Tag Archives: Obscure Movies

Chilly Scenes of Winter (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Can’t get over her.

            Charles (John Heard) meets Laura (Mary Beth Hurt) at his job and immediately becomes smitten.  She is married and upfront about it, but since it is not going well she decides to go out with him. They soon move-in together, but it only lasts for a couple of months before Laura goes back to her husband. This is a crushing blow to Charles who obsesses about her constantly and tries any way he can to win her back.

This is in many ways a dated movie and normally I would consider that a detriment, but here I found it to be an asset. It is refreshing and fun to see a person drink a little on the job, or playfully touch a female co-worker as he walks past them and not have it become an immediate sexual harassment lawsuit. There is also the part where Laura invites Charles back to her home after only their first date, which could be considered reckless, but it’s nice to go back to an era that was more trusting and not everyone was labeled a potential psycho until proven otherwise.

There is of course the subject of stalking which is what Charles does, but here it is natural and actually kind of sweet. Some of it may be considered a little ‘creepy’, or even pathetic, but none of it is menacing, or done with criminal intent. To me this makes more sense and is more realistic to expect that when someone has strong feelings for someone else and spent special times with them that they would have trouble ‘moving-on’ when the other person breaks it off and their inability to do so shouldn’t necessarily make them ‘crazy’, or ‘maladjusted’ and this film very effectively shows that.

This is a terrific movie about relationships. The characters are real and relatable. The situations they go through are universal and the best thing is that it stays that way until the bitter end without pulling any punches. Anyone who has gone through difficult relationships will appreciate the honesty and it’s a real shame they don’t make movies like this anymore.

Heard is excellent and plays an extension of the same 60’s radical character begrudgingly moving into adult life that he did in Between the Lines, which was his first collaboration with writer-director Joan Micklin Silver. A young Peter Reigert is appealing as Charles’s roommate Sam. Kenneth McMillan, a looks- challenged character actor who usually plays slimy people, is surprisingly likable as Charles’s stepdad. Legendary screen actress Gloria Grahame, in one of her last roles, is highly amusing as Charles’s crazy mother. I was never quite sure what any of her scenes had to do with the main story, but her presence was fun anyways.

The film also contains some offbeat scenes and an original sense of humor. This includes the scene where Charles makes a miniaturized replica model of the home that Laura lives in and then uses dolls to play the parts of Laura and her husband and child. There is also the part where Charles meets Laura’s husband under the guise of being a home buyer and then stands up in front of him and states his undying love for his wife as well as a goofy conversation that he has with a wacky elderly lady roommate when he visits his mother in the hospital. The best though is the running conversation that Charles has each day with the blind cashier at a candy counter that gets better and better as the movie progresses.

The film nicely captures the wintry Utah landscape and although the original title for the film was Head over Heels this other title works much better and not only fits the season in which the story takes place, but also the ever difficult and complicated dating scene as well.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Alternate Title: Head over Heels

Released: October 19, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG: (Brief Nudity, Adult Theme)

Director: Joan Micklen Silver

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, Netflix Streaming

The Gong Show Movie (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Jaye P. Morgan topless.

A very fractured, offbeat look at game show host Chuck Barris and his trials and tribulations as producer and host of the hit 70’s game show ‘The Gong Show’. In between there are some very short snippets of acts that never made it past the network censor. If you are unfamiliar with the show it featured three B-celebrities, usually Jamie Farr, Artie Johnson, and Jaye P. Morgan, who would watch talent acts performed by amateurs. The acts were usually done in the comic and absurd vein and could include anything from singing, dancing, or stand-up comedy. If they were really bad the celebrities would get out of their seats and bang a big gong that was behind them, which would have the performer thrown off. If the participant avoided being gonged they would then have the potential of winning a monetary prize at the end.

If you were not a fan of the show then you probably won’t be a fan of this movie either. If you were a fan you still might not like it because Barris acts consistently embarrassed by his creation and seems to want to disown it.

The film lacks cohesion. It mixes absurdity with surrealism and even trashy segments thrown in for good measure. The quirky bits are forced and the ‘hilarious’ dialogue is just plain stupid. There is also too many scenes involving a stuffy, uptight network boss who is so over- the-top clichéd that he becomes annoying.

Barris never seemed completely cut out for a game show host and even less as a leading man. He has no charisma and  spends the whole time moping around. He comes off as very burdened making you wonder if his stories about being a part-time CIA hit man were true. Either way he is not an engaging centerpiece for a movie. It would have been better had it broadened out and shown more of “The Gong Show” cast especially Jaye P. Morgan who is as raunchy as ever in the few scenes that she is in including her topless part!

The show always had a unique and perverse brilliance, which comes out every time it features one of the acts from the show making me feel that using this simply as a highlight reel of all of the best and most outrageous acts would have been a better idea. The ones that they show aren’t bad, but they are cut pretty short. A few of the ones that I liked featured two teenaged girls performing fellatio with their popsicles. Another one has three men standing at a urinal and making music with their zippers until one of their zippers gets caught! There is also two obese Siamese twins singing the Captain and Tennille hit ‘Love Will Keep Us Together’.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 23, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated R (Language, Brief Nudity, Raunchy Humor)

Director: Chuck Barris

Studio: Universal

Available: None

Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad (1967)

oh dad poor dad

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Overprotective mother dominates son.

This is an awful, awful film based on the Arthur Kopit stage play of the same name. Overly domineering mother Madame Rosepettle (Rosalind Russell) keeps her son Jonathan (Robert Morse), who is 25, in a near infantile state. She also travels around with her dead husband in a coffin. Problems ensue when they arrive at a resort and meet up with nubile Rosalie (Barbra Harris) who tempts Jonathan and threatens to break him away from his mother’s clutches.

If done right this film could have, I suppose, gained some sort of cult following. Yet it is so poorly realized and so thoroughly botched that it is impossible to know where one could begin to improve it as it deserves to be in the top ten of worst movies of all time.

One of the problems is the setting itself. For some reason it was filmed in Montego Bay, Jamaica. This certainly does provide for sunny and exotic scenery, but it does not at all work with its twisted, dark subject matter. The music score is also really bad. It was done by Neal Hefti the same man who did the music for the “Batman” TV-show and the soundtrack here sounds just like that one. He also has the theme song sung by children which is as irritating as nails scratching on a blackboard. The color schemes are garish and ugly. The humor is flat and the story itself is threadbare. When you get past the weird fringes all you have left is a stale, plodding coming-of- age tale.

Morse seems a natural for the part as the ‘man-child’ since he has always had a very boyish face. Yet, in an attempt to show that he is never let outside, he is made to look extremely pale and the effect is a bit sickening to look at. His infantile state is played too much to the extreme and comes off as pathetic. It is not at all funny even in an absurd, or dark way.

Russell’s presence makes it somewhat interesting. She was a legendary actress and this was certainly a very unique career move. Maybe she wanted to prove herself versatile after her Mother Superior part in The Trouble with Angels, which she had done just a year before doing this, yet in hindsight it was bad judgment. Seeing her in the strange part is fun for a few seconds, but eventually it gets over-the-top. She ends up looking like Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest. You do however get to see her wear a variety of wigs and even do a wild water ski stunt at the end.

Harris has always been one terrific actress and she is good even here and the only reason I’m giving this film one point. She made a career out of playing neurotic women, but here plays a more normal one and it is interesting to compare this performance with her others.

Jonathan Winters (no relation) adds some amusing bits doing voice-over as the dead father. He was brought in after the film was completed and some of his lines have nothing to do with the plot.

The message of the story is nebulous. The video box cover states that it is a study of “human confusion”. Yet the characters seem too extreme to be relatable on any human level. They also don’t evolve and act the same idiotic way at the end as they did at the beginning so neither they nor the viewer come to any better understanding of anything. It is a complete waste of time.This film deserves its near extinct status and isn’t fun even as a curio.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: February 15, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Richard Quine

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS

Bunny O’Hare (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bette becomes a hippie.

Extremely odd Bette Davis vehicle made in her later years when her career had crested and she was forced to be less choosy about her projects. The story has to do with a lonely widow named Bunny O’Hare (Davis) who losses her home to foreclosure and is rendered homeless. She meets an older man named Bill Gruenwald (Ernest Borgnine) who is an escaped bank robber. Together they dress up as hippies and rob banks throughout the state of New Mexico in order to survive.

Davis is exceptional. Usually she plays cold, manipulative characters, but here she gives a perfect, touching performance as a nice old lady. She is terrific in every scene that she is in and the only bright spot in what is otherwise a misfire. Borgnine though seems wasted and thrown in only as a stock character.

The story really has nowhere to go. The intention was to make the film a mixture of social satire and slapstick, but it fails on either end. The novelty wears off quickly and it soon becomes derivative. Initially their ploy to rob the banks seemed clever as Bill releases a bird into the bank, which causes such a distraction that they are able to rob it without detection, but it becomes tiring when it gets played-out again and again. The police are portrayed as being universally bumbling and making it seem like a six-year old could rob a bank and easily get away with it. I also did not like the banjo music being played as they are trying to get away from the cops as it seems too similar to the much better film Bonnie and Clyde and in fact the original title for this movie was going to be ‘Bunny and Claude’.

The casting of Jack Cassidy as Lieutenant Greely, the policeman who becomes obsessed with capturing them, should’ve worked.  He was very adept at playing cold, cunning, slightly offbeat characters as evidenced by his Emmy Award winning performances on the old Columbo TV-show as well as the cult TV-series He and She. He was the husband of actress Shirley Jones and the father of Shaun and David Cassidy whose career was unfortunately cut short when he ended up dying in a fire in 1976 after falling asleep with a lit cigarette. His unique talent here is stifled because the character is portrayed as being unrealistically dimwitted and saps any possible energy from the scenes that he is in.

Actress Joan Delaney makes a terrific addition as his female counterpart R.J. Hart. She is young, attractive, and hip. She plays off of Greely’s old, regimented ways quite well and it is a shame that, with the exception of a very brief appearance in the 1991 comedy Scenes From a Mall, this ended up being her last film.

The New Mexico landscape is nice, but I got the feeling that the location shooting had not been scouted out sufficiently. The police station didn’t look authentic at all. It seemed like scenes where shot in any building that they were able to attain a film permit. The lighting consists of one bright spotlight put on the subject while the sides of the frame and the background are dark and shadowy. Sometimes, in a good movie, this is done for artistic effect, but here I felt it was more because that was all they could afford. This one is for Bette Davis completest only.

Well known character actors John Astin and Reva Rose appear as Bunny’s two grown children, but are essentially wasted. The then acting governor of New Mexico, David Cargo, plays one of the state troopers.  Larry Linville, who would later become famous for playing Major Frank Burns on the classic TV-series M*A*S*H, can be seen very briefly at the end, but has no lines of dialogue.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 18, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gerd Oswald

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: Netflix Streaming

Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1971)

 

happy birthday wanda june

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Macho men are annoying.

Since today is my birthday I’ve decided to spend the next two days reviewing films with a birthday theme. Today’s review is based on a play by celebrated writer (and Indianapolis native) Kurt Vonnegut Jr., who also wrote the screenplay.  It examines what happens when an egotistical man and war hero from the past (Rod Steiger) returns home after abandoning his family eight years earlier.

Vonnegut’s script takes a lot of shots and makes some great comments about the empty bravado of the male image and the male’s changing role and expectations in modern society.  The protagonist, Harold Ryan, is deftly written as a relic from the past harboring all the age-old macho characteristics and clinging onto embellishments of the past while unable to evolve, or even communicate with those around him. Dr. Woodley (George Grizzard) represents the more educated and new-age man who is peaceful, sensitive, and cultured. The story revolves around the two battling for the same woman (Susannah York) and culminates with an interesting and off-beat symbolic type of showdown.

Director Mark Robson does an adequate job of implementing a cinematic quality to what is otherwise a filmed stage play. The cutaways involving dead characters that are now in heaven and speak directly to the camera help, but there needed to be more of them and more evenly placed. I would have also liked a few scenes shot outside and in the daytime as the perpetual indoor scenery becomes stagnating and claustrophobic.

Steiger, normally a very good and diverting actor, seems miscast here. He is never convincing as a tough guy and it affects the story’s impact. York, another fine actress if given the right role, doesn’t seem right for her part either although she does look surprisingly sexy in a skimpy waitress outfit during a flashback scene.

I did like the child performers and felt that they did better than their adult counterparts. Steven Paul is excellent as Paul Ryan who initially idolizes his father until exposed to his many flaws. Pamelyn Ferdin is cute as Wanda June, the girl who gets hit by an ice cream truck and spends the entire time jaunting through heaven. Ferdin later became a famous animal activist and was runner-up for the Regan MacNeil role in The Exorcist. Linda Blair was of course great, but Ferdin’s uniquely piercing gaze always made me wonder if she might have ended up playing the part better.

William Hickey is engaging and amusing as Harold’s best friend. Don Murray almost steals it from everyone as Herb Shuttle a very vapid man whose pathetic attempts at trying to be macho are hilarious and make up most of the film’s humor.

The one thing that eventually ruined it for me was the main character who is too obnoxious. At least Archie Bunker in ‘All in the Family’ had a vulnerable side, but the guy here is ignorant without being funny and having to watch the callous way he treats everyone is straining and unpleasant. Also,the musical score is dreary and almost non-existent.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 9, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated R (Adult Theme, Language)

Director: Mark Robson

Studio: Columbia

Availability: None 

Taking Off (1971)

taking off 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Running away from home.

This is a thoroughly entertaining gem that takes a look at the early 70’s American culture through a foreigner’s eyes in this Milos Forman’s first American feature. The comedy bounces playfully from the wry, to the absurd and even the satirical without ever losing its charm.

The film examines what happens when parents Larry and Lynn Tyne (Buck Henry, Lynn Carlin) find that their daughter Jeannie (Linnea Heacock) has run away. Instead of focusing on the teen, as most films tend to do, it instead looks at the parents. It shows that the adolescent years can be as awkward for the father and mother as it is for the teen and parenting is a journey much like growing up is. I especially liked the part of the message showing how people in their forties have a need to run away and find themselves too.

The film matches its unique perspective with offbeat humor. You get to see parents smoking pot for the first time in order for them to experience what the kids go through. Another scene has them getting together for a wild game of strip poker. There are also amusing cutaways of auditioning singers, which is where the daughter runs away too. One of the singers is a sweet young thing who sings a soft melody that is laced with the word ‘fuck’ and has to be heard to be really appreciated.

Both actors who play the parents are excellent. Balding, bespectacled Henry fits the mold as the overworked, henpecked father/husband quite well and it is fun to see him display isolated moments of unexpected rebellion. Carlin conveys a nice characterization of an overwrought mother who wants to communicate with her daughter, but has no idea how.

Jeannie is the one we learn the least about, which is actually to the film’s benefit. This isn’t just the Tyne’s daughter, it’s everybody’s daughter complete with all the trials and tribulations that every parent goes through with their teen. In fact the film’s most definitive moment is probably the freeze-frame shot of disdain on the daughter’s face as her parents try to entertain her and her boyfriend with a song from ‘their’ generation. It’s the type of look that defines the parent/teenager relationship no matter if it’s today, tomorrow, or a hundred years from now, which may help to make it accessible to today’s viewers despite an overabundance of early 70’s period flavor.

Characters actors Audra Lindley, Paul Benedict, and Vincent Schiavelli are terrific in support. This also marked the film debuts of Georgia Engel and Kathy Bates. Ike and Tina Turner appear as themselves.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: March 28, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R (Language, Adult Theme, Brief Nudity)

Director: Milos Foreman

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD (Region 2)

Harry in Your Pocket (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: They take people’s wallets

Ray (Michael Sarrazin) is an amateur pickpocket who has no luck trying it on his own. He meets Sandy (Trish Van Devere) who has just lost everything and the two decide to get into the pickpocket racket as a simple means for survival.  They get hooked up with Harry (James Coburn) and his mentor Casey (Walter Pidgeon) who teach them the fine art of pickpocketing while preying on summer tourists in Seattle.

The film’s main selling point is the ensemble cast that work off each other quite well. Coburn is engaging and energetic as usual. It is hard to imagine him giving a poor performance and he can usually make even the dullest material interesting and his appearance here proves no exception.

Pidgeon is equally diverting as the elder member of the group. His career was already fading at this point and this ended up being one of his last performances. It is unique in the fact that his character suffers from a major cocaine habit and it is quite possibly the only time in film history where you will see a 77 year old main sniffing up the white stuff, which he does on several occasions.

Sarrazin, who unfortunately passed away last year, is dependable as always. I know female fans fell in love with his big, sad, baby blue eyes, but some critics lambasted him as being ‘boring’ and ‘transparent’, but I always have found him quite competent in dramatic roles in a nice, quietly understated manner.

Surprisingly though it is Van Devere who comes off best and practically ends up carrying the film. She was never given enough varied roles for me to ever formulate any real opinion of her, but here she does quite well. I liked her savvy nature and some of her snappy comebacks. Despite being surrounded by all men she handles herself with ease and even seems at times to intimidate them.

The only problem I had with her character is how she is introduced.  She meets Ray at a train station and after talking to him finds out that he stole her watch. She goes running after him while leaving her luggage and purse unattended. When she is able to retrieve her watch from him she returns only to find that someone has now stolen her suitcase and purse.  She takes this sudden predicament too much in stride and doesn’t even go to the police about it. Instead she decides to get into Ray’s life of stealing even though she has no criminal past. She even ends up going to bed with Ray later that very same afternoon even though I would think most people would be too stressed out for sex at a time like that let alone doing it with a stranger.

The film was done on-location in Seattle. Normally I always applaud films that are shot outside of the studio back-lot, but here it becomes almost a distraction.  Director Bruce Geller seems much too preoccupied with capturing the scenery than he does in propelling the story. There is one segment that takes place in the middle of the film that deals with the four characters taking a very long, drawn out boat cruise that almost morphs into an advertisement sanctioned by the state of Washington’s department of tourism. It features very little dialogue and no character development and seems only done as an excuse to show the picturesque landscape. It even has them feeding the seagulls in slow motion, which really gets to be too much.

If the film fails anywhere it is in the fact that it is too somber and dramatic for its own good. I would have thought this type of idea would have worked well as a comedy, but instead everything is kept at a generally serious level.  Yes, some of the tactics that they use to rob the people have amusing moments, but it tends to play itself out quickly. It sticks pretty much to the tried and true character driven formula that was trendy during that era, but also very predictable and downbeat. The music score has a depressing quality that I did not like and although on a technical end this film is passable it also unremarkable.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 23, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bruce Geller

Studio: United Artists

Available: Amazon Instant Video

Mixed Company (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Racist coach adopts kids.

Kathy Morrison (Barbra Harris) works at an adoption agency that specializes in placing minority children into stable homes. Although she already has three children of her own, she comes under pressure to ‘practice what she preaches’ and adopt one herself. Her husband Pete (Joseph Bologna) is the head coach of the Phoenix Suns basketball team who are in amidst of a very long losing streak. He is reticent to the idea as he feels he will soon be fired and also harbors certain latent racist feelings. However, when it is found that they can longer conceive a child of their own due to him suffering from the mumps, they decide to go ahead with the idea. At first they adopt a young African American boy and eventually add a Vietnamese girl and an Indian boy.

The film was written and directed by Melville Shavelson, who only six years earlier had done the successful Yours, Mine, and Ours about a widow woman with eight children marrying a widower with ten. Clearly he was trying to go back to the same well, but the concept is uninspired and forced. The plot is too simple and formulaic. I sat through the whole thing feeling like I had seen it all somewhere else before. There is some snappy dialogue at the beginning, but it quickly runs out of gas. The pacing is poor and it plods along with no real momentum or cohesion.  The lighting is flat and the action is captured like it was made for a TV sitcom instead of the big screen.

The children deliver their lines in a robotic fashion and the script gives them little that is clever, or interesting to say. I did like the six year old Indian boy named Joe (Stephan Honanie) who is cute and precocious, but he does have a propensity to pick his nose and there is one icky scene where he appears to eat what he has picked out of it. The film did generate some controversy at the time of its release for featuring the kids swearing, but this amounts to nothing more than a few ‘damns’ here and there. I kind of liked the fact that the kids weren’t portrayed as complete wide-eyed innocents and their salty behavior seemed realistic, but the problems and issues that they deal with are highly contrived.

Joseph Bologna is a standout. His brash, flippant, hard-edged persona is terrific and fun. It is the one thing that holds the movie together and keeps it from being a complete bore.

The basketball sequences are clearly staged. They do edit in some actual footage, but it’s done on a different film stock, which is distracting. I think the one thing that really bugged me in this area is that Pete eventually gets fired as the coach due to the team’s continual losing. Yet, only a few days later the owner of the team comes back and begs him to return. Besides being a movie fan I am also an avid sports follower and I can attest that this has never happened. Yes, sometimes a coach is fired and then many years later he can return to coaching the same team, but that is usually because it is under different management and it is rare. There was also New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner who hired and fired manager Billy Martin a total of five different times, but that was an extreme anomaly and he never rehired him after just a few games. I know movies and especially TV-shows never want to show our favorite characters getting fired and STAYING fired even though it happens to real people all the time and it only makes sense that film characters should deal with the same types of hardships.

It is difficult to tell what audience this movie was aimed for. There is not enough action or comedy to keep the kids entertained, but it also lacks the sophistication needed for adults. After a total of 105 minutes it becomes strained and tedious.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 18, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Melville Shavelson

Studio: United Artists

Available: Netflix streaming

The April Fools (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Affair between married people.

Director Stuart Rosenberg was on a high note in 1967.  He had just won rave reviews for his cult hit Cool Hand Luke and many felt he was well on his way to being Hollywood’s next top director only to follow it up with this incredibly vapid and stupid romance movie.

It involves a married man by the name of Howard Brubaker (Jack Lemon) who meets an attractive woman named Catherine Gunther (Catherine Deneuve) at a party. They spend the evening walking around outside and having nothing more than a casual conversation, which is enough to make him decide to leave his wife (Sally Kellerman) and child, quit his high paying executive job, and run off with her to Paris.

The story is pretty threadbare and filled with a lot of characters and situations that are not fleshed out at all.  This almost seems like a partial treatment to a main script that never got completed.  This movie provides no real tension, conflict, or subplots.  Most movies dealing with potential romances usually has one or both of the participants second guessing themselves as to whether they should move ahead with the relationship especially when both of the people are married like they are here.  These two fall in love so amazingly quickly that they make the art and act of dating seem completely unnecessary.

A much better idea would have been to have this quick romance act as only the starting point.  The film then should have cut to 5 or 10 years later where we could have seen how this relationship fared, or evolved. This would have given much better perspective to both the movie and characters.

I also have never felt that two people having an affair is a real good catalyst for a love story because it seems to go against the whole ‘true and everlasting love’ theme that propels most romance stories.  After all if someone can’t stay fully committed to one person what is to say that they will be able to do so with someone else.  To give the argument that they are just ‘crazy’ about this new person doesn’t work because at some point they must have been ‘crazy’ about the person they are currently with or they wouldn’t have married them. So what is to say that in a few years time when the newness of the relationship wears off that the whole vicious cycle won’t just get repeated.  I don’t have the exact statistics in front of me, but research has shown that people who cheat on one person are prone to doing it with their next partner simply because it is in their nature.

In some ways I could see why Catherine would consider leaving her husband, which is well played by Peter Lawford, simply because the guy is a womanizing lout in the worst way.  It is understandable that she may have been initially mesmerized by his wealth and charisma and only had her eyes opened to his shallowness years later.  However, Howard’s marriage didn’t really seem that bad and what is worse is the fact that he had a 5 year old son whom he seemed to have no problem abandoning without even a second thought.

The whole thing comes off like some uninspired idea by some studio head who wanted to make a ‘sure-fire’ hit by throwing together every contrived romantic element he could think of, piecing it together with a flimsy script, and then using the star-power of Lemon and Deneuve to cover up all the holes.  Everything here seems forced and that includes the humor.  Lemon’s duel with Charles Boyer is overdone and irrelevant.  There is also a scene where Howard’s friend (Jack Weston) drives him to the airport while being completely drunk and weaving in and out of on-coming traffic.  Today’s audiences would find this to be highly irresponsible and also terribly unfunny, which it is.

There are some potentially funny ideas that scriptwriter Hal Dresner never seems to think of.  For instance Catherine ends up being the wife of Howard’s new boss.  This could have been a goldmine of a lot of funny scenarios as the two tried sneaking around behind his back. The Lawford character does eventually corner Howard at the airport just as he is ready to board the plane and go off to Paris with Catherine, but even this potential confrontation gets botched badly.

I did really like Deneuve and her presence is the only real good thing about this movie. She looks radiant and I enjoyed the cool, chic way she responds to all the situations she is put in. This also marked her American movie debut.

Lemon though does not fare as well.  He overplays the high-strung businessman persona until it becomes tiresome.  He is nervous and befuddles every second that he is on the screen until you wonder how he was ever able to impress anyone enough to be able to obtain the prestigious position that he has at his company.

The supporting cast is stellar, but not used enough.  Jack Weston has a funny bit as he explains the goofy way that he handled an affair of his own.  Harvey Korman is amusing as a man who tries stealing the alluring Deneuve away from Lemon at the last minute.  It is also fun to see Melinda Dillon in her film debut.  She is best known for her supporting dramatic roles, but here she plays a giggling, ditzy blonde.  She is paired up with comic character actor Kenneth Mars and the two have the makings of being a great hammy couple. Unfortunately they are not given enough screen time, nor enough good lines, to really make it gel. Myrna Loy and Charles Boyer, as a long-time married couple, are essentially wasted.

Besides Deneuve there were a few other things that I did like about the movie.  The Burt Bacharach score is certainly pleasing on the ears.  There is a funky, mod 60’s party that takes place at the beginning of the film that features a lot of weird art exhibits that are nicely realized by award-winning set designer Richard Sylbert. I found the exhibit that featured a faucet dangling in mid-air while running a constant stream of water to be fascinating. I also enjoyed the scene where Deneuve and Lemon go to a wild nightclub where they are handed pop guns as they sit down which they can use to shoot at the rear-ends of the waitresses when they want to get their attention. I thought this was a genuinely neat idea that should be used at every restaurant.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 28, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stuart Rosenberg

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD (Import)

Entertaining Mr. Sloane (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The first gay marriage.

Based on the Joe Orton play of the same name, this film deals with a handsome young stranger named Sloane (Peter McEnery) who becomes a lodger at an isolated household in the English countryside. He is on the run from a murder he committed and feels this will be a safe haven due to the only other inhabitants being a quirky old lady name Katherine (Beryl Reid) and her equally quirky father Kemp (Alan Webb).  Katherine, or Kath, takes a sexual interest in Sloane despite their wide age difference, which Sloane doesn’t mind as he uses this to manipulate her. When Kath’s brother Ed (Harry Andrews) arrives and takes an amorous interest in Sloane as well, he does the same thing to him. Then Kemp recognizes Sloane as the killer and Sloane is forced to kill him, which culminates with ironic results.

Playwright Orton was years ahead of his time. His plays always had a dark, sexual, even explicit nature to them and his characters were always perverse and amoral in a darkly hilarious way. It is unfortunate that he was bludgeoned to death in 1967 by his jealous gay lover and his career was cut short. However, this adaptation done by screenwriter Clive Exton seems to miss the mark. The dialogue is endless with very little action. The other adaptation of Orton’s work that was made into a film, Loot, was much more lively and full of a lot of campy, zany humor as well as quick edits and imaginative camerawork. This film is visually dull and all the action is jammed into a cramped, dark house with bland decorations. It never really gets going until the final 15 minutes when you get to see the world’s very first gay marriage performed, but by then it is much too late.

For 1970 this film does seem edgy and even controversial in certain parts. The gay erotic subtext is quite strong especially the way the camera scans Sloane’s tan, half naked body. There is also Ed’s pink Cadillac that he drives around, which I got a real kick out of. I liked the way it squeaked as he drove it and was constantly bouncing up and down.  There is also his very provocative hood ornament of a naked man that the camera hones in on. The best part comes when Ed washes his car and is more focused on the ornament, which he lovingly caresses with his towel, than the rest of the vehicle.

However, 40 years later this stuff seems pretty tame and there are too many segments where nothing happens and is handled too conventionally.  It seemed like director Douglas Hickox really didn’t get, or appreciate the material enough, or interpret it in some interesting way because the final result is nothing more than a filmed stage play. The music that is used is terrible and almost enough to get you to turn off the film. It also gets overused and played over scenes when it isn’t needed and hurts the film’s mood in the process.

The biggest problem with the film may actually be with actress Reid herself. Don’t get me wrong this is a wonderfully unique actress who has done some memorable work. I especially liked her in The Killing of Sister George, and she is quite good here as well. However, I do have two issues. The first is a small one. It involves the fact that the character wears dentures. In one scene Sloane supposedly knocks them out and breaks them, but then Reid turns around and screams and you can see that she still has teeth in her mouth.  The other, much more serious issue is the fact that near the beginning of the film she is seen walking through a cemetery in broad daylight wearing a see through blouse. Now with some woman this can be quite sexy and I certainly wouldn’t complain, but when they are 60 and looking more like 70 this is a bad idea, even for perversely comical purposes as it is here it is still a bad idea. What is even worse is when she turns around and a gust of wind blows up her skirt and you can see her entire bare backside, which might be enough to make some viewers sick.

Now, before anyone accuses me of ageism let me relate an interesting experience that happened to me. Back in 2003 I was home from work and decided to take in a movie. I was living in Chicago at the time and I went to the neighborhood theater to see the interesting French mystery Swimming Pool starring Ludivine Sagnier and Charlotte Rampling.  It was a Tuesday and little did I know that it was senior discount day and the place was packed, literally, with people all looking well over the age of 70. The lady that sat beside me looked to be at least 80 and came in using a walker. The film featured an abundance of nudity from the young and attractive Sagnier, which I thought might shock and offend the seniors, but no one reacted to it and everyone went on enjoying the film. Then, towards the end of the movie, 58 year-old actress Rampling starts to take off her clothes and this indeed elicited a nervous response from the crowd. The lady next to me even said ‘oh dear’. In all fairness Rampling didn’t look all that bad naked, but it still hits home the point that even old people don’t want to see other old people naked.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 27, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Douglas Hickox

Studio: Continental Distributing

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 2)