Tag Archives: Robert Klein

The Bell Jar (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: She suffers from depression.

Based on the semi autobiographical novel of the same name by Sylvia Plath, the story centers around Esther (Marilyn Hassett) who suffers from various mental health issues and can’t seem to relate to the world around her. After graduating from college she goes off to work at a women’s magazine in New York, but finds that the demands and inevitable compromises of being a writer for a big city publication are not for her. She returns home to her mother (Julie Harris) only to find her emotional situation deteriorating even more. She’s eventually sent to a mental hospital where she goes through treatment.

In 1975 Hassett was picked from over 500 other actresses to play the part of paralyzed skier Jill Kinmont in the film The Other Side of the Mountain. The movie became a big hit and lead to her marrying the film’s director Larry Peerce.  While that film was a decent heartfelt story their attempts to bring Plath’s complex, multi-faceted novel to the big screen was clearly an overreach.

The major reason this doesn’t work is because of Hassett. During the early 70’s she had a youthful appeal, but by the time this was filmed she had hit 30 and no longer looked like a recent college grad in any way. For the story to work it hinges on the viewer seeing this person as someone who is young, innocent and vulnerable and unable to deal with the harsh realities of the young adult world that she’s experiencing for the very first time, but Hassett looks and in many ways behaves like a world-weary middle-aged person, which then loses the intended effect.

The portrayal of the central character is a weak point as well. In the similar themed film I Never Promised You a Rose Gardenwhich came out around the same time, the director of that flick did a good job of getting inside that character’s head and allowing the viewer to see the thoughts and fears that she had, but here we get none of that. We are left with no understanding about what’s really bugging Esther and why she behaves the way she does. Instead of us feeling for her we end up finding her off-putting, confusing and at times just downright selfish and bizarre.

The film does still manage to have a few interesting moments. I liked the scene with Jameson Parker, in his film debut who later went onto fame in the TV-show ‘Simon & Simon’, playing Esther’s fiance who strips in front of her so she can see what a naked man looks like upfront for the very first time. The erotic threesome between Hassett, Robert Klein, and Mary Louise Weller is interesting too as is the segment where Hassett is sitting alone at a late night diner and comes into contact with a disturbed, homeless man (Nicholas Guest) who comes in off the street and begins shouting nonsensical things for no reason, which can be a common, frightening reality living in the big city and not tackled enough in most movies.

While the movie stays pretty much faithful to the book it approaches the material in a shallow, mechanical way that offers no insight into the characters or situations and elicits no emotions from the viewer. It also takes some liberties with the material entering in elements that were never in the novel, or only vaguely touched on like the character of Joan, played by Donna Mitchell, being explicitly portrayed as a lesbian while in the book it had been only implied. She’s also shown making a suicide pack with Esther that was never in the original story. This was enough to get Dr. Jane Anderson, a Boston psychiatrist, to sue the film stating that she had been the Jane character in Plath’s novel, but because the movie distorted the truth it had harmed her reputation and career and she ended up winning a $150,000 settlement.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 21, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Peerce

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: VHS

The Owl and the Pussycat (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sometimes opposites do attract.

Felix (George Segal) works at a bookstore, but dreams of becoming a successful novelist only to receive rejection letters every time he sends a manuscript out. One night while residing in his cramped New York apartment he spots, through his binoculars, his neighbor Doris (Barbra Streisand) accepting payment for sex and he immediately calls his landlord (Jacques Sandulescu) to report this and it gets her evicted. In anger she goes to Felix’s apartment at 3 in the morning to argue with him about what he did. The two share little in common, but eventually after hours of bickering they form a bond.

The film was originally written as a Broadway play, which in-turn was inspired by a poem of the same name written by Edward Lear in 1871. The play, which ran during the 1964-65 season, starred Alan Alda and Diana Sands and differed considerably from the film in that it had only two characters and one setting. The biggest change though was that in the play the Doris character was a black women, but the studio feared mainstream audiences weren’t ready for that, which is a shame. Streisand is amusing, but she’s unable to convey a tough street-smart attitude. Having an African American woman and a white man come together with vastly different socio-economic backgrounds would’ve made the polar opposites theme even more pronounced and their eventual bonding far more profound.

In an attempt to make the story more cinematic director Herbert Ross had the couple kicked out of Segal’s apartment and then forced to go to his friend Barney’s (Robert Klein) apartment. Initially this seemed fun as Segal and Streisand are allowed to sleep in the living room while Klein and his girlfriend (Marilyn Chambers) remain in the bedroom, but Segal and Streisand continue with their bickering, which forces Klein and Chambers to leave their own apartment, which made no sense. If the guests are the ones causing the racket then they’re the ones asked to leave not the people paying the rent. This also becomes a missed opportunity because it could’ve heightened the comedy by having the couple forced to move to seedier locations each time they’re kicked-out of the previous one.

During the second half Segal and Streisand enter a large home, which was apparently the residence of his fiance’s family, but this is jarring since there had been no mention of the fiancee earlier. It also works against the theme as these characters were portrayed as being lonely and forced to deal with each other despite their many differences because they had no where else to go, but then throwing in Segal’s connection to affluence ends up diminishing the desperation angle.

I also didn’t like that Doris got portrayed as being so painfully uneducated that she couldn’t understand some of the words Felix said, which was heavy-handed since his language wasn’t all that elaborate. I’ve found that most sex workers are quite defensive when it comes to the ‘they must be dumb’ stereotype and make concerted efforts to play against this. Most people, especially with someone they’ve just met, would never admit to not understanding some words spoken by the other because it would make that other person believe that they were intellectually superior and therefore given unfair leverage.

There are few funny moments but it mainly comes during the first half while the second and third act drone on.  The only real distinction are the opening credits, where a jazzy score by Blood, Sweat & Tears gets played while a greenish moon sets behind a cropped cutout of the New York skyline, which is pretty cool.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 3, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD

Nobody’s Perfekt (1981)

nobodys perfekt 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Crazies fight city hall.

Dibley (Gabe Kaplan) who suffers from unpredictable memory loss, Swaboda (Alex Karras) who thinks his mother is still alive and with him at all times even when she really isn’t and Walter (Robert Klein) who has a split personality that can turn him from a gangster to Bette Davis at any given moment decide to steal an army tank and use it to force the mayor (Arthur Rosenberg) to pay for a new car when their old one gets damaged after driving through one of the city’s potholes. They get Dibley’s girlfriend Carol (Susan Clark) to go along with the scheme and in the process get caught up with a robbery of an armed bankroll truck.

If it was possible to give this thing a negative number rating I would and I seriously considered it, but decided to be generous and give it a 0 even though this thing has to be one of the dumbest comedies ever made. I’ve seen a lot of them, but at least they usually had one or two funny gags even if the rest fell flat, but this one has none. The humor is at a 6-year-old’s level and is painfully stupid from beginning to end without a shred of believability. It also features what has to be one of the slowest, most drawn out and boring car chases ever to be put on film

Mental illness is no laughing matter and the way it gets portrayed here could be considered offensive. Screenwriter Tony Kenrick, who also wrote the novel from which this film is based as well as director Peter Bonerz have clearly not done any research on the topic and portray those afflicted with it in the most sophomoric and benign way possible. In reality these characters would not have been able to hold down regular jobs like they do here and even if they did they would have been quickly fired once their mental problems became easily apparent. They would also most likely be on medications and even institutionalized instead of freely gallivanting around and only seeing an inept shrink (portrayed by Paul Stewart in a very clichéd send-up of Sigmund Freud) once a week who seems to have no insight on how to help them.

The ‘normal’ characters are just as annoyingly stupid. When the trio decide they want to steal a tank from a local plant that makes them they have Kaplan pretend to be from a ‘top secret’ government organization that tricks one of the employees, which is played here by director Bonerz, into believing that his company is secretly selling the tanks to the Soviets without him ever demanding any evidence or proof.

Kaplan may have been a great stand-up comedian and in recent years a good poker player, but as an actor he is one of the worst. In fact I always felt he was  the weakest link in the Welcome Back Kotter show as he always said his lines like he was reading them off of cue cards while constantly conveying a sheepish grin and here he is no better. Former football player Karras and fellow comedian Klein are equally weak. Only Clark is good, but why she would choose to do this after appearing in so much critical acclaimed stuff during the 70’s is a mystery, but she most likely did it to stay close to her then husband Karras and still manages to look great in a bikini.

If the filmmakers really thought that the American public would find this funny then they are the ones suffering from mental illness as only a mentally ill person could possibly find it amusing and if you watch it all the way through you more than likely will become one.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: August 7, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Bonerz

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD-R, Amazon Instant Video