Tag Archives: John G. Avildsen

Save the Tiger (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Arson is the solution.

Harry Stoner (Jack Lemmon) seems to be the embodiment of the American Dream living in a large house in an exclusive neighborhood and driving a  fancy car, but underneath the facade he’s struggling. His apparel business is on the brink of financial collapse and he decides along with his business partner Phil (Jack Gilford) to torch the place so they can collect on the insurance money, but the closer they get to the date the more despondent he becomes.

The producers realized upfront that this was not going to be an audience pleaser  and therefore made it on a small budget with Lemmon agreeing to waive his usual fee and instead working for scale, which at the time amounted to $165 a week. The effort though paid off as this film is able to tell its story with unflinching honesty without having to make the usual compromises in order to gain mass appeal.

What I really liked is how the main character gets attracted to the tantalizing aspects of corruption just like the world around him as opposed to how it’s done in most other films where the protagonist somehow manages to rise above the fray and remains magically immune from the corruptible forces. What’s even better is that it shows how sometimes even good people can be driven to do bad things especially when up against a system that is cold and unyielding.

John G. Avildsen’s direction has a nice day-in-the-life feel especially the way it captures Harry’s routine at work and all the contrasting personalities and egos he must deal with as well as a hectic and seemingly never ending pace. I also enjoyed Harry’s hook-up with a hippy (Laurie Heineman) and how despite their vast age differences and perceptions they’re still able to form an interesting bond. How a transient woman who has worked no job could somehow get a house sitting opportunity at a dreamy Malibu pad is a good question, but the scene there between the two is one of the film’s best moments and Lemmon’s raw meltdown at that point is what most assuredly netted him the Oscar.

I enjoyed Gilford’s performance as well and was impressed seeing him in a rare dramatic role, but his character seemed more like a metaphor to Harry’s conscience than a real person and his constant yammering about arson being a federal crime becomes redundant. Harry’s mental breakdown onstage brought unneeded surrealism to a film that otherwise pushed hard for gritty reality and the result is jarring. Having him see images of his dead army comrades sitting in the audience looks inauthentic as their dead pale faces appear to be covered with nothing more than theatrical make-up.

It also would’ve been nice had there been some conclusion to the arson scenario. The viewer is left hanging with the idea that they will go through with it, but nothing is conclusive. I realize with the budget restraints that showing a burning building as the final image would’ve been difficult but helpful and giving us some sort of hint whether Harry and his partner were able to pull it off, or got caught would’ve been nice too. Besides Thayer David, who plays the arsonist, is so good in his role that he should’ve been in more scenes anyways.

Overall though I liked the cynical tone and how the script doesn’t pull any punches while it paints a terse, vivid portrait of the so-called American Dream and how those that appear to be living it aren’t always so happy.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: February 14, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John G. Avildsen

Studio: Cinema International Corporation

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

W. W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975)

w w dixie dancekings

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Conman promotes country band.

Burt Reynolds plays a good-natured, fun-loving conman who travels the south robbing gas stations as well as conning anyone out of their money in any way he can. He comes into contact with the Dixie Dancekings a struggling country band trying to make it big. W.W. initially sees this as another con-game by pretending to be a big time manager, who can use his influence to bring them to Nashville and send them straight to the top, but eventually he takes a liking to them and them to him and they begin working together to make it big while robbing banks along the way.

The film  is  fun and breezy and quite entertaining at the start. Reynolds’ charm practically propels the thing the whole way and manages to almost make up for its other shortcomings. His glib non sequiturs and boyish grin are on full display making this one of his better comical vehicles. I also loved the creative scene transitions and the playful digs at southern culture. It all comes to a head near the midway point when the group robs a bank with Polly Holliday playing the teller that makes great use of its cartoonish props and overblown action.

Unfortunately Thomas Rickman’s script fails to introduce any type of third act. The story coasts too much on its playful humor until it becomes old and tiring. There is not enough momentum or conflict and no discernable tension at all. The band members have no individual personalities and come off like faceless lemmings that are there to support Reynolds’ spotlight and nothing more.  Art Carney has a few interesting moments cast in an atypical role of the heavy in this case a police detective who is also a religious zealot that tracks the group down, but the dumb way that their final confrontation gets resolved is dull and disappointing.

It’s great to see country singer Jerry Reed making is acting film debut as he and Reynolds  would later go on to star in three more films together, but his character is not given enough to do, which ultimately makes is presence pointless.  Conny Van Dyke gets cast as the female lead, but shows little pizazz. The part was originally offered to Dolly Parton who would’ve been far superior, but she unfortunately turned it down.

John G. Avildsen’s direction is at times creative, but the plot and characters needed more layers as it all regrettably adds up to being nothing more than forgettable fluff.

w w dixie dancekings 2

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 21, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John G. Avildsen

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: None at this time.