By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Businessman becomes a magician.
Donald (Tom Smothers) is tired of the rat-race and decides one day to impulsively walk off of his job and become a trained tap dancing magician under the tutelage of Mr. Delasandro (Orson Welles). While the pay isn’t good he enjoys the freedom of being on the open-road and avoiding the stress of climbing up the corporate ladder despite the efforts of his former boss (John Astin) who tries anything he can to get Donald to come back and work for him.
This was Brian De Palma’s first studio made venture and he borrows heavily from the same type of surreal comedy that he used in his two earlier independent films Hi Mom! and Greetings. While not all of the gags hit there’s enough inventive camera work and editing to keep it interesting making the fact that the studio ultimately hated the final product and fired De Palma from the project all the more perplexing. This film follows the exact same blue print of De Palma’s earlier work. Had they not watched those films and just hired him based on recommendation? If so then they have no one else to blame but themselves.
While I enjoyed the eclectic energy there are too many comic bits that veer way off from the main storyline and have absolutely no connection to the main plot. The script, by Jordan Crittenden, would’ve been stronger had all the humor been focused around a main theme as it ultimately comes-off as too much of a hodgepodge with no connecting message to it at all. What’s even worse is that some of the gags have a lot of comic potential that aren’t played-out to the fullest, which makes it even more frustrating.
Smothers is quite boring and seems unable to convey any other expression except for a smiling deer-in-headlights look. Apparently behind-the-scenes he didn’t get along with De Palma and refused to show-up for necessary retakes making me think he should’ve been the one fired as he could’ve been easily replaced by a wide array of other comic actors who would’ve done a far better job. Even Bob Einstein, who appears very briefly as a brash fireman, gets far more laughs than anything Smothers does throughout the entire movie.
Fortunately the supporting cast is excellent and one of the reasons that helps keep the film afloat. Welles is especially good as the washed-magician with the scene where Smothers and he get stuck inside their escape sack while trying to perform the trick being the funniest moment in the movie. Astin is amusing too as Smother’s former boss who slowly turns his room inside a seedy hotel into a thriving office. Katharine Ross is also a delight in a perfect send-up of a starry-eyed groupie.
The ending though in which Smothers finds himself back working inside the same type of corporate office job that he had tried to escape from at the beginning is a disappointment. Sometimes cyclical endings can be clever and ironic, but here it’s more of a cop-out. We never get any sense of how the experiences that the character goes through changes him making it all seem quite shallow and pointless. It also completely forgets about the Orson Welles character, who gets written-out after the second act even though his presence was one of the most entertaining aspects of the movie.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: June 7, 1972
Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes
Director: Brian De Palma
Studio: Warner Brothers
Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube
Posted in 70's Movies, Offbeat, Quirky
Tagged Brian De Palma, Entertainment, John Astin, Jordan Crittenden, Katharine Ross, Movies, Orson Welles, Review, Tom Smothers
By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Investing in Silver Mine.
This is an engaging, lighthearted look at the complex inner-workings of financial institutions and markets and how a group of con-men try to exploit it. The plot is elaborate and although it is easy to follow as you are watching it, as long as you are paying close attention, it is hard and even convoluted to explain, but I will try my best.
The basic premise works like this: Doc Fletcher (Michael Caine) is hired by underground kingpin Joe Fiore (Martin Balsam) to open a phony bank which they can use as a front for their laundered money. When they get there they find that the building is some rundown offices on top of a restaurant. Prince di Siracusa (Louis Jourdan) then tells them of a silver mine in Iran that is run by his distant cousins Agha (David Warner) and Shireen (Stephanie Audran). Doc decides the bank can invest in the mine and use the money to create a better building premises as well as attracting rich investors. The silver in the mine begins to flood the market causing a drop in value at the London Stock Exchange and forces Charles Cook (Charles Gray) to decide to buy out the bank that is funding the mine in order to then close the mine. To do this he contacts the President of the First National Bank of California (Joss Ackland) who is looking to expand his business in Europe. The bank president sends Donald Luckman (Tom Smothers) out to negotiate a sale of the bank with Doc, but without telling Doc the true reason why. This makes Doc suspicious and to find out their true motives he decides to seduce Donald’s beautiful and free-spirited wife Debbie (Cybil Shepard). Once she divulges their secret things really get going in a high-spirited fashion.
The catalyst of the comedy comes through the many different ‘negotiating’ sessions that take place throughout the film all of which prove to be quite amusing. The first is when Doc negotiates with Agha about a suitable deposit Agha must give to the bank in order to obtain a bank loan even though the bank has no money to give. The second is when Donald tries to bargain with Doc on a selling price for the bank and the third is when Doc tries to intimidate Crime boss Joe into not accepting Donald’s offer. The final one at the end is where all the characters chase Charles around his mansion in order to get settlements to their deals, which have by then soured.
The characters are charming and delightful. Caine is superb as always playing a man who would like to be a lot more ruthless and intimidating if he weren’t surrounded by a bunch of incompetents. Jourdan is suave as the Prince and the two leads share very contrasting personalities and styles, which makes their conversations and budding friendship interesting.
This movie is also a great chance to see Jay Leno in a rare acting role. I’d say being a talk show host is more his repartee, but he is energetic enough here to remain amiable and seeing him with a big mop of curly black hair is almost worth the price itself. Shepard is fantastic and the one thing that gives the film some zest. She is best known for her bitchy roles of which she is very good, but her she plays a fun-loving hippie type and is hilarious. Although this movie is a bit hard to find fans of Shepard should really seek this out as they won’t be disappointed.
Smothers is okay as the meticulous accountant who thinks he has all the bases covered until he gets an unsettling surprise at the end. Usually he is stuck playing characters on the dim-witted side, so it was nice to see him in something that was a slight change of pace. Although Balsam’s screen time is brief I still got a kick out of the way he would look at pictures showing the bloody corpses of the victims he had ordered killed while he ate his breakfast.
The film was shot on-location in such places as Switzerland and Morocco and although it does show some of the exotic topography of the regions it wasn’t enough and I wanted to see more. The musical score is terrible and resembles a show tune from the big band era that does not fit with the mood, or action of the story. I also didn’t find it enticing to have the film begin by focusing the camera onto the naked rears of a bunch of fat, middle-aged men as they get into a hot tub.
For those looking for a diverting, original comedy that emphasizes the subtle and dryly humorous exchanges between business partners then this little known gem should hit the spot.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: April 21, 1978
Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes
Director: Ivan Passer
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Posted in 70's Movies, Dry Humor, Movies Based on Novels, Obscure Movies
Tagged 70's Movies, Cybill Shepherd, Entertainment, Jay Leno, Martin Balsam, Michael Caine, Movies, Review, Tom Smothers