Tag Archives: Michael Sarrazin

Sometimes a Great Notion (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Never give a inch.

The Stampers are a proud logging family who’ve run their business out of the small Oregon town of Wakonda for years, but now find that may be in jeopardy when the local union strikes against a large lumber conglomerate. The Stampers, headed by their stubborn, bull-headed father (Henry Fonda) refuse to go along with the other loggers and continue to run their business. The rest of the townspeople consider them to be traitors and get their revenge by burning their equipment and doing whatever they can to make their business fail, but despite all the obstacles and setbacks the Stampers prove to be a resilient bunch.

The story is based on the Ken Kesey novel and while the book spawned many accolades the movie pretty much fizzled and today is only remembered as being the first film ever shown on HBO when it began broadcasting on November 8, 1972. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its share of good points as I really did enjoy the vivid way it captures the logging business showing first-hand what it takes to cut down the large trees and move the timber. Everything is captured with an in-your-face style that makes you feel like you’re right there working alongside the others and all the stages of tree cutting are explored including the many potentially dangerous accidents that can occur within the blink-of-an-eye.

The film also features a few memorable scenes including a bird’s-eye view of a large barge of logs being tugged down the river, which is an impressive sight. There’s also the infamous drowning scene unique because I’m not quite sure how they were able to pull it off without the actor drowning.

The characters though are quite boring, don’t display any type of arc and instead convey a very one-dimensional cantankerous attitude all the way through, which isn’t fun. Lee Remick is the only one who shows a softer, more introspective side, but she’s not in it enough. The scene involving her in bed with Michael Sarrazin, who plays the younger brother to Paul Newman, could’ve given things a much needed spark and should not have been left on the cutting room floor.

Fonda though is an exception. I’m always amazed at how in his later years he had to take small roles in films that weren’t always A-list material, but would still steal the film away from the leading actors anyways and his answer as to why the family continues to work while clearly causing tension with the rest of the town is a gem.

The plot though gets presented in a sporadic way. So much attention gets put into the aesthetics that the story becomes largely forgotten and only trickles through at certain intervals. The perspective is a bit odd for a Hollywood film too especially for that time period where the idea was always a David vs. Goliath formula that would take it to the establishment and yet here instead of punching up it punches down. As a viewer I felt sympathy for the townspeople and their need to create a strong union to make life better for themselves, so watching this family arrogantly ignore their needs and forge on with their business seemed to be me selfish and not something that was noble or interesting.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s final shot, which features Newman tying his dead father’s severed arm on top of his tugboat, with the hand of the arm giving the finger to the town’s people on shore, is quite ghoulish. There’s no explanation for how he obtained the arm, but I’d imagine it would’ve required him digging up his father’s grave and cutting the limb off, which is pretty sick and twisted and thus loses the humorous quality that was intended and becomes just plain repulsive instead.

Alternate Title: Never Give A Inch

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 17, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Newman (Replaced Richard A. Colla)

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD (Universal Vault Series)

For Pete’s Sake (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Can’t make ends meet.

Henrietta ‘Henry’ (Barbra Streisand) struggles with hardly any money in the bank as her husband Pete (Michael Sarrazin) works a low paying job driving a cab while he tries to finish college. Then Pete gets a tip from a fellow driver telling him to invest in potbellies as they are expected to have a huge gain in the market, but to do so he will need $3,000. Since he does not have this Henry decides to do some jobs that will pay her quick cash including prostitution and hauling stolen cattle, but everything that she does just gets her further into trouble.

Part of the fun of watching films from decades past is seeing how things have changed and in certain circumstances how they haven’t. Here you get to see virtually the same struggles that a young couple of today face and how the companies and banks joyfully screw them over if it means helping them either save or make a buck. Some of the segments at the beginning where she argues with representatives of these companies over either bills or loans are funny and helps give this otherwise innocuous comedy a bit of an edge.  It also allows for a great chance to see Anne Ramsey in an early role playing a rep at a phone company who not only looks way younger than from her better known role in Throw Momma From a Train, but even marginally attractive and with a much softer sounding voice.

Barbra is great in the lead that takes advantage of her rambling, fast-talking manner which she gets whenever she’s exasperated with the best bit being the running joke where she is constantly calling a distant relative in Dallas begging them for money while also updating them on her latest calamity. It’s also great seeing her play against her Hollywood celebrity image by effectively portraying a very drab everyday person sporting short hair, which was a wig created for her by her romantic partner at the time, hair stylist Jon Peters. It’s also interesting seeing this very liberal icon in a very anti-PC moment when she hands a box of Fruit Loops to an effeminate store clerk (played by Vincent Shiavelli) and tells him “I’m sure you’ll love these.”

The comedy has consistent laughs although the first hour works best and I particularly enjoyed the interplay that she has with the male customers she brings into her apartment while working as a prostitute and I wished this segment had been extended more. She also gets in a few juicy jabs towards Estelle Parsons, who plays the snotty, rich wife of Pete’s brother (William Redfield), that are delightfully savage.

Unfortunately the final third gets a bit too silly and exaggerated making the story lose its footing by becoming too frantically dizzying.  There’s still a couple of good bits here like watching the stolen cattle crash through a movie screen that is showing a film with a herd of cattle on it. I also enjoyed The French Connection parody where Babs plays the same cat-and-mouse game on the subway that Gene Hackman did with Fernando Rey only she does it with a police dog. However, some of the other bits including the appearance of Bill McKinney in a weak tribute to Deliverance are sterile  and helps to deflate an otherwise sparkling Streisand vehicle.

The script also suffers from illogical loopholes. Like the fact that despite having financial difficulties they still employ a housekeeper (played by Vivian Bonnell), but why would a young couple struggling with money and living in a tiny one bedroom apartment with no kids and a wife who stays home all day need hired help?

Pete gets exposed as having some major chauvinistic traits too by forebiding his wife from working full-time because ‘his ego couldn’t take it’, which doesn’t make him seem like a ‘great catch’ at all. Forcing his wife to stay stuck in the kitchen/home because that’s where he feels ‘she belongs’ while he’s unable to provide for her with his own job makes him seem like a total dud that’s not only not worth helping, but, especially in today’s world,  have him deservedly kicked to the curb in no time.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 26, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Yates

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Pursuit of Happiness (1971)

 

pursuit of happiness 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Justice isn’t always fair.

Everything seems to be going William Popper’s (Michael Sarrazin) way. He is a young college student with a great looking girlfriend (Barbara Hershey) and from a rich family. One night he takes a trip to the grocery store. It is raining and he accidently hits and kills a woman who walks out onto the street between two parked cars. Since William has several unpaid traffic tickets, is part of the anti-establishment movement and seems to have a generally belligerent manner he gets arrested for her death. His rich father (Arthur Hill) hires a successful lawyer (E.G. Marshall), but William is a major idealist who doesn’t want to compromise on anything and the more he fights for his ideals the deeper it gets him into trouble.

The film, which is based on a novel by Thomas Rogers, certainly makes some great points about our modern day American justice system where everything seems more based on the image that the defendant tries to present than the actual facts. Unfortunately most viewers today are already quite jaded by this and the message comes off as old and redundant.

The biggest problem is with Sarrazin. He has always had a bit of a transparent quality and I’ve defended him in some of his other roles, but here he helps to bring the whole thing down. He conveys no anger or emotion of any kind even though it’s supposedly his passion for the truth that causes him to behave the way he does. His comes off as limp and lifeless making me wonder how such a bland guy could attract a girlfriend at all let alone a really beautiful one. His character is also a bit too stubborn and strangely naïve to the point that the viewer isn’t completely empathetic with his cause as it becomes painfully obvious that he is only hurting himself by refusing to back down at all while most rational people would’ve likely buckled under just enough to get themselves out of the jam.

The script unfortunately is more intent on making a statement than telling a story as we are given no conclusion to the character’s plight. He escapes from jail and takes a flight to Mexico, but then it just ends leaving open a wide array of unanswered questions and making the viewer feel like they’ve seen only half a movie.

Ruth White, in her last film appearance, gives a strong performance as Walter’s Archie Bunker-like grandmother. It’s also great to see Marshall playing a more hard-lined version of the defense attorney role that he was famous for from ‘The Defenders’ TV-show. Robert Klein is engaging as Walter ‘60s radical college friend and David Doyle is good as Walter’s cellmate. Charles Durning, Ralph Waite and Rue McClanahan can be seen in small roles and this also marks William Devane’s film debut.

pursuit of happiness 3

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 23, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Robert Mulligan

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975)

the reincarnation of peter proud

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Reliving a past life.

College professor Peter Proud (Michael Sarrazin) starts having reoccurring dreams where he sees himself living a past life somewhere in a small New England town and killed by a woman (Margot Kidder) while out on a lake. The dreams become so strong that they interfere with his job and even his relationship with his girlfriend Nora (Cornelia Sharpe). He travels to Massachusetts in search of the place and finally finds it and even starts a relationship with Ann (Jennifer O’Neill) who may be his daughter from the previous incarnation. He also meets her mother Marcia who is the same woman who he sees killing him in a past life during his dreams. As the three get to know each other tensions and dark secrets eventually begin to surface.

The idea has some potential, but director J. Lee Thompson gives the material a very standard treatment making it seem almost like a pedestrian drama. The dialogue is dull and corny, the characters cardboard and the storyline is predictable and formulaic. For what is supposed to be a horror movie/mystery it is not very compelling or intense. The visions that Peter sees in his dream are quite ordinary and generic and eventually become redundant. In fact the film’s only twisted moment, which is when Peter makes love to Ann, who is technically his daughter from a past life, gets treated like a sweet romantic scene instead of the underlying perverse act that it really is.

The story also gets farfetched including having Peter drives through every town in Massachusetts until he finds the one he is looking for. The character of the dream researcher, which is played by actor Paul Hecht, gets overly enthusiastic about Peter’s statements regarding experiencing reincarnation and becomes almost wide-eyed at the idea of writing a book about it and making millions even though a true researcher would be much more reserved about what Peter was saying and realize it would entail much more years of study before it could even be termed a reality. I also thought it was strange that when they put Peter into a sleep study the machine is unable to read the dreams that Peter is having about his past life. Supposedly this is because they are not dreams, but ‘visions’ of some sort, but wouldn’t that still create brain activity in order for Peter to see them and thus still get recorded on the machine?

Jennifer O’Neill is always great to watch simply because of her beautiful face and Cornelia Sharpe has a few choice nude scenes as Peter’s sarcastic girlfriend, but Margot Kidder is miscast as O’Neill’s mother. For one thing she is the same age as O’Neill and although they try to make her look older by putting some gray streaks in her hair her skin is still quite smooth and in need of some age lines in order to look more authentic. However, the scene where she masturbates while naked in a tub isn’t bad.

The ending is terrible and makes having to sit through this thing a complete waste of time.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 25, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated R

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Studio: American International Pictures (AIP)

Available: VHS

Eye of the Cat (1969)

eye of the cat 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s afraid of cats

Wylie (Michael Sarrazin) returns to the home of his rich Aunt Danny (Eleanor Parker) who he hasn’t seen in ages at the urging of his girlfriend Kassia (Gayle Hunnicutt). Kassia has become aware that the aunt is suffering from severe emphysema and must sleep in an oxygen tent at night. She wants Wylie to get back into his aunt’s will and then when he does they will sneak into her bedroom and turn off her oxygen. The problem is that Danny also owns a lot of cats and Wylie suffers from ailurophobia, which is the irrational fear of them and this further complicates the matter.

David Lowell Rich directed mainly TV-movies in his career, but scores for the most part in this rare theatrical attempt. I enjoyed the split screen montage done over the opening credits as well as the bird’s eye view of the Golden Gate Bridge. The viewer gets a zesty feel of the San Francisco locale and the scene where Aunt Danny’s wheelchair teeters off of a very steep incline is well shot and edited. My only beef is with the inside of Aunt Danny’s mansion, which is basically just sets constructed on a sound stage that is a very clichéd, unimaginative view of a ‘rich person’s house’ that gives the production a kind of cheap and tacky look.

Saarazin again nails it. Usually he plays sensitive leading men, but here does a change of pace as the very amoral and apathetic cad and it works.

Parker is quite good in a latter career role. She was only 46 at the time making her one of the more attractive and sexy wheelchair bound Aunts you will ever see. The fact that she is going to leave her entire fortune to her cats seems whacky, but then after seeing Wylie for the first time in years she decides to immediately change her will and make him the beneficiary seems even crazier. The character could easily be written off as being ridiculously campy, but somehow Parker, who has always has a knack for playing vulnerable people, makes her seem entertaining and even intriguing instead. I enjoyed her strange misplace morality and the fact that she is attracted to the much younger Wylie and even makes a pass at him, which creates for some interesting sexual undertones.

Hunnicutt doesn’t have a lot of lines, but her facial expressions are right on-target for that of a cold and conniving woman. The scene where she has a physical fight with one of Wylie’s former girlfriends (Jennifer Leak) while inside the woman’s bathroom at a bar is fun especially as it is captured from a bird’s-eye vantage point having Wylie try to get into the middle of it to break it up only to get beaten up by the two makes it even more entertaining.

Of course the real stars are the cats. There are literally hundreds of them and the best scene is where they fight over a dish of raw meat. I loved hearing their very guttural growls and watching them hiss and claw at each other. The close-ups of their eyes and mouths are well captured and they appear well trained as they scratch at Hunnicutt and chase her all around during the final sequence.

The film has a few twists although I saw them coming long before they happened. The film isn’t bad for its type, but it fails to distinguish itself and becomes nothing more than a passable time-filler.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 18, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes (TV-Print runs 1Hour 30Minutes and has different scenes edited in.)

Rated M

Director: David Lowell Rich

Studio: Universal

Available: www.modcinema.com (Both the theatrical and TV-Print.)