Tag Archives: Severn Darden

Why Would I Lie? (1980)

why would i lie 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s a compulsive liar.

Cletus (Treat Williams) is a compulsive liar although he says they are simply ‘fabrications’ and tells them because it is his sincere belief that people don’t want to hear the truth and the lies are much more interesting. He gets a job at a welfare agency and gets involved with a young boy named Jeorge (Gabriel Macht) and trying to return him to his mother. The task turns into an uphill battle as the mother is nowhere to be found and relies heavily on Cletus’ lies to get him out of jam after jam. Whenever he does gets caught in one of his ‘fabrications’ he will always say ‘why would I ever lie about a thing like that?’ which quickly becomes the film’s catchphrase.

This goofy movie, which has never been released on DVD or VHS and had only a limited run during its initial release in August of 1980, seems unable to figure out what it wants to be. It starts out as a weird character study before moving into a quirky comedy and then ultimately devolving into a sudsy soap opera.  It’s unique for being filmed on-location in Spokane, Washington and even opens with a roaming, bird’s eye view of the city’s skyline, which has to be both a first and last.

The supporting female cast is the film’s biggest weakness as the characters are poorly written and defined. Valerie Curtain, who plays Cletus’ boss, decides to hire him for the job despite the fact that he clearly says some outrageous lies during the interview. When she becomes aware that he may be doing something improper in regards to the adoption process, she threatens him with legal action, so then Cletus pretends to romance her, which is so corny that it is an insult to any woman that the female character here could ever fall for it. He then meets Kay (Lisa Eichhorn) who after only knowing him for a few minutes invites him back to her place for sex, which even for the swinging ‘70’s seems outrageously forward and reckless. Then later when she no longer wants to go out with him because she’s not into any type of serious relationship Cletus advises her that he is ‘in love’ with her even though he’s only known her for a few days and like a hypnotist snapping his fingers this tacky line is somehow enough to get her to make a 180 degree turn and agree to move in with him.

The film also suffers from some very shallow logic. For instance Cletus is told that the boy’s mother may be in either Boston or Philadelphia, so using that little information he decides to take a trip to both cities in order to ‘search’ for her, which makes me wonder  how was he planning to do that. Will he knock on every door in each metropolis until someone with her name finally answers? I also thought that having the woman he is dating turn out to magically be the mother he is searching for and that she was simply living under a different name was too much of a cutesy coincidence and put this whole thing in the category  of a fluffy TV-movie if even that.

Williams manages to play the title role well enough that he keeps it watchable and even somewhat likable. The real scene stealer though is Macht in his film debut who goes by the name Gabriel Swann here. The kid is really adorable and his scenes with Williams are the best moments in the film.

The supporting cast is interesting, but essentially wasted although Jocelyn Brand (Marlon’s sister) has an amusing moment at the end. Severn Darden is good too as Cletus’ psychiatrist who does crossword puzzles while listening to his patients and then panics when he thinks one of them has jumped out the window. There is also a moment in the film where B.J. Thomas sings a song called ‘Me, You and You’, but unlike ‘Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head’, which was famously done in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid this song is not memorable and does not help the film at all.

why would i lie 1

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Larry Peerce

Studio: MGM

Available: None at this time.

Goldstein (1964)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Prophet emerges from lake.

An old man (Lou Gilbert) emerges from Lake Michigan and wanders the streets of Chicago making friends and enemies along the way. His aurora captures the imagination of a local artist (Tom Earhart) and he seeks the old man out for advice and inspiration, but then loses sight of him and spends the rest of the movie trying to chase him down, but becoming more lost in the process.

This film’s biggest claim to fame is that it is the directorial debut of Philip Kaufman who along with co-director Benjamin Manaster penned this tale that is supposedly a loose, modern-day interpretation of the prophet Elijah. The film has an engaging cinema verite style that is enough to hold some interest, but story wise it is vague and confusing. Too much is thrown in that seems to having nothing to do with the central character or theme. Much of it was clearly ad-libbed, which creates a certain freshness, but also allows it to go even more on a tangent that it ultimately cannot recover from.

The best moments come from the scenes involving Gilbert’s character who surprisingly doesn’t have as much screen time as you’d expect despite being supposedly the central point of the story. The scenes where he comes out of the water and then befriends a homeless man and wheels him down a busy street while holding up traffic is funny I also loved the part where he takes a bath in an apartment and is unable to work the faucet knobs or even know what they are for. His foot chase through a meat plant is nicely captured and edited as is his shadow dancing along the shores of Lake Michigan, but he disappears too quickly and the movie is weak and directionless without him.

This movie also marks the acting debuts of several famous comic character actors including Jack Burns who was part of a comic team with George Carlin for a while and then later with Avery Schrieber before becoming famous as the voice for the crash test dummies. Here he has an amusing bit as an ambivalent desk sergeant. Severn Darden and Anthony Holland are both seen on the screen for the first time playing a sort-of Laurel and Hardy-like traveling abortionists who perform the operation on one woman (Ellen Madison) inside an empty apartment that is quite edgy, explicit and darkly humored for its time period.

The on-location shooting in Chicago is great especially with the way it captures the Marina Towers, which are two residential buildings resembling corncobs that sit in the downtown and had just been completed when filming took place. The flimsy, wide-eyed story though cannot equal its creative execution making this interesting as a curio only.

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My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 4, 1964

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Philip Kaufman, Benjamin Manaster

Studio: Altura Films International

Available: DVD

The War Between Men and Women (1972)

war between men and women 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Misogynist cartoonist goes blind.

Peter Wilson (Jack Lemmon) is a popular cartoonist whose drawings depict women in disparaging ways. He enjoys his job and single lifestyle where he can live on his terms and keeps his apartment as messy as possible, which he usually does. However, his already poor eyesight gets worse and upon a recent visit to his optometrist (Severn Darden) he finds that he must get an operation to help save it and even then there is a fifty percent chance that he could still go blind. Despondent and depressed he meets Theresa (Barbara Harris) a single mother with issues of her own. The two enter into a whirlwind romance that quickly leads to marriage only to have Theresa’s ex-husband Stephen (Jason Robards) show up at the wedding and wanting to rekindle their relationship.

Peter’s character is loosely based on James Thurber and the film itself is a distant cousin to the TV-series ‘My World and Welcome to it’ that aired for one year on NBC during the 1969-70 season. The film though doesn’t have enough of Thurber’s whimsical humor to make it worth watching. It starts off with some potential as it opens with a weird animated segment and drawings that closely resembled Thurber’s, but then quickly devolves into a contrived comedy/romance with maudlin drama thrown in that makes it seem like two movies in one. Had it stuck with the animation it would’ve done better, but even that gets kind of stupid including one segment where Peter’s drawings start to attack him, which forces the humans to stage an all-out war between them and the cartoon characters.

Peter’s acerbic, woman hating personality is initially diverting, but then for no reason he does a 180-degree turn by falling in-love with Theresa almost immediately and becoming a conventional husband and father while turning the film into a silly version of ‘The Brady Bunch’. I also couldn’t understand why Theresa would fall so head-over-heels for Peter as the two are trading barbs one second and then in bed together the next making their character’s motivations quite confusing.

Robards, who has his hair dyed dark brown and is almost unrecognizable, gets stuck with a thankless supporting role and is seen only briefly. Initially his presence had some potential as he starts to become buddies with Peter and plot against Theresa, but then his character dies unexpectedly making it confusing why he had been written-in in the first place. Lisa Gerritsen, who is best known for playing Cloris Leachman’s daughter in the ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’ TV-show and the subsequent spin-off ‘Phyllis’ has some appealing moments, but her constant stammering becomes annoying.

Thurber’s wit was unique and legendary, but this film is too timid to dive completely into it. I suppose the idea of having an openly misogynistic protagonist was considered ‘too edgy’ for early 70’s cinema, so attempts were made to make the character more mainstream, but in the process creates a film that is disjointed and bland.

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My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 1, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Melville Shavelson

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: VHS

The President’s Analyst (1967)

The presidents analyst 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Analyst on the run.

Dr. Sidney Schaefer (James Coburn) is a well-regarded therapist who gets offered the job as personal analyst to the President. At first Sidney is greatly honored, but eventually realizes that he may have taken on more than he bargained for. For one thing he must be on call to see the President at any hour of the day or night. Then he is forced to break-up with his girlfriend Nan (Joan Delaney) because it is found that he talks in his sleep and may be inadvertently giving away state secrets. When he tries to quit his job he finds himself being chased by government agents as well as spies from other countries intent on using or even killing him because of his perceived inside knowledge.

The film’s biggest achievement is writer/director Theodore J. Flicker’s visual flair where he uses every chance he can to enhance a scene by adding some interesting cinematic touches. For instance the part where Sidney talks with his mentor (Will Geer) about taking the job while looking at some weird art exhibits helps add an offbeat touch to a conversation that otherwise is rather ordinary. I also liked the throwaway segment showing Sidney walking by New York’s landmarks including the Brooklyn Bridge and even standing at the torch of the Statue of Liberty. These scenes don’t necessarily progress the plot, but help add flavor and mood and something a lesser director might not even consider. Sometimes it’s the little things that get added to the picture that make it special and Flicker shows a good understanding of that and it’s unfortunate that he left Hollywood in the early 80’s to devout full attention to his award-winning sculpting as I think he had the potential for making a lot more interesting films.

The comedy itself is quite funny and most importantly very original. Watching all the different foreign spies end up killing each other while also trying to nab Sidney as he hangs out undercover with a rock band is creative. The best part though is when he gets kidnapped while inside a phone booth and taken by truck to an underground headquarters where he is interrogated while still remaining locked in the booth.

The film offers a chance at seeing Barry McGuire best known for his 60’s rock song ‘Eve of Destruction’ in a rare acting role as a guitarist in a rock band. Godfrey Cambridge is quite engaging as an American spy and I loved how he was secretly friends with his Russian counterpart Kydor played by Severn Darden. Jill Banner who gave a hypnotic performance in the cult classic Spider Baby is seen here as a groupie named Snow White.

The film’s only real transgression is the fact that we never see the President or Sidney’s sessions with him. I believe this was because at the time there was still some respect for the position and the filmmaker’s didn’t want to completely devalue it by portraying some nut in the office, but it still seemed to miss out on some great comical potential as well as making the viewer feel that they are being a bit cheated. I also didn’t think that the President would have discussed important government affairs or foreign policy with his analyst like he supposedly does here. I would have thought that he would have been so burned out talking about that stuff that he would have wanted to discuss more personal issues that had nothing to do with politics.

At times this film borders on getting a bit too wacky and out-of-control. This type of idea could have been taken in a wide array of different directions and there were moments where I wished it had been a little more reeled in and subtle, but it always manages to save itself by constantly coming up with unique and funny segments.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 21, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Theodore J. Flicker

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

The Telephone (1988)

the telephone 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: I liked the owl.

Vashti Blue (Whoopi Goldberg) is an out-of-work actress sitting inside her dreary small apartment and having conversations with people over the phone. She also argues through a locked door that she shares with the women next door while waiting for a call from an agent for a job opportunity that never comes.

I am all for experimental cinema, which is the best way to describe this misguided project, but to work it still needs an artistic design and focus and this has none. It pretty much comes off as somebody’s cheap home video where a camera is turned on and then someone is allowed to rant and rave without pause for eighty minutes. Some could blame Rip Torn who is an actor turned first-time director here, but in subsequent interviews he has complained that Whoopi wouldn’t listen to any advice or direction that he gave and pretty much made his presence insignificant.  You could also blame the screenplay, which was written by the very odd pairing of Terry Southern and Harry Nilsson. Southern is best known for penning the screenplay for Dr. Strangelove while Nilsson is a famous singer/songwriter whose best work was doing the song ‘Everybody’s Talking’ that was the theme for the classic film Midnight Cowboy. However, Whoopi took great liberties with the material and ad-libbed a lot, so what was originally put down on paper and what is left on the screen could be minimal.

The conversations that Whoopi has over the phone ranges from lame to ridiculous. One includes calling the police and trying to get them to arrest a video store owner because he rented her a tape of Christmas in July with a scene excised is too absurd to be even remotely amusing. The Whoopi character also incorrectly stated that Frank Capra was the director of the film when it reality it was Preston Sturges.  Goldberg puts on a variety of accents including British, Japanese, Indian, and Southern as well as a few others, but her Irish one is suspect and her impression of John Wayne is terrible.

The apartment set is dull and bleak. The viewer feels trapped and with such little visual design their eyes and thoughts are apt to wander. Cutaways are sorely needed, but there are none. An infuriating moment is when there is a sound of a loud car pile-up outside, but despite this being a visual medium the camera never cuts away to show any of it. This was probably due to budget constraints, but what is even more perplexing is that there are sounds of people screaming, police sirens and even rioting and then a half minute later it all suddenly stops for no explained reason.

The supporting cast is eclectic but wasted. Noted character actor Severn Darden, in his last film role, appears in a brief bland bit as Whoopi’s neighbor. Elliot Gould gets a few minutes as Whoopi’s former agent and seems to be seriously slumming as he was a headline star during the seventies and now sadly stuck in this. John Heard is the only one who comes off best as a caustic, brash telephone repairman.

Whoopi’s two pets upstage the human cast by a mile. Her pet owl is very cute and I dug the goldfish particularly when he gets sucked down the drain of her bathtub and she must use a plunger to save him, which is the only time there is any action in the entire movie.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: January 22, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 20Minutes (The DVD cover states it’s 1Hour 36Minutes, but it is wrong.)

Rated R

Director: Rip Torn

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD

Wanda Nevada (1979)

wanda nevada

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Go for the gold.

Wanda Nevada (Brooke Shields) is a 13-year-old runaway from an orphanage. Beaudray Demerille (Peter Fonda) is a drifter/con-man who ‘wins’ her during a poker game. The two don’t get along at first, but then they come into contact with an old prospector (Paul Fix) who tells them of gold that can be found in the Grand Canyon. They follow his map, but find weird unexplained events begin to occur the closer they get to the treasure.

Uneven mix of gritty western/comedy doesn’t ever gel. This is a far cry from The Hired Hand, which Fonda directed 6 years earlier. Although that was not a perfect film it still had a great cinematic style and moody flair that this one completely lacks. The story is slight and predictable and goes on much too long with a laid back pace that while not completely boring is never very interesting either. The biggest hurdle though is the fact that we have a 13-year-old girl and a man in his 30’s not only expressing their love for each other, but forming a relationship, which many viewers will probably find quite creepy.

Shields is great and helps give energy and flair to an otherwise lackluster production. She displays a nice sassy attitude and her facial expressions are amusing. She looks ready to blossom into late adolescence and many times seems to show more acting ability and charisma than her older counterpart.

The supporting cast is good although they appear much too briefly. Unique character actor Severn Darden is on hand who tries to steal Wanda away from Beaudray, but just when his character starts to get interesting they have him killed off. Peter’s dad Henry appears in a cameo looking almost unrecognizable in a long beard and bug-eyed goggles. Brooke’s real-life mother Terri has an amusing scene as a hotel clerk. Fix is also good in what turned out to be his last film.

On the flip side Luke Askew and Ted Markland are boring as the bad guys who chase after Wanda and Beaudray through the canyon. Their comical banter is unfunny and their bumbling ways allows for no tension.

The scenery is gorgeous and if you’ve never made it out west you’ll feel like you have after you’ve seen this. The best views are the bird’s-eye shots of the two rafting down a river. The color is bright and vivid and an overall excellent transfer from MGM’s Limited Edition library.

In some ways this film reminded me of Mackenna’s Gold as both films had a similar plot and both also added in a mystical element at the end. However, like in the other one the special-effects look cheap and hokey. The light pleasing quality is hampered by an otherwise bland execution. Why it was chosen for the setting to be the 1950’s instead of the present day I am not sure as it doesn’t add anything to the plot.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 10, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Fonda

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray (Import)