Tag Archives: Regina Baff

The Money (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kidnapping kids for ransom.

Roland (Graham Beckel) is an out-of-work slacker who’s always looking for the easy-way-out. He’s dating Lucy (Regina Baff) who babysits for Richard (Laurence Luckinbill) and his wife Ellen (Elizabeth Richards). Despite living in a posh neighborhood Richard is having problems of his own. His business isn’t doing well and he needs a loan, but his wife, who does have a large sum stashed away, refuses to give him any financial assistance. When Roland goes with Lucy to look after Richard’s kids (played by the real-life children of the director) he comes up with the idea of kidnapping them for ransom as he mistakenly presumes Richard must be ‘loaded’. Once Richard realizes that his kids have been taken he instructs his wife not to call the police and instead convinces her to take out the money she has in savings to pay for the ransom. Richard though uses this money for the loan while offering Roland only a small portion of it. Roland refuses the offer and the two bicker while the kids remain locked inside a car outside in a parking lot with the temperature nearing a 100 degrees.

The mark of a talented director isn’t how good they are when given a big studio contract and all the money they need, but instead what they can do when on a shoestring budget. Make no mistake this thing on a technical level struggles, but much can be blamed on the extremely poor transfer that’s streaming on Amazon Prime where they apparently found a very grainy video print and made no attempt to clean it up. The result is faded, scratchy, and at certain points even shaky similar to back in the 70’s (if you’re old enough to remember) when a teacher would show a movie in school and film would begin to jump and the image onscreen would get blurry. Fortunately the shaking bit here is only temporary, but Amazon should’ve had better standards before they offer a film up for streaming. Granted it’s nice to see a hard-to-find obscure flick, but at least some effort should’ve been given to restoring it.

Anyways, if you can get past all of this, it does have its share of intriguing elements. I loved the way it captures the Jersey boardwalk scene of the era and juxtaposes between the rich and poor and how both sides seem to be desperate in their own unique ways. There’s no ‘good guy’ here. Everyone is screwed-up and filled with human foibles.  The amusement comes with seeing just how corrupt they can become without totally falling over-the-edge.

Beckel is excellent. This was only is third feature film appearance after debuting in The Paper Chase yet he comes into his own here and exudes the perfect caricature of a down-and-out, irritable young man who wants no part of the system and only looking for ways to cheat it. Luckinbill isn’t as strong and the ultimate confrontation between the two doesn’t work though you do get to see Danny DeVito in an early role as a bartender as well as George Hearn, who later became a big Broadway star in the play ‘Sweeney Todd’, as a bank manager. A young Josh Mostel, who later reunited with the director in the film Stoogemaniahas a really amusing bit as a wheel-of-fortune arcade operator who inadvertently lets down his guard and gets taken advantage of by Beckel.

Spoiler Alert!

What I didn’t like was the ending. The whole film, up until that point, was filled with a lot of delicious twists, but once it gets to the finale it had no idea where to go and falls completely flat. Granted having the kids die in a car from heat stroke would be way too severe for a playful dark comedy, but ultimately there’s no cause and effect. Intriguing ideas get entered in, but then quickly forgotten. At the end everything goes back to normal like everything we watched didn’t have an impact on any of the characters. In a good story the characters are expected to grow and change during the course of a movie and I really didn’t see that here especially with Richard.

Having Beckel act like he had now ‘made it’ simply because he’s got $10,000 in his pocket from the kidnapping was unrealistic. Even if you add in the gold watch and fancy car, which Richard also gives him, it would still not be enough to retire on especially with the way Beckel spends it. I was expecting to see him back in a desperate situation as he was clearly not going to be living high-on-the-hog for that long and having the movie stop while he’s ‘living-it-up’ is a cop-out. It’s also not clear if his girlfriend Lucy was in on the kidnapping plot, or not. During the movie it’s made to seem like she was a victim too as she’s found in the home tied-up, but then at the end she meets Beckel at the fancy hotel he’s staying-at. If she was in cahoots with him the whole time that should’ve, at the conclusion, been better confirmed as just having her show up at the hotel doesn’t mean she was a part of the plan and may have just went there because he told her that’s where he was staying.

Alternate Title: Atlantic City Jackpot

Released: June 10, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Chuck Workman

Studio: Independent-International Pictures

Available: Epix, Amazon Video

Below the Belt (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Waitress becomes a wrestler.

Rosa (Regina Baff) works as a waitress at a sports arena who one day catches the eye of wrestling promoter Bobby Fox (John C. Beecher) after she decks a guy who tries to get fresh with her. Fox is in need for a new wrestler to promote and feels she’d make a perfect fit despite her having no experience in the sport. Since she is bored with her job and low on funds she decides to take him up on his offer, but finds that life in the wrestling world can be quite lonely and grueling and the promises of fame and fortune are fleeting.

Unlike Grunt! The Wrestling Movie, which was reviewed last week, this movie does not take a fan’s perspective of the business nor does it get caught up in the colorful caricatures or silly storylines. Instead it reveals a rather bleak look at the hardships faced by those working the circuit and how emotionally and physically taxing it can be living on the road and going paycheck-to-paycheck. In fact there is more footage shown of them behind-the-scenes preparing for a bout than an actual match although the climax does feature Rosa, dubbed the Mexican Spitfire, taking on defending champion Terrible Tommy (played by real-life wrestler Jane O’Brien) who plays dirty, doesn’t have any front teeth and even beats up on the referee.

Comical moments get spread throughout, but they tend to get overplayed and don’t work. What grabbed me was the main character and how relatable her situation was particularly the way her life was unfocused and her inability to stick with any job for too long, which her boyfriend and father nag her about, but then when she tells them about her new found wrestling passion they scoff and show no support. I also liked how the film examines both side of the age spectrum including Thalia (K.C. Townsend) who lies about her age and pretends to be older than she is simply so she can escape her tedious small-town life and get into the wrestling circuit, which she considers her ‘big break’ while on the other end there’s Verne (Sierra Pecheur) who’s in her late 30’s and been in the business for many years and now feels trapped and unable to get out.

Baff, with her plain looks, is a good representation of the average young woman still struggling for direction, but her thin body made me think she wouldn’t be able to handle the rigor of the sport in real-life. Shirley Stoler is on the opposite end as she was quite overweight and humorously carries around a handgun with her to fight off all the would-be rapists that she feels are lurking in the shadows and ready to attack her at any minute. Dolph Sweet is also memorable as an aging wrestler who reluctantly realizes that the business and his passion for it have passed him by.

There’s a heavy dose of blues music that gets played frequently throughout. To some extent the soundtrack, with songs sung by Billy Preston, Jennifer Holliday and the Voices of Deliverance, lends flavor and distinction to the proceedings, but it also ends up becoming overdone and intrusive in a film that is alright, but tries a little too hard to make its point.

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My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 10, 1980 (Filmed in 1974)

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Fowler

Studio: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

Available: VHS

Road Movie (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trucker and prostitute clash.

This is a captivating and interesting independent drama filmed on a shoestring budget and loosely based on director Joseph Strick’s own experiences while working one summer as a long haul driver. The story centers on Gil (Robert Drivas) and Hank (Barry Bostwick) a two-man truck driving team that pick up a prostitute named Janice (Regina Baff) who brings out unforeseen tensions and emotions.

The film is compact with characters and situations that are distinct and believable. It also gives the viewer a well-rounded look at the truck driving business and the tough, demanding job that it is.

Baff is convincing as a prostitute who isn’t pretty or educated, but sensible and street smart At times you feel sorry for her, but she proves to be quite a manipulative and shrewd when she has to.

Drivas, as the lead driver, is hardened, caustic, and controlling. He abuses the prostitute the way he feels life has abused him and thinks he can get away with it only to have her constantly outsmart him.

Unlike other road movies the scenery shown along their travels is neither exotic nor beautiful. Instead we are treated to farm fields, factories, and small towns. It’s all the sights and sounds of a working class world as this is really more about the deceptive American dream than anything else. It craftily brings out what an elusive ideal that really is and how no one is ever as independent as they would like to be and ‘moving up’ in the world can be much more difficult than at first perceived.

Strick takes full advantage of his low budget limitations by infusing a type of grittiness that Hollywood rarely touches. The interactions between the characters are interesting and the ending leaves a strong impression. For fans of obscure 70’s movies this one is worth seeking out.

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My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: February 3, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Strick

Studio: Laser Film Corporation

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video