Tag Archives: Richard Widmark

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)

rollercoaster

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