Tag Archives: Michael Crichton

The Carey Treatment (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A Pathologist solves mystery.

Based on an early Michael Crichton novel, the story centers around Dr. Peter Carey (James Coburn), who starts a new job as a pathologist at a local Boston hospital and soon finds himself embroiled in a mystery when his good friend Dr. David Tao (James Hong) gets accused of performing an illegal abortion on the daughter of the hospital’s chief surgeon (Dan O’Herlihy), which later kills her. Carey is not convinced that his friend performed the procedure and sets out to prove his innocence when the police are of no help.

This film was noted for its behind-the-scenes turmoil including accusations from director Blake Edwards that he was belittled by the film’s producer William Belasco in front of the crew and told that he would never work in Hollywood again and afterwards having the film edited without his permission. Edwards later sued and his experiences working on this project became the basis for his 1980’s film S.O.B., which savagely satirized the movie making business and the people who ran it.

The plot isn’t bad and attempts are made to give the viewer an authentic feel of the medical profession. One of the better moments is when the doctors perform an autopsy on the victim although I wished they would’ve shown more of the actual corpse on the examining table instead of cutting away from it in an attempt to be ‘tasteful’ as I felt the procedure and what the men discussed during it to be genuinely educational.

Having a hip doctor suddenly turn into an amateur sleuth is the film’s biggest drawback. Coburn plays the part well, but a guy who’s never investigated a case before wouldn’t be so seasoned with the way he handles suspects and tackles clues. He comes off too much like a professional detective who’s spent years in the business and not just a regular person who stumbles into the situation without knowing what he’s doing. The slick way that he solves the case and gets the necessary information is impressive, but not believable. Most people would’ve simply hired a private detective to investigate it and not spent hours away from their job trying to do it themselves, or if they take on the task they would most assuredly have make some mistakes, which this guy never does.

The mystery has enough intriguing elements to remain engaging, but the ultimate reveal is dull and makes one feel like they sat through a big buildup to nothing.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 29, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Blake Edwards

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, Youtube

Westworld (1973)

westworld 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cowboy robot goes berserk.

Peter and John (Richard Benjamin, James Brolin) are two buddies who decide to take the vacation of a lifetime by visiting an amusement park that replicates the old west. The people inside the park are actually robots who are so lifelike that it’s almost impossible to tell them apart from humans. Gunfights, barroom brawls and even whorehouses are the name of the day. At first both men enjoy their stay, but then the robots begin to act erratically especially the nameless gunslinger (Yul Brynner) who chases Peter throughout the park determined to kill him and no one, not even the technicians running the place, are able to stop him.

Michael Crichton’s directorial debut is a smashing success. The film is compact making for maximum use of tension and excitement and I liked how some sequences were done in slow motion. What I liked most about the film though is the way it gives the viewer a three dimensional viewpoint. Not only do we see things from the perspective of the main characters, but also the technicians behind the scenes and at one point even the robots.

The story brings out many interesting themes. Most people will jump on the man-versus-machine concept, but the one I liked better was how we have these suburbanite males living otherwise cushy lifestyles deciding they want to ‘prove their manhood’ by roughing it in some sort of adventure setting. However, pretending to be ‘rough and tough’ cowboys means nothing when ultimately it’s all still in a safe and contained setting where ‘nobody gets hurt’. In the real west there was no such things as ‘time outs’ or ‘safe places’, which is why I actually found it quite amusing when the robots do go berserk because it was the one thing that kept these suburban softies egos in-check and gave them a true taste of what the west was REALLY like.

A few things though that did bother me was the scene where Peter has sex with one of the female robots and enjoys it, which seemed weird to me because I would think having intimacy with a machine would have to feel way different than one with a human. We are told earlier that the only way to tell these robots apart from real people is by looking at their hands, which the technicians apparently haven’t yet been able to perfect and yet they were somehow able to get the vagina ‘just right’?!

I also found the idea that these robots would be given guns with real bullets to be absurd. Apparently the humans are also given real guns, but they’re equipped with sensors that detect body heat and therefore will shut off if aimed at a real person and if that were the case then the robots guns would do the same and therefore the scene where the gunslinger shots and fatally injures one of them would be negated.

I also found it equally preposterous that these same techs who were able to create such brilliant life-like robots would be dumb enough to make a control room that would lock-up when the power shut off and not allow them to escape. Certainly someone during the building stage would’ve had the brains to think up a secondary, emergency route to use should that situation occur, which makes the scene where they all suffocate seem quite laughable.

Having the robots all malfunction due to some ‘contagious-like disease’ that runs rampant amongst them didn’t really register with me either. To me it’s an overblown concept that would’ve worked better had it just been the gunslinger robot that goes crazy and relentlessly chases the two. He may even kill others who do try to stop him, which I think would’ve heightened the menacing quality of the Brynner character, which is already strong, even more.

Overall though it’s still a great movie with a terrific performance by Brynner as well as Benjamin playing a sort-of everyman who seems wimpy at first, but eventually learns to survive by using his brains over brawn.

westworld 1

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: November 21, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Crichton

Studio: MGM

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

The Andromeda Strain (1971)

andromeda strain

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Isolating a dangerous virus.

When a satellite returns to earth it brings back a mysterious virus that ends up killing all the residents of a town where it lands. Two scientists Dr. Jeremy Stone (Arthur Hill) and Dr. Dan Hill (James Olson) go to the town to investigate and find that the only survivors are a wino (George Mitchell) and a six-month-old baby. They bring these two people along with the remnants of the satellite back to a secret Nevada lab known as Wildfire that’s buried deep below the ground. It is here after close examination that they are able to observe the virus, which appears as small green dots on the satellite, but they fail to realize that this virus can also mutate and presents an even greater risk to them in the lab.

One of the major selling points of this film is the fact that it keeps everything within the realm of ‘realistic sci-fi’. No bubblegum action, scary monsters, or any other form of over-the-top dramatics get added; instead it’s on a ‘thinking man’s level’ with an extraordinary attention to detail. I enjoyed seeing all of the decontamination procedures that the crew is forced to go through before they are even allowed to begin their investigation. The isolated lab, which is hidden beneath what looks to be just an ordinary farmhouse and shed, is really cool and director Robert Wise’s use of the split-screen during the search of the town is both flashy and slick.

Showing the scientist’s personal lives and how the government agents literally demand that they drop what they are doing and come with them helps humanize the characters to a degree. I also liked how the male character of Dr. Peter Leavitt in the Michael Crichton book from which this is based gets switched to a female character here, which helps add an extra dynamic and is very well played by Kate Reid. In fact the only thing about the character’s that I didn’t like, aside from Arthur Hill’s sterile performance, is when we see the dreams of the doctors as they sleep, which seemed corny and unnecessary.

The mysterious nature of the virus is compelling and I certainly enjoyed the way they were able to detect it by scanning the satellite with cameras that could focus onto the object in minute detail, but the plot itself gets stretched farther than it needs to. There are a few interesting twists, but it starts to feel quite labored around the 2-hour mark and the climatic finish isn’t all that intense and seems rather stagy and predictable.

I was also amazed that this film achieved a G-rating. For one thing there isn’t much action and the narrative is on a more sophisticated level that is clearly aimed at adults and something most children won’t be able to pick up on. Also, one of the victims that the two men come upon is of a woman with no top on. The image is brief, but her breasts are clearly exposed making this one of the few G-rated movies to feature nudity.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 12, 1971

Runtime: 2Hours 11Minutes

Rated G

Director: Robert Wise

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Dealing: or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues (1972)

dealing

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Drugs are a trip.

This review was originally slated to post in February, but due to the death on Christmas Eve of Charles Durning I decided to post it now. Durning was one of the all-time great character actors who always brought an amazing amount of energy to every role he played and could do a wide variety of character types well. Although he has very few lines of dialogue in this movie he still manages to become the most interesting part of the proceedings and helps enliven an otherwise slow moving film.

The plot, based on a novel by Michael Crichton, pertains to Peter (Robert F. Lyons) who is a recent Harvard graduate hired by John (John Lithgow) to transport a suitcase full of marijuana from Boston to Berkeley, California. Peter is new at this and things do not go as planned, but he meets beautiful Susan (Barbara Hershey) along the way and the two fall in love. John next hires Susan to transport another suitcase of narcotics, but when she loses the luggage at the airport and then tries to go back and get it she is arrested by corrupt cop Murphy (Durning) who resells some of the recovered stash back out onto the street. In order to get Susan out of jail Peter plays an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse with the cop, which culminates in a violent showdown.

The story is done in a laid-back style similar to the approach taken by many European films. The emphasis is on mood and subtle nuance yet when the Europeans do it this style seems refreshing, but here it is more off-putting. I really had a hard time getting into it as the first hour is slow with too many scenes going on longer than it should. The set-up is too quick and there is not enough background, or history shown to the main character.

The second hour improves. Durning gives the proceedings some pizazz and Peter’s scheming is fun. The shootout done in the snow has flair and style.

The music by Michael Small is impressive. It is one of the most original scores I have heard and really fits the mood of the script. The best is over the opening credits.

Hershey is as always gorgeous and fans may like that she is shown topless. The part of a free-spirited hippy chick seems to be her forte and she excels. However, having her fall for a guy that is rather dull and ordinary didn’t make sense. Sure they make love right away, but I thought that was more just because it was a part of her lifestyle and she does after all go around in a dress without wearing any underwear. She just seemed to be diving into the free love atmosphere of the era. Obviously having Peter fall for her made sense because she is hot, but why would she go head-over-heels for this schmuck when there are so many other guys that would be more than willing to do it with her. The romantic angle was forced and hurt the credibility of the story.

Lithgow is okay in his film debut, but I had problems with the character. One minute he is cool, conniving, brash, and arrogant and then in the next instant he becomes scared, confused, and meek, which was too much of a quick transition.

The under-rated Lyons is excellent and makes for a terrific lead especially with this type of part. Despite being in his 30’s he looks and acts very much like a college kid from that period. His performance is nicely understated and believable throughout.

The on-location shooting in Boston is vivid and people from the area may like to view this just to see how much it has changed. The DVD transfer from Warner Archive is excellent with a nice clarity and vivid colors. The movie itself is slick, but it also has a detachment to it that doesn’t allow the viewer to get as connected with the characters, or the situations like they should and thus making it an interesting period artifact, but nothing more.

Also, Demond Wilson can be seen briefly as one of the drug dealers. He did this just before his signature role of Lamont in the hit TV-series ‘Sandford and Son’. Ellen Barber is real cute as Peter’s girlfriend and so is Joy Bang who later became a registered nurse. Normally I don’t like women with buck teeth, but with her it actually looks sexy.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 25, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Williams

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive)