Tag Archives: Jessica Harper

My Favorite Year (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Babysitting an alcoholic actor.

The year is 1954 and Benjy (Mark Linn-Baker), who works as a junior writer at a top rated TV variety show, is put in charge of babysitting a famous matinee idol named Alan Swann (Peter O’Toole) who is set to guest star on an episode of the show. Alan is a well known alcoholic who usually finds a way to stay constantly inebriated and it’s Benjy’s job to keep him sober, which proves challenging.

The first 30 minutes of the film has some snappy dialogue and a fast, engaging pace. It’s loosely based on a real-life incident where Mel Brooks, then working as a young writer on the TV-show ‘Your Show of Shows’, was put in charge of watching Errol Flynn and making sure he stayed away from the bottle, which he apparently did making the comic situations that occur here highly fabricated.

Unfortunately by the middle half it starts to lose steam and never fully recovers. It works best during the scenes where Baker and O’Toole are together, which is where the story should’ve stayed. Instead it unwisely tries to work in a ridiculous romantic side-story between Baker and Jessica Harper, which isn’t interesting at all and even slightly creepy as Harper has clearly stated she’s not interested in getting into a relationship with him and yet he continues to pursue her and even gets jealous and acts like he ‘owns’ her when he sees her with another guy.

The film also doesn’t take enough advantage of Joseph Bologna who plays the narcissistic/ego-driven star of the show that was apparently based on Sid Caesar. Nobody can play a brash, arrogant, obnoxious guy quite like Bologna and still manage to somehow remain likable and engaging in the process, so when you got him in the cast and in top form you should use his skills to its full potential, which this film doesn’t.

The Swan character ultimately gets overblown. I didn’t have a problem with his extreme drunkenness at the start, but he begins to behave too much like some overgrown man-child like when he impulsively jumps onto a policemen’s horse and rides it for no particular reason almost like he’s from a completely different planet and no longer even slightly resembling an actual person who must deal with real consequences. Watching him meltdown without restraint when he realizes he’ll be put on live television makes him pathetic and lacking even a modicum of professionalism. Anyone as emotionally fragile as he is would never even have a chance in the real Hollywood where one must put up a tough front in order to survive in it.

Richard Benjamin’s directorial debut isn’t bad, but it does have two glaring flaws. One occurs when Baker and O’Toole are on the rooftop of a building and their images are matted over a green screen, which causes orbs to appear around their heads, which is distracting and amateurish looking.  Another one comes when at the end O’Toole saves Bologna, who’s getting beat up by some thugs on live TV, by slashing the bad guy’s clothes with his sword, which wouldn’t occur since stage props don’t actually use real blades.

The brief appearances by the raspy voiced Selma Diamond and Cameron Mitchell are gems and the film also manages to work in a few poignant moments, which is nice. Overall though the concept gets stretched too thin and becomes too cute for its own good.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 8, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Benjamin

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, YouTube

Suspiria (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ballet dancer battles witches.

Suzy (Jessica Harper) is an American from New York who aspires to be a ballet dancer and travels to Freiburg, Germany to enroll at the dancer academy there. When she arrives she confronts another young lady who shouts something about a ‘blue iris flower’ before running out into the stormy night and then later turning up murdered. As the days progress strange events begin to occur convincing Suzy that the dance school may really be a cover for a coven of witches.

I first saw this film back in the late 80’s and it left me cold, but after reading a few other movie blogs where the critics insisted this was ‘brilliant’ I decided to give it another chance and approached it with a completely open mind only to end up liking it even less. The majority of the problem is Dario Argento’s over-direction. The sets and color schemes are wildly over-the-top bordering on camp. Had he pulled back even a little it might have been visually impressive, but instead gets obnoxious. The atmosphere, like everything else, is overdone creating a dream-like fantasy feel that has no connection to reality and therefore not very compelling.

The music, which was done by a group called Goblin, is interesting to some extent. I like the effect that to me sounded like hissing demons, but the other parts of it too closely resembled the ‘Tubular Bells’ music that was used in The Exorcist. It also gets overplayed and is too loud coming off like a spoiled child demanding your attention, which creates less tension and more distraction instead.

The special effects don’t live up to billing. When a man gets attacked and then eaten by his own dog is the only good part simply because it’s unexpected. Otherwise the blood and gore is average and even lacking. The majority of it is at the beginning where we see a young, frightened woman squirmy around on the floor while she gets stabbed and to a degree looks like some interpretive dance routine. The shot of a body coming out of a ceiling and then hung from a rope doesn’t work because it is clearly a mannequin and if you look real closely her face already has a strangled expression on it before the head goes through the noose.

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Harper is a good protagonist and its fun seeing classic film star Joan Bennett in her last film role. I also really liked Alida Valli as Miss Tanner the dance instructor. During the 40’s and 50’s she was a stunningly beautiful leading lady, but here looks very witchy with the way her hair is cropped up into a tight bun as well as with her eyes and voice. The rest of the supporting cast have their voices dubbed, something that Italian productions during this period were notorious for and gives the already wooden dialogue a cheesy, amateurish sounding banter.

Spoiler Alert!

The climactic finish is a big letdown. For such an extravagant, garish build-up I was expecting much more of a bloody, drawn-out battle. Instead Harper just picks up a sharp object and stabs the head witch, who looks dead already, and it immediately kills her along with the others, but to me this didn’t make sense. This is supposedly some otherworldly demon, so the same laws of physics wouldn’t necessarily apply to her like it does to humans and a simple stab wound wouldn’t have the same effect like it would to regular people.

End of Spoiler Alert!

I was glad to see that other viewers on IMDB particularly those on the message board felt the same way about this ‘classic’ as I did. In my opinion the only way to enjoy it is for its excessive camp value and nothing more.

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My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 1, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes (Blue Underground 2-Disc Special Edition)

Rated R (Originally rated X)

Director: Dario Argento

Studio: International Classics (Dubbed Version)

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray