Tag Archives: Nigel Davenport

Phase IV (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: The ants take over.

Ants in a small isolated community in Arizona begin to behave strangely by building large towers and geometric designs in the crops. Dr. Hubbs (Nigel Davenport) and James Lesko (Michael Murphy) are two scientists hired to come-in and find out why the ants are behaving the way they are and try to put a stop to it. They construct a computerized lab in the middle of the desert and begin they’re research only to find that they’ve walked into the ant’s trap.

This was the first feature length movie directed by Saul Bass who was an award winning graphic designer who did title sequences and film posters for many famous movies from the 1950’s through the 1980’s. His great attention to detail pays off here in a film that is full of many intricate and stunning imagery including incredible micro photography of the insect life, but unfortunately the movie bombed badly at the box office, which never allowed him to direct another film again.

On the surface it’s easy to see why it didn’t go over well as a large amount of the runtime focuses on the ants and while this photography is impressive it also makes it seem more like a nature film, but without any voice-over narration explaining what the ants are doing. It’s not like you can’t figure it out, but it does require close attention and could still be confusing to some and not something mainstream audiences are used to, or expected to sit through.

When the humans are onscreen the acting isn’t bad and surprisingly there is some character development, which a lot of other high concept Sci-fi flicks sometimes don’t have. I enjoyed Davenport and his very matter-of-fact approach to the situation in which nothing ever gets to him emotionally no matter how grisly and his never ending obsession to usurp the ants no matter how ultimately bleak it gets.

Lynne Frederick is good too as a teen-aged girl who gets taken in by the scientists when the rest of her family are killed. Initially I didn’t like her presence as I was afraid it was going to lead to some annoying, manufactured side romance, but fortunately that didn’t occur and instead becomes more of the emotional, human side of the trio especially with the way her eyes gaze at the evil ants. I also really liked the segment that shows in close-up of an ant climbing on her foot and then up through her body, even going in and out of her bellybutton until finally arriving at her head all while she sleeps.

The ending though is a disappointment as it never explains the reason for the ant’s behavior. I actually did find the story intriguing for awhile and even kind of scary, but you can’t expect a viewer to sit through a near 90-minute film and not supply them with some answers. No conclusion is given either as to who ultimately wins the battle, man or ant, which was something better explained in the original director’s cut, which had a surreal, image-laden montage showing what life on the ‘new earth’ was like, but this got cut by Paramount and never shown in the film released to theaters. In 2012 a faded print of the original ending was found and after being digitally scanned was added to a new 35mm print that was played at several select art house theaters, but this version has never been released onto DVD/Blu-ray, which is a shame as the movie comes off as incomplete without it.

For those who are interested here is a faded print of the original ending:

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 6, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes (Studio version)

Rated PG

Director: Saul Bass

Studio: Paramount

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

Nighthawks (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Street cop versus terrorist.

Deke DaSilva (Sylvester Stallone) and Matthew Fox (Billy Dee Williams) work as New York Street cops only to be suddenly pulled off of their beat and put into an elite anti-terrorism division. At first DaSilva resists the tactics taught during the training, which puts him at odds with the instructor (Nigel Davenport). However, once he gets past his initial reluctance he begins to use the methods that were taught to him by getting inside the mind of the international terrorist (Rutger Hauer) that they are after, which eventually helps him beat the man at his own game.

The film’s biggest achievement is that it was shot on-location in three major cities across two continents. Normally it’s nice when a film can just get out of a studio backlot and into a vibrant setting, but this film manages to get in three simultaneously and creates an almost head-spinning, globe-trotting visual show, which helps heighten the international intrigue. My favorite spot was where DaSilva and Fox go into the ghetto to do a drug bust. Normally film crews avoid the bad areas and try to compensate by dressing up a soundstage to look like one, but it always fails while this scene comes off as the real deal with the garbage strewn decrepit buildings being more prominent than the action.

The story succeeds to a degree as it nicely details the psychological aspect of police work as well as showing the many dead-ends investigators must go through before they are finally able to catch a break, but then the gritty reality unfortunately gets erased.

The main issue occurs when Stallone thinks he has spotted Hauer at a nightclub and wants to get nearer to him to get a ‘closer look’ only to proceed to just stand and stare at him in the most obvious way imaginable until it becomes achingly clear to Hauer that the guy is a cop, which causes him to panic and taking out a gun and running while killing a club patron in the process. It made me wonder if the Stallone character was a seasoned cop at all because why bother being undercover if you’re going to just stupidly give your identity away at the most inopportune moment?

Later Stallone gets blamed by Dee Williams for not shooting Hauer when he ‘had the chance’, but the truth is that Hauer had draped himself with a woman hostage and giving Stallone no clear view of him. Aren’t police trained not to shoot unless they do have a clear view? If anything Stallone’s character should’ve been commended for showing restraint. Being goaded into taking a risky shot would not have been ‘macho’ or ‘brave’ but seriously reckless and in no way was a sign of weakness despite the film portraying it like it was.

The film also fails to make much use of the buddy formula and in fact Dee Williams gets boxed out and becomes almost transparent. Stallone is excellent and Hauer is the epitome of a creepy villain, but the film could’ve been stronger had it not devolved into the formulaic tormented-cop-struggling-with-his-inner-demons thing and instead kept the two leads on equal footing as there are a few moments at the beginning where they share some engaging banter.

Lindsay Wagner is equally wasted with only two scenes and less than 10 minutes of total screen time. Davenport though is strong as the aging British instructor and quite engaging in his own right while Persis Khambatta, best known for playing the bald women in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, is effective as Hauer’s partner in crime.

The scene where a group of people are held hostage inside a cable car is intense and well shot. There is also an exciting foot chase inside the New York subway, which has traces to the one done in The French Connection, but the story itself doesn’t amount to much and seems more clichéd than original.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 10, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bruce Malmuth

Studio: Universal

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