Tag Archives: Keenan Wynn

Wild in the Sky (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hijacking a B-52 bomber.

Three Vietnam protesters (Brandon De Wilde, George Stanford Brown, Phil Vandervort) are arrested and taken to jail via a paddywagon driven by Officer Roddenberry (Dub Taylor). Along the way Roddenberry pulls over to relieve himself and while he’s outside one of the prisoners uses a wire to pull on the gear shift and make the vehicle move, which runs over Roddenberry who was in an out-house. The three then escape to a nearby air force base and get on a plane carrying a bomb that they threaten to drop onto Fort Knox unless they’re given their freedom.

This very budget-challenged production has a grainy look and a lame soundtrack that quickly makes it a relic of its era. There were so many other better produced films that came out in the same time period that took the same potshots at the army, politicians, and the establishment that it seems virtually pointless why anyone would feel the need to sit through this one as it adds nothing new to the already tired anti-war spoof genre.

The script though, which was co-written by Dick Gautier, who also gets cast as the plane’s co-pilot, and famous ‘Hollywood Squares’ host Peter Marshall, does have a few engaging moments. The conversation that Larry Hovis, who probably comes off best out of the entire cast, has with army general Keenan Wynn, is quite amusing. The moment when macho pilot Robert Lansing spontaneously kisses George Stanford Brown smack on the lips as they attempt to wrestle a gun from each other is pretty out-there especially for the time period. The bit at the end where the army personnel are stuck in an enclosed room and busily kick a live grenade away from each other and to someone else, who just kicks it back to the person who sent it to them, has an amusing quality to it as well.

Unfortunately the film creates a lot of strong characters and then doesn’t know what to do with them. Stanford Brown makes for a formidable lead, in fact the film was reissued with the title BLACK JACK because of his very dominant presence, but then he parachutes out of the plane along with most of the other air crew just as the dynamics between them were getting interesting. Had the film remained focused on the men inside the plane and made it more of a character study showing how their interactions between them changed during the course of the stand-off/flight this might’ve been interesting, but instead it spends too much time on the ground dealing with a petty, bickering fight between Wynn and Tim O’ Connor, which becomes cartoonish and silly.

De Wilde, whose last film this was before his untimely death in a car accident in July, 1972, is boring. He certainly looks the part with his long hair and jaded hippie-like facials expressions and light years away from the innocent child characters that he played in Shame and The Member of the Wedding, but his character has no pizzazz and nothing to say that is interesting or even remotely funny. Stanford Brown was the one that gave it energy and once he goes this already flimsy production goes with it.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 16, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: William T. Naud

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: None at this time.

Snowball Express (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Family rehabilitates rundown hotel.

Johnny (Dean Jones) works as an accountant in New York, but is bored with his job and looking for a way out. He finds his escape with an inheritance that he receives naming him the beneficiary of the Grand Imperial Hotel in Colorado that he’s promised can bring in $14,000 a month. He immediately quits his job and moves his reluctant family to the snowy Rockies where they find the hotel to be in bad shape, but Johnny is determined to still make a go of it and turns the place into a ski resort. At first they have some success with it, but calamity strikes, which destroys the place and forces Johnny to enter into a snow mobile race where he hopes to be the winner and use the earnings from the prize to rebuild the place.

There were aspects to the film that I liked. For one I felt Jones was quite engaging here. Usually his performances in some of his other Disney films were flat and one-dimensional, but here his resiliency had an emotional appeal. I also liked how even though the film is aimed for kids it still dealt with real-world adult issues like going to a bank to get a loan and then how to allocate that money to build equity. Even though children may be too young to grasp all of it, it’s still good to condition them into working world scenarios and what it takes to create a business from the ground up.

The story though lacks the physical comedy that is so prevalent in other Disney comedies. It does have a scene where Jones skis down a hill backwards while knocking over everyone else that is in his way, which is funny, but then the film repeats this same scenario two more times until it’s no longer funny and instead just boring. The scene where Harry Morgan’s character accidentally crashes his logging engine through the hotel is more depressing than funny since the family had spent so much time rebuilding it it was frustrating seeing it get destroyed for such a silly reason.

The climactic snowmobile race is okay and I liked seeing some of the wipeouts, which I wished there had been more of. However, having this really old guy played by Keenan Wynn beating out everyone else year after year as the snowmobile champion seemed weird. Granted he was actually only in his 50’s at the time it was filmed, but with his gray beard and hair he looked to be more in his 70’s, so it seemed a bit goofy why such an elderly guy, who was nothing more than a bank manager during the day, would have such an ability to always beat out everybody else.  Why the race required two men on each snowmobile didn’t make much sense either. I was born and raised in Minnesota and say a few snowmobile races in my time and they had only one person on each vehicle, so I couldn’t understand why it was necessary to have a second person behind the driver since they did nothing but  act like a spectator while holding for dear life as the driver cruised through the snow.

The film needed a more aggressive bad guy. Disney films from the 70’s were fun because the villains were usually so colorful, but here Keenan Wynn just sits behind his desk for most of the film and does nothing more than deny Jones a loan. It would’ve been better had Wynn instead sneaked around behind the scenes doing things that hurt Jones’ business, which would’ve created more of an antagonistic feeling from the viewer and thus made the final confrontation between the two, which gets underplayed anyways, more interesting.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 22, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Norman Tokar

Studio: Buena Vista

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Loving (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Commercial artist fools around.

Brooks (George Segal) is a commercial artist who spends most of his time chasing after clients, which he finds exhausting and takes away from the creative process. Although married to the beautiful Selma (Eva Marie Saint) he still sees  Grace (Janis Young) on the side, but she’s tired of being the other woman and wants him to divorce his wife and commit to her, which he resists. Despite all of these issues Brooks manages to keep his philandering hidden until one night when they attend a party at a friend’s house where his fooling around unexpectedly comes out into the open for all to see.

So many films have tried to capture that perfect day-in-the-life feel, but usually end up failing by either jazzing-up the drama, or becoming boring by  not having enough happening. Director Irvin Kerschner manages to find the right balance by having the characters continue to do things as they speak. For instance showing Brooks’ boss (Keenan Wynn) converse with him over the phone while folding up his hideaway bed. Why was he sleeping on the couch? Was he having marital problems of his own? Could be, but this visual approach allows the scenes to remain active while also conveying how everyone has issues and not just our protagonist. It also remains realistic as most people are usually doing other things while talking on the phone and never just sitting motionless like it gets portrayed in many other movies.

I enjoyed too how the film explores the job duties that Brooks has including the way he takes photos of models, sometimes he even using himself, and then traces their outlines from the picture to create a different artistic rendering, which I found fascinating. Much of the reason for these intricate details has much to do with the fact that the script is based on the novel ‘Brooks Wilson Ltd.’ by John McDermott under the pen name of J.M. Ryan, who was an illustrator in real-life, for Disney studios, and parlayed his experience of the craft to the main character. I also found it interesting how Brooks’ clients would sometimes have minor, subjective complaints about his work forcing him, for the sake of pleasing them and making money, to begrudgingly change what he had originally created and thus showing how the business side can squelch the artistic inspirations of creative people and take away the enjoyment they once had for their craft.

Even the children characters get handled much better than in most films. Granted their parts have very little to do with the plot, but still like in every parent’s life they’re always around causing disruptions and noise even when you have your mind occupied with other things. They’re also not portrayed as sickingly sweet or excessively bratty, but like with most kids an equal combination of both. The oldest girl, who looked to be about 8, also has one of the film’s funniest moments as she’s shown reading a book on the sofa while a nude model, who her father is sketching, stands right in front of her, which she finds to be no big deal.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s best moment though is still the ending where Brooks goes to a party and makes love to his best friend’s wife (Nancie Phillips) in a child’s empty playroom to the amusement of the the other guests who watch them in another room, unbeknownst to Brooks, on closed circuit TV. Not only is this scene hilarious, but dramatically powerful as Will (David Doyle), whose wife is caught fooling around with Brooks, physically attacks Brooks outside afterwards and the look of anger and betrayal on his face reveals, despite the funny set-up, how emotionally devastating philandering can be to the other spouse.

The film though fails to offer any conclusion. We sit through 90-minutes of seeing the marriage slowly disintegrate, but then are left watching the couple staring at each with no idea whether they were able to patch things up, or divorce. The viewer feels cheated that no clear answer is given and a brief denouncement showing where the main character ultimately ends up, whether it be with a new love, his same wife, or all alone, should’ve been added.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 4, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Irvin Kerschner

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Coach kills pretty students.

Ponce (John David Carson) is an awkward teen in his senior year of high school that still hasn’t been out on a date. He suffers from having erections at the most inopportune times and too shy to ask out one of the many beautiful female students that populate his school. He also finds himself dealing with a series of murders of pretty coeds who turn up dead with funny little notes attached to them and he starts to suspect that the killer may be the school’s beloved football coach (Rock Hudson).

The film, which is based on a novel by Francis Pollini with a screenplay written by Gene Roddenberry starts out well with sharp, satirical dialogue and funny situations dealing with the police investigation, but then deteriorates into smarmy sex jokes and becomes nothing more than a teasing T&A flick. The script makes it obvious early on that the coach is the killer and had it not revealed this so quickly it could’ve made the film more of a mystery and given the ending an impactful twist.

My main beef though is that it takes place in a high school instead of a college even though all the students look to be well into their 20’s. The fact that the coach has sex with the female students makes the thing seem off-kilter as does Angie Dickinson who plays a teacher who brings Ponce into her home to help him with his erection problem. If the setting was a college with the student characters over 18 than all this tawdriness would at least be legal and less outrageous.

The female students come off as being too free-spirited and reflect the counter-culture movement that occurred mainly on the college campuses of that era and not the high schools. They also all look too much like models. A realistic portrait of a high school class will have a variety of body types not just those of women ready to become cover-girls. I enjoy beautiful women as much as anybody, but the film should’ve had at least one average or overweight female in the cast simply to give it balance and avoid it from seeming too much like a tacky male fantasy, which is all this thing ends up being anyways.

Hudson, with his monotone delivery, is a weak actor and gave only one good performance in his career, which was in the film Giant. Yet here his discombobulated acting skills successfully reflect his character’s confused personality. Carson is a bland protagonist and his presence doesn’t have much to do with how the plot progresses. His character is put in solely for a dull side-story dealing with his attempts to get-it-on with his teacher in her home, which amounts to being just a dumb comic variation of Tea and Sympathy that is neither funny nor sexy.

The supporting cast is far better. Telly Savalas owns the screen as a relentless investigator. Keenan Wynn is hilarious as a dim-witted policeman in one of the funniest roles of his prolific career and he’s the best thing in the movie.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 26, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Roger Vadim

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, YouTube