Tag Archives: James Garner

They Only Kill Their Masters (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dog turns on owner.

Abel Marsh (James Garner) is the police chief of a small west coast seaside town who’s put in charge of investigating a baffling case where a dog inexplicably turned on its owner and killer her. The clues though don’t match up convincing Abel that the dog is innocent and used simply as a ruse to cover-up an even more sinister crime.

This is the first of four films all written by Lane Slate to feature the character of Abel Marsh. All of the subsequent films featured the same small town setting and quirky themed murders, but where made for TV instead featuring Alan Alda in the role of Abel for Isn’t it Shocking and then Andy Griffith playing the part in The Girl in the Empty Grave and Deadly Game.

The mystery here has its share of intriguing elements and I liked the methodical pace, which is reminiscent of actual police work where the clues don’t just come easily and quickly. I also liked how the viewer remains just as in the dark about who did it as the investigator. The subplot involving the doberman is interesting as well and like in the film To Kill a Clown, which came out the same year, the dog ends up being the ultimate scene-stealer from his human counterparts.

Due to this being the last film made on MGM’s famous backlot many former stars from Hollywood’s golden age agreed to appear in small roles including Ann Rutherford in an amusing bit as a old-school secretary who can’t figure out how to work an electric type writer. The best bit though comes from June Allyson who doesn’t have any speaking lines until the very end where she gets a bravura-like finale similar to Betsy Palmer’s in Friday the 13th and even sports the same type of hairstyle as hers and sweater/pants, which makes it all the more ironic.

The thing though that I found annoying was the formulaic romance that starts almost immediately between Garner and Katherine Ross. For one thing the mystery could’ve worked just as well had Ross’ character not been in it at all, but if they did feel the need to throw in a romantic subplot it’s always more interesting when there’s some friction or resistance at first only to have it evolve into a relationship later versus making it a ‘love at first sight’ scenario, which is too quick and unrealistic especially when there’s a 15-year age difference between the two.

What gets even more aggravating is that after spending the night with her Garner then starts to suspect that she may know more about the crime than she lets on, so the next day he storms into her apartment and quite literally starts strangling her to get the info. Then when he realizes he may have jumped to the wrong conclusion he leaves her place in a huff without even bothering to apologize. Several hours later he sheepishly returns, but instead of slamming the door in his face she asks if he’s alright?!

Later near the end of the film she returns to his office and acts like somehow it was all her fault and seems to leave things open to rekindling the romance, but why? Unless she’s desperate (and she’s way too beautiful for that) or has extremely low self-esteem she should’ve ended things right when he attacked her because it was an obvious red flag and the fact that she doesn’t shows how dated and out-of-touch the film is in regards to modern day relationship dynamics.

The scenery is nice especially the Malibu location of the victim’s house and seeing it get burned quite literally to the ground is kind of cool too. However, the quirky elements don’t gel and overall the film ends up being transparent and flat.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 22, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: James Goldstone

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), YouTube

The Art of Love (1965)

art of love

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Artist fakes his death.

Paul (Dick Van Dyke) is a struggling painter living in Paris who has not been able to make any money with his paintings and feels ready to give up and move back to the states. Casey (James Garner) is his roommate and best friend who tries to convince him to stay by coming up with a scheme where Paul fakes his death by jumping off a bridge and committing suicide, which should bolster the value of his paintings based on the concept that an artist’s work becomes more sought after once they are dead. The plan works, but it forces Paul to go into hiding and allows Casey to make a play at Paul’s fiancée Laurie (Angie Dickinson). When Paul finds out about this he confronts Casey and then things get really zany.

Carl Reiner’s script is trite to the extreme and although it moves at a brisk pace it is not very funny, or even passably amusing. The concept of an artist having to die in order to get his work to sell is an interesting idea to explore, but unfortunately like everything else in the film it is handled in a superficial way and used mainly as a springboard to all sorts of other wild scenarios that become increasingly sillier as it goes along.  Norman Jewison’s direction is dull and unimaginative and despite the fact that it has a European setting it was actually filmed on a Universal studios back-lot, which doesn’t help give it any atmosphere or distinction.

Van Dyke’s character is unrealistically ‘goody-goody’ and clean-cut.  He comes into contact with Nikki (Elke Sommer) a beautiful blonde woman who shows a strong interest in Paul, but he immediately and rigidly rebuffs her like he has no sex drive at all. The comic schtick that he does here is the same stuff we’ve seen him do hundreds of times before and he basically becomes Rob Petrie again simply transplanted into a European setting.

Although he has less comic opportunity Garner is clearly the better actor and has much more of a screen presence. It is easy to see why he continued to get choice movie roles for decades to come while Van Dyke became permanently demoted back to television.

Sommer is wasted in a transparent role. Dickinson, who three years later co-starred with Van Dyke in Some Kind of a Nut is equally forgettable and her constant propensity at fainting becomes increasingly more unfunny the more it occurs.

Ethel Merman makes the most of her role despite its limitations, but every time she speaks she seems to be shouting. Reiner is probably the most amusing out of all the characters in a brief bit as Garner’s shyster lawyer.

I wish I could tell you that there was at least one truly funny moment here, but there really isn’t. The humor is flat and dated and no better than a poor TV-sitcom and in many ways even worse.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 30, 1965

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Norman Jewison

Studio: Universal

Available: None at this time.

Murphy’s Romance (1985)

murphys romance 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Love blossoms in desert.

Emma (Sally Field) is a divorced mother with teenage son Jake (Corey Haim) who moves to a small Arizona town and try to singlehandedly start up a horse ranch. Once there she meets Murphy (James Garner) an older gentleman who she starts to have feelings for only to have her ex-husband Bobby Jack (Brian Kerwin) show up and try to rekindle their relationship.

This is a very leisurely paced romantic movie that doesn’t add anything new to the genre, but does end up going down like a cold drink on a hot afternoon. The dialogue is snappy and the wrap-up quite pleasing. It keeps things on a realistic level by showing Emma struggling with a lot of chores and financial constraints and thus making it perfectly relatable to those who have moved and tried to start over. It is also nice to see Haim when he was still a cute kid and before he became the 80’s poster boy for trouble child stars. Unlike other romantic comedies there is no one moment that is particularly funny or engaging however the scene involving Bobby Jack and Murphy fighting over Emma during a country dance party is amusing.

On the negative side it tends to be too formulaic. It only gets interesting when the ex-husband arrives, but then the film plays this scenario out in much too obvious a fashion. It would have been better had the ex-husband not been such a prototypical jerk and there had been more conflict and intrigue as to who she would end up choosing.

There is also a scene where Bobby Jack tackles Emma into a mound of hay in an effort to rekindle some of their old passion, but Emma ends up becoming allergic to the hay. Although this was clearly done for obvious laughs it doesn’t seem too believable. This is a woman, who by her own admission, has been working with hay and horses since she was child so this affliction would have become apparent long before then or at least during the several hours that it is shown where they are shoveling it into the stalls. It is possible that she was only faking this reaction in order to get away from him, but if that were the case then it should have been made more clear to the viewer

This is tailor made for the romantic diehards and they should enjoy it even though others may find it only passable.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released:  December 25, 1985

Runtime:  1Hour 47Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Martin Ritt

Studio: Columbia

Available: VHS, D VD, Amazon Instant Video