Tag Archives: John G. Avildsen

Joe (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bigot befriends successful businessman.

Joe Curran (Peter Boyle) is an unhappy factory worker who feels the blacks, liberals, and hippies are ruining the country and doesn’t mind telling all the patrons at his local bar exactly what he thinks. One night while going on another one of his racist rants he meets Bill (Dennis Patrick) a successful businessman who’s the father of Melissa (Susan Sarandon) who was put into the hospital for a heroin overdose. Earlier that day in a fit of rage Bill had killed her live-in boyfriend Frank ( Patrick McDermott) who was the one that got Melissa hooked on the drug. Now, as he sits at the bar in a drunken state he admits to Joe what he did and Joe uses this newfound knowledge to become friends with Bill and find out how the other half lives. Bill initially dislikes Joe and only stays friends with him because he’s afraid Joe will go to the police otherwise, but after awhile the two men start to share a weird bond, which eventually leads them both to the dark side.

Norman Wexler’s script manages to bring out the paradox of the American social hierarchy quite well and in many ways far better than most other better known dramas of the same subject. While the role was originally intended for Lawrence Tierney, who would’ve been a better choice due to being more age appropriate, Boyle, in his first starring role, shines as a younger version of Archie Bunker and manages to do it in a way that still keeps him human and dryly humorous.

The film’s major defect though is with Dennis Patrick’s character who is too bland and one-dimensional and walks around with the same nervous look on his face throughout. Having him become the main character and receive the biggest story arch does not help since he’s too transparent causing his personality change to be uninteresting and there needed to be a backstory in order to give him more depth. I also felt his relationship with his wife (Audrey Caire) needed fleshing-out and the scene where he admits to the murder to her and her reaction to this news needed to be shown.

While John G. Avildsen’s direction has some flair his selection of music for the soundtrack, which includes a droning, melodic piece by Jerry Butler during the opening credits, was too low key and doesn’t reflect the edgy, angry tone of the story. The scene where several people get shot inside an isolated home is poorly handled because no special effects get used. The victims just immediately collapse to the ground after being shot, almost like children pretending to get killed while playing cops-and-robbers, with no blood splatter or gun smoke, which makes it too fake looking and weakens the overall emotional effect.

Having Patrick able to kill the boyfriend so easily is unconvincing too. The boyfriend was far younger and bigger than Patrick, so having him die by simply getting the back of his head hit against a wall without putting up any fight comes off as pathetic and the struggle should’ve been much more prolonged and played-out. I also didn’t like the editing effects were the film repeats the shot of the head hitting the wall, which is too stylized in a film that otherwise was trying to be gritty and realistic.

The twist ending though is nifty and almost makes it worth sitting through. It’s also a great to see Susan Sarandon in her film debut. She looks pretty much the same as she does now, but her eyes for some reason look bigger here and more pronounced on her face. She gives a good performance as always and even jumps fully naked into a bathtub with her boyfriend to start things off.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 15, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John G. Avildsen

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

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.