Tag Archives: Slim Pickens

The Black Hole (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Area of gravitational acceleration.

On their return trip to earth a crew of 5-people (Robert Forster, Yvette Mimieux, Joseph Bottoms, Anthony Perkins, Ernest Borgnine) on board the USS Palomino spot a large spaceship and are baffled at its ability to withstand the gravitational force of the nearby black hole. They decide to investigate the ship and find that it is being run by Dr. Hans Reinhardt (Maximilian Schell) who has been for the past 20 years the sole human survivor after the rest of the crew supposedly returned to earth, the members of the Palomino though are suspicious about this explanation since the robed android drones seem to strangely have human-like qualities. They become further alarmed when they learn that Reinhardt plans on taking the ship through the black hole, which they feel will lead to a sure death to all those on board.

For the most part the special effects look awesome  and one gets a true feeling of the vastness of space in this one with Reinhardt’s ship getting captured in a way that makes it look large and impressive. Even the interiors give off a sort-of mansion-like feel and that the characters are inside of a large scale vessel with many rooms as opposed to simply being sets on a soundstage.

Unfortunately the script lacks imagination and becomes just another formulaic madman in space scenario that offers no new twists to the genre. The tone is extremely downbeat and despite being produced by Disney doesn’t seem to be something aimed for kids at all. The story is also devoid of action and when there finally is some it’s short and fleeting and comes off like a second-rate laser shoot-out.

The characters don’t show enough contrasting personalities either and are too old. Usually pre-teens relate better to movies with performers around their same age range, but here everyone is middle-aged and in Borgnine’s case even well past that. Bottoms is the youngest and should’ve carried the film, but his acting is so transparent you end up wishing it he hadn’t even been in it at all.

It’s also a bit ridiculous that Mimieux could communicate with the ship’s robot via ESP even though mental telepathy cannot be substantiated by the scientific community and therefore should not be introduced into a sci-fi flick that is supposedly trying to taken seriously.  I did enjoy Perkins in his part, but he should not have been the one to turn around one of the drones and unmask them to expose a shriveled face underneath, which for trivia purposes was the film’s director Gary Nelson, since it will remind viewers too much of a similar reveal scene near the end of Psycho of which he famously starred in.

Schell as the resident nutcase is a complete bore in a performance that is so pathetically cliched that it borders on camp. He reminded me of James Mason’s character from 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, which was also produced by Disney and should’ve been enough to have Mason invited back to play the part here as he would’ve been far more interesting.

The robots outshine the humans in this one particularly Roddy McDowell and Slim Pickens, who strangely go uncredited, as the voices of the  ‘good guy’ droids. However, the army of villainous androids that try to stop the crew from escaping walk too stiffly almost like mimes playing into the cliche of how people perceive robots to move, but by the year 2132, which is when this story takes place, you’d think technology would’ve improved enough to have created androids that would’ve had more fluid-like motions. They are also a bit too easy to pick-off almost like sitting ducks in a shooting gallery, which saps the shoot-outs segments of any tension.

The ending though is the biggest disappointment as it never clearly explains what happens to the crew when the go through the black hole. There’s a lot of heavy-handed imagery including a cool hell-like visual, but nothing conclusive, which makes the whole thing just one big buildup to nothing.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 21, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gary Nelson

Studio: Buena Vista

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Honkers (1972)

honkers 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rodeo star is selfish.

Lew Lathrop (James Coburn) is an aging rodeo star who returns to his hometown after an extended absence, which stirs up resentment and trouble wherever he goes. His wife Linda (Lois Nettleton) still has feelings for him despite her anger at him leaving her and never being able to stay faithful. It seems that the only true friend that he has and one that remains loyal to him even through his many shortcomings is rodeo clown Clete (Slim Pickens), but even this gets put to the test when Lew decides to jeopardize is family life once again when he decides to go after local hottie Deborah (Anne Archer) a young woman just past the age of consent who enjoys flirting with older men and shows no reluctance in having her way with them.

The film was directed by actor Steve Ihnat who never saw the final product put on the big screen as he died from a sudden heart attack at the young age of 37 five days before the film’s release. Much like with Junior Bonner and JW Coop, which came out at the same time, this has an authentic feel with the necessary level of grittiness and good rodeo footage,  but the scenes go on too long and the pace is too laid back. One shot has Coburn walking down the city sidewalk for a full several minutes with nothing else happening. Extended shots of a downtown parade and broncos bucking off cowboys in the rodeo ring are all nice, but fail to propel the plot, which seems pretty thin anyways and almost makes this come off like a documentary than a feature film.

Coburn is his usual engaging self, but seems genuinely uncomfortable getting on the broncos and even a bit out-of-place in the role. Pickens is outstanding in support it what may be the best film role of his career. Usually, especially with his country accent, he would get subjugated to hillbilly parts, but here he gets to show his dramatic side by playing a rodeo clown, which is what he did for many years in real-life before becoming an actor. Archer, in only her second film role is quite seductive and possibly at her most beautiful though the many shots showing her wearing headbands start to make her resemble Pocahontas.

Filmed entirely on-location in Carlsbad, New Mexico director Ihnat manages to take full advantage of the rustic western landscape and brilliant blue sky of the region, which is a major plus. The ending has a nice surreal quality and the story does manage to pick up a bit during the second half, but it still could’ve been better trimmed and more compact.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 17, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Steve Ihnat

Studio: United Artists

Available: None at this time.

Poor Pretty Eddie (1975)

poor pretty eddie 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Wrong turn to hickville.

Liz Weatherly (Leslie Uggams) was simply looking for a break from her hectic touring schedule and a chance to take some nature photos when her car breaks down on a lonely southern dirt road near an isolated lodge run by an aging, overweight lush (Shelley Winters) and her much younger boyfriend Eddie (Michael Christian). Eddie recognizes Liz as being a famous singer and since he has dreams of that nature as well tries to convince her to help him get his foot-in-the-door, but his talents do not match his ambitions and he fails to impress her. He then delays the repairing of her car hoping to wear her down and work things into a sexual relationship. When she resists this he rapes her and traps her at the remote hotel with no vehicle for escape. When she goes to the police the backwoods sheriff (Slim Pickens) humiliates her further, which crumbles her inner strength and makes her feel like a droid to the perversion around her that ultimately has her forced into a shotgun wedding.

This turgid drama is full of provocative southern gothic elements and wallows in areas that others fear to tread. The creative camerawork and backdrop sounds are impressive especially for a low budget film and the slow motion violence adds an evocative touch that stays with you long after it’s over. The character’s sexual repression gets relayed in an equally interesting way by showing scenes of them sucking and slurping their food like it’s a sexual substitute.

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Prolific character actor Pickens gets one of his best roles as the slimy hick sheriff in a part he seems almost born to play and Dub Taylor is spot-on as a self-imposed backwoods judge who creates a makeshift trial in the middle of his ragtag bar while also amusingly comparing Yankees to hemorrhoids. Ted Cassidy is good as well and makes a strong impression despite having limited lines.

I was not as impressed with the female performances as star Uggams comes off as too cold and one-dimensionally rigid without showing any type of preliminary vulnerability. Winters is competent as always, but playing a lonely, aging, pathetic woman begging for love is too similar to the character that she played in Lolita and making it seem more like typecasting.

The climactic bloody shootout is fun, but ends up being more of a spectacle than anything.  B.W. Sandefur’s script lacks any type of twist, introduces psychological elements that it fails to follow through on and wades in tired southern stereotypes making this a warped piece of ‘70s cinema that falls just short of being a cult classic.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Alternate Titles: Redneck County, Heartbreak Hotel, Black Vengeance

Released: June 16, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 22Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Robinson, David Worth

Studio: WestAmerican Films

Available: DVD

Honeysuckle Rose (1980)

honeysuckle rose

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: On the road again.

Buck Bonham (Willie Nelson) is a country music singer who enjoys life on the road traveling to different concert venues with his band much to the consternation of his wife Viv (Dyan Cannon) who wants him to stay home more and help raise their child. When his longtime guitarist Garland (Slim Pickens) decides to retire they bring in Garland’s daughter Lily (Amy Irving) as a temporary replacement. Then Buck starts fooling around with Lily, which creates turmoil both with Buck’s relationship with his wife as well as Lily’s relationship with her father.

After his successful stint in Electric Horseman this film was supposed to send Nelson to the next level as a leading man, but fails miserably because the guy just can’t act. In fact he conveys his lines in such a laid back manner it’s almost like he’s half-asleep and not even there. His screen presence is nil and he ends up being badly upstaged by both Cannon and Pickens. I realize he is considered a country music legend and has many adoring fans, but personally his trembling voice type of singing is not for me. Out of the many, MANY songs that he sings during the course of this picture the only one I even remotely liked was ‘A Song for You’ and even then I consider the Leon Russell version to be far superior.

The film like its star is too laid back. It takes a full 30 minutes before we get anything even resembling a plot going. There’s lots of concert footage and scenes taken on their traveling bus, which to some extent gives the viewer a good taste of what life on the road is like, but then it becomes excessive. It’s almost like a concert movie with the slightest of plots intermittingly mixed in for good measure. The story itself is too obvious and takes too long to play out and then when it finally gets going and we have some actual dramatic tension it then resolves too quickly.

Cannon is pretty good and even does her own singing. Irving on the other hand seems in-over-her-head and looks quite uncomfortable playing on stage. She got nominated for a Razzy award for worst supporting actress and I felt it was well deserved. Rodeo clown-turned-actor Pickens is super in one of his best roles that allows him to show both his comedic and dramatic side. Lane Smith is hilarious in a brief, but funny stint as an aggressive agent looking to get his client, a guitarist who wears some very loud suits, into the band while also trying to push some cheesy money making schemes on the side.

The part where Pickens attacks Nelson with a gun and chases him all around a lonely beach is amusing as is their drunken bus ride along an isolated Mexican highway. I also liked Irving meeting with her father after the secret of her affair has come out as well as her moment of apology to Cannon, but this all comes during the film’s final 20 minutes. Before then it’s just a lot of stock footage of Nelson on stage, which is nice if you enjoy his singing, but not if you’re looking for an actual movie, which at times this barely seems to be.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 18, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jerry Schatzberg

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Ginger in the Morning (1974)

ginger in the morning

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Older man/younger woman.

Joe is a middle-aged, recently divorced man trying to stumble his way back into the single scene. He passes by Ginger (Sissy Spacek) who is hitchhiking alongside a roadway and decides to pick her up. He is attracted to her youthful carefreeness and hopes to take advantage of her ‘free-love’ hippie attitude by bringing her back to his place for some quick easy sex. However, Ginger is secretly pregnant and looks at Joe’s maturity as a good father-figure for her child, which Joe is not ready for. Charlie (Mark Miller) is Joe’s best friend who along with his wife Sugar (Susan Oliver) barrages in and disrupts everything.

The story starts out okay with the budding relationship between the two leads and their attempts to try to get beyond the generation gap I found to be appealing. The film though shifts gears in jarring fashion by allowing Charlie and Sugar to enter into it and then gets even further away from the main theme by having the third act dealing with the male bonding between Charlie and Joe. It is only at the very end that it gets back to the romantic concept, but the whole thing ends up coming off like three movies crammed into one. All three story threads are weak and better suited for an episode of ‘Love American Style’ than a feature film.

Screenwriter Miller casts himself as Charlie who is obnoxious and dumb and given too much screen-time. Blonde actress Oliver wears a black wig that looks hideous and their incessant bickering is contrived and the cutesy way they magically make-up at the end is strained.

Markham who has been acting consistently since 1966 and remains busy even today, but has never achieved stardom is okay in a rare leading film role. His character of a middle-aged man trying to ‘connect’ with the much younger Ginger by making broad assumptions about her generation is quite relatable. Spacek though comes off best out of all of them. Her character seems like a real person while the rest are caricatures and her twangy Texas accent fits the part. She even sings the film’s theme song, which isn’t bad.

Character actor David Doyle can be seen at the beginning as a yapping man who gives Joe the ‘finer points’ of picking up women and one-night-stands. Slim Pickens is essentially wasted as the town’s sheriff, but he manages to make the most of the few scenes that he is in.

The use of a hard spotlight gives the production a cheap, low budget look and some soft lighting would have created a better mood and artistic design. There is also a boom mike that can be seen for several minutes in one scene. Yet despite the film’s amateurish look I still liked its unpretentious quality as well as the cute climatic sequence that takes place on a bus, which propelled me to give this thing a rather generous 5 rating.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 17, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gordon Wiles

Studio: Kyma-Circle

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video