By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: His life in prison.
Smitty (Wendell Burton) is a young first-time offender who’s sent away to the Canadian penitentiary for six months. He gets assigned to a cell with three other men: Rocky (Zooey Hall), Mona (Danny Freedman), and Queenie (Michael Greer). Queenie is an openly gay drag queen while Mona is a soft-spoken young man who likes to write poetry. Rocky is the tough guy who offers Smitty ‘protection’ if Smitty agrees to become his subordinate and do anything he asks including sexual favors. To avoid the harassment that he sees others getting that don’t have the same ‘protection’ he agrees, but eventually he grows tired of Rocky’s dominance and decides to challenge it.
The film is based on a play written by John Herbert who also wrote the screenplay. It is based on actual experiences that he received when he was arrested for dressing in drag in 1947 and taken to a reformatory at the age of 20. The play, which was written in 1967 initially had a hard time getting produced due to the subject matter, but was eventually put on the stage by Sal Mineo who directed and also played Rocky while Don Johnson played Smitty and Greer, like in the film, played Queenie.
The film version though makes many changes to the story some of which I’m not sure I liked. The one thing though that I thought was excellent is that it was shot inside an actual prison, which helps add authenticity. As opposed to most movies which shoots things from outside the cell looking in this one captures everything from inside the cell, which makes the viewer feel like they’re locked in the jail with the rest of the men and gives one a true feeling of the claustrophobic prison experience.
The shock element may not be as strong as it once was. The scene where Rocky rapes Smitty in the shower as the camera fixates on the running faucets and we hear only Smitty’s cries may be a bit too stylized and even kind of hokey by today’s standards. The segment though where Mona is grabbed from behind by a brute and taken into a dingy cell where he’s gang raped while the guards look away was to me far more potent. A later scene dealing with a prisoner being taken to a back room and beaten by the guards could’ve been stronger had it been extended.
For me personally the most shocking element is seeing Smitty’s transformation from naive man who we the viewer can mostly relate too, to someone who becomes almost as bad as Rocky. However, I found it annoying that it’s never made clear what he did that got him into prison in the first place and his character arch would’ve been stronger had the film started with him in the outside world committing the crime and subsequently getting arrested.
Burton’s acting abilities don’t seem quite on par with the demands of the role. His blank-eyed stare and monotone delivery make him seem like a one-dimensional actor and he was most likely given the role simply because of his babyface. Greer though in many ways steals it as the flamboyant drag queen and the outrageous performance that he puts on during the Christmas show at the prison is quite memorable.
The film remains compelling, but is hampered visually by being done almost entirely in one setting. The ending though leaves open too many questions. Does Smitty ever get out? How does he behave once he does and how has his experiences in prison changed him? None of these things get answered, which to me made the film incomplete and despite some good dramatic efforts here and there unsatisfying.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: June 15, 1971
Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes
Director: Harvey Hart, Jules Schwerin (uncredited)
Posted in 70's Movies, Cold Climate/Wintertime Movies, Foreign Films, Gay/Lesbian, Movies Based on Stageplays, Movies from Canada, Movies with Nudity, Obscure Movies, Prison Flicks
Tagged Entertainment, John Herbert, Michael Greer, Movies, Review, Wendell Burton
By Richard Winters
My Rating: 3 out of 10
4-Word Review: An aimless, carefree lifestyle.
Based on the novel by Robert T. Westbrook who also wrote the screenplay the film centers on Stanley (Don Johnson in his film debut) an underground filmmaker living in an apartment that is almost continually bombarded with the noise of a construction site next door. He has big dreams and ambitions, but at times seems awkward and unsure of himself. He meets Cathy (Dianne Hull) who he initially is just interested in for sex, but then he starts to fall-in-love with her and when she breaks up with him he finds it hard to handle.
The movie starts out well. I enjoyed the free-style direction and narrative. Cutting back and forth showing things as they are versus how Stanley would like them to be is fun, but the film deviates away from this when it would have been more interesting had it stayed this course all the way through. There is a certain element of one of Andy Warhol’s anti-movie movies here where the film tries to challenge the viewer’s conventional understanding of protagonists, plot, character development and all around narrative structure and it is no surprise that Warhol really liked this movie. It does have a strong cinema vertite approach that gives you a feeling like you are right there with the characters and to a certain extent helps bring the 60’s back to life.
Unfortunately the direction is too lackadaisical and unfocused and the story is uninteresting. Looking more at Stanley’s underground films could have given it a little more bite, but we only get a glimpse of one of his movies and then that thread is pretty much forgotten. The second half of the film centers on Stanley’s relationship and ultimate break-up with Cathy, which is too contrived and does not compliment the film’s otherwise offbeat approach. Funky and irreverent moments of humor are lost with a storyline that doesn’t seem to know where it wants to go or what to say. Tighter editing could’ve helped avoid some long stretches where nothing seems to happen.
The film though still has some interesting and unique scenes. I got a kick out of Stanley’s cluttered apartment and how he has to smell his food in his refrigerator to see what is still edible and for entertainment he stamps on cockroaches crawling across his floor. The part where he masturbates in a bathtub while reading a letter written by his mother is hilarious. His attempts at making a porno by getting his actress (Holly Near) good and drunk only to get her hornier than he is amusing. The naked body painting sex orgy that he has with two young nubile roommates has a nice sensual quality.
Don Johnson is excellent and the one thing that keeps this wandering film together and he can be seen totally nude from both the front and back. Hull allows for some diversion as a sheltered young lady who is initially shocked by the open sexuality around her, but eventually learns to embrace it. Native American actress Victoria Racimo is hot with her clothes on and off and reminded me a lot of 70’s adult film star Hypathia Lee. Brandon Maggart makes the most of his small bit as a gay man trying to come onto Stanley while inside a café. Michael Greer offers some edginess as Stanley’s slightly menacing friend Danny. His violent death that occurs near the end of the film and in front of his shocked mother does leave an impression, but we don’t know enough about the character for it to make much sense and just another thing put into the film without seemingly much thought.
My Rating: 3 out of 10
Released: May 26, 1970
Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes
Director: Leonard Horn
Available: None at this time.
Posted in 70's Movies, College Life, Movies Based on Novels, Movies that take place in the Big Apple, Movies with Nudity, Obscure Movies, Quirky, Sex
Tagged Dianne Hull, Don Johnson, Entertainment, Michael Greer, Movies, Review, Victoria Racimo