Tag Archives: William Devane

The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Playing in the Astrodome.

Having won the league championship game a year after losing the first one the Bears now look to play the Houston Toros at the Astrodome between games of a Major League double-header. The problem is that they no longer have a manager, so Kelly (Jackie Earle Haley) recruits his estranged father (William Devane) to act as one for the team’s benefit. Kelly and his father do not get along, which causes friction with the rest of players, as they prepare to play the Toros who are much bigger physically and have far more talent.

If there was ever a reason as to why making a sequel from a successful first film is usually a bad idea this movie could be held up as the best example. The originality and fresh humor from the first gets completely lost here. While the first one conveyed a strong message this one has none at all and barely even a story instead just a thin plot wrapped around episodic comedy that barely elicits even a chuckle.

It does at least allow for some screen time showing the parents of the kids, which was woefully lacking in the first one. It also gives the kids more speaking lines and their presence is more central to the storyline while in the first film it was almost completely spun around Matthau. Unfortunately with the exception of Haley and Jimmy Baio, who plays Carmen the team’s new pitcher, none of the child actors have enough talent to carry the movie, which makes the scenes with them in it quite lethargic and lifeless.

Devane is extremely weak in the lead and his character poorly defined. The way he gets asked to volunteer as the team’s coach is quite awkward and the fact that he literally takes over the team in a matter of just 2 short days like he’s a seasoned manager that’s been doing this for years seemed unrealistic. It was also hard-to-believe that this guy, who worked at a pipe fitting plant, would be so adept at baseball strategy and able to convey these skills to the players as effectively as he does without having any prior experience.

The Astrodome is captured as being this impressive monolithic structure when in reality, if you see it in person, it is quite underwhelming. I realize when it was first built in 1964 it was considered the ‘8th wonder of the world’, but time has not been kind to it. If you go to see it now, which I did just this past summer, it gets dwarfed considerably by the far bigger and more majestic looking Reliant stadium, which sits right next to it. There are so many other buildings that have been built around it that the Astrodome now gets easily overlooked and almost forgotten making Kelly’s fascination with the structure seem quite dated.

In the first film the climactic game was full of high drama, but the one here is a bore. Watching the security guards try to tackle Tanner (Chris Barnes) and carry him off the field is genuinely funny and probably the film’s one and only highlight in this otherwise pointless excursion that would’ve been best left unmade.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 8, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Pressman

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Family Plot (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Alfred Hitchcock’s last movie.

Blanche Tyler (Barbara Harris) is a phony psychic whose client, the rich heiress Julia Rainbird (Cathleen Nesbitt) offers her a reward of $10,000 if she can use her ‘psychic abilities’ to find Julia’s long-lost nephew who was given up for adoption years earlier. Blanche employs her boyfriend George (Bruce Dern) who works as a cabbie in-between acting gigs, to find the man. George ends up stumbling upon someone who he thinks may be him, Arthur Adamnson (William Devane), but ends up getting in-over-his-head when Arthur proves to have ulterior motives.

The film’s claim-to-fame is that it was the last one directed by Alfred Hitchcock, which is probably the only good thing to say about it. Technically it’s not bad, but it’s not terribly interesting either. Everything that gets done here has been done before in other films with more interesting results. This includes a sequence where Blanche and George’s car goes careening down a mountain highway with no breaks, which isn’t exciting at all and looks clearly shot in front of a green screen.

After completing the far edgier Frenzy I was expecting Hitch to try and push the envelope even more, but instead he draws back with a pedestrian story that’s full-of-holes.  It was based on the novel ‘The Rainbird Pattern’ written by Victor Canning, which had a darker tone. Screenwriter Ernest Lehman wanted to capture that same tone here, but Hitch pushed him instead for a lighter quality that borders on camp, but ultimately comes off as gimmicky. The ending is particularly limp and for someone once dubbed the ‘Master of Suspense’ there is very little of it here.

The only moment that stuck out for me is where Blanche and George sit down to eat hamburgers. Normally actors in films rarely eat the food that they’re served and will usually either take small nibbles, or simply leave it on the plate without taking a single bite, but here both Dern and Harris take big bites from their burgers while continuing to talk. At one point a piece of burger spits out of Dern’s mouth as he speaks and he instinctually holds up his hand in front of his mouth in an embarrassment, which was strangely left in. Most directors would’ve quickly stopped the scene and reshot it, but instead Hitch decided to let it continue, which adds an odd realism probably not seen anywhere else.

The casting is the only real bright spot especially Devane, who normally played good guys, but takes a turn as a villain here and does quite well. In fact it’s the best performance of his career. Unfortunately the two women (Harris and Karen Black who plays Devane’s girlfriend) are wasted and for the most part have very little to do. Black’s role could’ve been cut out completely in a film that especially when compared to the director’s earlier works is a huge disappointment.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 9, 1976

Runtime: 2 Hours 1 Minute

Rated PG

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Honky Tonk Freeway (1981)

honky tonk freeway 4

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Get off on it!

This exceedingly free-form style narrative follows several different oddball travelers from all areas of the country who converge on the small town of Ticlaw, Florida whose citizens are trying to build an exit ramp off of the freeway or risk having all of their shops and businesses go under.

The unusual narrative device might have worked had it been complimented by material that was more original. Instead it’s rather generic and bland. Things start off well with a biting, edgy flair, but this quickly drops off and becomes only mildly amusing afterwards. Some of it even gets silly with a lot of overused jokes aimed at easy targets. To me the only good moment is when a group of men try to trap a wild rhino into a cage.

Some people have compared this to Nashville; but that film at least had an overrunning theme that tied things together while this one has none and most of the time seems to go nowhere. I did like the script’s underlying concept of the randomness of our existence and where we end up and who meet a lot of times is just up to pure chance, but it doesn’t explore this enough or make any strong statement with it.

It also forces us to follow characters that aren’t captivating or interesting. The caricatures are too broad and their eccentricities go over-the-top. The only one I found slightly memorable is David Rasche as an overzealous pimp constantly trying to recruit women into his business even some nuns!

On the performance end Beverly D’Angelo comes off best as a nymphomaniac struggling to have a relationship with just one man. The rest of the cast though is pretty much wasted especially Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy as a bickering old couple. William Devane as the mayor is miscast and speaks in a southern accent that is horrible.

The film also contains a logic loophole as the townspeople blow up the bridge of a nearby busy freeway, which will then force all incoming traffic to exit into the town. This should then conceivably create a traffic overflow with more cars and people coming in than the town is equipped for and yet screenwriter Edward Clinton never bothers to touch on this very real issue and instead keeps things contained to only a few travelers.

I did like the on-location shooting, which was done in the small town of Mount Dora that is just a north of Orlando. Many times when films are made in Florida it is done in Miami or areas along the coasts, so it was nice instead to see something done in the countryside that takes advantage of its interesting and diverse topography.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 21, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Schlesinger

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube