Tag Archives: Susan Anspach

Blume in Love (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cheating husband seeks reconciliation.

Stephen Blume (George Segal) is a successful divorce lawyer who suddenly finds himself stuck in a break-up of his own when his wife (Susan Anspach) catches him cheating with his secretary and then leaves him. Now Blume becomes obsessed with winning her back and even starts up a friendship with her new live-in lover (Kris Kristofferson), but as his frustrations boil over he begins to react in violent ways when he can’t get what he wants.

Director Paul Mazursky delivers another insightful look at love and marriage and how the two aren’t always compatible. The narrative works in a fragmented style where clips of the different stages of the relationship are shown at various times and allows the viewer to see the many changes the two go through particularly with our protagonist whose internal flaws are ingloriously displayed for all to see. Normally this could prove a turn-off, but Segal manages to keep the character painfully human enough to be engaging most of the way even though he eventually overstays his welcome.

Mazursky gives the proceedings an artsy, cinema vertite flair especially with the way he captures St. Mark’s Square in Venice and by creating an offbeat romance that is filled with caustic humor. I also enjoyed the supporting cast including Marsha Mason as Blume’s new girlfriend who has a strong bit when she tearfully admits that she will ashamedly remain with Blume even after he acknowledges to her that he thinks only about his wife when the two make love.

Donald F. Muhich is fun as the psychiatrist. He was Mazursky’s real-life analyst and got paid back by being cast in four of his movies. His facial expressions and responses to his patients are so spot-on that it makes you feel like you’re attending an actual patient-doctor session.

Even Kristofferson does well in a part that takes advantage of his laid-back acting style though his character’s friendship with Blume gets overplayed. I felt even the most easy going of people would’ve drawn some boundaries and never have tolerated an ex-husband being around as much as he was. The scene where he finally does punch Blume, which should’ve come a lot sooner, gets totally botched because it has Kristofferson breaking down into a teary-eyed wail right afterwards for no apparent reason.

The film’s biggest flaw though is its manufactured happy ending that makes no sense. Blume was clearly too selfish and immature to have a healthy relationship with anyone and the fact that Anspach decides to accept him back even after he forcibly rapes her is absurd. Both characters were in need of some major psychological counseling and not each other. The fact that the film for the majority of its runtime plays like an anti-love story only to end up throwing in a clichéd wrap-up like all the other formulaic romances makes it a sell-out and a waste of time for the viewer looking for something intelligent and different only to find out that it really isn’t.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 17, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Mazursky

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Running (1979)

running 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life of a runner.

Michael (Michael Douglas) is suffering, at the age of 32, a midlife malaise. He goes from one dead end job to another and his marriage is crumbling. He runs to relieve the stress and finds that he has a major passion for it. When he qualifies for the Olympics he is initially excited, but it’s short lived because his former coach (Lawrence Dane) is on hand to constantly remind him how he has a tendency to ‘choke’ at the last minute and can never win a race when the pressure is on, which begins to wear on him psychologically.

The theme of a middle aged man having a passion for something that isn’t exactly ‘practical’ and resisting the pressures from the rest of world that tries to get him to conform to something that is, is highly relatable. I also liked the side-story dealing with the psychological element, which plays a far stronger factor in sports and amongst athletes than one might think. However, the majority of the screen time is spent with Michael trying to reconcile with his wife Janet (Susan Anspach) making it seem more like a romance and seemingly added in as ‘filler’ because the filmmakers believed that the running theme wouldn’t be enough to  carry it.

I also had a hard time understanding why the kids at high school, or at least his daughter’s friends, which gets played by Lesleh Donaldson in her film debut, would make fun of Michael simply because he was frequently seen around town running. I see joggers and runners every day and saw a lot of them back in the ‘70s too, so I don’t get why that would be a source of mockery and it seems like it was yet another manufactured dramatic element put in to give it more conflict. What’s even worse is when Michael finally qualifies for the Olympics then the kids do a full 180 degree turn and get excited about it and even run with him down the city streets, which gets corny to say the least.

Halfway in you realize this is just another variation of the Rocky formula and normally I would’ve found it annoying, but for some reason I actually got into it. I even liked the scene where he spots a giant cross standing on a hill and decides to run up the incline to reach it much like Rocky climbing the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and to some degree it’s invigorating although it would’ve been nice had it shown him standing next to the cross once the climb was achieved. The final segment that takes place during the climactic Olympic race even has a twist to it that I didn’t see coming and to a degree it’s interesting though pushing plausibility. I won’t give it away I’ll just say that he doesn’t win the race, but he doesn’t exactly lose it either.

Douglas did all of his own running and to prepare for the role he would run many miles a day; IMDB states that he ran 50 to 60 miles a day, which I found hard to believe, so we’ll just say it was ‘many’. Anspach is good as the sympathetic wife particularly when the character has a conflict of emotions and breaks out in tears. Eugene Levy appears with a full afro in a rare serious turn as Michael’s attorney. Lawrence Dane is okay as the hardened coach who dispenses a lot of ‘tough love’, but little else.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 2, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Steven Hilliard Stern

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD (Italian Import Region 0)

The Devil and Max Devlin (1981)

devil and max devlin

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Working for the devil.

Max (Elliot Gould) works for a slumlord and does whatever he can to make life miserable for the tenants who rent from him. After getting run over by a bus while trying to chase down a delinquent tenant he finds himself in hell and face-to-face with the devil (Bill Cosby) who gives him a deal that will allow him to get out of dealing with ‘Level 4’, which is supposedly one of the harsher penalties for hell dwellers. The deal consists of Max getting three people to sign over their souls at which point Max’s will be freed, but as Max gets to know the people including that of 10-year-old Toby (Adam Rich) whose mother Penny (Susan Anspach) he is interested in marrying he becomes reluctant to follow through with it.

This movie was part of Disney’s effort to break away from the kiddie-like slapstick of their 70’s films and become edgier and more ‘hip’. This film along with The Black Hole, Condorman, and Tron where all produced to attract an older teen audience and gain a trendier appeal, but it pretty much failed and this movie was the worst of them. Part of the problem is that the main character is a man in his 40’s, which kids and teens cannot relate to. Most films need to have a protagonist the same age as its intended audience in order to build that connection and this one doesn’t. It’s also very slow with little or no action. I found myself completely bored with it during the second hour and I can only imagine what a 10 or even 13-year-old must have felt. The humor is minimal and not funny. It also lacks any type of ‘coolness’ with a plot that isn’t any more sophisticated than the formulaic stuff it had already been churning out, which at least was engaging on a mindless level, which this one isn’t.

I liked the scenes shown from hell, but that is about it. The script, which was written by Mary Rodgers who had earlier success with Freak Friday seems unable to understand things from a teen’s perspective while being quite predictable in the process. Also, the reasons for Max going to hell, which include cheating on a test in the 4th grade and stealing candy from a store as a child seem awfully trite. If hell truly does exist and minor stuff like that is enough to get people sent there then the majority of us will be going and heaven will be a very empty place.

Gould does surprisingly well, but I still felt he was miscast. Cosby is wasted and barely even used although the scene near the end where he appears in devilish makeup is effective and creepy. Anspach is equally wasted and Ronnie Schell who plays as an aggressive talent agent wearing some very loud suits is seen much too briefly.

This one is a definite pass even for Disney fans. It’s too edgy and scary for little kids, not hip enough for teens while being too watered down for adults.

devil and max devlin2

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: March 6, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Steven Hilliard Stern

Studio: Buena Vista Productions

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Big Fix (1978)

the big fix

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: 60’s radical turned detective.

Moses Wine (Richard Dreyfuss) was at one time a student radical during the tumultuous 60’s, but now it is 1978 and he is working as a private eye. Most of his cases are unexciting and even mundane, but then Lila Shay (Susan Anspach) a woman he had a fling with during his college days shows up asking for his help. She is now working for a candidate running for governor and she wants Moses to find Eppis (F. Murray Abraham) a former student radical himself who has now gone underground, but seems to be smearing her candidate’s campaign and hurting his ability to be elected. Moses takes the case on a whim, but finds it to be much more complex and dangerous than he bargained for.

The film is based on the novel by Roger L. Simon who also wrote the screenplay and it is almost like a revisionist private eye movie. Everything that we’ve come to accept in this genre gets turned upside down and for the most part with great and amusing success. Moses is not a tough, brawny, stoic figure like most detectives in these films, but instead a little shrimp of a guy that can easily get hyper and frazzled and is certainly never cool under pressure. Many times he will bring his two young sons on the case with him and even use there insight to help him solve the case. He makes mistakes and even has to write certain things down to avoid forgetting them unlike those other detectives that always seem to remember even the smallest tidbits of information. By making the Moses character more human he becomes better relatable and the viewer feels almost like they are in his shoes, which is what makes the story work.

Simon’s script also is a great character study showing how the student protestors from the 60’s have now begrudgingly and awkwardly taken on adult roles and even become a part of the dreaded ‘establishment’. This comes to a head with the Abraham character the one time head of an underground movement that now is seen living in suburbia as a ho-hum family man. His line about why so many of his fellow radicals ‘sold-out’ and became a part of the suburban culture is an excellent and keen observation.

Dreyfuss is perfect in the role as a wise-guy, cynical smart ass. Most of the times characters and actors with these traits are off-putting, but somehow with him it is always engaging. The character is also nicely multi-dimensional. He is acerbic and brash one minute, but then singing lullabies over the phone to his children the next. He acts like his has ‘moved on’ from the 60’s, but then later on tears come to his eyes when he looks at a film of some old student protests. Dreyfuss also broke his wrist just before filming began and so they wrote it into the script and it becomes a funny running gag as different people ask him how he broke it and each time he tells them something that becomes increasingly more outrageous and amusing.

Bill Conti’s musical score is bouncy and distinctive and gives the film an added kick. He also employs several different styles including ragtime, disco, electronic and even a ballad by Leon Redbone.

The mystery is full of twists and close attention must be paid, but it is doubtful anyone will figure the surprise at the end. Baby boomers that lived through the period may be more connected to this than others, but it is still entertaining and a terrific time capsule.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 6, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jeremy Kagan

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, Netflix streaming