Tag Archives: Stanley Kramer

Bless the Beasts and the Children (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kids free the buffalo.

Six adolescent boys (Barry Robins, Bill Mumy, Miles Chapin, Darel Glaser, Robert Jayson Kramer, Marc Vahanian) room together during summer camp and become known as the ‘bedwetters’. Through flashbacks we learn that the six children have difficult times at home with their individual parents and are routinely picked on by the other kids at the camp. Their camp counselor Wheaties (Ken Swofford) decides to take them to a buffalo corral where the boys witness to their horror the buffalo being shot by various hunters in an effort to ‘thin the herd’ from the weaker or more sickly ones. The boys decide to sneak off one night and free the herd from their corral, but various complications inevitably ensue.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Glendon Swarthout and one might expect from the movie’s poster, for another topical, preachy, dramatically charged production from director Stanley Kramer, but instead the film is amusing and breezy. If you went to summer camp as a child then this will be sure to bring back a flood of memories. Some of the pranks that the other kids play on our six protagonists are cruel, but there’s also fun moments that effectively recreate the carefree summer days of youth.

In a lot of ways this could be described as early version of The Bad News Bears as these ‘losers’ decided to show everyone who doubts them up and to a degree you could say this one does it better. In the bears film we never saw how the kids related to their parents and their family background, but here we do in a nice fragmented style, which allows the viewer to connect to the kids in a deeper and more emotional level, which makes us root even more for them to accomplish their mission.

The dialogue is banal and Sammy, played by Chapin, is annoying.  He’s supposed to be ‘funny’ with his lame impressions of famous celebrities, mostly those of a very bygone era that viewers today won’t even know, and the fact that he continues to do them throughout the movie made me think he should’ve been ostracized by the others just for that and it would’ve been justifiable. The on-location shooting though shot throughout Arizona helps, and Robins who plays Cotton their leader is a standout especially given the fact that he was 24 when this was filmed, but looked to be only about 14 like the other kids.

The only issue that I had with the movie is the music particularly the opening song sung by the Carpenters. Richard and Karen Carpenter were a terrific brother and sister duo, but they represented the conservative establishment. This is a movie about junior high boys and they most likely would never listen to the Carpenters or like their music. A film’s soundtrack should reflect the attitude and personality of its protagonists and the songs selected here really don’t as the boys represented rebellion while the Carpenters were all about conformity. It’s possible that director Kramer, who was nearing 60 at the time, didn’t know the difference. The Carpenters were getting chart toppers at the time, so from his generation’s perspective that made them ‘hip’ and the ‘in-thing’, which shows how out-of-touch he was to his subjects, which becomes a bit of a drawback.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 1, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Stanley Kramer

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Runner Stumbles (1979)

the runner stumbles 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Priest accused of murder.

Based on actual events the setting is 1911 in a northern Michigan town where Father Brian Rivard (Dick Van Dyke) presides over a small Catholic parish. He feels frustrated at being stuck in such a depressed town where many of the residents are out of work. In comes Sister Rita (Kathleen Quinlan) to help run the school and the Father immediately takes a liking to her youthful enthusiasm and fresh ideas, but gossip and rumors soon abound when it is found that they are spending too much time together and possibly becoming intimate. When the Sister is found murdered it is the Father who is accused and must fight for his life while straddled with an attorney (Beau Bridges) who seems glib and detached.

One of the biggest problems with the film is the miscasting of Van Dyke in the lead. His performance is stiff, wooden and affected. The chemistry between the two stars is non-existent making the romantic angle seem completely unbelievable. The film would have been better served had a younger man that was more Quinlan’s age and trained in method acting been cast in the part.

Quinlan is excellent in her role, but her efforts become lost as they bounce off Van Dyke’s almost corpse-like presence. Maureen Stapleton adds some excellent support and it’s great to see Ray Bolger in his final film role as the intrusive Monsignor. Bridges is also great as the lawyer and the one thing that livens the film up a little. Had his court scenes been more extended it would have helped the picture immensely.

Director Stanley Kramer, whose last film this was, seems to have lost touch with the modern movie goer. The presentation is stagy and the overly melodic soundtrack does not fit the mood and gets overplayed almost like a radio going on in the background that somebody forgot to turn off. The conversations revolving around the predictably stifling atmosphere of the era add little interest and go on too long as do the debates between giving in to human desires versus religious commitments. The surprise ending hardly makes up for a film that is slow and boring and ultimately making it as stale and stagnant as the small town it tries to portray.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 16, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stanley Kramer

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS

Oklahoma Crude (1973)

Oklahoma Crude

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: They want her land.

Lena Doyle (Faye Dunaway) runs a wildcat oil rig on land that she owns in Oklahoma. She is convinced that there is oil there and protects it with a feisty independence. Her father Cleon (John Mills) decides to hire Mason (George C. Scott) a lazy drifter that he picks up in town. Mason’s job is to guard against the impending invasion of the oil company headed by Hellman (Jack Palance) who wants the land and potential profits for themselves. Lena and Mason do not get along at first, but when Hellman and his men seize the land in a hostile takeover Lena and Mason form an uneasy alliance in an attempt to take it back.

Director Stanley Kramer can be considered overrated by many and I am pretty sure that he and critic Pauline Kael never exchanged Christmas gifts. However, this film has an edginess to it that I liked. The script, by Marc Norman, is full of original scenes and snappy dialogue. The on-going banter between Lena and Mason is particularly good with their conversation of how Lena wished she could be both a man and woman at once and which sexual organ she would favor being the best.  Although the line where is states “You gutless men don’t know your balls from teabags” is good too.

The movie nicely mixes in the feminist issues of the 70’s within the western motif and approaches it in an even keeled way. It was very in vogue at the time to arbitrarily label the male as the chauvinist, but here it examines the strengths and weaknesses of both sides while ultimately showing how both need to rely on the other to succeed.

Dunaway has always been a personal favorite of mine no matter what that silly Hilary Duff says. Is anyone going to remember Miss Duff in 20 or 30 years? I think not. Sure Dunaway can have her bitchy side, but maintaining a career in Hollywood can sometimes create that. Either way her bitchiness is put to terrific use here. Her pouty, icy cold stares that she gives to Mason were alone worthy of an Oscar nomination.

Scott was always known to have a strong and stubborn personality both in front of and behind the camera, so seeing him play a character that is meek and aloof is fun. His performance here rates as his most amusing second only to the one he did in Dr. Strangelove.

Palance again scores as the bad buy. He played a lot of heavies during his career, but this one is his best. There is just something about his deep, raspy voice and leering grin that make him a memorable villain.  Having him wear a bowler hat and black suit along with all of his henchman is perfect.

Mills comes close to stealing the film. The man has some very endearing moments and I felt the idea of pairing his refined British sensibilities along with Dunway’s caustic and vulgar manner was interesting. The scene where he climbs to the top of the oil rig in order to reattach the cable while Hellman and his men busily shoot at him is quite intense.

Why this great movie has never been released on VHS, DVD, or Blu-ray is a mystery. It has many fans and sure to gain more once they see it. The version existing right now on Amazon Instant Video is excellent. It is a widescreen with vivid colors and clarity. It nicely brings out the barren wide-open landscape and although it was not actually filmed in Oklahoma still gives one a good idea as to why the region is called ‘Big Sky Country’.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stanley Kramer

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: Amazon Instant Video