Tag Archives: Jim Backus

Good Guys Wear Black (1978)

good

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s marked for murder.

John T. Booker (Chuck Norris) was once the head of an elite CIA assassin group known as The Black Tigers. The group was sent into Vietnam on a mission to rescue American POW’s, but instead finds that they were set-up and marked for demise. Only Booker’s brave and cunning leadership allowed the group to survive. Five years later Booker now works as a UCLA professor where he lectures about the problems with the Vietnam War and how it should never have happened. During one of his classes he meets Margaret (Anne Archer) a beautiful, young reporter who works in Washington and relays to him some troubling information: his buddies that were a part of that unit are now being picked-off one-by-one and Booker is most likely the next target. He decides to team up with her to not only warn the remaining members, but also to weed-out the culprit, or secret organization, who are behind it.

This was Norris’ second starring feature with a story based off an outline written by one of his friends, but the biggest problem with it is that there isn’t enough action sequences and I was genuinely shocked. I’ve not seen too many of his movies, so I’m still new to the formula, but I was honestly expecting fights every 5-minutes. Instead it isn’t until an hour in before Chuck displays his karate expertise and even then it’s brief. This was apparently because he wanted to do it differently than with the Bruce Lee movies he had been in, in the early part of his career. He described those as being ‘all karate with a little story thrown-in’ and he wanted to do something that had a lot of story and only some karate scenes.

While this may sound good in theory the plot is weak and the budget sparse to the point that adding in a few more exciting sequences to make-up for the otherwise anemic production would’ve been a good idea. This really comes into play during the rescue mission where The Black Tigers are in Vietnam looking for the POW’s, but the lighting and camera work are so poor that you can barely see what’s going on. The film also cuts away, so we never see how Norris and his buddies manage to escape from their enemies and make it out. It just immediately jumps to them 5 years later working regular jobs and having moved-on from the traumatic experience, which makes the whole thing seem too rushed.

The story has a few logic loopholes as well. Namely the fact that these assassins seem intent to kill their targets in broad daylight with a lot of people around. Most professional killers can find more subtle ways to off their targets like through poisoning, which can work slowly and harder to trace back to the original source. Shooting someone in big crowds is just asking for trouble because it brings in many potential witnesses and no guarantee they’ll be able to get out of there in time before the authorities arrive. If they must do away with their target through shooting then at least have it done when the victim is alone and the fact that this supposedly slick organization thinks of doing it the other way makes both them and the movie seem pretty dumb.

While Norris’ fighting skills are excellent his acting is not and even he admitted that he felt like ‘hiding behind a chair’ while watching it every time his character came onscreen. His voice inflection is poor and he seems unable to convey any type of emotion. Pairing him with Archer helps as her performance anchors it. I thought too that James Franciscus was terrific as the villain as his dashing good looks effectively reflected a slimy politician willing to accept any underhanded agreement in order to close a deal, but he should’ve been in it more. I was disappointed though with Jim Backus’ appearance as he’s given a very nondescript part as a doorman at an upscale condo building. You’d think bringing in a well-known celebrity he’d have something amusing to say, or do, but it’s a bland bit that could’ve easily been done by a no-name actor. He probably needed the work so that’s why he accepted it, but the producers could’ve at least allowed him to ad-lib, in order to jazz the scene up a bit.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 23, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ted Post

Studio: American Cinema Releasing

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Pluto, Freevee, Amazon Video

Slapstick (Of Another Kind) (1982)

slapstick

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: These twins are extraterrestrials.

Based on the Kurt Vonnegut novel ‘Slapstick’ the story centers on a Caleb and Lutetia (Jerry Lewis, Madeline Kahn)  who are a rich and famous couple that give birth to deformed and ugly twins named Wilbur and Eliza (also played by Lewis and Kahn). The couple immediately disowns the children and has them put away into a home run by Sylvester (Marty Feldman) who acts as the children’s caretaker. Unbeknownst to anyone is the fact that twins are actually aliens implanted inside Lutetia by a race of super intelligent beings from a faraway planet as a way to help earthlings solve all of their problems. When the twins put their cone sized heads together they are super smart, but when they are separated they are dumb making everyone believe that they are mentally deficient and of no use to anyone.

The biggest problem with this disastrous attempt at a movie is the approach. Director Steven Paul who ironically made his acting debut in Happy Birthday, Wanda June, which was another Vonnegut book adaptation brought to the screen seems to have no idea what type of audience he is aiming for. The humor shifts wildly between child-like farce to satirical jabs with nothing in-between, which will alienate both adults and children alike. The grownups will find it incoherent and silly while the children will be frightened by the ugly visuals as well as the cold, callous nature of the characters and plot. There is also a strange side story that make no sense and deals with miniaturized Chinese men who are the size of a human thumb and fly around in a spaceship resembling an eggroll while trying to make contact with the twins in order for them the help make a deal on the sale of gravity?!!!!

Lewis and Kahn are relatively amusing as the snotty couple, but as the twins they are downright embarrassing. The scene where they have a food fight while yammering incessant baby talk is a degrading sight and a career low for both performers. I know Lewis has the reputation of doing some really silly, inane stuff, but even this should’ve been beneath him.

The eclectic supporting cast helps a little and the only reason that I’m giving it 2 points. Feldman is genuinely amusing and it’s great seeing Jim Backus in one of his last acting roles playing the President of the United States and hearing this predominantly kid-friendly performer utter the word shit…twice!

I have never read the novel from which this is based, but have heard that it is far superior, which isn’t a surprise. I’d be interested to know what Vonnegut, who apparently wrote the lyrics to a song sung by Kahn in the film, but then later cut, thought of this catastrophe. Some bad films are fun because you can make jokes about as it goes along, but this thing is so utterly bizarre from beginning to end that instead you sit in a stupor throughout and it becomes a surreal experience instead.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 1, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 22Minutes

Rated PG

Studio: International Film Marketing

Director: Steven Paul

Available: VHS, Amazon Instant Video