Tag Archives: Obscure Movies

Happy Birthday Gemini (1980)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gay son comes out. 

A brother and sister by the name of Judith and Randy Hastings ( Sarah Holcomb, David Marshall Grant) travel to Philadelphia over the summer to visit their college friend Francis Geminiani (Alan Rosenberg).  Judith dated Francis during the school year and wants to continue the relationship. Francis though has come to terms with his homosexuality and realizes that he is now more attracted to her brother.  The story examines their adjustments and attitudes to this news as well as the many eccentric characters that make up the neighborhood.

Despite not rating well with the critics, I kind of liked this movie for the most part. The film was directed by Richard Benner who received acclaim for the directing the groundbreaking Canadian film Outrageous. I think he captured the row houses and inner-city neighborhoods of Philadelphia well. My Mother is from the city and I spent many summers visiting there. I enjoyed the bright color schemes of the different houses as well the character’s costumes. The movie has a very European feel featuring a lot of long takes and a leisurely pace. The characters are also much more open-minded and accepting of each other’s transgressions than you would usually find in an American film.  The toe-tapping ragtime music and upbeat ending help fill it out.

Kudos must also go to Madeline Kahn and her performance as Bunny Weinberger. I was very impressed with this woman’s comedic skills after seeing her in What’s Up Doc as well as in Paper Moon. I didn’t think anything could top those, but this comes close. Her portrayal of a foul-mouthed, ditzy blonde with a very heavy eastern accent is outstanding and a highlight of the whole movie.  Her scenes in a courtroom where she has to defend herself from a battery charge as well as a nicely photographed scene where she threatens to jump off an abandoned building are two of her best moments.

Where the film fails is in the fact that there is little cohesion between the scenes. The film goes off on long tangents, particularly with the Bunny character, until it seems like Francis’s problem is only a side-story. There is a lot of extraneous dialogue that goes nowhere and was not needed. A 115 minute runtime is much too long for this kind of material.  For a comedy the laughs are lacking and the script needed to be injected with a lot more witty conversations and sharp one-liners. Rita Moreno is completely wasted as the character of Lucille Pompi.  She has nothing funny to say and it would have been more entertaining if they had built up more conflict between her and the Bunny character as the two had very contrasting values. The subject matter itself is no longer fresh or groundbreaking and the film failed to put any new or interesting spin on the topic. Although I liked the positive message I still felt that it glossed over the homophobic sentiments that are still out there and did not do its subject matter any real justice.

Fans of Kahn should see this, but others may find it placid and lacking in any type of distinctive quality.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 2, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Benner

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS

Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Married to a jerk.

Director Frank Perry may not be a name one throws out when mentioning some of the top directors, but a lot of his early work that he did with his screenwriter wife Eleanor were definite forerunners of the independent film movement and ahead of their time. David and Lisa was their first and it dealt with the budding romance between two patients at a mental hospital. Ladybug Ladybug was their follow-up and it was the true story of what happens when an errant nuclear warning siren goes off and the staff and students of a small rural school think it is for real. There was also the critically acclaimed film Last Summer dealing with the brutal gang rape of a teen girl by her so called ‘friends’.  They also did the revisionist western Doc starring Stacy Keach as well as the brilliantly quirky Rancho Deluxe.  However, it is Diary of a Mad Housewife that I find to be their very best.

It is the story based on the best-selling novel by Sue Kaufman dealing with the character of Tina Balser.  On the outside she seems to be living the American dream. She is married to a up and coming lawyer, living in a swank Manhattan apartment, and the mother of two beautiful girls.  Unfortunately the husband is an obnoxious bore, the girls are spoiled and mouthy, and she feels lonely and depressed.  She decides to have an affair with a novelist, but he ends up treating her just as poorly and when she tells her troubles to a support group, they end up doing the same.

I have seen this film many times over the past twenty years and am always impressed at the fluid way it goes between satire and drama as well as the fact that it doesn’t seem dated at all. The scenes with Richard Benjamin as the jerk husband are hilariously over-the-top.  Yet the scenes involving Frank Langella as the lover who is bitter about his lagging writing career and repressed homosexuality and takes these frustrations out on Tina, are just as interesting, but in a much more subtle way.  In fact these scenes feature some great dialogue and character development and I find them more intriguing with each viewing.  Langella, in his film debut, makes a lasting impression.

The cinematography, editing, and color schemes are also first-rate. Perry does a great job in infusing the counter-culture movement of the time with the old values of marriage and family. The mod party that they go to is well staged with scantily clad mannequins in a provocative poses placed throughout.  The pretentious attitudes of the party goers is nicely captured.  This scene also features the Alice Cooper Band as well as giant pillow fight.

Carrie Snodgrass performance is what really makes this work.  She was nominated for the Academy Award and she should have won it. Her ability to display her characters feelings through such subtle methods as facial expressions, body gestures, and reactions is impressive.  The viewer can easily relate to the character and feel her pain.  Rock singer Neil Young was so impressed with her that he wrote her a fan letter and the two ended up getting into a relationship. Unfortunately because of this she dropped out of Hollywood and didn’t do another movie until almost nine years later.  When she returned all the top roles were no longer accessible and she was relegated to ‘B’ movies and small supporting roles until finally succumbing to cancer in 2004. This was a real shame because her talents were never fully utilized, but at least this was a perfect vehicle for her and one that movie fans today can really appreciate.

In the end though what makes this film so very good is that it makes a great statement on the fact that isolation is a part of modern day living and at some point everyone will have to deal with.  Getting married, having kids, even having a lover or a support group will not necessarily be an effective buffer and may actually only exacerbate it. The whole film kind of reminded me of a statement made by a character on the old ‘Ally McBeal’ TV-show “My loneliest times in life are when someone is lying in bed next to me.”

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: August 10, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes (Theater Version) 1Hour 35Minutes (TV Version)

Rated R

Director: Frank Perry

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS

Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed? (1963)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Carol Burnett does striptease.

Every time I get annoyed by many of today’s Hollywood comedies that seem to be nothing more than a stretched out idea for an episode of a sitcom, one only has to go back into time to find that the comedies of yesteryear weren’t always much better. Of course there were some classics, but a lot of vapid ones in the mix as well. In fact this one is so trite that it becomes almost agonizing to sit through. It was considered in its time to be a ‘sex farce’, but fails to deliver on either.

The old adage ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know’ has never been truer in this instance. I have attended many screenwriting classes and seminars and can verify there is a lot of good stuff out there that hasn’t been read unfortunately because the authors don’t have the right connections. In this case the screenplay was written by Jack Rose who had previous writing success with such films as My Favorite Brunette, Houseboat, and The Road to Rio. Judging from its lack of creativity Rose probably wrote this real quickly to make some fast cash and the studio heads gave it the green light simply based on his past success without ever looking at it critically.

The plot, if you can call it that, has to do with TV-star Jason Steel (Dean Martin) who plays the part of a popular Dr. on a TV-series.  His TV character matches all the ideal qualities that women want in a man and thus he always has women chasing after him in real-life. He even has the wives of his friends coming on to him. With so many married women telling him how unhappy they are in their marriages he begins to fear that marriage may not be a good idea and thus calls off his impending engagement to beautiful Melisa Morris (Elizabeth Montgomery).  Melisa is devastated by this, so her goofy roommate Stella Irving (Carol Burnett, in her film debut) hatches up a kooky scheme in order to get him to reconsider.

This film gets tiring right from the beginning.  Jason goes out with his buddies every Thursday night to play poker, but then during the game he always gets a call from one of his buddy’s wives telling him they have to see him.  He leaves the game and meets them at his place and then fights off their advances. This silly scenario gets repeated four different times with all four of his friend’s wives and it’s like being told the same dumb joke over and over. This triviality ends up taking up the whole first hour before it moves into the scheme portion, which really doesn’t even measure up to a weak episode of ‘I Love Lucy’.

Out of the whole ninety minutes there are only two scenes that are mildly amusing.  One is when Jason pushes everyone into a pool and they fall in like dominoes and the other is when Stella goes to a strip club and is forced to go onstage and do a striptease when she can’t pay for her drinks, which makes great use of Burnett’s ad-libbing abilities.

Burnett and Montgomery make an interesting pair. Montgomery is a good straight-man to Burnett’s zaniness and with a better script this could’ve been ideal casting. Montgomery did this film just before she started her long running series ‘Bewitched’. She looks gorgeous and gives the film’s best performance.

There is a long list of excellent male character actors here including: Martin Balsam, Jack Soo, Richard Conte, Louis Nye, and Johnny Silver. All of them are wasted with very little to do. Except for the money I don’t know why any of them took their parts.

The satirical jabs at TV-dramas are too gentle and not even good for a chuckle.  If one is considering getting married then I would definitely not suggest it as the script takes so many potshots at the institution that it is liable to give anyone second thoughts.

Although this was made as a vehicle for Martin I feel even fans of Dino will be disappointed. It really doesn’t take advantage of his persona and he seems as bored with the material as the viewer and just going through the paces. Despite the interesting cast this is an all-around disappointment.

My Rating: 3 out of 10.

Released: December 25, 1963

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Delber Mann

Studio: Paramount

Available: Netflix Streaming

T. R. Baskin (1971)

tr baskin

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Out on her own.

T. R. Baskin (Candice Bergen) is a young woman who leaves the nest by striking out on her own in Chicago. Unfortunately she finds nothing but a lot of loneliness, dead-end dates, crummy apartments, and soul-sucking jobs. Our protagonist becomes so emotionally beaten down that when a traveling salesman named Jack Mitchell (Peter Boyle) calls her looking for a ‘good time’, as he mistakenly is given her number under the impression that she is a prostitute, T.R. accepts his invitation simply as a chance to connect with someone. The film then cuts back and forth between conversations that she has with Jack in his hotel room as well as her experiences when she first gets into the Windy City.

Although this film does have its share of faults I was really taken aback by its strong emotional impact. The film was directed by Herbert Ross who would later do Footloose, The Goodbye Girl, and Steel Magnolias. The screenplay was written by Peter Hyams famous for writing and directing Capricorn One, Narrow Margin, and 2010 to name a few.

The film manages to recreate the monotony and isolation of day-to-day living better than just about any other movie that I have seen. Some of the best scenes include T.R.’s job interview process at an accounting firm as well as a long camera pan showing all the rows and rows of desks in the office and T.R. looking lost in the middle. There is another part where she sneaks back into the office on a weekend day in order to make silly announcements over their intercom system and the images of all the dark shadowy desks looks just as ominous. Another moving moment is when she is shown pacing her lonely apartment as well as her phone conversation with her parents where she tries to convince them that she is doing ‘just fine’, but breaks down into tears the second it ends.

The film leaves you with a strong impression. The music that was selected was first-rate and fits the mood of the picture perfectly. It is a real shame that this sleeper has never been released on either VHS or DVD and has not been shown on television since December of the 1980 when it was broadcast on Cinemax. It is well worth seeking out and certainly deserves more attention.

Bergen is terrific in the lead. This is before she attained her acerbic persona from her ‘Murphy Brown’ days and here comes off as more shy and sensitive. Her delicate and attractive features help capture the viewer instantly.

Boyle is equally good and the introspective conversations that the two have nicely runs the gamut between funny and sad. James Caan, who for some reason appears unbilled, has a nice cameo as an attractive and intelligent man that T.R. falls for only to have him callously break her heart.

If the film has any flaw it is in the fact that it is a bit uneven. It starts out with some terrific dry humor including a hilarious scene when she goes apartment hunting, but eventually the movie becomes too much of a downbeat drama. There are certainly universal truths to many of the sad situations that she goes through, but I found it frustrating that we are never shown her eventual fate. All we see is a small period in her life and then a very abrupt and unsatisfying ending. It would have been nice if the story had cut to five, ten, even twenty years down the road and allowed us to find out if she ever found ‘Mr. Right’ and some happiness.

Despite being made forty years ago this film is as trenchant and timely as it was back then. People who avoid watching older films because they believe that they are ‘dated’ are being foolish. This film has more bearing in reality and the human experience than a lot of the movies out today.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 20, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: Paramount

Available: Amazon Instant Video

Movie Movie (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two movies in one.

Initially, the unique concept for this film seems intriguing.  The idea was to recreate the movie viewing experience of the 30’s and 40’s by having a double bill feature along with theatrical trailers in between. The stories would have all the clichés, storylines, and characters from films of that era, but done with a tongue and cheek approach. The same core performers including: George C. Scott, his actress wife Trish Van Devere, Red Buttons, Art Carney, and Eli Wallach would play different characters in all the stories much like doing skits on a variety show. Legendary director Stanley Donen, famous for such films as Singing in the Rain, Royal Wedding, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, would direct and the screenplay would be written by Larry Gelbert best known for writing Oh God! and Tootsie.

Unfortunately, it never really takes off. Part of the reason is that the parody is too restrained. There are a few funny lines here and there, but that is about it. This was released two years before the Zucker brother’s groundbreaking hit Airplane that redefined parody and still stands as the standard today. This film doesn’t even come close to that. In fact certain audiences that saw this movie in other countries didn’t get the wry, gentle humor at all and took it seriously. I got the feeling that Gelbert and Donen had gone to the theaters as kids and watched these same types of films. Their affection and nostalgia for this stuff is clearly evident and prevented them from unleashing the over-the-top, in your face farce that would have really made this hilarious and is what most audiences of today expect.

The first feature is entitled ‘Dynamite Hands’ and is a story about a young boxer from the 30’s named Joey Popchik (Harry Hamlin, in his film debut) who becomes a prizefighter in order to pay for his kid sister’s (Kathleen Quinlan) eye operation. This segment features all the expected clichés, but the subtle humor that is injected fails to make it seem fresh or interesting. It was shot in color, but I felt black and white would have been better. The one thing I did like was Hamlin who these days seems pretty washed-up as he appears almost exclusively in direct to video fare, or dumb reality shows with his fat-lipped wife. Yet here he is right on target with his portrayal of the naïve, wet-behind-the-ears, All-American kid and I enjoyed it. Wallach is also fun as the heavy.

The middle segment is a mock theatrical trailer called “Zero Hour” that features Wallach, Scott, and Buttons as WWI flying aces. This was shot in black and white, but is brief and unexceptional. I was disappointed that there wasn’t any silly newsreel footage as this was also a mainstay in theaters during the time and could’ve been a riot.

The third part is a send-up of all the old Busby Berkley musicals and is entitled “Baxter’s Beauties of 1933”.  Scott, who is nicely hammy, plays a famous Broadway producer named Spats Baxter that finds out he is dying from a very rare illness and has only a month to live. He decides to go out on top by putting on the most lavish musical show that he can. Again, like with the others, this segment is a disappointment. The musical numbers, which were choreographed by Michael Kidd, are poorly photographed and with the exception of one routine done on a giant roulette wheel fail to match the spectacular and extravagant quality of Berkley’s. Van Devere’s kitschy performance as an alcoholic, tyrannical leading lady is the only thing that saves it. Gifted actress Barbra Harris is completely wasted in a thankless role of one of the chorus girls that doesn’t take any advantage of her talents.

George Burns, who is credited as the film’s ‘host’, appears only briefly at the beginning, but I would have liked to have seen more of him.

The cast and crew clearly had more fun making this than the viewer had in watching it. The formula is followed too closely and the result is tedium.  Even if you are a fan of films from that period I would still not suggest this as the originals are far better.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 3, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stanley Donen

Studio: ITC Entertainment

Available: Amazon Instant Video

W (1974)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ex-husband is psycho.

For all you trivia buffs out there it may be good to know that Oliver Stone was not the first person to make a film with the twenty-third letter of the alphabet as its title, although that one technically has a period after it.  The first one was in 1974 and starred British super-model Twiggy. She had just made a splash in Ken Russell’s brilliant musical The Boy Friend and this film was supposed to send her to superstardom by proving that she could act by placing her in a completely different genre. Unfortunately for her it never happened.

The film is a thriller and the tagline read ‘W…suspense beyond words’. It is a story about a woman who has remarried but it still being stalked by her psycho ex-husband (Dirk Benedict). His name is William and at all of the scenes of his murders, or ‘accidents’, he scrawls the letter ‘W’, hence the film’s title.

At the time the critics came down hard on Twiggy’s performance, but I kind of liked it. She comes off as very innocuous and vulnerable and in this kind of role it works.  Her present husband was played by Michael Witney, who at the time was her real-life husband.  He was eighteen years older than her, but the age difference is not apparent.  You can tell that the two are genuinely fond of each other and that chemistry helps.  Yet they have no real onscreen presence and too much of the time is spent with only them in it, which hurts.

Viewers enjoyed Eugene Roche’s performance in a supporting role as a detective.  His gritty, matter-of-fact approach is refreshing and gives him some distinction over the other characters who are very transparent. Unfortunately he gets phased out rather quickly and this is too bad because it is the type of persona that could have really carried the film.

Where this film really fails is that way too much time is given to extraneous dialogue that is not interesting and does not propel the plot along.  The scenes are also excruciatingly slow and in great need of quicker cuts and edits.  I would have like to have seen cutaways showing the Twiggy’s character’s relationship with her ex-husband and how that all started, but it is never shown. She doesn’t even end up talking about it until well over an hour into the film and then it is only done briefly.

This is also one of the first thrillers that I have ever seen that has no creepy or pounding music score.  In fact the music is very soft and melodic like something you would hear in an elevator. There is also extended amount of footage showing the couple going sailing, walking hand in hand in a park, or spending time at their lavish beach house, making it seem more like a dreamy romance movie.  Some scary imagery, or just a few shocks are badly needed.  There is one nightmare sequence that has a little potential, but it lasts less than ten seconds and that just isn’t enough.

The film also has a lot of loopholes that completely throws you out of the story.  One is the fact that as they are becoming increasingly terrorized by this ex-husband they decide not to go to the police, but instead call on the services of a private detective, who has ulterior motives and just ends up making things worse. There is also a scene where the killer cuts off two of his fingers and attaches them to the victim’s burned body so when the police identify the body using the fingerprints they think it is the killer.  However, I wasn’t exactly sure how he pulled this off. Certainly he wouldn’t have the skill or time to actually graft the fingers onto the body and even if he did you would still think that the police would notice that the victim had too many fingers.

The biggest head scratcher of them all has got to be the fact that the prison in which the ex-husband resides gives daily tours to the public.  Now I have toured a prison myself in Boise, Idaho, but that was only after the prison had been closed and the prisoners shipped off to another facility.  Here the visitors can get right up next to the prisoners and observe them without any guards, or protection.  The person leading them around is not armed and dresses and acts like a tour guide to a museum.  I would think one of the prisoners could easily obtain a homemade knife of some kind, grab one of these visitors, and use them as a shield to break out. Of course in this film that doesn’t happen, but in real life I think it would, which just makes you wonder what kind of drugs were they on when they made this.

My only interest in watching this film to begin with was seeing Dirk Benedict playing the psychotic.  He is probably best known for the character of Face in the 80’s TV-show ‘The A-Team’.  Not that he is a real great actor or anything, but he has had a career where he usually always plays the nice guy, so I was interested in seeing him as the bad guy. Unfortunately he doesn’t appear until the final ten minutes and these scenes are strained and probably the most boring of the whole film.  His character is also poorly fleshed out with no reason given to his erratic, crazy behavior thus turning him into a cliche.

I came into this film expecting very little and I went away not even getting that much. Being an avid collector of lost films can be fun because every now and then you can come across a real gem, but that was definitely not the case here.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: June 8, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Quine

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: None

John and Mary (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sex and then relationship.

Considered provocative at the time this film detailed the new phenomenon of the one-night-stand, a fad in the late 60’s early 70’s that quickly went out of style upon the release of Looking for Mr Goodbar in 1977.  The story here details a rather nondescript man and woman (played by Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow) who meet at a singles bar and then go back to his place for sex.  The rest of the film involves them considering whether it can grow into a relationship.

The first ten minutes are pretty good. It nicely analyzes all the expected awkwardness one must have of waking up the next morning and not sure who you’ve been sleeping with. I liked how the John character secretly goes through Mary’s purse to find out more about her while Mary does the same with his telephone messages. Unfortunately after this segment Director Peter Yates unwisely decided to put in voice overs of their thoughts. This adds nothing to the proceedings and ends up being heavy-handed. It also takes away one of the fundamental points of good film-making, which is learning about characters through subtle visual observation.

The film is also no where near as sophisticated or daring as I think the film-makers would like us to believe. I expected, and would have like, the male character to have been a life-long swinger who has had many of these flings and now suddenly finds himself attracted to this woman and wants to go in a different direction. Instead we get a Hoffman character portrayed as being someone who has never done this before and only does so at the coaxing of his much more liberated friend.  This leads him to act all shy and unsure and coming off like an extension to the character he played in The Graduate. The end result is getting a very boring, bland person who responds to things in all the predicted ways instead of giving us a fresh new perspective by delving into the mind of someone living a lifestyle many of us have not experienced.  I also got a strong feeling that the film-makers had done very little research into this topic, thus giving the viewer no new insight whatsoever.  It ends up coming off like one of those trendy ‘statement movies’, but with no idea of what statement it actually wants to make.

There is no chemistry between Hoffman and Farrow at all.  Nothing is shown that would indicate why these two would want to pursue this thing any further. I actually found the scenes involving the side-story of Farrow’s affair with an older college professor (Michael Tolan) to be more interesting and filled with stronger more snappy dialogue.

In the end this ‘provocative drama’ deteriorates into being an uninspired love story. It concludes with the tired, cliche ridden scene of having John madly driving around the city of New York looking for this mysterious woman who he is convinced he is in love with despite the fact that he still does not know what her name is.  It is easy to see how, in Hoffman’s very distinguished career, why this film remains one of his lesser known efforts.

On the technical side this film is actually well done.  I liked how it inter-cut between the present day and the past as well as analyzing the previous relationships of the two characters. This film also offers a nice chance to see a young Tyne Daly as Farrow’s roommate.  Cleavon Little from Blazing Saddles fame appears briefly as a would-be film director.  Olympia Dukakis  has an amusing, non-speaking bit as Hoffman’s activist Mother.  This also marks the film debut of character actress Marian Mercer.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Yates

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD

All the Marbles (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: These wrestlers are hot.

Peter Falk does another terrific job playing a lovable, but eccentric character. Here he takes on the role of a con-man type manager of two lady wrestlers (Laurene Landon, Vicki Frederick).

This film marked the final project by director Robert Aldrich who did such classics as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, The Dirty Dozen, and Kiss Me Deadly. Although it didn’t do too much on its initial release, it has since acquired a small, but fervent following. These people insist this is the best movie about wrestling and some even go as far to say it is the best sports-themed movie ever. Warner Brothers has become aware of the attention and has now added it to its special-order DVD collection that can be purchased for twenty-five dollars from its archive website.

I remember when this film was released and after seeing the previews I was convinced it was just a mindless T&A picture, but I have read about enough people who have liked it that I decided I needed to give it a view. However, I came away from the film unimpressed with the majority of it. The main problem is that, although labeled a comedy, they stick in some awkward drama in order to show the downside of the wrestling profession. It doesn’t work because the two women playing the wrestlers can’t act. Landon in particular is a problem. She plays the blonde half and has an annoying monotone quality to her voice making her sound like she is simply reading her lines straight off of the script. Both lady characters seem to react to everything in predictable ways and thus become boring. The scenarios and conversations are soap opera like and end up bogging the whole thing down.

I like the attempt at showing the gritty side of the business and even inserting some realism, but this could have been down in a satirical form while still keeping it consistently funny.  A film like Smile from 1975 made some trenchant comments about the beauty pageant business, but remained funny and clever throughout without any of the strained drama like here.

Now with that said, I can still see why this film has attracted some fans and that is based solely on the wrestling scenes, which are excellent. The two actresses were trained by Mildred Burke a famous female wrestler from the 30’s and 40’s.  The techniques they use are true to form and look very authentic and, at times, even painful. Aldrich captures the action from different angles and it is fast and furious. I am no wrestling fan, but found myself caught up in it. The wrestling scenes are without question the best part of the film and there should have been more of them. The climatic match closely resembles the Rocky formula and it is a lot of fun. The highlight here comes when the two women attack and beat-up the crooked referee (played by Richard Jaeckel).

I must also mention that I like Burt Young as the heavy. He gives off one of the creepiest, weirdest laughs you will ever hear.  It was alsogreat to see legendary Los Angeles Lakers announcer Chick Hearn as the ringside announcer during the final match. He even ends up saying the film’s title.

If you don’t like wrestling than this otherwise obscure film is not worth checking out. If you do like wrestling than this film may be worth it however, I would suggest just fast-forwarding to those scenes and skipping the rest.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 16, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Director: Robert Aldrich

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video

Where It’s At (1969)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father and son argue.

Garson Kanin, best know for penning such comedies as Adam’s Rib (1949), The Girl Can’t Help It (1954), and Born Yesterday (1950), tries his hand at drama here.  David Janssen plays a Las Vegas Casino owner who tries to train his son (Robert Drivas) in the business, so he can take over.  The father is a hard-bitten realist while the son, who has just graduated from college, is a strong idealist.

One of the main problems with this film is that there is nothing distinctive about it.  The arguments between the father and son are  typical stuff. The same topics were argued between ‘Meathead’ and Archie in ‘All in the Family’, but at least there they were funny.  Despite Kanin’s reputation, and despite what some sources list, this film is definitely not a comedy.  There are a few amusing bits by Brenda Vaccaro, who plays Janssen’s secretary and easily steals the film, but that is it.  The rest is  by-the-numbers drama that gets played out in a methodical way.

Despite the Las Vegas setting the sets are dull looking and unimaginative. The opening theme song by Jerry Ball is terrible and the characters unappealing.  I could never get myself involved in the story and kept checking my watch the whole time.

I was interested in seeing this film simply for the presence of Janssen.  I am a big fan of the old ‘The Fugitive’ TV series and was impressed with his work on it.  This film certainly does prove that he can act as his character here is the exact opposite of the Richard Kimble one on the TV show.  There he was always mild-mannered and self-effacing.  Here he is obnoxious and abrasive.  Unfortunately the character stays too one-dimensional in a negative way.  There is never any soft side revealed and thus causing the viewer to be uninterested in seeing what happens to him.

Robert Drivas as the son is another talented and interesting actor whose life and career was sadly cut short by AIDS in 1986.  He had some memorable performances in various TV-shows including ‘The Wild Wild West’ as well as in the movies The Illustrated Man (1969) and Joseph Strickland’s independent classic Road Movie (1974). However, his best ability was in conveying a dark brooding side to his characters, which doesn’t work here.  You never believe for an instant that the character is all that innocent, or honorable because the dark elements start coming out from the beginning.

Don Rickles appears briefly as a card dealer who starts stealing from the house.  When he is caught he breaks down into a long crying spell before he is demoted to a full-time dish washing job until he can pay the money back.  Rickles as a comedian is funny, but as a serious actor he is limited.  Yet it was still fun seeing him play such a wimpy and passive person because it goes completely against his persona.  The film might have been stronger had there been a few more scenes with him.

The film does have a bit of an interesting twist towards the end where the son decides to turn the tables on his father and takes advantage of one of his father’s shady deals by purchasing the casino from under him and then throwing the old man out on the street.  This of course shocks the father and forces him to reevaluate his values as well as what he has taught his son. This might have been more intriguing had the exact same theme not been done so much better in The Godfather movies as well as Harry Chapin’s classic son ‘Cat’s in the Cradle’.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 7, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated R

Director: Garson Kanin

Studio: United Artists

Available: Amazon Instant Video

Thieves (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: A couple drifting apart.

Sally and Martin Cramer (Marlo Thomas, Charles Grodin) are a middle-aged, married couple whose relationship is slowly drifting apart.  They were once connected through their youth and idealism, but now Martin is older and more cynical. He just wants to settle down and live the quiet life as he feels ‘the world is not worth saving’. Sally is still the idealist, she teaches at an inner-city school and even wants to adopt a young African-American boy, which Martin does not want because of the boy’s propensity to steal things. Sally is also pregnant and considering an abortion. The film consists mainly with them arguing about these issues while considering divorce and having affairs.

The film did not go over well with the critics at the time of its release and I was surprised because it was written by renowned playwright Herb Gardner.  I was impressed with Gardner’s talents after seeing the film A Thousand Clowns, which was based on one of his plays. I enjoyed his offbeat characters and situations as well as the sharp one-liners.  I was expecting more of the same here, but found this to be flat and slow going. The idea of having a couple argue almost endlessly for the entire movie can be tough to pull off, but has been successfully done. Most notably in Made for Each Other starring real-life husband and wife Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor as well as Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?. However, in both of those films the characters were eccentric and interesting and their fights were lively and animated.  Here the characters are dull to the point that there is really no reason to care how their marriage turns out, or even what happens to them. Their arguments become almost soap opera like. Yes, some of the dialogue is eloquent and you can tell it was done by a playwright, but there still needed to be more action and cutaways. The overall mood of the film is very downbeat and paints the city of New York and modern life in general as an urban hellhole.  There could be some truth to this, but it ends up becoming real depressing when the viewer gets beaten over the head with it the whole time.

Although billed as a comedy there is very little of it. The majority is heavy drama and the comedy that they do have comes off as forced, unimaginative, and heavily reliant on stereotypes. For instance Sally makes all her inner-city students put their weapons into a box before they enter her class. I thought it would have been more believable had one of them decided to use them on her, but they never do. Despite the ‘rough and tough’ image the kids seem strangely compliant.  Martin is a principal at a snotty private school, so his problems are at the other end. One scene has him ‘negotiating’ with a spoiled ten year old to come out of his limousine and into class, which is equally contrived.  There is also the strange neighbor who lives in the apartment beneath theirs and is played by actor Hector Elizondo.  He makes random, weird comments throughout that supposedly are used for comic relief, but end becoming quickly irritating.

I thought it would be fun to see Marlo Thomas in a film role as she has done very few of them in her career. She is most well-known for playing the part of Ann Marie the struggling actress in the 60’s TV-series That Girl. Her character was known to be very naïve and proper in that series. Here her character is more jaded and savvy, which makes for an interesting comparison although she is known as a feminist and liberal activist in real-life, so if anything this character more closely identifies with her true personality. She does end up giving an excellent performance overall. Charles Grodin does not fare as well. Usually his sardonic humor and dry approach can elevate even the blandest material, but here the maudlin script ends up pulling him down. Even Grodin fans who have seen this film stated that he seems to be just going through the motions. I also didn’t like the fact that he has a flute and ends up constantly playing the same sad tune. Noted character actors Gary Merrill and Mercedes McCambridge appear as homeless people, but are not given a single line of dialogue, which I found to be frustrating and a waste of their talents.

If there is one positive thing to say about this dreary production that has no visual or cinematic style it is in the presence of Irwin Corey, who plays Sally’s racist and scatological father.  He manages to liven up all the scenes that he is in and I came away impressed as he is mainly a stand-up comedian famous for his bawdy Professor Irwin Corey act. I was even more impressed to find that as of this writing he is still alive and well at the ripe old age of 97 and still doing his comedy act while married to the same woman for over 70 years. A documentary about his life and career called Irwin and Fran is set to be released later this year. Judging just from the trailer it looks more interesting and enjoyable than this film.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: February 11, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Berry

Studio: Paramount

Available: Netflix Streaming