Tag Archives: Robert Duvall

The Eagle Has Landed (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Plotting to kidnap Churchill.

During World War II Nazi Colonel Radl (Robert Duvall) is hired to study the feasibility of kidnapping British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and bringing him back to Germany. At first he considers it an impossible task, but then learns that Churchill is set to visit an airfield in an English village where one of their German sleeper agents resides. He then hires paratrooper Kurt Steiner (Michael Caine) to lead the mission inside the village, but the plan quickly unravels forcing the soldiers to make a daring escape before the allied troops arrive.

This marks the final film directed by John Sturges who was noted for helming his share of action flicks and westerns. The film’s handsome production offers plush scenery, on-location shooting and some wonderful bird’s-eye-views. One could enjoy the movie on this level alone as well as its ability to focus more the actual planning of the mission than the fighting. It has a sort of behind-the-scenes approach to all of the thought and effort that goes into the strategy of war as opposed to the physical on the ground aspect. The film also takes a surprisingly humanistic approach to the Nazis portraying them more as regular human beings who just so happen to be fighting on the wrong side as opposed to the robotic, demonic persona that they’re given in most other war films.

The film’s faults lies in that it’s too leisurely paced. The planning stage allows for some interesting insight, but could’ve been trimmed while the action is sudden and jarring and only popping up near the end when it should’ve been introduced earlier. There is never any real danger to Churhill as the plan goes awry long before he arrives. Since the whole thing was fictional anyways then why not have the soldiers surround whatever building Churchill was in and thus making it seem at least that he might really get captured before having their plan unravel. The way it gets done here the viewer’s energy is strangely geared at seeing the bad guys escape capture, which is off-putting as is the gimmicky ending that makes everything that is shown previously seem insignificant.

The cast is impressive, but mostly underused. Duvall, who speaks with a dubious German accent, takes up most of the screen-time during the first half and then pretty much disappears altogether during the second part. Caine, who doesn’t speak with a German accent, or at least any that is detectable, seems stiff and uncomfortable in an uninteresting role that does not take advantage of his talents. Apparently he was originally offered the role of Liam Devlin who was a member of the IRA, but Caine refused it due to his personal political beliefs and was thus given the Steiner role on the rebound.

Larry Hagman, mostly known for his TV work, gets an amusingly showy bit as the inept Colonel Potts who tries to lead the US Army Rangers on a mission to rescue the village’s town folk who are held hostage by the soldiers. While the part takes full advantage of Hagman’s comic ability to play a hyper, emotionally frazzled character it seems out of place in this type of movie and almost turns the film dangerously close to becoming an ill-advised comedy.

Donald Sutherland ends up becoming the scene stealer as Liam Devlin who with his hair dyed red really looks Irish and speaks with an authentic sounding Irish accent. The character also has an unusual ability to whistle and then move his finger in a way that subdues an aggressive dog by seemingly putting it under a sort-of hypnotic spell. Whether anyone could really do this, or is there is some truth in what the character does here I don’t know, but it would be interesting to find out.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Release: December 25, 1976

Runtime: 2Hours 3Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Sturges

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

THX 1138 (1971)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sex is not allowed.

THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) is member of a futuristic, work camp-like society where everyone has shaved heads, forced to take drugs to control their emotions and avoid having sex, which is forbidden. His days are spent on the production line where he helps build police androids and at night he goes home to an apartment where he rooms with LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie). She is unhappy with her situation and stops taking the required drugs while replacing THX’s with placebos. The two begin a sexual affair and are promptly arrested. THX is thrown into a modernistic prison that has no walls or bars and he eventually decides to attempt a daring escape with the help of SEN 5241 (Donald Pleasence) and a hologram known as SRT 9 (Don Pedro Colley).

This story is an extension to the student film that director George Lucas made while attending the University of California film school. That film was a 15 minute short entitled Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB, which dealt with a man trying to escape from a futuristic world while being chased and monitored by government run computers. It won first place in the 1968 National Student Film Festival and was good enough to gain the attention of Francis Ford Coppola who offered to produce a feature film dealing with the same basic premise, but having more of a background to the character and his reason for escaping.

Reportedly Lucas considers this to be his favorite project and despite the fact that it did not do well at the box office I consider it to be his best stuff as well. The visuals are imaginative and striking and make you feel like you are entering a whole new world unlike any that had ever been created before. I especially liked the prison scenes where the characters are surrounded by nothing but an unending white as well as THX’s medical examination done exclusively by robotic arms. Having the characters framed towards the side of the screen instead of the center while action occurs just out of view helps accentuate the off-kilter vibe and was year’s ahead-of-its-time.

Even though there is very little dialogue or music the sound becomes an integral part of the film by relying on comments made by the androids who tell the people in a HAL-like tone to ‘stay calm’ as well as the state sanctioned god known as OHM who routinely advises his followers ‘to be happy’. The best part though comes when two techs have a casual a conversation while viewing through monitors the torture of THX.

The film is visually groundbreaking and one of the greatest directorial debuts of any director living or dead, but it still comes with a few caveats. One is the fact that the plot relies too heavily on the stereotypical Orwellian view of the future where everything is worse than it is today and people no longer have any individual rights. Yet technology has proven to make life increasingly easier for people and with more freedoms and options, so why would everything suddenly revert the other way? Maybe they were survivors of a nuclear holocaust and this society was humankind’s way of ‘starting over’, but that’s never made clear and it would’ve been nice to at least get a glimpse of the person, or people who were behind-the-scenes with the ultimate authority as well as some sort of backstory.

There is also the fact that everyone in this society needs to be working, but jobs today are increasingly being lost to automation every year and that trend will continue. Certain nations like Finland are already experimenting with paying their citizens a basic salary because there are more people than jobs available.  Citizens of future societies are predicted to have more free time than ever before, so why doesn’t the world in this film follow suit? If this society can build android cops why can’t they also build robots to do the all the other jobs too, which would then allow the humans to have more of an idyllic existence than a workaholic one?

I also wasn’t too crazy about the 2004 digital restoration, which added new special effects and footage. I last saw this film in 2001 and could tell right away that this version had been tampered with. I realize that Lucas has been known to do this with his Star Wars films, but to me it’s as bad as colorization. Why mess with something that is already good? The added computer effects does not ‘enhance’ anything, but instead desecrates the original vision and treats it like it were a video game than a movie.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: March 11, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: George Lucas

Studio:  Warner Brothers

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

The Chase (1966)

chase 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A town on edge.

Bubber Reaves (Robert Redford) has escaped from prison and looks to return to the small Texas town where he grew up in. It is there that his wife Anna (Jane Fonda) resides, but she is now having an affair with Jason (James Fox) who is the son of the town’s influential millionaire Val (E.G. Marshall). Deep-seated tensions that had long remained dormant eventually rise and boil over. The sheriff (Marlon Brando), who is not particularly popular with the locals, wants to bring Bubber back alive, but a certain group of men have other ideas and are willing to physically and violently stop the sheriff if they have to in order to get their way.

The film was notorious in its day for its behind-the-scenes discord that was almost as entertaining as the conflicts onscreen. Producer Sam Spiegal gave director Arthur Penn no authority over the final cut and screenwriters Horton Foote and Lillian Hellman who along with Penn where in constant disagreements over the story angles and character focus. Yet with all that going on the final product is still slick enough to remain entertaining and compelling.

Much of this can be attributed to the talented supporting cast. Janice Rule is spicy as the haughty husband stealer and Robert Duvall is memorable in an atypical role as a timid man who avoids all confrontation even when his wife (Martha Hyer) openly makes out with another man while right in front of him. Miriam Hopkins, in her second-to-last film appearance, leaves a strong impression as well playing Bubber’s elderly, but still feisty mother.

On the other end there is Fonda who is wasted in a small role that gives her little to do. Redford, with his All-American good looks is miscast and fails to reflect the grittiness of the rest of the characters. Brando’s presence is also a detriment as his patented moodiness becomes off-putting instead being the portal to the character’s ‘inner angst’ as it’s intended although the scene where he gets beaten to a pulp and then walks all bloodied out in front of the other townspeople who stare at him with indifference is an impactful moment.

The ending culminates with an explosive finale inside a junkyard, but the majority of the film lacks any action. It’s more of a soap opera than a chase, which makes the title misleading and even disappointing to those that may come into it expecting an action flick, which it isn’t. The setting is also supposed to take place in Texas and even though certain shots do resemble the Lone Star landscape it was actually all filmed inside the borders of California.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 17, 1966

Runtime: 2Hours 15Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Arthur Penn

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Joe Kidd (1972)

joe kidd

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bounty hunter tracks revolutionary.

Joe Kidd (Clint Eastwood) is a bounty hunter sitting in jail on trumped up charges. As he is about to have his case heard the courthouse is invaded by Luis Chama (John Saxon) and his band of Mexican revolutionaries who are angered that their U.S. land claims have been denied. They threaten a full scale war against the American government and suddenly Kidd finds himself in the middle when powerful landowner Frank Harlan (Robert Duvall) wants to use Kidd’s abilities to track Chama down so that he can kill him before he can ferment any more unrest. Kidd and Frank do not like each other, but Kidd reluctantly goes along while planning at some point to stop Frank and his men before they can do anymore harm.

If there is one thing to take from this film it is Duvall’s performance. This is the movie where he really came into his own and his career transitioned from small character parts and guest spots in TV-shows to an all-around dynamic lead actor. His presence here is commanding and he plays the bad guy with such zeal that it ends up taking over the entire picture while smothering the usually reliable Eastwood until he and his character become bland and transparent.

Unfortunately the script written by Elmore Leonard cannot match the same energy or creativity. It starts out well and has all the rugged ingredients one expects from a good western and it’s even directed by John Sturges who’s noted for putting together great action flicks, but unfortunately at some point it goes flat and this is mainly because there is not much of a second or third act. The scenario itself is too predictable and gets played out in a mechanical, by-the-numbers fashion. It is also devoid of much action. The part where Kidd uses his telescope rifle to pick off a shooter at long range that the others can’t is okay, but the scene where he derails a train and sends it crashing through a saloon seems implausible and not as exciting to see as it may sound.

I enjoyed Kidd’s antagonistic relationship with Lamarr (Don Stroud) who is one of Harlan’s men and a young, long haired cocksure guy that immediately gets a vendetta against the more stoic Kidd, which adds some zest, but then the film squashes it too soon by having Kidd kill Lamarr in a rather unimaginative and uneventful way. In fact the whole climactic finish works in the same way with Kidd mechanically knocking off each of Harlan’s men in a fashion similar to what Gary Cooper did to the bad guys in High Noon, which was a far better movie. Kidd’s final shootout with Harlan is a particular letdown and should’ve been played out more while only helping to cement this as one of Eastwood’s weakest and more forgettable westerns that he has done.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 14, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Sturges

Studio: Universal

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

The Revolutionary (1970)

the revolutionary 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He fights against capitalism.

Jon Voight plays a college student involved in a student protest group called The Radical Committee. They push for social change particularly with a more communist/socialist style of government, which he becomes fonder of after working with Despard (Robert Duvall) a nearby factory worker who’s trying to start a union up at his plant. After being suspended from the school for his radical views he becomes frustrated at seeing how his work and actions seem to have very little influence or effect. He then meets up with Leonard (Seymour Cassel) who is a more seasoned radical and not shy about using violent or unethical methods to make his point and pressures Voight to start doing the same.

On the whole despite its slow pace this is a slickly produced intriguing character study. I enjoyed the grainy pictures of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution shown over the opening credits, but I didn’t like the film’s choice of on-location shooting. Supposedly it takes place in a small American city, but it doesn’t resemble one since it was filmed in London, which gives everything from the old buildings to roadways and sidewalks a European look that you never see in any American town or city. There is also no explanation initially about what the students are protesting against or why they are at odds with the school, which makes the storyline seem generic and hard to get into at first.

I loved Voight’s character as it is similar to his Joe Buck one in Midnight Cowboy with all of the social awkwardness, but fortunately he is not as painfully dumb. It is interesting to see how such a highly intellectual man with strong opinions and ideals can still at times be quite timid. I was looking forward to seeing the character go through a transition and was disappointed that it took so long to get there.  To me the ending should’ve been the beginning and the fact that it isn’t hurts the film’s overall impact. I was also confused as to why the Jennifer Salt character, who plays a young lady from an affluent family, would find Voight so appealing, or why she wanted to continue to go out with him, which to me demanded more of an explanation.

The scene in which a mob gets attacked by some riot police is photographed in a way that makes it intense and startling and could’ve been extended even more. The ending is nerve wracking and great example of how complete silence without any music can sometimes create far more tension. Unfortunately the ambiguous resolution is a disappointment and after such a long and deliberately slow build-up comes off almost like a cop-out.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 15, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Williams

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD (MGM Limited Edition Collection), Amazon Instant Video

Countdown (1967)


By Richard Winters

My Rating:  7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Man lands on moon.

Lee (James Caan) and Chiz (Robert Duvall) are astronauts who are part of the Apollo 3 mission training to land on the moon. The liftoff date is still a year away when it is found that the Russians have already built a rocket ready for takeoff and plan on sending a man to the moon within the next few days. NASA decides to beat the Soviets by sending one of their men in an older style rocket and then having him live there for one year inside a shelter. Lee is chosen to go instead of Chiz much to his consternation and despite the fact that he had more training, but the project proves to be even more difficult than expected and Lee’s inexperience creates concerns that it might not succeed.

This is an unusual space drama in the fact that you see very little action that takes place in outer space or the moon. The main emphasis is on the human point-of-view both with the people directly involved with the project as well as their families and loved ones. The movie focuses on the behind-the-scenes competition and politics and in the process creates a realistic and vivid viewpoint. The story is engrossing and compelling wrapping the viewer in right away and never letting them go. Despite being over 40-years-old it doesn’t seem dated at all and I had to keep reminding myself that I was watching a 60’s movie.

Duvall is a standout as the very emotional and competitive Chiz. I enjoyed seeing the way he initially refuses to help Lee train for the mission when it is found that he was chosen instead of himself, but then reluctantly comes around and becomes both Lee’s mentor and biggest source of support. Caan’s more restrained performance is a nice contrast to Duvall’s volatile one and it is interesting to compare the work the two do here with The Godfather film that they both starred in 5 years later where they played the completely opposite characters.

Joanna Moore is also excellent as Lee’s wife Mickey who goes through a mixed bag of emotions during Lee’s tumultuous training and eventual flight. She’s the first wife of Ryan O’Neal and the mother of Tatum and Griffin who never achieved stardom due to her bouts with alcoholism and guest starred more in TV-shows than movies, but I have always found her to be impressive and unique in everything that I have seen her in. This is also a great chance to see up-and-coming actors in bit roles including Ted Knight, Mike Farrell, and Michael Murphy.

This was director Robert Altman’s first theatrical feature and he does great work here although you will not see any of his trademark ‘Altmanisisms’.  I did see it budding in certain small ways including a party scene that seemed like a real get together with people actually congregating and having lingering background conversations as the camera moves through the crowd versus the conventional way where the main characters stand directly in front of the camera and then only shows stand-ins in the background who are out-of-focus and moving their mouths, but not really saying anything. I also liked that when they are counting down for liftoff it gets paused when a technical issue is found.  This reminded me of the many times when I would watch on television in the 80’s the countdown for the Space Shuttle liftoff and how it would get paused in a similar way sometimes with just a few seconds to go because of certain similar glitches. Most films fail to show this, so it was nice to see it here.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 20, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive)

Breakout (1975)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Escape from Mexican jail.

Loosely based on the actual 1971 incident involving Joel David Kaplan, who after being framed for murder and stuck inside a Mexican prison for 9 years, was able to escape when his sister hired a pilot to fly a helicopter into the prison yard and allow Kaplan to jump into it and flee. In this movie Jay Wagner (Robert Duvall) is the Kaplan character and Nick Colton (Charles Bronson) is the goofy, but lovable pilot.

Veteran director Tom Gries delivers a compact action pic that has a good mix of humor and excitement. The comedy is not forced and genuinely engaging, but once the action gets going it is entertaining as well. When the helicopter starts flying into the prison with 30 minutes left in the movie I found myself completely riveted. Gries photographs the action in a way that makes the viewer feel like they are inside the helicopter alongside Bronson. The stunts are authentic and done on-location, which is a big plus. One scene involving a man getting sliced up by an airplane propeller is surprisingly explicit and should make anyone wince when they see it.

My only quibble in the direction department is the opening where a man is shown being shot to death while Gries freezes the frame every few seconds as the victim falls down, which came off as being disjointed and distracting. There is also a shot of the dead body lying on the ground with blood stains on his white shirt. However, there are no bullet holes in his shirt and you really can’t have blood coming out of someone’s body unless you have bullet holes and if you have them piercing the skin you most likely would have them piercing the shirt, but none were found in the shot I saw.

Bronson is highly engaging and steals every scene that he is in. I was surprised how comfortable he was in a comedic role and it made me wish he had taken more stabs at comedy in his career. My favorite moment with him is his nervous, anxiety-ridden expression on his face when he tries to pilot a helicopter and finds that it is much more complicated than he realized. The running gag of him trying to pass off a bad check is also good.

Jill Ireland who plays the wife of the Duvall character and is the one who hires Nick for the job is also enjoyable. She is almost as amusing as Bronson especially with the way she becomes increasingly exasperated by the situation. The two seem to work better when they are adversarial and you could never tell that in real life they were husband and wife.

Sheree North is also great in a small supporting role. Although she was already in her 40’s when she did the part she still looks sexy in a full body shot of her in some really, really short shorts. Her very politically incorrect rape conversation that she has with Nick is good.

Duvall is wasted in a part that doesn’t allow for much range and limited screen time. I’m actually surprised that he even took the part. However, his hair style, and I’m not sure if it was a wig, or just a really good comb-over, but it completely covers up his normally bald head and makes him look twenty years younger.

Randy Quaid seems equally underused, but having the chance at seeing him in drag may make his appearance here worth it to some.

I didn’t like the part where Duvall gets buried alive while inside a coffin in his attempt to escape as it is too reminiscent of a classic Alfred Hitchcock episode entitled ‘Final Escape’, which is better and shouldn’t be touched. However, as a whole, this is a good 95 minutes of enjoyable non-think entertainment.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 22, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Tom Gries

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Apostle (1997)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Preacher on the run.

As a would-be screenwriter I find it heartening knowing how many great screenplays there are out there that struggle to find a home no matter who has written or pitched it.  Actor Robert Duvall wrote the solid screenplay for this film in the 80’s only to have it rejected by every major studio and only got made when he decided to put up 4 million dollars of his own money.

The story involves a fiery evangelical minister by the name of Sonny (Duvall) whose volatile ways gets the better of him and he ends up killing his wife’s lover. He then goes on the run to Louisiana where he starts up a new church. There he begins to turn his life around and become loved and admired by the community only to have the police close in on him.

In many ways this is similar to a 1962 episode of the old ‘Alfred Hitchcock Hour’ series that was entitled ‘Bonfire’ and starred Peter Falk as the minister.  Both characters were loud and dramatic preachers.  Both men went on the run after committing homicide while continuing to start up new congregations along the way and both ended up being surrounded by the police as they gave one last fiery sermon. However, the difference comes with the fact that the Falk character was clearly a self-serving fraud while with Sonny that is not so clear, which is what makes this film and character so fascinating.

Sonny has a temper as well as other underlying issues, but he makes a genuine effort to rectify things with his new congregation.  He even brings boxes of groceries to the doorsteps of poor families. It is never clear whether he is simply trying to make personal amends for past transgressions, or just a flawed man with a good heart. The viewer is never allowed to feel sure either way, but ends up empathizing with him nonetheless. Every scene and line of utterance becomes more revealing.

Duvall gives a strong performance. I felt this may be his signature role and that comes after a long line of already brilliant performances.  I enjoyed his running ‘conversations with the Lord’ that he has when he is alone or just walking down the street.  The conversation that he has with the police is amusing as is the final scene that is shown over the closing credits.

The casting is unique.  June Carter Cash plays his mother, which is interesting by the fact that in real-life she was only two years older than Duvall.  Farrah Fawcett plays his wife, and although she was much younger than him, I felt she did a good job and made a perfect fit.  Billy Bob Thornton gets a memorable cameo as a man who initially wants to destroy the church with a bulldozer, but then with Sonny’s help becomes spiritually awakened.  I also very much liked James Beasley in the supporting role as the minister who helps Sonny start up his new church.  His calm and collected manner helped balance Duvall’s intensity.

The supporting players were all amateur actors, some of which had never performed in front of the camera before.  Director Duvall was known during filming to keep the atmosphere loose.  He allowed his cast to ad-lib, which gives the film a more authentic feel.  Just like with other actors who turned to directing, like Paul Newman and Marlon Brando, Duvall has scenes that stretch out much longer than most films.  This is done to give the actors more control over their characters and allow their performances alone to carry the scene.  I also liked the fact that the supporting cast was almost all African-American and the story centered on a white minister preaching to a black congregation.

Duvall has long been known to be an admirer of the south, so it is no surprise that the story takes place there or that the shooting was on-location.  He captures the ambience of the region and people quite well, including the sound of the heat bugs buzzing at night.

The only issue I had with the film involves the scene where Sonny kills his wife’s lover. He does this by hitting him over the head with a baseball bat during a little league game while in front of many onlookers.  In most real-life accounts when something similar to this happens people will usually gang up on the culprit and physically subdue him, or chase after him until the police arrive while here the onlookers allow Sonny to peacefully walk away.  Other than that I thought this was a great character study and I would highly recommend it.

My Rating: 8 out of 10 

Released: October 9, 1997 

Runtime: 2Hours 14Minutes 

Rated PG-13 

Director: Robert Duvall 

Studio: Butcher Run Films 

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video