Tag Archives: Richard Benjamin

The Last Married Couple in America (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Everybody’s getting a divorce.

Jeff and Marie (George Segal, Natalie Wood) have been happily married for quite a while, but suddenly all of their friends, who seemed to be in happy relationships as well, begin divorcing. They start to wonder if their marriage is as fulfilling as they thought. Jeff then sneaks off to have an affair with Barbara (Valerie Harper) and when Marie finds out she leaves him and takes up with a younger man, but the more the two are apart the more they long to get back together.

Wood described this film as being Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice 10 years later, but this lacks the bite and insight of that one. The first act goes on too long. Jeff and Marie’s conversations about their friend’s divorcing are transparent and it takes almost 40 minutes before the film finally works into act two. The story as a whole is shallow and makes no real point while filled with lackluster humor that goes nowhere.

The supporting characters are the most annoying as they are portrayed as being these one-dimensional, sexual revolution zombies whose sole purpose in life is to fool around with anyone they come into contact with married or not. They fail to pick-up on basic social signals that a normal person would and are completely oblivious to the concept that others may not be as ‘liberated’ as they are. If one chooses to be a swinger that’s fine, but they still have to be cognizant to the fact that they live in a world where not everyone will share that liberal lifestyle and having everyone lack this basic understanding makes them seem inhuman and nothing more than cardboard caricatures.

Wood comes off best and is the most relatable. Dom DeLuise is somewhat amusing as a male porn star. We never actually see his character at work, but just the idea that this pudgy man would make a living having sex in front of the camera is funny enough. Harper sporting a bleach blonde hairstyle is solid as well, but Segal with his overly exaggerated reactions and facial expressions is a major detriment.

As for the humor one could find more chuckles from an old episode of ‘Gilligan’s Island’. However, there is one moment that got me to laugh. It entails a conversation that Segal has with his friend (Richard Benjamin) at a bar. The two men lament about getting older and Segal states that having a weak stream while going to the bathroom is a strong signal of aging. The two then go to the men’s room to analyze theirs. While Benjamin stands at the urinal he suddenly looks up with a horrified expression while exclaiming “Oh my God, there’s two!”

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Release: February 8, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Gilbert Cates

Studio: Universal Pictures

Available: DVD-R (Universal Vault Series)

Westworld (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cowboy robot goes berserk.

Peter and John (Richard Benjamin, James Brolin) are two buddies who decide to take the vacation of a lifetime by visiting an amusement park that replicates the old west. The people inside the park are actually robots who are so lifelike that it’s almost impossible to tell them apart from humans. Gunfights, barroom brawls and even whorehouses are the name of the day. At first both men enjoy their stay, but then the robots begin to act erratically especially the nameless gunslinger (Yul Brynner) who chases Peter throughout the park determined to kill him and no one, not even the technicians running the place, are able to stop him.

Michael Crichton’s directorial debut is a smashing success. The film is compact making for maximum use of tension and excitement and I liked how some sequences were done in slow motion. What I liked most about the film though is the way it gives the viewer a three dimensional viewpoint. Not only do we see things from the perspective of the main characters, but also the technicians behind the scenes and at one point even the robots.

The story brings out many interesting themes. Most people will jump on the man-versus-machine concept, but the one I liked better was how we have these suburbanite males living otherwise cushy lifestyles deciding they want to ‘prove their manhood’ by roughing it in some sort of adventure setting. However, pretending to be ‘rough and tough’ cowboys means nothing when ultimately it’s all still in a safe and contained setting where ‘nobody gets hurt’. In the real west there was no such things as ‘time outs’ or ‘safe places’, which is why I actually found it quite amusing when the robots do go berserk because it was the one thing that kept these suburban softies egos in-check and gave them a true taste of what the west was REALLY like.

A few things though that did bother me was the scene where Peter has sex with one of the female robots and enjoys it, which seemed weird to me because I would think having intimacy with a machine would have to feel way different than one with a human. We are told earlier that the only way to tell these robots apart from real people is by looking at their hands, which the technicians apparently haven’t yet been able to perfect and yet they were somehow able to get the vagina ‘just right’?!

I also found the idea that these robots would be given guns with real bullets to be absurd. Apparently the humans are also given real guns, but they’re equipped with sensors that detect body heat and therefore will shut off if aimed at a real person and if that were the case then the robots guns would do the same and therefore the scene where the gunslinger shots and fatally injures one of them would be negated.

I also found it equally preposterous that these same techs who were able to create such brilliant life-like robots would be dumb enough to make a control room that would lock-up when the power shut off and not allow them to escape. Certainly someone during the building stage would’ve had the brains to think up a secondary, emergency route to use should that situation occur, which makes the scene where they all suffocate seem quite laughable.

Having the robots all malfunction due to some ‘contagious-like disease’ that runs rampant amongst them didn’t really register with me either. To me it’s an overblown concept that would’ve worked better had it just been the gunslinger robot that goes crazy and relentlessly chases the two. He may even kill others who do try to stop him, which I think would’ve heightened the menacing quality of the Brynner character, which is already strong, even more.

Overall though it’s still a great movie with a terrific performance by Brynner as well as Benjamin playing a sort-of everyman who seems wimpy at first, but eventually learns to survive by using his brains over brawn.

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My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: November 21, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Crichton

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Portnoy’s Complaint (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Jewish man digs prostitute.

Alexander Portnoy (Richard Benjamin) is a man who no longer believes in a God or any of the other conventional ways of life taught to him by his old-fashioned Jewish parents (Jack Somack, Lee Grant). He enjoys the ‘art’ of masturbation and will routinely find excuses to go do it when his parents aren’t looking. As he grows older he finds that his sexual appetite broadens in a way that regular women won’t be able to fulfill. Then he meets Mary Jane (Karen Black). She’s a prostitute nicknamed ‘The Monkey’ due to all the wild positions that she can get her body into during sex. The two enjoy a lot of kinky times, but then she ends up falling in love with him and wanting to get married, but Portnoy resists as he considers her to be intellectually inferior and fears she’ll become an embarrassment to him with his other friends.

Philip Roth’s landmark and controversial novel comes to the big screen with only lukewarm results although it does start out funny. I laughed-out-loud at the scene where Portnoy pretends to have a bout of diarrhea just so he can sneak into the bathroom to get-off and his parents misinterpret his moans of ecstasy as being that of gaseous agony. The dream segment where Portnoy finds that his penis has fallen off and onto the kitchen floor while his parents come into to inspect it is pretty good as is the bit where Jeannie Berlin tries to give Portnoy a hand-job.

Unfortunately the film shifts too much in tone. It starts out as this quirky, dark-humored, sex-laden comedy only to end up being a brooding drama. The novel was written as a continuous monologue spoken by Portnoy while talking to his therapist, which doesn’t effectively come off here. We see a few scenes in his therapist’s office, but they are brief and I didn’t like the fact that his therapist never speaks a word of dialogue, which seemed weird and unnatural.

Screenwriter Ernest Lehman, in his one and only foray behind the camera, implements too much of a slow pace to the proceedings. Many scenes go on far longer than they should and at certain points the camera gets nailed to the ground giving it a static presence. He also hired Michel Legrand to do the film score, which is beautiful and majestic, but the lush tones are better suited for a romantic flick, which this definitely isn’t.

Karen Black gives an outstanding performance as ‘The Monkey’, but her character is too one-dimensionally dumb almost to the point that she seems mentally handicapped, which I don’t think was the intention. Either way it is never funny, touching, or even real while bordering into the stereotype that all prostitutes ‘must be really stupid’.

One of the most annoying elements of the film is that it keeps cutting back to a matted image of Black jumping from a skyscraper and towards the viewer while she screams. The image looks very hooky while giving the film a real amateurish feel. I also didn’t like how at the very end we spot Black walking amongst a crowd of people from a bird’s eye perspective. The supposed demise of the character was meant to be murky as she threatens to jump from a building and Portnoy leaves her without ever knowing if she ended up doing it or not, which then causes him a major source of guilt afterwards. By having her suddenly appear at the very end ruins the mystery and brings up far more questions than answers.

Roth’s novel was very much ahead-of-its-time and deserved a film that could match it, but Lehman’s staid approach doesn’t do it justice.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 19, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ernest Lehman

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), YouTube

The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker (1971)

marriage of a young stockbroker

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Husband is a voyeur.

William (Richard Benjamin) seems to be living the dream having both a stable job and a beautiful wife named Lisa (Joanna Shimkus), but underneath he’s bored and as a source of escape begins to get involved in voyeuristic activities. He spends hours at an adult theater and uses any opportunity he can to spy on scantily clad women through his binoculars. Eventually Lisa, in a fit of frustration over William’s behavior, walks out on him and moves in with her sister Nan (Elizabeth Ashley) and her husband Chester (Adam West). Nan is very controlling and makes every attempt to keep Lisa away from William even as William tries to reconcile. Although her marriage seems fine on the outside it is actually as troubled as William and Lisa’s, which comes to a head when both couples get involved in a group therapy session.

The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Charles Webb, who was also the author of The Graduate, which became a hit film that was produced by Lawrence Turman who directed this one. Clearly Turman was hoping for the same success and this one begins well. The opening bit showing William bored with his job is funny as is his trip to an adult theater and the many thoughts that go through his head as he watches a nudie flick. The cinematography by Lazlo Kovacs captures the California coastline in a lush style and the overall narrative takes a refreshingly open-minded approach towards sexual fetishes as well as the institution of marriage while also questioning society’s conventional understanding of both.

Benjamin is good playing almost the exact same type of character living the same type of detached existence as the one he did in The Steagle. In fact this film could easily be considered an extension to that one and both movies were released less than a month apart. This one though fares a bit better as Benjamin gives a more well-rounded performance. In fact this may be better his best work second only to the one that he did in Diary of a Mad Housewife.

The beautiful Shimkus does equally well and I enjoyed the scenes with the two of them together. Ashley makes a strong impression as the meddling sister and has a few funny moments. West, who campaigned hard for the role in an attempt to shake his Batman image, seems a bit too transparent and there needed to be more of a backstory involving both his character and his marriage to Nan.

Unfortunately all of these good things get crushed by a script that doesn’t know what direction or theme it wishes to take. The scene with Tiffany Bolling is just one issue as she plays this really beautiful woman who for some indiscriminate reason decides to invite William, who is a complete stranger to her, into her house for sex after spotting him walking down the sidewalk. Why such a gorgeous woman would invite a schmuck like Benjamin into her place on a sexual whim makes very little sense and seems too much like a male sexual fantasy that demanded much more of an explanation to be believable. I realize this scene was part of the story arc to show William’s dissatisfaction with having sex with women who were strangers and thus propel him to try and win Lisa back, but the same point could’ve been made in a more realistic way had he done it with a hooker that he met on the street instead.

The ending is the biggest letdown as it employs too much of a feel-good, happy curve that comes out of nowhere. The two main characters suddenly turn into frolicking, youthful lovebirds that do not in any way resemble the same people that we’ve been following for the first 90 minutes. It comes off like a cop-out that is jarring to the overall tone while undermining all of the other issues that the film had previously brought up.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 19, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated R

Director: Lawrence Turman

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: http://www.modcinema.com

The Steagle (1971)

steagle 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Living out his fantasies.

The year is 1962 and the Cuban missile crisis is in full-throttle. The threat of a possible nuclear war has everyone on edge and having to hear about it every night on the news just makes things worse. Harold (Richard Benjamin) decides to use this opportunity to ‘escape’ from his drab existence. Both his marriage to Rita (Cloris Leachman) and his job as a college professor have grown stale. If the end is near then Harold wants to live-it-up to the fullest, so he travels to Vegas, has sex with hot women while also living out other outrageous fantasies.

The film was directed by award-winning set designer Paul Sylbert and for the most part, at least at the beginning, is right on-target. The mood and design looks authentically like the early ‘60s and the story nicely taps into the secret fantasy life that most likely harbor in the back-of-the-minds of just about every middle-age person out there. The viewer effectively feels Harold’s frustration during the first half and then just as effectively feels the rush when he finally decides to break free and go wild.

The story is consistently amusing throughout with the most memorable bit coming when Harold decides to speak in gibberish while giving a lecture to his class. Benjamin is perfect for the part playing a character with a snarky, sarcastic personality that hides just beneath his otherwise formal veneer. Ivor Francis is great in support as a minister who Harold meets on his travels that, like with him, wants to escape from the shackles of his daily existence. Chill Wills is good too playing a loopy ex-actor who thinks he’s Humphrey Bogart and traps a group of men inside a bathroom and won’t let them out until after they hear his rendition of a scene from The Maltese Falcon.

The film’s biggest drawback though comes from the awkward transition between Harold fantasizing about these things and then finally deciding to go through with it. The film never bothers to show how he manages to get away from his wife and kids. Does he sneak out in the middle of the night unannounced, leave a note, or simply tell them that he needs to ‘get away for a while’? Nothing is ever shown even though I felt that this scene was quite crucial and needed to be put in. The ending is equally frustrating as we never find out what happens when Harold finally decides to go back, which makes the film as a whole come off as incomplete and one-dimensional.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Release: September 15, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Sylbert

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD (Mill Creek)

Witches’ Brew (1980)

witches brew 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Witch has ulterior motives.

Margaret (Teri Garr) will do anything to help her husband Joshua (Richard Benjamin) get a promotion at a local college, so she decides to resort to witchcraft with the help of Vivian (Lana Turner) who is an expert on the matter. The problem is that two of Margaret’s closets friends Susan (Kathryn Leigh Scott) and Linda (Kelly Jean Peters) also have husbands that are vying for the same position, so they begin to practice witchcraft of their own, which conflicts with Margaret’s and causes Joshua to have a streak of terrible luck and even near tragedy. Vivian comes to their aid, but only because she harbors a dark secret that could cause Margaret her life.

This is a remake of 1944’s Weird Woman that starred Lon Chaney Jr. and Evelyn Ankers, which also got remade before in 1962 with Burn, Witch, Burn! Out of the three versions this one is considered the weakest. The set-up is alright, but the second half in which the cynical Joshua slowly comes to terms with the reality of witchcraft goes on way too long. The comedy and effects are much too restrained and do not take enough advantage of its wild concept. The final third does manage to have some interesting twists, but the climatic sequence is full of loopholes and unfinished story threads that left this viewer feeling unsatisfied and confused when it was over.

I’ve enjoyed Richard Benjamin and his sarcastic wit in other films, but here he comes off as a borderline jerk and has a such a different temperament from his wife you wonder how they ever got married in the first place. Garr is far more appealing and should’ve been given the most screen time. Turner whose last film this was, doesn’t have all that much to do and locked into a role that is limited and rather thankless.

Director Richard Shorr was fired midway through the production and replaced by Herbert L. Strock, which may explain the film’s disjointed feel that never really comes off as the intended spoof that it wants to be and in some ways far edgier than you’d expect including one scene that has a disgruntled former student climbing to the top deck of a parking ramp and shooting at Joshua below in a Charles Whitman-like attack. There is also another segment that has a giant devil-like bat hatch from an oversized egg that might’ve worked had the special effects been better. In either case this film, which starts out with good potential never comes together and becomes rather flat and forgettable.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 10, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Shorr, Herbert L. Strock

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS

Goodbye, Columbus (1969)

goodbye columbus 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dating a rich girl.

One day while at a pool party Neil (Richard Benjamin) becomes infatuated with beautiful Brenda (Ali MacGraw) and proceeds to begin a relationship with her. He has just recently graduated from college and still not quite sure what direction he wants to take in life. He doesn’t want to fully ‘drop-out’, but isn’t so excited about diving in to the corporate business world where making a lot of money is the only focus. Brenda on the other hand is from a rich Jewish family who enjoys her privileged lifestyle, but not always the pretension that comes with it.  She continues to date Neil simply out of spite to her mother (Nan Martin) who doesn’t approve, but as things progress their differences and values become more pronounced and sends the relationship teetering on the brink.

Director Larry Peerce did some high quality films during the sixties and it is unfortunate that by the seventies his output dropped off. I think overall this is his most complete work and a wonderful compliment to the Philip Roth novella from which it is based. The location shooting is outstanding and one of the main things that gives the film a personality. The giant suburban house in which Brenda’s family lives makes one of the biggest impressions not only with its large exterior, but interior as well where every room is wallpapered with its own distinct color and design. The library where Neil works is also visually impressive especially with its large marble columns and painted cathedral ceilings.

The film is filled with a lot of memorable and amusing scenes. Neil’s interactions with Brenda’s ten-year-old younger sister Julie (Lori Shelle) is entertaining not only with a game of hoops that the play, but most especially their ping pong contest that they play later. Neil’s attempted conversation with a deaf man while inside the library is funny as is seeing Neil sneaking into Brenda’s bedroom each night when the parents are asleep. You also got to love Neil’s shocked response when he finds out Brenda has not been taking the pill and the scenes at the wedding reception of Brenda’s brother is filled with a lot of keen observations. If you look closely you will be able to spot Bette Midler, Michael Nouri, Jacklyn Smith and Susan Lucci as wedding guests.

MacGraw has never looked more beautiful and Peerce spends several minutes lovingly photographing her swimming in the pool, which isn’t bad. Her performance as a spoiled rich girl going through fits of rebellion, but not quite ready to completely break from her soft lifestyle is on-target and proves that she is not just a pretty face, but an excellent actress as well. Although already 30 at the time she plays a 20-year-old quite convincingly.

Michael Meyers as Brenda’s older brother Ron is a scene stealer not only with his empty ‘discussions’ with Neil, but also with the way he orders around the other workers as a supervisor at a job he wouldn’t have had, had he not been the owner’s son. This proved to be his one and only movie appearance. He eventually became a physician in real-life and wrote an autobiography entitled ‘Goodbye Columbus, Hello Medicine’.

In some ways I saw a lot of similarities to this film and The Graduate and consider it to be just as much of a classic. I enjoyed the way the film explores the different stages of the relationship and the final argument the two have is quite revealing.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: April 3, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Peerce

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Laser disc, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube