Tag Archives: Viveca Lindfors

Girlfriends (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: She misses her friend.

Susan (Melanie Mayron) and Anne (Anita Skinner) are best friends and roommates, but when Anne decides to get married to Martin (Bob Balaban) and move out Susan can’t handle the solitude. She picks-up a hitch-hiker named Ceil (Amy Wright) who moves in for a bit, but it doesn’t work out. She then gets into a relationship with Eric (Christopher Guest) and even a 60-year-old married rabbi (Eli Wallach), but both of these end in heartache. The more Susan tries to ‘move-on’ the more she longs for the old days with Anne and Anne starts to feel the same way.

This was Claudia Weill’s feature film debut that met with high accolades including director Stanley Kubrick who considered it his favorite film of 1978. There’s a nice understated quality here that not only brings out a vivid late ‘70s feel, but also the very real day-to-day struggles of a young adult trying to swim through the quagmire of relationship and career obstacles. Melanie Mayron is certainly not a beauty by the conventional standard, but her plain appearance helps accentuate the challenges of the regular person trying to break-out and get noticed.

Susan’s struggles at trying to become a full-time photographer had me hooked the most as it portrays the universal challenges anyone can have in trying to get ‘their foot-in-the-door’ no matter what the profession, but I was a bit stunned when she forgets about the exhibition of her work at an art show. If someone is truly excited about getting their first big break then there is simply no way that would happen. It’s also hard for the viewer to completely empathize with someone’s career struggles if they themselves aren’t doing all they can to achieve it.

Another misguided wrinkle to the story was Susan’s relationship with a married rabbi who was almost 40 years older than her. These types of relationships suffer from extraordinarily long odds  and just about anyone would realize that from the get-go, which makes Susan’s ‘shocked’ reaction when the rabbi is unable to get together for a date due to family obligations seem almost  irrational. How a relationship like this could even begin to blossom is a whole other issue that never even gets addressed.

The film suffers from a few awkward scenes too. One has Wallach sitting down to play a game of chess with Melanie only for him to get up a minute later and leave for no reason. Why does he bother to show up for a chess game if he isn’t even going to make a single move on the board? Later Viveca Lindfors appears wearing a neck brace and yet no explanation is ever given for why she has it on. Later she’s shown without it, so why did she have it in one scene and not the other? Maybe it was for a minor accident, which can happen, but film is a visual medium and when something slightly askew gets shown it needs to get addressed even if it’s just in passing otherwise the viewer will key in on that and not the story.

Even more amazingly, and I can’t believe I’m saying this as I’ve never seen it in any other movie that I’ve ever watched before, but there’s an actual scratch on the camera lens that can be spotted in just about every scene. It appears on the top right hand side as a small white mark. If the sun is shining through a window it will reflect the light and be more pronounced. If a character walks in front of the window it fades a bit, but you can still see it and this continues throughout the entire run of the film. I can only presume that cinematographer Fred Murphy was aware of this, but due to the budget constraints they didn’t have enough money to replace the lens and decided to simply chug along with the scratch in place and hope no else would notice.

Ultimately though I found the story, in its simple way, to be touching and poignant this is particularly evident at the end where the viewer can see firsthand how friendships help add insight and support to a person’s life and are an important dimension to the human experience.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 4, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Claudia Weill

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), YouTube

Puzzle of a Downfall Child (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fashion model is troubled.

Lou Andreas Sand (Faye Dunaway) was a once famous fashion model who now sits in an isolated seaside cabin telling her life story to Aaron (Barry Primus) who records her conversations which he plans to use as a basis for an upcoming film. Through her stories she describes of being molested at the age of 15 by a much older man, her bouts with drugs and alcohol, her time spent inside a mental hospital and how she jilted her fiancé (Roy Scheider) by running out on him on their wedding day.

This film marks the directorial debut of Jerry Schatzberg who up until that time was best known as a still photographer and having captured the cover of Bob Dylan’s seventh album Blonde on Blonde. The inspiration for the movie was the life of model Anne Saint Marie who Schatzberg interviewed much the same way that the Aaron character does in the movie.

Unfortunately the director clearly doesn’t understand what makes his main character tick as she comes off as this one-dimensional, self-destructive cliché whose perpetually sad tales of woo become increasingly more contrived as the film goes on. We get no insight as to why she behaves the way she does turning her into a maddening caricature that frustrates the viewer and allows for no empathy.

A great deal of effort was put into the film’s visual style and on that level it’s a fascinating achievement. Adam Holender’s cinematography is quite vivid and makes you feel like you’re right there in the same room with the characters, but the fragmented narrative that comes with it is unappealing. Certain interesting dramatic moments get dropped and never gone back to, or readdressed at a much later time long after the viewer has lost interest. I suppose this is the reason that the word ‘puzzle’ gets used in the title as we are supposed to ‘piece together’ this woman’s life and personality through the erratic bits that she gives us, but she only succeeds at becoming an enigma.

Dunaway is a great actress, but tends to do better in parts calling for strong or emotionally ambivalent women. Playing the roles of vulnerable people is definitely not her forte. She’s managed to do it a few times, but it’s not easy for her and here she fails at it completely as she doesn’t understand her character’s motivations any better than the viewer.

The one actress that does do well here is Viveca Lindfors who was a beauty in her day, but by this time was already aging into her later years and yet she commands the screen with the brief time that she is on it and had she been seen more she might’ve saved it. However, the story lacks substance fails to be compelling and leaves the viewer with a lot of fleeting, fragmented images and nothing more.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jerry Schatzberg

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD (Region 2), Blu-ray (Region B/2)

A Bell from Hell (1973)

bell from hell

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: A psycho returns home.

After being locked up for years in an insane asylum Juan (Renaud Verley) is released and allowed to return home to his wheelchair bound mother Marta (Viveca Lindfors) and three sisters who had him put away in an attempt to get at his inheritance. Now Juan wants revenge and does so by trying to have his mother stung to death by a horde of angry bees and his sisters cut up at a meat processing plant, but both of his attempts fail. They survive and turn-the-tables by having him encased alive at the local church’s bell tower that is being erected, but just when they think he’s dead they find that he may not be.

This film’s most notorious claim to fame is that its young director Claudio Guerin fell to his death from the very bell tower he had constructed for the movie on the last day of shooting, which is a shame since he showed strong potential for being a gifted filmmaker. If there is one thing that holds it all together and keeps it captivating it’s with its visual quality. Despite the limited budget Guerin shows a keen eye for an array of interesting camera angles and shots. The atmosphere is thick and remains creepy throughout even though it doesn’t have any actual scares.

Unfortunately the script by Santiago Moncada lacks the same type of creativity with a cliché-ridden storyline that meanders and at times feels like it’s going nowhere. The muffled English dubbing makes it hard to hear all of the words that the characters are saying and the ending plays like a tired rehashing of an Edgar Allan Poe story that provides no surprises.

The film’s most provocative moment is when Juan kidnaps his sisters and hangs them naked on meat hooks at the processing plant, which is filled with imaginative close-ups and edits and a major precursor to the so-called ‘horror porn’ that we’ve become used to today. However, the film doesn’t go far enough with it and pulls back after an interesting set-up, which becomes a testament to the production as a whole that has great potential, but only mediocre results.

bell from hell 2

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 1, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Claudio Guerin

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Sure Thing (1985)

the sure thing 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Love blossoms between opposites.

Walter Gibson (John Cusack) becomes smitten with Alison (Daphne Zuniga). He is a slacker while she is a very studious student. Both attend the same college English class and he uses the ruse of needing help with his studies as a ploy to get closer to her, but it doesn’t work and she ends up hating him. Then his friend Lance (Anthony Edwards) invites him out to California where he has a really hot girl (Nicollette Sheridan) waiting for him and promises that she is a ‘sure thing’. So Walter takes a ride with a couple (Tim Robbins, Mary Jane Persky) that is also going out there only to find that Alison is riding with them as she wants to visit her boyfriend.  Needless to say it is a rocky ride, but after several misadventures love finally begins to blossom between the two.

On a purely romantic level this film scores big time. It nicely recaptures the period in one’s life where everything is still new and exciting and before such things as marital discord, ugly divorces, child custody battles and all that other crap. Instead it emphasizes the rush one feels at being in the presence of someone they are really crazy about and learning to know them through layers. It’s the magical innocence of young love that makes it so endearing and engaging.

Zuniga is beautiful but fortunately not in an overdone, glamorous type of way. My favorite scene with her is when she tries to drink a beer for the first time ‘shotgun style’ and becomes a bit overwhelmed by it. Cusack shows his usual charm, but his social graces seem severely lacking at points near the beginning and I wouldn’t have been surprised if every girl would have found him to be an annoying geek.

In support Edwards is good as his friend and I especially liked his room that is lined with empty bottles of every different brand of beer that he has drunk. Viveca Lindfors is sexy and appealing in her own way as the English teacher and George Memmoli in his last film role has an engaging bit as an overweight man that Walter meets and befriends at a bar in a scene that I wished had been more extended.

The film though does have a few problems. One scene has Walter accusing Alison of being ‘repressed’ and so to prove him wrong she strips off her shirt and bra and then flashes some other cars that they are passing, which to me seemed like too much of an extreme shift in behavior and not realist for that type of character. There is another scene where the two are stranded in the middle of nowhere during a rainstorm and with no money since Alison forgot it at their last hotel stop only to find out that she has a credit card. The film then cuts to showing them eating at a fancy restaurant, which was too much of a jump as a credit card isn’t going to get them from an empty field by itself and the scene needed to show more of a connection on how or who got them out of there.

The biggest problem though is that we have this stunning beautiful, bikini clad blonde in the form of Nicollette Sheridan who apparently can’t get a guy on her own and needs to be ‘set-up’ on a date, which makes no sense. The scenes showing her walking around all alone at a party are absurd because in reality just about every guy in the room would be showing her some attention and she would have no reason to waiting around for an average guy like Cusack to come by to date here. This is the one segment in the movie were it goes dangerously close from being this pleasing slice-of-life romance to a crazy 80’s teen fantasy.

Despite the issues listed above I still thoroughly enjoyed it. It should appeal to the romantic in all of us and nicely balances the old-fashioned love story formula with modern day sensibilities.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 1, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Rob Reiner

Studio: Embassy Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray