Tag Archives: Jason Robards

Divorce American Style (1967)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Couple can’t get along.

Richard and Barbara Harmon (Dick Van Dyke, Debbie Reynolds) appear to have the perfect life living in a sprawling suburban home with two kids, a good job and paid housekeepers, but underneath the facade their unhappy. Neither of them can communicate with the other, so they decide to see a marriage counselor (Martin Gabel), but this just makes things worse. Eventually they get a divorce, but the alimony and child support are so high that Richard is forced to move into a small 1-bedroom apartment and drive around in an old beat-up car. Barbara begins dating an affluent car salesman (Van Johnson) but both find that, despite all their squabbles, the more they’re apart the more they miss each other.

The script was written by Norman Lear who went on to produce the ground-breaking TV-series ‘All in the Family’, but the edge from that one is completely lacking here. I’m not sure if it was the time period this film was made in and what the studios perceived the public was willing to accept, but the satire is mild to non-existent and becomes boring quite quickly. The subject of divorce is handled in such a sanitized way that it barely even touches the surface and in many ways this thing comes off more like a romantic comedy with divorce being only a side-story.

The two leads are incredibly bland. Van Dyke again just seems to be channeling his Rob Petrie character and seemingly unable to play any variation from that. While his squeaky clean image may have made him likable on TV it makes him quite dull and one-dimensional on film. Reynolds fares better, but as a couple there’s nothing unique or interesting about them and the issues that they fight about, which is mainly the fact that they can’t ‘communicate’, comes off as generic and pointless.

The supporting cast are far more engaging. Joe Flynn, who has no problems paying or sex with prostitutes and does not feel it’s cheating because it’s ‘not romantic’ and his wife, played by Emmaline Henry, who wouldn’t go back home to an unfaithful husband even if he ‘hanged himself’ have the type of edge that could’ve made this film far funnier and more memorable had they been made the stars. Even Jason Robards and Jean Simmons have potential playing a divorced couple where the wife still lives in affluence while the husband due to his high alimony and child support lives in the dumps, but dates a pregnant woman (played by Eileen Brennan in her film debut) anyways.

The comedic tone is inconsistent. At times it conveys a surreal flair like having an orchestra conductor come out at the beginning and pretend to direct the voices of all the arguing couples in the neighborhood like there’s a musical quality to it. Having the kids keep a scorecard to their parents fighting is funny too, but these segments get interspersed with long talky moments that drags the whole movie down and things would’ve worked better had it started out right away with the couple already divorced instead of spending the first hour dealing with their protracted arguing.

The anemic insights that it does make about divorce come off as dated and wholly out-of-touch with today’s realities. A modern day divorced couple will most likely find nothing relatable with the story. Tacking on a pseudo happy ending just adds further insult to the topic by making it seem like all marital disagreements can somehow be ‘worked out’ coming off like it was written and produced by those who really hadn’t dealt with divorce issues in their real lives and did very little research on it.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 21, 1967

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Bud Yorkin

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970)

ballad of cable hogue

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Desperate man finds water.

After he is betrayed by his two friends (L.Q. Jones, Strother Martin) and forced to survive in the middle of the desert without the benefit of food, water, a gun or even a horse Cable Hogue (Jason Robards) goes on a mad search for an oasis. After four days in the heat he collapses and just as he is ready to die he suddenly finds water in the most unlikely place. He uses this untapped spring to create a way station for the stagecoaches that travel through the area and becomes quite rich, but deep down he harbors the dark desire to get revenge on the two who wronged him and one day he finally gets his chance.

Theoretically a person can survive up to 4 ½ days, or 100 hours, without water if they are in a climate with a temperature of 72, but in much hotter conditions such as the one shown here it would be far less, so having the character survive like he does seems to be a an extreme stretch, but if you can get past that then the film is quite enjoyable at least at the beginning. The script was written by John Crawford and Edmund Penney who spent the majority of their careers working as character actors in B-movies and this was their one and only foray as writers. The story’s biggest asset is the main character that is expertly portrayed by the gifted Robards. His determination to beat long odds and find success even as he starts from rock bottom should resonate with most viewers and the character’s grit meshes well with director Sam Peckinpah’s perennial theme of rugged individualism.

The addition of David Warner as a dubious minister who helps Cable build his station is excellent and the film could’ve been an engaging buddy movie had it remained at this level. Unfortunately it felt the need to add in a love interest in the form of Stella Stevens, sans make-up, who portrays a whore that takes a liking to Cable. Stevens is not as strong of an actor as Warner and doesn’t know how to carry a scene like he does, so her time in front of the camera is boring and does nothing but bog down the pace while pushing Warner’s character out, which severely hurts the film’s rugged but whimsical chemistry.

Spoiler Alert!

Strother Martin’s character becomes yet another issue. He again gets straddled with the creepy, cowardly bad guy role of which is plays to perfection, but eventually made it seem almost like typecasting. To some extent I was happy to see him become humanized as it went along, but I didn’t like how Cable decides to leave his way station to him instead of the Warner character as he was the one who helped build it. Maybe Cable realized that with the invention of the automobile his station would no longer be prosperous and he would then be sticking Martin with a stinker instead of the goldmine that he thought, which is okay, but then he saves Martin’s life just a few minutes after he was ready to kill him, which became too much of a contradiction.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The film has some funny moments, but I didn’t like the fast motion running as it made it seem too cartoon-like. The numerous potshots at religion and those that expound on it are hilarious and I enjoyed how Peckinpah looks at capitalism from both sides where it is shown to greatly benefit an individual who is able to take advantage of a market demand, but also how it can coldly abandoned that same person the second that demand goes away.  The first 40 minutes are great, but then the story loses steam with comical moments that become too drawn out and have little to do with the main story as well as a protracted ending that really fizzles.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 8, 1970

Runtime: 2Hours 1Minute

Rated R

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

The War Between Men and Women (1972)

war between men and women 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Misogynist cartoonist goes blind.

Peter Wilson (Jack Lemmon) is a popular cartoonist whose drawings depict women in disparaging ways. He enjoys his job and single lifestyle where he can live on his terms and keeps his apartment as messy as possible, which he usually does. However, his already poor eyesight gets worse and upon a recent visit to his optometrist (Severn Darden) he finds that he must get an operation to help save it and even then there is a fifty percent chance that he could still go blind. Despondent and depressed he meets Theresa (Barbara Harris) a single mother with issues of her own. The two enter into a whirlwind romance that quickly leads to marriage only to have Theresa’s ex-husband Stephen (Jason Robards) show up at the wedding and wanting to rekindle their relationship.

Peter’s character is loosely based on James Thurber and the film itself is a distant cousin to the TV-series ‘My World and Welcome to it’ that aired for one year on NBC during the 1969-70 season. The film though doesn’t have enough of Thurber’s whimsical humor to make it worth watching. It starts off with some potential as it opens with a weird animated segment and drawings that closely resembled Thurber’s, but then quickly devolves into a contrived comedy/romance with maudlin drama thrown in that makes it seem like two movies in one. Had it stuck with the animation it would’ve done better, but even that gets kind of stupid including one segment where Peter’s drawings start to attack him, which forces the humans to stage an all-out war between them and the cartoon characters.

Peter’s acerbic, woman hating personality is initially diverting, but then for no reason he does a 180-degree turn by falling in-love with Theresa almost immediately and becoming a conventional husband and father while turning the film into a silly version of ‘The Brady Bunch’. I also couldn’t understand why Theresa would fall so head-over-heels for Peter as the two are trading barbs one second and then in bed together the next making their character’s motivations quite confusing.

Robards, who has his hair dyed dark brown and is almost unrecognizable, gets stuck with a thankless supporting role and is seen only briefly. Initially his presence had some potential as he starts to become buddies with Peter and plot against Theresa, but then his character dies unexpectedly making it confusing why he had been written-in in the first place. Lisa Gerritsen, who is best known for playing Cloris Leachman’s daughter in the ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’ TV-show and the subsequent spin-off ‘Phyllis’ has some appealing moments, but her constant stammering becomes annoying.

Thurber’s wit was unique and legendary, but this film is too timid to dive completely into it. I suppose the idea of having an openly misogynistic protagonist was considered ‘too edgy’ for early 70’s cinema, so attempts were made to make the character more mainstream, but in the process creates a film that is disjointed and bland.

war between men and women 3

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 1, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Melville Shavelson

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: VHS

Mr. Sycamore (1975)

mr sycamore 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mailman becomes a tree.

Bored with his job as a mailman and unhappy in his marriage John Gwilt (Jason Robards) decides one day to turn himself into an oak tree. He digs a hole in his backyard and ‘plants’ himself into it where he stands there day and night waiting to become a tree while his wife Jane (Sandy Dennis) tries desperately to talk him out of it, his neighbor Fred (Robert Easton) laughs at him and his minister (Mark Miller) tries to have him committed.

The film, which is based on a 1942 Broadway play, has a certain whimsical tone to it that might be pleasing to some if in the right mood and there is a certain strange intrigue at wondering just how this thing will end and whether he will eventually turn into a tree or not. However, the material would be better suited as a film short and the offbeat quality gets lost in a script that deals solely with a long parade of people who come into contact with John and their predictably shocked and confused responses when finding out what he is trying to do. The low budget is also an issue and outside of showing the inner-workings of a mail processing machine at the beginning there is no visual style at all.

Robards is a natural for the part, but he had already played a nonconformist looking to drop out of society earlier in the film and stage play A Thousand Clowns making his appearance here seem almost like typecasting. Jean Simmons gets wasted in a small bit as John’s secret love interest. Dennis, who usually plays kooky characters, becomes the most rational one here, which ultimately is the film’s weirdest element.

This definite curio does have a few amusing moments, but it lacks a second act or interesting side story and eventually talks its strange concept to death until it becomes boring.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated G

Director: Pancho Kohner

Studio: Film Ventures International

Available: VHS

Any Wednesday (1966)

any wednesday 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Wednesday is hump day.

Ellen (Jane Fonda) is a single lady of thirty living in an apartment building in New York City that is about to be bought out. Ellen wants to remain there and the only way she can is if she allows the place to be purchased by millionaire John Cleves (Jason Robards) who will allow her to stay rent free just as long as Wednesdays remain available so he can use the place to bring in his lady friends for sexual trysts. John has been cheating on his wife Dorothy (Rosemary Murphy) for years and uses the excuse of ‘business trips’ to fool around with other women. John also has his eyes on Ellen and after he buys her place he succeeds in getting her where he wants her, but then young Cass Henderson (Dean Jones) drops in and much to John’s consternation starts to have an interest in Ellen and her to him. Things get really crazy when Dorothy also shows up and turns the thing into a madcap bed-hopping farce.

Although this is not one of her better known roles Jane is terrific. The character to me is believable. A young attractive woman living alone who is racked with insecurities and indecision is almost a given. In many ways she is like how the Cass character described her as a ’30-year old child’ and Fonda plays the part humorously with a very goofy whine and cry. Some may find the character offensive due to the fact that her only ambition is to get married and feels like she is ‘not a complete woman’ unless she does. She even asks Cass to marry her after only knowing him for a day, which may be extreme, but I felt in that era women were under that type of pressure and thinking process, which is why I bought into it.

The Cleves character borders on being highly obnoxious. He seems to feel that because he has a lot of money he can act arrogant and get anything he wants, which could easily rub most viewers the wrong way. Fortunately Robards manages to craftily infuse his charm into the performance, which therefore makes it tolerable.

Jones lends some nice stability and Murphy is surprisingly alluring. She was already 40 at the time, but is seen provocatively bathing in a tub, which was unusual since older women especially in that time period were never shown that way and she pulls it off in an interesting way.

Director Robert Ellis Miller tries to keep what was originally a stage play from getting too stagy yet the story really can’t hide its roots. I did like the bright vivid colors of the set and the way New York was captured in the spring time. However, the scene where Ellen and Cass go to a sunny park is initially nice, but I didn’t understand when they sat down on some swings that it had to cut away to them in front of a blue screen inside a studio. The blue screen technique, which is rarely done anymore, was always tacky looking. Here it was even worse because the actors were at a real park, so he should have just left them there.

The story itself is trite, but for the first half I found it enjoyable. An older man having an affair with a younger woman that at times acts like an adolescent was rather edgy for the period as was their open discussions about sex. The conflicts create some interesting tensions and character development, but falls apart in the second act.

Spoiler Alert!

The problem really comes when Dorothy finds out about the affair and instead of being upset by it treats Ellen like a friend and even lets her move into John’s mansion while Dorothy takes up residence in Ellen’s old apartment. However, nothing is ever shown in Dorothy’s personality to forewarn us that she would respond in such an unusual way and thus making this comic twist not as clever as intended. Yes, there is an amusing irony at having Ellen come back to her old place and feeling ‘betrayed’ at finding John and Dorothy in bed together, but having John rekindle his passion with his wife is forced and contrived ultimately making this as silly and forgettable as all the other fluffy romances from that period. Fonda’s terrific performance is the only thing that makes if slightly above average.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 13, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Robert Ellis Miller

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video