Tag Archives: Laszlo Kovacs

Nickelodeon (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Making a silent movie.

The year is 1913 and Leo Harrigan (Ryan O’Neal) is tired of being a lawyer and representing sleazy clients, so by chance he gets a job writing scripts for silent movie mogul H.H. Cobb (Brian Keith). Later on he’s sent to California to direct his first silent film, but he has no experience doing that and finds that he has a rough relationship with the film’s leading man Buck Greenway (Burt Reynolds).

When this film first came out Columbia Pictures was convinced that they had a big hit on their hands and to celebrate they allowed everyone attending the L.A. premiere to pay only 5 cents to get in, in order to correspond to the price of admission during the silent film era. Yet many of those who attended were not satisfied with the movie causing critic David Sheehan to claim “it wasn’t worth paying a nickel to see.”

It’s hard to know who to blame as both sides have differing accounts for what went wrong. David Begelman, the then head of Columbia Pictures, loved the script, which was written by W.D. Richter and had by all accounts a good dramatic edge to it, but when they gave it to Peter Bogdanovich to read he described it as a ‘piece of garbage’. Yet they decided to hire Bogdanovich to direct it anyways by promising him he could change the script any way he wanted as Begelman considered Bogdanovich to be a ‘cinematic genius’ and that ‘everything he touched turned to gold’. Bogdanovich on the other hand stated that he liked the script as it was, but was pressured by the studio to add in farcical elements as they were hoping to recreate the magic of his earlier film What’s Up Doc?.

In either case the attempted comedy doesn’t work and the gags, which come at a rapid-fire pace, ultimately become more mind numbing than anything. The only funny bit is the extended fistfight between O’Neal and Reynolds while everything else sinks into mundane silliness. Supposedly some of the story is based on the real-life remembrances  of film veterans Raoul Walsh and Allan Dwan, but with so much misguided zaniness thrown in it’s hard to know what if anything to take seriously.

The story desperately needed more of a focus. Having it about a small cast and crew trying to make their first silent film and the many challenges that it would entail could’ve been both amusing and revealing, but the story jumps ahead too much. We see the characters in one setting at one moment and then on a whim the film fast forwards to them in some completely different setting a year or more later, which never allows the viewer to connect emotionally with the people or what they’re going through.

O’ Neal is good playing a befuddled sort who simply reacts to the goofiness around him while Reynolds is excellent as the rough and tough good ole boy and their budding love/hate friendship should’ve been the film’s main focus. Supermodel Jane Hitchcock, in her one and only feature film appearance, is easy on the eyes, but her part was originally intended for Cybill Shepherd, who would’ve given the role more edge.

The cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs is pristine as is the period detail, but the story takes on too much especially the second hour, which just goes from one tangent to another.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 21, 1976

Runtime: 2 Hours 2 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Slither (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for embezzled money.

Dick Kanipsia (James Caan) is a former car thief who has just been released from jail and is now trying to go straight. While in prison he started up a friendship with Harry Moss (Richard B. Shull) and decides to go to his rural home for a visit. It is there that Harry suddenly gets shot by a mysterious gunmen, but just before he dies he informs Dick about a secret stash of stolen money that can only be retrieved by contacting his former partners in crime: Barry Faneka (Peter Boyle) and Vincent Palmer (Allen Garfield). Dick then goes on a road trip trying to find these two men while also coming into contact with a lot of oddball characters and situations along the way.

When I first saw this film over 20 years ago I really loved it and was impressed with W.D. Richter’s offbeat script that relies heavily on quirky scenarios and dryly humorous non sequiturs to help propel it. A theme he later polished to perfection in his most famous film the cult hit The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension While I still enjoy the engaging set-up I’ve found that during subsequent viewings the unsatisfying ending ruins everything else that comes before it and ultimately hurts the movie as a whole, but first lets go over what I did like.

The chase element that gets incorporated into the story is cool and has a strong connection to the one in Duel. The idea of having these large black vans driven by a person we cannot see constantly chasing after our protagonist no matter where he goes is intriguing and helps create an interesting mystery angle. The unique design of the vans, which was a 1973 Dodge Rectrans Discover 25R,  featured no front doors, which coupled with its all-black exterior gives them a very threatening presence that is almost creepier than the truck used in Duel.

Caan’s detached persona helps separate him from all the nuttiness around him and makes him likable in the process. Boyle is amusing as his eventual cohort and Louise Lasser is surprisingly restrained as Boyle’s wife. You also get to see  film director Paul Thomas Anderson’s real-life mother, Edwina Gough, in a small role during a scene at a bingo tournament.

The only character though that I didn’t care for was Sally Kellerman’s who plays this semi-crazy lady that proceeds to just slow-up the pace of the film with every scene that she’s in. I admit the part where she robs a diner at gunpoint is kind of fun, but I’ve never been a fan of her breathless delivery and didn’t feel there was any need for her reappearing after her character was pretty much dropped from the story and forgotten and there’s never any explanation for how she was able to successfully track Caan down after he abandoned her.

Laszlo Kovac’s cinematography is good although it would’ve been nice had this been a genuine road movie where our main character would’ve been required to travel to highly varied settings/landscapes  in his quest to find the hidden money. I realize this would’ve upped the budget, but having to constantly stare at the dry, brown landscape of Stockton, California, where the majority of the shooting took place, is kind of depressing.

As I stated earlier it’s the ending that hurts the film more than anything. To sit through what is otherwise a creative plot only to find that it all just leads to nothing is a big letdown. I know that during the 70’s it was trendy to have anti-climactic movie finishes, but here there needed to be more of a payoff . Movies should also have the main character change in some way from what they were at the beginning, which doesn’t occur. Caan just quietly walks away from the chaos around him like everything he’s just went through was nothing more than a blip on his life’s radar and ultimately that’s the way the movie becomes with the viewer as well. Goofy enough to hold your attention, but never memorable enough to stay with you.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 7, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Howard Zieff

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), YouTube

Behind the scenes of Five Easy Pieces (1970)

We celebrate this July 4th by looking back at a iconic American classic ‘Five Easy Pieces’. The film is best known for its memorable scene inside a Denny’s Diner, so I thought it would be fun to show some stills of that scene being filmed, which was in November of 1969 as well as what those same locations look like today. First, here’s a shot of the scene where Jack Nicholson confronts a stubborn waitress (played by Lorna Thayer).

Here’s how that very same booth looks like today:

The film was shot at a Denny’s restaurant in Eugene, Oregon. Here’s some shots of its exterior in 1969:

Here’s a shot of the restaurant today. Surprisingly it hasn’t changed too much:

Here’s a shot of the lighting equipment used for the scene:

Here’s the sign customers saw on the Denny’s door the day the movie was shot.

Cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs getting ready to shoot the classic scene:

Here’s Director Bob Rafelson, Karen Black, Lorna Thayer, and Jack Nicholson sitting around the lunch table and rehearsing their lines for the now famous scene:

Kovacs checks the lighting levels as Nicholson and Black prepare:

Getting the boom mike into place:

Here’s a shot of the final scene where Nicholson decides to abandon Black:

And here’s how that location looks like today: