Tag Archives: Stella Stevens

The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970)

ballad of cable hogue

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Desperate man finds water.

After he is betrayed by his two friends (L.Q. Jones, Strother Martin) and forced to survive in the middle of the desert without the benefit of food, water, a gun or even a horse Cable Hogue (Jason Robards) goes on a mad search for an oasis. After four days in the heat he collapses and just as he is ready to die he suddenly finds water in the most unlikely place. He uses this untapped spring to create a way station for the stagecoaches that travel through the area and becomes quite rich, but deep down he harbors the dark desire to get revenge on the two who wronged him and one day he finally gets his chance.

Theoretically a person can survive up to 4 ½ days, or 100 hours, without water if they are in a climate with a temperature of 72, but in much hotter conditions such as the one shown here it would be far less, so having the character survive like he does seems to be a an extreme stretch, but if you can get past that then the film is quite enjoyable at least at the beginning. The script was written by John Crawford and Edmund Penney who spent the majority of their careers working as character actors in B-movies and this was their one and only foray as writers. The story’s biggest asset is the main character that is expertly portrayed by the gifted Robards. His determination to beat long odds and find success even as he starts from rock bottom should resonate with most viewers and the character’s grit meshes well with director Sam Peckinpah’s perennial theme of rugged individualism.

The addition of David Warner as a dubious minister who helps Cable build his station is excellent and the film could’ve been an engaging buddy movie had it remained at this level. Unfortunately it felt the need to add in a love interest in the form of Stella Stevens, sans make-up, who portrays a whore that takes a liking to Cable. Stevens is not as strong of an actor as Warner and doesn’t know how to carry a scene like he does, so her time in front of the camera is boring and does nothing but bog down the pace while pushing Warner’s character out, which severely hurts the film’s rugged but whimsical chemistry.

Spoiler Alert!

Strother Martin’s character becomes yet another issue. He again gets straddled with the creepy, cowardly bad guy role of which is plays to perfection, but eventually made it seem almost like typecasting. To some extent I was happy to see him become humanized as it went along, but I didn’t like how Cable decides to leave his way station to him instead of the Warner character as he was the one who helped build it. Maybe Cable realized that with the invention of the automobile his station would no longer be prosperous and he would then be sticking Martin with a stinker instead of the goldmine that he thought, which is okay, but then he saves Martin’s life just a few minutes after he was ready to kill him, which became too much of a contradiction.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The film has some funny moments, but I didn’t like the fast motion running as it made it seem too cartoon-like. The numerous potshots at religion and those that expound on it are hilarious and I enjoyed how Peckinpah looks at capitalism from both sides where it is shown to greatly benefit an individual who is able to take advantage of a market demand, but also how it can coldly abandoned that same person the second that demand goes away.  The first 40 minutes are great, but then the story loses steam with comical moments that become too drawn out and have little to do with the main story as well as a protracted ending that really fizzles.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 8, 1970

Runtime: 2Hours 1Minute

Rated R

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Wacko (1982)

wacko

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Spoof of horror movies.

On Halloween night the infamous pumpkin head lawnmower killer murders Mary’s (Julia Duffy) older sister. Now, 13 years later, the killer has returned and this time he has his sights set on Mary, but who could he be? Is it her surgeon father (George Kennedy) who tries any chance he can to catch his own daughter disrobing, or maybe it’s her boyfriend Norman (Scott McGinnis) who makes lawnmower sounds every time he is aroused. Either way dogged detective Dick Harbinger (Joe Don Baker) is hot on the trail determined to end the mystery that has been haunting him and the town ever since it began.

This is one of several horror spoofs that came out around the same time and although it is far from excellent it still manages to rise above the rest. The main reason is Baker who’s overacting and mugging is perfect for the part. Just watching him roll out of bed and get ready for the day is a hoot. His funniest moments though are during the flashback sequence where he is seen wearing a dress while being tied up during bondage. The part where he arrives at Mary’s parent’s house to give them the sad news of their daughter’s death while dressed as a clown and then afterwards in an attempt to ‘lift their spirits’ makes a balloon dog for them is absolutely hilarious.

Stella Stevens, sporting a brunette wig and playing Mary’s mother has some amusing moments as well particularly when she recreates an obscene phone call for her daughter as well as when she and Kennedy sniff some laughing gas. Andrew Clay, who’s billed here without the ‘Dice’ is engaging in his film debut as a Fonzie-type high school student and his conversation at the dinner table of his girlfriend’s parents is good.

The segment involving a parody of Psycho with Norman Bates’ skeletal mother being used as a ventriloquist dummy was goofy enough to elicit a few chuckles, but overall there are more misses than hits. The production values are sloppy and the film, particularly during a car chase segment, veers too much into the cartoonish and nonsensical. They could’ve also had a more original soundtrack than simply playing or having a character hum the Alfred Hitchcock TV-show theme, which isn’t all that clever.

Some of the most successful horror parodies like Scream and Shaun of the Dead are ones that manage to have an interesting story of their own as well as a nice amount of gore and scares, but here there is no special effects or horror to speak of and the limp plot makes this whole thing seem more like one long, unending gag reel than a movie.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 12, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Greydon Clark

Studio: Jensen Farley Pictures

Available: VHS

The Mad Room (1969)

the mad room

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Children murder their parents.

In 1957 George (Michael Burns) and Mandy (Barbara Sammeth), a brother and sister ages 6 and 4, murder their own parents in cold blood. No one knows for sure which one of them did it except that their older sister Ellen (Stella Stevens) witnessed them standing over their dead bodies in blood soaked clothes. It was her testimony that got them locked away into a mental institution, but now 12 years later they are set free into Ellen’s care. Ellen is now living with and working for wealthy widow Mrs. Armstrong (Shelley Winters) who agrees to allow the children to move in to her sprawling mansion, but then the murders begin to reoccur, but this time Ellen decides to cover up for them in order to avoid the humiliation and publicity.

This film, which is a remake of 1941’s Ladies in Retirement starring Ida Lupino, starts out with a bang by using some interesting visuals during the opening credit sequence. We are also shown flowers finger painted by the children using the dead parent’s blood on the walls of the victim’s bedroom, which I felt sent this thing to unprecedented darker depths especially for its time period. Unfortunately the film cannot sustain its initial momentum and devolves into a talky script that lacks much action or scares. Director Bernard Girard’s stylish direction keeps it watchable, but the film fails to achieve its full potential. Dave Grusin’s excellent music score manages to keep the tension going even when the script can’t.

Stevens looks gorgeous, but unfortunately her acting is sterile. Her wide blue eyes seem to reflect her empty performance and her presence weakens the film. The younger performers who play her brother and sister upstage her particularly Sammeth in her film debut.

I have always loved Winters as a character actress, but her goofy character hurts the dark undertones at least at the beginning. She does improve as it goes along and I enjoyed the way she reacts when Ellen tells her about her sibling’s dark secret and I was disappointed she didn’t remain through the film’s entire duration. Beverly Garland is a scene stealer as an embittered alcoholic wife who makes a big stink at a party and then a little later commits a shocking act.

If there is one thing that really ruins the movie it is the lame, limp ending, which has to be one of the most uneventful finales I have ever seen especially for a thriller. When the credits started to roll I literally did a double-take and asked myself. That’s it?? We just sat through 95 minutes of buildup just for that?? This was also another film where I figured out its twist ending long before it happened and when the ‘surprise’ revelation does come about it is unexciting and even anticlimactic.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 1, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated M

Director: Bernard Girard

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video