Tag Archives: Susannah York

The Killing of Sister George (1968)

killing of sister george

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: TV character gets axed.

June Buckridge (Beryl Reid) is an aging actress playing the character of Sister George a scooter riding nun in a long running British TV soap opera. Her character no longer has the popularity that it once had and the producers have decided to kill her off by having her die in an ugly road crash with a truck. June is upset with this news as at her age parts are hard to come by and she takes her frustrations out on Childie (Susannah York) her much younger live-in lesbian lover, but she may lose her as well as one of the show’s producers Mercy (Coral Browne) has inklings to lure Childie away from June so she can have her all to herself.

After the immense box office success of The Dirty Dozen writer/director Robert Aldrich was given free rein to start up his own production company and he choose this as his first project. In many ways it is quite similar to his earlier and more well-known film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, but with sexual undertones. The film is based on the Frank Marcus play of the same name that ran for 205 performances and was nominated for the 1967 Tony Award. For its time this was considered quite controversial and groundbreaking especially the final scene that features a highly explicit sex scene between two women. It also is the first film to have a character utter the word ‘bullshit’ and one of the first to say the word ‘fuck’. Although the word itself gets drowned out by a car horn you can still clearly tell by reading Reid’s lips what she is saying.

The three female leads and their snarky exchanges with each other are the film’s chief asset especially Reid who recreates the same character that she played in the stage version that netted her a Tony. Her emotional, angry outbursts are entertaining and the scene where she forces Childie to eat and swallow the butt of her cigarette as ‘punishment’ is still quite edgy. Browne is equally good specifically during her provocative love scene with York, which was made all the more daring since she was 30 years older than York at the time.

The film’s overall staginess is a drawback. Many scenes are too talky and should’ve been trimmed while York and Reid’s Laurel and Hardy routine could’ve been cut out completely. Flashbacks showing how they first met would’ve helped and there needed to be an explanation to the weird child-like manner of York’s character, which quite possibly was based on an age-old gay stereotype. I also didn’t like the foreboding quality of the music that gets played just before Browne and York have their lesbian love scene, which seemed to suggest that something ‘creepy’ and ‘unnatural’ was about to take place and convinced me that despite the daring and ahead-of-its-time nature of the subject that the filmmakers themselves still had some very dated ideas about gays much like the majority of people from that era.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1968

Runtime: 2Hours 18Minutes

Rated X (Reissued as R)

Director: Robert Aldrich

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD

Sky Riders (1976)

sky riders

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rescued by hang gliders

Businessman Jonas Bracken (Robert Culp) living in Greece comes home one day to find his wife Ellen (Susannah York) and three children kidnapped by a terrorist group. The police can seem to make no headway so Ellen’s ex-husband Jim (James Coburn) gets involved. After analyzing the background of one of the photos of the victims taken by the kidnappers he realizes that they are being held hostage inside a mountaintop monastery and the only way to get to it is by air, so he hires a crew of hang gliders to fly into the locale and rescue the family.

The film is fast-paced it gets right into the story from the very beginning and never slows down. The kids are pretty cute especially the precious little girl, which helps the viewer emphasize with their predicament and urgency to get out. The Greek locations are exotic and help give the film an extra flair.

The biggest problem is the script. The Coburn character has never hang glided before and yet somehow manages to be trained well enough in only a couple of days to fly into the steep mountaintop location without a hitch, which seemed farfetched. It also seemed highly implausible that this group of hang gliders who work at the local circus would be willing to take on such a dangerous mission or even know what to do once they landed and had to take on the gun toting bad guys. I would have expected a lot more missteps and mistakes from this novice bunch and yet they handle everything like they were a group of seasoned commandoes.

Coburn’s performance is misguided as well. Normally I love his toothy grin and throaty chuckle, but here he does it while watching the hang gliders perform at the circus even though his ex-wife and son are being held hostage. I would have thought he should have been so nervous and tense that he wouldn’t have smiled at all and been instead in a perpetually serious manner.

The scene of when they fly into the locale is done with a darkened lens to simulate nighttime, which beside being annoying makes it hard to see and lessens the dramatic effect as well as the excitement.

On the whole it’s a very basic action flick and an empty-headed one at that. The terrorist group and their ‘cause’ are quite generic and the thin plot and cardboard characters barely camouflage the fact it’s just an excuse to show off some nifty hang gliding footage and nothing more.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 26, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Douglas Hickox

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD (Regions 1 & 2)

Kaleidoscope (1966)

kaleidoscope

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He breaks the bank.

Barney Lincoln (Warren Beatty) is a well-off playboy who has come up with a clever scheme that will allow him to win at cards at any casino along the Riviera. He does this by breaking into a card printing company called Kaleidoscope and marking the back of the master plates used to print their playing cards so when he attends the casinos later on he will know exactly what the cards are by reading his own small markings on the back of them.  Angel (Susannah York) is a cagy and flirtatious woman who recognizes Barney’s card skills as a crucial link to help her father (Clive Revill) who is a Scotland Yard Inspector and looking to nab the notorious Dominion (Eric Porter) who is a skilled card player himself.

The idea of breaking into a card printing company and marking the plates is a clever one, but highly improbable. After all if it was so easy to do such as it is portrayed in this movie then wouldn’t somebody else have tried it already? Personally as a viewer the markings were so small that I could not spot them and the Scotland Yard inspector needed a magnifying glass to see them making me wonder how Barney using only his naked eye could make them out when the cards were clear across the table. Also, it seems unrealistic that every casino would use the same cards by the same printing company as there has to be more than one card playing printing company out there to choose from.

Beatty is his usual detached and cool self, which to some degree gets annoying. You want to see this guy sweat a little, but he never does and the character borders on being arrogant and too cocky. However, the intense scene at the end where Barney is playing a high stakes poker game with Dominion is where Beatty’s cool demeanor comes in perfectly particularly when he shows absolutely no facial expressions while everyone else nervously awaits to see what is under the one crucial card that has yet to be turned over.

York is quite good, but sadly underused. The way she initially toys with Beatty a notorious ladies man both on and off screen is delightful and I wanted to see more of it. Their first date culminates with her sitting on top of a cow and he on a hay bale, which can’t be topped, but then her character disappears and when she comes back she is much weaker and less interesting expressing her ‘love’ for the Beatty character like she is just another vapid chick and without the fun edge at the beginning. She does look very attractive here and I loved seeing her in the strapless gown.

Revill is amusing as the much put-upon inspector who has a thing for toy steam engines, but he looks much too young to be playing York’s father and in real-life was only 9 years older than her. Porter adds campy panache as the villain while sporting a most groovy comb-over.

The opening title sequence is done in a way that looks similar to an actual kaleidoscope, which was cool and each scene transitions with a kaleidoscope design. The lavish and garish sets used as an interior backdrop for Porter’s mansion are eye-popping and I loved all the tunnels they have to drive through just to get there. On a mindless level this proves to be pleasant fluff, but the shoot-out and chase sequence at the end gets a little too James Bond-like and is out-of-place with the rest of the film.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 22, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Jack Smight

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive)

Images (1972)

images

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Demons of the mind.

This is the missing link for any Robert Altman fan or detractor as this is different from any of his other films and completely original from beginning to end. Not only was it way ahead of its time, but proves that he is deftly skilled at handling any directorial task or material.

The story involves a tormented and emotionally fragile woman named Cathryn (Susannah York) who starts to see strange visions. These visions seem so real that she can no longer tell if they are all just inside her head and decides the only way to get rid of them is to mentally ‘kill’ them, but this in turn only leads to further complications.

What really makes this a unique film is that you get inside this woman’s head and actually start to understand her logic and experience her torment. The film also makes terrific use of silence and uses it to accentuate the isolation that the character feels. The setting has a sort of surreal quality and the location of the house is impressively remote.

York has a knack for playing victimized and vulnerable women. In many ways her role here seems like an extension of her character from The Killing of Sister George. Although she makes you sympathetic to her predicament her screams are too screechy and fail to attain the shrillness that would create the startling effect that the filmmakers desired.

The real star may actually be Vilmos Zsigmond and his cinematography. His framing and composition is not only flawless, but breathtaking. He makes the wintertime Irish countryside look like a whole different world and the stillness of the lake that is shown seems almost unreal.

There are a few too many obvious and clichéd shots of mirrors and puzzles and it could also gone much further with its unusual premise. Still this is a unique and entertaining movie that should keep you guessing all the way to the end. The pace is slow, but deliberate with a payoff that is worth it.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD

Sands of the Kalahari (1965)

sands of the kalahari

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stranded in the desert.

Based on the novel by William Mulvihill the story centers on a group of six individuals, five men and one woman, who fight to survive the blistering heat of the Kalahari Desert when their plane crashes after it’s struck by a large swath of locusts. Instead of working together as a team the group quickly disintegrates with infighting and tensions. The young and virile Brian (Stuart Whitman) who initially takes control of the situation starts to feel that his own survival would be heightened if there were less people needing food and water, so he decides to carefully eliminate them one-by-one, which leads to many interesting confrontations and a very unusual climactic finale.

Filmed on-location in Namibia the desert becomes its own character. The stunning sandy landscape is breathtaking and watching the characters walk along it under the crystal blue sky becomes almost awe-inspiring particularly during birds-eye view shots. The viewer feels like there are right there feeling the heat along with the rest of the characters. Writer/director Cy Endfield keeps things on an authentic level and stays for the most part faithful to the book with the exception of changing one of the characters who had been African American in the novel to Caucasian here. His use of actual animals is what impressed me the most particularly the baboons who become a major part of the story as well as seeing a live scorpion crawling up a man’s arm. The only real technical weakness is the cloud of locusts forming on the horizon, which looked like dust being sprayed on the plane’s windshield and when they started to splatter onto the window it looked more like scrambled eggs and not quite as impressive as I think the filmmaker’s had hoped.

I also had a bit of a problem with the Sturdevan character, which had been the plane’s pilot and is played by actor Nigel Davenport who attempts to rape Grace (Susannah York) after they had only been stranded in the desert for a day and a half. I felt this was too quick for people to so suddenly drop their civilized veneers and cave into their more animalistic urges. I could see this maybe occurring after being there for weeks or months, but I would think initially the urgency would be finding help and just plain surviving and sex being the last thing on anyone’s minds. This same issue occurs with Grace who becomes romantically attached to Brian and even professes her ‘love’ for him after only a couple of days, which again seemed too rushed. The romantic scenes make the film seem soap-opera like and gives it an unnecessary melodramatic feel that does nothing but bog down the pace.

Whitman whose career dissipated after the 60’s and was confined with less significant roles and films is memorable here. The character who comes onto the plane at the last second is initially big and brawny heroic and watching him devolve into a selfish anti-social man is interesting as are the scenes with him trapped in a hole. The segment where he throws a fire into a cave filled with baboons and then shoots the animals as they run out is quite startling. I also enjoyed York. She has always been a splendid actress, but here with her blonde hair matched against her red skin and torn dress looks genuinely sexy.

The one-on-one confrontations between the characters especially the one between Grimmelman (Harry Andrews) and Brian and then later between Brian, Grace and Mike (Stanley Baker) is what helps the film really stand-out. I would have liked it played-out a bit more, but the twist that comes at the end is indeed unexpected and leads to one of the more unusual climactic sequences you will ever see.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Release: November 24, 1965

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Cy Endfield

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video 

The Silent Partner (1978)

silent partner 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bank teller outsmarts robber.

This is an ingenious, slick, and really fun caper movie that puts a whole new spin on the old bank robbery theme. Here Elliot Gould plays a bank teller named Miles who, by sheer accident, becomes aware that a man named Harry (Christopher Plummer) is planning on robbing his bank. Miles decides to take the money from his till and put it into his lunchbox. Then when Harry robs the bank it is actually Miles the teller that gets the money while Harry goes away with very little. Yet this is only the beginning as Harry and Miles continue to play a crafty game of cat- and-mouse, which leads from one interesting twist to another.

Gould plays against type here and he does quite well. Usually he tends to be loud, argumentative, and anti-authority, but here he is quiet and unassuming. It’s the type of character you think wouldn’t have the guts to pull off what he does, which makes him all the more intriguing. In fact he just keeps surprising you all the way along, stringing the very psychotic and dangerous Harry in ways you couldn’t imagine. It is only his final move that seems to be testing the odds too much.

Plummer makes a terrific adversary. He is dashing and handsome as ever, but with an intensely sinister edge and an icy cold gaze.

Susannah York as Miles’ love interest Julie is wasted. Her character seems thrown in for good measure and at no time seems interesting. There is no chemistry between them and the whole love angle is forced and unnecessary. Celine Lomez, as Elaine the other female character, is different. She is stunningly beautiful and much cagier. She plays between both Harry and Miles and you are never sure which side she is really on. Her acting isn’t spectacular, but she is sensual and has a nice French accent. Her gory and gruesome demise though is unwarranted and works as a drawback to the movie.

There are a few other negatives about the film. One is the drab setting that takes place in Toronto and yet we hardly see any of it. Having the bank itself set inside a boring shopping mall is not too visually exciting. The same goes for Miles’s bland apartment. The supporting characters, especially the other bank employees are incredibly dull. Their lines and basic presence all seem to have been written in simply as ‘filler’. A young John Candy plays one of these co-workers and his comic talents are wasted.

Still the story is creative and has enough unique twists that it overcomes the technical shortcomings and manages to be a highly entertaining flick.

silent partner 1

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: September 7, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated R

Director: Daryl Duke

Studio: EMC

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video