Tag Archives: Sex

Closely Watched Trains (1966)

closely watched trains

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Boy loses his virginity.

This is an engaging, amiable Czechoslovakian import that won the Academy Award for best foreign film of 1966. The story pertains to a young man named Milos (Vaclav Neckar) who follows in his father’s footsteps and gets a job at the local railway company during World War II. He almost immediately becomes bored with it and gets preoccupied with a beautiful young train conductor named Messa (Jitka Scoffin). The two have a sexual tryst, but Milos is unable to ‘rise to the occasion’.  He becomes despondent and even tries to commit suicide, but is saved at the last minute. While he is recuperating in the hospital the Dr. informs him that he suffers from premature ejaculation.  Milos then spends the rest of the time scouring the village for some prostitutes that he can ‘practice on’ so that he can learn to control his condition and become a ‘real man’.  A subplot involves plans to blow-up a German train carrying some high level ammunition.

Despite the fact that it is very leisurely paced and everything happens at one not very exciting location I still found the film to be immensely enjoyable. I had the feeling that director Jiri Menzel spoke straight from the heart with this one. The bleakness of the characters situation and the poor, hopeless conditions of their country is vivid and yet the ingenuity and perseverance of the human spirit never fades. Anyone who has dealt with an oppressive situation will most assuredly relate. The fact that this film stays so highly amusing and touching despite the depressing elements is what makes this a winner.

In a lot of ways this was years ahead of its time. The very liberal sexual attitudes and provocative scenes were stuff not yet seen in most movies and didn’t really become the norm, even for European films, until the 70’s and 80’s. Although not extreme there is indeed some lingering eroticism and even nudity. One segment involves Milos’s very amorous co-worker Hubicka (Josef Somr) rubber stamping the naked rear of Zdenka (Jitka Zelenohorska) who works as the station’s secretary. When her shocked mother finds out about this she parades her daughter all around town, exposing her rear to everyone, so that they can witness the ‘outrageous crime’ while the amused Zdenka finds it a turn-on.  There is also another scene, which another reviewer considered to be the most unique scene ever put on film that involves an old woman and a goose. I’ll agree it is very different, but I am not exactly sure what she was doing with it, or if I want to know, or if it is even legal, but it does indeed catch your attention.

Of course the drawback to this is the fact that the character’s attitudes seem far too modernistic for the era. At no time did I feel like I was really being transported back into the 1940’s.  There was also a little too much preoccupation with the sex angle and I felt there needed to be a little more balance with the actual war.

The Milos character is a bit too wide-eyed. He looks literally like a ‘deer-in-headlights’ through the entire progression of the movie. He seems overtly naïve for someone of 18. I know it was done for comical purposes, but having his mother dress him for his first day of work was going over the top. For the first half of the film he has hardly any dialogue and it is difficult for the viewer to relate to him, or get inside his head. Things do even out at the end when he ‘transforms into a man’, which I liked, but the opening half paints him too much as a caricature.

If there was one thing that really rubbed me the wrong way it would be the downbeat ending. I didn’t think it was necessary and tended to go against the film’s theme, which was human survival and coping. Still, it’s a good film with a great message. The budget was clearly very low, but it’s entertainment value high.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 18, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Jiri Menzel

Studio: Filmove

Available: VHS, DVD (The Criterion Collection)

John and Mary (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sex and then relationship.

Considered provocative at the time this film detailed the new phenomenon of the one-night-stand, a fad in the late 60’s early 70’s that quickly went out of style upon the release of Looking for Mr Goodbar in 1977.  The story here details a rather nondescript man and woman (played by Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow) who meet at a singles bar and then go back to his place for sex.  The rest of the film involves them considering whether it can grow into a relationship.

The first ten minutes are pretty good. It nicely analyzes all the expected awkwardness one must have of waking up the next morning and not sure who you’ve been sleeping with. I liked how the John character secretly goes through Mary’s purse to find out more about her while Mary does the same with his telephone messages. Unfortunately after this segment Director Peter Yates unwisely decided to put in voice overs of their thoughts. This adds nothing to the proceedings and ends up being heavy-handed. It also takes away one of the fundamental points of good film-making, which is learning about characters through subtle visual observation.

The film is also no where near as sophisticated or daring as I think the film-makers would like us to believe. I expected, and would have like, the male character to have been a life-long swinger who has had many of these flings and now suddenly finds himself attracted to this woman and wants to go in a different direction. Instead we get a Hoffman character portrayed as being someone who has never done this before and only does so at the coaxing of his much more liberated friend.  This leads him to act all shy and unsure and coming off like an extension to the character he played in The Graduate. The end result is getting a very boring, bland person who responds to things in all the predicted ways instead of giving us a fresh new perspective by delving into the mind of someone living a lifestyle many of us have not experienced.  I also got a strong feeling that the film-makers had done very little research into this topic, thus giving the viewer no new insight whatsoever.  It ends up coming off like one of those trendy ‘statement movies’, but with no idea of what statement it actually wants to make.

There is no chemistry between Hoffman and Farrow at all.  Nothing is shown that would indicate why these two would want to pursue this thing any further. I actually found the scenes involving the side-story of Farrow’s affair with an older college professor (Michael Tolan) to be more interesting and filled with stronger more snappy dialogue.

In the end this ‘provocative drama’ deteriorates into being an uninspired love story. It concludes with the tired, cliche ridden scene of having John madly driving around the city of New York looking for this mysterious woman who he is convinced he is in love with despite the fact that he still does not know what her name is.  It is easy to see how, in Hoffman’s very distinguished career, why this film remains one of his lesser known efforts.

On the technical side this film is actually well done.  I liked how it inter-cut between the present day and the past as well as analyzing the previous relationships of the two characters. This film also offers a nice chance to see a young Tyne Daly as Farrow’s roommate.  Cleavon Little from Blazing Saddles fame appears briefly as a would-be film director.  Olympia Dukakis  has an amusing, non-speaking bit as Hoffman’s activist Mother.  This also marks the film debut of character actress Marian Mercer.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Yates

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD

Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963)

under yum

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Landlord likes pretty woman.

Jack Lemmon plays Hogan, an apartment landlord who charges $450 a month to men, but only $75 a month to a young beautiful woman. He then puts on his moves and most of the time ‘scores’ with his nubile tenants. He sets his sights on attractive college co-ed Robin Austin (Carol Lynley) who has just moved in.  Unbeknownst to him she is also bringing in her boyfriend Dave (Dean Jones). The two have decided to live platonically, so they can see if they can get along together before taking the big step and getting married. Hogan is unaware of her male counterpart as when she signed up she simply told him her roommate was a brunette and Hogan presumed it was female. When he finds out who it really is it puts a crimp on his plans, but he still persists anyways.

Although the premise of two young people who are in love cohabiting without having sex may seem antiquated and remnants of a bygone era, the truth is the characters and filmmakers were probably a little more worldly-wise then one might presume initially. For one thing Dave considers the arrangement to be ‘nutty’ and states ‘no one could live that way’. He also, towards the end of the film, gets her to drink some strong tequila in order to get her drunk and allow him to seduce her. The characters, particularly the apartment’s husband and wife maintenance crew (Imogene Coco, Paul Lynde) do not condone Hogan’s playboy lifestyle, but are also privately jealous of it and in the case of the Lynde character even fantasizes about it. I also thought it was a hoot when Robin asks her college instructor Irene (Edie Adams) whether her and her husband ‘did it’ before they were married and although Irene acts all aghast at the suggestion she is also careful not to specifically answer it either.  So even though things are not as explicit as today’s films the underlying leering elements are still there.

This was pretty much Lemmon’s vehicle and he does alright. He has never played the part of a lecherous cad before, so it was fun seeing him do something different and away from his otherwise clean-cut good guy image. The best thing though may actually be the way his apartment was decorated. It is painted in a garish, bright red and this includes the carpets, drapes, and bed sheets. He also wears shirts, socks, and a watch band with the same bright red color making the place look like hell and he the devil. I also got a kick out of a pair of violins that he has stored in a case and at the press of a button they rise up and play romantic music with the help of electronic, robotic hands.

Carol Lynley is sensational as the female lead and quite possibly the best thing about the movie. Her portrayal of a young female college student who is sweet and polite, but still headstrong and full of ideals seems timeless. I also liked that the college students here were portrayed as thinking, breathing young adults and not just one-dimensional, stoned party- animals.

Jones does well as the boyfriend who sees right through Hogan’s schemes and does not allow him to get the upper hand. However, some of the stunts that Hogan pulls including walking in on the couple unannounced at different times of the day and night as well as having him eavesdrop on them and even admit to it, would not go over in the real world and would likely get him sued.

The biggest problem with the film is that fact that there is really no plot. The entire movie is made up of these silly little schemes that Hogan tries to pull to get Dave out of the way and his hands on Robin. None of these are clever, funny, or imaginative. The one-joke premise gets stretched until it becomes excruciatingly monotonous. Most of these films that are based on hit stage plays at least have some funny banter and sharp one-liners, but this movie doesn’t even have that.  This all might have worked as a cute 30 minute episode on the old Love American Style TV-show, but at 110 minutes it is outrageously over-long. Even for a fluffy 60’s sex farce it’s incredibly vapid and lifeless.  Legendary comic character actors Coco and Lynde are wasted.

A young Bill Bixby can be seen briefly as a college student trying to rent an apartment.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 23, 1963

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: David Swift

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video