign persona, but here his character is quite brash and acerbic and his confrontations with the equally acerbic Dr. Riccio (Telly Savalas) are fun. Stevens is also quite good as his love interest and it is a shame that she ended up killing herself in 1970 just as it seemed that her film career was ready to take off.

As with the first film one can spot a lot of up-and-coming stars including Barbara Eden, Dawn Wells, George Furth, Marianna Hill, and Adam Williams. One can also spot Bob Crane very briefly during a wild party segment. There is also Sue Ann Langdon as a drug addicted prostitute who speaks in a hip lingo and fakes paralysis simply to get some drugs that will satisfy her fix. This also a unique chance to see Jimmy Mathers the younger brother of Jerry famous for starring in ‘Leave it to Beaver’ and who looks just like him.

A few actors reprise their roles from the first one including Savalas who appears here completely bald even though in the first one he had hair. Powers is effective as the opinionated and stubborn Gloria a woman unhappy that she can’t have a baby and unwilling to accept adoption as the answer. Kaye Stevens reprises her Didi character and takes part in a funny vaudeville act. There is also Michael Callan reappearing as Alec who in the first film ended up having a nervous breakdown, but no mention of that here. The part where he dresses up as a woman to get into the girl’s dorm and his ‘conversation’ with his therapist offer some added levity.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 1, 1964

Runtime: 2Hours 3Minutes

Not Rated

Director: John Rich

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Not available at this time.

Where’s Poppa? (1970)

wheres poppa 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mother has to go.

A beleaguered Gordon (George Segal) is a man who must take care of his invalid mother (Ruth Gordon). Despite being a handsome young lawyer he has literally become trapped by this very difficult woman. The majority of the film takes place in a 1940’s styled apartment. It’s gray, dusty bleakness permeates every shot and shows just how lodged Gordon is in his mother’s world. He is a normal man that is slowly being sucked into madness. He is becoming mad because the world he lives in and life in general is driving him to it. The wall between what he really wants to do in life and his obligations have become so thick that going crazy may be the only real answer.

In fact madness maybe pretty much is what this film is really about. It seems to be saying that there is a certain functioning normality to it and at times even a necessity for it. Everyone in this film conveys their own unique form of madness. There’s the overzealous war general (hilariously played by Barnard Hughes) There’s also the henpecked brother/husband Sidney (Ron Leibman) who goes to almost absurd lengths to make sure everyone is happy. Even innocent, conservative Louise (Trish Van Devere) opens into the crazy world when explaining her rather unique honeymoon experience. The film delves so deeply and consistently into the world of the absurd that at times the senile Mother really doesn’t seem so nutty.

This is the film’s genius. It takes everything we have always accepted and turns it inside out. It takes some of life’s most depressing things and then makes it into an inspired and creative masterpiece. A trip to the old folk’s home has never been considered by many to be funny or memorable, yet a trip to Paul Sorvino’s old folk’s home is. In fact it maybe one of the funniest scenes you’ll ever see.

Writer Robert Klane and director Carl Reiner show an amazing grasp of their material, which is crucial for its success. Everything is fluid and consistent in tone. It shows how you can indeed have an offbeat idea, do it in an offbeat way, and still succeed without compromising.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: July 9, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 22minutes

Rated R

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD