Tag Archives: Susan Tyrrell

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: She suffers from schizophrenia.

Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Joanne Greenberg, which was written under the pen name of Hannah Green, the story focuses on Deborah (Kathleen Quinlan) a 16 year-old who is put into a mental institution during the 1950’s by her parents (Ben Piazza, Lorraine Gary). A pretend secret kingdom that used to be a childhood fantasy has now completely taken over her life and she is unable to deal with reality. At the institution she works with a sympathetic therapist named Dr. Fried (Bibi Andersson) who tries to get Deborah out of her fantasy world an back into the real one.

The film was produced by Roger Corman better known for his cheap, sleazy drive-in fare, so seeing him try to take the helm by producing a serious picture is a concern since exploitation always seemed to be his foray, but with the then recent success of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest he felt stories with a mental institution theme was a potential money-maker. The production values though right from the start look pretty cheap especially when compared to the Milos Foreman film making this a very weak cousin to the 1975 classic.

The producers made many changes from its source novel much to the consternation of the book’s author who was never consulted during the making of it and who ended up disliking this film version immensely. One of the biggest difference is that the film completely omits the antisemitism, which the filmmakers felt was too much of a ‘hot button topic’, that the main character in the book had to deal with and instead blames her mental health problems solely on her bout with cancer.

For me though the biggest issue centers more on the recreation of Deborah’s make-believe, mystical world which she calls The Kingdom of Yr. In the book the kingdom starts out as a beautiful magical place that slowly turns ugly and threatening while in the movie it’s portrayed as scary from the very beginning, which is confusing as there’s no explanation for how the whole thing started. The sound of the whispering voices going on inside Deborah’s head is creepy, but sight of the characters inside the kingdom, which was played by members of Oingo Boingo looks cheesy and like the singers from the Village People, which gives the film an unintended camp feeling. Instead the characters should’ve been captured from a distance where they were seen as ominous shadowy figures whose faces were never shown.

Despite these drawbacks I still found myself caught-up in much of the drama especially the cruelty that Deborah and her fellow patients received at the hands of an abusive orderly played by Reni Santoni. Unfortunately some of the scenes showing Deborah interacting with the other mentally-ill people in the hospital gets watered-down by having a lighthearted melody played during it, which gives off the idea that this is ‘lightly comical’ instead of the gritty no-holds-barred drama that it should be.

Quinlan gives a great performance, possibly the best of her career and I particularly enjoyed the way she uses her expressive blue eyes to convey her inner madness and turmoil. You also see her as a relatable human being who you want to see get well as opposed to being some sort of ‘freak’. Susan Tyrrell is great in support as one of the patients as well as Martine Bartlett who plays another troubled patient and who starred just a year earlier as the cruel mother in Sybil, which was a TV-movie with a similar theme. Casting Bibi Andersson though as the psychiatrist was for me a distraction since she also played one in Persona, which was her signature role and therefore I couldn’t separate her from that one.

In 2004 the novel was turned into a play under the full cooperation of Greenberg who acted as a consultant. The antisemitism from the book was incorporated into the play as well as several other things that had been omitted making me believe that a remake based on the play should be given a much needed green-light as this film unfortunately is adequate, but not great.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 14, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Anthony Page

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Night Warning (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: His aunt is crazy.

Billy (Jimmy McNichol) has been orphaned since age 3 ever since his parents died in a tragic car accident. For the past 14 years he’s been living with his neurotic aunt Cheryl (Susan Tyrrell), but now that he’s turning 17 he’s ready to move-out. Cheryl though doesn’t want Billy to leave her as she harbors dark incestuous feelings for him and will do anything, even kill in order to keep him with her.

The film was directed by William Asher, who mainly worked on family oriented material like the TV-show ‘Bewitched’ and the beach party movies from the 60’s, so doing this was a stretch for him, but results aren’t bad. Although there’s little gore the well-shot opening sequence in which the father gets decapitated by driving into a truck hauling wooden logs is impressive and more than makes up for it and it even gets shown twice.

The big payoff though is Susan Tyrrell’s performance, which gets completely off-the-charts. She had a love-hate relationship with her real-life mother and the two spent many years not talking to each other and I think this as well as some of the treatment that she received in Hollywood particularly with her working relationship with director John Huston while doing Fat City she used to channel the anger and rejection of her character and it really works. Watching her become more and more unhinged as the film progresses and her increasingly odd facial expressions and voice tones is a treat onto itself and makes catching this otherwise hard-to-find flick worth it.

McNichol’s acting unfortunately cannot match hers and I was shocked to see that he got top billing over her as his talent level, pedigree isn’t even close. His character though is even more annoying as I found it hard to believe that he wouldn’t have seen red flags to his aunt’s mental illness far sooner. The film makes it seem that he had no concerns about his aunt until he turned 17, but I would think living with her for 14 years there would be signs of it earlier. It’s also hard to feel for someone who is so painfully naïve and walks into his aunt’s devious traps when anyone else would’ve know better. It’s dubious too that the aunt would wait until the kid was 17 before making sexual overtures, but I suppose that’s a whole other issue.

Bo Svenson’s as a brash, unethical cop who is profoundly racist and homophobic becomes a strain too. I’m sure at the time this was considered simply ‘soft satire’ that lightly pokes fun at the bad cop stigma, but now it comes off as dated and unpleasant and probably the whole reason why the film hasn’t received a DVD/Blu-ray release.

Julia Duffy, best known for playing Stephanie on the TV-show ‘Newhart’ is on hand in support and although she was already 30 at the time plays Billy’s teen girlfriend and even appears topless, which may interest the voyeurs. However, any story that hinges on one of the characters being put on trial and then found not guilty by a jury due to temporary insanity I just can’t buy into and I don’t think has ever happened at least not in this country. There’s also too much ‘scary music’ that gets played particularly during scenes inside the house that just isn’t needed and almost becomes a distraction and I wish directors and producers would realize that the quiet/natural ambience can be far creepier than any soundtrack.

 

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Alternate Title: Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker

Released: January 1, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Asher

Studio: Royal American Pictures

Available: VHS

Racquet (1979)

racquet-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Tennis champ gets old.

Tommy Everett (Bert Convy) is an aging tennis star who is learning to accept that he no longer has the skill that he once did. His life though is not in order and he needs money so that he can purchase his own tennis court and use it to give lessons to the rich clientele of Beverly Hills. Since he doesn’t have the capital for a down payment he sleeps with Leslie (Edie Adams) who is the wife of Arthur (Phil Silvers) a rich financier. During their lovemaking he asks her for the cash and she initially agrees even though she doesn’t intend to come through with it. In one last attempt to prove his virility he decides to take on tennis great Bjorn Bjorg in a televised match that he hopes will prove that he still has what it takes.

This so-called comedy is so frighteningly unfunny that you have to wonder why anyone would’ve been paid to write-it as its desperate attempts at humor are downright embarrassing. The script went through many rewrites and it shows as there is no cohesion and the action meanders badly until it all becomes quite pointless.

Supposedly this was an attempt to cash-in on the success of Shampoo, which was far better and so superior to this one it’s isn’t worth trying to compare except to say that was a classic and this isn’t. The jokes here are too strained and the innuendoes so juvenile that it makes sitting through not worth it on any level. The movie would’ve been improved had it stayed focused on the tennis angle, but instead it goes off on Convy’s romances and sexual conquests until you completely forget about the tennis part until it finally goes back to it at the very end.

Convy’s presence, especially in the lead, makes things even worse. He was a great game show host, but in the acting realm he was a hack to the point that he comes off looking like he never had even a day of acting training.

The supporting cast if filled with an array of familiar faces, but due to the script’s limitations end up being badly underused. Susan Tyrrell’s take of a snobby real estate agent should’ve been great, but isn’t. Tennis legend Bobby Riggs is fun, but not funny and Dorothy Konrad gets a few laughs, but it all comes at the expense of her obesity, which is tacky.

Phil Silvers is the only good thing in the movie and he even manages to elicit a few chuckles especially the part where he dresses and acts like a giant turkey. Yet even this, like with everything else in the film, is pretty sad and only proves to what pathetic extent it was willing to go to just to get a cheap laugh.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: June 7, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Winters

Studio: Cal-Am Productions

Available: None at this time