Tag Archives: William Smith

Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nuclear silo under siege.

Loosely based on the novel ‘Viper Three’ by Walter Wager the story centers on Lawrence Dell (Burt Lancaster) a former military general who was sent to prison on trumped on murder charges, but manages to escape and is now out for revenge. With the help of three accomplices (Paul Winfield, William Smith, Burt Young) he breaks into a nuclear silo and threatens to launch it unless the President (Charles Durning) agrees to come clean on the government’s secret agenda in regards to the Vietnam War.

I’ve never read the film’s source novel, but have been told that this takes many liberties with it. The biggest problem is that it jumps ahead too quickly showing the four men right away breaking into the silo when it should’ve started back further to when they escaped from the prison and how they were able to get the access codes in order to break into the silo system to begin with. Winfield has a few great lines and Smith’s hair-trigger personality allows for interesting conflict, so these characters should’ve remained, but instead they are unwisely killed off leaving only Lancaster to pace around nervously, which quickly becomes boring.

Whenever someone escapes from prison the nearby area gets warned usually through the media. Certainly military personnel would’ve been put on high alert and thus making Dell’s ability to break into the silo, which was too easy to begin with, much less likely. The fact that a crazed general could break into a silo system and threaten to start WW III and have it never leaked to the media is highly unlikely as well, which along with various other loopholes makes this thing hard to fully get into.

Charles Durning is a great supporting actor, but here is badly miscast as the President. His facial expressions during his phone calls with the other Generals warning him of what is going on are unintentionally comical and too much time gets spent focusing on him contemplating on whether he’ll given into Dell’s demands until it seems like he is the star and Lancaster only a secondary player. Having him described as being an ‘honest politician’ and ‘a President who would never lie’ seems like an oxymoron as I don’t think a politician could even survive in Washington if they weren’t able to spin the truth sometimes and only helps to make the character seem too idealized.

Spoiler Alert!

This thing though really ‘jumps-the-shark’ at the end as I cannot imagine any circumstance where the secret service would allow the President of the United States to enter into a nuclear silo all alone and be used as a hostage. If they were real desperate they might try to pawn off an imposter in an attempt to fool them, but never the actual President as it would put him into too vulnerable a position. Also, the ‘shocking secret’ about why the U.S. got involved in the Vietnam War really isn’t all that earth shattering and certainly not worth sitting through simply to find out.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Director Robert Aldrich’s prolific use of the split screen is the one entertaining aspect and almost enough to overlook its other many faults, but at best it’s only a mindless programmer that manages to elicit minor tension only if you don’t think about it too hard.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 9, 1977

Runtime: 2 Hours 26 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Aldrich

Studio: Allied Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Gentle Savage (1973)

gentle savage 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Indian accused of rape.

Camper John (William Smith) is an Indian living in a small town who gets accused of raping a white girl (Betty Ann Carr) by Ken (Kevin Hagen) her stepfather even though it was actually Ken who did it. The hidden prejudices of the predominantly white folks come to light against the nearby Indian community. Both sides take up arms and become intent on crushing the other causing hysteria and violent outbreaks while Camper John tries hiding out until it blows over.

If there is anything distinctive about this otherwise formulaic and predictable low budget drama is the fact that it paints vigilantism as more of a problem than a solution even if the one side feels completely justified, which I found to be a refreshing and more realistic take on the issue especially as the Indian group becomes as vindictive, violent and hateful as the people they are trying to fight. However, it would’ve been nice had there been at least one white person who wasn’t portrayed as being completely narrow-minded and bigoted, which in a lot of ways comes off as reverse racism by the filmmakers.

The music is loud and overly dramatic, which gives the proceedings a very heavy-handed feel. In a lot of ways it comes off as a poor man’s Billy Jack, which was already pretty amateurish and one-dimensional to begin with although still far better than this thing. The 75 minute version that I viewed had an abrupt ending that seemed incomplete and failed to tie up many loose ends, but I wasn’t complaining as even with the abbreviated runtime it was still highly protracted, overblown and tedious with the scene of a water tower tank exploding and dousing everyone on the street with tons of water being the only slightly diverting moment.

Smith is intense in the lead, but he should’ve been given more dialogue especially at the beginning as the viewer barely gets to know or understand him before being jettisoned into his quandary. Character actor R. G. Armstrong who normally plays menacing characters is quite wimpish here as a bartender who gets held down and forced to swallow drink after drink when he tries closing down the bar before the patrons were ready. Hagen is competent as the bad guy, but casting Gene Evans and Joe Flynn as a bumbling sheriff and deputy in an attempt at misguided ‘comic relief’ in the Last House on the Left-type vein was a big mistake. One scene even has them handcuffed together wearing nothing but their underpants while forced to walk across the desert, but it all adds little and takes away from the tension, which is the only time that this flat film ever becomes mildly diverting.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Alternate Title: Camper John

Released: March 7, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes (Full Version)

Rated R

Director: Sean MacGregor

Studio: Cinemation Industries

Available: None at this time.

Runaway, Runaway (1971)

runaway runaway 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen girl runs away.

Ricki (Gilda Texter) is a teen girl who has had enough of her unhappy home life and decides to run away and meet up with a guy in California who she has strong feelings for but knows little about. Along the way she takes a ride from Frank (William Smith) whose job is finding young runaways and returning them to their parents. He tries to help Ricki, but she rejects it even though they remain on friendly terms. She then meets up with Lorri (Rita Murray) who works as a prostitute, but is also a closet lesbian. She gives Ricki a place to stay and then makes sexual advances towards her. Although Ricki at first resists she eventually gives in, but remains conflicted about her feelings towards Lorri and unhappy with her situation that seems no better for her than the one she ran away from.

Texter rose to fame after playing the nude blonde riding on a motorcycle in the film Vanishing Point. Her scene lasted for only a couple of minutes, but most male viewers came away remembering her part more than anything else and producers were quick to pick up on it. She was soon given a starring role here, which was hoped to jettison her into a full-time acting career, which never happened and eventually she settled down into the role of costume designer for films, which she did through 2006.

gilda texter 2

Either way she does quite well and shows more flair and ability than most young beauties that get acting jobs with only limited experience or training. She speaks her lines with a nice inflection and has some good facial expressions especially during the scene where she is attacked.

Smith who has made a career playing bulky tough guys is quite good in the sympathetic role as an older father figure. However, in these more cynical times his over concern for her welfare could seem more like a dirty old man with deep seated sexual desires. The fact that they do end up going to bed together seemed quite creepy and unnatural and I didn’t care for it and felt she would have been better off had she stayed with Lorri and formed a more lasting relationship with her.

Hank Beebe’s music score is distinctive and bucked the trend of the time by not having a psychedelic or rock sound, but instead it’s more on the jazz side. The bouncing vibrant song done over the opening credits is especially good and I would love to credit the lady who sings it, but none is given.

The opening sequence features a scene where Ricki gets attacked by a man at an isolated location of an abandoned dessert building that is played by Ron Gans, who later went on to be a famous voice-over narrator for movie trailers, and it is exciting. Another part that I found interesting is when Ricki goes to a party and gets drugged, which makes good use of the fish-eye camera lens, but overall this thing gets too talky and eventually becomes quite boring.

The Ricki character seems a bit too naïve as well. Most runaways I would presume would be practical enough to have some money in their pocket, but she has absolutely none. She barely knows this guy that she has ‘fallen in-love’ with and has no idea where he lives or even his phone number, but somehow expects to magically meet up with him anyways. She also makes no attempt to find a job once she gets to her new location even though that is the first thing most people, even movie characters will do in order to help them get back on their feet and give them some independence.

The story is derivative and predictable and gives us no new insight or slant into the runaway issue. The ending offers no real conclusion and despite some good attempts at realism and well-written dialogue the film is overall sterile and forgettable.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 13, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bickford Otis Webber

Studio: Meier-Mayer Productions

Available: None at this time