Tag Archives: Kirk Douglas

Saturn 3 (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Space couple battles robot.

Mentally unhinged Captain Benson (Harvey Keitel) arrives on a space station that is located on Saturn’s 3rd moon along with a robot named Hector that has brain tissue made up of human fetuses. On the space station resides Adam (Kirk Douglas) and Alex (Farrah Fawcett) who are a couple researching on how to grow plants without soil. Captain Benson is assigned to assemble the robot, which will supposedly help the couple in their research, but instead it goes on a rampage killing Benson and then threatening to do the same to the other two.

The film was the brainchild of award winning set designer John Barry best known for his production design in the movies Star Wars and A Clockwork Orange. Unfortunately most of his work was done inside an office and his ability to actually direct actors was limited leading to constant conflicts between he and star Douglas, which eventually forced the film’s producer Stanley Donen to step in and takeover. Barry then left to work on The Empire Strikes Back only to collapse suddenly and die just a few months later from meningitis at the young age of 43 while never seeing the completed version of his original vision.

The sets are dazzling and clearly the film’s best element. In fact one could watch the movie for its visual quality alone with no sound and be better entertained. The robot is amazing too because he comes off looking like a genuine mechanical concoction and not just some stunt guy in a body suit. The thing doesn’t even have a head, but simply a protruding wire coming out the top with two lights on the end of it representing its eyes. Watching him being put together is mesmerizing as he looks very much like modern robots seen today at science shows making the film, at least in this area, seem astutely ahead-of-its-time.

The story though comes-off like an afterthought. Never once did I feel any tension even as the robot chases the couple all around. The characters are bland and the cast needed to be larger as the production lacks energy or liveliness. The dark, isolated space station is gloomy and depressing, which eventually crosses over to the film as a whole.

This was supposed to be a sci-fi/horror hybrid in the realm of Alien, but unlike that movie this one lacks any shocks or scares. There were two scenes that were filmed but later deleted one involved a dream sequence where Adam and Alex kill Benson while another had the robot ripping apart Benson’s dead body. These scenes sounded like they had exact edginess that the film lacked and it’s a head-scratcher why they were cut. When you’re trying to attract the same audience of another sci-fi flick that had its share of gore then you need to go for the gusto and not hold back.

The casting is cockeyed. Why is a 65-year-old codger banging a hot 30-year-old? Not only does it look like a father/daughter thing but even more like a grandfather/granddaughter situation. Kirk’s a fine actor, but not for this and his son Michael would’ve been a far better choice especially since there’s no chemistry between the two stars anyways.

Farrah’s acting skills have improved slightly from her first two films, but she still comes off as transparent and in-over-her-head, hired solely for her looks and nothing else.  Male viewers will enjoy her brief topless scene, but most likely no one, male or female, will be excited about seeing Kirk’s bare wrinkled old ass, which you’ll unfortunately also get a glimpse of.

I was most perplexed by the fact that Keitel’s voice was dubbed over by actor Roy Dotrice apparently because Donen didn’t like Keitel’s Brooklyn accent, but why hire the guy in the first place if you don’t like the way he speaks? The dubbing is obvious from the moment he utters his first word and will be a definite distraction to Keitel fans.

Ultimately the film becomes victim to what happens to a lot of big budget sci-fi productions where too much emphasis is put into one element while almost no thought is given to anything else. The result is a flimsy entry into the sci-fi genre that barely deserves any attention at all.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 15, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated R

Director Stanley Donen (John Barry uncredited)

Studio: ITC Films

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Executive Action (1973)

executive-action-3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who really killed JFK?

A group of former intelligence officials along with right-wing corporate capitalists conspire to assassinate President John F. Kennedy whose agenda they feel has gone too far to the left. Two teams of assassins are hired and they work in the desert to hone their shooting skills so as to be able to hit a moving target at 15 mph. Once this is accomplished they set-up a fall guy by the name of Lee Harvey Oswald to take the wrap while hiring another man, Jack Ruby, to kill him outright should he begin to squeal.

It may be a shock to some that in this age where conspiracy theories of the JFK assassination have now almost become the norm the cultural climate at the time of this film’s release was not for it. All the major Hollywood studios declined to offer financing and it was up to the film’s star Burt Lancaster and his good friend Kirk Douglas to put up the necessary funds just to get it made. Many television stations refused to run ads for it and due to the negative press it was pulled from theaters after only two weeks and resided in virtual obscurity before finally getting released onto VHS in the early ‘90s.

While I commend their attempt at getting the conversation going the results are less than compelling and the film fails to be riveting at any level. The reasons for planning the assassination are too broad and the characters are all uniformly colorless. The shooters themselves have no stake in the ultimate agenda other than they were paid to do it and in real-life there would’ve been a high chance that one of them would crack at some point or get nervous and make a mistake. The money that they were paid to do the job was not as much as you might think making me believe that once they ran out of it at least one of them would’ve gone to the press or authorities and divulged what really happened. The Jack Ruby link is weak. It is inferred that he does get hired to kill Oswald, but it never explains how they were ever able to get him to agree to do something that would most assuredly have him sitting in jail for the rest of his life.

There is also too much stock footage of actual news events of Kennedy and even Martin Luther King Jr. that gets shown. It doesn’t help propel the plot in any way and almost seems like it was put in simply to pad the running time. The recreation of the Dallas parade and Kennedy’s limo ride down the streets of the city is badly botched. While it’s nice that they filmed it on the actual site where it occurred it becomes painfully clear that there is no parade or crowds there. Instead they splice in old news reel footage of the actual parade, which they intercut with scenes of the actors playing the shooters, which they hoped would give the viewer the impression that they were all in tandem, but it doesn’t.

It was fun seeing veteran Hollywood stars playing bad guys for a change particularly Lancaster although he comes off as comatose and his hair looks disheveled in every shot. The film though doesn’t succeed at putting to rest anything. The plot is not believable and does nothing but create more questions than answers.

executive-action-2

executive-action-1

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 7, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG

Director: David Miller

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

There Was a Crooked Man…(1970)

there was a crooked man 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Money in snake pit.

Paris Pittman (Kirk Douglas) is a rugged bandit who at times can be quite charming, but also cunning and ruthless. When he gets sent to an escape-proof Arizona prison he becomes determined to find a way out while using the skills of his fellow prisoners, who he has all promised will get a share of some stolen loot that he has hidden in the desert, to help him do it. Woodward Lopeman (Henry Fonda) is the prison’s new warden. He’s on to Paris’s manipulative ways and becomes equally determined to stop him from escaping while also subtly attempting to reform him.

During the social/sexual revolution of the late ‘60’s many film genres took on society’s new attitudes while also taking full advantage of the new found freedoms by showing things that had previously been taboo. Comedies, dramas, action films and even sci-fi movies were suddenly breaking new ground, but the western for the most part remained entrenched with the old-school values at least until the ‘70’s, but this film is one of the early entries into what became known as the revisionist western where age-old dramatic trappings where suddenly given a whole new spin and the caricatures of good and evil became much murkier.

Here the ‘good guy’ is to some extent the bandit who works outside of the system while seeing all the hypocrisies from those still working within it. The people getting robbed are no longer ‘God-fearing’ innocent town folk, but instead the greedy establishment who enslave blacks and use the façade of religion for their own self-interests.  Woman are no longer virginal maidens waiting to be properly married, but instead sexually oppressed young ladies eager to pursue their horny desires behind their parents back if they can get away with it. Those that still remain loyal to the old ways of doing things such as with Fonda’s character are now seen as being out-of-touch and unreasonably rigid to an inflexible, dated system.

Watching the western genre suddenly ‘grow-up’ as it where and show things that only a few years earlier would’ve been unthinkable is a lot of fun and the script meshes in a good amount of snarky humor, which keeps things consistently lively and comical. Even the music score gets a new slant. Typically music themes in westerns had a booming, orchestral sound, but here it’s much jazzier and modern.

Douglas is engaging and makes a great adversary to Fonda. Fonda, who just a year earlier shocked filmed audiences with his brilliantly creepy portrayal of a psychotic gunman in Once Upon a Time in the West goes back to his old form as the stoic good guy and does it quite well although I was confused why he is seen in the first half walking with a limp and a cane due to being shot only to go without it and walk normally during the second half.

The support cast, all men in their 50’s and 60’s and seen for years in the old fashioned westerns, but now clearly relishing the chance to be bawdy and irreverent are in fine form as well. Burgess Meredith is quite funny as an old codger who has worn the same underwear for 35 years and refuses to take it off even for a bath. Hume Cronyn lends equally good support and I loved the scene where he adds giant tits onto a drawing of an angel. This also marks the film debut of Pamela Hensley who became best known for her work on the TV-shows ‘Buck Rogers in the 25th Century’ and ‘Matt Houston’.

There are clearly other comical westerns out there, but this one, with a script co-written by Robert Benton, manages to still have a good story, some very exciting moments and even a great twist ending. The prison used in the film was built specifically for the production and great effort was put in to make it seem authentic to the period. The detail that was put into it along with the rock quarry where the prisoners work in is impressive and worth catching just for that.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1970

Runtime: 2Hours 6Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Eddie Macon’s Run (1983)

eddie macons run 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He runs across Texas.

Each Monday during the month of September, in order to celebrate my impending move from Indianapolis to Austin, Texas, we will be reviewing an 80’s movie that takes place in Texas. We start with this film that is based on the James McLendon novel. Eddie Macon (John Schneider) is a young father wrongly accused of a crime who devises a plan to escape from prison and then run on foot from Hunstville to Laredo where he hopes to cross the Mexican border to freedom. The problem is dirty cop Carl (Kirk Douglas) who is holding a past grudge is determined not to let him do it and is hot-on-his-heals.

The film’s basic premise seems not only impractical, but wholly impossible. Per Mapquest the distance between Huntsville and Laredo is 385 miles and this man expects to somehow do it all on foot in only 4 days, which is ridiculous especially when his wife owns a car. Instead of having her drop off his backpack with all of his supplies at a certain strategic point why not have her waiting for him at that same spot with a car ready to whisk him off? The concept makes no sense. There is no reason why he has to do this all on foot and basic logistics of it are mind boggling.

I also had to a lesser extent issues with the Lee Purcell character that plays Jilly Buck. Eddie saves her from an attack by another man and then she helps him elude Carl with her connections through the governor that allows her to lead a rather privileged existence. I understood that she would want to help him a little since he helped her, but she goes far and beyond that and puts herself and her cushy lifestyle in jeopardy by doing it for a man that has clearly stated will stay faithful to his wife.

Schneider, who has too much of a boyish face, is quite weak in the lead with a performance that is dull and one-note.  The character is also painfully stupid as he doesn’t bother to pick-up his backpack that is sitting right at his feet and has everything he needs in it when he escapes from a house even though he had just grabbed a gun out of it only a few seconds earlier.

Douglas is by far the better actor and rightfully deserved the top billing. It is amazing how a man who has played so many good guys in his career could turn around and so easily play a bad guy with the same type of conviction, but he does and it is quite entertaining. His hairstyle looks terrible and almost like it’s a wig, but I think that was intentional as it gives him an appearance of being ugly, crazed and menacing all at the same time.

At times it relies too heavily on old Texas stereotypes, which borders on making the whole thing come off as one giant cliché, but the scene where Eddie gets kidnapped by rednecks and taken into ranch home that is filled with pinball machines and terrorized is fun and has a nice mix of whacky characters and dark humor that the rest of the film should have had. The on-location shooting nicely brings out the dusty, barren landscape as well as a dazzling bird’s-eye shot of the San Antonio skyline.

Norton Buffalo’s moody soundtrack is a major plus, but the two songs sung by Schneider are terrible and just about ruin the whole thing. The film is passable enough to be an adequate time-filler for a slow evening, but don’t expect too much. This also mark’s the official film debut of John Goodman who appears with a mustache as Eddie’s corrupt boss as well as J.T. Walsh who has a brief bit as a bar patron.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 23, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jeff Kanew

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

A Lovely Way to Die (1968)

a lovely way to die

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cop protects sexy defendant.

Jim Schuyler (Kirk Douglas) is a tough guy cop who leaves his job after his superiors put pressure on him to change the brutal way he treats criminals, which he refuses to do. Tennessee Fredericks (Eli Wallach) a high profile defense lawyer hires Jim to protect his client Rena Westabrook (Sylva Koscina) who is on trial for conspiring with her lover (Kenneth Haigh) to murdering her rich husband. Jim takes a liking to Rena and the two soon begin a torrid affair while he tries desperately to prove that Rena is innocent even though everything points against her.

This film sat in complete obscurity for almost 4 decades having never gotten released on either VHS or DVD until Universal finally made it part of their Vault Series. Why it took so long to get out I don’t know why as it is on the most part pretty good. The mystery is intricate and entertaining and full of unusual twists. The woodsy New Jersey scenery isn’t bad and the large mansions where most of the action takes place are impressive. This film isn’t any different from any of the other myriad crime noir mysteries of that era, but it manages to be slick enough to keep it intriguing until the very end.

The opening credit sequence is a definite drawback as it shows freeze frames of scenes from the film and seems almost like an ad or movie preview that does not help the viewer get into the mood of the story. The music also gets overplayed to the point of being distracting and irritating. It also has too much of a playful tone to it that does not coincide with the dark, moody overtones of the plot or characters.

Douglas who was already in his 50’s at the time of filming looks too old for the part and his love scenes with Koscina look almost like a father and daughter, which comes off as creepy and unnatural. The part would have been better served had it been played by an actor that was at least 20 years younger, which would have made the romantic angle much more believable. Wallach’s attempts at a southern accent are futile, but his arguments and theatrics during the trial are still fun.

The film also offers a great chance to see young up-and-coming stars including Conrad Bain as the prosecuting attorney, Doris Roberts as a snoopy housekeeper and Ralph Waite as the star witness. There is also Philip Bosco and John P. Ryan as bad guys. Richard Castellano is a bartender and David Huddleston is one of his patrons. You can even spot the beautiful Ali MacGraw in her film debut at the very beginning.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 12, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Not Rated

Director: David Lowell Rich

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD (Universal Vault Series)

For Love or Money (1963)

for love or money

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: A lawyer becomes matchmaker.

Deke Gentry (Kirk Douglas) is a lawyer appointed trustee of Chloe Brasher’s (Thelma Ritter) estate and is shocked to learn the terms of her will state that any of her three daughters will be cut off from their inheritance if they marry a man that she does not approve of. After debating with her about this Deke agrees to try to match up the girls with men that Chloe has already picked for them, but finds it to be much more difficult than he expected.

This was an odd career move for Douglas who is best known for his westerns, dramas and adventure roles. In some ways seeing him do light comedy is a nice change-of-pace, but the plot is too banal and the character is dull and gets overshadowed by the supporting cast of old comic pros. His best moment is when he hoists actor Gig Young over his shoulder and carries him from the hospital to his apartment and even gives him a spanking along the way.

The three actresses who play the daughters (Julie Newmar, Leslie Parrish, Mitzi Gaynor) are all quite attractive, but in the case of Newmar and Parrish aren’t given enough screen time. Gaynor is solid in the lead in what is to date her last film appearance. I am also happy to note that all three actresses as well as Elizabeth MacRae who play’s Deke’s girlfriend are still alive and well as of this writing.

Young is a very talented character actor who manages to come into his own during the second hour. Having him end up getting stuck out at sea while clinging in the nude to a pool sticking up out of the water is funny, but the scene where he starts throwing some vintage bottles of champagne overboard had me cringing.

The story is too lightweight for a feature film and although it starts out okay ends up becoming quite stretched and tedious during the second half. The scenarios are more silly and inane than actually funny and the only time it is ever amusing is when Ritter and William Bendix are in front of the camera and otherwise it falls flat. The contrived ‘happy ending’ merely emphasizes how predictable and formulaic the whole thing is.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 7, 1963

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Michael Gordon

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD (Universal Vault Series)

Tough Guys (1986)

tough guys

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Old guys go 80’s.

Harry Doyle (Burt Lancaster) and Archie Long (Kirk Douglas) are two old-time crooks, the last men to rob a train, who are released from prison and find life on the outside to be tough going.

The comedy and story are extremely predictable and too exaggerated to be entertaining or humorous. Having two elderly seventy-year-old guys beat up two young gun wielding punks or a street gang is unrealistic and the film loses any validity in the process. The film also plays-up 80’s fashions and attitudes until they are no longer funny. The musical soundtrack stinks and Kenny Rogers’s opening song isn’t much better.

Yes, it is fun to see Douglas and Lancaster together again, but it would have been better if they weren’t wearing those tacky, dated suits. Eli Wallach as a severely nearsighted hit-man is the best thing. His lines are amusing and he needed to have had more screen time. Charles Durning also does well in support.

This uninspired film should have been much better especially when considering the star quality. It does come to life a bit during the final train robbing sequence, but only marginally and I really could’ve done without having to see Douglas’s bare bottom.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jeff Kanew

Studio: Touchstone Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 2), Amazon Instant Video

Lonely Are the Brave (1962)

lonely are the brave

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A modern day cowboy.

Jack Burns (Kirk Douglas) is a loner cowboy still trying to live the lifestyle of the old west in the modern day world and who must elude the police and all of their modern technologies when he escapes from jail.

Kirk is excellent. He really connects with the character and allows the viewer to do the same. The cinematography is first rate with spectacular shots of the western landscape. The cowboy’s escape through the rugged terrain as well as the police pursuit is exciting most to the way and there is a terrific well-choreographed barroom brawl between Douglas and actor Bill Raisch who later went on to star as the one-armed man in ‘The Fugitive’ TV-series. This is also a great chance to see some young actors just starting out including Carroll O’Connor and Bill Bixby.

On the negative end I wasn’t too crazy about Walter Matthau and William Schallert as the two policemen who are played too much for laughs. Some of their goofy exchanges are amusing, but it hurts the tension. I also disliked the ending. It does indeed leave an impression and was obviously done to make a statement, but it is not completely effective and is a real downer. It also leaves too many issues open including whether the Douglas character was able to survive.

The high production values help immensely and the story structure keeps things interesting and offbeat as well as exciting. The film though cannot overcome its ending, which isn’t very original and no more profound than hundreds of other stories and movies dealing with the same subject.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 24, 1962

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Not Rated

Director: David Miller

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video