Tag Archives: Richard Widmark

The Moonshine War (1970)

moonshine1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Battle over illegal distillery.

John (Alan Alda), who goes by the nickname of Son, and Frank (Patrick McGoohan) were buddies during the war, but now Son has started up a profitable moonshine business while Frank has become a government agent in charge of arresting those that run illegal distilleries. Frank though is also corrupt and willing to look the other way as long as Son gives him a take of the profits, which Son refuses to do. This forces Frank to bring in Emmett (Richard Widmark) and Dual (Lee Hazlewood) who have violent ways of getting what they want, but when Son still refuses it turns into a shootout with the rest of the town sitting on the sidelines and viewing it as spectators.

The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Elmore Leonard who also penned the script, but Richard Quine’s poor direction impedes the story from achieving its full potential. There’s only a couple of interesting bits one of which takes place inside a café where Dual forces a young couple, played by Claude Johnson and a young Teri Garr who sports a brunette wig, to strip and run around naked, but outside of this there’s not much that’s unique. The editing is choppy as the action jumps from the middle of one scene to another with no set-up in-between. The atmosphere, which is supposed to be the 1920’s does not seem authentic, and the homes, which appear more like shacks, look like they were built in an unimaginative way on a studio backlot. The setting is Kentucky but filmed in Stockton, California where the dry, sandy landscape doesn’t look anything like the Bluegrass state.

I’ll give some high marks to the casting, McGoohan is fun as the agent especially as he tries to speak in an odd sounding American accent, but when Widmark comes along he completely upstages him, which is a big problem. There’s so many offbeat characters within the bad guy clan that putting them all together ends up hurting their potential since Widmark steals it away from all of them. I did like Hazelwood, who’s better known as Nancy Sinatra’s singing partner, in a rare acting bit where he’s genuinely creepy, but not used enough to make the lasting impression that it should’ve. The same goes for Suzanne Zenor, making her film debut, who’s quite delightful as the ditzy blonde, (she played the original Chrissy Snow in the first pilot for ‘Three’s a Company’), but needed to be in more scenes to make her presence truly worth it. Alan Alda is also problematic as his character isn’t seen enough to justify having the viewer root for him and things would’ve worked better had it simply been McGoohan versus Widmark.

The ending is amusing seeing the whole town sitting on the riverbank observing the shootout as if it were some sort of sporting event and the explosive finale, which comes as a bit of surprise, isn’t bad either, but the heavy-handed direction really sinks it. In better hands it might’ve worked better, but ultimately comes-off as a head-scratching misfire that is not one of the author’s best work.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 5, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Richard Quine

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive)

Movie Madness (1982)

moviemadness2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Three very unfunny stories.

If you’re ever needing to show someone why drugs aren’t a good idea there’s no reason to go back to that old TV ad with an egg frying in a pan that said ‘This is your brain on drugs’ instead you could simply show them this movie. Not that it pertains to drugs, or even mentions them, but it was done by people heavily on cocaine, the top drug of choice in Hollywood at that time, who were apparently so coked-up that they thought this movie was ‘hilarious’ even though no one else that saw it thought so.

With the success of Animal House National Lampoon’s was considered the big comic venue, so much so that United Artists gave them top-dollar, a whopping $15 million, to make another feature. In response National Lampoon brought together 5 writers, all of whom had written for their humor magazine, but had no screenplay experience, to compose the movie. The idea was to create 10 short vignettes that would make fun of a different movie genre, but this was ultimately too difficult, so it got pared down to just 4, with only three of them ultimately making it to the big screen. What’s perplexing is that the production values are good (I actually liked the opening song sung by Dr. John and the opening animation), there’s even some big name stars, but the material itself is unbelievably lame to the extent that it purportedly caused a test audience in Rhode Island to tear up their theater seats to show their disgust.

The first story, which is entitled ‘Growing Yourself’ stars Peter Riegert as a suburban father/husband who packs up his wife’s (Candy Clark) bags and tells her to leave so he can ‘grow’ as a person. Though confused with the reasoning she immediately obliges, but ultimately the husband finds raising the kids and finding a new more interesting career to be far more of a challenge then he expected.

The problem with this story, like with the other two, is that the characters and their motivations are unrelatable to real everyday people. For a story to work, even as satire, there still needs to be a connection to reality and this thing is too daffy. Even on a surreal level it goes nowhere and becomes simply a glimpse to weird individuals saying and doing stupid things with no intrinsic point at to it at all.

The second segment, entitled ‘Success Wanters’, suffers the same fate. It has to do with recent college grad Dominique (Ann Dusenberry) getting a job as a stripper, which almost immediately leads to her becoming heiress to a massive fortune of a margarine company when the owner (Robert Culp), who she was fooling around with, dies. This then leads to more affairs, and more money and ultimately even a relationship with the President of the United States (Fred Willard).

Again nothing that happens here has any bearing in reality, never in the history of the world has this happened to any college grad out there, especially in only a few days time. To be funny it still needs to make sense, but like with the first story you’re left scratching your head wondering what the point of it was although Dusenberry does look fabulous naked, both topless and bottomless, making catching it for that reason almost worth it.

The third and final segment, entitled ‘Municipalians’ has rookie cop Brent (Robby Benson) paired with jaded, crabby veteran Stan (Richard Widmark) as they go out to find a bizarre serial killer (Christopher Lloyd). Supposedly this was meant as a parody of the cop buddy movies, but too silly and over-the-top to be even slightly amusing. I will admit it’s fun seeing veteran star Widmark in such an odd project and his cantankerous ways is slightly engaging, including one moment when he’s caught reading Hustler magazine, but the story structure is faulty. It might’ve gotten a few more points from me had the scene where Benson and Lloyd start singing a duet of ‘Feelings’ and then had Widmark barge in to form a trio, but since that doesn’t happen this one like the other two fails miserably. It also ends with the camera focusing on Benson struggling to get up after he’s been shot several times, which comes-off as cruel like it’s making fun of someone who’s in pain, which I found disturbing.

There was a fourth segment entitled ‘The Bomb’ that starred Kenneth Mars and Marcia Strassman and was a parody of disaster movies, but when screened United Artists’ vice president of production found this segment to be ‘of an awfulness that made the whole picture look unreleasable’. so it got taken out. However, he did also find the first three stories to be ‘good, funny segments with high commercial promise’ making you wonder if he was coked-up on the white stuff too.

Alternate Title: National Lampoon’s Goes to the Movies

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: April 23, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Directors: Bob Giraldi, Henry Jaglom

Studio: MGM/UA

Available: DVD-R (MGM Limited Edition Collection), Amazon Video, Tubi

Against All Odds (1984)

against all odds

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for missing girlfriend.

Terry Brogan (Jeff Bridges) is an aging football player who gets cut from the team and in desperate need of cash. He reluctantly accepts a paying assignment from his friend Jake Wise (James Woods) which has him traveling to Mexico in search of Jake’s girlfriend Jessie (Rachel Ward) who just so happens to also be the daughter of the team’s owner (Jane Greer) that cut Terry from the squad. Terry manages to find Jessie rather quickly and the two promptly fall in love, which propels a string of odd events that soon has Terry embroiled in a complex criminal scheme that threatens both his life and others.

This film is a remake from the 1947 film noir classic Out of the Past, but it does not fare as well as the original. The main problem is that it requires the viewer to make some major leaps in logic and only proceeds to get more implausible as it goes along. The fact that both Jake and the team’s owner want to hire Terry to find Jessie is the biggest issue. Why would these two want to throw gobs of money at someone who has no experience in finding people or know the first thing about the process. They wouldn’t hire him to fix their car if he had no experience in that area, so why expect him to have any ability in finding a missing person. Professional private eyes have spent years tracking down people and have attained skills that a novice wouldn’t, so why not just leaf through the Yellow Pages of their local phone book and hire a private investigator with good credentials to do the job instead?

Terry also locates Jessie much too quickly. Mexico has a population of 125 million people and yet in only a couple days he miraculously spots her buying food from across the street from where he is having a drink. In equally miraculous fashion she is somehow able to, after only speaking to him briefly, figure out which hotel he is staying at and bursts into his room unannounced the next day, which is also dumb because who leaves their hotel room door unlocked especially when staying in a foreign country? Later the Alex Karras character is somehow able to find the two as they make love inside an ancient Mayan temple deep inside the remote jungles of the Yucatan, which again is highly questionable and probably even more implausible than the other two examples mentioned above.

The motivations of the characters are another issue. There’s a scene where the Swoosie Kurtz character, as a favor to Terry, goes into a dead man’s office to retrieve some important files from a safe while having a Doberman growling at her and a corrupt security guard ready to harm her at any second, but why someone would put their life on the line for somebody that they really don’t know that well is nebulous and in reality wouldn’t occur.

There is also a scene involving Jake and Terry drag racing down the busy streets of L.A. in broad daylight. Some fans of the film consider this to be quite exciting, but I found it to be unrealistic as it is hard to believe that they could get away with it without catching the eye of a traffic cop as they were doing it. Having two middle-aged men be so utterly reckless not only with their own lives but those of the other drivers is also hard to imagine and puts their most prized possessions, which is their snazzy sports cars in jeopardy of getting totaled. Going to some other less traveled place to do their off-road racing would’ve made more sense.

On the plus side Larry Carlton’s moody soundtrack is great and helps create just the right tone. I also thought Ward was a perfect choice for her role as she is quite sensual and seductive without ever overdoing it. The film also scores with its breathtaking Mexican scenery.

I liked that Greer, who starred in the original version, gets cast as Ward’s mother and although I felt Richard Widmark does quite well as the heavy I was disappointed that the role wasn’t offered to either Robert Mitchum or Kirk Douglas as they had appeared in the original as well.

The plot features many twists, which keeps it mildly interesting, but it also borders on getting convoluted and is never emotionally compelling. The ongoing love affair between the two leads ends up being annoying as well. For one thing she two-times him while also bailing on him the moment things got tough. If a person does that to someone once they will do it to them again if given the chance, so ‘losing’ her wasn’t much of a loss and makes the image of her crying for him, which gets shown over the closing credits, all the more melodramatic and over-the-top.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 2, 1984

Runtime: 2Hours 1Minute

Rated R

Director: Taylor Hackford

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD

To the Devil a Daughter (1976)

to the devil a daughter 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He sacrifices his daughter.

Father Michael (Christopher Lee) is an ex-communicated priest who runs an offshoot religion called Children of the Lord that seems connected to the Catholic Church on the outside, but underneath the façade it is actually a cover for a group of Satanists. Henry (Denholm Elliot) is the father who signs over his daughter Cathrine’s (Nastassja Kinski) soul at her birth which stipulates that on her 18th birthday she will become the devil’s representative here on earth. Yet as that date approaches Henry begins to have second thoughts and hires occult novelist John Verney (Richard Widmark) to steal Catherine away from her captors and take her away to his place to hide, but Father Michael uses the power of black magic to hypnotize Catherine and force her to return to him while John tries everything in his power to stop it.

One commenter on the IMDB message boards claims this is ‘one of the worst movie to come out in the 70’s’, which only proves that he must not have seen a lot of ‘70’s movies as there is far worse stuff from that decade than this. Although it is certainly no classic it’s still not bad on the technical end and even rather slick. I enjoyed the on-location shooting done in Europe particularly the scene showing a drawbridge that could be lowered and raised manually by one person. The gore and scares are skimpy, but the scene where Kinski dreams of having the devil fetus crawl up her body and she then proceeds to stuff it into her vagina is certainly worth a few points.

Kinski’s presence is the best thing about the movie and the film became notorious in its day for showing her in full frontal nudity even though she was only 14 at the time. However, what surprised me even more was how confident she looked when she did it without any of the expected nervousness or shyness. I felt that because she was the daughter of actor Klaus Kinski and had to learn to group up fast she had a higher level of maturity than most other teens her age and therefore the scene wasn’t as awkward for her as it might otherwise have been.

Lee’s great as always as the bad guy and I particularly enjoyed his facial expressions. However, Widmark  was miscast as he was too old and I didn’t understand why being only a friend of the family he would take such an invested interest in their daughter and such personal risks to get her out of the cult, which I felt would’ve been better suited to the role of the father and cutting out the Gurney character altogether.

This was the last horror film to be produced by Hammer and for the most part it plays like a cheesy rip-off of The Exorcist, but still has enough of a budget and a capable enough cast to keep it mildly enjoyable.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 4, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Sykes

Studio: Hammer Films

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Rollercoaster (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Extortionist blows up rollercoasters.

A young man who is never given a name and is played by Timothy Bottoms is able to make home-made radio controlled bombs that he attaches to roller coaster rides at amusement parks. He threatens to blow up a major one during a big event unless he is given 1 million dollars. It is then up to Harry Calder (George Segal) the chief investigator to find the extortionist and the two end up playing an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse.

The film’s pacing is poor. It opens with the extortionist blowing up a roller coaster and Segal coming to investigate and then all of a sudden it cuts to an uninspired ten minute segment involving Segal’s family life before it finally gets back to the investigation. Outside of seeing a young Helen Hunt as his daughter, the family scenes offer nothing and should have been scraped completely.

Despite having ‘disaster epic’ written all over it the filmmaker’s unwisely decided to make this more of an ‘intellectual thriller’ with very little action or special effects. The only real action/special effects come at the beginning when Bottoms blows up a coaster and everyone on it comes crashing down. However, it looks too sanitized and fake as it is far too obvious that it is dummies inside of the coaster cars and not real people.

As the villain Bottoms has got to be one of the dullest you will ever see. Absolutely nothing about him is interesting and there is no back story given as to why he is doing this or how he manages to be so very clever. Henry Fonda is wasted in a ridiculously small and insignificant role and one wonders why he would have even taken it.

Segal plays his part with a good ‘everyman’ quality that makes him easily relatable and it is nice to see him living in an apartment that is reasonably sloppy. It is also fun to watch him ride a roller coaster while everyone else is screaming he just sits there looking bored. Richard Widmark is equally good and possibly at his most gruff and abrasive and the sparing relationship that he has with Segal is entertaining. The intricate cat-and-mouse game that Segal plays with Bottoms isn’t too bad either. There are a few impressive shots where the camera is mounted on the front roller coaster car and then is glided along the tracks at high speeds giving the viewer of a very realistic feeling of actually being on a roller coaster.

Ultimately the film just does not live up to expectations and needed more special effects, more action, more suspense, and just plain more disaster. The bad guy should’ve been more distinctive and a much more prominent role for Fonda as some feel he may be one of the great actors of all time so if you got him use him.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 17, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes

Rated PG

Director: James Goldstone

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD