Tag Archives: Robert Aldrich

Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nuclear silo under siege.

Loosely based on the novel ‘Viper Three’ by Walter Wager the story centers on Lawrence Dell (Burt Lancaster) a former military general who was sent to prison on trumped on murder charges, but manages to escape and is now out for revenge. With the help of three accomplices (Paul Winfield, William Smith, Burt Young) he breaks into a nuclear silo and threatens to launch it unless the President (Charles Durning) agrees to come clean on the government’s secret agenda in regards to the Vietnam War.

I’ve never read the film’s source novel, but have been told that this takes many liberties with it. The biggest problem is that it jumps ahead too quickly showing the four men right away breaking into the silo when it should’ve started back further to when they escaped from the prison and how they were able to get the access codes in order to break into the silo system to begin with. Winfield has a few great lines and Smith’s hair-trigger personality allows for interesting conflict, so these characters should’ve remained, but instead they are unwisely killed off leaving only Lancaster to pace around nervously, which quickly becomes boring.

Whenever someone escapes from prison the nearby area gets warned usually through the media. Certainly military personnel would’ve been put on high alert and thus making Dell’s ability to break into the silo, which was too easy to begin with, much less likely. The fact that a crazed general could break into a silo system and threaten to start WW III and have it never leaked to the media is highly unlikely as well, which along with various other loopholes makes this thing hard to fully get into.

Charles Durning is a great supporting actor, but here is badly miscast as the President. His facial expressions during his phone calls with the other Generals warning him of what is going on are unintentionally comical and too much time gets spent focusing on him contemplating on whether he’ll given into Dell’s demands until it seems like he is the star and Lancaster only a secondary player. Having him described as being an ‘honest politician’ and ‘a President who would never lie’ seems like an oxymoron as I don’t think a politician could even survive in Washington if they weren’t able to spin the truth sometimes and only helps to make the character seem too idealized.

Spoiler Alert!

This thing though really ‘jumps-the-shark’ at the end as I cannot imagine any circumstance where the secret service would allow the President of the United States to enter into a nuclear silo all alone and be used as a hostage. If they were real desperate they might try to pawn off an imposter in an attempt to fool them, but never the actual President as it would put him into too vulnerable a position. Also, the ‘shocking secret’ about why the U.S. got involved in the Vietnam War really isn’t all that earth shattering and certainly not worth sitting through simply to find out.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Director Robert Aldrich’s prolific use of the split screen is the one entertaining aspect and almost enough to overlook its other many faults, but at best it’s only a mindless programmer that manages to elicit minor tension only if you don’t think about it too hard.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 9, 1977

Runtime: 2 Hours 26 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Aldrich

Studio: Allied Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)

flight of the phoenix 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review:  Fighting the desert elements.

A cargo plane flying to Benghazi and piloted by Frank Towns (James Stewart) is forced to make a crash landing in the middle of the Sahara desert when a freak sand storm shuts down the plane’s engines. Of the 14 men on board two are killed instantly when several oil drums break loose during the crash which also injures a third. The rest of the men find themselves stranded in the searing heat with only dates as their food and a 2 week supply of water. The radio communication was destroyed during the crash and they are too far off their main route for anyone to find them. One of the passengers, Heinrich Dorfmann (Hardy Kruger) who works as a plane designer believes he has a way to take what’s left of the wreckage and build it into a new plane, which will then be able to fly the men out of there. Initially everyone else is skeptical, but eventually they begin working during the night to put it together while continuing to fight the elements and themselves in the process.

What makes this film stand out from the rest of the epic adventures is the fact that there is no good guy versus bad guy here. Every one of the individuals has their own unique character flaws and must learn to overcome them and their egos in order to work together as a team. The characterizations are realistic and multi-faceted making their conflicts believable from start to finish and helping to create a story that is gripping on both an adventure level and a psychological one.

Stewart is outstanding in the lead and I enjoyed seeing him play a part that is cynical and savvy and with less of the humble, country boy charm that he is known for. Kruger is solid in support and watching his confrontations with Stewart and then their eventual respect for each is the film’s main highlight. Richard Attenborough is also good as the sort-of moderator between the two and I also enjoyed Peter Finch as the brave and honorable Captain as well as Ronald Fraser as his sergeant who doesn’t quite share his same courage or sense of duty.

I was disappointed to some extent that it wasn’t filmed on-location in the Sahara and instead in Arizona and California although the desert locales look authentic enough even though eventually after two hours it becomes monotonous visually. Director Robert Aldrich keeps things believable including having the men visibly slow down physically as the days wear on as well as growing beards, which is something that sometimes gets overlooked in other stranded dramas although I was still confused why the Finch character formed a goatee instead of a full beard.

The climactic sequence is both nerve-wracking and exhilarating particularly the scene where Stewart tries to start the plane with only 7 cartridges remaining and with each one failing. Whether the logistics of this could actually occur is a big question, but it still remains grand entertainment.

flight of the phoenix 2

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 15, 1965

Runtime: 2Hours 22Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Robert Aldrich

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD

The Killing of Sister George (1968)

killing of sister george

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: TV character gets axed.

June Buckridge (Beryl Reid) is an aging actress playing the character of Sister George a scooter riding nun in a long running British TV soap opera. Her character no longer has the popularity that it once had and the producers have decided to kill her off by having her die in an ugly road crash with a truck. June is upset with this news as at her age parts are hard to come by and she takes her frustrations out on Childie (Susannah York) her much younger live-in lesbian lover, but she may lose her as well as one of the show’s producers Mercy (Coral Browne) has inklings to lure Childie away from June so she can have her all to herself.

After the immense box office success of The Dirty Dozen writer/director Robert Aldrich was given free rein to start up his own production company and he choose this as his first project. In many ways it is quite similar to his earlier and more well-known film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, but with sexual undertones. The film is based on the Frank Marcus play of the same name that ran for 205 performances and was nominated for the 1967 Tony Award. For its time this was considered quite controversial and groundbreaking especially the final scene that features a highly explicit sex scene between two women. It also is the first film to have a character utter the word ‘bullshit’ and one of the first to say the word ‘fuck’. Although the word itself gets drowned out by a car horn you can still clearly tell by reading Reid’s lips what she is saying.

The three female leads and their snarky exchanges with each other are the film’s chief asset especially Reid who recreates the same character that she played in the stage version that netted her a Tony. Her emotional, angry outbursts are entertaining and the scene where she forces Childie to eat and swallow the butt of her cigarette as ‘punishment’ is still quite edgy. Browne is equally good specifically during her provocative love scene with York, which was made all the more daring since she was 30 years older than York at the time.

The film’s overall staginess is a drawback. Many scenes are too talky and should’ve been trimmed while York and Reid’s Laurel and Hardy routine could’ve been cut out completely. Flashbacks showing how they first met would’ve helped and there needed to be an explanation to the weird child-like manner of York’s character, which quite possibly was based on an age-old gay stereotype. I also didn’t like the foreboding quality of the music that gets played just before Browne and York have their lesbian love scene, which seemed to suggest that something ‘creepy’ and ‘unnatural’ was about to take place and convinced me that despite the daring and ahead-of-its-time nature of the subject that the filmmakers themselves still had some very dated ideas about gays much like the majority of people from that era.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1968

Runtime: 2Hours 18Minutes

Rated X (Reissued as R)

Director: Robert Aldrich

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD