Tag Archives: Mark Robson

Earthquake (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Los Angeles really rocks.

A jolt from a massive earthquake shakes the Los Angeles metro area one morning, but researchers at the nearby seismological institute fear that there may be another one that will be far stronger and yet they hesitate about warning the public fearing that it may create ‘too much panic’. They agree instead to alert the National Guard about it, so they can prepare for the fallout when it happens, but in the meantime many innocent people go about their day including those working in skyscrapers ill-prepared for the tragedy that is about to befall them.

Due to the success of disaster flicks during the 70’s many studios clamored to get on board and while this concept may have sounded good in theory, it really leaves on lot to be desired. For one thing most earthquakes last on average for only 10 to 25 seconds, so the majority of the film deals with boring, soap-opera-like drama of a bunch of cardboard characters both before and after the quake while there’s probably less than 5-minutes of actual quake effects.

The special effects are, despite winning a Special Achievement Award at the Oscars, not very convincing and come off looking like shots of miniatures homes and buildings made of paper that could easily fall apart without much effort. The shot showing workers falling down while on the Mulholland Dam  appears more like they’re all dancing some sort of gig and then intentionally dropping themselves to the ground as part of the dance routine.

The film is also notorious for its elevator scene in which people get stuck inside an elevator as the quake occurs and then it goes plummeting down the shaft before eventually crashing and killing everyone inside. However, due to an inability to effectively spray stage blood onto the stunt people, director Mark Robson decided to have animated blood added in during post production, which looks as cartoonish as it sounds and puts an embarrassing, amateurish mark on the entire production.

The casting is out-of-whack as well and features Charlton Heston in the lead as a sort of hunk even though he was 50 and too old for that type of thing, but is still seen sweaty and shirtless in a couple of scenes nonetheless. Ava Gardner livens things up a bit as Heston’s clingy, bitchy wife, but having her portrayed as being Lorne Greene’s daughter, who in real-life was only 8 years older than her, was ridiculous.

I did enjoy Marjoe Gortner as the psycho grocery store manager, who after the quake occurs, puts on a wig and takes part as a member of the National Guard to control the looters only to become more of a nemesis than a help. Walter Matthau, who appears in a bit part wearing an Afro wig, is funny as a patron at a bar who’s so drunk he’s oblivious to the chaos.

Spoiler Alert!

The only part of the movie that I really liked was the end where Heston is helping people out of an underground tunnel that is filling up with water and instead of climbing up out of the hole to his lover, played by Genevieve Bujold, who is waiting for him with open arms, he jumps back down to save his bitchy wife only for them to both end up drowning, which I found interesting. Too many movies especially the ones made these days, always have the hero come out of these things unscathed, or making a full recovery after being temporarily injured, but in reality saving others in treacherous circumstances has its share of risks where not everyone will come out of it alive, so it’s nice to have a film share a realistic balance.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 15, 1974

Runtime: 2 Hours 2 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mark Robson

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Valley of the Dolls (1967)

valley of the dolls 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: The dolls are pills.

Usually when sites commemorate Sharon Tate it is on the anniversary of her murder, which is in August, but I decided to do things differently and talk about her in January when she was born. Had she lived she would have turned 71 this year and each Sunday this month I will review a 60’s film that she was in.

This one is probably her most well recognized part and it’s based on the bestselling novel by Jacqueline Susann who appears briefly as a reporter. Here Tate plays Jennifer North a woman with ‘no talent’ who must use her body and looks to get where she wants and she is constantly reminded of it by her mother who regularly calls to make sure she is doing her ‘breast exercises’. Eventually she stars in nudie films, which leads to a self-destructive downward slide. Patty Duke is Neely O’Hara a talented young singer who finds climbing to the top can be laced with drugs, alcohol and jealousy. Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins) makes up the third part of the trio as a small town girl who comes to the city looking for excitement, but finds more than she bargained for and eventually leaves.

If there is one thing that saves this otherwise trashy, standard script it is Mark Robson’s direction. Usually most directors come up with a color scheme based on the type of script that they have and mood they want to create, but Robson’s uses every color of the rainbow and more. The plush varied sets and interesting stop action photography that gets implemented from time-to-time keeps things moving at a brisk a visually interesting pace. John William’s score is excellent and Dionne Warwick’s song ‘The theme from Valley of the Dolls’, which charted at number 2 is like most of her work infinitely hummable.

valley of the dolls 1

Duke is lively as the caustic Neeley. She took on the role to get rid of her ‘goody-goody’ image and does so in grand style as her angry tirades and meltdowns are entertaining. While she is attractive Tate’s acting seems limited, but her character is by far the most likable. Parkins may be the least well known of the three, but her performance is solid as the film’s anchor.

Veteran actress Susan Hayward gives the best performance as the aging acerbic singer Helen Lawson who will allow no one to push her from the top. Her confrontation with Duke in the women’s bathroom where Duke pulls off Hayward’s wig and tries flushing it down the toilet and then Hayward’s response to it is by far the most memorable scene of the whole movie.

The story itself is predictable, clichéd and one-note. The characters are cardboard and the dialogue is stale. If it weren’t for Robson’s direction this would have been a ‘bomb’. However, it has attained a high cult following for its campiness, which if you view it from that perspective isn’t bad.

This same story was remade as a 1981 TV-movie starring James Coburn and Jean Simmons.  Also, a young Richard Dreyfuss can be spotted briefly as a stagehand.

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 15, 1967

Runtime: 2Hours 3Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Mark Robson

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix streaming

Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting (1969)

daddys gone a hunting

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t kill his baby.

Cathy (Carol White) moves from England to San Francisco and almost immediately meets Kenneth (Scott Hylands) and the two get into a relationship. Cathy though slowly sees a dark side to him that she doesn’t like so she breaks up with him, but only after she finds out that she is pregnant. Since she is struggling to make it on her own she decides to have an abortion, which her friend Meg (Mala Powers) informs her is no worse than having a ‘hangnail’. When Kenneth learns of this he becomes enraged and promises revenge. He continues to stalk her from afar as she gets into a new relationship and then eventually marries prominent politician Jack Byrnes (Paul Burke). When she becomes pregnant again Kenneth reappears and tells her that this baby must be killed to make up for the one she ‘murdered’. After the baby is born he kidnaps it setting off a police manhunt throughout the city to find him and save the child.

Although this is a thriller you would hardly know it at the beginning as the movie starts out with a bouncy jazz score that does not create any type of menacing mood. It also initially dwells on Cathy and Kenneth’s early courtship and even has a sappy love song played over scenes of them kissing and walking hand-in-hand, which is awkward and even corny. I believe all thrillers should give some clue or warning to the tension and horror that is coming right from the start and this one doesn’t, which is weak.

However, after the first fifteen minutes it starts to get going from the suspense end and the rest of the way it is good if not excellent. I liked how the viewer is kept in the dark as to whether Kenneth is really stalking Cathy or it is all in her paranoid mind, which helps add an extra level of intrigue.

Director Mark Robson’s career was up and down, but he really scores here. The shot of a close-up of a cat’s eye showing the reflection of Cathy and Kenneth making love on a sofa was novel. I also liked how the abortion sequence is handled by showing a stark shot of the operating table coupled with Cathy’s nervous expression, which is surprisingly quite effective and brings out the horrors of the procedure, but without going overboard. I also appreciated that a real infant is used and not just a doll wrapped in a cloth like with some films. Showing a real live kicking and crying baby especially in close-ups makes it all the more emotionally compelling for the viewer when Kenneth tries to harm it.

Hylands is fantastic in the lead and one of the reasons this film works. He has the perfectly creepy face and menacing ability and this is by far his best performance in his long, but otherwise undistinguished career. White is also really good although she was far from being the producers first choice. Her blonde hair, accent, and angelic features make a perfect contrast to Hyland’s. Paul Burke is solid as the husband. It’s a bland part, but he tends to be good in those.

Although the abortion issue continues to be a hot and emotional topic for most this is not a political film and the emphasis is on being a thriller. However, when you couple this with screenwriter Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive movies you can probably assume he has an agenda in this political arena. Some may enjoy the way Kenneth relentlessly torments Cathy and refuses to allow her to forget what she did. He also kills the doctor who performed the procedure and what he does with the dead body afterwards is well…interesting.

Cohen and co-scripter Lorenzo Semple Jr. put their very creative minds in full gear here. The scenarios are well thought out and the tension builds at a great pace. The climatic sequence that takes place on top of the Mark Hopkins hotel at the Top of the Mark bar is exciting and visually well captured.

The only major flaw I saw with the film is at the beginning when Kenneth first sees Cathy standing on the sidewalk in downtown San Francisco he grabs some snow that is on a nearby car, makes it into a snowball, and then throws it at her to get her attention, but why in the world would there be snow on a car in downtown Frisco? This is never explained, but I felt it should have been.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 2, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated M

Director: Mark Robson

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video