Tag Archives: Robert Shaw

A Town Called Bastard (1971)

town

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Where is rebel Aguila?

In 1895 a rebel leader named Aguila (Robert Shaw) massacres a small Mexican town. Ten years later he resides as a reformed priest in a town run by the corrupt Don Carlos (Telly Savalas). One day a beautiful widow named Alvira (Stella Stevens) arrives looking for the man who killed her husband during the massacre from 10 years earlier. Don Carlos agrees to help her despite having no idea who the killer is, or that it might have something to do with the priest. Things get more complicated when the army colonel also arrives determined to seek out justice by finding the elusive Aguila.

The film has many issues most of which is it comes off as a spaghetti western wannabe that has some of the entertaining elements of those films, but put together in a clumsy fashion. The town really doesn’t resemble an actual place, or a destination that people would live in since there only seems to be about 4 buildings, a church, a salon, and a couple of shops, making me wonder where all the townspeople that are seen milling about resided. There’s also an overuse of dubbing. Al Lettieri, who can be a spectacularly great villain especially in his unforgettable performance in The Gatewayand while he plays another bad guy here, but he gets wasted since his voice is dubbed with a high pitched one that takes away from his menacing quality. Even Robert Shaw has his voice dubbed from time-to-time, which is quite disconcerting.

The narrative is confusing as it jumps back and forth from the present to the past, but doesn’t make it clear that it is doing this, so you’ll see scenes with Shaw at the beginning as a rebel leader and then suddenly he’s a priest without explaining how the two are connected. The Fernando Rey character and the actor playing Alvira’s husband look too much alike making me think, especially since the story jumps between different time periods, that the characters were one and the same with one being slightly younger with the scenes done 10 years earlier though that ends up not being the case.

The cast does help particularly Savalas who seems to relish playing the bad guy and although he’s done this type of part a few too many times is still perfect, but his character gets killed-off too quickly and way too easily, which is a big letdown since his presence helps drive the movie. He gets replaced in essence with Landau, who plays a sociopath in the same over-the-top way, but a good film needs only one crazy not two men playing the same character in the same type of way until it becomes like a caricature.

Shaw is of course quite good though his character for the most part hangs back and doesn’t do much until near the end. The opening scene where he leads the attack on the village has energy, but the shot of a long line of spit oozing out of his mouth as he shouts orders left an icky lasting impression. Stevens is quite beautiful in a natural way without the help of make-up and this was the last film where she had a youthful look as she appeared increasingly more middle-aged after this one.

The nasty subtext was the one thing that makes it fun. There’s a lot of stuff shown here that they just couldn’t do today like the opening bit where the townspeople are viciously gunned down inside their church and the gunmen than laugh and celebrate while the dead, bloody bodies lay at their feet. The scene where a desperate man gleefully hangs his own, innocent wife in an attempt to save himself is memorable and it’s this type of element that keeps it interesting because you just don’t know what it’s going to show next and in the process reflects the ugly savagery of the true, old west.

Alternate Title: A Town Called Hell

Released: June 17, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Parrish

Studio: Benmar Productions

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Import Non-English), Amazon Video, Plex

Diamonds (1975)

diamonds2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Testing a security system.

Charles and his twin brother Earl (both played by Robert Shaw) share an intense rivalry that comes-out during their judo karate contests. Charles wants to top his brother at everything including getting the better of him at his own expertise, which is that of security specialist who has created a vault in Tel Aviv that holds a cache of diamonds and is supposedly impenetrable. Charles is determined to rob it and uses the help of expert safe crackers Archie (Richard Roundtree) and Sally (Barbara Hershey).

While the film has some great location shooting of Israel making it seem almost like a travel log of the region and the final third where the three try to pull off the elaborate robbery does get a bit intense, though it’s nothing special, the movie on the whole falls flat. A major reason is that it was directed by Menahem Golan, who along with his cousin created the notorious film production company The Cannon Group, which produced a lot of cheesy, bubble gum action flicks during the 80’s. This film works very much like those with poor character development, in fact there’s really no development at all, and a plot that steals all sorts of elements from other and better heist movies.

Overall it’s pretty much the same storyline as $, Perfect Fridayand to a lesser extent Topkapibut all of the things that made those movies so much fun to watch goes missing here. The lack of interplay between the characters is the biggest issue. Shaw, Roundtree, and Hershey are all great actors, but they’re not given anything interesting to say. The twin brother concept does not get played-up enough and Charles’ twin is seen just a few times with the only difference being a shaggy wig that Earl wears as opposed to Charles crew-cut, but both brothers have the exact same mole on the left side of their mouths and while identical twins can have many similarities, skin blemishes isn’t one of them. Shelley Winters also pops-up sporadically as an American tourist, but her part is completely inconsequential and not needed at all.

The heist itself does involve some sophisticated maneuvers including having them walk on the ceiling by using a suction-cup type contraption, but the film fails to show any of the preparation. In the other heist films seeing how the crooks rehearsed the robbery and working through their disagreements and divergent personalities was half-the-fun, but that all goes missing here. How Shaw goes about meeting Roundtree and company is pretty flimsy too as he catches them during the middle of an attempted safe cracking and then hires them on-the-spot supposedly because he’s been monitoring them for 5 years and feels they’d be a perfect match for his scheme, but why should it take him so long to come to this conclusion and these safe crackers must not be as cunning as they seem if they’ve been watched closely for 5 years and not had any hint that it was going-on.

Spoiler Alert!

The crime itself gets pulled-off way too easily and there’s no moment where a crucial mistake gets made, or some sort of unexpected slip-up, so things never get as intense as it could’ve. There’s also an added character that gets thrown-in who kidnaps the son of the security guard in order to get the guard to give-out the combination to the safe, but no scenes are shown for how Shaw and company met this kidnapper, or what deal he made with him in order to get him to agree to along with their plans.

The finale has a very anti-climactic feel as Roundtree is able to retrieve the diamonds, but then Shaw forces him to put them all back, so they come away, after all that effort, empty-handed. Ultimately Shaw does hand him a $100,000 check, but this was paltry compared to the $10 million they would’ve gotten with the diamonds making the viewer feel like the film wasn’t worth sitting through if the characters just end up in the same situation that they were in when it began. While no movie that has Robert Shaw in it can be completely bad as his presence alone can elevate even the most inept material this one unfortunately does come close.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 22, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Menahem Golan

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD-R

A Reflection of Fear (1972)

reflection

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: His daughter is disturbed.

Marguerite (Sondra Locke) is a lonely teen girl living with her mother Katherine (Mary Ure) and grandmother Julia (Signe Hasso). Through her alienation she creates an imaginary world with her dolls including one named Aron who she routinely has conversations with, but who also argues with her from time-to-time. Marguerite’s estranged father (Robert Shaw) comes to visit in order to ask Katherine for a divorce, so that he may marry Ann (Sally Kellerman). He also starts to rekindle things with Marguerite though Ann feels the two are getting much too close and fears they may be forming an incestuous relationship. Soon after both Katherine and Julia turn-up dead having been bludgeoned to death by a mysterious intruder, but who did the dirty deed? Was it an angry Marguerite, or her father, or was it the doll named Aron, who Marguerite insisted spoke to her even though no one else believed her.

The only reason to catch this obscurity is for the performance of Locke who’s absolutely brilliant. Despite being 27 at the time, she still looked like a teen and her attempt at speaking in an English accent is effective and I almost thought it had been dubbed, but it wasn’t. Her presence completely dominates the film making the supporting players seem almost non-existent and it convinced me that her relationship with Clint Eastwood, in which he according to her autobiography wouldn’t allow her to do any other projects that he wasn’t involved in, was a big mistake as she was clearly, as evidenced here, a highly gifted actress that never got her full due.

With that said I was kind of surprised to see Shaw in a film that didn’t allow him to shine and forced him to take a backseat. I can only imagine the reason that he did it was so he could work with his wife Ure, whose alcoholism had relegated her to only supporting parts toward the end of her career and in fact this was her last film before she was discovered dead in her dressing room at the young age of 42 from an accidental drug overdose. The two, for what it’s worth, do work well together. The hateful looks that she gives Shaw here seem authentic and you’d never know the two were a couple in real-life.

The story, with a screenplay co-written by Lewis John Carlino and based on the book ‘Go to Thy Deathbed’ by Stanton Forbes, has potential, but never gels. The scenario seems like it would’ve been better for a half-hour episode of the ‘The Twilight Zone’ and stretching it to a 90-minute length offered in too many slow spots where nothing much seemed to happen. The only time there’s any action is during the murder sequences, which could’ve been played-up more, otherwise it’s a lot of talk that fails to build-up the suspense or mystery in any interesting way.

Spoiler Alert!

The main problem that I had was that it was obvious to me that the doll was just a projection of Marguerite’s repressed anger, so the big reveal where she’s found to be the killer was not a surprise at all and in a lot of ways just a letdown. Had the filmmaker’s made an attempt to show the doll actually speaking instead of only been glimpsed in a shadowy way, which made it clear that he was just a figment of her imagination, then maybe there would’ve been more suspense because the viewer might actually have been made to believe that he was real, but the way it gets done here is not intriguing.

Having Shaw find out at the end that his daughter was actually a boy just made things even more confusing. Some have lauded this has being the first film with a transgender theme and a precursor to Sleepaway Camp, which is great, but what’s it all supposed to mean? Was Marguerite’s transgender issues the reason for her anger and why she lashed out into murder? Was this also the reason why her mother and grandmother kept her locked away and cut-off from potential friends, or was this instead Marguerite’s choice? None of this gets answered, which ultimately makes the film a pointless excursion.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 15, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: William A. Fraker

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Blu-ray

The Caretaker (1963)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Homeless man moves in.

Based on the Harold Pinter play the story centers around Aston (Robert Shaw) who suffers from an undisclosed mental illness and lives alone in a cramped, cluttered room of an abandoned home that his brother Mick (Alan Bates) is trying to renovate. Mac Davies (Donald Pleasence) is a homeless man that Aston invites to stay with him, but Mac proves to be a difficult roommate and when Aston asks him to leave Mac refuses and instead tries connive with Mick to have Aston thrown out instead.

From a purely technical standpoint this is a brilliant film as Clive Donner’s direction perfectly captures the claustrophobic setting. It can be hard to recreate a truly cluttered interior, but this room really comes off looking like a storage closet with so many items crowded into it that you wonder how the performers were even able to move around or how the camera crew could fit in to film it. You eventually lose touch with this being a movie at all, but instead start to feel like you’re right in there with the characters as the camera creates an incredible intimacy with the people on the screen until it’s like they’re breathing right on you.

The performances are impressive and the one thing that keeps the viewer captivated as there is very little action otherwise. All three starred in the stage production and basically did this for free as the budget was so low that they couldn’t be paid upfront and were promised a percentage of the profits if the film went into the black. Shaw is particularly interesting as he has played so many dominating characters in the past that watching him portray someone who is shy and unassuming and still do it with equal effectiveness is a testament to his talents while Pleasence, who wears heavy make-up to make him look much older than he really was, is almost unrecognizable.

My only complaint is that not enough happens. I’ve seen and enjoyed many of Pinter’s other plays that were turned into films and although this one is well crafted it still lacks the necessary payoff. I kept waiting for that great dramatic moment that seems from the very beginning to be just bubbling underneath the surface, but it never materializes. I wanted more of an arch that the characters and material seemed ripe for and to have it just end the way it began with not much occurring in between is a real disappointment. Again, the performance and camerawork keep you captivated, but it all adds up to being much ado about nothing and the story’s ultimate message/point being quite murky.

Alternate Title: The Guest

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 2, 1963

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Clive Donner

Studio: Janus Films

Available: DVD (Region 2)

Jaws (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 10 out of 10

4-Word Review: Shark in the water.

A young woman (Susan Backlinie) goes out for a swim late one night only to have her severed hand wash up on shore the next day, which causes the Amity Police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) to fear that her death may have been caused by a shark. Amity mayor Larry Vaughan (Murray Hamilton) doesn’t want his town to risk losing business, so he has his coroner deny that a shark was responsible and hence the beach remains open, but then more attacks occur. Eventually an eccentric shark hunter named Quint (Robert Shaw), Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) from the Oceanographic Institute and Brody head out on a small fishing vessel called Orca to locate the shark and then kill it, but they find the underwater beast to be far bigger and more cunning than they had ever imagined.

With its exceptional ability to slowly build tension and keep the viewer riveted from the first frame to the last easily makes this the quintessential thriller. John Williams’s legendary score adds to the murky ambience and in many ways is more memorable than the shark itself. Director Steven Spielberg wisely adds a secondary layer to the narrative by creating colorful and distinctive characters, most notably Quint, who gives the proceedings a flavorful nuance and makes the conversations and interactions that occur between the three inside the boat more interesting than what happens in the water.

The most amazing thing though is how little the shark is actually seen and in fact you don’t even get a glimpse of him until about an hour in. Part of this was due to the difficulty of getting the mechanical creation to perform properly in salt water, but in the end this became a blessing in disguise as it’s the mystery and allusion to its large size that makes it so riveting. The viewer feels as helpless and confused as the men on the boat, which makes the climactic sequence when the shark suddenly does jump onto the boat all that more impactful.

Spoiler Alert!

The film though does deviate heavily from the Peter Benchley source novel and a legitimate argument can be made as to which one presents the story better. In the book the tone is darker and the characters less likable. For me this makes it more intriguing from a psychological bent as it conveys the idea that humans are like the shark that they hunt as they both selfishly devour everything around them. Spielberg though didn’t care for this interpretation so the novel’s darker subtext gets erased, but it still made me intrigued, as much of a classic as this movie is, to see a reboot where the narrative stayed more faithful.

Some of the book’s subplots got too involved particularly the one dealing with the mayor’s connections to the criminal underworld, so I’m glad that one got toned down.  However I felt the one though dealing with Hooper’s affair with Brody’s wife (Lorraine Gary) should’ve been left in as it would’ve added extra tensions between the two while on the boat while also seeing how people can learn to work together even when they hate each other.

In the book Hooper dies when the shark attacks the cage that he is in while in the movie he is able to escape and somehow hide from the shark. This though seemed unrealistic as sharks have special sensing organs known as electroreceptors that allow them to detect the electromagnetic field emitted from a moving animal or at close range even the heartbeat of an immobile one, which means the shark most likely would’ve figured out where Hooper was hiding and gotten him.

In the book the shark dies from its many wounds just as it gets a few feet from Brody while in the movie it’s killed when the scuba tank that it has in its mouth explodes when hit by a bullet, but a 2003 episode of Mythbusters proves that in reality this wouldn’t have happened. My main beef though is that by having the shark literally blow-up into little pieces it denies the viewer the chance at seeing what the beast looked like as a whole. Supposedly this was one giant of a shark, so viewing it strung up at the end would’ve been a cool thing to have seen.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Despite these many differences the film still works splendidly and I don’t mean to imply that it doesn’t, but I would still suggest reading the book afterwards as it gives the story and characters an added dimension.

My Rating: 10 out of 10

Released: June 20, 1975

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Steven Spielberg

Studio: Universal

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

The Hireling (1973)

the hireling

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: His love isn’t reciprocated.

Based on the L.P. Hartley novel the film examines the unusual relationship between a rich English widow named Lady Franklin (Sarah Miles) and her chauffeur Steven Ledbetter (Robert Shaw). The setting is just after the First World War and Lady Franklin has suffered a nervous breakdown after the untimely death of her husband. Steven drives her from place-to-place and helps her out of her depression while also forming a strong attachment to her. Once she recuperates she no longer calls upon his services as much, which hurts him. She then forms a relationship with the much younger Hugh Cantrip (Peter Egan). His personality is the complete opposite of Steven’s and when Steven finds out that Hugh is still seeing another woman on the side it angers him. When he goes to Lady Franklin to inform her of this as well as profess his love for her things do not go well and soon spirals out-of-control.

The film is exquisitely photographed by director Alan Bridges with a haunting score by Marc Wilkinson that is excellent. The period atmosphere is perfect and the slow pace not only reflects that era, but the book to which it is based. Some may be put off by the pace as it is for the most part quite talky although the last half-hour has more action and final showdown is quite intense. The element I really liked about the film are the brief cutaways showing people listening in to other’s conversations and people always being careful what they say and great concern with always playing their ‘proper role’ in society. It really helps build a cloistered feeling for the viewer and gives them a better understanding to the meltdown that occurs at the end.

Miles gives another great performance and she essentially plays two characters here with the fragile, wide-eyed woman at the beginning and the more confident, emotionally distant person that she turns into at the end. Shaw is excellent as always. It is almost amazing to see how someone with such a strong personality as his could get hidden underneath the rather bland and proper character that he portrays at the beginning, but he comes through full-force at the end, which is chilling and terrifying.

The film makes some great statements about the inequities of a rigid social caste system as well as the unrealistic, rigid demands that were placed on people especially in past eras that did not completely take into account the human being underneath or their natural emotions. It is also a great testament to the loneliness of unrequited love, which is sadly a perennial element of the human experience. Although the film stays faithful to the novel the ending has been changed, which may or may not go over well with some viewers.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 10, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Alan Bridges

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD (Region 1 & 2)

The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1964)

the luck of ginger coffey

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He needs a job.

Ginger Coffey (Robert Shaw) is a middle-aged man living in Montreal whose dreams and ambitions far outweigh his grim predicament. He moves from one low paying job to another convinced that his lot in life will improve. His wife Vera (Mary Ure) decides to leave him and Ginger tries to win her back while juggling two jobs and hoping to get a promotion in one that never seems to come.

As a vivid look at the daily lives of the everyday working class this film hits a solid bullseye. The conversations between the co-workers and the monotonous and sometimes demeaning job interview process and Ginger’s on-going arguments with his wife and daughter are all true to form. There is no pretension and director Irvin Kershner keeps everything at a bare-bones minimum giving it almost a documentary style and making the viewer feel immersed in the bleak environment. The outdoor shots of the city are unexciting and cinematically unappealing, but help reflect the grim level. Watching Ginger get kicked out of his apartment and have to carry what is left of his belongings and then place them on the outside sidewalk while he goes in to visit his daughter in her school is quietly powerful.

Robert Shaw is excellent. This is a man who had by all accounts had a very dominating and proud personality in real-life and usually played characters with the same traits, so seeing him play against type and succeed is interesting. What is really effective is that he makes the character very human and likable despite his constant goof-ups, which keeps the viewer compelled to his situation.

Ure, who at the time was married to Shaw in real-life, gives an equally outstanding performance. Her perplexed facial expressions are perfect and the fact that we see her character grow and become more confident is good.

I also must mention Liam Redmond as Ginger’s cantankerous boss, who is nicknamed by his employees as ‘Hitler’. Ginger’s rushed job interview that he has with him is one of the film’s highpoints as is the moment when Ginger dashes away from him when he is caught making a personal phone call.

The only real complaint I have with the film is the ending, which is for the most part non-existent. I have seen vague wide-open endings in my movie viewing lifetime, but this thing is a cop-out and really boring one at that. I think when a viewer has spent nearly two hours empathizing with his difficult  and precarious situation that they deserve some sort of finality, or at least a hint of what became of him and whether he ever did find that ‘luck’ that he was so convinced was out there.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 21, 1964

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Irvin Kershner

Studio: Continental Distributing

Available: YouTube

The Birthday Party (1968)

the birthday party 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Tear up the newspaper.

Since tomorrow will be my birthday I wanted to come up with a film that had birthdays as its theme and found this bizarre but fascinating obscurity. It is the story based on the play by Harold Pinter of Stanley Webber (Robert Shaw) a mysterious and private man who takes up lodging in a rundown British seaside house. He rents an upstairs room from Mr. and Mrs. Bowles (Moultrie Kelsall, Dandy Nichols) who are quite odd themselves. One day two men dressed in black suits (Patrick Magee, Sydney Tafler) come to pay Stanley a visit. They know something about Stanley’s past and their presence frightens him to the extent that it causes him to have a nervous breakdown.

On the surface this film shouldn’t work. There is an excessive amount of talking with dialogue that doesn’t say much and at times seems absurd. The set is drab and dirty with the camera seemingly locked down inside of it. There is never any explanation about Stanley’s past or what he is running from nor who the men are or what they know about him. The ending is elusive and the viewer will go away feeling more confused than they did at the start.

However, it is these ingredients that make the film so thoroughly intriguing. The seemingly banal dialogue is simply a façade for underlying thoughts and feelings. What Stanley is trying to run from is unimportant because it is really not about him at all and is instead more about ourselves, human nature and the quandary of our existence. It’s an examination of people’s futile attempts at trying to escape from who they are only to have society and life catch up with them. The set could be a metaphor for the inside of Stanley’s head. The grimy and decayed place symbolizes his decayed soul and the men in black suits are his conscience coming to haunt him.

Once you adjust to the eccentric narrative it then becomes a fantastic film for observing subtitles and nuance. Director William Friedkin shows a keenness for detail not only visually, but with the sound as well. The way the Magee character tears up a newspaper and the sound used for it could actually unnerve some viewers. Stanley’s meltdown scene is very unique and overall the direction is superb for such difficult material.

This movie was years ahead of its time, but for some it may be off-putting. However, it should be enjoyed by those who crave the avant-garde. It is also a rare chance to the see the normally strong-willed Shaw playing a very weak and vulnerable character. Nichols is also a stand-out playing an Edith Bunker type with a perverse streak lying just beneath the surface.

the birthday party 1

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 9, 1968

Runtime: 2Hours 3Minutes

Rated G

Director: William Friedkin

Studio: Palomar Pictures International

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 2)