Saturday, August 10, 2019

Cherry Hill High (1977)



I will leave to someone else the task of determining which movie was the first to feature a plot about groups of teenagers competing to be the first to lose their virginity. Suffice to say that’s the storyline of Cherry Hill High, in which the competitors are five sexy high-school girls on a summertime bike trip supervised by an adult female chaperone with a permissive attitude toward teen sexuality. (She also digs getting it on in a vat of grapes, but never mind that.) Allegedly a comedy, Cherry Hill High creates one elaborate deflowering vignette for each of the teenagers. Some of these vignettes are mildly imaginative, some are grotesque, and some are both. And while the picture is photographed in a more or less competent manner, the combination of crude dialogue, tacky situations, and weak acting affirms the picture’s status as medium-grade softcore. In other words, it’s all about lingering looks at young female flesh, presented in the context of a male fantasy about sex-crazed girls. Not only do the ladies in the movie spend nearly all their shared onscreen time talking about how horny they are, but the picture even features a girl-on-girl scene designed very much for the male gaze. None of this is surprising or unusual given the climate of late-’70s teen-sex movies, but then again, nothing about Cherry Hill High is surprising or unusual. The picture is brisk and watchable (depending upon one’s tolerance for sleaze), and it delivers exactly what it promises. So if you dig the idea of one girl losing it underwater while a nearby shark goes crazy when her body releases blood, or the idea of another girl making it with a guy in a chicken suit on a Price Is Right-type game show, then this is the low-budget smutfest you never knew you wanted to see.

Cherry Hill High: LAME

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Help Me . . . I’m Possessed (1974)



This low-budget shocker’s working title, Nightmare at Blood Castle, suits the mysoginistic content better than the moniker used during a brief theatrical release, since demonic possession may well be the only horror cliché not on display here. Presented somewhat in the Herschell Gordon Lewis style, only with slightly more competent camerawork, Help Me . . . I’m Possessed tells the unbelievable and uninteresting story of a mad doctor, Arthur Blackwood (Bill Greer), performing vile experiments in the dungeon of his castle. Assisting Dr. Blackwood is the requisite thuggish hunchback, Karl (Pierre Agostino). It’s never completely clear what Dr. Blackwood hopes to accomplish, how he finances his activities, or how he has thus far escaped close scrutiny from law enforccment. After all, Dr. Blackwood kills so many “patients” that Karl has a method of dismembering bodies so they can fit into small trunks for disposal. The flick also includes standard-issue subplots about the doctor’s mentally challenged sister, Melanie (Lynne Marta), and a cop (Pepper Davis) who snoops ineptly despite obvious clues of wrongdoing being visible everywhere. Still, Help Me . . . I’m Possessed has a certain watchability (by psychotronic-cinema standards), thanks to florid quasi-Biblical speeches, vigorous bad acting, and extreme vignettes (e.g., a woman getting locked into a coffin with a poisonous snake). Help Me . . . I’m Possessed is bottom-feeding crap, but compared to myriad other execrable films fitting that same description, this one is relatively brisk and eventful.

Help Me . . . I’m Possessed: LAME

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Embassy (1972)



          Watching the political thriller Embassy is frustrating not just because the picture is mediocre, but also because it wouldn’t have taken much to elevate the piece above mediocrity. The source material for this British production, a novel by Stephen Coulter, provides a solid premise—the arrival of a Russian defector at the U.S. embassy in Beirut sparks an international incident. As scripted by William Fairchild and directed by Gordon Hessler, Embassy is blandly photographed, drably paced, and filled with performances as uninspired as the corresponding characterizations are unimaginative. Yet it’s easy to imagine a crackerjack version of the same basic storyline with, say, Sidney Lumet at the helm, abetted by an edgier screenwriter. Even without that level of behind-the-scenes firepower, Embassy has a few credible moments, mostly thanks to leading man Richard Roundtree (appearing in one of his first projects after becoming a star with 1971’s Shaft) and supporting player Max von Sydow, who portrays the defector. Roundtree’s appealing swagger smooths over some of the movie’s rough spots, and von Sydow gives a genuinely multidimensional performance.
          Alas, too much time gets wasted on nonsense. Roundtree plays a mid-level diplomat who shares responsibility for the safety of von Sydow’s character, but the movie also gives Roundtree a drab romantic subplot that adds nothing. Similarly, perfunctory acting by Ray Milland (as the pragmatic ambassador), Broderick Crawford (as a security officer at the embassy), and Chuck Connors (as a KGB enforcer) diminishes the experience. Especially when combined with Hessler’s lifeless shooting style, watching actors who are past their best days give paycheck performances makes Embassy feel like a disposable TV movie, notwithstanding impressive production values acquired while shooting on location in the Middle East. As to the question of whether Embassy has anything meaningful to say, the answer is sorta-yes and sorta-no. The movie isn’t a completely vacuous potboiler, but most of its cynical assertions about the morality of political expediency are trite. Embassy only really sparks when von Sydow’s character talks about his reasons for defecting, and when the same character snaps after too many days in captivity.

Embassy: FUNKY

Thursday, May 23, 2019

My Brother Has Bad Dreams (1972)



Set in Florida, this dull low-budget horror flick tracks Karl (Nick Kleinholz III), a twisted young man who lives with his older sister, Anna (Marlena Lustik). Fifteen years previous, Karl saw Dad murder Mom, and he’s never been the same. Today, he drifts in and out of reality, sometimes believing that his mother is still alive, and he indulges problematic fetishes, such as sleeping with store-display mannequins and pleasuring himself whever he catches a glimpse of his sister naked. Inexplicably, Anna refuses to have Karl institutionalized, even though he has violent outbursts, as when he demolishes a mannequin with a fireplace poker. Enter Tony (Paul Vincent), a motorcycle-riding drifter whom Karl meets one day at a secluded beach. After skinny-dipping together (don’t bother reading into this scene, since subtext is far beyond writer-director Robert J. Emery’s grasp), the men return to Karl’s home, where, predictably, Tony gets it on with Anna. Just as predictably, this sends Karl over the edge. Whatever. It’s all quite boring and trite until the final scene. (Is it necessary to provide a spoiler alert for a movie very few people will ever want to see?) Following the inevitable bloodbath, Karl drives Tony’s motorcycle down a bridge while wearing a mannequin strapped to his back. Then he parks the bike, tosses the mannequin into the water, slashes his wrist, and dives into the water—at which point several sharks (!!!) appear to chomp on Karl in bloody freeze-frames during the closing credits. If you’re willing to slog through 90 minutes of bilge for a few moments of almost-memorable weirdness, add this to your watchlist. Incidentally, this film was originally released as Scream Bloody Murder, which is also the most common title of an unrelated low-budget horror picture released the following year.

My Brother Has Bad Dreams: LAME

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The California Kid (1974)



          Never mind that the “kid” of the title is played by a 34-year-old Martin Sheen, because if that kind of logical disconnect ruins your viewing experiences, then you probably don’t have much of an appetite for dopey TV movies from the ’70s, and The California Kid will strike you as a non-starter. Flip side, if you’re willing to lower your standards in order to enjoy 74 minutes of formulaic escapism, then prepare yourself for an enjoyable fast-food snack brimming with empty calories. Hot-rod driver Michael McCord (Sheen) blows into the small town of Clarksberg, where Sheriff Roy Childress (Vic Morrow) is so mad for speed-limit enforcement that he occasionally pushes reckless drivers’ cars over a cliff in treacherous canyon terrain. One of Sheriff Roy’s victims was Michael’s kid brother, so Michael has come to Clarksberg in search of truth and, if necessary, frontier justice. That’s the entire plot, notwithstanding an anemic love story pairing Michael with seen-it-all waitress Maggie (played by lissome singer-turned-actress Michelle Phillips).
          Written and directed, respectively, by longtime TV professionals Richard Compton and Richard T. Heffron, The California Kid is competent but graceless, and the movie’s lack of character development is laughable, especially when the filmmakers try for angsty gravitas in the final act. Had the project not landed so many interesting actors (Stuart Margolin and Nick Nolte show up in supporting roles), it’s safe to assume that The California Kid would have been unbearably vapid. As is, the thing moves along at a more sluggish pace than you might imagine, given the high-octane subject matter, but Sheen is consistently watchable. He’s particularly compelling in moments when he glares at Morrow, the heat of his character’s rage smoldering from beneath a menacingly scrunched brow. And just when it seems that Morrow has phoned in a one-dimensional portrayal, the revelation of his character’s backstory—combined with a single scene in a dusty backyard—adds something like nuance. So even though one can’t help but wish this thing grew up to become the Roger Corman-esque thrill ride it so clearly wants to, The California Kid has its simplistic charms.

The California Kid: FUNKY

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Steel Arena (1973)



The debut films of prolific directors have a certain innate appeal, because it’s always interesting to see where a noteworthy filmmaker’s journey began. In the case of Mark L. Lester, whose subsequent affronts to cinematic quality include Roller Boogie (1979) and Firestarter (1984), watching his first feature-length project, Steel Arena, is illuminating albeit unsurprising. Very quickly, one notes baseline technical competence and even occasional evidence of visual style. Yet just as quickly, one marvels at laughable ineptitude with regard to acting, characterization, logic, and storytelling. Lester, who began his film career making documentaries, apparently befriended a group of low-rent daredevils who toured the south, then persuaded the daredevils to play fictionalized versions of themselves. Never mind that none of them could act, or that the “story” Lester imposed upon them is a flimsy frame connecting lengthy vignettes of demolition-derby carnage. One can almost feel the film straining every time Lester tries to add dramatic weight with a tragic moment, especially because most of the film is utterly bereft of interpersonal conflict. Nonetheless, Steel Arena offers plenty of guilty-pleasure signifiers common to vintage southern drive-in schlock—there’s a corpulent redneck sheriff, a car chase involving moonshine, a busty waitress with a thirst for adventure, and a hilariously overlong sequence in which people bitch about mosquito bites. Through it all, leading man Dusty Russell, sort of playing himself, manages to avoid forming a single facial expression. The cars he crashes give more convincing performances.

Steel Arena: LAME

Thursday, September 27, 2018

4 Million Page Views!


Greetings from the wilderness beyond the wonderful world of Every ’70s Movie! Although I’ve been enjoying a much-needed reprieve after more than seven years of daily posting, I hope to resume tracking down missing titles in the near future, so, as promised when last we spoke, the conclusion of regular daily posting in April did not represent the end of this blog. The reason for checking in today is to report that despite the paucity of recent posts, Web traffic over the last couple of months has advanced the blog’s lifetime readership past another impressive milestone—as of this writing, Every ’70s Movie has received more than 4 million page views. Thank you! We’ll be together again soon. Until then, feel free to reach out via the comments function with suggestions of titles you don’t yet see on the blog. Some movies have effectively disappeared from public view, but it’s my hope to eventually lay my retinas on every relevant title I can possibly find. 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Captain Milkshake (1970)



          While the meaning of the film’s title is a mystery, Captain Milkshake is in many other respects a fine time capsule, capturing the mellow textures of the hippie lifestyle, the difficult interpersonal dynamics between Establishment and counterculture types during the Vietnam War, and the confusing experience of a young man who finds himself caught between these worlds. On a stylistic level, the movie brims with hot tunes by Quicksilver Messenger Service and other significant acts of the period, while also beguiling viewers with psychedelic visuals. Some scenes are in black and white, others are in color, many involve trippy superimpositions, and the much of the film unfurls like an extended music video, with rapid-fire edits timed to the beat of energetic rock songs. Sometimes the immersive approach works, creating a vibe almost as intoxicating as the weed that characters often smoke, and sometimes the approach seems enervated and repetitive.
          The problem is that for all of its slick photography and hip gimmicks, Captain Milkshake doesn’t have much of a script.
          Paul (Geoff Gage) is a Marine home from Vietnam on a two-day leave. Living in the shadow of his late father, who was also a Marine, Paul has an attitude that’s partly pacifistic and partly patriotic, so he’s conflicted about his role in the military. Listening to a racist uncle rant about how cool it is that Paul gets to kill Asians doesn’t help matters. Gradually, Paul becomes more and more involved with two hippies he meets by happenstance, fast-talking agitator Thesp (David Korn) and Thesp’s sorta-girlfriend, Melissa (Andrea Cagan). Over the course of his leave, Paul becomes sexually involved with Melissa and, without realizing it, criminally involved with Thesp—Paul tags along for a trip to Mexico, only discovering after the fact that Thesp smuggled dope across the border. Yet not much really happens in Captain Milkshake. There’s a lot of talk about planning a demonstration, for instance, but the demonstration doesn’t amount to much. Accordingly, the “shock” ending feels contrived and inconsequential.
          Still, Captain Milkshake gets lots of points for vibe. Excellent black-and-white photography grounds the picture in cinematic professionalism, providing a strong baseline for freakier visual elements. Some of the editing (credited to costar Korn) is also impressive, especially an exciting montage set to an acid-rock cover of “Who Do You Love?” That one scene, which has enough editorial whiz-bang for an entire episode of The Monkees, encompasses everything from lava lamps to motorcycles to sex. And even if the film’s acting is mostly quite tentative, some scenes land simply because the hippie ethos is conveyed so effectively. In one choice bit, Thesp imitates John Wayne’s voice during a speech while hippie chicks play “America the Beautiful” on kazoos.

Captain Milkshake: FUNKY

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Northern Lights (1978)



          Earnest, humane, and political, indie drama Northern Lights tells the story of how Norwegian-immigrant farmers organized in North Dakota circa 1916 as a means of fighting back against abuse by politically connected businessmen. Codirected by first-timers John Hanson and Rob Nilsson, the picture has a miniscule budget, simplistic black-and-white cinematography, and a general paucity of visual spectacle beyond panoramic shots of wintry North Dakota skylines. Yet as is true of many respectable indies, the limitations of Northern Lights are also virtues. This is a story about small people living on the fringes of civilization, so the rudimentary presentation suits the material. Moreover, Hanson and Nilsson focus on performance, letting the faces of their actors carry the muted emotions of the storyline—another suitable choice, given the stoicism of the population being portrayed. In every important way, the filmmakers strive to put viewers inside the day-to-day grind of a specific population.
          Ray (Robert Behling) is a struggling young farmer eager to marry his sweetheart, Inga (Susan Lynch), but life has a nasty way of interrupting. Work, the death of Inga’s father, bad weather, and the rising conflict between farmers and businessmen all force delays of the couple’s nuptials. Meanwhile, life in general becomes more and more difficult with each passing month for the members of Ray’s community. Ray’s partner, John (Joe Spano), withholds an entire year’s crop of wheat after businessmen artificially depress prices, thereby creating privation on a point of professional pride. Not coincidentally, Ray gets drawn deeper and deeper into labor organization, especially after he watches a bank mercilessly foreclose on a friend’s farm. Northern Lights is partly a catalog of suffering, partly a hero’s journey in which Ray evolves from follower to leader, and partly a tribute to the tenacity of immigrants pulling a living out of rugged terrain. Northern Lights is also a memory piece of sorts, since the movie is framed by sequences of a 94-year-old man discovering Ray’s decades-old journal and transforming that journal into a book (which, ostensibly, provides the story of the movie).
          If all of this makes Northern Lights sound ambitious, that’s not precisely accurate. Although the movie dramatizes a large span of time, its scope is intimate—and that’s the beauty and frustration of the picture. Viewed favorably, Northern Lights wedges an epic story into a manageable shape. Viewed critically, Northern Lights is like a sketch for a never-completed painting. For every single thing the film accomplishes, some other thing is merely implied. This is not to say the movie feels incomplete, because it does not—but rather to say that Northern Lights epitomizes both the strengths and weaknesses of DIY filmmaking. A bigger version of this story wouldn’t feel as personal, but a bigger version would provide a more holistic examination of the historical events depicted onscreen.

Northern Lights: FUNKY

Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Jerusalem File (1972)



          Filmed on location in Israel, terrorism-themed thriller The Jerusalem File has enough local color for two movies, familiar professionals in major roles, and a respectable number of action scenes. Accordingly, The Jerusalem File has all the right ingredients for a solid dose of international intrigue. Unfortunately, the filmmakers failed to construct a compelling screenplay populated by dimensional characters. The premise of The Jerusalem File makes sense, but scene-to-scene logic is murky. During several passages, it’s hard to discern what’s happening to whom and why, leaving the viewer with no recourse but to groove on actors glowering menacingly or to passively thrill at scenes of gunplay. Hardly the stuff of a memorable viewing experience.
          David (Bruce Davison) is an American student working on an archaeological dig supervised by Professor Lang (Nicol Williamson). One day, David has coffee with Raschid (Zeev Revah), an Arab militant with whom he is friendly, and representatives of a rival Arab faction commit a drive-by shooting, killing several people but missing their main target, Raschid. This event puts David on the radar of dogged local cop Chief Samuels (Donald Pleasance), who uses David to draw Raschid out of hiding. Before long, David finds himself in the crossfire of various political agendas, so lots of people chase him and shoot at him. Also figuring into the story is Nurit (Daria Halprin), a young Israeli involved in a romantic triangle with David and Lang, and mystery man Barak (Koya Yair Rubin), another participant in the archeological dig.
          Given the lack of depth on the characters, it’s impossible to care much about what happens to them, even though Davison’s mixture of intensity and sincerity creates the illusion that his character has real emotions, if not a fully rounded personality. Williamson is also highly watchable, though it’s never clear where his character’s allegiances lie, and Pleasance sleepwalks through his paper-thin role. (One more note on the cast: This was the last movie role for Halprin, previously seen in just two other movies, 1968’s Revolution and 1970’s Zabriskie Point.) Among this movie’s many wasted opportunities, perhaps none is more glaring than the failure of the filmmakers to meaningfully engage with the fraught politics of the Middle East—seeing as how it’s difficult to understand most of what’s happening onscreen, decoding any messages hidden inside those events is impossible.

The Jerusalem File: FUNKY

Monday, May 28, 2018

Chicago 70 (1970)



          One of the stranger cultural reactions to the notorious “Chicago 7 Trial” was an absurdist theater production blending excerpts from courtroom transcripts with allusions to Alice in Wonderland alongside satirical interjections somewhat in the style of the Marx Brothers. Chicago 70 is a cinematic adaptation of that play. Presumably, the idea behind both versions of the piece was to skewer the absurdity of putting left-wing activists on trial for the chaos surrounding the 1968 Democratic Convention, even though the real culprits were Chicago’s police department and the city’s mayor, Richard J. Daley. Featuring such iconic characters as Abbie Hoffman and Bobby Seale, the trial was a flashpoint in the counterculture era, but the story’s insane sprawl has stymied most attempts at reducing the trial to a feature-length narrative. Hence such experimental treatments as this film and Chicago 10 (2007), alongside occasional mainstream piece including Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago 8 (1987). Anyway, there’s not much to say about Chicago 70 beyond the description provided earlier—as written by the unlikely figure of Herschell Gordon Lewis, Chicago 70 is a flimsy gimmick stretched to feature length.
          Performing on a stripped-down set, actors spew transcript excerpts in a rapid-fire style, transforming history into farce. Sometimes actors switch roles, sometimes characters are represented by props instead of people, and sometimes the movie cuts from the court action to silly interludes—after the judge forgets the name of a defendant, for instance, he plays charades until remembering the name. Given its frenetic presentation, Chicago 70 mostly fails as a delivery device for information, so viewers unfamiliar with the real historical events are encouraged to learn facts elsewhere. Even for those who know the story, however, Chicago 70 hasn’t aged well. Stripped of the relevance it presumably had during its original release, the movie now seems childish and noisy, except for an imaginatively rendered and somewhat poignant sequence depicting the moment when Seale was bound and gagged. As for the film’s politics, the lopsided depiction of activists as valiant warriors and court officers as fascist buffoons is unhelpful.

Chicago 70: FUNKY

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Portnoy’s Complaint (1972)



          Success creates demand for repeat performances, hence this Philip Roth adaptation starring Richard Benjamin, a follow-up to the well-received Goodbye, Columbus (1969), which had the same actor/source material combo. Portnoy’s Complaint did not fare well, as represented by the fact that the picture began and ended the directorial career of Ernest Lehman, one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed screenwriters. Whereas Goodbye, Columbus leavened its harshest elements with tenderness, Portnoy’s Complaint is unremittingly loud and vulgar. The film is not without its virtues, thanks partly to the psychosexual preoccupations of the source material and partly to the skill of the actors on display, but the picture is as fake and mean-spirited as Goodbye, Columbus is authentic and humane.
          Benjamin plays Alexander Portnoy, a horny civil servant who becomes involved with uninhibited fashion model Mary Jane Reid (Karen Black). Not only is she a Gentile, fulfilling one of self-hating Jew Alexander’s deepest fantasies, but she’s also nicknamed “Monkey” because of her agility in bed. The nearly illiterate Mary Jane is a plaything for Alexander, who gets to feel superior while lecturing her about culture and virile while driving her wild during sex. Yet the more she pushes for a real relationship, the more he cuts at her self-image with sarcasm. Revealing that Alexander eventually drives Mary Jane to suicide doesn’t spoil Portnoy’s Complaint, because the movie is built around a therapy session during which Alexander explores his guilt over the way he treated Mary Jane. He also works through his relationship with his oppressive mother, Sophie (Lee Grant), as well as his addiction to masturbation.
          One must admire Lehman’s commitment to presenting Alexander so unflinchingly—and since Jack Nicholson got away with playing men like this many times, the no-prisoners approach had precedents. Yet very little in Portnoy’s Complaint works. The movie is fast and slick, but it’s neither erotic nor illuminating. Instead, it comes across like a misguided morality tale wrapped inside a dirty joke. Still, Portnoy’s Complaint features a wild array of acting styles. Black has a few supple moments before slipping into harpy mode; the hopelessly miscast Grant plays for the cheap seats; Jill Clayburgh lends fire to a small part as a woman invulnerable to Alexander’s charms; and Jeannie Berlin, best of all, lends humor and pathos to the role of a bedraggled woman whose encounter with Alexander goes awry.

Portnoy’s Complaint: FUNKY

Thursday, May 17, 2018

French Quarter (1978)



          Since the Crown International logo usually heralds low-budget movies that disappoint in predictable ways, it’s worth singling out French Quarter, which disappoints in unpredictable ways. At first, the movie adheres to the familiar little-girl-lost style, tracking a naïve young woman who stumbles into sex work. Then the picture makes a hard turn into period melodrama, with nearly an hour of the 101-minute film set in the 19th century. Nestled into the period material are subplots about a drug-addicted lesbian, a friendship between a white piano player and his black counterpart, and voodoo rituals. Both timelines feature auctions in which bidders compete for the privilege of deflowering a young woman. There’s a lot going on in French Quarter, so even though the movie is thoroughly contrived and silly, none could accuse the filmmakers of playing it safe.
          After her father dies, Christine (Alisha Fontaine) leaves her rural home and becomes an exotic dancer. One day, she’s drugged by a crook who plans to auction off Christine’s virginity. Then, by way of a hallucination or time travel or whatever, Christine becomes Trudy, the newest arrival at a New Orleans brothel. The same crisis ensues, with Trudy’s virginity getting put up for sale. Hope emerges in the form of a romance with Kid Ross (Bruce Davison), the new piano player in the brothel, who also bonds with black musician Jelly Roll (Vernel Bagneris). For reasons that defy understanding, co-writer/director Dennis Kane takes a prismatic approach to the story, exploring the lives of other prostitutes, some of whom have colorful names including “Big Butt Annie,” “Coke-Eyed Laura,” and “Ice Box Josie.” Yet Kane also makes room for lengthy stripping scenes, a Sapphic makeout session, and the aforementioned voodoo rituals. It’s a mess, with one scene attempting sensitive character work and the next presenting grindhouse sleaze, so French Quarter ultimately has little of interest for serious viewers.
          Those who savor bizarre cinema might find French Quarter more palatable. The cast blends starlets including Lindsay Bloom and Ann Michelle with cult-fave actors Bruce Davison and Lance LeGault—plus Virginia Mayo, a 1940s star appearing here in grand-dame mode. It should be noted that every so often, the picture almost gets something right, as in this hard-boiled voiceover: “If there’s one thing I know about New Orleans, anybody who wants something real bad is gonna get it real bad.” Incidentally, French Quarter came out the same year as Pretty Baby, a controversial studio picture with similar subject matter, and actor Don Hood plays minor roles in both films.

French Quarter: FUNKY

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Brotherly Love (1970)



          Adapted by James Kennaway from his play Country Dance (the title under which this British/American coproduction was released in the UK), Brotherly Love features Peter O’Toole at his most gloriously unhinged, with elegant Susannah York providing an effective counterpoint. The movie is long-winded, pretentious, and unpleasant, but in some ways those qualities are virtues—although Brotherly Love lacks true resonance, it has a certain sort of twisted integrity. The gist of the piece is that Sir Charles Ferguson (O’Toole) is a deranged aristocrat who enjoys complicating the relationship between his sister, Hilary (York), and her estranged husband, Douglas (Michael Craig), although none dare name the reason why until the final confrontation. By that point, of course, viewers have gleaned that Sir Charles’ affection for Hilary goes beyond the normal feelings of one sibling for another. Unanswered questions include how aware Hilary is of her brother’s incestuous interest, and how she truly feels about his ardor. In one scene, for instance, she rises from a bathtub so Sir Charles can drape her with a towel before removing his own modest covering and slipping into the bathwater.
          Woven into the storyline is a thread about Sir Charles attempting self-destruction, as when he deliberately fires a shotgun a few inches from his ear, and another thread about Sir Charles devolving into madness. O’Toole plays this psychosexual stuff with his usual mixture of authority and obnoxiousness. In some scenes, he’s remarkably sensitive as he weaves through complex dialogue and intricate behavior—but in other scenes, he simply shouts for emphasis, bludgeoning the already-questionable textures of Kennaway’s script. Not helping matters is the presence behind the camera of director J. Lee Thompson, a man best known for helming violent thrillers. He’s beyond his ken here, incapable of creating or maintaining a consistent tone. Thompson’s emphatic scenes are tiresome, and his quiet scenes are just tired. Only the dexterity of the cast and the visual interest of Scottish locations keep the piece watchable at its most undisciplined. That said, all involved deserve praise for the understated final showdown between Sir Charles, Douglas, and Hilary—that one moment, played in a dark basement, has the grounded anguish missing from the rest of the movie.

Brotherly Love: FUNKY

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Speeding Up Time (1971)



Blaxploitation sludge made on a pathetic budget, Speeding Up Time has something to do with a young writer tracking down the crooks who killed his mother by burning down her house while she was inside. Yet it’s a struggle to parse even that simple premise, given writer/director John Evans’ inept storytelling. Either he ran out of money or simply forgot to collect important footage, but either way, this film comes across as a the rough assembly for perhaps two-thirds of a movie, with zero effort put into creating placeholders or transitions to cover the gaps. The fact that Speeding Up Time found its way not only into theaters but also onto home video speaks more to the ravenous appetites of those exhibition platforms during the ’70s and ’80s than anything else. Anyway, here’s some of the nonsense that happens. Our hero, Marcus (played by the fabulously named Winston Thrash), visits a poet who inspires Marcus to repeat the phrase “I am prepared” several times. Prepared for what? Who knows? Who cares? Later Marcus wakes from a dream (or premonition or whatever) about his mom’s house burning down, then snaps at his mother for suggesting he settle down. After that, Marcus works on his writing in the bathroom until the toilet overflows, ruining his work. Wait, all this time I haven’t stored my only copies of documents on bathroom floors? I knew I was doing something wrong! Eventually, Marcus zooms his vintage car through a drive-in lot during a tepid chase scene, gets it on with a young lady during a crudely shot sex scene, and makes aggressive remarks to gangsters. Oh, and just to create the illusion of political relevance, he also spews some vaguely revolutionary jive.

Speeding Up Time: SQUARE

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Welcome Home Soldier Boys (1971)



          Something of a thematic predecessor to the Sylvester Stallone hit First Blood (1982), this grim melodrama depicts the travails of four Green Berets who return to the U.S. after service in Vietnam, only to discover that their personalities are so fundamentally changed by their harrowing overseas experiences that they no longer fit into normal society. Released amid the first wave of pictures exploring the impact of PTSD on Vietnam vets, writer-director Guerdon Trueblood’s movie has as many problems as it does virtues. The character work is thin, the psychology is dubious, and the story becomes cartoonish toward the end. Yet alongside Trueblood’s countless missteps are several vivid moments, a pervasive sense of melancholy, and a propulsive overall narrative—even though it’s hard to believe a lot of what happens, viewers never doubt that something terrible is imminent.
          Leading the vets is Danny (Joe Don Baker), a hulking country boy enamored of traveling to California with his comrade-in-arms, Kid (Alan Vint), in order to start new lives as farmers. The plan is to raise some hell along the way, accompanied by Fatback (Elliot Street) and Shooter (Paul Koslo). Viewers’ first clue that all is not right with the group occurs when they pick up a sexy hitchhiker, take turns with her, and toss her out of a moving car when she has the temerity to ask for money. The vets share a moment of panic before pressing onward as if they just narrowly escaped a skirmish with enemy combatants. Later, things get even more debauched when a creepy hotel clerk (Geoffrey Lewis) gives the vets the run of his place while also providing a steady supply of booze and women. By the time the group reaches Danny’s childhood home, they’ve crossed some point of no return, morally speaking. Violence becomes inevitable.
          It’s hard to imagine what Trueblood might have done differently to put this thing over, since Welcome Home Soldier Boys operates well outside human reality for much of its running time, and the climax is as outrageous as it is disquietingat some point the picture transitions from metaphorical to silly. Nonetheless, the actors, Baker especially, convey a sense of tragedy, as if the vets don’t realize how deeply years of killing for Uncle Sam scarred their souls. The vets also seem bewildered by the scorn they encounter from civilians. In one scene, Danny reveals to a woman that he’s killed 113 people. She laughs. Small moments like that resonate even when Trueblood’s clumsy attempts at grandiosity don’t.

Welcome Home Soldier Boys: FUNKY

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Bridge in the Jungle (1971)



Here’s one of cinema’s stranger footnotes. More than 20 years after directing The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), John Huston participated in another adaptation of a novel by B. Traven. Yet this time Huston’s involvement was limited to acting, and that’s where the connections between the two films end, despite claims in online and print sources that The Bridge in the Jungle is a sequel to Sierra Madre. It is not. The Bridge in the Jungle tells two stories that intersect awkwardly. First the picture follows Gales (Charles Robinson), an alcoholic hunter who ventures into more and more dangerous areas to claim valuable crocodile hides. He encounters Sleigh (Huston), an American expat who settled in a small Mexican village, and it emerges that Gales is on a revenge mission. Just when this storyline starts cooking, The Bridge in the Jungle lurches into a separate plot about a young Mexican mother fretting over the disappearance and possible drowning of her son. Huh? Writer, producer, and director Pancho Kohner captures lots of local color, but he’s inhibited by the meandering narrative and by an overreliance on amateurish actors. The latter problem is exacerbated by the presence of old pros Huston and Katy Jurado. Worse, the entertainment value of watching Huston growl crotchety dialogue (“You crocodile hunters are a seedy, ignorant bunch”) wears off once it becomes clear his character is tangential at best. As a result of its myriad storytelling problems, the movie carries an unpleasant aroma of pointlessness, even though the technical execution is fine.

The Bridge in the Jungle: LAME

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Not the End . . .


Exactly seven and a half years after I started this project, today marks the conclusion of daily posting here at Every ’70s Movie—but that doesn’t mean the project is done. Regular readers should think of today as the beginning of a new phase. After all, the subject matter of this blog is finite: There were only so many American-produced feature films released on U.S. screens between January 1, 1970, and December 31, 1979, especially if one excludes hardcore porn. While my parameters also encompass key documentaries and foreign films, as well as a representative sample of made-for-TV movies, it was inevitable that I would hit a wall in terms of getting access to films for review purposes. As of this writing, I have pathways to seeing about a dozen more titles, and I’ll get to those over the course of the next month or so. I might also parachute back into the realm of TV movies and write up a few interesting titles that caught my attention while conducting research. And of course I welcome suggestions from readers about “new” titles—after seven and a half years of investigating this topic, nothing surprises me more than learning about some film that escaped my notice. Generally speaking, however, if a ’70s movie isn’t on this blog (notwithstanding the aforementioned in-progress reviews), it’s because the film isn’t readily available through home video or streaming or a reputable archive. Please contact me if you know of a legitimate video source for an obscure title. Anyway, that’s all for now, but I’ll be back next week to kick off the new phase—occasional reviews as movies become available. Until then, as always, keep on keepin’ on!

Apple Pie (1976)



          Stating that Apple Pie isn’t the weirdest ’70s transmission from Manhattan’s artistic fringe might be accurate, but the remark downplays the films peculiarity. For while Apple Pie mostly lacks the psychosexual perversity one usually associates with grungy 16-millimeter experiments issuing from Alphabet City squats or SoHo lofts, the picture is strange enough to alienate most viewers. Yet after weaving its way through a number of bizarre situations, some of which have a John Waters-esque satirical edge and some of which are merely freeform expressions, writer-director Howard Goldberg’s movie resolves into an epic musical number, resulting in several of the most joyous minutes you’ll encounter in ’70s cinema. On a personal note, that represents what I’ve enjoyed most about this project: making unexpected discoveries through persistent archaeology.
          Goldberg builds Apple Pie around Tony Azito, a Julliard-trained actor/dancer who found most of his success on the stage but also enjoyed a minor screen career in the ’80s and ’90s prior to his death at the age of 46 in 1995. Playing a number of characters, most prominently an eccentric rich kid who occasionally flits around town in a bat costume, Azito is in nearly every scene, and he’s an unlikely leading man. Gangly and very tall, with a gaunt face and a receding hairline, he’s the physical type most directors would cast as a background creep. Azito modulates his voice absurdly, like he’s either channeling psychosis or practicing different cartoon characters. He shimmies his body at random intervals, as if he’s having seizures or indulging sudden urges to boogie. Therefore one of Apple Pie’s most intriguing (or infuriating) aspects is that Goldberg lets Tony be Tony, no matter where the performers singular muse takes him.
          If youre wondering why the plot of the film hasn’t yet been described, it’s because only certain portions of Apple Pie have contiguous narrative. The first scenes involve a gangster of some sort meeting with cronies (one of whom is played by future David Letterman costar Calvert DeForrest). Then the picture shifts into its most heavily plotted sequence, during which Jacques (Azito) fakes his own kidnapping in order to rob his parents. (Playing Jacques’ father is NYC oddball Brother Theodore.) This material transitions into a performance-art/surrealism passage, during which Jacques (in his bat costume) meets a bunch of artists on a rooftop. One of them, played by future TV star Veronica Hamel, wears an outlandish costume and demonstrates her talent: causing her face to disappear. It’s all quite bewildering, especially because of Azito’s goofy dialogue (“I don’t cry when I’m watching porno—I’m into emotional S&M!”). Plus what’s a downtown freakshow without at least one scene of characters smearing each other with food? This stuff goes on and on and on, even though Apple Pie is only 80 minutes long, until Goldberg segues into his final sequence.
          As bright as the rest of the film is dark, the final sequence is a dance number on a city street. Azito strolls onto the block, coaxes kids to start banging out a rhythm with found objects, and starts dancing. Then others join the fun—women exiting a restaurant, locals stepping out of their homes, even a wino climbing up from a pile of garbage. Once it reaches cruising altitude, the scene is a happy explosion, with some dancers on cars and fire escapes, all grooving to the same rhythm. Others have suggested this scene inspired a similar moment in Fame (1980), noting that Irene Cara, who starred in that picture, is one of the dancers in the finale of Apple Pie. Be that as it may, the dance jam is almost reason enough for those who dislike downtown artiness to explore Apple Pie. If nothing else, the dance jam is a great showcase for Azito, who later earned a Tony nomination for a 1980 revival of The Pirates of Penzance. The man could move.

Apple Pie: FREAKY

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Antonio (1973)



          Parallel to his music career, affable Tejano singer Trini Lopez dabbled in acting for movies and TV, notably appearing in The Dirty Dozen (1967). Apparently eager for a starring role, Lopez produced this low-budget comedy, which was shot entirely in Chile. He plays a naïve potter who lives in a small seaside village with his wife and their young son. One day, a boisterous American (Larry Hagman) arrives by boat in the local port and unloads precious cargo—a brand-new Mercedes. When the car malfunctions, Antonio keeps the wayward American company. When Hagman’s character grows impatient with life in a tiny town and makes other travel arrangements, he gives the inoperative car to Antonio. Most of the story dramatizes complications that the illusion of sudden wealth creates for a man who lives among desperately impoverished neighbors. So in essence, this is an old-fashioned fairy tale capped with a twist ending. Alas, many aspects of Antonio are questionable, from the thin story to amateurish supporting performances.
          Characterizations are a special problem, because nearly everyone onscreen is one-dimensional, beginning with the blandly saint-like Antonio. Since the sole exception is Hagman’s character, it’s probable Hagman embellished his scenes—wearing a gaudy fringe jacket and decorating moments with comedic eye-rolls and face-plants, Hagman tears through the movie like a tornado. Yet this is Lopez’s show, and he’s not up to the task. Alternating between a confused grimace and a dopey smile, Antonio seems too childlike to function in the real world, and most of his decisions are foolish—not least the arbitrary choice to drop everything in order to entertain a stranger. That Antonio occasionally picks up a guitar to sing a bouncy song in that familiar Trini Lopez style merely adds to the clumsiness of the film. If Antonio is sophisticated enough to play and sing pop songs, then why . . . ? Pondering these sorts of things is likely beside the point. Antonio is a gentle homily designed for undemanding viewers, and as such it’s basically adequate.

Antonio: FUNKY