Tag Archives: James Coburn

The Internecine Project (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killing off his enemies.

Robert Elliot (James Coburn) is a former spy whose been given an offer as government advisor, but he must get rid of four people (Ian Hendry, Michael Jayston, Harry Andrews, Christiane Krueger) who hold secrets to his past before he can accept the position. To accomplish this he comes up with an ingenious plan, which consists of tricking these four to kill each other off all on the same night at around the same time while Robert sits comfortably at home and tracks their progress.

This is the type of intricate plot  that usually works best as a novel, but director Ken Hughes has things pretty well thought out. The first half isn’t too gripping, but once Robert’s scheme gets going it becomes quite intriguing. The plan certainly does border on being over-the-top and too dependent on the participants doing everything exactly as their instructed in order for it to be successful, but overall I felt it could’ve been possible, which is the main ingredient that makes it work as it manages to remain delicately within the realm of believability.

The supporting cast play their parts to the hilt complete with nervous ticks and flawed personalities, which helps add a fun dimension. Although clearly done on a modest budget the camera work and set design are creatively handled including one unique scene where the victim gets strangled by her killer through a shower curtain.

I also liked how one of the killers played by Christiane Kruger requires her instructions, which are given to her verbally by Coburn, to be repeated and written down as she is afraid she might forget them otherwise. I would respond in the exact same way even though most other movies in this genre will have the instructions spoken very quickly and only once, which would always make me wonder how they’re able to keep it all straight.

The only downside is the twist ending that seems like it was thrown in as a cutesy way to the end the film without much thought put into it. A really good twist should have some foreshadowing earlier that doesn’t seem all that important at the time and then when it’s all over allow the viewer to think back and go ‘A-ha, I should’ve seen that coming!’, but that’s not the case here.

If anything I would’ve had Lee Grant’s character more instrumental to the outcome as I could see no other purpose for her presence otherwise. I spent the whole film wondering why she was even in the movie and when it was over I was still asking that same question. She’s a beautiful lady, but her role is unfocused. One minute she’s feisty feminist and then the next she’s an emotionally needy wreck. She plays it well, but her efforts do nothing to propel the plot.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 24, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ken Hughes

Studio: Allied Artists Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Carey Treatment (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A Pathologist solves mystery.

Based on an early Michael Crichton novel, the story centers around Dr. Peter Carey (James Coburn), who starts a new job as a pathologist at a local Boston hospital and soon finds himself embroiled in a mystery when his good friend Dr. David Tao (James Hong) gets accused of performing an illegal abortion on the daughter of the hospital’s chief surgeon (Dan O’Herlihy), which later kills her. Carey is not convinced that his friend performed the procedure and sets out to prove his innocence when the police are of no help.

This film was noted for its behind-the-scenes turmoil including accusations from director Blake Edwards that he was belittled by the film’s producer William Belasco in front of the crew and told that he would never work in Hollywood again and afterwards having the film edited without his permission. Edwards later sued and his experiences working on this project became the basis for his 1980’s film S.O.B., which savagely satirized the movie making business and the people who ran it.

The plot isn’t bad and attempts are made to give the viewer an authentic feel of the medical profession. One of the better moments is when the doctors perform an autopsy on the victim although I wished they would’ve shown more of the actual corpse on the examining table instead of cutting away from it in an attempt to be ‘tasteful’ as I felt the procedure and what the men discussed during it to be genuinely educational.

Having a hip doctor suddenly turn into an amateur sleuth is the film’s biggest drawback. Coburn plays the part well, but a guy who’s never investigated a case before wouldn’t be so seasoned with the way he handles suspects and tackles clues. He comes off too much like a professional detective who’s spent years in the business and not just a regular person who stumbles into the situation without knowing what he’s doing. The slick way that he solves the case and gets the necessary information is impressive, but not believable. Most people would’ve simply hired a private detective to investigate it and not spent hours away from their job trying to do it themselves, or if they take on the task they would most assuredly have make some mistakes, which this guy never does.

The mystery has enough intriguing elements to remain engaging, but the ultimate reveal is dull and makes one feel like they sat through a big buildup to nothing.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 29, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Blake Edwards

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, Youtube

Looker (1981)

looker-2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Models can be replaced.

Dr. Larry Roberts (Albert Finney) who is a plastic surgeon finds himself embroiled in a mystery when three of his past patients turn up dead. He soon becomes a prime suspect when he is caught inside the apartment of one of them just after they were killed, which forces him to become his own detective in order to clear his name. He learns that all three of them were linked to an advertising agency run by John Reston (James Coburn) and Jennifer Long (Leigh Taylor-Young) who scan the model’s body in order to use a 3D generated computer image of them in their commercials.

The concept is intriguing, but the execution gets horribly botched. It’s like a screenplay that’s still in the early draft stage with a plethora of poorly thought out story lines that leave open a wide range of loopholes, unanswered questions and inconsistencies.

For one there is the fact that Dr. Roberts gets caught in the apartment of the latest victim just after she was pushed over her balcony and yet the police only question him for a couple of minutes and then let him go. In reality he would be brought into the station for hours of interrogation especially since there were already clues implicating him at the death scene of the victim before this one and if they did possibly let him go after all that they would most likely be tailing him quite closely, which they don’t do here.

When he enters the ad agency he secretly steals one of their access cards, which they become aware of and should be no big deal because they could simply disable it electronically and yet they don’t and he is able to use it later on to get inside. There is also no explanation for what happens to his many patients while he goes wildly cavorting around chasing after nebulous clues that should really be done by the police. Also, the scene where Roberts gets beaten up in the lab by a guard, which sends him crashing against a hard wall several times and even going through a glass window would be enough to break several bones with any other person and not something that could simply be shaken off like here.

Why such a highly regarded actor such as Finney would feel the need to accept something this pedestrian is a mystery. Her services at the time were in high demand so why not pick a project that offered a wide acting range or interesting character instead? Coburn as the villain is equally wasted and barely has any screen time at all.  Susan Dey comes off best and should’ve been given the lead as she is not only beautiful, both with and without her clothes, but quite likable and the only character in the film that seems discernably human.

There is one cool scene involving a victim falling onto the hood of a car that shatters all of its windows before the body then bounces off onto the ground, which gets done in slow-motion, which is cool, but everything else is boring and unimaginative. However, the L.O.O.K.E.R. gun that is able to put people into a trance is worth mentioning and I liked actor Tim Rossovich’s glazed over expression every time he gets put into one, which makes his appearance here quite memorable despite the fact that he utters no line of dialogue.

looker-1

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 30, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Crichton

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Hard Contract (1969)

hard contract

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hit man becomes humanized.

John Cunningham (James Coburn) is a professional hit man hired by Ramsey Williams (Burgess Meredith) to do one last ‘big score’ by rubbing out Michael (Sterling Hayden) of which Ramsey suffers a large financial debt to. John has done many of these jobs before and travels to Europe with the expectation that this one will be as routine as the others, but then he has an encounter with call-girl Sheila (Lee Remick) who plagues him with self-doubt and forces him to question his purpose in life.

This film was written and directed by S. Lee Pogostin a long time TV writer who finally at the age of 55 got his big break to do an actual feature film. Unfortunately for him his script is excessively heavy with dialogue and little to no action. There is only one brief segment where we see John actually doing his job and offing someone and it comes in the form of watching him drop a large trunk with a dead body inside of it out of an airplane, which is kind of a cool visually, but that is about it and the rest of the film consists of nothing but talk and long winded, flowing conversations dealing with theories and philosophies that regular people, particularly those in the crime and prostitution business, just don’t have.

Coburn and Remick are both excellent, but the scenario that their characters are placed in is ludicrous. The idea that a high paid prostitute would suddenly fall for one of her clients is quite doubtful. Had the Coburn character been somehow kind or gentle towards her then maybe, but instead he is cold and distant and treats her more like an animal than a person, so why, especially after all of the other men she has already presumably slept with, would she get so worked up over this guy? It just makes no sense and the same thing goes for the Coburn character. He’s slept with hundreds of prostitutes before and even brags about it, so why would this one stand out?

The conversation that Coburn has with Hayden, amidst a large wheat field and while sitting on a tractor, is pretty good and the most engrossing moment in the film. The scene where he drives a car speedily down a winding road, which gets the other passengers quite nervous, isn’t bad either. The European locations are scenic and the supporting cast all give strong performances especially Karen Black as a talkative hooker arguing with Coburn over political candidates. However, the script tries too hard to make a statement and comes off more like a protracted concept than a story with a pretentious flair that just doesn’t work.

hard contract 2

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 30, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated R

Director: S. Lee Pogostin

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: None at this time.

The Honkers (1972)

honkers 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rodeo star is selfish.

Lew Lathrop (James Coburn) is an aging rodeo star who returns to his hometown after an extended absence, which stirs up resentment and trouble wherever he goes. His wife Linda (Lois Nettleton) still has feelings for him despite her anger at him leaving her and never being able to stay faithful. It seems that the only true friend that he has and one that remains loyal to him even through his many shortcomings is rodeo clown Clete (Slim Pickens), but even this gets put to the test when Lew decides to jeopardize is family life once again when he decides to go after local hottie Deborah (Anne Archer) a young woman just past the age of consent who enjoys flirting with older men and shows no reluctance in having her way with them.

The film was directed by actor Steve Ihnat who never saw the final product put on the big screen as he died from a sudden heart attack at the young age of 37 five days before the film’s release. Much like with Junior Bonner and JW Coop, which came out at the same time, this has an authentic feel with the necessary level of grittiness and good rodeo footage,  but the scenes go on too long and the pace is too laid back. One shot has Coburn walking down the city sidewalk for a full several minutes with nothing else happening. Extended shots of a downtown parade and broncos bucking off cowboys in the rodeo ring are all nice, but fail to propel the plot, which seems pretty thin anyways and almost makes this come off like a documentary than a feature film.

Coburn is his usual engaging self, but seems genuinely uncomfortable getting on the broncos and even a bit out-of-place in the role. Pickens is outstanding in support it what may be the best film role of his career. Usually, especially with his country accent, he would get subjugated to hillbilly parts, but here he gets to show his dramatic side by playing a rodeo clown, which is what he did for many years in real-life before becoming an actor. Archer, in only her second film role is quite seductive and possibly at her most beautiful though the many shots showing her wearing headbands start to make her resemble Pocahontas.

Filmed entirely on-location in Carlsbad, New Mexico director Ihnat manages to take full advantage of the rustic western landscape and brilliant blue sky of the region, which is a major plus. The ending has a nice surreal quality and the story does manage to pick up a bit during the second half, but it still could’ve been better trimmed and more compact.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 17, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Steve Ihnat

Studio: United Artists

Available: None at this time.

Loving Couples (1980)

loving couples

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Everybody is fooling around.

The marriage between Evelyn and Walter (Shirley MacLaine, James Coburn) has grown stale. When dashing womanizer Greg (Stephen Collins) sets his sights on Evelyn and makes a play for her she is all too happy to take him up on it. Then Greg’s girlfriend Stephanie (Susan Sarandon) finds out about the affair and tries to put a stop to it by informing Walter only to find that they have a special chemistry and soon they are in a relationship as well, but the more time the couples spend with their new mates the more they end up longing for their old ones.

The flat, unoriginal script was written by famed TV-show writer Martin Donovan and is not worthy for even a second-rate sitcom. Outside of a brief amusing segment where Walter demonstrates to Stephanie how to perform brain surgery by using a hamburger bun as a patient’s cranium there is nothing much that is funny. The plot itself is dull and placid and becomes increasingly more boring as it goes along.

The Greg character and how the women respond to him is a big issue. His methods at seduction could easily get him charged with harassment or stalking these days, but he is also an obvious player and yet Shirley MacLaine’s character still gets into a relationship with him despite the fact that she is old enough to know better and then ends up stung and shocked when he starts fooling around with another woman even though anyone else with half-a-brain could have easily predicted it.

Stephanie’s attempts to somehow ‘win him back’ when she finds out that he is cheating on her is equally absurd since by her own admission he has already done it several times before with other woman, so why waste time trying to stop this latest fling when he’ll most likely start it up with another woman regardless?

The film lacks any quarreling, which could have spiced things up. Instead when they find out about their partner’s transgressions the conversations are civil to a sterile degree, which is not only uninteresting, but unrealistic. Let’s face it all couples fight and if you can’t get into a shouting match with your spouse when you find out they’ve been cheating then when can you?

Coburn manages to be engaging despite the weak material, but his curly silver haired mop-top looks better suited for a male gigolo than an otherwise staid and conservative middle-aged doctor. Helena Carroll has a few witty lines as the couple’s maid and she should’ve been given more screen time, but it was actually Sarandon that I liked the best as she plays a shy, slightly naïve character that was unusual for her.

This is quite similar to A Change of Seasons, which came out later that same year and also starred MacLaine and although that film was certainly no classic it is still far superior to this one.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: October 24, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jack Smight

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

The President’s Analyst (1967)

The presidents analyst 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Analyst on the run.

Dr. Sidney Schaefer (James Coburn) is a well-regarded therapist who gets offered the job as personal analyst to the President. At first Sidney is greatly honored, but eventually realizes that he may have taken on more than he bargained for. For one thing he must be on call to see the President at any hour of the day or night. Then he is forced to break-up with his girlfriend Nan (Joan Delaney) because it is found that he talks in his sleep and may be inadvertently giving away state secrets. When he tries to quit his job he finds himself being chased by government agents as well as spies from other countries intent on using or even killing him because of his perceived inside knowledge.

The film’s biggest achievement is writer/director Theodore J. Flicker’s visual flair where he uses every chance he can to enhance a scene by adding some interesting cinematic touches. For instance the part where Sidney talks with his mentor (Will Geer) about taking the job while looking at some weird art exhibits helps add an offbeat touch to a conversation that otherwise is rather ordinary. I also liked the throwaway segment showing Sidney walking by New York’s landmarks including the Brooklyn Bridge and even standing at the torch of the Statue of Liberty. These scenes don’t necessarily progress the plot, but help add flavor and mood and something a lesser director might not even consider. Sometimes it’s the little things that get added to the picture that make it special and Flicker shows a good understanding of that and it’s unfortunate that he left Hollywood in the early 80’s to devout full attention to his award-winning sculpting as I think he had the potential for making a lot more interesting films.

The comedy itself is quite funny and most importantly very original. Watching all the different foreign spies end up killing each other while also trying to nab Sidney as he hangs out undercover with a rock band is creative. The best part though is when he gets kidnapped while inside a phone booth and taken by truck to an underground headquarters where he is interrogated while still remaining locked in the booth.

The film offers a chance at seeing Barry McGuire best known for his 60’s rock song ‘Eve of Destruction’ in a rare acting role as a guitarist in a rock band. Godfrey Cambridge is quite engaging as an American spy and I loved how he was secretly friends with his Russian counterpart Kydor played by Severn Darden. Jill Banner who gave a hypnotic performance in the cult classic Spider Baby is seen here as a groupie named Snow White.

The film’s only real transgression is the fact that we never see the President or Sidney’s sessions with him. I believe this was because at the time there was still some respect for the position and the filmmaker’s didn’t want to completely devalue it by portraying some nut in the office, but it still seemed to miss out on some great comical potential as well as making the viewer feel that they are being a bit cheated. I also didn’t think that the President would have discussed important government affairs or foreign policy with his analyst like he supposedly does here. I would have thought that he would have been so burned out talking about that stuff that he would have wanted to discuss more personal issues that had nothing to do with politics.

At times this film borders on getting a bit too wacky and out-of-control. This type of idea could have been taken in a wide array of different directions and there were moments where I wished it had been a little more reeled in and subtle, but it always manages to save itself by constantly coming up with unique and funny segments.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 21, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Theodore J. Flicker

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Sky Riders (1976)

sky riders

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rescued by hang gliders

Businessman Jonas Bracken (Robert Culp) living in Greece comes home one day to find his wife Ellen (Susannah York) and three children kidnapped by a terrorist group. The police can seem to make no headway so Ellen’s ex-husband Jim (James Coburn) gets involved. After analyzing the background of one of the photos of the victims taken by the kidnappers he realizes that they are being held hostage inside a mountaintop monastery and the only way to get to it is by air, so he hires a crew of hang gliders to fly into the locale and rescue the family.

The film is fast-paced it gets right into the story from the very beginning and never slows down. The kids are pretty cute especially the precious little girl, which helps the viewer emphasize with their predicament and urgency to get out. The Greek locations are exotic and help give the film an extra flair.

The biggest problem is the script. The Coburn character has never hang glided before and yet somehow manages to be trained well enough in only a couple of days to fly into the steep mountaintop location without a hitch, which seemed farfetched. It also seemed highly implausible that this group of hang gliders who work at the local circus would be willing to take on such a dangerous mission or even know what to do once they landed and had to take on the gun toting bad guys. I would have expected a lot more missteps and mistakes from this novice bunch and yet they handle everything like they were a group of seasoned commandoes.

Coburn’s performance is misguided as well. Normally I love his toothy grin and throaty chuckle, but here he does it while watching the hang gliders perform at the circus even though his ex-wife and son are being held hostage. I would have thought he should have been so nervous and tense that he wouldn’t have smiled at all and been instead in a perpetually serious manner.

The scene of when they fly into the locale is done with a darkened lens to simulate nighttime, which beside being annoying makes it hard to see and lessens the dramatic effect as well as the excitement.

On the whole it’s a very basic action flick and an empty-headed one at that. The terrorist group and their ‘cause’ are quite generic and the thin plot and cardboard characters barely camouflage the fact it’s just an excuse to show off some nifty hang gliding footage and nothing more.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 26, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Douglas Hickox

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD (Regions 1 & 2)

Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round (1966)

dead heat on a merry go round

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Robbery at an airport.

Eli Kotch (James Coburn) manages to con his way out of jail by playing on the affections of his pretty jailhouse psychiatrist (Marian McCargo). His plans are to rob the bank at the Los Angeles International Airport while they are hosting the arrival of a Soviet Premier, which he figures will sufficiently keep the security personal distracted. The blueprint for the bank will cost him a hefty sum, so to help finance it he travels across the country seducing rich women and making off with their expensive possessions and money. Once the blueprint is purchased he assembles his men and executes the daring and elaborate scheme.

The film, which was written and directed by Bernard Girard, is by all means slick although it goes a bit overboard. The first hour is hard to get into. The filmmakers seem intent to keep the viewer guessing about the Kotch’s motives and intricate plans as the rest of the characters. There is so much cutting back and forth between scenes in L.A. and Boston as well as all the lady victims that Kotch finds that it becomes confusing and off-putting. Everything comes off too easily for our protagonist. I suppose that is the intended charm, but a few hiccups here and there to their plans might have offered more tension and reality.

He also beds too many women almost like he is some sort of modern day Don Juan. Having even just one of them slap him across the face when he makes his advances instead of just robotically disrobing and hopping between the sheets with him would’ve been funny. If this film were to be remade the women characters would have to be updated as here they are simply caricatures of a bygone era.

Camilla Sparv’s character and the way Eli treats here was a particular problem with me. Sparv looks drop-dead gorgeous to the point of being breathtaking. Most men would feel blessed at having such a beautiful woman fall in-love with them, but Eli takes it all for granted. He callously lies to her and uses the genuine feelings she has for him to take advantage of her and use it for his own gain. It gets to the point where Eli starts to come off as a real cad and makes the viewer dislike him. There is a twist at the end involving the Sparv character, but it is not enough. I was really hoping that she would somehow manage to screw-up his plans whether intentional or not, but that doesn’t happen even though it should’ve.

Coburn’s toothy grin and deep laugh manages to carry it and probably no other leading man would’ve been able to pull off this type of part as well. The supporting cast is equally good. Rose Marie is fun in a brief part as an older woman that Eli cons. Severn Darden is effective as the nerdy and smart, but very nervous member of Eli’s group. Nina Wayne is funny as one of Eli’s first female victims, a ditzy blonde filled with very quirky philosophies on just about everything. Yet it is Robert Webber, a very under-rated character actor, who steals the show as the high-strung head of the airport security. You can also spot a young Harrison Ford in a brief bit as a bellhop.

The excellent on-location shooting gives the film an added flair. The shots of the Los Angeles International Airport are good especially the way it captures the iconic and modernistic Theme Building. Images of a wintry Boston during Eli’s jaunts to that city are quite scenic particularly all the tree branches covered with snow.

The film’s final half-hour is captivating and even intense. The editing is excellent and the sheer brazenness of the crime is amusing. There are certain things though that seemed implausible and whether such a plan could be pulled off in real-life is doubtful. Still, if you’re a fan of heist films this should offer two hours of suitably fluffy entertainment, but just don’t think about it too hard.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 12, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Bernard Girard

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video