Tag Archives: Lee Remick

The Competition (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pianists fall-in-love.

Paul (Richard Dreyfuss) is a gifted, but frustrated pianist. He has entered many classical piano competitions, but has always come just short of winning first prize. He wants to take one last stab at it, but his parents (Philip Sterling, Gloria Stroock) push him to settle down with a regular job and consistent pay. Paul though decides to forge on with his hopes at receiving a medal by entering a contest that will allow for a financial grant and 2 years of concert engagements for the winner. It is there that he meets Heidi (Amy Irving) who is also competing for the same prize. She immediately becomes smitten with him having met him a couple of years earlier at a music festival. She tries to get into a relationship with him despite warnings from her piano teacher (Lee Remick) who feels it might soften ‘her edge’ and allow him to attain the award instead of her.

The film does a masterful job at recreating a realistic atmosphere of a piano competition including showing the judges meticulously following each note on the sheet music they have at hand as the contestant performs while also taking studious notes of each performer afterwards before finally settling on a winner. The viewer is given a broad understanding of all six contestants involved helping to give the movie a fuller context on the human drama that goes on behind-the-scenes in these types of competitions while also showing how parents and instructors can at times be great motivators, but also crippling nags.

Watching the actors mimic the playing of a pianist is another major asset. Usually films dealing with pianists will never show the actor’s hands on the keys, but instead shoot them from behind the piano while editing in close-ups of a professional pianist’s hands later. Here though the actors, with the help and training of music consultant Jean Evensen Shaw, convincingly move their fingers along the keys in tandem with the music. How they were able to later effectively edit in the sound to stay on track with the finger movements and vice-versa is an amazing thing in itself, but watching the actors literally ‘play the piano’  helps to heighten the film’s realism and make watching the concert footage, which gets amazingly drawn out, quite fascinating.

The film has a terrific supporting cast as well including Lee Remick as Heidi’s no-nonsense instructor who looks at Heidi’s budding relationship with Paul with immediate cynicism and isn’t afraid to bluntly speak out about it either. Sam Wanamaker has the perfect look and demeanor of an orchestra conductor and the scene where Paul decides to ‘show him how it’s done’ by taking a stab at conducting is the film’s highlight.

The weakest element though is the romance and the movie would’ve worked better had this been only a side-story instead of the main focus. The idea that Heidi has to do all the sacrificing and at one point even considers dropping out of the competition because it’s ‘more important to him that he wins it’ is sexist. Woman can be just as competitive as men and sometimes even more so. The story would’ve been better served had they both been portrayed as fierce competitors who deep down have mutual feelings for the other, but remain guarded and slowly shows a softer side as the contest progresses and then only when it is finally over does the romance really blossom.

Having Heidi constantly chase after Paul, who is extraordinarily arrogant, is ridiculous. After his initial rebuff she should’ve quickly moved-on as she was pretty and there were plenty of other men for her choose from instead of having her literally throw herself at him like she were some dimwitted groupie. It was bizarre as well that when Paul finds out that is father is dying that Heidi is the first person he decides to turn to for comfort and solace. This is well before a relationship was established and the two had only spoken to each other in passing, so why does Paul consider her a trusted emotional confidant and shouldn’t he most likely have other friends that he would’ve known longer that he could go to instead?

The film has a side-story dealing with a Kazakh performer (Vicki Kriegler) whose instructor (Bea Silvern) decides to defect to the U.S. during the competition, which takes the film in too much of a different direction that distracts from the main theme and should’ve been cut out completely. I also thought it was odd that the music played over the closing credits is a disco sounding song. We’ve just spent 2 hours listening to classical piano music, so shouldn’t the music at the end have been kept with the same theme/sound?  Otherwise this is still a terrific study showing the emotional and mental sacrifices that go in to achieving success and how staying too focused on a central goal can sometimes affect a person’s relationships with their friends, family and lovers.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 3, 1980

Runtime: 2Hours 6Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joel Oliansky

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Hard Contract (1969)

hard contract

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hit man becomes humanized.

John Cunningham (James Coburn) is a professional hit man hired by Ramsey Williams (Burgess Meredith) to do one last ‘big score’ by rubbing out Michael (Sterling Hayden) of which Ramsey suffers a large financial debt to. John has done many of these jobs before and travels to Europe with the expectation that this one will be as routine as the others, but then he has an encounter with call-girl Sheila (Lee Remick) who plagues him with self-doubt and forces him to question his purpose in life.

This film was written and directed by S. Lee Pogostin a long time TV writer who finally at the age of 55 got his big break to do an actual feature film. Unfortunately for him his script is excessively heavy with dialogue and little to no action. There is only one brief segment where we see John actually doing his job and offing someone and it comes in the form of watching him drop a large trunk with a dead body inside of it out of an airplane, which is kind of a cool visually, but that is about it and the rest of the film consists of nothing but talk and long winded, flowing conversations dealing with theories and philosophies that regular people, particularly those in the crime and prostitution business, just don’t have.

Coburn and Remick are both excellent, but the scenario that their characters are placed in is ludicrous. The idea that a high paid prostitute would suddenly fall for one of her clients is quite doubtful. Had the Coburn character been somehow kind or gentle towards her then maybe, but instead he is cold and distant and treats her more like an animal than a person, so why, especially after all of the other men she has already presumably slept with, would she get so worked up over this guy? It just makes no sense and the same thing goes for the Coburn character. He’s slept with hundreds of prostitutes before and even brags about it, so why would this one stand out?

The conversation that Coburn has with Hayden, amidst a large wheat field and while sitting on a tractor, is pretty good and the most engrossing moment in the film. The scene where he drives a car speedily down a winding road, which gets the other passengers quite nervous, isn’t bad either. The European locations are scenic and the supporting cast all give strong performances especially Karen Black as a talkative hooker arguing with Coburn over political candidates. However, the script tries too hard to make a statement and comes off more like a protracted concept than a story with a pretentious flair that just doesn’t work.

hard contract 2

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 30, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated R

Director: S. Lee Pogostin

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: None at this time.

The Running Man (1963)

the running man 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Couple scams insurance company.

Rex (Laurence Harvey) is a victim of a plane crash when the airplane he is piloting crashes in a forest. He survives with minor injuries, but the plane is totaled and he expects a big payout from his insurance company. However, since he was two days late with his premium payment the policy was canceled and he gets nothing. Outraged he plans a scheme to get revenge with the help of his wife Stella (Lee Remick). He purchases a glider plane and has it insured with the same company. He then intentionally crashes it into the water and before help arrives he dives into the lake and by using an underwater apparatus swims ashore undetected. He hides out on a small island during the investigation and when it is finally confirmed that he was ‘lost-at-sea’ and the insurance pays a handsome sum to Stella the two then run off to Spain, but insurance investigator Stephan (Alan Bates) still has his suspicions and follows the two while continuing to hound them with questions forcing them into a shrewd game of cat-and-mouse.

Based on the novel by Shelley Smith this is a thriller in the most classic sense. The plot is completely believable and still very timely without any of the annoying loopholes. The action particularly during the final 30 minutes, which had me literally on the edge of my seat, is very exciting. The twists are interesting and unpredictable.

What I enjoyed most though was the way the characters evolve and change as the story progresses. Stella initially comes off as carefree and callous only to end up being beleaguered, worn out, and even feeling a bit guilty. Rex seems slick and conniving at the start, but eventually turns crass, vindictive and wholly unlikable. Stephan is nosy and intrusive when it begins, but before it is over he is the most sympathetic to the viewer. Having worked in the insurance industry now for 15 years I liked how the film shows things from both side not only the rigid business-like end, but also how those that try to cheat the system even when they feel somehow ‘justified’ in doing it only ends up making it worse for everybody else. The very ironic ending hits the bullseye.

Director Carol Reed is in top form. I liked how he captures the many different exotic locales of Spain not only with the outdoor scenery and villas, but also inside an old church cathedral as well as an empty bullfighting arena. The opening credit sequence showing Harvey’s shadowing figure running in front of a colored background is good as his the variety of camera angles used particularly during Rex’s final attempt to escape by airplane. The only part that I thought was unnecessary was in when Rex finds a passport left by an Australian that he was talking to inside a bar. Rex picks it up and it is clear to the viewer that he was thinking of using it for his own change of identity, but Reed still felt the need to superimpose Rex’s head shot over the Australian’s, which seemed heavy-handed as does the booming music that is played when Stephan meets Stella for the second time while in Spain.

Remick is excellent and the stresses and strains that her character conveys are easily felt by the viewer. Harvey seems to be having a grand old time particularly when he is in the disguise of the Australian. Although there is some debate over it at IMDB I actually felt that his Aussie accent was alright. He does however look much too scrawny in his bathing suit although Remick in her bikini is delectable.

Why this exciting and polished thriller has never been released onto DVD, or Blu-ray let alone VHS is a complete mystery especially when it stars two major actors from 60’s British cinema and directed by a legend. This movie is waiting to be discovered by new fans and can be enjoyed by just about everyone.

the running man 2

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 2, 1963

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Carol Reed

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Not Available at this time.

Loot (1970)

loot 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: They are all greedy.

Every Friday this month I will review the Top 5 best and most outrageous black/dark comedies from the 70’s. There were many to choose from, but these five have stood the test of time and remain as potent and hilarious as they were when first released. Today’s film was written by Joe Orton who died before ever seeing his play made into a movie and despite being top-notch in every aspect remains unjustly overlooked and hard-to-find.

The story deals with Dennis and Hal (Hywell Bennett, Ray Holder) two friends who decide to rob a bank next to a funeral home and hide the stolen money inside the coffin of Hal’s late mother. Problems ensue when Inspector Truscott (Richard Attenborough) starts to suspect the boys have something to do with it and incorporates brutal interrogation tactics to get the truth out of them. Then there is Nurse Fay (Lee Remick) who may have had something to do with Hal’s mother’s death and is inclined to want a piece of the action. All of this occurs inside Hal’s house, which is also a bed and breakfast run by Hal’s Father McLeavy (Milo O’Shea) who remains oblivious to all of the shenanigans and only worried about getting a decent burial for his departed wife.

The film is fast and funny and retains all of Orton’s dark and acidic wit. It is full of one-liners, sight gags, odd characters, and bizarre, unexpected comical twists, with ninety-eight percent of it being clever and funny. The best is the funeral procession when Dennis, who is driving a hearse that is carrying the deceased, finds out that the vehicle has lost its brakes and careens down the streets at high speeds with all the other cars in the procession try to keep up with it while driving equally fast.

Director Silvio Narizzano shows a terrific grasp on the material. Unlike Entertaining Mr. Sloane the only other film adaption of Orton’s work this film has a terrific pace that starts with a bang and never lets up. Narizzano also infuses a lot of imaginative camera angles, edits, and set design to give the thing a nice edgy, off-color feel. Outdoor action is nicely balanced with the indoor scenes to create a good cinematic feel and it never seems like a filmed stage play. There are some interesting homoerotic overtones as well including having Dennis and Hal blow a hole in the bank wall, crawl through it and take the money, then crawl back out and stuff it into the coffin while being completely naked.

Remick has one of her most interesting and unique performances in her already illustrious career as she is quite amusing looking almost like Marilyn Monroe with her dyed platinum blonde hair and authentic sounding British accent. Attenborough is memorable playing against type. Usually he is best at meek and passive types, but here he almost steals the film as the aggressive Inspector with a Hitler mustache. His best moment comes when he picks up a glass eye from the floor and in one brief second sticks out his tongue and licks it, which is done in vivid close-up.

The bouncy, psychedelic score by Steve Ellis helps give the proceedings attitude and personality. Why this film has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray is a mystery. The humor remains sharp and a whole new throng of fans could be acquired if they were just able to see it.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 1, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated R

Director: Silvio Narizzano

Studio: British Lion Film Corporation

Available: VHS

Hennessy (1975)

hennessy

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Blow up the Queen.

This review will be the first in a month long series analyzing movies from the 70’s that starred Rod Steiger. Steiger was an interesting performer with a long and varied career who always brought a unique intensity to all of his roles. He performed in a wide variety of movies from Hollywood pictures to foreign films and from big productions to the low budget as well as going from the leading man to character actor. Every Friday during the month of January I will select films of his that will hopefully be able to spotlight a little bit of all of these.

Today’s film deals with the story of Niall Hennessy (Steiger) an Irishman with ties to the IRA. When his wife and daughter are killed during a riot in Belfast he plots revenge with a plan to blow up the House of Parliament with the Queen Elizabeth inside.

The movie has a great concept, but the execution is a bit lacking. For one thing the police immediately pinpoint Hennessy as the man they are looking for as well as figuring out his plan. How they were so easily able to do this not only seemed a little farfetched, but also sapped a lot of the intrigue and tension out of the story. Having the police come to this conclusion more slowly would have plotted the suspense out longer and been more interesting.

This also opened the door to a few loopholes the biggest one being that they know Hennessy wants to blow up the Parliament so one would expect that the police would have their men staking out the place and on alert to spot Hennessy if he came near the premises, but instead Hennessy is able to go on a guided tour and able to canvas the building unheeded. Another scene later on has Hennessy trapped in an upstairs apartment by the police who have surrounded the building and yet he is somehow able to escape even though it is never shown how.

The scene showing his family getting killed during a bomb attack is not effective. We see the mother and daughter leave a nearby building and then the film cuts away from them and goes back to the fighting in the street only to go back to the two a few minutes later lying in the street motionless. However, there is neither blood on them nor any type of make-up effects to show injury making it look more like two people lying down with their eyes closed. Seeing them actually hit by the bomb and screaming would have been more jarring for the viewer and allowed them to get more emotionally attached to Hennessy’s plight. Also, when Steiger is shown standing over them I was expecting him to let out another one of his patented primal screams much like he famously did in The Pawnbroker, but here he doesn’t and the sequence is quite brief making me wonder why would they hire an actor known for his onscreen intensity and emotionalism if they aren’t going to allow him to do what he does best especially when the scene calls for it.

Steiger for the most part does well with the part although he is surprisingly restrained during most of it. It is a bit of unusual casting given that he wasn’t Irish or a native of the region however, the accent he uses is alright and I kind of got a kick out of the way he runs especially at the end. His biggest obstacle though was his wig. Rod became bald as he aged and instead of just appearing that way in his roles, which he finally did during his later years, he instead wore a variety of wigs for his parts. Some of them were okay and some weren’t and the one used here definitely wasn’t.

Richard Johnson is quite good playing the relentless Inspector Hollis and I liked seeing him with a moustache. The talented Lee Remick appears as Kate Brooke a lady friend to Hennessy who allows him to hide out at her home and although she has a few good lines she is ultimately wasted. Legendary Trevor Howard is wasted as well and only seen briefly as a police commander.

The best part about the movie and the one thing that gives it distinction is the ending when Hennessy goes into the parliament building with a bomb strapped to his body. Actual footage of the Queen is shown and it looks so authentic that many people thought she had been involved in the production, but she really wasn’t. Their ability to crop this footage in with the action is well done and almost seamless and certainly helps to heighten the tension. Seeing a young Prince Charles looking bored with the proceedings and the elaborately decorated interior of the building as well as its many large and majestic hallways and rooms is fun and interesting.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 31, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Don Sharp

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: Amazon Instant Video