By Richard Winters
My Rating: 8 out of 10
4-Word Review: Swimming his way home.
On a hot summer afternoon Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster) decides to something out of the ordinary. He notices that all of his neighbors have backyard pools and he could essentially ‘swim’ his way home by jogging from house to house and diving into each pool before moving onto the next one. At first it seems like a great idea and the people he meets along the way are happy to see him, but things grow increasingly darker the more pools he goes to as some of the home owners do not welcome his presence while exposing uncomfortable elements from his past. His seemingly successful, happy persona takes a beating and slowly reveals instead a lonely man who’s badly out-of-touch with those around him.
The film is based on a short story written by John Cheever and first published in The New Yorker magazine on July 18, 1964. The story amounted to only 12 pages, but screenwriter Eleanor Perry manages to expand on the idea to create a film full of nuance and interesting dialogue that reveals just enough of the characters to make it insightful without becoming heavy-handed.
Director Frank Perry does a fine job in creating atmosphere by having each residence Ned enters into completely different from each other. Some have jubilant outdoor parties going on while others have just one person there and one pool doesn’t have any water in it at all. The best scenes include a slow-motion segment where Ned and a young lady named Julie (Janet Landgard) jump over hurdles like they are at a track meet as well as the scene where Ned and a young boy named Kevin (Michael Kearney) go to the bottom of an empty pool and pretend like to swim across it like it were still filled with water.
Lancaster gives an excellent performance and it initially comes off almost like a vanity project as the viewer gets to see him practically nude the entire time and in one brief segment his buttocks gets fully exposed. What’s so impressive is the fact that he was in his mid-50s at the time, but has a muscular physique like that of an athletic 20-year-old. His deep blue eyes give a lasting impression especially when they reveal the character’s shocked realization that the bubble he had been living in has now burst.
This also marks the film debut of Joan Rivers who appears as a party goer who has a brief conversation with Ned. The scene lasts for only a few minutes, but apparently took 7-days to film because of repeated arguments between director Perry and Lancaster over how they wanted to convey her character. Perry pushed for a ‘happy girl’ who Ned rejects, while Lancaster wanted a jaded woman who ends up rejecting Ned, which is how it ultimately plays out and which I preferred.
The ending where Ned gets to his home only to find it empty and abandoned and he’s unable to get inside is excellent because it helps bring together everything else that came before it. My interpretation is that the pools represented memories of his life and his attempts to somehow reconcile his selfish nature with those that he had abandoned or forgotten from his past. The house symbolizes his empty soul created through years of striving for material gain while callously ignoring, or exploiting others along the way. His inability to get back inside corresponds to his failure to reconcile with himself about his behavior and the empty feeling one ultimately gets when material success ends up not being fulfilling.
End of Spoiler Alert!
The film went through a difficult production that saw many conflicts between Lancaster and Perry that ultimately got Perry fired and replaced by Sydney Pollack who reshot several scenes including the one with Janice Rule who replaced Barbara Loden whose scenes were scrapped entirely. Despite these behind-the-scenes complications the film still comes together as a fluid whole and has a nice visual style that makes it well deserving of its strong cult following.
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Released: May 15, 1968
Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes
Director: Frank Perry, Sydney Pollack (Uncredited)
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube
Posted in 60's Movies, Cult, Moody/Stylish, Movies Based on Short Stories, Movies with Nudity, Outdoors, Psychological, Surreal/Fantasy
Tagged Burt Lancaster, Eleanor Perry, Entertainment, Frank Perry, Joan Rivers, Movies, Review
By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Ugly girl gets revenge.
Miriam (Stockard Channing) is a homely student attending college who can’t seem to find a boyfriend or even any friends. Instead she is ostracized and rejected constantly in the cruelest ways possible. Upset by her depressing life she one day gets into her car and drives recklessly down the highway only to get into a crash, which forces surgeons to do major reconstructive surgery on her face that amazingly turns her into a beautiful woman. Now she can have any guy that she wants, but the bitterness of the way she was treated in the past eats away at her and she instead decides to get revenge by killing off all the people that rejected her using increasingly novel methods.
This made-for-TV film was written by Joan Rivers and it has the same humor that she used in her stand-up comedy act, which mainly focused on women’s deep seated insecurities involving their looks and the need to get married and please their husband. To some degree the whole thing is quite dated particularly the idea that a woman’s sole purpose in life is to use their looks to snare a rich husband who will then take care of them for the rest of their life. The humor and characters are also extremely clichéd and broad, but it still manages to have some funny bits.
Channing’s presence helps immensely and she manages to somehow carry off the role with dignity despite being degraded and humiliated at every turn. Her ugly makeover is impressive particularly the way they wadded up her nose to make her left nostril much larger than the right one, which had me reluctantly focused on it every time it came into view.
The supporting cast features many familiar faces in small, bit parts some of which are quite funny including Joe Flynn as a surgeon unable to find a patient’s appendix, Larry Wilcox as a dumb football player named Moose, Warren Berlinger as Miriam’s plumber fiancée and Susanne Zenor as the haughty roommate. This also marks the acting debut of Larry Manetti who can be spotted in a small role as a football player.
The murders themselves are what help stand this film apart from the others in what otherwise could be described as a Carrie precursor. The scene where Miriam kills off the Wilcox character while skydiving is impressively captured as is the segment where Berlinger drowns in a flood in his own bathroom. The only one that doesn’t quite make sense is when she tries to kill a pool player by having him hit the eight ball that is secretly a bomb. However, when it does finally go off, it explodes the entire pool hall, which would’ve easily killed Miriam along with the others had she not been inadvertently lead away at the last minute.
Fans of black humor should especially enjoy this and for a TV-movie it is far and away better than most. It also scores better than River’s theatrical feature Rabbit Test, which she did five years later and wasn’t funny at all.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: November 6, 1973
Runtime: 1Hour 15Minutes
Director: Lee Phillips
Studio: ABC Circle Films
Posted in 70's Movies, Black Comedy, College Life, Cult, Made-for-TV, Offbeat
Tagged Entertainment, Joan Rivers, Joe Flynn, Larry Wilcox, Movies, Review, Stockard Channing, Susanne Zenor, Warren Berlinger
By Richard Winters
My Rating: 2 out of 10
4-Word Review: The first pregnant man.
Lionel (Billy Crystal) is a lonely young man of 24 who lives next to his obtrusive mother (Doris Roberts) and has never been with a woman. When his friend Danny (Alex Rocco) comes home from the service they go out to a war veteran’s social where he has sex with actress Sheree North on top of a bowling pinball machine and inexplicably becomes pregnant. This creates an uproar in both the media and medical world and turns Lionel into an unwanted celebrity.
This was the one and only movie directed by Joan Rivers. Like with her personality it can be mildly funny at times, but is mostly abrasive and crass. The film lacks any cinematic style and was originally shot on video. The plot is limp and the whole thing seems more like a gag reel than a movie. Her attempts at recreating the comic style of Mel Brooks, Woody Allen or even John Waters fails miserably and the viewer is left with one big amateurish mess.
Ninety-nine percent of the humor is crude and stupid and deals heavily in racial stereotypes making one almost thankful for political correctness. Some of the worst bits include the portrayal of Lionel’s Mexican-American students as being utterly infantile and the only way to get rid of them is to yell ‘immigration’. There is also a segment where Lionel travels to Africa and watches a ventriloquist act where a black man has a dummy on his lap that is played by midget actor Billy Barty in blackface. The film also takes potshots at elderly people, fat people, people with disabilities and even Jews. None of the jokes are funny and are often cruel and in the poorest of taste.
Crystal in his film debut is the only good thing about the movie and is likable enough to help elevate it to some degree. Paul Lynde is amusing as a gynecologist and had he had more screen time it would have helped. Roberts score a few points in the caricature of a meddlesome mother as does George Gobel as the hick president. Michael Keaton also makes his film debut here, but it is in a non-speaking role as a sailor and if you blink you’ll miss him.
There is also never any explanation for exactly how Lionel becomes pregnant nor do we see the delivery or what type of baby it is which is annoying and dumb. It is almost like a bunch of twelve-year-olds got together to write the script and in many ways I think they could have done better. The film’s posters are funnier than anything you’ll see in the actual movie.
My Rating: 2 out of 10
Released: April 9, 1978
Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes
Director: Joan Rivers
Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures
Posted in 70's Movies, Crude Comedy, Obscure Movies
Tagged Billy Barty, Billy Crystal, Doris Roberts, Entertainment, George Gobel, Joan Rivers, Michael Keaton, Movies, Paul Lynde, Review