Tag Archives: Ray Milland

Blackout (1978)

blackout

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Criminals invade apartment complex.

Inspired by the actual power blackout that occurred in New York City on July 13-14, 1977 the story centers on a group of felons lead by Christie (Robert Carradine) who are being transported to another prison. Along the way their police van crashes and the van drivers are killed instantly, but the felons survive. When they climb out they find that the city is without power. Using the police uniforms of the two dead drivers as well as their weapons they’re able to sneak their way into a nearby apartment complex under the pretext that they’re policemen and therefore the security guard allows them in only to be immediately killed once he does. The crooks then terrorize the residents by conning their way into each of the apartments the same way they did to get into the complex. Once they’re inside they rob the tenants and at certain points even kill them. Dan (James Mitchum) is an off-duty police officer who breaks into the complex to help save Annie (Belinda Montgomery) who’s being attacked and screaming for help from her balcony. He then single-handily goes about trying to track down the armed group despite being outnumbered.

This was yet another example where the entry in Leonard Maltin’s book does not accurately describe what occurs as whoever wrote the review states that it’s ‘balanced with black comedy’ though there’s really no comedy in it except for a brief exchange between a husband and wife attending a Greek wedding, which occurs at the beginning, but after that it’s all gritty drama.

The production was directed by Eddy Matalon who started his career doing music videos for Bridgette Bardot during the 60’s before graduating to soft-core porn in the 70’s under the pseudonym Jack Angel. He eventually, in 1977, tried his hand at horror with the universally derided Cathy’s Curse before following-up with this one, which fares better and as a grim thriller even succeeds though it’s not perfect.

My biggest complaint is that it cuts out too many pivotal moments. It shows how they enter into one apartment and even choose another because it has triple locks cluing them in that a rich person with a lot of expensive stuff must live there, but there’s other times when it does not show why they break into the apartments that they do. There’s hundreds of dwellings inside the complex and they weren’t going to be able to bust into all of them, so the reason for why they choose the ones that they do needed to be shown each time. There’s also a segment where Mitchum shoots and kills one of the perpetrators in the hallway, but it’s never documented where they take the body, or if they just leave it there for all to see.

Some of the stuff gets a bit over-the-top like when they kill the guard and then stage it to look like a suicide, but why would these desperate crooks care to take the time to do that? They’re in a rush to rob as many residents as they can before the power comes back on, who why not just put the dead guard’s body into a back room and be done with it? Tying Mitchum up into a contraption that would electrocute him once the power came back-on seemed too similar to the campy predicaments that would be the cliffhanger for each episode of the ‘Batman’ TV-show. These two-bit thieves wouldn’t have the care, or sophistication to do that. Either kill the guy, or tie him up the conventional way, but getting excessively overboard with it seemed too theatrical and predictably gives him just enough time to escape.

Mitchum is enjoyable. I liked how at the beginning he tries to chase down a purse snatcher, but fails, which shows that he’s not perfect and relatable, which makes you want to root for him even more to stop the bad guys. I did though have misgivings with Montgomery’s character who gets raped, but immediately after that she saves two people trapped in an elevator and even delivers a baby, which is too quick a recovery from such a traumatic event.

Aging stars from Hollywood’s gold era appear as the residents, but are given little to do especially June Allyson who’s seen for less than 5-minutes. Ray Milland’s segment had potential as he plays this rich, stuffy guy who refuses to give the intruders the combination to his safe even as they torture his wife. Eventually he gives in, but it would’ve been fun had he remained stubborn. They’d burn-up his place, which they do anyways, and kill his wife, but he’d still refuse to give it out. Then when the cops finally do arrive he could say in his last dying breath amidst the burned cinders “At least they never got the combination.”

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 25, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Eddy Matalon

Studio: Cinepix Film Properties

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Gold (1974)

gold1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Flooding a gold mine.

Manfred (Bradford Dillman) is part owner of a South African gold mine, who has colluded with London bankers to have the mine destroyed. The plan is for the miners to drill into an underground water reservoir, which will then flood it. Manfred and the London syndicate will make a profit by quietly selling their shares of this mine while buying up shares in competing mines whose price will most assuredly go up once this one is no longer usable. To achieve this they must trick the miners into believing that there is gold underneath the water and that by drilling into it won’t cause their demise. They hire Rod (Roger Moore) as the miner’s new supervisor, whom they feel won’t be smart enough to catch-on to the scheme, but he proves sharper than they expected especially as he has an affair with Manfred’s wife Terry (Susannah York).

This film, which at the time was considered controversial as it was filmed on-location in South Africa while apartheid was still happening, and based on the novel ‘Gold Mine’ by Wilbur Smith, which in-turn was loosely based on the real-life incident that occurred in 1968, is deserving of a second-look. Filming it at an actual mine is the most impressive thing about it. The cast and crew were forced to go down 2-miles into the shaft and the camera follows the grim, black walls of the cave as the elevator takes them down and it’s really stunning how long it goes until they reach bottom and how the cave walls continuously streak across the screen the further they go. I’m not one to ever feel claustrophobic, but watching this gave me that sensation, which effectively gives you the idea of what the miners would’ve felt each time they went. The climactic flooding is equally hair-raising and the beginning segment where the process of refining the gold is shown over the opening credits is also quite fascinating.

Moore, who had just completed filming of his first James Bond installment, Live and Let Die, is excellent and I enjoyed the way he keeps it serious and doesn’t revert to any jokey quips like he did when he played Bond and his characterization here is how he should’ve handled 007. This is the first of two films that he did with York as the two would re-team later in the year for That Lucky Toucha romantic comedy that’s inferior to this one. York’s character here, where she plays a jaded and cool socialite is a more interesting and proves what a great actress she was as it’s completely unlike the part of the scared, pensive person that she was in The Killing of Sister George

Ray Milland, as the elderly, cantankerous, mine owner is great and there’s excellent support by Simon Sabela, better known as being South Africa’s first black film director, who plays Big King a large man who teams with Moore to single-handily save the mine. Dillman is the only detriment as his stale villainous presence doesn’t add much and would’ve been better played by Tony Beckley, whose sneering facial expression alone would’ve made him more suitable instead of stifling him into a small bit though his attempts to run Dillman down with his car at the end is still effective.

The DVD restoration is the only negative as it’s faded color and graininess makes it resemble a cheap production, which it really isn’t. The version used for Amazon streaming is the same as the DVD, which is unfortunate as the film deserves a quality Blu-ray release and hopefully one will be coming at some point.

gold2

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Release: September 5, 1974

Runtime: 2 Hours

Rated PG

Director: Peter R. Hunt

Studio: Allied Artists Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Tubi

Oliver’s Story (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Adjusting to wife’s death.

It’s been 6 years since Oliver (Ryan O’Neal) lost his wife to leukemia and he’s still having a hard time learning to move on from it. He hasn’t been in a serious relationship since and his friends including his step father (Edward Binns) are pressuring him to start dating. Finally by chance he meets Marci (Candice Bergen) while she is out jogging. She is secretly an heiress to a massive fortune, which allows the two to connect due to their similar well-to-do upbringings, but when things start to get serious Oliver finds himself  resisting unable to cut the ties from his past and move forward.

This is definitely a sequel that nobody asked for and in fact both O’Neal and Bergen initially had no interest doing it. The original film worked because it centered on the couple and when you take away one of them you have only half a movie. Oliver on his own is boring and watching him learn to adjust to life as a single person is not compelling and no different than the hundreds of other movies dealing with the dating scene.

John Marley, who played Jenny’s father in the first film, refused to appear in this one because he was unhappy with how his name was going to be placed in the credits, so he got replaced by Edward Binns who seems to be playing a completely different character. Here the father-in-law and Oliverhave acquired a chummy friendship and even hang out together despite this never having been established in the first film. Ray Milland reprises his role as Oliver’s father, but gets portrayed in a much more likable way while in the first one he came off more as a heavy.

The film’s only interesting aspect is seeing how much the social norms have changed. Here being single is considered like a disease and his pesky friends are emboldened enough to set Oliver up on dates and openly telling him that he needs to ‘get out more’ even though by today’s standards the single lifestyle is much more prevalent and accepted and doing these same types of actions now by well meaning friends would be considered intrusive and obnoxious.

Having one of the women that he meets at a dinner party invite him back to her place despite barely knowing him is something not likely to occur today either. The way though that Oliver meets Marcie is the most absurd as he quite literally chases her down while she is jogging, which would scare most women into thinking that they had a crazy stalker on their hands.

On the production end the film is competently made with the springtime scenery of New York as well as shots of the couple’s trip to Hong Kong being the only thing that I enjoyed. The story though lacks punch and drones on with too many side dramas. O’Neal’s performance is good, but his chemistry with Bergen is lacking, which ultimately makes this a production that had misfire written all over it before a single frame of it was even shot.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 15, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Korty

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video,  YouTube

The Thing with Two Heads (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Black man and bigot.

Dr. Maxwell Kirshner (Ray Milland) is a racist surgeon experimenting on transplanting the head of a dying animal onto one who is still living. The animal will then have two heads for a period of 35 days while the new one adapts to the body and eventually takes over at which time the original head is removed. The elderly Kirshner is suffering from a degenerative illness and needs his assistants to find someone willing to sacrifice their body, so that his head can be put on it. They eventually acquire the services of Jack Moss (Roosevelt Grier) a prisoner who was slated for the electric chair until he agrees to be part of the procedure, but when he awakens from the surgery to find the head of Kirshner next to his he escapes and goes on a desperate run to find some Dr. who will remove it from his body.

As tacky and ludicrous as the plot is it is actually an improvement from the first installment The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant as it at least defines the reason why the surgery is being done and creates some tension by having the one head grapple for control of the body from the other one. The film also has a nice pace and good tongue-in-cheek humor that is fully aware of its absurd storyline and in certain spots even plays-it-up. Unfortunately it gets too wacky for its own good, which culminates in a long drawn out car chase that would be far more appropriate for a yahoo action flick than a would-be horror film.

The performances of the two leads are the most interesting aspect. Former professional football player Grier is highly likable in the lead and seeing Milland, who won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1945, playing in something so preposterously beneath his acting level is engaging although I found his character annoying I was hoping he’d have some sort of arch, or a softer side to his personality exposed at some point instead of being a total one-dimensional prick all the way through like he is.

To me the only good part is when Grier escapes from the authorities and comes home to his wife (Chelsea Brown) who sees his two-headed condition for the first time and the humorous exchange that they have:

Wife: You get into more shit.

(She attempts to kiss him and then moves back)

Wife: I know you don’t like answering a lot of questions, but how did that happened?

Grier: I’ll answer that later.

(She then peers down towards his crotch.)

Wife: Did they give you two of anything else?

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 19, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lee Frost

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD