Tag Archives: William Friedkin

Deal of the Century (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Making money selling weapons.

Eddie (Chevy Chase) is a American arms dealer selling weapons to both the rebels and military dictator of a small South American country. While there he meets Harold (Wallace Shawn) who works for a large contractor known as Luckup. Their weaponry is much more sophisticated and cutting edge so after Harold kills himself Eddie takes over the deal and successfully wins a big contract, but upon returning to the states he finds that the deal fell through, which forces him to return to the small country along with Harold’s widow Catherine (Sigourney Weaver) and his partner Ray  (Gregory Hines) to see if they can make another pitch.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Bernard Edelman and makes some really good satirical points about how the arms race being driven more by corporate greed, which only helps to create wars instead of preventing them. Unfortunately the film’s tone is too muddled and goes haphazardly from lighthearted fare to dark humor while throwing in graphic violence that is jarring. There’s also a surprising number of scenes where the three main characters don’t appear in it at all.

Chase can be appealing if given the right material but his cynical smart-ass sense of humor doesn’t exactly make him lovable. Here his character is so consumed with making a deal that he becomes no different than the bad guys and someone the viewer doesn’t connect with or care for. The only positive thing about his character is that he gets shot in the foot early on and then unlike most other movies where the healing power gets sped up he instead spends the rest of the film in a cast, which is more realistic. The scene where he gets shot in the foot a second time and blood spews out of the cast until Sigourney stops it up with a cork is the film’s best moment.

Hines on the other hand is quite likable and his convergence to Christianity is funny and should’ve been played-up more. The scene where he gets into a confrontation with a Latino couple after a car accident is amusing, but having him suddenly go rogue at the end makes little sense and is kind of stupid.

Weaver, who doesn’t have any significant presence until almost 45 minutes in, is wasted and there’s no way that anyone as beautiful as her would marry a chump like Wallace Shawn, which makes the casting here quite nebulous. Vince Edwards, famous for starring in the 60’s medical drama ‘Ben Casey’, gets a surprisingly large role as a Luckup executive and I can only guess that this was because of his longtime friendship with director William Friedkin as otherwise by the 80’s he was way past his and largely forgotten.

There are some humorous bits here and there, but overall the pacing is poor and quite jumbled. Friedkin, better known for his dark dramas and horror films, looks way out of his league and when compared to other Hollywood comedies this thing lacks finesse. The special effects are also really tacky, which ultimately sends this to a schlock level and becomes an embarrassment to all those who were involved.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 4, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: William Friedkin

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, YouTube

Cruising (1980)

cruising2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cop infiltrates gay underground.

A serial killer is attacking gay men who frequent New York’s S&M bars and young cop Steve Burns (Al Pacino) is chosen to go undercover as a gay and infiltrate these ‘leather clubs’ in order to bring out the killer. However, the job requirements demand that he must be completely isolated from the rest of the force and not carry a gun, which eventually causes a strain on his personal life particularly in his relationship with his girlfriend Nancy (Karen Allen).

The film, which is loosely based on actual events that occurred during the late 70’s and captured in Gerald Walker’s novel of the same name, was considered quite controversial at the time of its production. Protestors who felt the film accentuated the gay stereotype tried to create loud noises during filming and even shine reflective lights on the actors in an attempt to mess up the scenes. In retrospect it is hard to imagine that director William Friedkin is in anyway homophobic as just ten years earlier he did the brilliant adaptation of The Boys in the Band, which remains to this day one of the better films dealing with gay issues. The story certainly does wallow in ugly elements, but also makes the point to describe this as an extreme subculture and  not reflective of the gay lifestyle as a whole, which in my opinion made the film seem more enlightening to New York’s gay underground of a bygone era and less propaganda as its critics ascertained.

To some degree I liked the explicit uncompromising approach, but after a while it became one-dimensional and predictable. The scenes of the killings are unnecessarily prolonged and some of the segments showing large groups of men having sex at a bar come off as overly-stylized and looking reminiscent of a homoerotic scene from a Fassbinder film.

Friedkin does manage to add a few unique touches including having a well-built black man wearing nothing but a jock strap enter the room during police interrogations and violently slap suspects who he felt weren’t telling the truth, which according to one of the film’s advisors was an actual technique used by police at the time.  The way the movie captures the monotony and frustrations of investigating a complex case such as this and leaving open that there may have been more than one killer is also well done and helps elevate this a bit from the usual formulaic cop thriller.

Pacino gives a gutsy performance including one scene showing him tied up in bed naked during some kinky S&M play, but the character’s motivations are confusing particularly the way he so quickly accepts this difficult assignment that most others would be very reluctant to do. The fact that his experiences ends up affecting him psychologically isn’t compelling since that becomes a foregone conclusion right from the start.

Paul Sorvino is perfect as the police captain. His gray hair dye was a little overdone, but his limp was great. Allen has a good moment at the end when she tries on Pacino’s leather hat and coat that he brought home with him and Joe Spinell makes the most of his small role as a corrupt cop who harasses gays only to end up patronizing gay bars on his off hours. You can also spot Powers Boothe in an early role as a hankie salesman and Ed O’Neil as a police detective.

The idea of exposing the dark side of police life is no longer original or interesting and the film’s shock value has lessened through the years and thus failing to leave any type of lasting impression or message.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 15, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Friedkin

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Boys in the Band (1970)

boys in the band 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: This party turns sour.

A group of gay men get together for an intended night of food and laughs as they celebrate Harold’s (Leonard Frey) birthday. Things begin to unravel when Alan (Peter White) appears who was an old college roommate of party host Michael (Kenneth Nelson). He insists that he is not gay, but Michael and the rest of the group intend to prove otherwise, which leads to many harsh and interesting revelations.

This film packs a wallop and is as relevant and daring now as it ever was back then. Director William Friedkin does a terrific job of making this story, which was originally an off-Broadway production seem cinematic. I loved the capturing of the apartment, which makes you feel like you are right there.

The performances are outstanding and all are the original cast from the stage production. Cliff Gorman as the flaming gay personality is a particular standout. The script by Mart Crowley is captivating from beginning to end as it brings out all the different personalities and myriad issues that make up the gay community and the whole thing is a tour-de-force on all levels.

My only complaint would be the character of the Cowboy played by actor Robert La Tourneaux who is the dim-witted, but good looking ‘gift’ giving to Harold for his birthday. I realize the intention is to make him a bit dumb, but it gets overdone. It’s one thing to be an ‘airhead’, but a complete other thing to sound so stupid it’s like he is from another planet. His character is the only one that does not get fleshed out at all and his utterly inane comments come off as hollow and annoying. Ironically La Tourneaux was unable to find many acting parts afterwards and became a gay prostitute in real-life by the late 70’s in order to make ends meet.

The characters are believable and the dialogue moving. It’s a compelling study of those feeling isolated from society and sometimes even themselves.  Even if you are not gay the film can still have a great impact and its quality viewing either way.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: March 17, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Friedkin

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD

The Birthday Party (1968)

the birthday party 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Tear up the newspaper.

Since tomorrow will be my birthday I wanted to come up with a film that had birthdays as its theme and found this bizarre but fascinating obscurity. It is the story based on the play by Harold Pinter of Stanley Webber (Robert Shaw) a mysterious and private man who takes up lodging in a rundown British seaside house. He rents an upstairs room from Mr. and Mrs. Bowles (Moultrie Kelsall, Dandy Nichols) who are quite odd themselves. One day two men dressed in black suits (Patrick Magee, Sydney Tafler) come to pay Stanley a visit. They know something about Stanley’s past and their presence frightens him to the extent that it causes him to have a nervous breakdown.

On the surface this film shouldn’t work. There is an excessive amount of talking with dialogue that doesn’t say much and at times seems absurd. The set is drab and dirty with the camera seemingly locked down inside of it. There is never any explanation about Stanley’s past or what he is running from nor who the men are or what they know about him. The ending is elusive and the viewer will go away feeling more confused than they did at the start.

However, it is these ingredients that make the film so thoroughly intriguing. The seemingly banal dialogue is simply a façade for underlying thoughts and feelings. What Stanley is trying to run from is unimportant because it is really not about him at all and is instead more about ourselves, human nature and the quandary of our existence. It’s an examination of people’s futile attempts at trying to escape from who they are only to have society and life catch up with them. The set could be a metaphor for the inside of Stanley’s head. The grimy and decayed place symbolizes his decayed soul and the men in black suits are his conscience coming to haunt him.

Once you adjust to the eccentric narrative it then becomes a fantastic film for observing subtitles and nuance. Director William Friedkin shows a keenness for detail not only visually, but with the sound as well. The way the Magee character tears up a newspaper and the sound used for it could actually unnerve some viewers. Stanley’s meltdown scene is very unique and overall the direction is superb for such difficult material.

This movie was years ahead of its time, but for some it may be off-putting. However, it should be enjoyed by those who crave the avant-garde. It is also a rare chance to the see the normally strong-willed Shaw playing a very weak and vulnerable character. Nichols is also a stand-out playing an Edith Bunker type with a perverse streak lying just beneath the surface.

the birthday party 1

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 9, 1968

Runtime: 2Hours 3Minutes

Rated G

Director: William Friedkin

Studio: Palomar Pictures International

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 2)