Tag Archives: Jill St. John

Banning (1967)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Golf pro seeks revenge.

Mike Banning (Robert Wagner) was at one time an up-and-coming golf star, but then his promising career came crashing down when he was accused of trying to rig a game by bribing his competitor. In reality it was his competitor Jonathan Linus (Guy Stockwell) who did the bribing and when Mike refused to go in on it Jonathan tabbed him for the crime. Now Mike has returned to the golf club that Jonathan and his rich wife Cynthia (Susan Clark) own. He demands to be given a job or he’ll tell the truth about what happened, but after securing a position at the club Mike then must deal with the mob who bankrolled his initial PGA run and now demand repayment, which forces Mike into the type of scheme that he had earlier avoided.

This is the type of film that could be deemed ‘dead-on-arrival’ as the characters  are so painfully cliched in the most soap opera-like extreme that it’s almost laughable, but strangely it’s still captivating. Most likely this is because we as regular people still get-off seeing the rich and powerful self-destruct by not only eating up each other, but many times themselves as well. Realizing that people with a lot of money don’t really ‘have-at-all’ and in many cases can be even more miserable is sort of satisfying and to that extent this movie succeeds admirable.

Unfortunately the sets are not as gaudy and over-the-top as they needed to be. When the characters are excessive the backdrop needs to match it and in this case it doesn’t. The golf club appears to be just some set piece created inside a studio and this visual sterility defeats the campiness by ultimately stymieing the melodrama into a formulaic programmer.

Wagner though is what really kills it by performing his role like he were sleepwalking. He shows no energy or nuance and simply goes around with this perpetual irritated look on his face and nothing more. How can a movie stimulate any interest when its lead has no panache? Even Jill St. John who Wagner later married in real-life buries him with her presence to the point that he doesn’t even seem worthy enough to share the same screen with her.

In support Howard St John (no relation to Jill) is fun as a conniving elderly rich tycoon who pretends to be drunk when he really isn’t as well as Anjanette Comer playing in a rare straight role. Her career has been marked with so many cult movie parts that seeing her play someone who is normal becomes genuinely diverting. Unfortunately Gene Hackman, who is miscast as an aging golf-pro even though he was in reality the same age as Wagner, gets wasted.

The climactic golf match manages to be surprisingly captivating and proves that the game can have a certain cinematic flair if done right, but some of the film’s other stabs at action don’t work so well. The car chase is a particular problem as it becomes painfully clear that Wagner really isn’t driving a vehicle, but simply sitting in front of a green screen instead, which pretty much helps to cements this as a dated relic.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 30, 1967

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ron Winston

Studio: Universal

Available: None at this time

Come Blow Your Horn (1963)

come blow your horn

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid brother moves in.

Buddy Baker (Tony Bill) has just turned 21 and is looking to get out into the world by moving in with his older brother Alan. Alan (Frank Sinatra) is living the bachelor’s dream by residing in a luxurious apartment in the heart of Manhattan while entertaining wild parties and a wide array of lovely ladies. Their parents (Lee J. Cobb, Molly Picon) do not feel that Alan and his lifestyle will be a good influence on Buddy and forbid him from doing it, but he does it anyways, which drives the father to disown his sons and cut out all communications with them.

This was the first Neil Simon play to be turned into a movie and it was loosely based on Neil’s relationship with his older brother Danny. For the most part it is talky and stagy while lacking Simon’s patented one-liners and humorous exchanges. It also has for some bizarre reason a musical number that comes out of nowhere at the 40-minute mark where Sinatra sings the film’s title tune and then just as quickly it goes back to being a straight comedy, which came off as jarring, out-of-place and misguided.

I did enjoy the film’s set design, which got nominated for an Academy Award, especially the interiors of Alan’s swanky apartment. However, I was confused why Buddy had to sleep in the same room as Alan as I would think such a large and fancy place would have more than just one bedroom. The movie also strongly implies that Alan is having sexual trysts with his lady friends, which would then imply that he must have a king sized bed somewhere, so why are only twin beds shown? He also has five telephones in the living room, which seemed beyond absurd and made me feel that if he had purchased a few less phones then he might’ve been able to afford a double bed.

Sinatra’s presence is the film’s weakest link as this type of comedy doesn’t mesh well with his otherwise caustic personality. He was too old for the part as he was not only pushing 50, but also only 4 years younger than Cobb who plays his father. I didn’t like Jill St. John’s ditzy character either as she was too dumb to be believable, which was not only painfully unfunny, but stereotypical and insulting to women.

I did like Tony Bill in his film debut and his nicely understated performance helps keep the film balanced. Dan Blocker is also great as a jealous husband and Molly Picon is a scene stealer as the mother. You can even spot Dean Martin as a wino in an uncredited cameo.

The fact that Alan doesn’t want to give up his swinging lifestyle despite the pressures from his girlfriend Connie (Barbara Rush) is the story’s one and only redeeming quality. I could never understand why a single man, who’s enjoying the bachelorhood at its most ideal, such as it is portrayed here, would want to suddenly throw it all for the married life. Most of the of films from that era with a similar theme would portray it as simply being the ‘magic of love’, but here the character is much, much more resistant to the idea and doesn’t change his ways until having a life altering event where he sees things from a different perspective, which made more sense.

Sinatra fans may want to check this out, but it is far from his best stuff and although the material is agreeable it is only slightly engaging and barely worth the time.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 5, 1963

Runtime: 1Hour 52Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Bud Yorkin

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Throw keys to transient.

Karen Stone (Vivien Leigh) is an aging actress who is no longer getting the top roles like she used to. She and her husband decide to travel off to Rome for a retreat, but instead he dies of a fatal heart attack while on the plane. Karen then decides to remain in Rome where she leases a luxurious apartment, but becomes lonely and starts feeling insecure about her desirability.  She meets Contessa Madga (Lotte Lenya) who is known in the area with setting up young men with lonely rich older women.   She sets Karen up with Paolo (Warren Beatty) a dashing young gigolo who is only attracted to Karen because of her money and the belief that she will pay him to be her lover while Contessa will get a cut of the profit. Karen does give Paolo a ‘salary’, but remains under the delusion that eventually he will fall in love with her for real.

Although the story moves along at a slow and plodding pace and there is little if any action I still found myself captivated. The script is based on a novel by Tennessee Williams and somehow his stuff always remains strong drama no matter how talky it may appear. The characters and their situations are real. Their fragility and desperation are things many people can sometimes find themselves facing and therefore it makes an impact.

The sets are excellent. Karen’s apartment has a nice mixture of elegance and airiness. I also liked the recreation of the streets of Rome that was done inside a sound stage. Normally I prefer on-location shooting, but when the sets are built in such a meticulous way it becomes almost mesmerizing.

Leigh, in her second to last film role, is solid as usual. Some may complain that she is playing a part that is too similar to her Oscar winning role of Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire and to some extent they have a point. It almost seemed like Leigh in her later career was becoming a bit of a caricature, but she does it so well that it is a treat nonetheless. Just watching the way she moves her eyes as she gazes at Paolo secretly flirting with another woman is memorable.

Beatty is equally good. He speaks with an authentic sounding Italian accent and has a tanned complexion. This was the role that established him as a leading man and worth seeking out for his fans.

Lenya is engaging as the wicked Contessa. Most viewers today will know her best as the villainess Rosa Klebb in the classic James Bond film From Russia to Love. I always felt that she was one of the best Bond villains, but the amazing thing is that here she ends up being almost as menacing though in a more subtle way. She exudes evilness with clarity that is both impressive and creepy.

Jill St. John is terrific as Barbra Bingham a younger, more attractive actress who makes no secret about her desire to take-over from Karen’s now fading spotlight. Her bratty, haughty behavior is effectively on-target. Apparently Leigh like her character felt intimidated by St. John’s youthful beauty and refused to say even one word to her during the production.

Spoiler Alert

My only real complaint is with the ending. Paolo abandons Karen and so in a fit of desperation she throws her apartment keys down to a transient who has been stalking her during most of the movie. The next shot has the homeless man entering the apartment and walking towards the camera, but then it fades and we are left to wonder what happened. Supposedly at the time just having a woman throw her keys down to some strange man on the street was considered shocking enough, but I wanted more of a conclusion. Did he kill her, or did they have sex and then start some sort of weird relationship? These are interesting questions that I felt should have been answered and the story’s ambiguity is frustrating.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 28, 1961

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Jose Quintero

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD