Tag Archives: Lee Grant

The Internecine Project (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killing off his enemies.

Robert Elliot (James Coburn) is a former spy whose been given an offer as government advisor, but he must get rid of four people (Ian Hendry, Michael Jayston, Harry Andrews, Christiane Krueger) who hold secrets to his past before he can accept the position. To accomplish this he comes up with an ingenious plan, which consists of tricking these four to kill each other off all on the same night at around the same time while Robert sits comfortably at home and tracks their progress.

This is the type of intricate plot  that usually works best as a novel, but director Ken Hughes has things pretty well thought out. The first half isn’t too gripping, but once Robert’s scheme gets going it becomes quite intriguing. The plan certainly does border on being over-the-top and too dependent on the participants doing everything exactly as their instructed in order for it to be successful, but overall I felt it could’ve been possible, which is the main ingredient that makes it work as it manages to remain delicately within the realm of believability.

The supporting cast play their parts to the hilt complete with nervous ticks and flawed personalities, which helps add a fun dimension. Although clearly done on a modest budget the camera work and set design are creatively handled including one unique scene where the victim gets strangled by her killer through a shower curtain.

I also liked how one of the killers played by Christiane Kruger requires her instructions, which are given to her verbally by Coburn, to be repeated and written down as she is afraid she might forget them otherwise. I would respond in the exact same way even though most other movies in this genre will have the instructions spoken very quickly and only once, which would always make me wonder how they’re able to keep it all straight.

The only downside is the twist ending that seems like it was thrown in as a cutesy way to the end the film without much thought put into it. A really good twist should have some foreshadowing earlier that doesn’t seem all that important at the time and then when it’s all over allow the viewer to think back and go ‘A-ha, I should’ve seen that coming!’, but that’s not the case here.

If anything I would’ve had Lee Grant’s character more instrumental to the outcome as I could see no other purpose for her presence otherwise. I spent the whole film wondering why she was even in the movie and when it was over I was still asking that same question. She’s a beautiful lady, but her role is unfocused. One minute she’s feisty feminist and then the next she’s an emotionally needy wreck. She plays it well, but her efforts do nothing to propel the plot.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 24, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ken Hughes

Studio: Allied Artists Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Shampoo (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hairdresser shags his clients.

George (Warren Beatty) is a successful hairstylist who makes a habit of sleeping with his lady clients. He wants to open up his own beauty salon, but lacks the funds and not enough collateral to qualify for a loan. He is currently sleeping with Felicia (Lee Grant) who tells him to ask her husband Lester (Jack Warden) for the money. Lester is having an affair with Jackie (Julie Christie) who used to be George’s girlfriend. George’s current girlfriend is Jill (Goldie Hawn) who is having the inklings to sleep with Johnny (Tony Bill) since she thinks George is not being faithful to her. Everything comes to head on the night of November 5, 1968 during the election returns when everyone finds out that everyone else has been cheating on them and things get hilariously awkward.

This could quite easily be the best satire on the mores of Southern California culture ever made. The fact that it gets juxtaposed with the election where the same people who voted for an administration that vows to crackdown on the ‘permissive culture’ are the same ones doing the immoral behavior makes a very loud statement on the foibles and hypocrisies of the establishment.

Richard Sylbert was nominated for the Academy Award for his set decoration and he should’ve won as the vibrant and colorful interiors of the plush homes that the characters reside in become almost like a third character and makes you feel like you are right there inside the places with the characters and immersed completely in their world. The spectacular skyline views seen from the window of Lester’s office are equally impressive and I also enjoyed the party sequence, which reflected a true party atmosphere particularly the one attended by members of the counter-culture and the stylized set lighting by a slowly opening refrigerator door that gradually exposes the identities of a couple making love in the dark to the shocked onlookers standing around is outstanding.

The talented female cast is terrific, but a bit misused. Jackie’s meltdown during the election party seemed way overdone. This was a smart woman who would’ve seen through Lester’s thin veneer from the start and therefore wouldn’t have been that ‘traumatized’ when it finally came out in the open.

I was also disappointed that we didn’t see more of Lee Grant’s character. She won the Academy Award for her work here, but there needed to be more of a wrap-up with her as well as a scene showing an ultimate confrontation with her daughter (Carrie Fisher in her film debut) who has a secret fling with George behind her back. However, the shot showing Fisher giving her mother the most hateful and disdainful glare you can imagine that literally burns through the screen is almost a gem in itself.

Despite his many transgressions I found Lester to be strangely likable. His quirky ‘bonding’ with George near the end is cute, but I really wanted to see him jump into the hot tub and smoking some weed with the hippies after they offer him a joint and was disappointed it never came to pass even though it does come close.

Beatty, who co-wrote the screenplay, has his moments too, but they don’t come until the final half-hour, but it’s worth the wait. His ‘confession’ to Jill about what motivates him to sleep with all of his female clients and what he gets out of it is not only funny, but quite revealing to any male with the same traits. His final desperate plea to Jackie at the very end is equally interesting and even a bit surprising.

My only real complaint is the fact that it doesn’t seem like a legitimate ‘60s atmosphere even though that’s when it supposed to take place. The adult characters are too brazen in their actions. The college crowd was the first to embrace the free love philosophy while the middle-agers, who were raised in a more repressed, guilt-ridden era, took longer to catch-up to it. It just reeks too much of the mid ‘70s where by that time ‘everybody was doing it’ particularly in swinging L.A., which is where the time period should’ve stayed. There is also never any explanation for why the fire department comes in to evacuate the guests from the building as they are watching the returns.

Still the message of how people who use other people will eventually end up getting owned by the very same folks that they think they are manipulating is very on-target and amusingly played-out.

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My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: February 11, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Director: Hal Ashby

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Mafu Cage (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Her sister is psycho.

Ellen and Cissy (Lee Grant, Carol Kane) are two sisters living together in a dilapidated mansion, where they keep a pet ape named Mafu locked in a cage that sits in their living room. One day Ellen finds that Mafu has died so at the insistence of Cissy, who says she will kill herself unless they get another one, she goes to a local zoologist (Will Geer) and buys another. Things go well at first, but Cissy’s behavior becomes increasingly more erratic and she takes her frustrations and anger out on the new ape in abusive ways.

The film was directed by actress-turned-director Karen Arthur by a script written by Don Chastian who was another actor and based on a play by Eric Wesphal. I really wasn’t sure what these characters or this bizarre story was supposed to mean. I thought being the ‘70s and a female director that it would have symbolic connections to feminism or even lesbianism, which does get alluded to briefly, but overall the message is confusing and unfocused. The pacing is poor and about 10 minutes in I was already quite bored with it.

The only real saving grace is Kane’s presence who gives a startling performance as a psychotic woman. I had always admired her talent, but became even more impressed with her after seeing this. Her most amazing/bizarre moment is when she dresses up as an African warrior complete with red body paint and then later soaks in a tub filled with blood red water while carrying on an impromptu phone conversion with herself.

I had mixed feelings in regards to Grant whose age difference between Kane is 25 years making her look more like a mother figure than a sister. It was also hard to sympathize with her character as she refuses to have Cissy institutionalized or even examined by a mental health professional even though her behavior is dangerously erratic and only a completely irrational person would choose to ignore it or think that it will somehow ‘magically’ improve, which of course it doesn’t

The ape was the one performer that I enjoyed the most and fortunately a real one was used. The way the chimp responds to things and interacts with Kane are genuinely fascinating to watch and makes him a natural scene stealer without even trying. However, the part where she beats him with a metal chain is quite disturbing supposedly he was never actually hit and the credits do list an animal agency was present during filming and monitored it, but it’s difficult to watch nonetheless.

Patient viewers may find certain segments and imagery to be interesting and the film does improve a bit as it progresses, but overall it’s a weird curio that will leave most people indifferent and confused.

Alternate Title: Don’t Ring the Doorbell

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 1, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: Karen Arthur

Studio: Clouds

Available: VHS, DVD

 

 

When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder? (1979)

when you comin back red ryder 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Terror at a diner.

The year is 1968 and the setting is a small, lonely diner nestled at the border of Texas and New Mexico. Richard (Hal Linden) and his violinist wife Clarissa (Lee Grant) arrive for a morning cup of coffee. There is also Angel (Stephanie Faracy) the diner’s lone waitress and Stephen (Peter Firth), who was nicknamed Red during his youth due to his red hair at the time, but besides them the place is empty and peaceful. Then Teddy (Marjoe Gortner), an unhinged Vietnam vet and his hippie girlfriend Chery (Candy Clark) enter. They are without money and stranded with a broken down van, which makes Teddy particularly volatile as he begins harassing the others with evasive questions before eventually terrorizing them all by trapping them inside the place and forcing them to do whatever weird, sick thing he asks.

The film is based on the 1973 Off Broadway play by Mark Medoff, who also wrote the screenplay. In many ways it’s similar to the 1967 black-and-white drama The Incident in which Tony Musante and a young Martin Sheen trap several subway riders inside a subway car and spend the rest of the night terrorizing them simply for their own personal amusement.  Both films are structured the same with the first part examining the characters before they arrive at the scene and revealing a bit of the personal dramas that each of them face and then spending the second half showing them trapped in a claustrophobic setting and forced to deal with their reluctance at confronting their fears.

The 1967 film though outshines this one as there were more characters, which gave it a better variety of personalities as well as bad guys that were menacing and believable. Gortner is too much of a ham making him more irritating than scary. The part was originally played by Kevin Conway during its Off Broadway run and his performance won many accolades, which should’ve been enough for them to have offered him the chance to reprise the role here. Gortner, who also produced seemed intent at trying to use this as a vehicle to promote himself as being a ‘serious’ actor, but he was too old for the role from the beginning since he was already in his mid-30’s at the time this was shot while vets coming back from the war during the ‘60s where only in their late teens or early 20’s.

The film only gets mildly interesting during the confrontation sequence inside the diner, which takes 45 minutes of the film’s 2-hour runtime just to get there. The way the characters respond to Gortner’s scare tactics and the supporting cast’s performances, who are all far better actors than Gortner, is the movie’s only compelling element, but even here there are issues. The biggest one being that the people seem too wimpy and today’s viewers will get frustrated at how overly compliant they are to Gortner’s demands and never once try to overpower him despite having ample opportunity.

The movie is also notorious for featuring some rather shocking moments of nudity. It starts out with a full body shot of Candy Clark in the buff, who was married to Gortner in real-life at the time this was made and that isn’t too bad, but then it proceeds to later show 48-year-old Linden in nothing but speedo shorts doing sit ups with his butt crack clearly exposed. Still later there is a scene where 52-year-old Lee Grant has her shirt hoisted all the way over her head with her breasts in full view and then paraded around the diner in mocking fashion. The film’s most over-the-top moment though comes when Gortner himself is stripped naked and bent over a table while having a proctoscope shoved up his rectum as he continues to have a conversation with the man who’s doing it.

Filmed on-location in Fabens, Texas, which was also the site of a famous scene in The Gateway, and Las Cruces, New Mexico the movie just doesn’t convey enough tension to make it compelling or worth catching. It would’ve worked better had it skipped the first half dealing with the backstories of the characters, which was never a part of the original play anyways and just gone straight into the diner sequence while also casting a leading actor that had some actual acting training.

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 9, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes

Rated R

Director: Milton Katselas

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS

Marooned (1969)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Astronauts stranded in space.

Unfortunately this film’s biggest claim to fame is that it is the only movie nominated for an Academy Award to be shown on ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’.  As much as I enjoy that show I think it is unfair to throw this movie into the pile and make fun of it as I think it holds-up well and is a solid space drama.  The story based on the novel by Martin Caidin is about three astronauts (Richard Crenna, Gene Hackman, James Franciscus) who have been orbiting the earth for several months in a space lab, but as they try to return to earth they find that their retro rocket won’t fire and they’re stranded. Initially NASA, which is headed by Charles Keith (Gregory Peck) decide they have no alternative but to leave them there however, Ted Daugherty (David Janssen) puts up enough of a raucous that they decide to allow him to head a rescue mission. An impending hurricane and the astronaut’s dwindling supply of oxygen all cause further problems and force everyone to work at break-neck speed to pull it off.

One of the things that grabbed me initially was the lack of music. Instead we just here beeping sounds of a computer and the hum of a rocket during the opening credits, which helps give the film a futuristic and distinctive flair. I also liked the cool sounding hum that the viewer hears every time the men are outside of their capsule and in space. It has kind of a hypnotic tone to it and makes things a bit surreal. The special effects were decent for its era. You do have to forgive it a little particularly the scenes showing the rocket and men floating in space, which were clearly matted over a blue screen, but at least when the men are shown floating around with no gravity there are no visible strings. My favorite moment out of the entire film is when one of the men goes floating off motionless into the dark abyss while the other two watch solemnly from the capsule door.

The narrative could have been handled better. Instead of starting things out right away with the rocket taking the men off into space I felt there should have been more of a backstory to the main characters so we got to know them better and felt more empathy to their predicament. Even having flashbacks of the characters at different times in their life dotted throughout the film would have helped make them seem less cardboard. The scenes involving all three wives of the astronauts (Nancy Kovack, Mariette Hartley, Lee Grant) talking to their respective husbands via satellite just before the rescue mission takes off becomes too extended, predictable and maudlin. However, the scene involving the conversation that the astronauts have amongst themselves when it is learned that there isn’t enough oxygen for all three and one of them must be willing to die to save the other two I found to be gripping and compelling.

Peck is as usual incredibly stiff and delivers his lines like he is preaching some sort of sermon. Here though his style works with a character that is no-nonsense and locked into being completely practical at all times. His looks of nervousness as the rescue rocket gets ready to take off are great as is his delicate conversation that he has with Crenna involving which of them must sacrifice their life for the other two. Hackman is solid as usual playing an emotional Gus Grissom-like character, but he has played these roles so much it would have been interesting to see him play one of parts that required more restraint. The beautiful and talented Grant is wasted in a non-distinguished role as one of the wives, but her line about ‘the girls’ leaving the men alone so they can get back to their jobs seemed incredibly sexist especially from her.

The rescue mission is exciting, but excruciating and the ending is way too abrupt. However, my biggest complaint about this film that I otherwise find to be realistically and plausibly handled is that no explanation is ever given for why the rockets failed to fire, which I felt there should have been especially since there is a moment showing the green light on their dashboard stating that the rockets did fire and this light mysteriously stays on even when they shut down the power to the rest of the cabinet.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 11, 1969

Runtime: 2Hours 14Minutes

Rated G

Director: John Sturges

Studio: Columbia

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video