Tag Archives: Michael Caine

Gambit (1966)

gambit 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Foolproof plan has holes.

Harry (Michael Caine) is an international cat burglar looking to make his biggest steal yet. He recruits dance girl Nicole (Shirley Maclaine) to pose as his wife and with the help of some makeup and a different hairstyle made to resemble the late wife of reclusive millionaire Shabandar (Herbert Lom). The idea is to use this uncanny resemblance to get Shabandar’s attention who will then invite them up to his reclusive mansion. While Shabandar remains entranced with this woman Harry will use the time to steal an expensive statue that is in Shabandar’s home. Unfortunately Harry fails to factor in the human element, which sends his ‘foolproof’ plan into disarray.

This movie is fun most of the way and great escapism for a slow evening. The novel twist of showing how the plan should work, which takes up the first part and then showing what really happens is quite amusing. The movie works almost as a parody to all those slick heist movies and spy films that always have elaborate schemes, but usually overlook the human element in the process and if anything I wished they had played this up even more.

Maclaine is a delight and for the first 30 minutes doesn’t utter a single word. She has always been good as vulnerable characters and here is almost child-like. The contrasting personalities and verbal exchanges between her and Caine are amusing and something that I wished had also been played up a bit more.

The real problem is the blossoming romance between the two that doesn’t make any sense. The two know each other for only a couple of days and yet somehow ‘fall madly in love’ despite the fact that Harry is very rude and detached towards Nicole the whole time.  Harry also finds Nicole to be quite irritating and even explicitly tells her as much, so why he would suddenly fall for her is just as ridiculous. The idea, which is quite prevalent in 60’ movies, that two single people of the opposite sex must become a couple by the end of the movie is quite contrived and mechanical and in some ways diminishes the story by always forcing a happy ending even when it is not natural or needed.

There are a few other loopholes that hurts the story as well. One of them is while Harry is inside Shandabar’s home he opens up a statue and reaches in to take out the equipment needed to for the crime, but how was he able to do this? Did he sneak into Shandar’s home at some earlier point and put the statue there and if so how was it not detected by Shandabar? This is not explained, which seriously affects the credibility. There is another moment later on where Nicole sneaks back into Shandabar’s home while Harry is committing the robbery, but it is never explained how she was able to do that since there were guards everywhere, which required Harry earlier to go to elaborate means to do it himself.

Spoiler Warning!!!

The twist ending, which has Harry returning the original statue to Shandabar, but keeping the copy of it and using it to resell to the gullible public who thinks it’s the original is kind of cool. However, when Harry smashes the statue replica to pieces in an effort to show Nicole that he has ‘reformed’ from his criminal ways and retain her affections I knew immediately that there must have be even more statue copies hidden somewhere else, which there is, because there was no way his friend Emile would have taken something like that as lightly as he does otherwise.

End of Spoiler Warning!

gambit 1

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 21, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ronald Neame

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 1 & 2), Blu-ray (Region B), Amazon Instant Video

Woman Times Seven (1967)

woman times seven 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gotta love Shirley MacLaine.

Much like with Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow Vittorio De Sica directs a collage of stories all centering on a different female character and all played by the same actress this time being Shirley MacLaine who is fabulous. In fact she is so good that her famous male co-stars get badly upstaged and their presence almost becomes transparent.

The first story is entitled ‘Funeral Procession’ and deals with MacLaine playing the character of Paulette who is grieving over the recent death of her husband. As they are walking behind the hearse that is carrying her husband to his gravesite her friend Jean (Peter Sellers) uses this moment to proposition her for a weekend of sex and fun at an isolated getaway. The irony in this one is amusing and De Sica makes great use of nuance particularly the way everyone tries to avoid the messy puddles they come upon during the procession.

‘Amateur Night’ is the second segment and this one deals with Maria Theresa (MacLaine) coming home early from a vacation only to find her husband Giorgio (Rossano Brazzi) in bed with her best friend. She becomes so upset that she runs out of the house and into a group of prostitutes who lend a sympathetic ear as well as concocting some revenge. The interplay of the prostitutes is quite amusing and I loved watching all the different items that she throws at Giorgio during her rage, but the final payoff on this one could have been better.

MacLaine plays Linda in the third segment, which is entitled ‘Two Against One’. This is where she takes two competing suitors (Vittorio Gassman, Clinton Greyn) up to her apartment and reads them poems while she is completely naked. This segment is a bit forced and the attempts at satirizing the artsy-fartsy crowd is strained, but the creative ways De Sica cover-ups MacLaine’s otherwise naked body, so the viewer never sees anything explicit is amusing.

‘Super Simone’ makes up the fourth story and deals with Edith (MacLaine) becoming jealous because her writer husband Rik (Lex Barker) seems more infatuated with the female character in the book that he is writing than with her. Her wild attempts to get his attention backfires as he starts to think that she is going insane and even brings in a psychiatrist (Robert Morley) to take her away. The story here is slightly contrived, but MacLaine with a short bob haircut is adorable and the foot chase at the end along some apartment rooftops is visually engaging.

MacLaine gives an hilarious over-the-top performance in the fifth segment entitled ‘At the Opera’ dealing with a rich woman who becomes enraged when she finds out that another woman will be wearing the same dress that she will to an exclusive opera. The satirical jabs at the rich are on-target, but it loses steam at the end.

The weakest segment of them all that is barely even funny is the sixth one entitled ‘Suicides’. This is where a young couple (MacLaine, Alan Arkin) decide to commit suicide as a form of vague political protest, but then both chicken out at the end.

The seventh and final segment is entitled ‘Snow’ and deals with a married woman who becomes intrigued by a handsome stranger (Michael Caine) who follows her around the city streets, but who may not be who he seems. Most of the time movies like these have the final story be a strong one, but this one is strangely subdued making the film end with a whimper instead of the bang that it should. This segment is also novel because Caine barely even utters one word of dialogue and becomes completely wasted in the process.

Overall this is fun lightweight entertainment with a great chance to see MacLaine’s wide acting ability and different hairstyles and looks.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released:  June 27, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Vittorio De Sica

Studio: Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix Streaming

Noises Off (1992)

noises off 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Behind-the-scenes discord.

An eclectic group of actors put on a play that they take on tour. The play is a sort of door slamming British farce that is full of innuendos and misunderstandings and the film captures them during one particular scene of that play. It follows them as they rehearse that scene and then perform it live to an audience. It also shows the behind the scenes discord that develops between the cast and how this affects the performance of the scene, which culminates in a completely disastrous showing in Cleveland.

This should have been a really fun movie. It’s certainly an originally structured idea and it is slickly handled. It brings back the days of screwball comedy where things were funny just for the sake of being funny. Everything is contained and nothing is out of place or crude. In some ways it’s a refreshing change of pace.

The cast is certainly game and perfect for this type of comedy. Christopher Reeve and John Ritter come off best. Reeve seems to be playing his Clark Kent character only to a higher degree. Ritter does his Jack Tripper routine not only with the physical side, but also the nuance. His character tries very hard to be politically correct and it is amusing watching him never able to get to the point.

The film offers some light satire into the whole stage production process. Everything from the fragile temperaments of the actors to the high strung director is examined. It also takes some good shots at the plays themselves and how these stage comedies always seem to have such a high reliance on extreme coincidences.

There are some good laughs, but after a while it becomes a bit too much and exhausting to watch. The jokes and gags come so fast that if you blink you will miss some. There is also too much reliance on the frantic side of comedy, which eventually starts to lose its cuteness. The characters are placid and so are the situations. There is also the redundancy factor of having to see the same scene done over and over.

The end result is meticulously choreographed tripe and as silly as the play it seems to be mocking. It also has a glaring factual error. Michael Caine, the play’s director, talks about all the cities they have been too. He mentions Cairo, Missouri as one. There is a Cairo in Illinois but none in Missouri.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 20, 1992

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Studio: Touchstone Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD

Pulp (1972)

pulp

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Running for his life.

Michael Caine and director Mike Hodges teamed up again one year after doing the gritty classic Get Carter with this breezy oddity dealing with a pulp fiction writer Mickey King (Caine) who is hired to pen the autobiography of ex-Hollywood star Preston Gilbert (Mickey Rooney) who is now living in exile in Malta. The problem is that Gilbert has ties to the underworld and Mickey soon finds himself running for his life while meeting up with a barrage of oddball characters along the way.

The movie has a wonderfully quirky sense of humor with a few memorable laugh-out-loud sequences especially at the beginning. I got a real kick out of the man with a weak bladder who says a prayer to God to open up a locked bathroom door when he can’t get into it. The scene in the bus where we hear the different thoughts going on inside each of the passenger’s heads is great as well. The opening sequence featuring a row of lady typists writing up King’s latest manuscript is cute, but the one thing that holds it all together is Caine’s wry voice-over narration that remains consistently amusing.

Rooney though manages to steal the whole thing with his hilarious send-up of an aging actor. In fact this may be one of the funniest roles of his entire career. Even the scene showing him shadow boxing in his underwear is engaging although thankfully the camera doesn’t stay on it for too long. I was a bit disappointed that the character didn’t last through the film’s duration, but his death scene is so funny that it almost makes up for it.

It is nice to see Lizabeth Scott in her last film to date and first since 1957 when she was essentially blacklisted from Hollywood purportedly for her lesbian leanings. Although only 50 at the time her aging face looked like she was almost 70 and her deep, raspy voice sounded similar to the demon’s in The Exorcist. I thought she could’ve been given more to do and played a character that was more integral to the story as her screen time is much too brief.

The on-location shooting done on the island nation of Malta is another asset. The sunny weather has a nice exotic feel and the old architecture of the buildings helps give the film a visual distinction. The melodic piano soundtrack is pleasing and I wished it had been heard a little bit more.

The story is full of a lot of unexpected twists and turns that manages to be engaging for a while, but I felt it runs out of steam by the end. During the final 15 minutes I found myself a bit bored and no longer caught up in it. While I do like the scene where the gunmen gets run over by a pick-up and shown from the point-of-view of the driver I still felt that the ending lacked the finesse and quirkiness of the beginning. The offbeat ideas that writer/director Hodges showers into the film become dried up with a finish that lacks any payoff and unfortunately sullies what is otherwise an offbeat gem waiting to be discovered.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 4, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mike Hodges

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t trust these guys.

Freddy (Steve Martin) is a small-time con able to trick women into paying for his meals and sometimes even into their beds, but he is nothing compared to Lawrence (Michael Caine). This is a man that lives in luxury all from money that he has duped from rich women. Freddy decides to team up with Lawrence to learn his craft. The two work together for a while with Freddy playing Lawrence’s crazy younger brother, but the two have a falling out and end up becoming rivals instead. They meet Janey Colgate (Glenne Headley) the supposed daughter of a rich soap manufacturer and compete to see who can con her out of $50,000.

This version is far superior to Bedtime Story, which was reviewed yesterday. The pace is snappier and gets into the scenario more quickly. The scenes are consistently amusing and everything is handled at a slick level. The women aren’t all portrayed as naïve idiots like in the first and in certain cases they are just as corrupt and greedy as the two men. The music is bouncy and playful and helps propel the movie along.

Although both films were shot along the French Rivera this one does a better job of capturing the sunny and exotic locale. When Freddy visits Lawrence at his mansion and looks out at his exquisite seaside view and says ‘I want this’ I felt like saying ‘I want it too’.

I wasn’t sure Martin could top Marlon Brando’s performance from the first film, which was the only thing good about it, but he does. It took a little adjusting at first, but Martin takes the reins and in his usual style makes the part his own. His best segment is when he is in jail and can’t remember Lawrence’s name, which makes terrific use of his improvisational skills. The part where he asks to go to the bathroom is a little bit gross, but funny as well.

Caine is excellent is his part and gives the role more panache than David Niven did in the first one. He even puts on an effective German accent during the segment where he pretends to be a famous German psychiatrist. Believe it or not the parts of Freddy and Lawrence were originally intended for Mick Jagger and David Bowie.

Headley is good in her role as well. She has an attractive quality about her that is distinct and natural and avoids the plastic Hollywood starlet image. Her voice borders on being a little nasally, which could have become annoying, but with this type of part it works.

The best thing about this version though is the twist ending, which helps to maintain the slick level throughout the entire duration of the story. In the first version the ending was highly contrived and unimaginative as well as going against the personalities of the characters. Here it hits-the-mark and works as a nice payoff to the rest of the film.

The only critical comment I have about the movie is that it goes on a bit too long. 110 minutes is too extended a runtime for light comedy.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Frank Oz

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD

Silver Bears (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Investing in Silver Mine.

This is an engaging, lighthearted look at the complex inner-workings of financial institutions and markets and how a group of con-men try to exploit it. The plot is elaborate and although it is easy to follow as you are watching it, as long as you are paying close attention, it is hard and even convoluted to explain, but I will try my best.

The basic premise works like this: Doc Fletcher (Michael Caine) is hired by underground kingpin Joe Fiore (Martin Balsam) to open a phony bank which they can use as a front for their laundered money. When they get there they find that the building is some rundown offices on top of a restaurant. Prince di Siracusa (Louis Jourdan) then tells them of a silver mine in Iran that is run by his distant cousins Agha (David Warner) and Shireen (Stephanie Audran).  Doc decides the bank can invest in the mine and use the money to create a better building premises as well as attracting rich investors. The silver in the mine begins to flood the market causing a drop in value at the London Stock Exchange and forces Charles Cook (Charles Gray) to decide to buy out the bank that is funding the mine in order to then close the mine. To do this he contacts the President of the First National Bank of California (Joss Ackland) who is looking to expand his business in Europe. The bank president sends Donald Luckman (Tom Smothers) out to negotiate a sale of the bank with Doc, but without telling Doc the true reason why. This makes Doc suspicious and to find out their true motives he decides to seduce Donald’s beautiful and free-spirited wife Debbie (Cybil Shepard). Once she divulges their secret things really get going in a high-spirited fashion.

The catalyst of the comedy comes through the many different ‘negotiating’ sessions that take place throughout the film all of which prove to be quite amusing. The first is when Doc negotiates with Agha about a suitable deposit Agha must give to the bank in order to obtain a bank loan even though the bank has no money to give. The second is when Donald tries to bargain with Doc on a selling price for the bank and the third is when Doc tries to intimidate Crime boss Joe into not accepting Donald’s offer. The final one at the end is where all the characters chase Charles around his mansion in order to get settlements to their deals, which have by then soured.

The characters are charming and delightful. Caine is superb as always playing a man who would like to be a lot more ruthless and intimidating if he weren’t surrounded by a bunch of incompetents. Jourdan is suave as the Prince and the two leads share very contrasting personalities and styles, which makes their conversations and budding friendship interesting.

This movie is also a great chance to see Jay Leno in a rare acting role. I’d say being a talk show host is more his repartee, but he is energetic enough here to remain amiable and seeing him with a big mop of curly black hair is almost worth the price itself. Shepard is fantastic and the one thing that gives the film some zest. She is best known for her bitchy roles of which she is very good, but her she plays a fun-loving hippie type and is hilarious. Although this movie is a bit hard to find fans of Shepard should really seek this out as they won’t be disappointed.

Smothers is okay as the meticulous accountant who thinks he has all the bases covered until he gets an unsettling surprise at the end. Usually he is stuck playing characters on the dim-witted side, so it was nice to see him in something that was a slight change of pace. Although Balsam’s screen time is brief I still got a kick out of the way he would look at pictures showing the bloody corpses of the victims he had ordered killed while he ate his breakfast.

The film was shot on-location in such places as Switzerland and Morocco and although it does show some of the exotic topography of the regions it wasn’t enough and I wanted to see more. The musical score is terrible and resembles a show tune from the big band era that does not fit with the mood, or action of the story. I also didn’t find it enticing to have the film begin by focusing the camera onto the naked rears of a bunch of fat, middle-aged men as they get into a hot tub.

For those looking for a diverting, original comedy that emphasizes the subtle and dryly humorous exchanges between business partners then this little known gem should hit the spot.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 21, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ivan Passer

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS