Tag Archives: Susan Saint James

Carbon Copy (1981)

carbon

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: His son is black.

Walter (George Segal) is living the American Dream as a rich company executive residing in the gated community of a posh suburb while also driving a Rolls Royce. However, he’s not happy with his wife Vivian (Susan Saint James) who’s frigid, nor his daughter-in-law Mary Ann (Vicky Dawson) who’s mouthy and spoiled. Yet he remains in the marriage because Vivian’s father Nelson (Jack Warden) is also Walter’s boss and climbing the career ladder is important to him. Then one day Roger (Denzel Washington) drops by and introduces himself as Walter’s son from a relationship Walter had with a black woman many years ago. Walter enjoyed his time with her, but broke it off due to pressure from Nelson who said it would stymie his career. Now Walter feels guilty from what he’s done and wants to make it up by allowing Roger to move in with him, but once his wife finds out she gets him fired. All of his money is tied up in company stocks that is either under his wife’s or father-in-law’s control, so without any income he’s forced to move into a hotel with Roger and then eventually to a rundown apartment in a dangerous area.

The script was written by Stanley Shapiro who received accolades in the early part of his career for scripting many Doris Day movies during the 50’s and 60’s, but he clearly got in over-his-head with this one. The concept and overall reactions from the characters is dated even for 1981. I was around in ’81 living in a small Midwestern town and I didn’t see half the overt racism that the characters here display despite the fact that it all takes place in California known as the liberal capital of the world. I’m not saying there isn’t some racism everywhere, but it gets exaggerated.

The Saint James character is particularly problematic. She plays the part in a funny way, but it’s a caricature. It would’ve been more revealing had she not been this stereotyped rich white person who feels comfortable displaying her bigotry, which would’ve been socially taboo in L.A. and she’d know it, but instead pretending to be okay with it, or even being an outward liberal who tries to be hip with race relations, but then, in more subtle ways, becomes increasingly less comfortable as it goes along.

Segal’s character comes-off as a massive conformist who will do whatever is takes to a part of ‘acceptable’ society. He even changes his last name to hide the fact the he’s Jewish, so where is this rebel side who moved-in with this black lady back in the 60’s when that would’ve created outrage and scandal? Some may argue that people change, sure that can sometimes happen, but there needs to be some factor that created it and the movie does not make that clear. The fact that he morphs into somebody that was so different from what he used to be makes him seem like two different people with no connecting thread at all. A more plausible storyline would’ve had him getting drunk one night and picking-up a black women at a bar for a one-night-stand, or secretly hiring a black prostitute just because he was curious about having sex with someone of a different race and then thought nothing more of it once it was over. 

Susan’s character has the same issue. She coldly kicks Walter out of the house and then for some unexplained reason turns-up at the doorstep of his ratty apartment with her father and begs for him to come back, but with no clear rationale for what created this radical change-of-heart. I don’t think a racist, snotty woman like that would ever dare come into a dangerous area for any reason. She would’ve only done it had she been accompanied by armed guards, or maybe carrying a gun herself and openly flashing it, which could’ve been funny, but of course this stupid movie doesn’t even think to go there.

The over-the-top situations become increasingly ridiculous without a hint of nuance and as satire it’s about as sophisticated as an episode of ‘Gilligan’s Island’. That’s not to say there can’t be some excellent films about race relations as I found The Landlord to be terrific, but this thing lacks any serious insight. Many consider Soul Man to be the worst 80’s film about a white man trying to understand the black experience and get in-touch with their own inner bias and the bias of those around them, but this I consider to be just as bad. Denzel Washington, who makes his film debut here, is the only good thing about it, it’s just a shame they couldn’t have given him better material.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Schultz

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD/Blu-ray

Don’t Cry, It’s Only Thunder (1982)

dont

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Medic helps out orphanage.

Brian (Dennis Christopher) is an army medic during the Vietnam War who’s stationed at a hospital in Saigon. Young and idealistic he initially cannot handle the death and carnage that he comes into at the clinic and feels he’s not making much of a difference especially as he sees the severely injured soldiers come-in and die with very little that they can do. He then makes a promise to one of them to look in on an orphanage and try to find a safe new location for the children and two nuns who look after them. At first Brian is not into the kids, but eventually he bonds with them especially Anh (Mai Thi Lien) a 12-year-old girl who cannot speak and who he wishes to adopt despite all the red tape that he must go through.

The film is loosely based on the actual experiences of Paul G. Hensler, who first wrote it into a novel before being commissioned to turn it into a screenplay. His motive was to show more of the humanitarian side to the war versus the battle scenes that made up so much of the other films that dealt with the Vietnam conflict. In a lot of ways it’s a refreshing change of pace and unlike with M*A*S*H, that focused on medics during the Korean War, there’s no humor, or pranks, but instead solely focuses on the serious side of taking care of the wounded and how emotionally exhausting it can become. There’s a few moments where a passing character will make a joke, I suppose as an ode to M*A*S*H, but instead of laughs from the others it’s met with eye rolls, which is how it should be as there’s certain situations where humor just isn’t going to help things and in some ways such as here just plain out-of-place.

Christopher, who’d been acting in films since he was 15, but rose to critical acclaim in Breaking Away only to make a bad career turn by starring-in the offbeat dud Fade to Blackredeems himself with his performance here. He does though look incredibly young almost like he’s only 14, but his youthful appearance helps explain his character’s sometimes naive nature and tendency to be overly idealistic and thus makes some of the things that he does, which an older more seasoned person might refrain from, more understandable.

I wasn’t as keen with Susan Saint James. She was 10 years older than Dennis, but looked more like it could’ve been 20 and thus making the eventual love scene between them come-off as forced and mechanical. I’ll give her credit she does have an effective emotional moment, but her character is too Jekyll and Hyde-like as she initially is really into helping the orphanage and even gets Brian more into it and then suddenly like a light switch doesn’t want to have anything to do with it, only to eventually to go back, kind of, to helping the kids out, which is like watching someone with a ping pong personality. If anything I really enjoyed the two Vietnamese nuns (Lisa Lu, Shere Thu Thuy) and the way they would sometimes compromise their moral beliefs for the sake of the kids.

The film manages to be gritty most of the way and despite being filmed in the Philippines still gives one an adequate feeling of the civilian experience in Vietnam during that time. However, the segment where a song gets played that was supposedly sung by the kids while we view a montage of them playing is over-the-top sentimental and even jarring as we were used to the background noise of battle and thus comes-off as sappy and out-of-place. Watching the kids having a bit of fun is fine, but we didn’t need the added music.

Brian’s insistence and almost obsession at adopting a preteen girl will be considered cringey by today’s standards. The film makes clear that his intentions are pure, I suppose this is why there was the sex scene thrown between he and Susan to alleviate any viewer concern that he wasn’t a red-blooded All-American guy who was into chicks his own age, but it still looks even in the most charitable way as kind of questionable especially since he can’t even have any conversations with her since she doesn’t speak. He contends that he’s the one guy who can help her, but how since he has shown no background in dealing with those with speech issues? The book cover of which the film is based has a picture of the real Hensler, of which Brian is supposed to represent, holding an infant girl, which I presume is who he wanted to adopt. Having the girl character being a baby like in the book instead of 12 going on 13 would’ve worked better, or having him try to adopt a group of kids to bring home with him, like 3 or 4 that was an even mix of boys and girls, but to have him get overly infatuated with just one makes it unintentionally seem likes his grooming her to being a Lolita in the making. A bratty child (Truong Minh Hai) even alludes to this at one point, which makes you wonder; did he know something the rest of us didn’t?

Spoiler Alert!

Overall, despite tanking at the box office, it’s an decent drama though its never been released on DVD and trying to find a print of it is difficult.  It also goes on about 15-minutes too long and loses some of its potency by the end. A perfect example of this is when the orphanage gets unexpectedly bombed without warning, which is genuinely horrific, but when another unexpected bomb goes off later the shock effect is no longer there and thus they should’ve kept it down to just one.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 3, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Werner

Studio: Sanrio Communications

Available: VHS

Love at First Bite (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dracula dates fashion model.

After being kicked out of his castle by the Romanian government Count Dracula (George Hamilton) moves to New York City where he starts up a relationship with the beautiful, but troubled fashion model Cindy (Susan Saint James). Her boyfriend Jeffrey (Richard Benjamin) who also acts as her psychiatrist, is not pleased by this and becomes obsessed with destroying the count by using all the old vampire killing methods, but the count always stays one step ahead of him, which is enough to send Jeffrey to the mental hospital.

Although this film isn’t well remembered it was a big hit when it came out and a comeback movie of sorts for Hamilton whose dramatic leading man roles during the 60’s and early 70’s had completely dried-up by this time. His foray into comedy was a last ditch effort to save his floundering career and the gamble paid off as he’s quite funny and almost like a natural.

Saint James on-the-other-hand seemed too old for her role as she was already in her mid-30’s, but she manages to pull it off surprisingly well. Normally having a film character invite a stranger, in this case the Count, who she has just met at a club back to her place would be considered insane, but here it works as a nice satire on the one-night-stand fad of the 70’s and the on-going conversation that the two have as they proceed to make-out is by far the funniest bit in the film. I also liked how her messy apartment nicely reflected her screwed-up life and personality.

Unfortunately the film falls flat when it introduces the Jeffrey character. Benjamin has played this obnoxious jerk-type one time too often and although he is quite good at it, it was still getting to be old shtick and it’s easy to see why he quit acting soon after and went into directing. The whole thing would’ve worked better had it focused exclusively on Saint James and Hamilton and analyzed their attempts to make their offbeat relationship work, which could’ve put a fresh spin on the vampire theme instead of devolving it into Jeffrey’s dumb attempts at trying to destroy the Count  by using all the cliched methods like garlic, mirrors, etc., which quickly becomes stale and cartoonish.

The film does have a lot of famous cameos including the two stars of ‘The Jeffersons’ TV-show who appear separately in bit parts. Arte Johnson also successfully hams it up as the Count’s faithful assistant in a comic send-up of Dwight Frye’s role in Dracula. Overall though there’s more misses than hits, which includes the ill-advised flying bat special effects that comes off looking so hokey that it almost demotes this to a B-movie level.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 13, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stan Dragoti

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Outlaw Blues (1977)

outlaw blues

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Singer on the run.

When country music giant Garland Dupree (James T. Callahan) visits a Texas prison in order to hold a Johnny Cash-like concert for the inmates he meets up with Bobby Ogden (Peter Fonda) a prisoner who while spending time in jail has written a song called ‘Outlaw Blues’. Garland likes the song so much that he decides to steal it and make it his own only to be confronted by Bobby who once out on parole will stop at nothing to get it back and expose Garland for the fraud he is. With the help of Tina (Susan Saint James) who acts as his manager he does just that, but finds himself again on the run from the cops after accidently shooting Garland during a confrontation inside a recording studio.

This film is notable for not only being filmed in Austin, Texas, but also being the first film to ever use Austin as a setting. The movie can be fun for people from the area especially those living in the city during the mid-‘70s. There are a lot of car chases that occur in the center of town making it entertaining to see all the old buildings some of which still stand today. The scene that takes place at what was then called Texas Memorial stadium during halftime of a Longhorn’s football game where Tina and Bobby take part as members of the marching band is pretty cool as is Tina’s serene houseboat that she lives in and has docked on the Colorado River.

Unfortunately the story itself evolves little and relies heavily on a lot of car chases and clichéd one-dimensional characters. Bobby’s hit song is too low key and melodic making it hard to imagine why so many people would get so crazy about it as a more up tempo country/rock sound would have worked better and given the soundtrack more of a kick.

The film also suffers from a few goofs and lapses of logic. The biggest one is when a lone cameraman films Bobby accidently shooting Garland and it gets replayed on the evening news. Yet when it gets shown it has several edits and footage of the incident from different viewpoints and angles, which if truly shot by just one camera wouldn’t have been possible. The idea of having Garland chasing Bobby down through the streets of Austin in broad daylight while shooting at him is utterly insane even for a deluded, egotistical character that he is as it would just get him thrown into jail. Since the Garland character is portrayed as having a lot of money then he should do what most rich people do when they want someone dead, which is hire someone else to do it while creatively covering up the paper trail.

Fonda too laid back in the lead and comes off as transparent and boring. Saint James, Callahan and John Crawford as an obsessed police chief lend some amusing support, but their presence as well as a nifty boat chase at the end cannot save a film that is otherwise generic and silly.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 15, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard T. Heffron

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD (Warner Archive)