Tag Archives: Robert Wise

The Hindenburg (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Blow up the zeppelin.

Based on the 1972 novel by Michael M. Mooney the story centers on Colonel Franz Ritter (George C. Scott) who was a part of Luftwaffe, which was the aerial warfare branch of the Nazi government and was employed to protect the Hindenburg zeppelin on its voyage across the Atlantic. Rumors had swirled that hostilities towards the Nazi party could cause a terrorist attack on anything connected to them and since the airship is German made it made it a prime target. Martin Vogel (Roy Thinnes) assists Ritter in his investigation, but the two find themselves at constant odds as they must sort through a wide array of suspicious passengers all of whom have the motivation and ability to cause harm to them and everyone else.

The film of course is based on the actual explosion of The Hindenburg zeppelin that occurred on May 6, 1937 in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Although there had been bomb threats made against The Hindenburg before its flight and the theory was investigated there has never been any hard proof that is what caused its destruction. The story is completely speculative, which is primarily the reason why the film is so weak and uninvolving. Conspiracy theories can be interesting if there is some hard evidence to back it up, but this thing makes it all up as it goes along. The fact that it occurred so long ago only heightens how pointless it is. Everyone that was involved is now dead, so even if there is some truth to what it is propagating what difference could it possibly make now?

Richard Levinson and William Link who wrote the script where known for their love of mysteries and helped to create both the ‘Columbo’ and ‘Murder She Wrote’ franchises, but their character development was not one of their stronger suits. The cast of characters here are bland and cardboard with nothing interesting to say. I’m surprised that they managed to corral a decent list of big name stars to appear as they have little to do and for many of them are seen only briefly. William Atherton gives the film’s only interesting performance and I did like Charles Durning as the ship’s captain as well, but that is about it.

The recreation of the airship, which was painstakingly done by a group of 80 artists and technicians who worked around-the-clock for 4 straight months on it is impressive and resulted in a highly detailed 25-foot-long model. Watching it glide through the clouds are the film’s best moments as is the scene where Atherton’s character tries to repair a hole in the outer fabric and almost slips to his death.

(Below is a pic of the actual Hindenburg along with the model used in the film.)

The climactic explosion, which should’ve been the film’s most exciting moment, comes off instead, like everything else in the movie, as protracted and boring. Director Robert Wise decided not to recreate the ship’s fiery end through special effects, but instead spliced in scenes of the character’s trying to escape the burning wreck with black-and-white newsreel footage from the era. This results in distracting the viewer and emotionally taking them out of the movie at its most crucial point because up until then everything had been in color and then suddenly it shifts to black-and-white making it seem like we are no longer following the same movie. The actual explosion and subsequent fire happened very quickly, in less than 2 minutes, but here it gets stretched to almost 8, which makes it seem too ‘Hollywoodnized’ and not authentic or compelling.

(Below is a pic of the Hindenburg explosion along with the burned out skeleton of the ship as captured the day after the incident.)

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1975

Runtime: 2Hours 5Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Wise

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Andromeda Strain (1971)

andromeda strain

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Isolating a dangerous virus.

When a satellite returns to earth it brings back a mysterious virus that ends up killing all the residents of a town where it lands. Two scientists Dr. Jeremy Stone (Arthur Hill) and Dr. Dan Hill (James Olson) go to the town to investigate and find that the only survivors are a wino (George Mitchell) and a six-month-old baby. They bring these two people along with the remnants of the satellite back to a secret Nevada lab known as Wildfire that’s buried deep below the ground. It is here after close examination that they are able to observe the virus, which appears as small green dots on the satellite, but they fail to realize that this virus can also mutate and presents an even greater risk to them in the lab.

One of the major selling points of this film is the fact that it keeps everything within the realm of ‘realistic sci-fi’. No bubblegum action, scary monsters, or any other form of over-the-top dramatics get added; instead it’s on a ‘thinking man’s level’ with an extraordinary attention to detail. I enjoyed seeing all of the decontamination procedures that the crew is forced to go through before they are even allowed to begin their investigation. The isolated lab, which is hidden beneath what looks to be just an ordinary farmhouse and shed, is really cool and director Robert Wise’s use of the split-screen during the search of the town is both flashy and slick.

Showing the scientist’s personal lives and how the government agents literally demand that they drop what they are doing and come with them helps humanize the characters to a degree. I also liked how the male character of Dr. Peter Leavitt in the Michael Crichton book from which this is based gets switched to a female character here, which helps add an extra dynamic and is very well played by Kate Reid. In fact the only thing about the character’s that I didn’t like, aside from Arthur Hill’s sterile performance, is when we see the dreams of the doctors as they sleep, which seemed corny and unnecessary.

The mysterious nature of the virus is compelling and I certainly enjoyed the way they were able to detect it by scanning the satellite with cameras that could focus onto the object in minute detail, but the plot itself gets stretched farther than it needs to. There are a few interesting twists, but it starts to feel quite labored around the 2-hour mark and the climatic finish isn’t all that intense and seems rather stagy and predictable.

I was also amazed that this film achieved a G-rating. For one thing there isn’t much action and the narrative is on a more sophisticated level that is clearly aimed at adults and something most children won’t be able to pick up on. Also, one of the victims that the two men come upon is of a woman with no top on. The image is brief, but her breasts are clearly exposed making this one of the few G-rated movies to feature nudity.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 12, 1971

Runtime: 2Hours 11Minutes

Rated G

Director: Robert Wise

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Audrey Rose (1977)

audrey rose 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dead daughter gets reincarnated.

On October 3rd, 1965 at precisely 8:20AM a young Audrey Rose dies in a fiery car crash. At 8:22AM on that same day Ivy (Susan Swift) is born to Janice and Bill Templeton (Marsha Mason, John Beck). Several years later after talking to a couple of psychics Audrey’s father Elliot (Anthony Hopkins) becomes convinced that his dead daughter has been reincarnated in the body of Audrey. When he approaches Ivy’s parents about it they scoff and then when he tries to take her they have him arrested. He then goes on trial where he tries to get 12 jurors to believe that reincarnation is a reality.

Based on the Frank De Felitta novel, and who also wrote the screenplay, this odd hybrid of a horror film never really takes-off.  Director Robert Wise does a terrific job of capturing the Manhattan skyline and a late 70’s New York City ambience as well as the gorgeous classic paintings that line the ceiling of Janice’s and Bill’s apartment, but he has a story that is light on action. The restrained and genteel narrative creates a film that seems more like a conventional drama than a horror film despite a storyline that is brimming with supernatural elements.

Every effort is made to keep the proceedings as realistic as possible only to have the entire second hour delving into a court room drama with a defense strategy that is so outlandish it becomes almost ludicrous. Having Elliot become convinced of the reincarnation through talking to psychics is another weak point. The few so-called psychics that I have been to have proven to be inaccurate and unreliable and most people that I know have had the same experience. In the past few years several famous psychics have been outed in the media as being frauds and charlatans. Having the film treat these people like they are a reliable source puts the entire premise on poor footing from the very beginning.

Mason can play a distraught and beleaguered character about as well as anyone and her teary-eyed presence helps give the film a few extra points. Beck is also good as her husband and their contrasting personalities and approaches to the situation add an interesting subtext.

Not to necessarily sound cruel but Swift as the young girl has a big pair of buggy eyes that to me became more of a distraction as it went along. Also, with her long brown hair she starts to resemble the Linda Blair character from The Exorcist, which was a far more intense, scary, and exciting film than this one. The producers would have done well to have cast a blonde or redhead in the role simply to avoid the comparison.

Swift only acted in three theatrical films before retiring from the business in 1995. She is now the mother seven kids and runs a website called susaninglendale. com where she is an outspoken backer of conservative politics. At first I wasn’t sure if this was the same woman as her name isn’t exactly unique, but then I saw her in one of her anti-Obama videos and without question it was the same bug eyes.

The scares are almost non-existent and the only slightly spooky moment is the scene where Swift looks into a mirror and chants the Audrey Rose name repeatedly, which is the only time where her buggy eyes come into good use. The several scenes showing her running around the place and banging onto the widows while screaming become old pretty fast. The direction is slick and the production values good. It is compelling enough to be entertaining, but the ending is very unsatisfying and as a thriller it is transparent and unmemorable.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 6, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Wise

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video