Tag Archives: Jack Warden

…and justice for all. (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lawyer fights the system.

Arthur (Al Pacino) is a defense attorney who becomes increasingly more frustrated and disillusioned with the court system. He’s fighting to get one of his clients, Jeff (Thomas Waites), out of jail as he’s been sitting behind bars for over a year simply because he was mistaken for somebody else while also being forced to defend Judge Fleming (John Forsythe), a man that he vehemently hates, from a rape allegation.

The script by the husband and wife team of Barry Levinson and Valerie Curtain is chockfull of great insights into the American legal system and how messed up and prone to corruption it can sometimes be. Defense lawyers have in the past been glamourized in TV-shows like ‘Perry Mason’, but here the viewer gets a more stark assessment of their profession as they watch them being forced to defend those that they know are actually guilty. Yet it also balances this by showing how public defenders can also be the lone voice to those who are truly innocent and have no one else to speak up for them.

The film has a weird comedy/drama mix that doesn’t work and ends up getting in the way. When I first saw this many decades back I liked the humorous undertones as it gave production a surreal, satirical edge, but upon second viewing I didn’t find it to be as amusing. The script makes good hard-hitting points and adding in the humor only diminishes this message and takes away from the seriousness of the subject matter.

The side-story dealing with the suicidal judge, played by Jack Warden, should’ve been excised. I’ll admit the images of him eating lunch while sitting out on a ledge of a tall building, or trying to kill himself with a rifle are memorable, but pointless and by coupling this judge character with Forsythe’s crooked one seems to imply that all judges are either bad or crazy, which isn’t fair.

The storyline dealing with Arthur visiting his senile grandfather, played by Lee Strasberg, should’ve been cut out as well as it has nothing to do with the main plot. It also brings up many unanswered questions like why is Arthur close to his grandfather and not to his own parents and why did his parents apparently ‘abandon’ him? This backstory never gets sufficiently addressed and seems like material for a whole different movie altogether.

Spoiler Alert!

The storyline involving Judge Fleming is the most intriguing and should’ve been made the film’s primary focus, but I was disappointed with the way the judge glibly admits to his crime, which takes away the mystery angle and I would’ve preferred the truth coming out in a more dramatic manner. The film also has a very old-fashioned take to his situation by saying that just because the character is involved with BDSM activities that somehow makes him ‘deviant’ and more prone to committing rape, which has been proven untrue as there are plenty of people who can enjoy kinky activities with consenting partners and still remain ethical.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall the film is worth catching and has many interesting moments including Pacino’s final speech that he gives to a packed courtroom, which is a gem. This also marks the film debuts of Christine Lahti and Jeffery Tambor as Pacino’s lawyer friend who slowly goes crazy.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 16, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes

Director: Norman Jewison

Rated R

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Shampoo (1975)

shampoo-2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hairdresser shags his clients.

George (Warren Beatty) is a successful hairstylist who makes a habit of sleeping with his lady clients. He wants to open up his own beauty salon, but lacks the funds and not enough collateral to qualify for a loan. He is currently sleeping with Felicia (Lee Grant) who tells him to ask her husband Lester (Jack Warden) for the money. Lester is having an affair with Jackie (Julie Christie) who used to be George’s girlfriend. George’s current girlfriend is Jill (Goldie Hawn) who is having the inklings to sleep with Johnny (Tony Bill) since she thinks George is not being faithful to her. Everything comes to head on the night of November 5, 1968 during the election returns when everyone finds out that everyone else has been cheating on them and things get hilariously awkward.

This could quite easily be the best satire on the mores of Southern California culture ever made. The fact that it gets juxtaposed with the election where the same people who voted for an administration that vows to crackdown on the ‘permissive culture’ are the same ones doing the immoral behavior makes a very loud statement on the foibles and hypocrisies of the establishment.

Richard Sylbert was nominated for the Academy Award for his set decoration and he should’ve won as the vibrant and colorful interiors of the plush homes that the characters reside in become almost like a third character and makes you feel like you are right there inside the places with the characters and immersed completely in their world. The spectacular skyline views seen from the window of Lester’s office are equally impressive and I also enjoyed the party sequence, which reflected a true party atmosphere particularly the one attended by members of the counter-culture and the stylized set lighting by a slowly opening refrigerator door that gradually exposes the identities of a couple making love in the dark to the shocked onlookers standing around is outstanding.

The talented female cast is terrific, but a bit misused. Jackie’s meltdown during the election party seemed way overdone. This was a smart woman who would’ve seen through Lester’s thin veneer from the start and therefore wouldn’t have been that ‘traumatized’ when it finally came out in the open.

I was also disappointed that we didn’t see more of Lee Grant’s character. She won the Academy Award for her work here, but there needed to be more of a wrap-up with her as well as a scene showing an ultimate confrontation with her daughter (Carrie Fisher in her film debut) who has a secret fling with George behind her back. However, the shot showing Fisher giving her mother the most hateful and disdainful glare you can imagine that literally burns through the screen is almost a gem in itself.

Despite his many transgressions I found Lester to be strangely likable. His quirky ‘bonding’ with George near the end is cute, but I really wanted to see him jump into the hot tub and smoking some weed with the hippies after they offer him a joint and was disappointed it never came to pass even though it does come close.

Beatty, who co-wrote the screenplay, has his moments too, but they don’t come until the final half-hour, but it’s worth the wait. His ‘confession’ to Jill about what motivates him to sleep with all of his female clients and what he gets out of it is not only funny, but quite revealing to any male with the same traits. His final desperate plea to Jackie at the very end is equally interesting and even a bit surprising.

My only real complaint is the fact that it doesn’t seem like a legitimate ‘60s atmosphere even though that’s when it supposed to take place. The adult characters are too brazen in their actions. The college crowd was the first to embrace the free love philosophy while the middle-agers, who were raised in a more repressed, guilt-ridden era, took longer to catch-up to it. It just reeks too much of the mid ‘70s where by that time ‘everybody was doing it’ particularly in swinging L.A., which is where the time period should’ve stayed. There is also never any explanation for why the fire department comes in to evacuate the guests from the building as they are watching the returns.

Still the message of how people who use other people will eventually end up getting owned by the very same folks that they think they are manipulating is very on-target and amusingly played-out.

shampoo-1

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: February 11, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Director: Hal Ashby

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Sporting Club (1971)

the sporting club 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Haves versus have-nots.

Jim (Nicholas Coster) finds out that his business is going under and he barely has any money left. To escape the stress he decides to take a trip to the wilderness of northern Michigan for a little R&R. Unfortunately once there he meets his friend Verner (Robert Fields) who has built a shooting range in his basement and wants to challenge everyone to a duel. The snotty sporting club that Jim belongs to wants to boot him out when they realize he is no longer making an income and rebel- rouser Earl Olive (Jack Warden) gets into a war with the elitist at the sporting club, which sends things spiraling out-of-control between the two sides with Jim right in the middle.

Based on the Thomas McGuane novel the film has the right concept, but not the fluid essence or wry humor of his writing. Some of his later work that was brought to the screen fared better. This film version is too uneven and takes too long to get anywhere. It becomes somewhat intriguing when we are given the idea of this set-up of a wild shoot-out between Olive’s biker gang and the elderly members of the club, but just as things seem to be getting interesting the film veers into a radically different direction and has all the sporting club members getting into a bizarre sex orgy. This may sound funny or even sexy, but it really isn’t as all the people were in their 60’s or 70’s and seeing their naked bodies cavorting around comes off as gross and sick.

The satirical jabs at the snotty club members are funny to some extent. They represent society’s old order people still clinging to age-old traditions and values even though the rest of the world around them is changing. They boast about their exclusive club membership even though it no longer has any allure and their stubbornness only makes them more insignificant and absurd. The scene where they stare blankly like lost children at the blown-up remnants of their cottage is probably the best moment in the film. However, their caricatures end up going overboard they become too illogical and ridiculous like crazed stupid creatures instead of human beings.

Most anti-establishment films of the era, which in the end is what this is, usually cast young stars in the lead, but here we have Coster who was already middle-aged making it look too much like the old guard vs. the old guard, which did not connect with the young filmgoers and they stayed away. The middle-age audience of the time was the establishment themselves and they found the film’s crass humor and scenarios off-putting and thus the film alienated everybody and bombed terribly at the box office.

Robert Fields gives an excellent performance as a budding sociopath and his scenes have an added tension. Warden is also very good in an unusual role for him as a joint smoking trouble maker who loves to rock-the-boat. The gun duel he has with Fields is interesting and his presence helps give the film a few extra points. Margaret Blye has a beautiful face making her a pleasure to look at no matter what she is doing. Jo Ann Harris is also sexy and the scene where she strips down to her panties with the phrase ‘my grandmother loves me’ stenciled on the rear is fun.

The film is weird enough to be worth a look as a curio. Director Larry Peerce infuses some interesting camera work into the proceedings and Michael Small’s moody folk rock score deserves its own album. Despite the locale looking very much like Michigan it was actually filmed near Hot Springs, Arkansas.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 28, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Peerce

Studio: Avco Embassy Pictures

Available: None at this time.

Used Cars (1980)

used cars 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t trust car salesmen.

Crazy, zany comedy written and directed by Robert Zemeckis dealing with twin brothers Roy and Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden) who run competing used car dealerships that sit right across the street from each other. The film examines the various shenanigans that each pulls on the other in order to give their business the edge.

Steven Spielberg was the executive producer and the result is taking a rather flimsy plot with an ordinary setting and propelling it to gargantuan proportions with lots of stunts, twists, and action. It teeters precariously to falling over-the-edge with too much of it getting silly and exaggerated, but somehow it manages to save itself by being consistently funny and clever.

Some of the segments really had me laughing even after repeat viewings. My favorite is when they jam the TV signals and then break into a live broadcast with one of their off-the-wall commercials. However, from a purely visual perspective the climax, which features over 250 used cars speeding across the desert in order to get to the dealership before an important deadline is impressive.

Although the humor does manage to hit-the-mark the rest of it is run-of-the-mill. The characters are too dishonest, lowbrow, and scheming, which makes it hard to warm up to any of them. This is especially true with the Rudy Russo (Kurt Russell) character as the film goes overboard in creating the obnoxious salesman stereotype. The suits he wears are loud even from a comedy perspective and only a complete moron would be seen in public wearing them. Russell is also too young and too otherwise hip to be caught up in with the down-on-his-luck salesman caricatures and the part would have been better suited for an actor who was middle-aged. Bringing in Barbara Jane (Deborah Harmon) as his love interest is too forced and their romantic interlude bogs down the momentum.

Warden shines as always and this could be considered his career pinnacle. He plays two very different types of characters and as usual pulls it off in effortless fashion. He shows great energy in a fight sequence as well as in the end while standing in the back of a pickup and dueling with Rudy.

Gerrit Graham comes off as the most likable of the bunch and the running joke involving his superstitious nature works. His dog has to rate as one of the better animal performers and does some really funny tricks.

The cars look like they are genuinely of the used variety and it is great seeing all the old model types that they no longer make. My only real quibble involves the climatic sequence which although fun seemed implausible especially when taken into consideration that the hundreds of cars seen careening across the desert were driven by student drivers and yet none of them broke down, or had an accident, which seemed highly unlikely.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 11, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video