Tag Archives: oscars

The Oscar (1966)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Actor’s career on decline.

Frank Fane (Stephen Boyd) is a flippant, self-centered, and arrogant man who makes a living by setting up gigs for his stripper girlfriend Laurel (Jill St John) at local strip joints. By pure chance he watches the rehearsal of a play and in a fit of frustration jumps onto the stage to show the actors how to perform a knife fight when he doesn’t think they are doing it right. This impresses Sophie (Eleanor Parker) who uses her influence to get him signed to a contract at a big movie studio that makes Frank a star almost overnight, but as the years pass the quality and quantity of his roles diminish.  His overspending begins to catch up with him and just when he thinks his career may have faded he gets nominated for the Oscar. He feels a win will revive his career and will stop at nothing and use every dirty trick he can in order to influence the vote.

Adapted from the Richard Sale novel this is high drama at its worst. The scenarios are over-the-top and soap opera-like while bearing little relation to reality. The characterizations are on a kindergarten level and a composite of every Hollywood cliché and stereotype rolled together. The dialogue sounds like it was taken from a 50’s B-movie and comes off more like rants and speeches than anything any real person would actually say. Any attempt at gaining any insight into the behind-the-scenes world of Hollywood is lost with a script that becomes wildly off-center until it becomes absurd and ludicrous. Famed science fiction writer Harlan Ellison who scripted this mess was completely out of his realm here and the film is so botched, over-long, and redundant that it isn’t even good for laughs.

If the film had a glossy visual quality to it then it could at least be entertaining on that level, but director Russell Rouse shows no visual flair, or imagination. The scenes are lighted too brightly, which washes out the color and makes the sets look flat and one-dimensional. The music is too loud and used in a heavy-handed way similar to the canned laughter on some sitcoms. Every time there is some dramatic revelation, or shift the music comes booming out in order to alert the viewer who apparently was perceived by the filmmakers to be too dumb to pick up on it otherwise.

I did like Boyd in the lead. He has good looking chiseled features and parlays the necessary arrogance of the part, but the character is wholly dislikable and only gets worse as the film progresses and having to spend two hours watching a jerk be nothing but a jerk is too much.

The only time he shows any slight compassion is when he finds a fellow actor (Peter Lawford) down on his luck, but it is too extreme to believe that a one-time headlining movie star could one day fall to the point that he would have to wait tables to make a living and thus makes this moment as ridiculous and everything else in the movie. An ‘A’ list actor may fall down to becoming a ‘B’ list actor, or having to go from movies to guest spots on TV-shows, or even doing commercials, or infomercials, but having to become a waiter at a restaurant just isn’t plausible.

Elke Sommar gives a sincere performance and her German accent is sexy, but her character becomes too much of an emotional yo-yo. One minute she loves Frank then the next minute she hates him, only to quickly fall in-love with him again and then hate him shortly after that. Parker, as Frank’s mistress on the side, is good, but wasted despite looking as elegant as ever.

Tony Bennett is badly miscast as Frank’s best friend Hymie. This was to date his one and only film role and he may be a great crooner, but as an actor he is uncharismatic. Milton Berle fares almost as poorly playing Frank’s agent. Initially it was interesting seeing him take a dramatic turn instead of being the perennial comic ham, but his acting skills appear limited and his drama becomes as hammy as his comedy.

Ernest Borgnine gives the film’s only real solid performance as a shady and conniving private detective. The scene where Frank slugs him and it sends him flying backwards and toppling over his desk before crashing against the back wall is the film’s only good moment unless you count St John’s opening striptease.

Lots of cameos by famous stars and celebrities including famed costume designer Edith Head in a non-speaking part and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper in a part she did just before her death.

A good movie can inspire the viewer and expand their thinking and imagination, but this film had the absolute opposite effect. It made me feel like my mind had been sucked away by a giant vacuum. I felt depressed after watching it and continued to feel depressed the next day when I woke up.

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My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: March 4, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Russell Rouse

Studio: Embassy Pictures Corporation

Available: VHS, YouTube

The Goodbye Girl (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Goodbye doesn’t mean forever.

Paula (Marsha Mason) is a ‘dumped on’ single parent, whose live-in boyfriend has just left her, and now must contend with Elliot (Richard Dreyfuss) a rather obnoxious man who is subletting the apartment. Despite long odds the two end up ‘falling in love’ in this rather obvious, mechanical love story that is finely tuned to the female, especially those from that era. (The macho guy viewer will have run out of the room long before David Gates even has a chance to sing his soft rock title tune).

This was made when writer Neil Simon was still considered in vogue, although his patented one-liners are sparse and when they do come they are more cute than funny. This in some ways seems a retooling of his earlier ‘lovers in a New York apartment’ film Barefoot in the Park. Only here it’s a little rougher around the edges so it can appeal to a ‘hip’ audience. No clean-cut, cutesy newlyweds instead these people are more jaded to modern sensibilities and will routinely live with their partner even when they are not quite yet divorced.

If you can get past a rather strong late 70’s feel (gotta love that Fonzi poster hanging in the bedroom) then the characters remain solid and believable. No beautiful models living lavish and exciting lifestyles. These are average people just trying to make ends meet and find a little happiness along the way. It also doesn’t just show them when they are together, but also when they are out and alone in the ‘real world’, which allows us a rounded and sympathetic view of them.

Dreyfuss basically plays his usual opinionated, abrasive self. Whether the viewer sees the intended charm underneath is completely up to their own personal tolerance. His performance is good, but not exactly screaming for an Academy Award, which he won anyway, but then poked fun of it when he later hosted ‘Saturday Night Live’ on May 13, 1978.

Mason, who at the time was married to Simon, is the one who should have won it. Her performance is both believable and fluid. You truly see a lot of everyday people in her characterization and she clearly carries the film.

Quinn Cummings, as Paula’s daughter, is cute without being too precocious. Her sensibilities help compensate for the sometimes emotional immaturity of her adult counterparts. Though it really looks and seems dumb to have a ten year old still smearing food on the edges of her mouth and wearing a big napkin around her neck while eating.

Although I don’t always have a great eye for continuity errors this one has a doozy. When Dreyfuss comes home one night drunk he knocks over a table with a lot of stuff on it. He sticks his head out the window to shout something into the night air and then two seconds later comes back to where the table is standing and everything on it is neatly set.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 30, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Wake in Fright (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: The middle of nowhere.

To an extent this is a one of kind film that is handled in such a raw and unpretentious way that it is like no other film you have ever seen before. The opening shot alone is amazing. You see a birdseye view of an isolated schoolhouse in the outback where our main character teaches. The camera then turns at a full circle and you see that there is absolutely nothing for miles in any direction. The desolation is mind boggling and it’s isolation at its purest.

Not only does this very inspired shot get its point across, but it also becomes the essence of what the film is about by trying to get you to understand the ruggedness of its characters by immersing you into their environment. It’s an uncompromising film full of startling images.

The story deals with a British schoolteacher John Grant (Gary Bond) who, through a loss in gambling, becomes trapped in the isolated outback town of Bundanyabba. He is cultured and educated and his sensibilities can’t mesh with the raw simplistic elements of the people in it.

It’s a highly intriguing viewpoint that not only captures man’s ever daunting task at dealing with nature, but also the overall reality of his existence and even himself. It makes you feel you are right there experiencing the same onslaught with him. There are also some interesting low key scenes proving that one of the biggest hurdles one must fight when in these places is actually just the boredom.

I do have to warn readers that the film has a very prolonged brutally explicit kangaroo hunting scene that features the actual killing of the animals. It even shows the men physically beating up on some wounded kangaroo’s and then viciously slashing their throats in a mocking fashion. Although I do feel that these scenes leave the viewer with the intended strong, raw impact and I like the lighting during the nighttime hunt that allows for a surreal element I still admit this may be a very difficult watch for some and may turn them off from viewing the film altogether. Apparently there were quite a few people that walked out of the film during this scene when it was shown at the Cannes, so be prepared.

Star Bond is excellent. You can relate to his anger and defiance at being somewhere he doesn’t want to be as well as feeling his desperation, exhaustion, and eventual surrender.

For many years this film sat in almost virtual obscurity, but after an exhaustive worldwide search a print of the film was finally found in the back of a Pittsburgh warehouse in a canister with a ‘to be destroyed’ label on it. Fortunately the print was saved and the restoration process is fantastic with colors that are bright and vivid. Director Ted Kotcheff captures the region in all of its rustic, desolate glory including the incredible crystal blue sky.

Reportedly many Aussies dislike the film as they feel it creates a negative stereotype. However, I don’t see it that way. I love the county and people and consider this more of a portrait of what happens when people are stuck in an isolated environment, which technically could be anywhere.

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My Rating: 8 out of 10

Alternate Title: Outback

Released: October 13, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD (Region 1 & 2) Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Topkapi (1964)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Granddaddy of heist movies.

Elizabeth (Melina Mercouri) and Walter (Maximilian Schell) have formed a group of amateur thieves to help them steal an emerald dagger out of the famed Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey. Problems ensue when one of the original members of the group becomes injured and they are forced to hire on the services of Arthur Simon Simpson (Peter Ustinov) a bungling, portly small-time crook whose on-going ineptitude almost throws their well thought out plans into jeopardy.

This film has become the granddaddy of heist films and rightly so. Based on the novel ‘The Light of Day’ by Eric Ambler the story is well-crafted and nicely detailed. The plan is elaborate, but fortunately believable and plausible. Director Jules Dassin seems to have all the logical loopholes covered. The production design is plush and captivating with just the right amount of offbeat touches to keep it original and cinematic. I found myself enjoying the dry humor and characterizations interspersed in-between the planning and action. The momentum builds evenly without every feeling rushed, or draggy. The on-location shooting is a plus that not only captures the sunny climate, but also the distinct ambience and look of the region.

The climatic sequence involving the actual heist is exciting. The actors do all of their own stunts including Gilles Segal as Guilio being lowered upside down into the palace by a rope being held rigorously by Walter and Arthur and doing most of his maneuvers trapeze style. The whole scene had me holding my breath most of the way and Dassin manages to capture if all from different and interesting angles while allowing the silence to help create the tension.

Ustinov is in fine form and deservedly won the Oscar for best supporting actor. Supposedly the part was originally intended for Peter Sellers, but Ustinov gives the character a lovable quality that I don’t think Sellers could. Ustinov’s rotund physique is an added benefit and his nervous looking facial expressions are consistently amusing with the interrogation scene by Turkish authorities being his best moment. It’s nice to see the character evolve and find a confidence he didn’t think he had while gaining a begrudging respect from the others.

Mercouri sizzles. Normally I am not crazy about women with deep, throaty voices like hers, but she makes it tantalizing. The character is a self-described nymphomaniac and the expression on her face as she watches a group of men spread lotion over their half-naked bodies is worth the price of the film.

The rest of the supporting cast is okay, but I found it odd how very polished they were when Walter insisted that he wanted amateurs for the heist that had no criminal background, or record. Having them behave in a befuddled besides just Arthur would have been more realistic and expected. I also didn’t like that the Guilio never says a single line of dialogue. Apparently the character was a mute, but there is no reason given for it and in the process makes him transparent and boring.

Spoiler Alert!

The only real problem I had with the movie is the ending. As Guilio is exiting the palace a little bird flies through the window while he is closing it, which in turn sets off an alarm, which leads to the gang getting arrested. However, I couldn’t understand how the trapped bird would’ve allowed the police to figure out what happened as an exact replica of the dagger that they swipe is put onto the chest of the sultan figure. To me it just seemed like one twist too many and the scenes showing them inside the prison is campy and forced. These guys had been portrayed as being slick and sophisticated most of the way, so why turn them into clowns at the end. Possibly this was done to show that ‘crime doesn’t pay and no crime portrayed in a film should go unpunished’, which was a code most movies were forced to work under in the past. Either way it doesn’t work and kind of hurts what is otherwise a snappy piece of entertainment.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: September 17, 1964

Runtime: 2Hours

Not Rated

Director: Jules Dassin

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 1 and 2), Amazon Instant Video

Agnes of God (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Meg Tilly is marvelos.

Sister Agnes (Meg Tilly) is a young nun found in a convent to have given birth to a baby who then dies. Martha Livingston (Jane Fonda) is the court appointed psychiatrist brought in to investigate the case, but as the investigation ensues it only seems to unearth more and more perplexing twists.

The theology is slight and the film, which is based on the Broadway play by John Pielmeier, approaches the subject matter in a very matter of fact way. It has the mindset that the majority of the viewers are non- religious or disgruntled ex-Catholics and portrays the church as a stubborn, age old institution that is slowly losing touch with our more modern sensibilities.

Yet, refreshingly, it also doesn’t try to tear down the church with every chance it gets. There is a certain level of respect and objectivity. The mother superior (Anne Bancroft) is shown to be very human and multi-faceted. She and Fonda make interesting adversaries. Their love-hate relationship is both interesting and enlightening. There is even a rare scene showing an excited young woman being inducted into the sisterhood as her proud family looks on.

Fonda, with her liberated modern woman persona, seems a very obvious choice to play the no-nonsense psychiatrist. She approaches the role with conviction, but her constant chain smoking seems affected and her emotionalism overwrought. I still say she is better suited for comedy like in Cat Ballou and Nine to Five.

Bancroft is solid as usual. Yet it’s Tilly that is really impressive. She portrays the innocence of her character with an incredible clarity and it’s almost astounding.

The mystery unravels well and keeps you intrigued. Yet the ambiguous conclusion is a bit disappointing. The drama side fares better. It poses a few good insights and ends with an interesting perspective. The film is well done on all levels even though outside of Tilly’s compelling performance there is really nothing that memorable or distinctive about it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 13, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Norman Jewison

Studio: Columbia

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Anniversary (1968)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bette eats them up.

Since tomorrow will mark the 1st anniversary of when this blog started I wanted to choose a movie that had a similar theme in its title. The anniversary here deals with Mrs. Taggart (Bette Davis) celebrating the date of when her and her now deceased husband where married. Taggart is a bully who enjoys manipulating her grown sons and having her way. On this occasion all three of her sons carries a secret, which will all slowly come out as the evening progresses. Terry (Jack Hedley) is the oldest and is married to Karen (Sheila Hancock) their secret is that they plan on moving to Canada much to his mother’s dismay as she likes having her children close by. Henry (James Cossins) harbors a secret fetish to dress in women’s underwear. Tom (Christian Roberts) brings his fiancée Shirley (Elaine Taylor) to visit with their secret being that she is already pregnant.

If you’re a Bette Davis fan then this is required viewing as she is at her bitchy best. Although Mona Washbourne played the role when it was on stage it was revised by Jimmy Sangster for the screen with Davis’s personality very much in mind. It has all of her famous caricatures and she revels in it. Her insults are like arrows that slice through the other characters until they are mush. She gives her part just the right amount of camp and her infatuation with a statue of a little boy that is hooked up with a hose that when squeezed spurts water out of its front end like he is peeing is priceless.

Hancock makes for a good adversary and in fact out of all the other performers she is the only that seems to be able to stay toe-to-toe with Davis. Apparently Davis did not like Hancock and tried to get her replaced with Jill Bennett. Hancock was aware of this and I think that animosity comes out perfectly on the screen.

Taylor is young and gorgeous and she has one good moment when she tells off Davis, but that is about it. The three male actors are just not as effective as the females. Part of it could be the characters that they play, but on the most part they are rather blah.

Director Roy Ward Baker, who replaced Alvin Rakoff one week into the shooting at Miss Davis’s request, does his best to avoid the filmed stage play look. He opens the movie at an outdoor construction site, which is unusual. He also has a dazzling fireworks display in the middle, but my favorite is when Henry steals women’s bras and panties from an outside clothesline and replaces them with dollar bills in an attempt to ‘pay’ for what he is stealing. Yet despite all this the movie eventually gets stagy and becomes a bit draggy for it.

My biggest complaint is the fact that this type of thing has been done before. There is no new angle or perspective to any of it. Davis rants on and on with the other characters too cowardly to fight back. The little that they do is not enough. This is the type of film that screams for a big payoff, but it never happens. Taggart, as mean as she is, comes through it pretty much unscathed and for most viewers that will probably not be satisfying.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 7, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Roy Ward Baker

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

Child’s Play (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Private school is murder.

If you are looking for a review about the Chucky doll then you will have to wait as that will come at a later time. This is the first film to use that title and it is based on the Broadway play by Robert Marasco who in turn based it loosely on an early Ingmar Bergman movie called Torment. The story deals with an exclusive all-boys school where bizarre unexplained random acts of violence begin to occur between groups of students. New teacher Paul Reis (Beau Bridges) becomes determined to unravel the mystery and begins to suspect that it may have something to do with a long running feud between two of the school’s older instructors Joseph Dobbs (Robert Preston) and Jerome Malley (James Mason)

The film opens right away with a nice creepy tone and a foreboding score that immediately got me wrapped up into it. The dark, shadowy lighting of the interiors helped accentuate the sinister feel. It is also great to have the film shot in an actual boy’s school instead of building sets to recreate the look. Just hearing the floorboards creak underneath the feet of the actors as they walk around helps to create an already strong atmosphere.

Mason is terrific. I think it is impossible for the man to ever give a weak performance even if the script itself is poor. He is captivating every time he is on the screen and his ability to display wide ranging emotions without flaw never ceases to amaze me. Everything always seems to come so naturally with this man in all of his performances that you never see the acting, or technique behind it. It is a shame this movie is so obscure because watching his performance alone makes the film worth seeing and the desperate, lonely character that he plays is interesting in its own right.

Preston doesn’t seem as strong. He is a good actor at times, but not for this type of part and having him wearing a moustache doesn’t help. Supposedly the part was originally intended for Marlon Brando, who would have been more interesting, but he ended up backing out.

Bridges is okay as the protagonist, but he has played the role of a wide-eyed idealist coming into an ugly situation while oblivious to all of the dark aspects a little too often making it an annoying caricature.

The movie fails in the fact that it cannot hold the tension and there are too many talky scenes with little action in-between. The students come off as robotic like and the scenes involving them attacking another student inside a gymnasium looks staged and rehearsed. Director Sidney Lumet would have done better had he used a hand-held camera and gotten right in the middle of the fray making it seem more spontaneous and vivid.

I also had a hard time believing that so many students could get effectively brain washed and sworn to secrecy. I could buy maybe a few, but having so many seemed implausible and ruined the film for me. However, the explanation for the cause to the violence is an original one that I wouldn’t have thought up myself. Also, the surprise twist at the very end is kind of cool.

A similar film to this one entitled Unman, Wittering, and Zigo that also came out in the 70’s and dealt with murder at an all-boys private school will be reviewed next Friday and fares a bit better.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: Paramount

Available: Amazon Instant Video

Summer and Smoke (1961)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: She is sexually repressed.

Alma (Geraldine Page) is an adult woman still single and living with her parents. Her father (Malcolm Atterbury) is a minister while her mother (Una Merkel) having suffered a mental breakdown several years’ earlier acts and behaves in a perpetual child-like state. Alma yearns for the affections of John (Laurence Harvey) the dashing doctor who lives next door with his father (John McIntire). However, John’s lifestyle is much too wild for Alma’s repressed tastes, but when she tries to change she finds that it may be too late in this film version of the Tennessee William’s play.

I have been a fan of Geraldine Page for years. She has a terrific ability to play fragile and eccentric characters while doing it with a panache and style. Her characterizations are always vivid and revealing and executed in a seamless fashion. One can become so entranced with her performances that sometimes it becomes more interesting than the story itself. Her appearance here proves to be no exception. She became known for playing a lot of dark, sinister characters, so it was a nice change seeing her play this part. She even does some singing and in fact the scene where she sings to John’s father as he lies on his deathbed for me left the most lasting impression. I always love watching the woman’s body language, gestures, and facial expressions and how she uses them to create a three-dimensional character. Her acting discipline should be studied and emulated by students of the craft everywhere.

Harvey as her co-star was an interesting choice. Despite his reputation as being an over-rated actor and possessing a strange personality off-camera I have found some of his performances to be excellent particularly the one in the original Manchurian Candidate. However, he seems to be better suited playing parts with a cold and aloof presence. The role here demanded more emotion and I didn’t think he could quite hit it. By the end Page was acting circles around him and turning the production into her own vehicle.

The supporting performers aren’t bad. It is fun seeing Rita ‘Hey you guys’ Moreno in an early role playing a young vixen with eyes for John. McIntire is fine in his small role and the part where comes home to find all sorts of drunken people lying about passed out in his living room and hallways is good. Thomas Gomez is memorable simply to glimpse his large almost unbelievable waist size.

I really didn’t like Merkel’s part as the crazy mother. I found it frustrating that there really was never any explanation for why she behaved in such a strange way. Simply saying that she had a ‘breakdown’ wasn’t enough and I wanted more of a scientific or medical reason. It also would have been more interesting to see what she was like before her breakdown, but that is never shown.

Technically the film is well produced. The sets, costumes and performances are all very turn-of-the-century and it helps draw you into the mood and thinking of the era right away. I did not like that the outdoor scenes where done on a soundstage as the foliage and sky look annoyingly artificial.

Most of William’s plays deal with sad, lonely, and pathetic characters and this one proves no exception. However, I was pleasantly surprised that after the expected histrionics this one manages to have a somewhat upbeat ending, which helped distinguish it above some of his others. The characters and situations are all too real and Alma reminded me very much of someone I know and others may know someone like her as well, which on a personal level made this story all the more fascinating.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 16, 1961

Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Peter Glenville

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix streaming

The Paper Chase (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: He can’t please Kingsfield.

James Hart (Timothy Bottoms) attends his first year at Harvard Law School and finds himself obsessed with the notoriously stern Professor Charles Kingsfield (John Houseman). His fascination increases after he begins a relationship with Kingsfield’s daughter Susan (Lindsey Wagner). The rest of the story deals with the pressures and demands of being a law student.

This quite possibly is the quintessential movie about college life. Everything is captured in such a real and revealing way that it will very likely send the viewer back to their college days. Despite being nearly forty years old it doesn’t seem dated at all as it touches on many universals that every generation goes through at that age. If anything it is still quite topical. The few dated elements are actually fun to see including the scene in the pre-cellphone days where the students would line up and wait their turn to make a call on the dorm’s one and only pay phone.

The student characters have diverse personalities and seem like young adults one would meet during their college days, or even see on a campus today. It is nice to have a college movie where students are actually studying. In fact these scenes are some of the best moments in the film including Hart’s dealings with difficult people in his study group.

The Hart character is appealing and relatable. I liked how he is multi-faceted and displays elements from both his own era including his counter-culture hairstyle as well as past ones.

Having it filmed on-location and capturing the different seasons of the year makes the viewer feel like they are attending the school year right along with him. I particularly liked the scene shot in the historic Harvard stadium.

The film also makes terrific use of silent moments as there is very little music. Many college movies dwell on the loud and raucous partying, but there is a lot of quiet time as well particularly the first day of class in a large auditorium wondering what the instructor will be like. The opening sequence done underneath the credits showing an empty classroom quietly filling up with students was not only novel, but brilliant.

Houseman deservedly won the Oscar for his portrayal of the crotchety professor. Outside of a small and unaccredited role in Seven Days in May this was technically, at age 71, his film debut. Some may complain that the character is one-dimensional. We are never shown any type of softer side to him and I am sure most films would have thrown some in, but the fact that they don’t do it makes his mystique more interesting. My favorite moment of his is when at the end of the year the students give him a standing ovation while Kinsgfield responds with his trademark scowl before walking out of the room.

The supporting cast of students is terrific and many were making their film debuts. There is Graham Beckel as Hart’s study partner Franklin Ford who looks like a twin of Brad Dourif. There is also Edward Herrmann and James Naughton as Kevin Brooks a man with a photographic memory, but no analytical ability. My favorite though was Craig Richard Nelson as the moody and belligerent Willis Bell.

Blair Brown can also be seen as one of the female students during the classroom scenes. She speaks in a strange accent and I think she was trying too hard to get the Bostonian sound, but I ended up kind of liking it anyways.

The implementation of Kingsfield’s daughter into the story really didn’t work with me. Lindsey Wagner is a competent actress, but the way they meet on a sidewalk seemed too forced and random. It is also beating extreme odds that Hart would by chance get into a relationship with the daughter of a man that is the complete center of his universe and the fact that she turns out to be hip, sexy, and gorgeous even though she is related to a man who is anything but was also a stretch. It would have been interesting had there been a few scenes and dialogue between Kingsfield and Susan, but none is ever shown.

There is a part involving Hart sneaking into the library when it is closed in order to get into a section that houses the notes taken by the professors when they attended the school as students, which I found to be odd. I have never known any college that has done this and talking with others no one else has either. I was still willing to roll with it but found it frustrating that when Hart takes out the notes written by Kingsfield in 1927 that the camera doesn’t focus in on the page to allow the viewer to see it for themselves. Having Hart simply describe what he sees including some doodling that Kingsfield apparently made on the side of the page is not as satisfying.

I had a few problems with the end as well although it was not enough to ruin what is otherwise a great movie. However, there is a scene showing Kingsfield grading his student’s tests by himself even though most tenured professors who teach large classes have graduate assistants do this for them. It may be more cinematically satisfying especially for the general viewer to see Kingsfield doing the grading, but that is not how it actually works.

Also, when Hart receives the grades in the mail he doesn’t bother to open the letter, but instead turns it into a paper airplane and floats it into the ocean. I didn’t understand the motivation of this because during the film Hart spends an enormous amount of time preparing for the test, so I would think anyone who went through that would want to see what they got. If he wants to turn it into a paper airplane afterwards that is fine, but at least see the results. I spoke to a fan of the film who says he interprets this scene to mean that Hart was more interested in learning the subject for his own enjoyment and not concerned with what he got out of it, but if that is the case the film fails to bring that out earlier and instead seems to show the exact opposite.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: October 16, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated PG

Director: James Bridges

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video