Tag Archives: peter falk

Big Trouble (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Insurance agent commits fraud.

Leonard (Alan Arkin) is an insurance agent who does not have enough funds to put his three sons through Yale, which causes him a lot of stress. During a random sales call he meets Blanche (Beverly D’Angelo) who has a sick husband named Ricky (Peter Falk) who has only a week to leave. They hatch a scheme to write-up a life insurance policy that has a double indemnity clause that offers a big payout if Ricky dies by falling off a moving train. The plan starts out fine only to ultimately backfire when Leonard realizes he’s been double-crossed.

At the outset one might assume that this is a sequel to The In-Laws since it has the two stars from that film as well as the same screenwriter, though done under the pseudonym of Warren Bogle, but that’s not the case because Andrew Bergmen got the bright idea of trying to do a parody of Double Indemnity instead. This became a complete disaster for its studio Columbia Pictures because after the script was completed it was deemed a remake of the original film, which Universal Studios still held the rights to, forcing Columbia to give up the rights to Back to the Future and given to Universal as compensation who made a ton of money off of it while this film flopped badly.

A lot of the problem is that unlike in The In-Laws the two stars don’t play off of each other enough and in fact for most of the film they seem to be adversaries. The tone is also inconsistent seeming at times that it wants to be a parody/farce while at other moments it comes off more like a surreal comedy. It doesn’t help matters that John Cassavetes took over directing the production when Bergmen dropped out and his forte was more in drama with a cinema vertite approach causing many of the scenes here to go on longer than necessary while lacking a good comic pace. I also thought it was ridiculous that the plot features many twists, but then ends up telegraphing to the viewer well ahead of time that they’re coming, which takes away any surprise.

Arkin’s character is particularly problematic. Part of why he was so funny in The In-Laws is because he played this sane man thrown into an insane situation, but here he allows himself to get swept up into the nuttiness too easily until he seems almost as crazy as the rest. There’s also no way that a seasoned insurance agent, such as the one he played, would be dumb enough to think he could pull off such a poorly thought out scheme. Being an agent he would know that an autopsy would be done on the dead body and they would find that the victim had been strangled well before he fell off the train and the fact that this all occurs less than 24-hours after the policy was signed would send off massive red flags to anyone working in the industry.

While there are a few funny moments which includes Arkin trying to disguise himself as Falk and even speak in his voice as well as Arkin’s reaction when he takes a sip of Falk’s very exotic liqueur, the rest of it falls depressingly flat. The worst of it is the ending, which throws in a wild coincidence that has no bearing to the main plot nor any forewarning or connection to anything else that came before it, which helps to cement this as a big mistake that should’ve never have been given the green light.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 30, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Cassavetes

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Apostle (1997)

apostle

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Preacher on the run.

As a would-be screenwriter I find it heartening knowing how many great screenplays there are out there that struggle to find a home no matter who has written or pitched it.  Actor Robert Duvall wrote the solid screenplay for this film in the 80’s only to have it rejected by every major studio and only got made when he decided to put up 4 million dollars of his own money.

The story involves a fiery evangelical minister by the name of Sonny (Duvall) whose volatile ways gets the better of him and he ends up killing his wife’s lover. He then goes on the run to Louisiana where he starts up a new church. There he begins to turn his life around and become loved and admired by the community only to have the police close in on him.

In many ways this is similar to a 1962 episode of the old ‘Alfred Hitchcock Hour’ series that was entitled ‘Bonfire’ and starred Peter Falk as the minister.  Both characters were loud and dramatic preachers.  Both men went on the run after committing homicide while continuing to start up new congregations along the way and both ended up being surrounded by the police as they gave one last fiery sermon. However, the difference comes with the fact that the Falk character was clearly a self-serving fraud while with Sonny that is not so clear, which is what makes this film and character so fascinating.

Sonny has a temper as well as other underlying issues, but he makes a genuine effort to rectify things with his new congregation.  He even brings boxes of groceries to the doorsteps of poor families. It is never clear whether he is simply trying to make personal amends for past transgressions, or just a flawed man with a good heart. The viewer is never allowed to feel sure either way, but ends up empathizing with him nonetheless. Every scene and line of utterance becomes more revealing.

Duvall gives a strong performance. I felt this may be his signature role and that comes after a long line of already brilliant performances.  I enjoyed his running ‘conversations with the Lord’ that he has when he is alone or just walking down the street.  The conversation that he has with the police is amusing as is the final scene that is shown over the closing credits.

The casting is unique.  June Carter Cash plays his mother, which is interesting by the fact that in real-life she was only two years older than Duvall.  Farrah Fawcett plays his wife, and although she was much younger than him, I felt she did a good job and made a perfect fit.  Billy Bob Thornton gets a memorable cameo as a man who initially wants to destroy the church with a bulldozer, but then with Sonny’s help becomes spiritually awakened.  I also very much liked James Beasley in the supporting role as the minister who helps Sonny start up his new church.  His calm and collected manner helped balance Duvall’s intensity.

The supporting players were all amateur actors, some of which had never performed in front of the camera before.  Director Duvall was known during filming to keep the atmosphere loose.  He allowed his cast to ad-lib, which gives the film a more authentic feel.  Just like with other actors who turned to directing, like Paul Newman and Marlon Brando, Duvall has scenes that stretch out much longer than most films.  This is done to give the actors more control over their characters and allow their performances alone to carry the scene.  I also liked the fact that the supporting cast was almost all African-American and the story centered on a white minister preaching to a black congregation.

Duvall has long been known to be an admirer of the south, so it is no surprise that the story takes place there or that the shooting was on-location.  He captures the ambience of the region and people quite well, including the sound of the heat bugs buzzing at night.

The only issue I had with the film involves the scene where Sonny kills his wife’s lover. He does this by hitting him over the head with a baseball bat during a little league game while in front of many onlookers.  In most real-life accounts when something similar to this happens people will usually gang up on the culprit and physically subdue him, or chase after him until the police arrive while here the onlookers allow Sonny to peacefully walk away.  Other than that I thought this was a great character study and I would highly recommend it.

My Rating: 8 out of 10 

Released: October 9, 1997 

Runtime: 2Hours 14Minutes 

Rated PG-13 

Director: Robert Duvall 

Studio: Butcher Run Films 

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video