Tag Archives: Sheree North

Amateur Night at the Dixie Bar and Grill (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Five minutes of fame.

A bar on the outskirts of a nameless small town becomes the social setting for a group of everyday people who flock to it one night in hopes of winning an amateur act contest. Every one of the contestants is fighting some inner demon or insecurity and critiqued by a judge (Henry Gibson) that is being bribed by different parties to choose their candidate over the others. There’s also a dangerous serial killer lurking about known as the Disco Killer, who has shot up several other venues in the area and may be eyeing the Dixie bar as his next target.

This TV-movie, which was written and directed by Joel Schumacher, seems way too similar to Robert Altman’s Nashville to be considered original. Clearly that film was this movie’s inspiration and this one does not go far enough with the concept and would’ve been better had its runtime been extended and the characters more fleshed out. Certain actors, such as Don Johnson and Candy Clark, are underused and there’s not enough of an understanding of the town that the bar was in. Some shots of rundown buildings in an isolated area would’ve helped give the viewer a better feel for how bored these people were and why they would be motivated to go on stage and essentially make fools of themselves just for the lofty chance at somehow escaping their otherwise hopeless existence with a small shot at fame.

What I did like is that the entire story takes place in one setting. The only time the camera ventures outside of the cramped place is when it goes into its parking lot for brief periods, but otherwise this bar is the center of the universe for these characters, which for many small town people, especially before the advent of the internet, is what bars such as these represented.

The stage acts themselves were a bit disappointing and could’ve been played-up more as I was expecting something a little more along the lines of stuff seen on the old Gong Show or stupid human tricks from David Letterman. The scene where a big fight breaks out in a dressing room that is far more exciting than anything occurring on stage does allow for some irony and the part where actor Rick Hurst attempts to crack open a coconut by using nothing more than his bare teeth is engaging, but more acts in this vein was needed.

Having Tanya Tucker appear as this shy woman who lacks confidence despite possessing the talent and walks off the stage in humiliation at the start only to redeem herself later, is too manufactured. I much preferred Pat Ast as this homely, overweight woman who unexpectedly wows everyone with some rousing showstopping numbers that should’ve made her the winner instead. I also felt that the so-called prize, which was simply the privilege to appear on stage at that same bar for two straight weeks, was too skimpy. People have bigger dreams than that even in a dusty small town and want more of a reward like  a trip to Hollywood, New York or a contract with an agent in order for them to be excited enough to go through what they do.

There is also no payoff to the Disco Killer storyline. He gets discussed quite a bit and there are even TV news reports about him, but then he never appears, which feels like a letdown. I’m not saying there needed to be a bloody sequence where a killer shoots people dead, but maybe a scenario where the contestants, who are quite competitive with one another otherwise, manage to come together enough to subdue the bad guy, or some other lighthearted element that would’ve at least brought a conclusion to the subplot instead of just letting it hang.

Sheree North as an embittered alcoholic easily steals it and has some of the best lines. There is also a long tracking shot in which the camera starts out at the back of the bar and then slowly weaves its way up onto the stage that is great too. The film certainly has its share of moments and as a TV-Movie it’s impressive, but lacks finesse for the big screen.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 8, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Director: Joel Schumacher

Studio: Universal

Available: None at this time.

Breakout (1975)

breakout

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Escape from Mexican jail.

Loosely based on the actual 1971 incident involving Joel David Kaplan, who after being framed for murder and stuck inside a Mexican prison for 9 years, was able to escape when his sister hired a pilot to fly a helicopter into the prison yard and allow Kaplan to jump into it and flee. In this movie Jay Wagner (Robert Duvall) is the Kaplan character and Nick Colton (Charles Bronson) is the goofy, but lovable pilot.

Veteran director Tom Gries delivers a compact action pic that has a good mix of humor and excitement. The comedy is not forced and genuinely engaging, but once the action gets going it is entertaining as well. When the helicopter starts flying into the prison with 30 minutes left in the movie I found myself completely riveted. Gries photographs the action in a way that makes the viewer feel like they are inside the helicopter alongside Bronson. The stunts are authentic and done on-location, which is a big plus. One scene involving a man getting sliced up by an airplane propeller is surprisingly explicit and should make anyone wince when they see it.

My only quibble in the direction department is the opening where a man is shown being shot to death while Gries freezes the frame every few seconds as the victim falls down, which came off as being disjointed and distracting. There is also a shot of the dead body lying on the ground with blood stains on his white shirt. However, there are no bullet holes in his shirt and you really can’t have blood coming out of someone’s body unless you have bullet holes and if you have them piercing the skin you most likely would have them piercing the shirt, but none were found in the shot I saw.

Bronson is highly engaging and steals every scene that he is in. I was surprised how comfortable he was in a comedic role and it made me wish he had taken more stabs at comedy in his career. My favorite moment with him is his nervous, anxiety-ridden expression on his face when he tries to pilot a helicopter and finds that it is much more complicated than he realized. The running gag of him trying to pass off a bad check is also good.

Jill Ireland who plays the wife of the Duvall character and is the one who hires Nick for the job is also enjoyable. She is almost as amusing as Bronson especially with the way she becomes increasingly exasperated by the situation. The two seem to work better when they are adversarial and you could never tell that in real life they were husband and wife.

Sheree North is also great in a small supporting role. Although she was already in her 40’s when she did the part she still looks sexy in a full body shot of her in some really, really short shorts. Her very politically incorrect rape conversation that she has with Nick is good.

Duvall is wasted in a part that doesn’t allow for much range and limited screen time. I’m actually surprised that he even took the part. However, his hair style, and I’m not sure if it was a wig, or just a really good comb-over, but it completely covers up his normally bald head and makes him look twenty years younger.

Randy Quaid seems equally underused, but having the chance at seeing him in drag may make his appearance here worth it to some.

I didn’t like the part where Duvall gets buried alive while inside a coffin in his attempt to escape as it is too reminiscent of a classic Alfred Hitchcock episode entitled ‘Final Escape’, which is better and shouldn’t be touched. However, as a whole, this is a good 95 minutes of enjoyable non-think entertainment.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 22, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Tom Gries

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video