Tag Archives: Rod Steiger

The Amityville Horror (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their house is haunted.

Kathy and George Lutz (Margot Kidder, James Brolin) move into a large home that just a year earlier was the place of a gruesome homicide of six people. Though the idea of living where these murders occurred is unsettling they cannot beat the home’s price, so they take the offer. Soon there are bizarre occurrences and George begins to behave like he is becoming possessed convincing the young family that the place is haunted and they need to move out before it is too late.

The film is based on the Jay Anson novel, which was centered on the supposedly true events of the Lutz family who moved into a home known as ‘High Hopes’ that had previously been occupied by the DeFeos who were slaughtered at the hands of their oldest son Ronald in November of 1974. The Lutzs lived in the home from December of 1975 until they ‘abandoned’ it in January of 1976. Since that time many other people have lived there and none have reported any paranormal activity. The home, which was built in 1924, had no unusual events occur in it for the 50 years previous to the DeFeo tragedy either making me and many others speculate that the Lutzs made it all up because why else would they be subjected to the hauntings and none of the others.

(The actual house as it appeared in 1974)

In either case the movie isn’t very good and at many points is quite laughable. The film would’ve worked better had it been structured as a pseudo-documentary where interviews with the characters could’ve be spliced into the reenactments, which would’ve avoided it from seeming so mechanical and coming off like a formulaic scare-a-minute like it does here. The so-called frights are over-the-top from the start and there’s such a barrage of them that by the time you get to the finale, which should be the scariest point of the film, it becomes almost anti-climactic.

The overblown facial reactions of the actors had me laughing out loud at many spots particularly Brolin’s feeble attempts to channel a Charles Manson-like persona and Amy Wright getting locked in a closet. She plays a teen babysitter who walks around wearing one of those garish dental headgears and made me believe that the spirits locked her in there simply because they felt she looked too stupid. Kiddor’s constant shocked expressions at Brolin’s increasingly edgy responses becomes tiring and the part where Brolin shouts at the evil spirts that “This is my house!” had me thinking the spirits should’ve responded with “No it isn’t, it’s the banks!”

Rod Steiger’s priest impression is the Achilles heel. I realize there was a priest in the book, but since then that same priest as disputed the events described in the story, so it should’ve gotten downplayed. I didn’t like the supernatural events occurring outside of the home like when Steiger and Don Stroud are driving in their car and having it mysteriously breakdown. The house is the centerpiece and all scares should take place there otherwise it ceases to be a haunted house film at all and instead just another pedestrian story dealing with evil spirits that can manifest anywhere.

How some could find this scary is a mystery. I first watched it 30 years ago and thought it was tacky then and consider it even more so now. Just because it has managed to spawn a lot of sequels doesn’t make it ‘a classic’ and I feel it would be better suited for rifftrax of Mystery Science Theater.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: July 27, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Stuart Rosenberg

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region A/1, B/2) Amazon Video, YouTube

The Kindred (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hybrid brother in basement.

On her deathbed genetics researcher Amanda Hollins (Kim Hunter) tells her son John (David Allen Brooks) to destroy her latest experiment as well as his ‘brother’ Anthony. John had no idea that he ever had a brother, but when he and some of his friends go to his mother’s home they find a monstrous being dwelling in the basement that proceeds to attack them.

The first part of this movie I actually liked as it thankfully manages to underplay things. The concept is certainly farfetched, but the filmmakers envelope it within a realm of believability, which kept me mildly intrigued. They also don’t show the monster right away and instead reveal only his tentacles sticking up through the floorboards, which allows the viewer to use their own imagination in trying to figure out what it is. This is something that a lot of modern horror films in their effort to impress audiences with the latest dazzling effects have lost and I wish they would go back to. Pulling back a little and letting the viewer create their own personal dark images to the horror is always more effective than having it spelled out for them with some overdone concoction.

The acting is surprisingly solid too especially for an ‘80s horror movie. The leads are bland, except for the beautiful Amanda Pays who plays her duplicitous role well, but they at least manage to convey their lines in a reasonably convincing fashion. It’s also nice to see screen veterans like Hunter in the cast, but she goes away too quickly. Rod Steiger is enjoyable as the evil doctor and I’m sure in his mind starring in these low budget things would have to seem like a major career downturn, but his intense eyes and expression are perfect for this type of material and his hideous wig is hilarious.

The climactic sequence though is a disappointment. The monster, once he does finally get revealed, reminded me too much of the creature in Alien, or just some giant bug. Watching the pesky little baby creatures dwelling in some lab jars was more effective although even here they started to become reminiscent to the Gremlins.

In either event the ‘horrific’ finale is too formulaic and redundant to be either exciting or interesting. I wanted the same minimalistic approach present at the beginning to have been retained in all the way through. Sometimes less is more, but unfortunately instead of walking away from this feeling like I had been treated to something new and original I felt more like I had been bombarded with the same-old tired clichéd crap that I had already seen a hundred times before.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: January 9, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jeffrey Obrow & Stephen Carpenter

Studio: FM Entertainment

Available: VHS (Upcoming DVD has been announced, but not yet released)

No Way to Treat a Lady (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer enjoys taunting police.

Christopher Gill (Rod Steiger) is a Broadway theater owner suffering from a mother complex who vents his anger by strangling older women at random. He uses a variety of disguises to get into their homes and then when they let down their guard he kills them while leaving a lipstick drawing of lady’s lips on their foreheads as his ‘signature’. Detective Brummell (George Segal), who still lives at home with his overly protective mother (Eileen Heckart), is assigned to the case and quickly forms a communication channel with Christopher who displays a strong narcissistic trait by becoming quite upset if his crimes aren’t given the front page attention that he feels they deserve.

The film is based on William Goldman’s first novel of the same name and inspired by an article he read involving the Boston Strangler. However, in the book version there were two stranglers on the loose and both competing with each other to see who could top the other with their outrageous crimes while in the movie we’re given only one.  To an extent the film works pretty well and has an almost Avant garde flair to it as director Jack Smight gives his actors great latitude to improvise their lines while also allowing the scenes to become more extended than in a regular production.

Steiger’s strong presence gets put onto full display and the wide variety of accents that he uses is impressive. He manages to successfully create a multi-faceted caricature, which keeps it intriguing, but eventually he becomes too self-indulgent with it and in desperate need of a director with some backbone to yell ‘cut’ and reel him in a little.

Originally he was offered the role as the detective, but chose the strangler part instead forcing the part to be enlarged. Segal though holds his own and does so by not competing directly with Steiger’s overacting, but instead pulls back by creating this humble, passive character that’s just trying to do his job, which helps make the contrasting acting styles work and the film more interesting.

The film though fails to ever be effectively compelling. Most thrillers tend to have a quick pace particularly near the end in order to heighten the tension, but the scenes here remain overly long right up to the end. The side story regarding Segal’s budding romance with Lee Remick doesn’t help nor does Heckart’s Jewish mother portrayal, which comes off as a tired caricature. Had these things been put in only as brief bits of comic relief then it might’ve worked better, but with the way it’s done here it takes away from the main story until the viewer loses focus and ends up not caring whether the bad guy gets caught or not.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 20, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 48 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Jack Smight

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Wolf Lake (1978)

wolf lake 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: He doesn’t like deserters.

Charlie (Rod Steiger) is a hard-bitten conservative man who lost his 23-year-old son in the Vietnam War. He likes to vacation with a couple of his middle-aged buddies Wilbur (Jerry Hardin) and George (Richard Herd) at a remote Canadian hunting lodge. However, this time when they arrive they find that the regular lodge owner is not there and instead it is being run by a young man named David (David Huffman) and his pretty girlfriend Linda (Robin Mattson). Charlie and David almost immediately are at odds as they both share a wide variance in age and political leanings. What is worse is the fact that David is a war deserter and once Charlie finds out about this he flies into a rage of psychotic proportions, which culminates in a violent night of terror for both David and his girlfriend.

The film was written and directed by the normally reliable Burt Kennedy who is better known for doing westerns. After watching this I think he should have stayed in that genre as this film is too formulaic and one-dimensional. There seems to be too much emphasis to conform to the horror movie/slasher style formula of that era with a plot set-up that is too brief and character development that is almost non-existent. The story shows its cards too quickly and then proceeds to just plod on and on until it climaxes with a predictable and boring finish.

Charlie and David’s arguments and confrontations fail to elicit any type of tension. Their shouting matches are rhetorical and redundant and their points-of-view are handled at a superficial level that allows for no new insight, or intellectual debate. Charlie is so limited in his stubbornness that he becomes annoying instead of threatening, or scary.

The final 25 minutes when the two sides wage a proverbial war between their two cabins is the only time that there is any action. However, by then I was completely bored with the proceedings and so emotionally detached from the third rate material that it was a strain just getting through it. The film’s ultimate message is heavy-handed and done so much better in other films on the same subject that it renders this excursion as pointless.

Steiger is wasted. The character he plays is poorly defined and doesn’t allow him to take full advantage of his acting abilities. He gets stuck with another one of his many wigs this one looking like the same type of gray haired rug that actor Ray Milland used to wear in his later years. The producers should have just allowed him to appear bald as it would have fit this type of part better and even made him look creepier and more menacing.

Huffman is the best thing about this movie and it is a shame that his life and career were cut short when he was murdered in 1985 while trying to chase down a suspected purse snatcher. His performance here is nicely understated, which helps carry the picture as he is the only character that is multi-faceted.

Although the story takes place in Canada and the landscape certainly looks Canadian I was surprised to learn that it was actually filmed near the city of Creel in Chihuahua, Mexico, which due to its high elevation has a climate that is more similar to the North’s.

SPOILER ALERT

There are actually two different versions of this film. There is this one and another one entitled The Honor Guard. In that one there are no flashback scenes like there are here and in the end Charlie ends up killing David and his girlfriend while in this version Linda shoots Charlie before falling over dead herself. I actually liked the flashbacks that are used as it gives the film what little suspense it has and also shows a bit of cinematic flair. However, the scene where Linda miraculously comes up with a gun and killing Charlie before keeling over looked cheesy and clichéd and I might actually have voted for the alternate ending.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 3, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes

Rated R

Director: Burt Kennedy

Studio: Melvin Simon Productions

Available: VHS

W. C. Fields and Me (1976)

W. C. Fields and me

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fields had a girlfriend.

Based on the memoirs from Carlotta Monti who was W.C. Field’s (Rod Steiger) companion for 14 years this film looks at their relationship as well as W.C.’s alcoholism and difficult personality.

This biography is highly romanticized and very light on the details. Apparently only one scene from the book is actually used in the movie. If one watches this in hopes of learning more about Field’s the man they will be disappointed. The tone seems similar to Oliver Stone’s The Doors where the intent is more on perpetuating the myth of its subject instead of tearing it down and showing the complete person. Just about everyone is familiar with Field’s drinking and cantankerous behavior, so having the film dwell exclusively in this area for the entire time is not interesting, or captivating.

The story would have been better served if it had been a complete bio beginning with Fields life as a child and then going all the way through to his death. Apparently he was born to an alcoholic father who beat him forcing Fields to run away from home at the age of 11 and live in a hold in the ground where he became dependent on stolen food and clothing for survival. He was in many fights and in and out of jail for most of his youth. Showing this could have been quite revealing, but instead the film skips past all of it and starts instead with Fields already in vaudeville and recreating a lot of corny comedy routines before having him drive off to Hollywood where his ascent to stardom seems much too easy and superficial.

Things improve during the second act when he begins his love-hate relationship with Carlotta (Valerie Perrine). Part of the reason this works is because Perrine is excellent. Her down to earth sensibilities really help balance the flamboyant ego’s around her and fit the character well. She is the one, not Steiger, who carries the movie and it was worthy of an Oscar nomination.

Steiger thought for sure that he would nab his second Oscar for his portrayal here, but instead didn’t even get nominated. His mimicking of Fields voice comes off as too rehearsed and effected. At times it gets annoying and just makes one want to watch a movie with the real Fields instead. His dialogue is too cutesy using lines borrowed from many of W.C.’s famous jokes and punch-lines. As expected he does induce the character with his famous Steigerisms and manages to not make it a complete misfire that it otherwise is. The scene, near the end, where Fields meets his now grown son that he hadn’t seen since he was three is his best moment.

Jack Cassidy is great in support as actor John Barrymore. The scene where he dies and his friends prop his dead body up into a chair and have him holding a liquor glass is amusing. Dwarf actor Billy Barty is good as Ludwig one of Field’s long-time friends. Some of the scenes the two share together are actually quite touching.

The film does a commendable job of recreating the period atmosphere. The music has a nice soothing quality to it and on the charm level it scores a bullseye. Despite my reluctance I found myself entertained by it, but as a biography it is flimsy, fictional and irrelevant.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 31, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: Universal

Available: Amazon Instant Video

Love and Bullets (1979)

love and bullets

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Chuck falls for Jill.

Jackie Pruit (Jill Ireland) the one-time girlfriend of mob boss Joe Bomposa (Rod Steiger) is being marked for death by him as she has the potential to turn states evidence. Undercover cop Charlie Congers (Charles Bronson) is hired to go to Switzerland and nab her before they do so that he can bring her back to the states and allow her to testify for the FBI, but along the way he ends up falling in love with her.

Ireland and Bronson where married in real-life, which is why this is just one of many movies that they did together during the 70’s. The strange thing is that they really don’t seem to have much chemistry. Bronson is much older and has more of a grounded, stoic personality while Ireland, at least here, comes off as ditzy and flighty making it seem more like a father and daughter relationship than two equal adults.  The ditzy behavior of Ireland’s character is not amusing or interesting and eventually becomes annoying making most men want to kill her instead of falling for her. Her character initially wears a wig and gaudy make-up, but Charlie insists that she take it off and when she does he states that she looks much better, but personally I thought she looked better with it on.

For whatever reason the Bronson character does not use a gun and is required to resort to unusual weapons for defense one of them being a standing lamp that he finds in a hotel room. He takes off the top and bottom of it and then uses the middle part as a pipe in which he blows nails through to kill off the bad guys. Initially this seemed like a neat idea, but I found it hard to believe that he would have such good aim and able to hit victims from several yards away. He also makes himself highly conspicuous walking around the busy streets of Zurich carrying a pipe.

Steiger gives another interesting performance. Although his character is the villain Steiger manages to give him depth and a humanistic quality. He speaks with a stutter and wears big glasses making him seem almost like a lovable galoot. The part where he stresses over ordering the hit on Jackie and at the end when he sits alone watching a classic romantic movie and insists that he not be interrupted for any reason are two of his best moments.

The supporting cast is full of familiar faces, but Bradford Dillman and Henry Silva are wasted and Michael V. Gazzo gets killed off too quickly. Paul Koslo has the perfect face for a cold-blooded hit man and it is neat seeing Strother Martin dive into the water because in his younger years before he got into acting he was a gifted diver and almost even made it onto the Olympic team. His death scene is good because it is done from his perspective as he is pushed under water giving the viewer a definite drowning feeling.

The action and story are standard and the scenic wintry landscape of Switzerland can help it only so much. The explosive finale gives it a few points, but the drama is weak and the action is only fair. Nothing real impressive and made for die-hard action fans only.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 14, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stuart Rosenberg

Studio: AFD

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 2), Amazon Instant Video

Cattle Annie and Little Britches (1981)

cattle annie and little britches

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: She needs a spanking.

Based very loosely on actual events this film looks at Annie McDoulet (Amanda Plummer) and Jennie Stevens (Diane Lane) two adolescent girls traveling in the Oklahoma Territory of the late 19th century looking for excitement and adventure. Annie becomes transfixed with the stories that she reads about the western outlaws particularly the ones about Bill Doolin (Burt Lancaster), but when they finally do catch up with his gang they find the men to be old, haggard, and tired as well as just one-step ahead of the relentless pursuit of famed western lawmen Bill Tilghman (Rod Steiger).

Plummer, in her film debut, is nothing short of electrifying. She is the daughter of Christopher Plummer and actress Tammy Grimes and she makes her presence strongly felt here. Her vulgarity and tenaciousness are infectious and help propel the film and easily steal every scene that she is in. She has her mother’s distinctively reedy voice and although not beautiful in the conventional sense her facial features still have an alluring quality that she makes the most of.

Lane as her cohort is good as well although not as strong, or riveting. Her plus is the fact that she is simply beautiful with perfect and delicate features of a young lady blooming into adulthood. The fact that her character is more shy and unassuming plays off well against the abrasiveness of Plummer’s and the tussle that the two have near the end is fun.

Lancaster is badly miscast. For one thing the real Bill Doolin was much younger and in fact was shot dead at the young age of 38 and yet here Lancaster was already 66 when he did the part. I also felt that the character was a little bit too good to be true. It just seemed too hard to believe that a rugged western outlaw would be so kind, gentle, understanding and wise. I suppose his fans wouldn’t want it any other way and the part seems to be written to conform to his star status, but the effect hurts the film’s overall authenticity.

Steiger on the other hand is quite strong and director Lamont Johnson makes perfect use of Steiger’s legendarily intense manner. In fact I was disappointed that he wasn’t in more of the film as his presence helps create some much needed tension in a film that at times seems too slow and laid back. His finest moment, and the best part in whole film, comes when he tackles Annie and gives her a nice long hard spanking.

The score, like the film, seems unfocused and creates an unnecessary mish-mash of moods. The vocal ballads done with a minimum of instruments is good as they have a country twang and fit the period, but there are other points when a jazzed up score with modern rock elements is played, which takes the viewer completely out of the setting. There is also too much music played when the natural sound and ambience would have been better especially with a western.

Watching the girls interacting with the gang as well as surprising them with their unexpected toughness is what makes the film interesting. The climatic sequence in which the two decide to go by themselves to get Bill out of jail and the very brazen and clever way that they do it is special. Why Universal decided to abandoned what is otherwise a pleasing little western is baffling. This film is long overdue for a DVD/Blu-ray release and fans of the cast should let the people in charge know as well as taking the studio exec, if he is still around, who decided to put the kibosh on this movie and throw him into a lake.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 24, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lamont Johnson

Studio: Universal

Available: None

Hennessy (1975)

hennessy

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Blow up the Queen.

This review will be the first in a month long series analyzing movies from the 70’s that starred Rod Steiger. Steiger was an interesting performer with a long and varied career who always brought a unique intensity to all of his roles. He performed in a wide variety of movies from Hollywood pictures to foreign films and from big productions to the low budget as well as going from the leading man to character actor. Every Friday during the month of January I will select films of his that will hopefully be able to spotlight a little bit of all of these.

Today’s film deals with the story of Niall Hennessy (Steiger) an Irishman with ties to the IRA. When his wife and daughter are killed during a riot in Belfast he plots revenge with a plan to blow up the House of Parliament with the Queen Elizabeth inside.

The movie has a great concept, but the execution is a bit lacking. For one thing the police immediately pinpoint Hennessy as the man they are looking for as well as figuring out his plan. How they were so easily able to do this not only seemed a little farfetched, but also sapped a lot of the intrigue and tension out of the story. Having the police come to this conclusion more slowly would have plotted the suspense out longer and been more interesting.

This also opened the door to a few loopholes the biggest one being that they know Hennessy wants to blow up the Parliament so one would expect that the police would have their men staking out the place and on alert to spot Hennessy if he came near the premises, but instead Hennessy is able to go on a guided tour and able to canvas the building unheeded. Another scene later on has Hennessy trapped in an upstairs apartment by the police who have surrounded the building and yet he is somehow able to escape even though it is never shown how.

The scene showing his family getting killed during a bomb attack is not effective. We see the mother and daughter leave a nearby building and then the film cuts away from them and goes back to the fighting in the street only to go back to the two a few minutes later lying in the street motionless. However, there is neither blood on them nor any type of make-up effects to show injury making it look more like two people lying down with their eyes closed. Seeing them actually hit by the bomb and screaming would have been more jarring for the viewer and allowed them to get more emotionally attached to Hennessy’s plight. Also, when Steiger is shown standing over them I was expecting him to let out another one of his patented primal screams much like he famously did in The Pawnbroker, but here he doesn’t and the sequence is quite brief making me wonder why would they hire an actor known for his onscreen intensity and emotionalism if they aren’t going to allow him to do what he does best especially when the scene calls for it.

Steiger for the most part does well with the part although he is surprisingly restrained during most of it. It is a bit of unusual casting given that he wasn’t Irish or a native of the region however, the accent he uses is alright and I kind of got a kick out of the way he runs especially at the end. His biggest obstacle though was his wig. Rod became bald as he aged and instead of just appearing that way in his roles, which he finally did during his later years, he instead wore a variety of wigs for his parts. Some of them were okay and some weren’t and the one used here definitely wasn’t.

Richard Johnson is quite good playing the relentless Inspector Hollis and I liked seeing him with a moustache. The talented Lee Remick appears as Kate Brooke a lady friend to Hennessy who allows him to hide out at her home and although she has a few good lines she is ultimately wasted. Legendary Trevor Howard is wasted as well and only seen briefly as a police commander.

The best part about the movie and the one thing that gives it distinction is the ending when Hennessy goes into the parliament building with a bomb strapped to his body. Actual footage of the Queen is shown and it looks so authentic that many people thought she had been involved in the production, but she really wasn’t. Their ability to crop this footage in with the action is well done and almost seamless and certainly helps to heighten the tension. Seeing a young Prince Charles looking bored with the proceedings and the elaborately decorated interior of the building as well as its many large and majestic hallways and rooms is fun and interesting.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 31, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Don Sharp

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: Amazon Instant Video