Tag Archives: Mark Medoff

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.

when you comin back red ryder 1

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 9, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes

Rated R

Director: Milton Katselas

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS

Clara’s Heart (1988)

claras heart

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Clara dispenses her wisdom.

Leona (Kathleen Quinlan) is spending some time at a Jamaican resort trying to recuperate from the sudden loss of her infant daughter. There she meets Clara (Whoopi Goldberg) who is working as a maid there. The two quickly strike up a friendship and Leona then hires Clara to come home with her and take care of her 10-year-old son David (Neil Patrick Harris). David does not like Clara at first, but the two eventually attain a strong bond especially after his parent’s divorce.

After some box office failures with her comical films Goldberg decided to go back to doing drama with so-so results. The whole way that Clara gets hired on as a nanny seems awkward, forced and too quick and screenwriter Mark Medoff should have thought up a better scenario. Clara isn’t completely likable as she has a pushy personality and dispenses her opinions on her employers whether they ask for it or not. Eventually David’s father Bill (Michael Ontkean) stands up to her, but I think others would have confronted her sooner or even fired her.

The runtime is much too long for such slight and predictable material. The whole second half gets consumed with this deep dark secret about the death of Clara’s son Robbie and when she does finally tell David the story it is a nasty one especially for a supposedly ‘family friendly’ film such as this one. It also brings out the question that if Clara raised a son that was so very troubled why then would she be so confident about knowing how to raise someone else’s?

Harris is outstanding in his film debut and really helps to carry the movie along. The sarcastic and glib comments that he spews out is the film’s highlight.  The big glasses that he wears seemed too reminiscent to the Corey Haim character in Lucas, which came out just a couple of years before this one. I was also confused why during a school swim meet he would be the only one wearing a T-shirt when all the other swimmers weren’t.

Spalding Gray appears in support as Leona’s new boyfriend. The script though does not take advantage of Gray’s unique talents and the film would have been better served had they allowed him to ad-lib and improvise.  Also, the woman who plays Bill’s new love interest looks too much like Leona and in a visual medium such as this it is usually better to emphasize contrast.

The production values are good and I loved the large home that David’s family lives in and the by-the-lake location. However, the material is too formulaic and Clara’s and David’s bonding sessions become strained and corny. The film’s ‘feel-good’ message is lost in an approach that is sterile, mechanical, and by-the-numbers.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Robert Mulligan

Available: VHS, Amazon Instant Video