Tag Archives: Stacy Keach

The New Centurions (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rookies on the force.

Roy Fehler (Stacy Keach) is a young law student who decides to join the LAPD until he can complete his degree. After graduating from training he gets partnered with Andy Kilvinski (George C. Scott) a veteran with almost a quarter of a century of police work under his belt. Roy likes Kilvinski’s unique approach to cop duty and enjoys his police work more and more to the point that he puts his law studies on hold, much to the consternation of his wife (Jane Alexander). Then one night Roy gets shot while on-duty forcing him to go through a painful recovery, but his determination to return to the force puts a major strain on his marriage and when his wife leaves him he turns to liquor for solace.

The film is based on Joseph Wambaugh’s debut novel, which he wrote in 1970 and based loosely on his own experiences and observations while working as a cop. The novel though differs greatly from the film in that there were three main characters in the book while the film focuses mainly on Keach while leaving the other two, which are played by Eric Estrada and Scott Wilson, as only secondary players that are seen only sporadically. The novel also delved into the Watts Riots at the end, which the movie completely ignores.

The film though does succeed at humanizing those that work on the force as we see them as regular people who just so happen to wear a badge as opposed to authority figures. The story thankfully avoids police cliches and seeing how Keach’s job affects both his home life and personality is quite interesting and something I wished had been explored even more.

The best moments come during the first act as the viewer gets thrust onto the street scene along with Fehler and Kilvinski where in almost cinema vertite style we see what an average night patrolling a poor African American neighborhood in Los Angeles is really like. Some of the time their experiences are quite lighthearted like when they pick up a group of black prostitutes, one of which is played by Isabel Sanford, who later went on to star in the TV-Show ‘The Jeffersons’, who get put into a paddy wagon where they drink hard liquor and tell bawdy stories. Other moments though become tense and serious particularly when they have to wrestle a crying infant away from his abusive mother.

Keach plays his part quite well and one of the reasons that the film is successful, but his character isn’t well defined. We have no understanding why he enjoys patrolling the streets so much and ignores his family life the way he does. Without any insight to what drives him it makes his obsession to return to the force after his shooting injury seem bizarre and confusing. In the novel he was portrayed as being quite arrogant and thinking he was smarter than everyone else, which gets toned down considerably here.

Spoiler Alert!

Scott’s character is another confusing mess. For most of the film he’s shown as being rather laid-back only to suddenly shoot and kill himself without warning after he retires. Yet the character is not fleshed-out enough making what he does senseless. The film seems to imply that he was bored in retirement, which is what lead him to do it, but do other policemen who retire also kill themselves at a high rate? I haven’t heard of that many who do so it seemed to me there needed to be a better reason than just that and without one being sufficiently supplied it makes the scene come-off as unnecessarily jarring that creates confusion instead of clarity.

The segment where Fehler joins the vice squad are quite funny and manage to be both outrageous and believable at the same time. However, his sudden descent into alcoholism gets too rushed and the film would’ve worked better had it reflected the same structure as its source novel where the character’s lives are examined every August of each succeeding year after graduating instead of keeping the time period undefined, which makes everything that occurs look like broad composites instead of a fluid situation.

The scene where Scott Wilson’s character shoots and kills an innocent black man gets poorly presented too as we never get to see the aftermath of his actions as the subsequent investigation is never addressed at all. We simply see him back on the force in later scenes like it never happened. The moment is startling, so not answering the question of what penalty he may or may not have faced is frustrating.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 3, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Fleischer

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD

The Ninth Configuration (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Insane man runs asylum.

Col. Vincent Kane (Stacy Keach), a former marine who is suffering from demons of his own, is selected to head a psychiatric institution built inside a converted castle that specializes in military personal who fought in the Vietnam war and now feign insanity. The challenge is to find if these men are truly mentally ill, or just faking it and Kane’s technique, which allows the patients to openly act out their darkest fantasies, is considered unorthodox. He begins to have an unusual friendship with one of them, Billy Cutshaw (Scott Wilson) a former astronaut who bailed out of an important mission with a nervous breakdown just before lift-off. The two begin to debate the existence of God and the correlation between faith and sacrifice.

The film has a rocky tone in which part of it delves into campy humor while the other half is more serious. The reason for this is that when William Peter Blatty first wrote the novel of which this movie is based in 1966 it was called ‘Twinkle, Twinkle “Killer” Kane!’ and told in a darkly humorous vein. In 1978 he rewrote the story with a more serious tone and that version was published with the same title as this film.

For me I found the humor off-putting and not funny at all. The whole first hour becomes a complete waste with comical bits that rely too much on mental hospital stereotypes and overall campiness from the performers. There’s also long drawn-out segments dealing with the patients barging into Kane’s office and going on long circular rants that are quite boring.

The second half improves when the tone becomes dramatic, which is what I wished it had been all the way through. It also features a wild barroom fight, which is a bit over-the-top with the way the biker gang dress and behave, but also features some great choreographed violence and a creepy performance by muscleman Steve Sandor as the head of the gang that torments both Keach and Wilson. The second act also features a few surreal, dreamlike sequences, which are the best moments of the film.

The eclectic cast is interesting, but many of them, including Robert Loggia and Moses Gunn, gets wasted in small roles and little screen time. Wilson and Jason Miller are good as two of the patients, but Neville Brand is the best as a drill sergeant that at times seems to be channeling R. Lee Emery and at other moments a confused, overwhelmed man with a deer-in-headlights expression. Blatty, who casts himself as one of the patients is good too, not so much for anything that he says or does, but for his unique facial features, especially his eyes making him look like a guy possessed and the fact that he wrote The Exorcist is even more ironic.

Keach is also excellent, in  a role that was originally meant for Nicol Williamson, but who got fired from the production early-on. Keach manages to be both creepy and hypnotic at the same time. A guy you fear one minute and feel sympathetic for by the end and he does it here without his usual mustache allowing the cleft lip that he was born with to be on full display.

The setting, which was filmed at Castle Eltz in Germany and done there because Pepsi financed the film under the condition that it had to be shot in Europe, is an impressive site. Yet it’s hard to believe that such a Gothic styled fortress, which began being built before 1157, could ever exist inside the USA, which is were the setting is supposed to take place.

The discussions that Keach and Wilson have in regards to the existence of a supernatural being are fascinating and help push the film forward, but the ending, which features a mystical twist, was not needed. The tone, even with the humor, was quite dark, so having it suddenly finish with an ‘uplifting’ moment doesn’t click with everything else that came before it and comes off like it’s selling out on itself.

Alternate Title: Twinkle, Twinkle, “Killer” Kane

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 29, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Peter Blatty

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Gray Lady Down (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Submarine crew needs rescue.

Captain Paul Blanchard (Charlton Heston) is on his final submarine mission, but just as the vessel surfaces it gets struck by a Norwegian freighter, which sinks it to the ocean bottom. The navy’s rescue team is unable to get to the crew due to a rock slide that covers the escape hatch. Eccentric Navy Captain Gates (David Carradine) is brought in as he has created a submersible vehicle that can go down the depths of the ocean and remove the rocks from the sub, but his personality clashes with that of Captain Bennett’s (Stacy Keach), which further hampers the rescue efforts.

The story, which is based on the 1971 novel ‘Event 1000’ by David Lavallee gets off to a shaky start. Although the interiors of the vessel look quite authentic the exterior shots, especially those showing the crew sticking their heads outside the vessel’s port hatch, were clearly done on a soundstage in front of a green screen and nothing is worse than a film that tries hard to be meticulous in one area only to compromise in another. When the sub gets hit many of the crew, which were made up of stunt men and not professional actors, overreact giving it an unintentionally comical feel.

The cutting back and forth to scenes inside the Norwegian ship and how that crew becomes panicked was not necessary. Again, the acting gets a bit over-the-top here too and the dialogue is shown in subtitles due to them speaking in their native language. It might’ve actually added to the intrigue had we not seen what went wrong with the other ship to cause the collision especially since the focus of the film is on the rescue effort anyways.

Once the rescue gets going it gets better with a solid pace that keeps things on a realistic level and continues to throw in new twists that makes the attempted rescue continually more difficult. Although it does get to a point where it seems nightmarish scenarios are introduced simply for the sake of drama and almost like it was piling-on the problems making the submarine crew look like they were the most unluckiest people on the planet in order to have one bad luck situation happen after another.

The scenes involving Carradine and his relationship with his pal Mickey (Ned Beatty) as well as his animosity with Stacy Keach are more interesting than the ones involving the crew stuck in the ship. Part of the reason is there is no backstory given to any of the characters, so we never see them as three dimensional people and our empathy for their welfare isn’t as much as it could’ve been. A brief bit shows the wives of the crew upset at the news, but an added side-story would’ve helped. In fact I was genuinely shocked that Rosemary Forsyth, who plays Heston’s wife, has only a single line of dialogue. I realize she may not be an A-list star, but she has a respectable enough body of work to expect something more than a just a token walk-on bit and I’m surprised she took the part.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is tense and filmed in a way that you’ll never realize that the subs used were simply miniaturized models shot on a soundstage with smoked used for the underwater effects. However, the drama could’ve been heightened especially when one of the characters sacrifices their life to save the others, which should’ve come off as a shock, but the film telegraphs it, which lessens the effect.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Heston’s a stiff acting doesn’t always work, but here he’s excellent and despite being well over 50 appears amazingly young and agile. This marks Christopher Reeve’s film debut who looks absolutely boyish as well as a reunion of sorts for Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox who starred together 6 years earlier in Deliverance although here they do not share any scenes together.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 10, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 51 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: David Greene

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

That Championship Season (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their reunion turns sour.

On the 25th anniversary of when they won the state high school basketball championship four members of the team get together with their coach (Robert Mitchum) to celebrate. George (Bruce Dern) who made the winning shot is now the town’s mayor and up for reelection. James (Stacy Keach) is a high school principal while his younger brother Tom (Martin Sheen) has become a vagabond alcoholic. Phil (Paul Sorvino) is the most successful of the group even though his business methods aren’t always ethical. It’s his revelation that he has had an affair with George’s wife that sends the gathering into a freefall where long dormant secrets from all the members slowly come to the surface.

The film was written and directed by Jason Miller, best known for playing Father Karras in The Exorcist, and the play version, which he also wrote won him the Pulitzer Prize. Despite the rave reviews of the play I was genuinely shocked how lifeless and boring the film is. It takes 35 minutes before any real conflict is introduced and once it does it’s all very contrived. The opening half-hour is nice as it was filmed on-location in Scranton, Pennsylvania, which was Miller’s hometown, but the second half is done completely inside one home, which makes it very stagey. Flashback sequences were done to help make it more cinematic, but unwisely cut by the film’s producer.

The plot thread dealing with Sorvino’s character having an affair with Dern’s wife seemed so utterly contrived that I literally had to roll my eyes when it gets brought up. It’s almost like they had to throw in something to keep it interesting so why not just make it the oldest, most clichéd soap opera-like thing they could think of. What’s worse is we never see this woman in question despite her being the catalyst for all the drama nor any explanation of where she is or what she is doing.

The acting is good for the most part, which is the only reason I’m giving this thing even 2 points, but at times the performers have trouble rising above the melodramatic material including the scene where Keach tries to put on a cry while describing his mistreatment by his father, which sounds very fake and unintentionally laughable.

Sorvino walks around with jet black hair except for a big white patch on the back of his head, which is distracting and gets shown a lot, but never mentioned by any of the other characters. I’ve never seen anyone with that condition, except for someone who intentionally highlighted it like that and even so I don’t think that was the case here. The producers should’ve had that spot dyed black like the rest of his hair to avoid the distraction, or had one of the other characters joke about it in passing, so the viewer didn’t have to keep wondering why they are the only ones seeing it and nobody else was.

The final scene where the men listen to a tape of when their team scored the winning shot, which brings tears to their eyes, is the only segment that rings true and hits home how high school for some people can be the highlights of their whole lives and everything afterwards is all downhill. The rest of the movie though is an exercise in boredom and filled with sterile characters dealing with generic issues.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 9, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 50 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jason Miller

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: DVD

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)

life of judge 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He rules the town.

Roy Bean (Paul Newman) rides into a lonely western town that is being ruled by a group of violent vagrants that attack and rob him as he enters their saloon and then they tie him to an end of a wagon and drag his body through the dusty desert landscape. Fortunately for him he manages to survive the ordeal and gets his revenge by returning to the saloon and killing off the others. After which he appoints himself as the judge who oversees all issues of law and order in the vicinity, which quietly begins to prosper under his leadership.

Although based on an actual historical figure the script by John Milius goes wildly off-the-mark that has no bearing to anything that actually occurred and ends up becoming highly fanciful in the process. There are certainly some amusing bits here and there, but the tone is too whimsical and loses any semblance of grittiness until it doesn’t seem like a western at all. The story also lacks a plot and the overall theme that is way too similar to The Ballad of Cable Hogue, which was directed by Sam Peckinpah and came out just two years before this one.

During my trip this summer I traveled to Langtry, Texas where the real Judge Roy Bean lived and where most of this movie was filmed.  I was surprised to find how interesting the true events of his life were and how the movie would’ve been much more fascinating had it just stuck to what really happened instead of making it all up. In real-life Bean entered the town in the spring of 1882 where he opened up a saloon and soon was appointed the Justice of the Peace by the state since the next nearest court was 200 miles away. The jurors for the cases that he heard were made up of his own bar patrons who were required to buy drinks in between court hearings. No one was sent to jail since he did not own a cell and all those accused were simply fined in the amount of cash that they had on them at the time.

I also found it was amusing at how different the performers looked in comparison to their real-life counterparts. Newman shows some resemblance to the actual man, but Victoria Principal, who plays Bean’s Mexican bride Maria Elena, clearly looks far sexier than the real one did.

judge 2pic 21

judge 5

pic 22

Overall, the film is passable for those wanting nothing more than an evening of light entertainment. The scene where Bean travels to San Antonio so as to meet Lily Langtry (Ava Gardner) a stage actress who he adores his quite good as it takes the character, who had by then achieved almost a mythical quality, and turned him back into being quite mortal when he fights through the city crowds and becomes nothing more than just another-face-in-the-crowd to the people there.

I also enjoyed seeing the town grow into a big oil boom city although in reality this never happened and the place as of today only has a population of 18 people. Stacy Keach’s cameo where he wears heavy make-up to resemble an albino renegade who rides into town and challenges Bean to a gunfight is quite amusing, but it’s probably Principal’s performance in her film debut that ends up becoming the film’s most enduring quality.

pic 18

(The actual saloon where Judge Bean tried heard his cases, which still stands today.)

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released:  December 18, 1972

Runtime: 2Hours 2Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Huston

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Class of 1999 (1990)

class of 1999 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The teachers are robots.

The year is 1999 and American high schools are running rampant with drugs and gang warfare. In an attempt to try to regain some control administrators have hired on a company run by Dr. Bob Forrest (Stacy Keach) who has created teachers who look human, but are actually robots capable of exerting extreme punishment on those students who get out-of-line. A Seattle high school is chosen as a venue to test these robots out with Miles Langford (Malcolm McDowell) being the only human instructor made aware of these other teacher’s identities. At first things go well and civil behavior from the unruly teens is attained, but then the teachers get out-of-control where even their creators are unable to rein them in, so it is up to some rebel teen students lead by Cody (Cody Culp) to fight them off and stop them.

This is a sort-of sequel to writer/director Mark L. Lester’s earlier Class of 1984 and in many ways on a low budget scale it’s alright. I watched this film with my Cinema Terrible group here in Austin where we get together each month to watch two really bad movies. Usually everyone spends the time making fun at what they are watching, but this film surprisingly kept them quiet and captivated, which no one had initially expected. Lester has directed 33 of these types of films since 1971 and he knows how to deliver. His product certainly isn’t on an Academy Award winning level, but for those looking for some cheap non-think entertainment with a fast pace and decent effects then this ain’t too bad.

The best element of the film is John P. Ryan, Pam Grier and Patrick Kilpatrick as the three teacher robots. Ryan especially owns the screen during all of his scenes and the part where he takes some difficult students one-by-one over his knee and gives them a nice long, hard spanking is without question the best moment of the whole movie. Grier though is good too and during the climatic sequence she runs around essentially topless with her chest ripped open and her computer parts exposed, which I found to be well done. McDowell is the only one of the familiar names who is wasted and apparently only worked 2 days on the production.

The film’s biggest issue is that it has no sense of humor despite its over-the-top campy premise. The teen cast show minimal acting ability and their characters come off like walking, talking clichés. In a lot of ways this film would have been better had the evil teacher robots been portrayed as ‘the good guys’ and instead of being annihilated at the end by the students they were the ones who eradicated all of the mouthy, crude and disrespectful teens, which some would consider to be much more of a ‘happy ending’.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 11, 1990

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark L. Lester

Studio: Vestron Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Brewster McCloud (1970)

brewster mccloud 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Flying in the Astrodome.

Brewster McCloud (Bud Cort) is a young man who lives and hides inside the giant Astrodome in Houston, Texas. He dreams of one day flying like a bird and secretly works on building a contraption that will help him do it while being aided by a mysterious guardian angel named Louise (Sally Kellerman). Meanwhile strangulations start occurring all over the city and the police become convinced that Brewster may have something to do with it. As he gets ready to ‘spread his wings’ and fly for the first time the police surround the place and try to arrest him.

This film is reportedly director Robert Altman’s favorite out of all the ones that he did and it is easy to see why. The quirky, offbeat script by Doran William Cannon nicely compliments Altman’s free-form, cerebral style. The film works on many different levels with every shot and scene being unique and a kind of story in itself. The dream-like quality is nicely balanced with harsh realities creating an interesting theme that touches a wide array of senses. Although this film is never mentioned in relation to car chases the one that is has is exciting and well photographed without any of the jump cuts that you normally see.

The city of Houston gets captured well and I liked the fact that Altman stayed away from the downtown and instead focused more on the neighborhoods and city streets. The filming of the inside of the Astrodome is the most impressive and the building becomes like a third character. It may seem hard to believe now, but at one time it was considered ‘the eighth wonder of the world’ and was the very first dome stadium in existence. Watching Cort fly around on the makeshift wings he creates gives off an exhilarating feeling especially with the way Altman captures it against the backdrop of the stadium’s ceiling filled with skylights. The best shot in my opinion though is the bird’s-eye view of seeing Kellerman walking the entire length of the field and out the exit.

The broad and amusing characterizations are fun and Altman gives his actors wide range to create them. Some of the best ones are Stacy Keach who is unrecognizable under heavy make-up as an elderly, cantankerous and greedy landlord who goes reeling down the city streets in nothing but a wheel chair. Bert Remsen is good as a corrupt and racist policeman who even beats and berates his own family. Michael Murphy is interesting as a narcissist, hotshot detective who ends up killing himself and Rene Auberjonois as the lecturer who slowly turns into a giant bird as the film progresses. There is even the aging Margaret Hamilton who says a few curse words and dies while wearing her ruby red slippers.

The film is one-of-a-kind and perfect fare for those looking for something offbeat and diverting. The kooky opening and ending title sequences alone make it worth it. My only real complaint would be the fact that supposedly a bird is committing all these strangulations, but we never see how. All the viewers see is the victims getting bird poop on them and nothing more. I realize this might have been technically difficult to film or visualize, but for such an otherwise creative movie this seems like a bit of a cop-out.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: December 5, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS, DVD

End of the Road (1970)

end of the road

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review:  Too weird for words.

A bizarre adaptation of John Barth’s already bizarre novel detailing the story of a man (Stacy Keach) who goes into a catatonic state at a train station and is then sent to a strange mental hospital run by a weirdo named Doctor D (James Earl Jones). After he is considered to be ‘cured’ he takes a job as a college professor and proceeds to have an affair with the wife (Dorothy Tristan) of one of his colleagues (Harris Yulin).

It has been noted that author Barth disliked this film version of his novel and it is easy to see why. It gives only a basic outline of the story while leaving out all of the deeper meanings. It also tried to tie the story to the chaos and rebellion of the 60’s even though the book was written in 1955. The final result is a confusing mess that never comes together. The characters behave strangely and with no understanding to their motivations it becomes impossible to relate to them or anything else that goes on. Most viewers, especially those that are not familiar with the book, will easily become confused after the first five minutes if not sooner.

On the positive end the filmmaking style is refreshingly audacious in a way that is rarely seen anymore. Everything is thrown out there no matter how outrageous with little regard to mainstream acceptance. The kinetic imagery and music has a certain hypnotic effect that keeps you connected to it even if you don’t understand what is going on. The film culminates with a very intense, grizzly, and tasteless abortion sequence that will not be soon forgotten by anyone who sees it. Jones gives one of the most bizarre and over-the-top performances that you will ever see anywhere and anyone who is a fan of his or has an interest in acting MUST see him in this film.

It’s a misfired experiment that manages to be enough of a period artifact to make it interesting as a curio. It definitely has the ability to stay with you after it is over.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 10, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated X

Director: Aram Avakian

Studio: Allie Artists Pictures

Available: DVD