Tag Archives: Review

An Average Little Man (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father avenges son’s death.

Giovanni (Alberto Sordi) is an accountant who’s ready for retirement. His son Mario (Vincenzo Crocitti) is following in his father’s footsteps by becoming an accountant as well. He has passed all of his exams and fully qualified, but competition is tough, so his father tries to use his leverage to get his son hired there, or at least have his name pushed to the top of the list. Unfortunately on the morning of the interview Mario is killed by a stray bullet from a bank robbery that was occurring across the street. Giovanni is devastated and the news is so shocking to his wife Amalia (Shelley Winters) that she has a stroke and is no longer able to speak, or walk, or even feed herself. Giovanni doesn’t trust the system to bring the killer (Renzo Carboni) to justice, so he decides he must do it himself by stalking the man and then eventually kidnapping him.

The film, which is based on the novel ‘A Very Normal Man’ by Vincenzo Cerami, who also wrote the screenplay, is filled with many memorable moments. I got a kick out of Giovanni’s tiny car that looked like something he could wear instead of ride and the way he gets around a traffic jam by driving it on the sidewalk. The mounds of paperwork in his office where no one can see each other because they’re literally swallowed up by them is a funny visual as is Giovanni’s supervisor (Romolo Valli) who cleans the dandruff off of his hair and onto his desk. There’s also a scene that is both darkly humorous and highly disturbing where because the cemeteries are filled to capacity the remaining dead bodies must be stored inside a warehouse with each casket put one on top of the other. Families and mourners crowd in to find which one has their loved one in it, but because of the gas coming out of the decomposing bodies that create sporadic explosions that cause the caskets to go tumbling.

The appearance of American actress Shelley Winters is another shocker in that she’s dubbed with an Italian speaking woman. Hearing her in a voice that is clearly not her own is at first disconcerting, but she gives a brilliant performance nonetheless. Normally she’s known for her talkative nature, both for the parts she plays in front of the camera, but also in her real-life interviews, yet she reflects a comatose woman quite convincingly and her facial expressions, particularly when she’s brought into the cabin to observe the killer’s torture, are excellent.

Sordi, a well known Italian film star and comedian, does well too and it’s interesting seeing his hair go from salt-and-pepper to fully gray as the movie progresses. His character though isn’t exactly likable. While he sees himself as being ‘selfless’ as he sacrifices everything, and potentially breaking the rules, for the love of his son, he seems more selfish because why should his son get a unearned break over all the other candidates? While he has his funny share of moments he’s also a bit unhinged even at the beginning with his almost naive belief that a system he knows is corrupt is now somehow ‘morally’ obligated to give him and his son a favor. Maybe this was the intended ironic point, but it would’ve played better had the son been less of a vapid, empty shell.

Spoiler Alert!

What makes this film stand-out from virtually any other is its extreme shift in tone where it starts as a satirical comedy, but ends as a grim thriller. Many script experts will insist this ‘can’t be done’ and in Hollywood would be considered forbidden. It also doesn’t have the inciting incident occur until an hour in even though books like ‘Save the Cat’, which is the ‘screenwriter’s bible’, will tell you it must happen within the first 5 pages of any script. There’s also no forewarning to the killing it’s just a completely random event with no connection to anything that came before, which again most people in the movie business will say is a ‘mistake’.

While I might’ve done it slightly differently by having Giovanni go insane when one of the supervisors refuses to hire his son after promising him they’d do it and then kidnapping that individual to make it seem a little more connected to the first half, I’m still impressed with how effectively it all works either way. It literally breaks every screenwriting rule and still succeeds and should be used as an example to anyone insisting that movie scripts that don’t stringently conform to the Hollywood formula will fail as this one clearly doesn’t.

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My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: March 17, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mario Monicelli

Studio: Cineriz

Available: DVD-R (Italian with English Subtitles) (Moviedetective.net)

American Drive-In (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Evening at the movies.

Filmed at the old Sky Drive-In in Yucca Valley, California that has long since been abandoned, the film centers around a couple, Bobbie Ann (Emily Longstreth) and Jack (Patrick Kirton). Both are fresh out of high school and Jack plans to use the occasion of going to the drive-in to watch a horror flick called Hard Rock Zombies to propose to Bobbie Ann. Bobbie Ann is smitten with Jack, but after he gives her the ring she’s not so sure she’s ready to jump into marriage. Meanwhile Sarge (Joel Bennett), the leader of a local street gang, has his sights set on Bobbie Ann and plans to get rid of Jack while they watch the film, so that he and his buddies can gang rape Bobbie Ann in the back bleachers. While this is going on there’s also Councilmen Winston (John Rice) who’s running for mayor and feels it would be a great opportunity to break-up the local drug ring in town, which he feels is occurring at the drive-in and to prove it he gets his own kids to walk around and inquire where they can get their hands on some ‘Mary Jane’ and then film it thus looking like a hero to the public for exposing the drug pushers in the area.

This was the second-to-last film directed by Krishna Shah who was one of the first directors to start his career in Bollywood before graduating to Hollywood. His initial film was the so-so Rivals, but none of his movies ever met any critical or financial success, which caused him to become quite bitter in his later years. This project was the result of his frustration of doing serious, big budget pictures like The River Niger and Shalimar, which were made with a lot of promise, but both failed at the box office, so out of desperation he decided to try-his-hand at exploitation B-pictures only to be met with the same failures.

What struck me was how similar it is to Rod Amateau’s Drive-In that came out 9 years earlier complete with the same type of farcical comedy and stereotyped characters and both dealt with a teen gang trying to steal away a girl who was dating a super clean-cut kid all while watching a cheesy disaster flick onscreen. It was almost like they had watched that one and it had ‘inspired’ them to make this. They’d probably deny it and say they had no knowledge of the other flick, but if that were the case then it makes this one seem even worse as it lacks anything original both in humor or storyline.

A lot of the comedy falls flat including a segment that makes fun of fat people and shows them eating up their food in a close-up, slurping fashion that’s quite gross and portrays them as seeming like animals that most people in our body shaming culture today will find offensive. I also thought the running joke of this prostitute who services the male customers in her RV as the movie plays was a bit overboard as she takes-on one after the other in a brief 90-minute period. Not sure what the typical nightly quota for a sex worker is, but I would think that would be too exhausting, so unless the film was trying to portray prostitution in a campy way, which in this case I don’t think it was, then there should’ve been several women in the RV doing the guys versus just one.

The only inspired thing, or at least it seemed that way initially, was the it becomes a film within a film as Krishna Shah had also directed Hard Rock ZombiesSince that has been put on many a list of worst movies ever made I thought this was the unusual case of a director showing humility and openly mocking his own work, where at one point one of the characters even says “Whoever wrote this should be shot”, but that was apparently not what happened. Instead the zombie movie scenes was only intended for a brief few minutes, but then after filming them Shah got ‘inspired’ to turn that into a feature film, which is now considered even worse than this one.

Spoiler Alert!

There is a darker tone here than in Drive-In, when Bobbi Ann threatens to kill the gang members with her gun as the other people cheer her one. Emily Longstreth, who sadly hasn’t done a movie since 1994, looks quite sexy standing on a raised platform in a skimpy outfit while waving the gun around, which in my opinion is the only memorable moment, but the movie unfortunately doesn’t go far enough. This would’ve been a perfect time to have her kill-off everybody, which would’ve made sitting through this silly inane crap worth it by having a truly shocking finale. It could’ve been Carrie with guns instead of telepathy, but this stupid movie cops-out completely.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 19, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Krishna Shah

Studio: Patel/Shah Film Company

Available: DVD-R

The Revengers (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Avenging his family’s massacre.

John Benedict (William Holden) is a rancher who returns to his home and family in Colorado after serving in the Civil War. While out one day hunting a mountain lion a group of Comanche Indians kill his family. When he races back to his home he finds only his friend Free (Arthur Hunnicutt) still alive. Free informs him that the Indians were lead by a white man (Warren Vanders). John then becomes compelled to seek vengeance and hires a group of convicts that he finds at a Mexican prison to help him in his quest.

This was one film that took me by surprise and a testament to the fact that if you go into a movie with low expectations you might end up liking it better than you thought. The review in Maltin’s book gave it the notorious ‘Bomb’ rating and critics at the time labeled it a Wild Bunch rip-off, or even a western cousin to The Dirty Dozen. All of which is true, but it still has an amiable quality and enough twists to keep it moderately enjoyable. Ernest Borgnine is a stand-out and many have considered this his best performance outside of Marty.

The concept of finding prisoners to act as the sort-of good guys makes it fun, particularly as Holden must tour the prison camp to pick which ones he wants, but the idea that they’d all stay loyal to him once they got out was an over-reach. The film has them abandoning him for a while, but then all coming back like they couldn’t survive without him, which is ridiculous as these are grown men and if needed could cheat and steal on their own to get by. They’re also use to working independently so the fact that they’d need someone to ‘lead’ them and openly submit to that is hard to believe. Having one or two stay with John while the rest went on their way would’ve been realistic and also helped the viewer bond with the characters as there’s too many and it becomes cluttered.

I didn’t like either that Zweig (Reinhard Kolldehoff) is shown to be a man who must be chained to a post and kept away from the other prisoners due to extreme anti-social behavior and yet when he’s with John and the group he shows none of these signs. If a person has anti-social tendencies in one situation it will come out again and won’t simply ‘disappear’ because it’s a different environment. Trying to allude that Chamaco (Jorge Luke) is possibly the illegitimate son of John from some long ago brief affair and then these two would magically meet in such a random way is pushing the odds too much. While Borgnine’s character if amusing the fact that this impoverished man, who doesn’t have enough money to bathe, would be on top of all the gossip and information is suspect. How is this guy, who smells so bad nobody gets near him and if he tried to overhear a conversation they’d immediately walk away once they got a whiff, be able to collect the info that he does?

Spoiler Alert!

The film has what seemed like a potentially novel twist where Chamaco shoots John and supposedly kills him. Initially I thought this was kind of cool as it’s rare that a protagonist dies in the middle of a movie and then it would be up to this vagabond group of misfits to finish the job for him out of loyalty, which if it had done this would’ve given it distinction. Unfortunately the bullet misses John’s heart by an inch and he’s brought back to health by a kindly nurse named Elizabeth (Susan Hayward), but this becomes pointless. For one thing he makes a full recovery, at least have him suffer some lasting injury, which would most likely happen to gun shot victims in real-life. For instance maybe he could no longer raise his right arm to shoot and be even more dependent on the group to help him. Why even have him get shot at all if it’s just going to be forgotten by the end like it didn’t even happen? Having him then forgive Chamaco and harbor no hard feelings and get along even better than before is a level of graciousness few people if anyone would have in that circumstance.

It seemed like the only reason the shooting took place was as an excuse for Susan Hayward’s character to exist, but I’m not sure why it was necessary. She’s a great actress and this was her last film, but the romance angle doesn’t work and nothing comes of it as he leaves her once recovered and never returns like it was a blip on the radar. She also says at one point that she’d still like to start a family even though it’s pretty obvious that she was over 50.

The villainous Tarp character could’ve been handled better as well. He had the potential at being this enigma that everyone talked about, but never saw like the Keyser Soze character in Usual Suspects. The mystery of the man could’ve been built-up, but this gets ruined when they find him rather quickly during the middle part only for him to then escape. Waiting until the very end for his appearance would’ve made the finale more exciting and tense, which otherwise falls flat.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 21, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Daniel Mann

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Blackout (1978)

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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

Carbon Copy (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: His son is black.

Walter (George Segal) is living the American Dream as a rich company executive residing in the gated community of a posh suburb while also driving a Rolls Royce. However, he’s not happy with his wife Vivian (Susan Saint James) who’s frigid, nor his daughter-in-law Mary Ann (Vicky Dawson) who’s mouthy and spoiled. Yet he remains in the marriage because Vivian’s father Nelson (Jack Warden) is also Walter’s boss and climbing the career ladder is important to him. Then one day Roger (Denzel Washington) drops by and introduces himself as Walter’s son from a relationship Walter had with a black woman many years ago. Walter enjoyed his time with her, but broke it off due to pressure from Nelson who said it would stymie his career. Now Walter feels guilty from what he’s done and wants to make it up by allowing Roger to move in with him, but once his wife finds out she gets him fired. All of his money is tied up in company stocks that is either under his wife’s or father-in-law’s control, so without any income he’s forced to move into a hotel with Roger and then eventually to a rundown apartment in a dangerous area.

The script was written by Stanley Shapiro who received accolades in the early part of his career for scripting many Doris Day movies during the 50’s and 60’s, but he clearly got in over-his-head with this one. The concept and overall reactions from the characters is dated even for 1981. I was around in ’81 living in a small Midwestern town and I didn’t see half the overt racism that the characters here display despite the fact that it all takes place in California known as the liberal capital of the world. I’m not saying there isn’t some racism everywhere, but it gets exaggerated.

The Saint James character is particularly problematic. She plays the part in a funny way, but it’s a caricature. It would’ve been more revealing had she not been this stereotyped rich white person who feels comfortable displaying her bigotry, which would’ve been socially taboo in L.A. and she’d know it, but instead pretending to be okay with it, or even being an outward liberal who tries to be hip with race relations, but then, in more subtle ways, becomes increasingly less comfortable as it goes along.

Segal’s character comes-off as a massive conformist who will do whatever is takes to a part of ‘acceptable’ society. He even changes his last name to hide the fact the he’s Jewish, so where is this rebel side who moved-in with this black lady back in the 60’s when that would’ve created outrage and scandal? Some may argue that people change, sure that can sometimes happen, but there needs to be some factor that created it and the movie does not make that clear. The fact that he morphs into somebody that was so different from what he used to be makes him seem like two different people with no connecting thread at all. A more plausible storyline would’ve had him getting drunk one night and picking-up a black women at a bar for a one-night-stand, or secretly hiring a black prostitute just because he was curious about having sex with someone of a different race and then thought nothing more of it once it was over. 

Susan’s character has the same issue. She coldly kicks Walter out of the house and then for some unexplained reason turns-up at the doorstep of his ratty apartment with her father and begs for him to come back, but with no clear rationale for what created this radical change-of-heart. I don’t think a racist, snotty woman like that would ever dare come into a dangerous area for any reason. She would’ve only done it had she been accompanied by armed guards, or maybe carrying a gun herself and openly flashing it, which could’ve been funny, but of course this stupid movie doesn’t even think to go there.

The over-the-top situations become increasingly ridiculous without a hint of nuance and as satire it’s about as sophisticated as an episode of ‘Gilligan’s Island’. That’s not to say there can’t be some excellent films about race relations as I found The Landlord to be terrific, but this thing lacks any serious insight. Many consider Soul Man to be the worst 80’s film about a white man trying to understand the black experience and get in-touch with their own inner bias and the bias of those around them, but this I consider to be just as bad. Denzel Washington, who makes his film debut here, is the only good thing about it, it’s just a shame they couldn’t have given him better material.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Schultz

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD/Blu-ray

The Baltimore Bullet (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pool hustlers travel country.

Nick (James Coburn) is an aging pool hustler who’s best days are behind him. Many years earlier he took a young 15-year-old boy named Billie Joe (Bruce Boxleitner) under his tutelage and taught him the tricks-of-the-trade. Now as a man Billie is able to play the game as well as Nick. The two travel the countryside attending pool halls where they hustle patsies for money. Nick though holds a grudge because a ways back he lost a crucial match to The Deacon (Omar Sharif) another hustler whose just been released from jail. Nick wants a rematch, but The Deacon doesn’t think he’s worthy of his time. Nick though got’s a scheme that will get him to change his mind by playing in a nationally televised pool tournament that The Deacon plans to attend.

For a film that has never had an official US DVD release and was only shown sporadically on late night TV I was surprised at how engaging it is. Screenwriters John Brascia and Robert Vincent O’Neill have written a highly amiable script that features funny vignettes and amusing banter. The focus isn’t on the game of pool, which seems almost like a side-light, but more on the scraps they get into along the way. The two also come into contact with those trying to cheat them and this culminates in an almost surreal like confrontation, that comes around the middle mark, inside a house of mirrors at a carnival side show.

The film also has a segment that seemed prolific in movies that came out during the late 70’s and early 80’s which features what would be considered sexual assault now. The scene has Nick betting Billie Joe that the breasts on a waitress at a cafe that they’re in is silicone and not natural. Billie then proceeds to go into the kitchen to feel-her-up without her consent. While what he does is not shown we do hear her scream and drop her tray of dishes before he walks back out with a broad smile on his face, which back in the day was just considered ‘light comedy’.

Coburn is a great actor, but looks horribly aged. He was only 60, but could’ve easily passed-off as 70 or 75 making his fight scenes look inauthentic as I don’t believe in his elderly condition he would’ve been able to hold his own. Boxleitner is dull and seems only able to display a broad ‘good-ole-boy’ smile and not much else. A more dynamic actor, or one maybe more Coburn’s age, could’ve made the buddy angle better.

I found Sharif to be too soft spoken and he approaches his part in a weird way. For instance when he’s playing a senator at poker he displays moments of outward nervousness, but if he’s truly a cocky, confident player that wouldn’t have been the case. Ronee Blakely is weak as well proving that her appearance in Nashville was her only good performance though her singing is nice and she’ll remind one a lot of Shelley Duvall with her looks. Jack O’Halloran, the former boxer who’s best known for playing Non the henchmen to the evil Zod in the Superman movies, is very funny as Max an inept hit man.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending unfortunately gets convoluted. Having the game broadcast and featuring live play-by-play and commenting by pool legend Willie Musconi is cool, but I wanted to see the ultimate match between Nick and Billie Joe to prove which one was truly better. The script teases this idea, but then adds in too many other unnecessary ingredients like having Nick be pressured to dump the game while there’s also a robbery happening and then eventually the place is raided by the feds. By the time it gets to The Deacon taking-on Nick it’s anti-climactic especially since no one else is around (it should’ve been televised on TV for all to witness). Having it focus more on the game and the strategies, which it starts to do slightly near the end, would’ve given it more substance and what little they do talk about I found to be genuinely interesting.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 1, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Ellis Miller

Studio: AVCO Embassy Entertainment

Available: DVD (Reg 2 Import)

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teacher influences her students.

Jean Brodie (Maggie Smith) is a teacher at an all-girls school in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1932.  She routinely strays from the core curriculum and instead instills her own quirky value system, like her admiration for fascist dictators, onto her students. She views them as empty vessels there to be programmed to her liking as she routinely will say: “give me a girl at an impressionable age and she’s mine for life”. The school’s Headmistress, Miss Mackay (Celia Johnson) is aware of Brodie’s unorthodox teaching methods, but unable to do much about it, despite the repeated warnings that she gives to her, due to the fact that Brodie has tenure and been at the school longer than she. Sandy (Pamela Franklin) is one of Brodie’s students, who used to admire her teacher, but now has turned on her and comes up with a way to have her fired, which leads to a dramatic confrontation between the two.

One of the first things that struck me about the story, which is based on the play of the same name by Jay Presson Allen that was based on the novel by Muriel Spark that some feel was inspired by a teacher named Christina Kay who taught at James Gillispies School that Muriel went to as a child, is that it works against the grain of most films. In our individualistic culture the modern day movie centers around the rebel, or those that choose to work outside the system of an autocratic institution and the people that uphold those rules and enforce them are usually the villains. Here though it’s the stuffy authoritarians that ultimately become the makeshift heroes while the non-conformist gets exposed as a ‘loon’ that got too far off-base and needed a serious reeling-in.

It’s also the perfect study of someone who seeks control over others and cannot function in relationships were both sides are on equal footing. We see this not only with the way Jean openly humiliates her students by ridiculing them for even minor infractions like having their shirt sleeves rolled-up, but also in her maladjusted love life. Since she cannot have a healthy relationship with them as that would require selfless behavior from her, which she can’t give, so instead she emotionally manipulates two men (Robert Stephens, Gordon Jackson). She enjoys the attention they give her and gives them just enough incentive to keep on doing it, but never more than that. When the Jacskon character finally does get married to someone else, her sad expression isn’t about losing a person she loved, but more upset that she could no longer have this simp at her convenient disposal.

The recreation of the 1930’s girl school atmosphere was impeccable. Too many times I feel movies dealing with a bygone era don’t recreate it in an accurate way, or it gets viewed through a warped modern lens, but here I came away convinced it was accurate and this in large part could be credited to director Ronald Neame, who was alive when the story took place and therefore better able to feed-off his memory and experience. The scene where the girls all get up out of their seats and stand at attention the second the headmistress walks into the room is one of my favorite moments. To some degree it would be nice if kids today could show that kind of respect to an adult figure, but on the other hand it also reveals the dark side to extreme obedience to authority, which creates an atmosphere that allows someone like Jean to incorporate her will and beliefs onto the students without them ever questioning it.

In the end this is a terrific portrait of how teacher’s where viewed back in the day and the tremendous amount of influence they could hold over their pupils. There were no teen idols, singers, celebrities, or social media influencers back then, so the teacher was the center of most children’s lives sometimes even more so than their parents. While some things have changed the debate about what a teacher chooses to convey in the classroom and how far they should be allowed to stray from the core curriculum rages on today. No matter what side of that issue you may stand it just proves that this story is even more relevant now as it was back then.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: February 24, 1969

Runtime: 1 Hour 56 Minutes

Rated M

Director: Ronald Neame

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD/Blu-ray

The Villain (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: An inept western robber.

Cactus Jack (Kirk Douglas) is an aging western outlaw who’s hired by Avery Simpson (Jack Elam) to commit a robbery. Charming Jones (Ann-Margaret) is a beautiful, young woman who’s being escorted west by Handsome Stranger (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and is also carrying a large sum of money. Cactus Jack sets up an array of elaborate traps to try and rob them, but fails each time, so he enlists the help of a local Indian tribe headed by Nervous Elk (Paul Lynde) to assist him.

After the box office success of Smokey and the Bandit and Hooper executives at Columbia Pictures were apparently convinced that stunt man-turned-director Hal Needham could do no wrong and thus gave him a ton of money to direct a movie of his choice. Needham decided to do a send-up of the Road Runner cartoons, but as a live-action. The result though isn’t amusing, or lively with not enough stunt work and what you do see had already been shown many times before in other movies. The script by Robert G. Kane, who was a former joke writer for Dean Martin, is unimaginative and gets stuck in a one-dimensional gear where Cactus Jack continually tries to rob the two, but fails, which takes over 90-minutes to play-out while the old Road Runner cartoons where able to do it in less than 5.

There’s also quasi-surreal moments where Jack paints a tunnel opening onto the side of a mountain with black paint and yet Arnold and Ann are able to drive through it like it were a real tunnel. There’s another segment where Jack pours glue onto some train tracks, which Arnold and Ann are able to drive over without getting stuck while Jack does, but why? I realize this is supposed to be a silly movie and logic should not be demanded, but it just shows how lame it is where the director and writer do not challenge themselves to come-up with a clever way, that works within the realm of reality, for the protagonist to get out of their jam and instead lowers the bar to such an extent that they throw-out anything stupid and figure it will suffice.

Kirk for his part has a lot of fun. Some may feel he took it because his career was waning, but Needham had been the stunt coordinator on many of his movies back in the 60’s, so the two were friends and Douglas eagerly accepted the offer. At age 61 he looks great and did many of his own stunts, which is even more impressive, but no matter what the pratfall his character never gets injured. Despite the common belief many cartoons do at times show the antagonist like Wily E. Coyote getting banged-up and wearing bandages, bruises, and even walk with a crutch, so having Jack get that way and yet still determined to commit the crime would’ve been funnier.

Schwarzenegger is funny too simply for being this big, brawny guy who’s painfully naive though why someone would be walking around in the old west speaking with an Austrian accent needed to be questioned. Mel Tillis does mention at one point that he ‘talks funny’, but I felt that should’ve been a running joke where all the characters mention it when they meet him. It also would’ve been nice to have seen his character evolve and not remain so clueless by upping-the-ante with an exciting climactic battle/gunfight between he and Kirk at the end, which doesn’t happen.

Famous character actors like Strother Martin, Ruth Buzzi, and Foster Brooks are completely wasted. Mel Tillis does his stuttering routine (twice), which I’ve never found amusing though he also does the soundtrack and his singing is great. Initially I thought Ann-Margaret was miscast as she was too old for the part, but they make her look convincingly young and by the end I appreciated her presence.

The best by far is Paul Lynde as Indian Chief Nervous Elk, or as he says it N-e-e-e-e-rvous Elk. Today’s more sensitive audiences may not like a white guy playing a Native American, nor wearing an Indian styled head dress. I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect it’s the reason why the movie has never received an official studio DVD/Blu-ray release nor is it available on streaming, which is unfortunate. Yes, it’s political incorrect, but it’s done in such a goofy, campy way that it manages to become stupid funny and the only part that had me chuckling.

Everything else borders on being pathetic and all it succeeds at doing is getting you wanting to watch an actual cartoon, which will be far more sophisticated and entertaining than anything you’ll see here.

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Alternate Title: Cactus Jack

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 20, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Hal Needham

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R

Don’t Cry, It’s Only Thunder (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Medic helps out orphanage.

Brian (Dennis Christopher) is an army medic during the Vietnam War who’s stationed at a hospital in Saigon. Young and idealistic he initially cannot handle the death and carnage that he comes into at the clinic and feels he’s not making much of a difference especially as he sees the severely injured soldiers come-in and die with very little that they can do. He then makes a promise to one of them to look in on an orphanage and try to find a safe new location for the children and two nuns who look after them. At first Brian is not into the kids, but eventually he bonds with them especially Anh (Mai Thi Lien) a 12-year-old girl who cannot speak and who he wishes to adopt despite all the red tape that he must go through.

The film is loosely based on the actual experiences of Paul G. Hensler, who first wrote it into a novel before being commissioned to turn it into a screenplay. His motive was to show more of the humanitarian side to the war versus the battle scenes that made up so much of the other films that dealt with the Vietnam conflict. In a lot of ways it’s a refreshing change of pace and unlike with M*A*S*H, that focused on medics during the Korean War, there’s no humor, or pranks, but instead solely focuses on the serious side of taking care of the wounded and how emotionally exhausting it can become. There’s a few moments where a passing character will make a joke, I suppose as an ode to M*A*S*H, but instead of laughs from the others it’s met with eye rolls, which is how it should be as there’s certain situations where humor just isn’t going to help things and in some ways such as here just plain out-of-place.

Christopher, who’d been acting in films since he was 15, but rose to critical acclaim in Breaking Away only to make a bad career turn by starring-in the offbeat dud Fade to Blackredeems himself with his performance here. He does though look incredibly young almost like he’s only 14, but his youthful appearance helps explain his character’s sometimes naive nature and tendency to be overly idealistic and thus makes some of the things that he does, which an older more seasoned person might refrain from, more understandable.

I wasn’t as keen with Susan Saint James. She was 10 years older than Dennis, but looked more like it could’ve been 20 and thus making the eventual love scene between them come-off as forced and mechanical. I’ll give her credit she does have an effective emotional moment, but her character is too Jekyll and Hyde-like as she initially is really into helping the orphanage and even gets Brian more into it and then suddenly like a light switch doesn’t want to have anything to do with it, only to eventually to go back, kind of, to helping the kids out, which is like watching someone with a ping pong personality. If anything I really enjoyed the two Vietnamese nuns (Lisa Lu, Shere Thu Thuy) and the way they would sometimes compromise their moral beliefs for the sake of the kids.

The film manages to be gritty most of the way and despite being filmed in the Philippines still gives one an adequate feeling of the civilian experience in Vietnam during that time. However, the segment where a song gets played that was supposedly sung by the kids while we view a montage of them playing is over-the-top sentimental and even jarring as we were used to the background noise of battle and thus comes-off as sappy and out-of-place. Watching the kids having a bit of fun is fine, but we didn’t need the added music.

Brian’s insistence and almost obsession at adopting a preteen girl will be considered cringey by today’s standards. The film makes clear that his intentions are pure, I suppose this is why there was the sex scene thrown between he and Susan to alleviate any viewer concern that he wasn’t a red-blooded All-American guy who was into chicks his own age, but it still looks even in the most charitable way as kind of questionable especially since he can’t even have any conversations with her since she doesn’t speak. He contends that he’s the one guy who can help her, but how since he has shown no background in dealing with those with speech issues? The book cover of which the film is based has a picture of the real Hensler, of which Brian is supposed to represent, holding an infant girl, which I presume is who he wanted to adopt. Having the girl character being a baby like in the book instead of 12 going on 13 would’ve worked better, or having him try to adopt a group of kids to bring home with him, like 3 or 4 that was an even mix of boys and girls, but to have him get overly infatuated with just one makes it unintentionally seem likes his grooming her to being a Lolita in the making. A bratty child (Truong Minh Hai) even alludes to this at one point, which makes you wonder; did he know something the rest of us didn’t?

Spoiler Alert!

Overall, despite tanking at the box office, it’s an decent drama though its never been released on DVD and trying to find a print of it is difficult.  It also goes on about 15-minutes too long and loses some of its potency by the end. A perfect example of this is when the orphanage gets unexpectedly bombed without warning, which is genuinely horrific, but when another unexpected bomb goes off later the shock effect is no longer there and thus they should’ve kept it down to just one.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 3, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Werner

Studio: Sanrio Communications

Available: VHS

The Rubber Gun (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Making cash dealing drugs.

Steve (Stephen Lack) is a cash-strapped would-be artist who hasn’t made any money with his art exhibits in the past 5 years and has turned to drug dealing in order to bring in some income. He lives in a cramped, rundown studio apartment in Montreal with his makeshift ‘family’ who are also dealers as well as addicts. Bozo (Allan Moyle) is a student at nearby McGill University who is doing a thesis paper on drug use with the controversial position that it has positive effects and chooses Steve’s family as his subject, but without letting them know what he’s doing. Steve though is beginning to have second thoughts about being in the business as he sees what it does both on himself and those around him especially Pierre (Pierre Robert) a bi-sexual heroin addict who’s the father of a young daughter that he doesn’t seem able to take care of and whose addiction has caused him to become a narc with the police feeding him heroin in order to get info on Steve and the family.

Fascinating, experimental film that’s quite similar to Dealingbut with much more of an avante-garde flair. Director Allan Moyle, whose first film this was, takes the Paul Morrissey approach where he gives the actors a general idea of what the scene was about, but then lets the performers ad-lib the lines. The result is much more of a conversational quality where discussions ramble on a bit, much like in real-life, but remain revealing and amusing throughout.  Instead of feeling like you’re watching a movie it seems more like a documentary giving one a rare vivid view of the counterculture movement north of the border.

Probably the biggest surprise is Stephen Lack, who also co-wrote the screenplay and co-produced. I saw him in Scannerswhich he did 4 years after this one, and felt he gave one of the worst performances of a leading man I had ever seen and one of the main reasons that film didn’t succeed as well as it could’ve. Here though he’s amazingly engaging. Maybe it’s because he’s playing an extension of himself as I have no doubt that this is loosely based on his own experiences as a struggling artist, but the guy is quite funny in virtually everything that he says and does and I enjoyed how we see all different sides to his character from his partying one to more of a responsible one and by the end disillusioned with dealing. He even has a scene where he talks about regularly visiting his parents each week, who are quite conservative and unaware of his ‘occupation’, though it would’ve been even more fun to see the actual visit versus just discussing it.

My favorite character was Rainbow a small child, the daughter of Pierre and his girlfriend, who couldn’t have been more than 3 who goes on with her playing as the grown-ups in the room talk about drugs and other things. The image of innocence inside a room of jaded debauchery is darkly amusing. What’s better is that unlike most other movies she’s not given any cutesy lines to say and simply allowed to be herself, which makes her all the more engaging. Despite what’s initially perceived as ‘bad parenting’ you still get the feeling that these fringe adults do love the kid and in their dysfunctional way care for her, which ultimately makes the characters more appealing to the viewer instead of less.

The film has an obvious low budget look, with faded color, grainy stock, muffled sound, and choppy editing. Some may consider this a detraction, but it also helps accentuate the fringe realism with a kick-ass soundtrack to boot. In an era now where everyone his trying to make a movie on their phones with virtually no money this film should be used as a prime example on how to get it done by creating multi-dimensional characters and then allow the actors to fill-out the details through their improvisation, which helped lead writer/director/star Moyle to a Hollywood contract where he went on to make even more interesting movies on a bigger budget.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 24, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Allan Moyle

Studio: St. Lawrence Productions

Available: None