Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Savage Weekend (1979)

It’s hard to say which scene epitomizes Savage Weekend. Is it the moment when a woman gets aroused while pumping milk from a cow’s teats? Or is it the vignette of a gay man getting such a twisted thrill by watching straight people have sex that he grips barbed wire till his hands bleed? Although lots of vaguely provocative things happen in Savage Weekend, the movie as a whole is befuddling, dull, and even a little bit pretentious. Like most pictures with similar subject matter, Savage Weekend—also known as The Upstate Murders—contains many ugly episodes of violence against women, as well as a generally perverse fixation on brutality. Yet unlike, say, John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), this flick isn’t made with sufficient aptitude to merit either close examination or righteous indignation. It’s just another hack job by folks who, conceivably, could have made something worthwhile if they’d pulled their minds out of the cinematic gutter. Oh, well. The plot involves a group of friends, all professional people well into adulthood, trekking from New York City to an upstate forest for a weekend getaway. As they play out various psychosexual dramas, a crazed killer with a penchant for weird masks murders them one by one. A generous viewer might say there’s novelty here, since the victims aren’t kids and one of the characters is gay, but such generosity seems wasted given that Savage Weekend is a shapeless compendium of gore and smut, none of it exciting to watch. But, hey, maybe you like the idea of seeing future Newhart star William Sanderson portray a rural psychotic. In that case, however,  youre better off watching him in 1977s race-relations potboiler Fight for Your Life, which is even sleazier and a whole lot more coherent.

Savage Weekend: LAME

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Redeemer: Son of Satan! (1978)

          Those who enjoy the bizarre horror movies of Don Coscarelli (especially 1979’s Phantasm) might also enjoy The Redeemer: Son of Satan! Fitting the overheated title, this peculiar low-budget shocker has both allegorical and artistic elements, suggesting that writer William Vernick and director Constantine S. Gochis envisioned something deep and metaphorical, rather than just a parade of bloody kills. That they didn’t achieve their goal is almost beside the point. Like one of Coscarelli’s strange pictures, The Redeemer has lots of interesting (if half-baked) ideas, as well as a generally surrealistic vibe. It’s perhaps giving the filmmakers too much credit to say The Redeemer feels like a transcript of a nightmare, since some plot components are straightforward, but I found myself paying fairly close attention simply because I was curious to see whether everything came together in the end. It didn’t, at least not in any way I could recognize, but the journey was somewhat interesting nonetheless.
          Broadly, the story has something to do with a supernatural figure punishing a bunch of people who were jerks in high school by luring them back to the school for a reunion and murdering them, one by one, in elaborate ways. There’s also some weird business about a supernatural child who emerges from a lake, as well as a recurring motif tracking how the moral scales are rebalanced with each successive death. Parts of The Redeemer resemble a standard-issue gorefest, as when a knife drops from a ceiling and stabs deep into a victim’s head. Other parts are symbolic, like the sequences with a killer who wears a skull mask and swings a scythe. And then there are moments that seem not to make any sense at all. (Watch out for a frozen corpse and maggots and other unpleasant images.) The acting is meh, not a big deal given the shallow characterizations, and the fact that Gochis never made another movie correctly indicates the limitations of his skillset. Still, in a cinematic landscape filled with pointlessly ugly horror movies, anything with a hint of serious intent deserves praise for treating the genre as something more than a vehicle for cheap thrills.

The Redeemer: Son of Satan!: FUNKY

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Thank You!

Greetings to readers Roger B., Jeffrey R., Greg L., Matthew M., and Peter R., all of whom recently made much-appreciated donations to Every ’70s Movie. This money goes toward tracking down hard-to-find titles and helping to realize this blog’s goal of reviewing as many films from the ’70s as possible. (The donors’ last names have been withheld in order to protect them from spammers.) As I mentioned in a special post earlier this month, this blog recently entered its final stage after celebrating seven years of continuous publication. The current seven-reviews-a-week format, in place since October of 2010, will run its course by March of next year, perhaps sooner. Meantime, there are still titles to see—a few of which are only available for purchase—so every little bit of support to help fulfill this blog’s mission is welcome. Thanks again!

The Invincible Six (1970)

          To calibrate expectations appropriately, this Magnificent Seven knockoff takes place in Iran, and Elke Sommer—yes, the curvy German ice queen—plays a local, at one point fretting to an American tough guy, “You foreigners are so slow to learn our Persian ways.” Whatever you say, fräulein. Low-budget junk featuring a hodgepodge of second-rate international actors, The Invincible Six is borderline watchable, because after the confusing and dull first act, things resolve into a familiar formula, with a gang of crooks joining forces to defend a village against a local menace. Although the storytelling never takes flight, thanks to laughably thin characterizations and substandard plotting, the screen eventually fills with explosions, gunfights, and macho standoffs. Oh, and Sommer does a topless scene, but given the déclassé context, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. As for the aforementioned international actors, American leading man Stuart Whitman gets the most screen time, and the supporting players include James Mitchum, Germany’s Curd Jürgens, and England’s Ian Ogilvy.
          The picture starts off, awkwardly, with a heist, because Tex (Whitman) and Ronald (Ogilvy) try to boost Iran’s crown jewels. That doesn’t work out, so they become fugitives, eventually connecting with Baron (Jürgens) and other lowlifes in the Iranian desert. The gang finds refuge in a village perpetually besieged by marauder Nazar (Mitchum) and his goons. Around this time viewers meet Zari (Sommer), who switches allegiances from one powerful man to the next, thereby forming a credibility-stretching romantic triangle with Nazar and Tex. Or something like that. Directed indifferently by Jean Negulesco, who won an Oscar in the ’40s but was far past his prime here, The Invincible Six was edited in a slapdash manner, so never mind trying to follow the particulars of the story. Better to shut off your brain and enjoy the dumb barrage of sex and violence. However, if you have the slightest inkling you can live without The Invincible Six, then rest assured you can.

The Invincible Six: FUNKY

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Stingray (1978)

          Lighthearted action/comedy silliness with amiable young heroes, colorful villains, a fast-moving storyline, and a smidgen of nasty violence, Stingray hits pleasure centers without actually engaging viewer’s brains. At 100 minutes, it’s a big long for a dopey romp, and none would ever mistake leading man Christopher Mitchum—son of Robert—for a fine actor. That said, Stingray may well contain the most enjoyable performance ever given by Sherry Jackson, a ’50s child star who grew up to become an alluring starlet in TV shows and B-movies of the ’60s and ’70s. (Fans of a certain age may recall her eye-popping appearance in a barely-there costume during a goofy episode of the original Star Trek series.) In Stingray, Jackson plays an all-business criminal with a psychotic streak, and she leans into the role so winningly that it’s a wonder her work here didn’t lead to better opportunities.
          The simple plot begins when crooks dump something into a Corvette Stingray on a used-car lot just before they’re arrested. Two young guys, Al (Mitchem) and Elmo (Les Lannom), buy the car soon afterward, unaware of the illicit cargo. Enter Abigail Bratowski (Jackson), the crooks’ ruthless boss, who first appears disguised as a nun even though she’s smoking and swearing up a storm. Myriad episodes of high-speed pursuit ensue, with interludes of bar fights and shootouts and the like. Through it all, Abigail is consistently fierce, knocking off bystanders and enemies while spewing lines of this sort: “Roscoe, hand me that clip of explosive shells!”
          Some sequences in Stingray are dull and others are dumb, because every so often the filmmakers forget the sort of picture they’re making and try to present something serious. Happily, they usually snap back to form before too long. And while no one in the cast besides Jackson really pops, everyone hits the right one-dimensional notes, as when portly Cliff Emmich, playing one of the villains, freaks out in a forest and shoots his gun at irksome mosquitoes. Better still, Mitchum and Lammon get to play a cartoonishly suspenseful scene together in the finale. Until then, it’s all about Jackson incarnating a sexy badass.

Stingray: FUNKY

Friday, October 27, 2017

My Lover, My Son (1970)

          Seeing as how My Lover, My Son is more of a melodrama than a mystery-thriller, the way the title reveals a central narrative conceit isn’t problematic. After all, beautiful Francesca (Romy Schneider) lavishes inappropriate attention on her adult son, James (Dennis Waterman), within the first few minutes of the picture. What ensues is partly a study of the psychosexual wounds that provoked the incestuous affair and partly a potboiler about the extremes to which circumstances drive the participants in the relationship. That the picture climaxes with a sensationalistic murder trial gives some idea of the vibe, though My Lover, My Son leavens its lurid elements with a somewhat meditative approach. Although the picture doesn’t work, it periodically draws viewers into the minds of Francesca, so traumatized by past tragedy that she can’t tell right from wrong, and James, hopelessly torn between his abnormal fixation on his mother and his regular-dude impulses to begin a romance with a woman his own age. And since the film is impressive in terms of acting and technical execution, nearly all the faults reside in the murky storyline.
          Things get off to a cloudy start with a weird dream sequence/flashback/hallucination during which Francesca recalls the death of her lover, who dove into a pond and cracked his head on something underwater. In the present, Francesca fixates on James, whom we later learn is the son of the lover she lost. Meanwhile, Francesca’s husband, a traveling businessman very much worried about social perception, snaps once Francesca begins making public displays with her son, such as dancing way too close in a nightclub. The story wanders in other directions, notably to James’ troubled relationship with pretty blonde Julie (Patricia Blake), but a violent crime ultimately forces mother and son to deal with the repercussions of their intimate involvement. Schneider’s elegant presence elevates the material, if only slightly, and some viewers may find themselves ensnared by the movie’s engagement with big topics ranging from bereavement to destiny. It’s a heady mix of themes, no matter how clumsy the storytelling.

My Lover, My Son: FUNKY

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Invasion from Inner Earth (1974)

In recent years, producer Jason Blum has made a fortune with so-called “contained horror” movies, stories that often unfold within the confines of a single location. When it works, the formula is ingenious, reflecting universal fears about the dangers of the outside world visiting us where we feel safest. Yet before the term “contained horror” came into being, lesser filmmakers than Blum tried similar maneuvers, often with disastrous results. Hence garbage on the order of Invasion from Inner Earth, a no-budget regional production about dudes hiding in the Canadian woods while signs indicate that some sort of supernatural disaster is unfolding elsewhere. Things get off to a rocky start with confusing scenes introducing several interchangeable characters, but eventually one half-decent scene happens—while in a tiny plane approaching a remote airstrip, characters receive radio warnings not to land because some terrible plague is killing people at the airstrip. This being a bad horror movie, the folks in the plane land anyway, and vague intimations of carnage ensue. The team behind this schlocky venture didn’t put much cash into special effects, so we never really see monsters—just lots of colorful lights and repetitive music indicating the presence of monsters—and the characters are so witless that most of the movie comprises people wandering around the same handful of locations and muttering, “What’s going on?” Even patrons of bad cinema are encouraged to avoid Invasion from Inner Earth, since there’s so little to grasp here it’s difficult to muster ironic amusement.

Invasion from Inner Earth: SQUARE

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Sweater Girls (1978)

Teen lust permeated the whole ’50s-nostaligia craze, but perhaps because the family-friendly TV show Happy Days (1974–1984) became the dominant image of this particular ’70s fad, there’s a tendency to think of ’50s throwbacks as wholesome. Projects like Sweater Girls put lie to that. A tacky sex comedy with interchangeable characters, repetitive episodes, and sleazy vignettes of girls removing their tight sweaters so they can chitty-chat while wearing only bras, Sweater Girls is all about the way hormones drive adolescents wild. Whereas better ’50s throwbacks place youthful longing into a larger sociocultural context, Sweater Girls is single-minded to a fault. That’s a shame, because the premise reflected in the movie’s title should have been the launching pad for naughty fun. After one too many episodes of boyfriends getting handsy at the drive-in or the malt shop, several high-school girls form a club called “The Sweater Girls,” vowing to protect their chastity. The good version of this premise might have taken a satirical path, depicting an experiment with feminism years before the concept went national. Instead, Sweater Girls creates one heavy-petting scenario after another, snuffing any hope of expressing a resonant theme. In one bit, a girl gets her guy hot and bothered, then strands him naked in the woods by stealing his car. Even leaning into that direction—punishing the boys for taking their girlfriends’ sexual availability for granted—would have been something. Alas, Sweater Girls is as formless as it is pointless, especially when it gets mired in dopey gags about stupid cops and public urination.

Sweater Girls: LAME

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Holiday Hookers (1976)

          Don’t let the ghastly title—or the equally terrible American-release poster—give you the wrong impression about this Italian sex comedy, which features American star Ernest Borgnine in a supporting role. The original title translates to Christmas Time in a Brothel, an improvement, and the alternate US moniker, best of all, is Love By Appointment. To muddy the waters even more, it’s a stretch to call this movie, by any name, a comedy. It’s more of a sad character study executed with a light touch—and, naturally, a fair amount of sex. After all, French beauty Corinne Cléry, who costars, rarely managed to stay dressed in her ’70s movies, and Holiday Hookers is no exception. Summarizing, Holiday Hookers isn’t the sleazy enterprise one might expect, and yet it’s also not entirely respectable. Confused? Welcome to the club.
          The picture revolves around Nira (Françoise Fabian), an aging madam who runs a high-class brothel out of her luxury apartment. After years of serving a selective and wealthy clientele, Nira plans to leave the business because her lover is about to be released from prison, and she hopes to begin a quiet new life with him. But bills must be paid in the meantime, so Nira manages a few girls and sets her eyes on a neighbor, beautiful young mother Senine (Cléry), as a possible new recruit. Then things get complicated. Longtime client Max (Borgnine) has a coronary while he’s with one of Nira’s girls and develops a fixation on the uninterested prostitute after he recovers. Another client gets hooked on Roxy (Norma Jordan), who works for kicks instead of pay—on the condition she never sees the same client twice. And then there’s the Senine problem. After wooing her neighbor into the sex trade, Nira grows frustrated when Senine becomes addicted to big money and sexual power.
          Directed by Armando Nannuzzi, an award-winning cinematographer who only helmed two films, Holiday Hookers reflects conflicting impulses. The lurid subject matter and plentiful nude scenes nearly quality Holiday Hookers as an exploitation flick, but few exploitation flicks are this careful and sensitive about characterization. We get to know the people in this movie fairly well, and we even grow to care about some of them. For example, Borgnine poignantly sketches a lonely businessman, and Fabian effectively illustrates the way Nira’s life is built on self-delusion. Plus there’s the downbeat ending, which lands thematically instead of merely delivering a shock. This is far from the deepest story ever told about the oldest profession, but the picture has just enough soul (and sauciness) to reward a casual viewing.

Holiday Hookers: FUNKY

Monday, October 23, 2017

Keep My Grave Open (1977)

Ignore the provocatively ambiguous title of this low-budget shocker, because the title has virtually nothing to do with the storyline. Instead of concerning the undead, Keep My Grave Open is a mildly kinky thriller about a deranged woman obsessed with her dead brother, with whom she once had (or imagined she had) an incestuous relationship. If director S.F. Brownrigg and his collaborators had leaned into the perverse aspects of this premise, they could have conjured a grungy little psychological thriller. Instead, they opted for cheap jolts thanks to the presence of an unseen axe murderer, the true identity of which is so obvious there was no reason for obfuscation. That said, leading lady Camilla Carr deserves a certain respect for the intensity of her performance, because while her acting isn’t necessarily skillful, it’s sufficiently uninhibited to create the desired queasy mood. Of particular note is a long scene during which she imagines being ravaged by her sibling—the camera shoots closely from the POV of the phantom lover, lowering toward Carr’s face with each trust, and Carr never breaks her illusion of twisted reverie. The other semi-noteworthy aspect of Keep My Grave Open is the presence of supporting player Stephen Tobolowsky, later to emerge as one of Hollywood’s most reliable character actors. (Among many familiar roles, he’s Ned Ryerson in 1993’s beloved Groundhog Day.) Tobolowsky doesn’t do much of interest here, but it’s a kick to see him youthful and hirsute. As for the movie itself, Keep My Grave Open consistently underwhelms, with fleeting moments of lurid nastiness lost in the haze of dull and repetitive storytelling.

Keep My Grave Open: LAME

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Dear Dead Delilah (1972)

          Southern Gothic horror made on the cheap, Dear Dead Delilah is just the movie for people who think Tennessee Williams-style stories would benefit from the addition of sleazy grindhouse violence. Like a Williams story, the picture tracks the adventures of a dysfunctional clan, but unlike a Williams story, the source of familial conflict isn’t psychosexual tension but rather garden-variety greed. The central notion is that a dying matriarch taunts her craven relatives by challenging them to find $600,000 buried somewhere on a sprawling estate. Since whoever finds the money gets to keep it all, the fact that someone begins murdering family members seems perfectly normal to everyone involved, hence their refusal to contact authorities. (It’s a schlocky horror flick—just go with it.) The X factor is newly hired housekeeper Luddy (Patricia Carmichael), a disturbed woman recently released from the institution where she lived for many years after murdering her mother. Is Luddy the killer? Or just another victim caught in the matriarch’s cruel game? Whether you care about the answers to those questions probably depends on your tolerance for a piquant mixture of hammy overacting and ridiculous gore.
          The picture begins with a prologue in which Luddy kills her mom, then picks up with Luddy’s release. She happens upon folks headed to the home of Delilah (Agnes Moorhead), a bitchy invalid who hires Luddy as a caretaker. Delilah loves tormenting her wicked relatives, including drug-addicted Alonzo (Dennis Patrick) and money-hungry Morgan (Michael Ansara). Also in the mix is Delilah’s avuncular lawyer, Roy (Will Geer). Eventually, the blood and body parts start flying, with poor Luddy caught in the middle—or not.
          Given the campy storyline and ugly production values, the appeal here mostly stems from the acting. Moorehead, never averse to cartoonish flamboyance, devours the scenery, while Ansara and Patrick keep pace with florid performances. At times, Dear Dead Delilah gets so emphatic as to seem like a TV soap opera, complete with characters walking meaningfully to the foreground for long monologues or spewing lines like this one: “Don’t talk to me that way, you miserable little opportunist!” Like her character, Carmichael is the element that seems out of place; whereas the other players look normal, she wears such deep rings around her eyes that she looks as if she’s half-raccoon. While Dear Dead Delilah is quite dumb, it’s not impossible to zone out during the drab scenes and mindlessly groove on moments charged with hammy performances and Grand Guignol excess.

Dear Dead Delilah: FUNKY

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Cain’s Cutthroats (1970)

          Revenge is the focus in this grubby, low-budget Western, but don’t get your hopes up for something metaphorically vital in the mode of, say, a good Clint Eastwood oater or even a pulpy Lee Van Cleef offering. This one’s strictly by-the-numbers, so were it not for the presence of R-rated sex and violence, Cain’s Cutthroats—also known as Cain’s Way—would seem like an episode of some generic TV series. The biggest name in the cast is John Carradine, who plays a supporting role, and in the movie’s only novelty factor involves seeing Carradine play a somewhat normal character. After all, he spent much of his late career playing underwritten crazies and drunks and ghouls. Despite his second billing, bland he-man Scott Brady is the film’s actual star. He portrays Justice Cain (yes, that’s really the character’s name), a former soldier who declares a vendetta against his onetime colleagues after they wrong him. Specifically, the men who previously served under Cain’s command form a criminal gang and seek his leadership. When he refuses, they retaliate by gang-raping and murdering his wife, then leaving him for dead. Predictably, he survives and sets out to balance the scales.
          The premise of Cain’s Cutthroats is okay, and more adept filmmakers could have taken the material in worthy directions, such as exploring the moral gray areas between killing for one’s country and killing for one’s personal enrichment. Instead of visiting that lofty terrain, the folks behind Cain’s Cutthroats wallow in the mud of human depravity. The criminals are portrayed as filthy idiots, spitting and swearing whenever they’re not squabbling with each other. The rape scene features sensationalistic nudie shots, as does a subplot featuring the curvy woman who travels with Cain for spell. As for how Carradine fits into the mix, he plays a preacher who is also a bounty hunter, so his character also travels with Cain. A number of far superior films tell similar stories, including Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), so while Cain’s Cutthroats is hardly the worst movie of its type, one is hard-pressed to put forth a compelling reason to watch the thing.

Cain’s Cutthroats: FUNKY

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Magic of Lassie (1978)

The last of several films written by brothers Richard and Robert Sherman, better known as the tunesmiths of such projects as Mary Poppins (1964), family adventure The Magic of Lassie bludgeons the enduring canine franchise with cutesy songs, manipulative plotting, and the sentimental casting of beloved actors from the past. Nearly every heart-tugging cliché you can imagine is represented here, from crying children to scenes of a beautiful dog in danger. And then there are the songs. Whereas good Sherman tunes are innocent fun, bad ones—the only type on display here—are like power drills to the cerebral cortex. The mawkish plot revolves around kind-hearted geezer Clovis (James Stewart), who runs a small winery while raising his grandchildren, Chris (Michael Sharrett) and Kelly (Stephanie Zimbalist). Lassie is their pet. One day, evil businessman Jamison (Pernell Roberts) asks to buy the vineyard. Clovis refuses. Yet something about Lassie seems familiar to Jamison. Turns out that Jamison breeds champion Collies, and that Lassie a runaway from a past litter. You get the idea—Jamison seizes Lassie, heartbroken Chris leaves home to look for the dog, and Lassie escapes Jamison’s grip, beginning a perilous journey home. It’s all a prelude to the inevitable tear-filled reunions. And the scenes featuring original Sherman songs are so sickly-sweet that some viewers might experience diabetic shock. Mickey Rooney, who appears in a dumb subplot about an aging wrestler and his manager, talk-sings a couple of numbers, as does Stewart. Worse, both Debby and Pat Boone warble tunes, though neither appears onscreen.

The Magic of Lassie: LAME

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Starhops (1978)

Never mind the title or the Star Wars-ish opening text crawl—the only celestial things in this grubby sex comedy are the stars emblazoned on swimsuits worn by the main characters while serving customers at a drive-in restaurant. After owner Jerry (Dick Miller) quits the business, two of his waitresses, Angel (Jillian Kesner) and Cupcake (Sterling Frazier), take over. They spruce up the place, hire French cook Danielle (Dorothy Buhrman), and switch to barely-there costumes. Meanwhile, an evil businessman who wants to build a gas station at the drive-in’s location sends his son, Norman (Paul Ryan), to sabotage the restaurant from within. This leads to the scene during which he plants frogs and rats throughout the kitchen during a health inspection. Whatever. All the hallmarks of low-rent sexploitation are present in Starhops, from bad acting to leering camera angles to tacky sex puns. Perhaps because both the writer and director are female, the movie (which was released in both R- and PG-rated versions), stops short of the softcore humping one usually finds in pictures of this ilk. Nonetheless, it’s hard to praise Starhops for restraint given the lowbrow nature of the humor. In one scene, Norman gets hot and bothered while misinterpreting an overheard conversation between Danielle and a plumber who’s trying to wedge something into a pipe. Hearing Danielle exclaim “It will not fit—it is too big!” prompts Norman strip off his clothes, rush to Danielle, and suggest a threesome. Excepting the too-brief sequence featuring Miller at his manic best, Starhops offers all the shortcomings of the sex-comedy genre and none of the thrills.

Starhops: LAME

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Mouse and His Child (1977)

          The gulf between good and bad children’s entertainment is wide, but generally speaking, the bad stuff reflects cynicism (as if putting any old cutesy slop in front of kids is sufficient for making a buck) whereas the good stuff reflects the higher calling of exposing children to noble values. The preceding is a prosaic way of saying that even though animated feature The Mouse and His Child is not nearly as delightful as its makers presumably hoped it would be, the movie represents an attempt to do all the right things. It’s clever and fantastical and sweet, using the sugar of bright colors and lively music and wild characters to coat the pill of worthy themes. Whenever the picture falls short, it’s not for lack of trying.
          Based on a novel by Russell Hoban, the movie begins in a toy shop, where the conjoined wind-up toys of an adult mouse (voiced by Alan Barzman) and his offspring (voiced by Marcy Swenson) achieve consciousness for the first time. The idea seems to be that they were recently created by the store’s owner, thus becoming sentient. Through convoluted circumstances, the mice leave the store for the outside world, beginning a long adventure during which they’re exploited by a sewer-dwelling rodent crook, Manny the Rat (Peter Ustinov), and befriended by various other creatures. There’s an existential quality to the toys’ journey, since they seek to become “self-winding,” a concept pregnant with metaphorical implications. At its deepest/trippiest, The Mouse and His Child features a scene of the mice, underwater, becoming hypnotized by an infinity painting that adorns the label of a dog-food can. Similarly, the mice encounter a philosophical turtle whose dialogue is so rarified he mentions “works cited.”
          It’s all a bit formless and meandering, but none would ever accuse the folks behind this picture of condescending to youthful viewers. The animation is relatively detailed, not quite to the Disney standard but fairly lush, and the voice cast features several familiar names. (Besides Ustinov, participants include Neville Brand, John Carradine, Andy Devine, Sally Kellerman, and Cloris Leachman,) A handful of unmemorable songs decorate the soundtrack, as well. All things considered, it’s not difficult to imagine that The Mouse and His Child means something to people who saw it back in the day, and perhaps even to some who discovered it later. If not actually special, it is at the very least a respectable effort.

The Mouse and His Child: FUNKY

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

If You Don’t Stop It . . . You’ll Go Blind!!! (1975) & Can I Do It . . . ’Til I Need Glasses? (1977)

          The era of the Sexual Revolution unleashed a lot of ribald comedy, some of it culturally relevant and some of it merely vulgar, so something on the order of If You Don’t Stop It . . . You’ll Go Blind!!! was probably inevitable. A fast-moving compendium of crude sketches, the movie essentially adds pictures to a bunch of naughty one-liners, with most scenes lasting less than a minute. Barely any pretense is made of appealing to female viewers, or for that matter anyone but straight dudes, so women are largely portrayed as conniving, horny, or stupid. Similarly, shots of naked ladies are prevalent. The production values are roughly that of a low-end TV variety show, and the style is painfully broad, so the sum effect is numbing—any glimmers of wit are obscured by the adolescent sensibility permeating the whole enterprise. That said, things got much worse in the movie’s sequel (more on that in a minute), so it’s only fair to mention that some bits are passable.
          Consider the musical number in which underemployed hookers sing a tune with the refrain, “We’ve gotta get back on our backs!” Not brilliant, but mildly clever. Alas, most scenes fall short of that mark. A man runs screaming down a hospital hallway, followed by a nurse carrying a metal pot, so a nearby doctor exclaims, “Nurse Owens, I told you to prick his boil!” A gay man at a clinic complains that sex is “a pain in the ass.” A man in an elevator says to the woman ahead of him, “Ballroom, please,” to which she replies, “Sorry, I didn’t realize I was crowding you.” Taken separately, any one of these bits might be amusing in an I-hate-myself-for-laughing-at-this sort of way, but taken together, they’re exhausting. (The less said about the closing musical number, “Don’t Fuck Around With Love,” the better.) Most of the players are unknowns, though busty sex-flick regular Uschi Digard appears, as does second-rate Hollywood funnyman Pat McCormick.
          The diminishing-returns sequel Can I Do It . . . ’Til I Need Glasses? again comprises brief sketches. Brief descriptions of a few sequences should paint the unappealing picture. A chipper “story lady” reads the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, which culminates with Red lamenting that the Big Bad Wolf wants to consume her flesh instead of getting frisky: “Jesus,” she wails, “doesn’t anybody like to fuck anymore?” A guy walks into an IRS office wearing only a barrel, then walks out naked. A husband answers his doorbell, greets a rapist, and calls to his wife, “Honey, it’s for you.” A lengthy vignette featuring “The Lone Stranger and Pronto” revolves around Pronto’s shocked realization that he must suck poison from Kimosabe’s rattlesnake wound—which is located on the masked man’s penis. And so on. Robin Williams shot scenes for Can I Do It that were not used in the original release, but after he achieved fame, his footage was inserted for a theatrical reissue and subsequent home-video exhibition. Even though Williams never let decorum get in the way of a joke, it’s a bummer that Can I Do It endures in posterity as his first credit.

If You Don’t Stop It . . . You’ll Go Blind: LAME
Can I Do It . . . ’Til I Need Glasses?: LAME

Monday, October 16, 2017

Every ’70s Movie Seven Years Old!

It’s good-news/bad-news time. The good news it that, unlikely as it might have seemed when this project launched seven years ago, I’m close to my goal of reviewing every movie from the 1970s that I can track down (and that meets my criteria favoring American-made theatrical features). For those who dig numbers, I’ve identified approximately 2,700 titles that fit the criteria, of which more than 2,300 have been reviewed thus far. Best guess at this particular moment is that about 300 movies will escape my grasp, as a fair number of minor titles have disappeared from mainstream distribution. So, give or take any discoveries I might make in the intervening period, about 100 to 150 more movies will be reviewed, in addition to those already written up and awaiting publication. My guestimate of when the blog will cease regular publication is March of next year, though depending on what happens after that—I’m presently exploring the possibility of republication in book form—some erratic dribs and drabs might follow the cessation of daily posting. And that, of course, is the bad news—the end of this mad project is near. To that point, I’ll make one last entreaty for donations, because acquiring the final batch of movies will involve some expenditures, and I’d love to paint as complete a picture as possible of the cinema of the ’70s before closing up shop. Every little bit helps, no matter how modest the contribution. Anyway, that’s all for now except to say, as always, keep on keepin’ on!

Permission to Kill (1975)

          “You’re a very clever man,” the revolutionary says to the spy. “What a waste you’re an evil one.” That sharp dialogue indicates the provocative themes pulsing through Permission to Kill, a European/US coproduction released in America with the graceless title The Executioner. Elegant, meditative, and restrained, this picture won’t be for everyone’s taste, since it’s not purely the action/suspense piece one might expect. Yet neither is it purely cerebral in the vein of, say, some Graham Greene adaptation. Permission to Kill occupies an interesting middle ground, spicing its intricate plotting and thoughtful characterization with a dash of luridness. Defining the film’s icy tone are Dirk Bogarde’s soft-spoken performance in the leading role of a ruthless manipulator, and cinematographer Freddie Young’s classically beautiful compositions. Whereas many espionage thrillers of the ’70s opted for grittiness, Permission to Kill luxuriates in European elegance.
          Although the central premise is simple, the pathway the storytellers take toward presenting the premise is slightly obtuse, presumably by design—in the spy world, nothing is ever simple. Alan Curtis (Bogarde) works for a mysterious agency that wishes to prevent leftist Alexander Diakim (Bekim Fehmiu) from returning to his home country, where it is assumed he will foment a communist revolt against the totalitarian powers-that-be. Thus Alan recruits four civilians and one professional. Each of the four civilians has some connection to Alexander, either financial or personal, so Alan blackmails them into pressuring Alexander, who is presently exiled in Austria. The professional is a beautiful French assassin, Melissa (Nicole Calfan), hired as an insurance policy should the others fail to impede Alexander’s disruptive homecoming. Much of the film explores Alan’s fraught encounters with the people he’s using, all of whom regard him as a soulless monster. For instance, Katina (Ava Gardner), Alexander’s former lover, is appalled when Alan reveals his willingness to involve the child she had with Alexander, long since given up for adoption. Eventually, Alan’s cruelty inspires two of the pawns, British government functionary Charles (Timothy Dalton) and American journalist Scott (Frederic Forrest), to engineer a counter-conspiracy against their tormentor.
          While Permission to Kill has a ticking-clock aspect, it’s as much a character piece as a potboiler. Even Vanessa, about whom little is revealed beyond her lovely figure, comes across as complicated and dimensional. Writer Robin Estridge, who adapted the script from his own novel, revels in the duplicity and gamesmanship of spycraft, so when Alan coolly says, “The truth is what I make it,” the remark doesn’t seem like empty posturing. None of this is to suggest that Permission to Kill is flawless, since the performances are uneven (Forrest delivers clumsy work and Gardner’s breathy melodrama feels old-fashioned), and since some viewers may rightly grow impatient between bursts of action. For those who lock into its downbeat groove, however, Permission to Kill is smart and vicious, a palliative for the cartoonish superficiality of Bond flicks and their escapist ilk.

Permission to Kill: GROOVY

Sunday, October 15, 2017

1980 Week: The Black Marble

          After a great run in the ’70s, during which his books and scripts were adapted into several movies and a pair of TV series, cop-turned-writer Joseph Wambaugh took a stab at romantic comedy with The Black Marble. Directed by Harold Becker, who helmed the Wambaugh-derived The Onion Field (1979), this picture applies the writer’s familiar absurdist prism to a depiction of cops and criminals. Specifically, the movie tracks an alcoholic detective’s inept efforts to rescue a kidnapped dog. Shot at various offbeat locations in Los Angeles, the movie has a fantastic widescreen look and a host of unusual characters, to say nothing of skillful comedic performances by stars Robert Foxworth, Paula Prentiss, and Harry Dean Stanton. However, the individual whose contributions prevent the movie from realizing its ambitious goals is Wambaugh. For all his quirky details and surprising twists, he can’t quite get a handle on the picture’s tone, and he frequently depicts people behaving in ways that are opposite to their established characterizations. The Black Marble is humane and strange, but it’s frustrating because it’s so badly in need of a heavy rewrite.
          Foxworth stars as Sgt. Alex Valnikov, a perpetually besotted veteran cop traumatized by a series of child murders he once investigated. Kicked off the LAPD’s homicide division and reassigned to the robbery squad in the Hollywood precinct, Valnikov gets partnered with high-strung Sgt. Natalie Zimmerman (Prentiss), who resents being made caretaker for a has-been. They’re assigned to help Madeline Whitfield (Barbara Babcock) recover her dog after a mystery man demands a huge ransom for the dog’s return. In separate scenes, the filmmakers explore the kidnapper’s pathetic life. He’s Philo Skinner (Stanton), a sleazy dog groomer overwhelmed by gambling debts. As the story progresses, Natalie discovers Valnikov’s endearing traits, even as Philo’s actions become more and more desperate. Giving away more would do a disservice to the picture.
          Foxworth, usually cast as a hunk, relishes his opportunity to play a fully textured character, and he has some moderately effective moments as well as a few comic highlights. Yet the script does not serve him well, especially when Valnikov suddenly transforms from a suicidal alcoholic to a wounded romantic. Similarly, Prentisss’ sharp comic timing helps mask bumpy shifts in her characterization. Stanton fares best, and the scene of him threatening to slice off the kidnapped dog’s ear is simultaneously grotesque and poignant.

The Black Marble: FUNKY

Saturday, October 14, 2017

1980 Week: The Man With Bogart’s Face

          Nostalgia for the golden era of film noir infused a number of movies in the ’70s and ’80s, from Roman Polanski’s provocative Chinatown (1974) to Carl Reiner’s silly Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) and beyond. Yet perhaps the strangest tip of the cinematic fedora was The Man With Bogart’s Face, a lighthearted mystery flick starring Humphrey Bogart lookalike Robert Saachi. Ostensibly a comedy, the picture has an innately surreal quality not only because of Saachi’s eerie resemblance but also because of the bizarre way that writer/producer Andrew J. Fenaday addresses the resemblance within the storyline. The flick begins with Sam Marlowe (Saachi) in a doctor’s office, having bandages removed from his head. The idea is that Sam, or whatever his real name might be, is so nuts for Bogie that he had his features surgically altered. Sam also starts a private-eye business, drives around in a car from the 1940s, and wears a trenchcoat reminiscent of Bogart’s costume from the final scene of Casablanca (1942). People often ask what’s wrong with his face whenever Sam mimics Bogart’s signature tic of flexing his lips. And so on. But because Fenaday never provides any backstory for the leading character, The Man With Bogart’s Face dodges the big question of whether the title character is a raving lunatic.
          Vexing mysteries about the leading character aren’t the only issues plaguing this film, which is overlong but otherwise pleasant to watch thanks to an eventful storyline and the presence of familiar supporting actors. The biggest problem is the limp nature of the picture’s comedy. Sight gags and verbal jokes fall flat on a regular basis. That said, its possible to consume The Man With Bogart’s Face as a goofy mystery and overlook the weak attempts at hilarity. As one might expect from a genre homage, the plot is formulaic—several clients hire Sam for cases that turn out to be interconnected, and everyone’s after a priceless treasure. Sam’s pithy voiceover connects scenes of betrayal, seduction, suspense, and violence, all of which are played for lukewarm laughs. Providing the movie’s eye-candy quotient are Sybil Danning, Olivia Hussey, Michelle Phillips, and Misty Rowe. Lending various shades of villainy are Victor Buono, Herbert Lom, Franco Nero, George Raft, and Jay Robinson. As for Saachi, his mimicry is smooth enough to complete the weird illusion created by his dopplegänger appearance.

The Man With Bogart’s Face: FUNKY