Monday, November 20, 2023

The Hoax (1972)

          Featuring a plot so thin it could barely power a sitcom episode, jokes so anemic they mostly elicit indifference, and a musical score so overzealous that cues land like the rim shots nightclub comics use to juice lifeless routines, The Hoax strains viewer patience throughout its 85-minute running time. About the only things that make the picture tolerable are an outlandish premise, an early-career performance by someone who later became a familiar face on TV, and the choice to keep things in a family-friendly lane even though the storyline focuses on two grown men, one of whom is portrayed as a bachelor with a vigorous sex life—while nothing in the story invites R-rated treatment, innumerable low-budget comedies have used course language and nudity to compensate for missing laughs. All of which is a means of saying that while The Hoax is not a good feature comedy, one gets the sense the folks involved put forth a measure of sincere effort. Accordingly, the movie gets whatever meager credit one awards for vaulting a low bar.
          Set in LA (of course), the movie follows two wiseass friends, Clete (Frank Bonner) and Cy (Bill Ewing), who make a wild discovery while exploring a tidal pool—an American hydrogen bomb washed ashore completely intact. Upon confirming via news reports the bomb is legit, the dudes blackmail the city by threatening to explode the device unless citizens send $1 each to a Swiss bank account. The plot doesn’t involve much more than that, excepting inevitable scenes of bumbling authorities trying to identify the blackmailers, plus slightly more imaginative scenes of Southern Californians wrangling with the prospect of impending doom. Given that you’ve never heard of The Hoax, it should come as no surprise to learn the filmmakers failed to exploit the comedic potential of their central concept—instead of a satire exploring greed and paranoia, the filmmakers deliver silly farce powered by amateurish performances and dopey scripting. (Example: After the lads remove part of the bomb’s tailfin to prove they’ve got the device, Cy moans, “I’ve never worked so hard for a piece of tail in my life!”)
          As for the aforementioned TV notable, that would be costar Bonner, latter to achieve fame as sleazy salesman Herb Tarlek on WKRP in Cincinnati. Calling him the movie’s standout would be exaggerating, but he’s sufficiently comfortable on camera that he at least seems like a professional actor, whereas his primary scene partner, Ewing, mugs and over-emotes to a tiresome degree. Ewing later found success as a studio executive.

The Hoax: FUNKY

Monday, November 13, 2023

A Great Ride (1979)

          Amazingly, ten years after the release of Easy Rider, indirect knockoffs of that seminal film were still getting made. A Great Ride, which presumably zipped through theaters before landing on home video sometime in the ’80s, borrows basic elements from Dennis Hopper’s iconic film, particularly the trope of two dudes traveling America via motorcycles while on a search for—well, A Great Ride never makes that clear, but since so many aspects of the picture’s storytelling are vague, the absence of a thematic concept is to be expected. In lieu of a big idea (really, even a small idea would have sufficed), A Great Ride has colorful episodes, a peculiar antagonist, and strong cinematography. For some viewers, these bits and pieces might be enough to warrant a casual watch, though nothing in A Great Ride truly demands or rewards attention.

          When the movie begins, experienced professional biker Steve (Michael Sullivan) and his hot-tempered young buddy Jim (Perry Lang) set out from the Mexican border for a long journey to the Canadian border, fully intent on illegally crossing federal land along the way. Viewers learn nothing about these dudes before their journey begins and very little afterward. Following a few inconsequential vignettes, Jim agrees to an off-road race against an obnoxious young biker who accidentally dies during the race. Steve and Jim flee the scene, but the dead kid’s father (Michael MacRae) vows to hunt and kill them. To aid his quest, the dad uses a souped-up truck complete with a scorpion painted on the side and a fantastical onboard computer that spews such data as “estimated range to target.” (It’s always a kick to see dopey ’70s movies giving computers the equivalent of superpowers.) Unaware of impending danger, Steve and Jim continue their adventures, at one point hooking up with two ATV-driving hotties who service the lads in a quasi-softcore sequence replete with arty star-filter shots and goopy soft rock.

          Excepting David Worth’s muscular cinematography, none of the craft contributions are of note beyond one item of trivia—the film was edited by none other than Steve Zaillian, who cut several exploitation pictures before commencing his storied career as an A-list screenwriter. As for the cast, by far the most familiar face belongs to Lang, whose many acting credits (1941, The Big Red One, Eight Men Out, etc.) precede his extensive work directing episodic TV from the 1990s to the late 2010s.

A Great Ride: FUNKY

Monday, October 30, 2023

The Horror at 37,000 Feet (1973)

          Even though The Horror at 37,000 Feet is a terrible made-for-TV supernatural thriller distinguished by a dumb storyline, a motley cast, and sketchy production values, the movie provides enjoyable viewing for a certain stripe of ‘70s crap-cinema masochist. To put an even finer point on things, the emotional center of the movie is William Shatner’s portrayal of a former priest seemingly determined to drink himself to death until a faceoff with otherworldly forces compels him to test whether he’s got anything left in the tank, spiritually speaking. If that sounds appealing, then you’ve got the stuff to power through this silly picture’s dull stretches and laughable excesses. However, if you find the prospect of Shatner wrestling with angst unattractive, then you would be wise to forget you ever heard of The Horror at 37,000 Feet. Speaking now to those brave and/or foolish souls willing to learn more, it’s time to meet some of the other miscellaneous actors who wander through this flick. We’re talking Chuck Connors as a square-jawed pilot who delivers this actual line: “We’re caught in a wind like none there ever was!” We’re talking Buddy Ebsen as an obnoxious millionaire who thinks he knows more about planes than a flight crew. We’re talking the strangely cast Paul Winfield as an upper-crust British doctor. And we’re talking Russell Johnson—the Professor from Gilligan’s Island—in a small role as a flight engineer. The picture seems as if was cast by someone opening an old TV Guide to random pages and pointing at names.

          As for the dopey plot, here goes. Rich architect Alan O’Neill (Roy Thinnes) pays to have a passenger flight carry the altar from an English druidic temple because he plans to use the altar for a project in America. As the flight proceeds, strange phenomena manifest until the crew believes claims from strident activist Mrs. Pinder (Tammy Grimes) that the cargo hold is filled with evil energy. Who will live? Who will die? Who cares? Using the familiar device of fusing the disaster-movie formula with supernatural-thriller elements, The Horror at 37,000 Feet is so drably made, so mechanically written, and so slowly paced that it’s unlikely to elicit frightened reactions. Instead, the picture generates a mildly eerie vibe that occasionally captures the imagination because one of the actors does something committed or earnest or flamboyant. Shatner is unquestionably the center of attention given his signature overwrought acting style, but Grimes gets points for playing her harbinger-of-doom role so fervently, and Winfield classes up the joint even with his stilted attempt at a British accent. For those who make it through the movie’s sluggish first 45 minutes or so, the reward is a climax filled with goofy special effects, from giggle-inducing shots of green goo seeping through surfaces to the laugh-out-loud staging of the Shatner character’s final confrontation with the forces bedeviling his fellow passengers. 

The Horror at 37,000 Feet: FUNKY

Thursday, September 28, 2023

7 Million Views!

Hey there, groovy people! I hope regular visitors to this blog have not tired of occasional posts celebrating readership milestones, but I’m so gratified folks dig what this blog is layin’ down that I never want to take these moments for granted. Sometime in the wee hours this morning, the all-time tally for page views of Every ’70s Movie ticked over the 7 million mark, which is way more than I could have imagined when I started this project 13 years ago. And while posting has been irregular in recent years, I still have a healthy list of legit features yet to be reviewed for this blog, “legit” in this circumstance meaning an American fictional feature (be it fully domestic or an international co-production with American participation) released to U.S. cinemas between Jan. 1, 1970, and Dec. 31, 1979. Beyond that, there are plenty of outliers I believe will interest readers, such as notable documentaries, foreign films, and made-for-TV flicks—loyal readers know all of those categories are well-represented in this space. All of which is to say there’s a lot more to come in the future. Until next time, keep on keepin’ on!

Friday, September 15, 2023

Stunt Rock (1978)

          Delivering in a big way on both elements of its title, Stunt Rock is an Australian oddity depicting the adventures of an Aussie stuntman who visits the U.S. and hangs out with members of a flamboyant rock band, so the nearly plotless flick combines wild stunt footage with extensive concert sequences. As the cult-cinema equivalent of background noise, Stunt Rock is palatable because leading man Grant Page does lots of outrageously dangerous things, from climbing the sides of buildings to driving at insane speeds to setting himself on fire, and also because the gimmick of rock band Sorcery is that each of their shows features an onstage battle between good and evil wizards—lots of silly costumes, lots of magic tricks, lots of pyro. The movie also goes heavy into that oh-so-’70s gimmick of split-screen imagery. While I can’t say Stunt Rock held my attention particularly well as an adult viewer, I can’t help but imagine how an American version of the same movie would have blown my preadolescent mind—the notion of Evel Knievel costarring with Kiss sounds indescribably awesome (even though the actual movies Knievel and Kiss made in the ‘70s were indescribably awful). Setting aside enticing “what if” scenarios, Stunt Rock is sufficiently unique to merit attention from the cinematically adventurous. It’s not a good movie by any measure, but it stands alone.
          Page, already a veteran stuntman and TV personality by the time he made this picture, stars as a fictionalized version of himself. The premise is that he travels to America for work on an action-oriented TV show, then spends time with Sorcery since he’s related to one of the band’s members. That’s virtually the entire storyline of Stunt Rock, excepting Page’s interaction with the actress starring in the TV show—frustrated that her most exciting scenes feature stunt doubles, she pressures Page to train her in the art of doing dangerous things safely. To state the obvious, viewers already interested in movie stunts will find that aspect of the movie more compelling than others; unlike the same era’s Hooper (1978) and The Stunt Man (1980), this flick lets stunt footage unfurl without the burden of narrative import, so the vibe is very much ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Similarly, fans of Alice Cooper and Kiss are more likely than others to groove on what Sorcery throws down. The band’s heavy-metal tunes are melodic, but their onstage shtick is goofy. That said, some details in Stunt Rock are memorably weird, for instance the fact that Sorcery’s keyboard player never appears without a mask covering his entire head. What’s more, reading about the making of Stunt Rock reveals that director Brian Trenchard-Smith put the whole thing together—from concept to finished product—in six months, so that explains a lot. At least the Stunt Rock team found time to assemble a spectacular poster—why that key art failed to draw kids into theaters is a mystery.

Stunt Rock: FUNKY

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

The Loners (1972)

          If it’s possible for a movie to be completely forgettable and deeply weird, then The Loners is such a movie. On the surface, the picture is yet another downbeat late ’60s/early ’70s melodrama about a longhair in conflict with the Establishment, centering motorcycles and swirling toward a bummer climax—in other words, a typical Easy Rider knockoff. Details, however, bring the aforementioned weirdness into focus. The protagonist is a half-Indian drifter named Stein (you read that right), allowing the film to address then-hip issues of Native American persecution. One of the villains is a comically heavyset cop who shields his eyes behind sunglasses, meaning he looks very much like Jackie Gleason did in Smokey and the Bandit a few years later—and if that allusion feels like a reach, note that many scenes featuring cops are played for broad laughs even though the overall picture aspires to heaviosity. Also featured is faded Oscar winner Gloria Grahame as an alcoholic who claims she works as a nightclub dancer (viewers never see her on the job) despite being well into her fifties. Oh, and here’s the capper—the protagonist’s sidekick is a hulking simpleton prone to accidental violence, meaning the script poaches from Of Mice and Men.
          The actual plot is painfully simple. After Stein (Dean Stockwell) escapes a road-rage incident that leaves a cop dead, Stein and Alan (Todd Susman) decamp to a small town where they meet Annabelle Carter Jr. (Patricia Stich), who wants to get away from her dysfunctional mom (Grahame). Stein nicknames his new girlfriend “Julio,” and the couple embarks on a crime spree with Alan tagging along. Multiple tragedies ensue. A contrived but cogent yarn might have been spun from this material, but The Loners is bogus, episodic, and tonally erratic. Still, certain elements may appeal to viewers with high tolerance for ’70s oddities. Stockwell brings his signature offbeat vibe to the leading role, and it’s fascinating to contemplate whether he’s reacting in character at any given moment or simply marveling at the narrative malpractice happening around him. Meanwhile, director Sutton Roley and cinematographer Irving Lippman, both of whom have long TV resumes, render lively images—for example, part of a scene is shown as a reflection on a VW Beetle’s hubcap. In fact, the disconnect between arty visuals and ultraviolence contributes to the peculiarity of The Loners.

The Loners: FUNKY

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

It Ain’t Easy (1972)

          Of minor interest because it contains the first real onscreen performance by Lance Henriksen, who subsequently became a cult-favorite actor with a sprawling body of genre-oriented film/TV work, It Ain’t Easy also ticks other niche-interest boxes. The picture features extensive scenes of snowmobiles zooming across American and Canadian wilderness, and the leading character is a Vietnam vet battling PTSD. Alas, It Ain’t Easy—sometimes marketed as The Winnipeg Run—is less than the sum of its parts. Beyond the usual shortcomings of a tiny budget, the picture has such an erratic tone that it’s hard for viewers to track, much less empathize with, the protagonist’s plight. During an earnest monologue, for instance, Henriksen wears a face mask made of duct tape, so he looks less like a veteran navigating emotional problems and more like a serial killer preparing for a rampage. Sure, the mask gets a logical explanation—the character is practicing how to protect himself from frostbite during extended exposure to subzero temperatures—but didn’t anyone on the crew suggest that Henriksen remove the mask before his soulful speech? It Ain’t Easy is full of such confounding moments. The story is missing a slew of important beats, and the direction by Maurice Hurley (who later had a moderately successful career as a writer/producer) waffles between inept and perfunctory.
          Anyway, here’s the threadbare story. Randy (Henriksen) leaves a mental hospital and travels to his late father’s remote cabin, where Randy discovers the family business of selling animal pelts is no longer viable. Switching gears, he decides to enter a snowmobile race with a big cash prize. On the way to the race’s starting point, Randy picks up a drifter named Jennifer (Penelope Allen). Despite being the audience for his duct-taped monologue, Jennifer doesn’t savvy that Randy has problems until he refuses to accept that that he missed the start of the race by an entire day. Soon local authorities learn from the military that Randy is off his meds, so a search ensues to find Randy before something tragic happens. Fleshed out, this idea could have been poignant or terrifying (if not both), but thanks to clueless execution, It Ain’t Easy doesn’t go much of anywhere and, worse, takes its time getting there. Accordingly, the only folks likely to trudge through all 90-ish minutes It Ain’t Easy are Henriksen superfans, even though his inexperience converges with sketchy material to yield a performance that’s amateurish at best, borderline embarrassing at worst.

It Ain’t Easy: FUNKY

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Hail (1972)

          Toward the end of its scant running time, Hail resolves into a serviceable satire of Nixon-era political paranoia. Getting there, however, requires slogging through lots of meandering and unfunny material. Produced and released before the Watergate scandal, Hail imagines a presidential administration fraught with intrigue because the commander-in-chief is a nutter who thinks all his subordinates are out to get him. The joke, of course, is that they are out to get him, hence the main storyline about a cabinet secretary (Richard B. Shull) drifting from closeness with the president to conspiring against him. The main subplot illustrates why the secretary loses faith—amid growing demonstrations by longhaired young people, the president forms a nationwide police force and imprisons activists in concentration camps. The jarring integration of this heavy material means Hail is dark comedy at best, a tonal quagmire at worst. Yet there’s something almost nobly roughshod about Hail. One can admire what the film attempts while acknowledging how infrequently it succeeds in the endeavor.
          Hampered by an insufficient budget and a first-time director (this is Fred Levinson’s only movie), Hail is disorganized and sluggish. Sequences featuring officials either working with or scheming against the president are coherent in a blunt-instrument sort of way, which is to say the comic intentions come across even when jokes fail to land. Scenes of hippies planning armed revolt lack the same clarity, since it’s unclear whether the film means to celebrate or lampoon the peace-and-love crowd. Not helping matters is a tendency toward overly broad performances. While Schull does well expressing his ambivalent character’s queasiness and Dick O’Neill is appropriately craven as an opportunistic attorney general, Dan Resin is wholly forgettable as the president, and Gary Sandy—years before WKRP in Cincinnati—borders on camp while playing a hippie who masquerades as a soldier. (Watch for Carol Kane in a tiny nonspeaking role.) Still, even if the whole thing spins out of control with overheated allusions to Jesus Christ and Julius Caesar—it was the ‘70s, man—it’s possible to see how a stronger director could have done more with the script by Phil Dusenberry and Larry Spiegel. In flashes, Hail almost works.


Friday, June 30, 2023

The Little Ark (1972)

All the elements were in place for The Little Ark to become at least a passable bit of children’s entertainment (and in fact online commentary indicates the picture made an impression on some people who saw it back in the day). The historical setting of the story is interesting because the narrative centers a real flood that ravaged Holland in the 1950s. The fictional premise is serviceable, imagining what might have happened if two children found themselves adrift on a houseboat after flooding devastated their village. And only the most hard-hearted of viewers could begrudge the filmmakers’ intention of conveying uplifting moral lessons through a story about survival. But, wow, does The Little Ark veer off-course nearly from its first frames. The two leading actors are amateurish in the extreme, the prevalence of Biblical rhetoric is tiresome, and the actual plot is so threadbare that on regular occasions the movie drifts into tangents while top-billed actor Theodore Bikel, playing a sailor who helps protection, spews lengthy homilies. At one point, the film detours into animation when cartoons are used to depict one of these parables. Exciting high-seas adventure this is not. The picture also lacks insights regarding childhood behavior and development; the kids in this film toggle between idiotically obvious remarks and jarringly precocious ones, regularly sprinkling their language with shout-outs to religion. In one scene, for example, Jan (Philip Frame) chides Adinda (Geneviève Ambas) for crying while they survey flood damage from the shelter of a church’s bell tower. “You’re covered with snot,” he says. “Holy apostles, you women instantly get into a fuss.” 

The Little Ark: LAME

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Half a House (1975)

          Of minor interest to Oscar completists because it scored an out-of-nowhere nomination for its original song “A Life That Never Was,” this meagerly budgeted romantic comedy has the sort of hackneyed writing one might encounter in a low-end TV movie, and the type of cheap-looking cinematography and production values one might encounter in a midrange ’70s porno. (Lest your imagination wander in the wrong direction, the picture is rated PG.) Yet while Half a House is inarguably a bad movie, it’s far from the worst the ‘70s had to offer. Running less than 80 minutes (in the version reviewed for this blog), the thing moves along at a decent clip, and the jokes are professionally constructed even though none of them achieves liftoff. Moreover, the basic premise is workable in a trite sort of way, and though it’s immediately apparent why leading actors Anthony Eisley and Pat Delaney never escaped the rut of workaday TV careers, they and their various costars in Half a House are basically competent. If this comes across as damning with faint praise, that’s fair—no reasonable argument could be made that watching this movie is an enriching experience. But, hey, these are the hills I climb for you, my dear readers.
          After one too many arguments drains the fun from their decade-long marriage, interior designer Bitsy (Delaney) and architect Jordan (Eisley) decide to separate, but the judge assigned to their divorce case insists they cohabitate for a cooling-off period of three months, with each spouse occupying half the home they designed together. First come the “comical” ploys to infuriate each other. He chills the house to a freezing temperature because the thermostat is on his side. She distracts one of his clients by sunbathing during a business meeting. Then come the inevitable near-miss dalliances, stymied because the spouses still have feelings for each other. Also featured are an (offscreen) session of makeup sex, plus visits to a marriage counselor who (wait for it) cheats on his wife with a secretary. The verbal gags are just as contrived as the situations. The day after Bitsy throws Jordan’s clothes onto the lawn and activates the sprinkler, their maid collects the garments and says, “Well, you’ve got to admit it doesn’t rain ready-to-wear every day!” Wait, you want another priceless zinger? After the subject of community property gets raised, Bitsy’s friend offers this advice: “You take the property and let him have the community!”

Half a House: FUNKY

Monday, June 26, 2023

Chinese Caper (1975)

Although its storytelling is more coherent than the usual under-budgeted sludge made overseas by Americans of questionable ability, Chinese Caper is so drab and unimaginative—to say nothing of cheaply produced, heinously scored, and poorly acted—that it’s wholly disposable. Only fans of Victor Buono’s campy performance style, Meredith MacRae’s wholesome pulchritude, and the visual splendor of Taiwan can find distractions from the insipid plot. Yet even those attributes offer scant comfort because they are subordinate to the lifleless screen presence of leading actor Geoffrey Deuel, whose inconsequential career largely comprised guest shots on TV. Anyway, while drifting in Taiwan, small-time thief Larry (Deuel) gets approached by wealthy expat Everett (Buono) to participate in a heist. Initially reluctant, Larry takes the gig because he falls for Everett’s assistant, Carolyn (MacRae), and wants money for their future. The climactic heist goes so smoothly that the picture lacks any semblance of tension until the final scenes, when an excruciatingly predictable double-cross occurs. Getting there isnt worth the trouble because Chinese Caper stretches about 30 minutes worth of story across 90 minutes of screen time, meaning viewers get bludgeoned with aimless montages, plodding dialogue, and stupidly attenuated interactions—the lengthy sequence requiring MacRae to feign emotional intensity quickly transitions from unintentionally funny to insufferably boring.

Chinese Caper: LAME

Monday, June 19, 2023

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time (1975) & Find the Lady (1976)

          Proving that ’70s Canadian producers were just as capable as anyone else of jamming multinational casts into mindless schlock, It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time is an atrocious comedy with elements of crime and romance, noteworthy only for its familiar actors. Cowriters John Trent (who also directed) and David Main try for the madcap energy of Blake Edwards’s naughty farces, but their endeavor lacks everything from sexual heat to narrative propulsion to likable characters. Worse, it’s excruciating to endure both leading man Anthony Newley’s pompous speechifying and composer William McCauley’s obnoxious music, which at one point implies diarrhea with thundering brass stings. Newley plays Sweeney, a failed artist who enjoys weekly trysts with his ex-wife, Georgina (Stefanie Powers), even though she’s married to a rich jerk named Prince (Harry Ramer). Other characters include Sweeney’s artist friend Moriarty (Isaac Hayes), Georgina’s high-strung mother Julia (Yvonne De Carlo), and a politician named Burton (Lloyd Bochner). They’re all just sideshows, however, because most of the screen time features Sweeney running schemes, the most elaborate of which is a fake kidnapping. This is the kind of brainless burlesque in which a character gets humiliated by landing in the spray of a garden cherub’s penis. Viewers also get deluged with this sort of dialogue: “Was that Hortense?” “She seemed pretty relaxed to me!”
          After its theatrical run, It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time resurfaced on video once John Candy, who plays a tiny role, achieved Hollywood stardom. Also rescued from oblivion was Find the Lady, a spinoff movie in which Candy and Lawrence Dane reprise minor characters from the earlier film. Dane and Candy play Broom and Kopek, idiotic cops prone to misunderstandings and pratfalls. Find the Lady is a bit slicker than its predecessor, but the comedic efforts of returning filmmakers Trent and Main are just as strained. The narrative involves Broom and Kopek struggling to resolve three separate kidnappings—one accidental, one fake, one real. Mixed into the storyline are drag queens, exotic dancers, and mobsters. One of the mobsters is played by Mickey Rooney, complete with pinstriped suit and Tommy gun, while Peter Cook drifts in and out of the picture as a snobby villain. How exhaustingly dumb is Find the Lady? Consider the scene of Kopek interacting with a known criminal and a known kidnap victim while repeatedly exclaiming “I never forget a face!” Or consider the numerous infantile physical-comedy scenes of Broom and/or Kopek causing domino-effect disasters. Add in some leering topless shots plus countless gay-panic jokes, and you get the idea.
          Only those curious to see everything Candy ever made have any compelling reason to watch these pictures, but even theyll be left wanting; while he’s characteristically amiable and nimble, the material is so lackluster that he’s unable to conjure genuine laughs.

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: LAME
Find the Lady

Monday, May 15, 2023

Happy as the Grass Was Green (1973)

          Long on humanistic sociocultural messaging and short on cinematic polish, Happy as the Grass Was Green—subsequently retitled Hazel’s People—uses tensions stemming from antiwar activism as a device for exploring the gulf between an isolated Mennonite community in Pennsylvania and the larger world beyond the community’s borders. Working from a novel by Merle Good, writer-director Charles Davis—a journeyman Irish actor who periodically worked behind the camera—finds a clumsy way into the story. After a murkily described confrontation between activists and cops during which a young man from the Mennonite community was killed, the dead man’s brother and a non-Mennonite friend travel to Pennsylvania for the funeral. Once there, the non-Mennonite friend, longhaired rebel Eric (Graham Beckel), becomes infatuated with the simple life—and with Hazel (Rachel Thomas), the pretty and willful daughter of a Mennonite family. Eric extends his stay in Pennsylvania indefinitely as he learns about the community, finds solace in Christianity, and contemplates making a permanent home with the Mennonites.
          To characterize the plot machinations that complicate Eric’s journey as trite would be to undervalue the sincerity of this enterprise. Happy as the Grass Was Green suffers from bland technical execution and dull pacing and uneven acting, but it’s plain everyone involved tried to convey truthfulness. Apparently only three actors—Beckel, Pat Hingle, and Geraldine Page—came from outside the Mennonite community, so it’s noteworthy that the narrative trains a critical eye on its subject matter. Some characters are depicted as cruel and judgmental and petty, while others are shown exploiting illegal immigrants for cheap labor. So even though the picture ultimately venerates the Mennonites as pious indviduals who center compassion and work in their lives, Happy as the Grass Was Green does not echo the sanctimonious proseltyzing one too often encounters in bad Christian films of the ’70s. As a dramatic experience, Happy as the Grass Was Green underwhelms, but as an attempt at what might be deemed religious anthropology, it’s admirable. That said, one wishes Davis had featured Page more prominently since she is so much more skilled than her fellow cast members, with all due respect to Hingle’s comforting avuncular quality and to Beckel’s earnestness.

Happy as the Grass Was Green: FUNKY

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

6.5 Million Views!

          Hey there, groovy people! Even though daily posting on this blog has been in the rear-view mirror for some time, its wonderful that so many of you continue to visit (and revisit) the content here at Every 70s Movie. There's still plenty of material to come in the future, and to that point Ive got my retinas aimed at a handful of obscure features that recently became available for viewing. Not all of them will be winners, but now that weve all gone this deep into our favorite cinematic decade, its all about building as complete a perspective as possible. And who knows? There could still be an elusive masterpiece or two out there somewhere. Plus I always keep the door open for periodic explorations beyond conventional theatrical features, so dont be surprised if you see reviews of the occasional documentary, foreign film, or made-for-TV movie. Oh, and while I have your attention, pardon a quick plug for my endeavors outside this blog. I recently completed an overhaul of my professional website, and I invite you to check it out at
          Here's a link:

          Thanks for reading, dont be shy about using the comments to share feedback and/or suggestions, and, of course, keep on keepin’ on! 

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Why (1973)

          Toward the end of his erratic three-decade film/TV career, Russian-born helmer Victor Stoloff got heavy into stories about group therapy, cowriting and directing The 300 Year Weekend (1971), which was broadcast as a TV movie, and this ensemble piece featuring an eclectic cast. The premise of Why is extraordinarily simple—six people explore their issues through conversations and chaste physical contact under the guidance of a gentle therapist. Predictably, the characters are defined by their hangups. One is an out gay man who feels rejected by society, one is a junkie, one is an athlete burdened by expectations, one is a musician feeling lost because his group disbanded, and so on. At various times, group participants mask their emotions with jokes, lash out when revelations make them feel threatened, and vascillate between judging and supporting fellow particpants. It’s not exactly right to describe Why as shallow, since some of the actors endeavored to dig into their superficially conceived roles, but the results are mixed. Worse, Stoloff veers into cop-out territory with his borderline-ridiculous attempt at a transcendent finale. Still, Why is hard to beat as a curiosity and as a time capsule.
          The athlete is played by O.J. Simpson, who nearly achieves naturalism in a few scenes featuring improvised dialogue; while his performance is clumsy, this movie offers windows into his psyche that some might find intriguing. Also interesting to watch is the man playing the musician, short-lived singer and songwriter Tim Buckley. A darkly handsome dude in the James Taylor mode, he conveys both amiability and anxiety in his only substantial acting performance. Other notables include Jeannie Berlin, the daughter of Elaine May and the costar of May’s The Heartbreak Kid (1972), and Danny Goldman, a Bud Cort lookalike perhaps best known for his bit part as an obnoxious medical student in Young Frankenstein (1974). While limited by their roles, both give nuanced turns infused with intensity. As to whether the film offers real insights into therapy—or, for that matter, into the larger subject of human behavior—different viewers will have different takeaways. For every dated line on the order of “I wanted you to pick up where I was at” or “I was laboring under a bad thing,” there’s a moment of affecting vulnerability, as when Buckley’s character articulates the challenge of living up to the image the public has of popular entertainers. In fleeting moments like that one, actors introduce a level of authenticity the overall movie arguably lacks.


Sunday, March 19, 2023

Guardian of the Wilderness (1976)

          Again demonstrating their propensity for transforming facts into ridiculous fiction, the folks at Sunn Classic Pictures used the real-life story of Galen Clark, credited with spearheading preservation of the Yosemite Valley, as the foundation for this Grizzly Adams-style nature adventure replete with aminal antics and preachy monologues. In some ways, Guardian of the Wilderness is more palatable than the usual Sunn outdoor fare simply because the real Clark’s achievements were historically significant, though any sensible viewer will quickly surmise that the film’s particulars are pure bunk. That said, it’s hard to get to riled up about a movie that celebrates animals, nature, preservation, and the capacity of motivated individuals to change the world for the better.

          As in real life, Clark (Denver Pyle) was a middle-aged prospector who relocated to the California mountains after getting diagnosed with consumption. Generally speaking, that’s when the movie deviates from reality. Per the film, Clark regained his health thanks to assistance from various animals and from people including a friendly Native American, Teneiya (Don Shanks), and naturalist John Muir (John Dehner). Also per the film, Clark almost single-handedly kept loggers at bay long enough for Muir to begin a political process for protecting the Yosemite Valley. Throughout the picture, Clark explains situations for the audience by way of talking to his pet raccoon. At its silliest, Guardian of the Wilderness gets bogged down in tiresome Disney-style critter comedy, as when a stubborn goose keeps plucking laundry off a line. The picture also features several dumb scenes of people stumbling into the right place at the right time—Clark’s wholly fictional encounter with Abraham Lincoln being the most laughable example.

          Yet for those who enjoy the types of beautiful places Clark strove to preserve, Guardian of the Wilderness is harmlessly and even somewhat pleasantly insipid because cowriter/director David O’Malley, Pyle, and their collaborators all understood the assignment. O’Malley and his technical team focus on pretty shots of lakes and trees while Pyle works an amiable-grouch groove, resulting in a fanciful but kid-friendly riff on Americana. Accordingly, even though Guardian of the Wilderness grows more and more absurd as it progresses, the piece moves along at a decent clip, never wavering from its mission. And if the movie has ever compelled one youthful viewer to care a bit more about history or nature, then the endeavor had a worthy outcome.

Guardian of the Wilderness: FUNKY

Friday, February 17, 2023

Solomon King (1974)

Imagine if Rudy Ray Moore possessed the charisma of a DMV clerk and didn’t tell jokes—then you’ve got an idea of what to expect from Solomon King, a vanity project from cinematically incompetent Oakland, California, clothier Sal Watts. A doughy dude with a forgettably affable quality, Watts cast himself as a secret agent-turned-private detective who navigates international intrigue and romantic entanglements. Specifically, the insipid plot puts Solomon King (Watts) in danger when Princess Oneeba (Claudia Russo) flees from the Middle East to the Bay Area while avoiding operatives of a villain named Hassan (Richard Scarso). Years earlier, Solomon helped Oneeba’s father out of a jam and was rewarded with ownership of oil fields, so Hassan apparently stands to gain from not only Oneeba’s death but also Solomon’s. Most of Solomon King comprises the usual blaxploitation noise of fights, sex scenes, and vignettes showcasing Black life circa the early ’70s. (There are a lot of dance parties in this picture.) Although Solomon King—which Watts produced, cowrote, and codirected—has cinematography on par with most low-budget ’70s sludge, what sinks the picture is abysmal editing. The story often hiccups incomprehensibly, atrocious voicever gets used to cover scenes with unusuable production sound, fight scenes are comically inept, and sex scenes drag on forever. Still, there is some so-bad-it’s-good fun to be had here. For example, the movie’s absurd climax finds the hero and his Green Beret buddies (!) laying siege to Hassan’s Middle Eastern palace, which for some reason looks like a Nazi bunker somewhere in Europe. During the climax, Solomon dubiously complements his all-black commando outfit with a shiny pimp hat and an even shinier medallion. You do you, man! FYI, this picture earned a smattering of attention in mid-2022 when a crowdfunded restoration was completed. A debut airing on TCM Underground followed a few months later.

Solomon King: LAME

Monday, January 30, 2023

The Burglars (1971)

          Enjoyably vapid French/Italian heist thriller The Burglars features a typically random assortment of international actors, though unlike many similar pictures that flowed from the continent throughout the ’60s and ’70s with off-putting dubbed soundtracks, this one can be enjoyed by American viewers with original English-language dialogue because the producers simultaneously shot scenes in English and French. Combined with lavish production values, plentiful comic elements, and zippy chase scenes, the English-language soundtrack ensures The Burglars is a smooth ride. Given the genre to which it belongs, perhaps it goes without saying that The Burglars isn’t about anything, so the experience is colorful, distracting, and forgettable—exactly as it was meant to be.
          Set in Greece, the picture begins with a home invasion during which a crew of professional thieves subdues a victim, cracks his safe, and steals a cache of emeralds. The main hook of this scene is an elaborate electronic system used by protagonist Azad (Jean-Paul Belmondo) to open the safe; director Henri Verneuil films the scene so clinically that it feels like a tutorial. During the robbery, wily cop Zacharia (Omar Sharif) briefly encounters Azad, so once Zacharia learns what happened, he tracks down Azad with the intention of grabbing the emeralds for himself. Notwithstanding Azad’s romantic entanglements with two different women, a French criminal (Nicole Calfan) and an American model (Dyan Cannon), most of the movie comprises Zacharia chasing and/or confronting Azad, so The Burglars is largely a Mediterranean mano-a-mano movie.
          Since the narrative is slight, what makes The Burglars watchable is style. There are two intricate chases, both staged by the team that did similar work for The Italian Job (1969), and the chases give equal focus to jokes and stunts. Typical gag: a car passes a group of nuns and the wind created by the car’s motion blows out the candles the nuns are holding. It’s worth noting that star Belmondo does a few outrageous stunts, such as hanging onto the sides of moving vehicles and tumbling down an enormous hill. Adding to the picture’s candy-coated veneer are lots of gloriously tacky sets and periodic intervals of jaunty music by Ennio Morricone.
          Though one generally doesn’t gravitate to this sort of movie for the acting, Belmondo’s casual cool suits the material well—notwithstanding that his character’s treatment of women is atrocious. Revealing another flaw common to the genre, Calfan and Cannon serve largely decorative functions. Yet heist thrillers are only as good as their villains, and Sharif’s haughtiness is employed to good effect—whether he’s rhapsodizing about Greek food or warning victims that drunkenness impairs his aim, Sharif presents a delightfully self-satisfied type of odiousness.

The Burglars: GROOVY

Monday, January 16, 2023

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1972)

          An attempt at translating a classic fairy tale into a (somewhat) modern horror picture, the US/UK coproduction Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? falls considerably short of its ambitions, thanks in part to flat cinematography that robs the piece of necessary atmosphere but thanks mostly to an embarrassing star turn by Shelley Winters. With her bulging eyes, flailing movements, and shrill vocalizations, Winters exudes cartoonishness, and not in a good way. There’s no question an oversized performance might have been suitable, given that Winters’s role is a riff on the witch from the fable of Hansel and Gretel, but even an oversized performance requires discipline and vision to manifest coherently. Instead, Winters delivers such amateurish work that it seems she’s doing a blocking run-through rather than presenting a final rendering. Presumably much blame for this fatal flaw gets shared by director Curtis Harrington, whose approach to horror was never distinguished by good taste. One imagines he was after a degree of camp here, as with his preceding Winters collaboration, What’s the Matter With Helen? (1971), but it all just seems so obvious and tacky.
          Set between World Wars in England, the picture concerns Rosie Forrest (Winters), an American former showgirl who is so insane that she keeps the rotting corpse of her dead daughter in the upstairs nursery of her mansion. Every Christmas, Rosie—who also goes by the nickname “Auntie Roo”—opens her home to a group of local orphans, so the movie also introduces viewers to siblings Christopher (Mark Lester) and Katy (Chloe Franks). Through convoluted circumstances, the siblings end up convinced that “Auntie Roo” plans to cook and eat them, as per the Hansel and Gretel story that Christopher recites to Katy one night. Half the picture depicts how the kids develop this belief, and the other half dramatizes various escape attempts once they’re trapped in the mansion with Auntie Roo. Incidental characters adding little to the story include an unscrupulous butler (Michael Gothard) and a drunken medium (Ralph Richardson).
          As penned by a gaggle of writers including Hammer Films regular Jimmy Sangster, Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?—released in the U.S. with the slightly abbreviated title Who Slew Auntie Roo?—is colorful but uninvolving, despite the mighty efforts of composer Kenneth V. Jones to add suspense. The appalling nature of Winters’s performance is but one of many shortcomings. While the sets are relatively lavish, shooting the whole picture on soundstages with harsh high-key lighting makes everything feel fake and unthreatening. Lester’s work in the second lead is perfunctory, revealing just how much skill director Carol Reed employed to make Lester seem vigorous in Oliver! (1968). And the logistics of the film’s second half are ridiculous—every would-be suspenseful sequence is predicated on someone doing something idiotic, such as overlooking an obvious warning or, on repeated occasions, rushing into danger to retrieve a teddy bear. The movie is quite dull until the final minutes, when the plot turns perverse by mirroring the gruesome conclusion of the Hansel and Gretel story.

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?: FUNKY

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Story of a Woman (1970)

          According to actor Robert Stack, one of the perks Universal employed while persuading him to star in the series The Name of the Game was the opportunity to headline one theatrical feature a year. Hollywood being Hollywood, only one such feature materialized even tough Game ran for three seasons. Given the uninteresting nature of that one feature, however, things probably worked out for the best. Written and directed by Leonardo Bercovici—a studio-era talent who thrived in the 1940s, lost a decade to the anticommunist blacklist, and never fully rebuilt his career afterward—Story of a Woman is a laughably trite soap opera. One can only imagine how old-fashioned this seemed to audiences when it was released in 1970, especially since the picture was lensed while LBJ was still president (as evidenced by the president’s photo on the wall of a set representing a U.S. embassy).
          Stack’s involvement notwithstanding, the real star of the piece is Swedish actress (and frequent Bergman collaborator) Bibi Andersson. She plays Karin, a Swedish aspiring pianist who meets suave medical student Marco (James Farentino) in Rome. They enjoy a hot romance until Karin discovers that Marco is married. Heartbroken, Karin retreats to Sweden, where she eventually meets amiable American diplomat David (Stack). The couple marries and raises a daughter until, inevitably, David’s work brings the family to Rome, where Karin once again crosses paths with Marco. Nothing remotely surprising happens in Story of a Woman, and the narrative’s major would-be plot twist is so abrupt and convenient that it plays like a parody of melodrama instead of actual melodrama.
          Not much can be said about Bercovici’s directorial style, since his pacing is sluggish and his visuals have the flat quality of bad episodic television. The American/Italian coproduction also bears the hallmarks of an insufficient budget, thanks to stock-footage aerial shots and, in one scene, a distracting cut during a rear-projection shot that amusingly presages a jokey rear-projection scene in Airplane! (1980) featuring . . . Robert Stack. In lieu of cinematic and/or narrative interest, Story of a Woman offers little to entice the viewer except a plaintive score by John Williams. Farentino is genuinely terrible here, whispering whole swaths of dialogue and embarrassing himself while trying to convey overpowering emotion. Andersson, unsurprisingly, fares much better, but even though her scene work is consistently believable, she’s hamstrung by Bercovici’s enervated scripting. As for Stack, he’s way out of his element. Watchable whenever he plays intense characters, he’s as compelling as lint in the role of a sensitive everyman. 

Story of a Woman: FUNKY

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Le Magnifique (1973)

          How silly is Le Magnifique, a comedic French/Italian riff on the secret-agent genre? A description of the opening scene should answer that question. First, a man steps into a phone booth. Then villains in a helicopter use giant pincers to lift the booth. Next the villains drop the booth into open water, where it settles next to a cage containing a shark. Divers install a chute connecting the booth to the shark enclosure, then release the shark to attack the guy in the booth. A charitable reading of Le Magnifique would denote that scene as a droll satire on the absurdly baroque violence in secret-agent stories. A less charitable reading? Childish inanity. While Le Magnifique eventually manifests a secondary storyline that is more palatable than dopey spoofery, viewers have to power through lots of tomfoolery in order to enjoy stronger elements.
          Jean-Paul Belmondo stars as both Bob Saint-Clar, a lethal stud in the James Bond tradition, and François Merlin, the shlub who writes quickie novels about Bob Saint-Clar. The Bob storyline involves the usual battle against a ruthless nemesis with an army of henchmen. The other storyline tracks François’s growing disenchantment with his pulp-writer lifestyle, plus his involvement with beautiful neighbor Christine (Jacqueline Bisset). She’s working on a degree in sociology and she’s intrigued by the popularity of schlock novels. As the movie progresses, François uses an in-progress manuscript to lampoon aspects of his real life, so Christine becomes Bob’s adoring companion and François’s condescending publisher morphs into the villain who makes Bob’s life difficult. The most imaginative bits of Le Magnifique jump back and forth between the everyday world and the realm of François’s aspirational fantasies. Because the movie’s premise is that François knows his novels are ridiculous, there’s no limit to how outrageous Bob’s exploits can become. At various times, this results in over-the-top gore, leering shots of Bisset running in slow motion, and broad-comedy slapstick.
          Le Magnifique is the kind of lighthearted movie that tries to get by on density and pace—so many noisy things happen in such quick succession that viewers are discouraged from thinking too deeply about characterizations and narrative logic. This frenetic approach works occasionally, but the fantasy scenes get so goofy and repetitive they lose their charm more rapidly than the “real” scenes. Naturally, one’s tolerance for this sort of material depends on one’s familiarity with and/or affection toward the secret-agent genre (spoofs of which were hardly in short supply by the time Le Magnifique was made). Yet the picture boasts enough colorful production design and inviting location photography to provide a candy-coated veneer, and both leading actors understood the assignment. Bisset is dazzlingly pretty even as she struggles to surmount the degrading aspects of her role, and Belmondo has a blast sending up his Mr. Cool image. Le Magnifique also has a solid behind-the-scenes pedigree: writers Philippe de Broca (who directed), Jean-Paul Rappeneau, and Francis Veber all earned Oscar nominations during their careers.
          FYI, this picture is only tangentially related to the prior Broca/Belmondo collaboration That Man from Rio (1964), another spoof of spy flicks; presumably Le Magnifique was retitled That Man from Acapulco in some markets to piggyback on goodwill toward the earlier movie.

Le Magnifique: FUNKY

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Have a Nice Weekend (1975)

Here’s the yawn-inducing plot of no-budget/no-name horror dud Have a Nice Weekend—several people visiting a remote island in the Northeast get preyed upon by a mysterious killer. Yep that’s it, notwithstanding superficial references to a Vietnam vet suffering PTSD, romantic partners sparring with each other, and other random elements. Even describing the people who appear onscreen as characters requires a flexible definition of that word, seeing as how the behavior in the movie ranges from idiotic to inexplicable. Much of the running time gets wasted on amateurish vignettes of folks walking through autumnal forests, exchanging inane chitty-chat, or both. Occasionally a murder happens, but it’s impossible to care about the victims, and the killer’s identity, when revealed, is wholly arbitrary. Yet Have a Nice Weekend contains exactly one so-bad-it’s-good sequence, during which the cast gathers around a corpse to spew vacuous dialogue. Here’s a sample. “I don’t know,” the first guy says, “this looks pretty serious.” The second guy replies: “He’s dead!” Then the first guy fires back: “I can see that he’s dead!” You get the idea. Were one to strain to find something praiseworthy, cinematographer Robert Ipcar frames a few pleasant angles of people surrounded by fall foliage, but multicolored leaves should not provide more interest than a body count. Weirdly, John Byrum has the lead writing credit on this embarrassment even though his other 1975 releases were the legit features Inserts (which he wrote and directed) and Mahogany (which he cowrote). Byrum appears to be the only Have a Nice Weekend participant to achieve much of note.

Have a Nice Weekend: LAME