Saturday, May 7, 2022

Togetherness (1970)

A dreary attempt at romantic farce that employs such hackneyed conceits as cartoonishly exaggerated class differences, wholly unconvincing fake personas, and a crass wager between would-be seducers, Togetherness teams C-listers George Hamilton and Peter Lawford with European beauties Giorgia Moll and Olga Schoberová. Yawn. Even the film’s Mediterranean locations fail to impress because the movie’s photography is so flat and unimaginative. In fact, nearly everything in Togetherness lands with a thud, so the picture represented a shaky transition to features for writer-director Arthur Marks, who previously helmed episodes of Gunsmoke and Perry Mason. (He followed this rotten movie with more low-budget flicks, including a handful of energetic blaxploitation movies, before returning to episodic television.) The interminable first half of Togetherness concerns horny jet-setter Jack DuPont (Hamilton) trying to bed voluptuous Yugoslavian athlete Nina (Schoberová) after they meet in Greece. Because Nina is a stalwart communist, Jack pretends to be a poor journalist instead of a rich playboy, but the courtship storyline makes Nina seem like a hopeless idiot because Jack’s ruse is so transparent. Eventually, Togetherness gets around to its real storyline when Jack and Nina take a boat trip with Jack’s friend, Solomon (Lawford), a European prince whose beautiful companion, Josee (Moll), pretends to tolerate Solomon’s infidelity. Solomon and Josee bet each other they can woo Nina and Jack, respectively. Hilarity does not ensue. To get a sense of how desperately Togetherness reaches for laughs, the most prominent supporting character is “Hipolitas Mollnar,” a boisterous Eastern European painter played by John Banner, best known as Sgt. Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes. Even by the pathetic standards of this movie, Banner’s relentless mugging is excruciating. Sluggish, tacky, and unfunny, Togetherness is so inert that Marks would have been better served executing the piece as a sex comedy. Lively and sleazy would have been preferable to dull and smarmy.

Togetherness: LAME

Monday, May 2, 2022

Hangup (1974)

          Painfully generic blaxploitation melodrama Hangup provides a minor footnote within film history because it was the last picture helmed by Golden Age stalwart Henry Hathaway, once a reliable director of action movies and Westerns. Exactly none of his former ability is on display here—Hangup has all the momentum and style of a bad TV episode. To be fair, the version screened for this blog is an abbreviated cut that was re-released as Super DudeStill, nothing suggests a few extra moments of character development could possibly elevate Hangup into anything meritorious, especially because the leading performances by William Elliott and Marki Bey are lifeless. He plays a college student training to be a cop (who somehow snags an undercover gig on a narcotics squad) and she plays his high-school dream girl, now lost in a spiral of drug addiction and sex work. The threadbare plot involves Ken (Elliott) pumping Julie (Bey) for information he can use to nail a big-time supplier named Richards (Michael Lerner). Predictably, close proximity causes Ken and Julie to fall in love. Tragedy ensues.

          Shot in grungy pockets of Los Angeles on a minuscule budget, Hangup plods along at a dreary pace exacerbated by Bey’s and Elliott’s wooden acting. In their defense, it would take a special class of thespian to animate lines such as this one: “I’m hooked on her the same way she was hooked on smack!” Yet at least for its first hour, Hangup is moderately watchable because the hackneyed contrivance of a narc falling for a junkie has inherent drama. Alas, that strength leads to Hangup’s biggest weakness. When there are still more than 20 minutes left to go, the movie wraps up the love story, a glitch made worse because the main villain has also been sidelined. These narrative choices slow the pace nearly to the point of inertia. And then there’s the sleaze factor—or, rather, the lack thereof. Notwithstanding a few topless scenes, Hangup feels restrained in comparison to, say, Jack Hill’s gonzo blaxploitation joints. So while an easily offended viewer might find Hangup more palatable than other films from the same genre, serious Blaxploitation fans will be left jonesing for a fix of something rougher.

Hangup: FUNKY

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Every Eagles Song Podcast Interview

We will return to our regularly scheduled programming shortly. In the meantime, please indulge some hype for my other blog, Every Eagles Song. Thank you to the folks at Jacked Up Review Show podcast for inviting me to chat about all things Eagles. Although the interview mostly gets into facts and figures about band history, the conversation also includes thoughts about why the group and their music have lasted. As a bonus, the chat vividly demonstrates why I should never be put in proximity to math. At one point I note the Eagles have been together much longer as a heritage touring band than they originally were together as an active recording entity, but I say the current span is approaching 20 years when of course I should have said 30 years because the reunion began in 1994. (Arithmetic, forever my mortal enemy.) Anyway, click the link to hear the podcast, which runs a little over one hour: 
Jacked Up Eagles Podcast.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Wild in the Sky (1972)

          A youth-culture riff on Dr. Strangelove (1964), Wild in the Sky has elements that might have cohered under stronger artistic leadership, but there’s a reason you’ve never heard of director William T. Naud, who also cowrote the picture. His storytelling wobbles between haphazard and inept, so he was not the guy to integrate dark sociopolitical commentary with wannabe-poignant character arcs and goofy physical comedy. It doesn’t help that the movie’s performances are all over the place, from Keenan Wynn’s blustery villainy to Brandon de Wilde’s quiet sensitivity; similarly, it doesn’t help that the picture was made on such a meager budget that all of its shots of airplanes in flight are grainy stock footage. To appreciate the picture’s meager virtues, the charitable viewer must overlook a lot of glaring flaws.
          After three young activists escape a prison-transport vehicle, they flee to an Air Force base and sneak into the belly of a B-52. Once the plane takes flight with a nuclear payload, the activists hijack the aircraft, thus causing havoc among military officials, some of whom are worried the crisis will expose a scheme involving misappropriated defense funds. Among the film’s characters are an uptight pilot hiding the fact that he’s gay, a radio operator who makes dirty phone calls, and a debauched flyer who suggests the hijackers aim the plane toward Hamburg so he can party in that city’s red-light district. Theoretically, any of these characterizations is workable for satirical purposes, but the movie also includes overly cartoonish characterizations, such as the U.S. president who spends his downtime zooming around in a dune buggy.
          The film’s eclectic cast includes many actors familiar to viewers of ’60s/’70s TV: Georg Stanford Brown, Bernie Kopell, Robert Lansing, Tim O’Connor, etc. Yet much of the screen time gets consumed by Wynn (not coincidentally a holdover from Dr. Strangelove), and his shouting gets tiresome. Plus, in a sign of true desperation, the filmmakers enlisted Dub Taylor to unleash his angry-redneck shtick during a few scenes. Arguably, the standout performance is given by Dick Gautier (of Get Smart and many other things) because his rendition of the debauched flyer achieves Lebowski levels of chill. Alas, too much of the picture gets mired in comedy bits that don’t connect. In one scene, characters play hot potato with a grenade; in another, an officer demands that an injured soldier set aside his crutches to salute, causing the injured soldier to pratfall. FYI, Wild in the Sky was re-released as Black Jack, so don’t be fooled by the Blaxploitation-style poster emphasizing Brown after his breakout success on TV show The Rookies.

Wild in the Sky: FUNKY

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Dark Sunday (1976)

          One can’t question the consistency of Earl Owensby’s earliest cinematic efforts. After scoring hits on the drive-in circuit by playing a righteous avenger in Challenge and its sequel The Brass Ring (both released in 1974), actor-producer Owensby went back to the well for Dark Sunday, in which he portrays a preacher who seeks vengeance after drug dealers assault his family. All three flicks are shameless rip-offs of Walking Tall (1973), so those seeking depth, nuance, or originality should look elsewhere. However, if the red meat of an aggrieved everyman wiping out scumbags stimulates your appetite, then consider Dark Sunday the equivalent of a fast-food mealif you know it’s bad for you but you eat it anyway, then you have no one to blame but yourself for the indigestion you experience afterward. Crudely made in Owensby’s home base of North Carolina, Dark Sunday was nominally directed by Jimmy Huston, who helmed several projects for the actor-producer, and it was nominally written by Thom McIntyre, another E.O. Studios veteran, but every frame bears the crass fingerprints of the project’s main man, who built a fortune by peddling cinematic junk.
          Lest we forget, Owensby is among the most unlikely screen personas of the ’70s—despite regularly casting himself as a fierce man of action, Owensby was at the time of his box-office success doughy and middle-aged. To quote Mel Brooks, it’s good to be the king!
          In Dark Sunday, Owensby plays Reverend James Lowery, whose flock includes young people mired in drugs. When one of these youths dies of an overdose, Lowery vows to clean up the streets. This puts him in the crosshairs of drug lord Herbert Trexler (Martin Beck), who sends thugs to take out Lowery and his family. The reverend’s wife and one of his sons are killed, another son is paralyzed, and Lowery is rendered mute with a bum leg. Upon leaving the hospital, Lowery cruises a grungy downtown area until he finds drug dealers, then starts killing them until he discovers the identity of the man pulling the strings. And so on. Name a cliché you might imagine fitting this framework and you’ll find it in Dark Sunday. Lowery befriends a noble hooker and a blind street preacher. He beats up a black drug dealer named “Candyman.” Lowery exhibits superhuman stamina, enjoys absurd good luck, and somehow also manages to inconvenience a corrupt cop. All of this leads to a laugh-out-loud climax that won’t be spoiled here; suffice to say that Owensby and co. took a big swing and missed spectacularly. This unintentionally hilarious misstep is a perfect capper for 99 minutes of grindhouse sludge.

Dark Sunday: FUNKY

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Brother on the Run (1973)

          Minor blaxploitation melodrama Brother on the Run doesn’t come anywhere close to fulfilling the promise of its fantastic title, and the reasons why begin with the premise. After an attempted robbery goes awry, leaving a shopkeeper dead, small-time crooks Billy (Kyle Johnson) and Frank (Gary Rist) become the targets of a police dragnet. For story reasons, it’s important to note that Billy is black. In scenes intercut with the robbery storyline, Brother on the Run sets up that college professor Grant (Terry Carter), who is also black, lives next door to a hooker named Maud (Gwenn Mitchell), with whom he’s casually acquainted. Maud is Billy’s older sister, so the fugitives try hiding at her place until the police come knocking. Grant gets hip to what’s going on, so he meets the crooks and becomes sympathetic to their plight. Then, once the manhunt resumes, Grant promises Maud that he’ll try to find Billy before the cops. All of this raises questions. Since Billy is guilty of at least being an accomplice, why does Grant get involved? Since Billy makes it clear at Maud’s place that he’s against surrendering to the cops, what is Grant’s plan once he tracks Billy down? And why does Grant stop in the middle of his search for Billy to service a horny white lady?
           One assumes the filmmakers neither thought these questions through nor expected theatergoers to do so—more likely, the goal was to generate cheap thrills by exploiting the provocative notion that any black suspect running from white cops has a target on his back. Several passable blaxploitation flicks arose from that same notion, so the failure of Brother on the Run to generate excitement seems attributable to behind-the-camera carelessness as well as shortfalls in production resources. Cowritten and codirected by veteran TV guys Edward J. Lasko and Herbert L. Strock, the movie feels choppy, rushed, and under-budgeted; characterizations are laughably thin, the storyline is riddled with dopey coincidences, and the movie’s attempts at sociopolitical messaging are pathetic. (If only the filmmakers had leaned into bizarro moments such as the bit during which Maud provides gentle BDSM fun for a cross-dressing client.)
          Offering marginal interest is the presence of actors better known for work they later did on the small screen. Playing the lead is Terry Carter, subsequently a regular on the original Battlestar Galactica series, and playing the main cop is James B. Sikking, who eventually found minor fame on Hill Street Blues. Even with a handful of watchable elements, however, Brother on the Run adds little to the blaxploitation experience.

Brother on the Run: FUNKY

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

L.A. 2017 (1971)

          While the 1971 telefilm Duel was the first standalone feature-length project that Steven Spielberg made as a professional, he directed two other pieces with commensurate running times the same year, namely the first weekly episode of the long-running detective series Columbo and this installment of a series called The Name of the Game. Given how central science fiction subsequently became in Spielberg’s work, L.A. 2017 is of particular interest. Additionally, L.A. 2017 plays like standalone piece because its only narrative connection to The Name of the Game is protagonist Glenn Howard (Gene Barry), who time-travels away from the series’ modern-day milieu for the duration of this adventure.

          While driving through smoggy canyons in Los Angeles, socially conscious magazine publisher Glenn succumbs to noxious fumes and crashes his car. Emergency personnel wearing gas masks and protective suits extract Glenn from his vehicle and drive him to a sprawling underground campus. Through interactions with psychiatrist/policeman Cameron (Severn Darden) and high-powered politician Bigelow (Barry Sullivan), Glenn learns that he’s in the Los Angeles of the future, and that civilization has been driven underground by environmental degradation. Per the talky script by Philip Wylie, what ensues has more exposition than excitement. In this grim future, America functions as a corporation with totalitarian control over citizens. People exchange math equations instead of jokes, much of the population is sterile, and everyone is under constant surveillance. Given Glenn’s unique status as a man out of time, Bigelow asks him to become a propogandist for the government, but he rebels—with the assistance of Sandrelle (Sharon Farrell), an attractive woman assigned to be Glenn’s consort.

          Watching L.A. 2017, it’s possible to discern why the piece, in tandem with Spielberg’s other 1971 work, helped raise his profile—the director does a lot with a little. Frenetic movement and tight angles make scenes in underground tunnels feel appropriately claustrophobic, and Spielberg guides actors portraying villains to underplay, which adds to the general air of menace. Moreover, the piece’s biggest shortcomings (flat scripting, meager budget) originated above the young director’s pay grade. While nowhere near as revelatory as Duel, this piece demonstrates that even in his earliest efforts, Spielberg had a formidable skillset. No wonder he graduated to theatrical features after a relatively short run as a Universal Television worker bee.

L.A. 2017: FUNKY

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Linda Lovelace for President (1975)

Any hopes that Linda Lovelace for President might realize the satirical possibilities of its title disappear the instant the movie starts, because everything about this low-budget embarrassment is crude and inane. The first shot features Lovelace, the notorious actress from Deep Throat (1972), wearing just a helmet and a pistol belt in front of an American flag, evoking Patton (1970)—but instead of a pithy speech, the movie offers superimposed text: “This picture is intended to offend everybody.” If only. At a festival presented by offbeat special-interest groups (KKK, AAA, AA, “Suicide for Fun Committee,” etc.), leaders jokingly select Lovelace as their predidential candidate. Once Lovelace (who plays herself) gets told about the idea, she requests permission from her Uncle Sam (Robert Symonds), a patriotically dressed sleazebag obsessed with his niece’s breasts. After receiving Sam’s endorsement, Lovelace participates in a barnstorming tour that comprises most of the slapdash movie’s running time. Predictably, she pauses at regular intervals for sex. In one of many cringe-inducing sequences, Lovelace and her people visit a hillbilly compound. When Lovelace wanders into the nearby woods to bathe in a waterfall, she’s spotted by redneck tree dweller “Tarbo” and his pet chimp. Then, while Lovelace screws Tarbo, the chimp makes lascivious remarks by way of dubbed lines from a comedian. In the same sequence, Lovelace’s flamboyantly gay advisor Bruce (Danny Goldman) makes out with two yokels in an outhouse until the outhouse gets tipped over, causing three gay characters to get swathed in excrement. Ugh. (By my count, the movie has exactly one good joke—after Bruce raises campaign money by turning tricks at a frat house, he says, “I turned a rich fraternity into a poor sorority.”) Eventually, people threatened by Lovelace’s popularity recruit “The Assassinator,” a hit man played by comedian Chuck McCann, whose idiotic mugging is excruciating to watch. This movies script is a hyperactive barrage of unfunny gags, the direction is mindless, Lovelace can’t act, and the comedy professionals surrounding her demean themselves by participating. (Also appearing are Micky Dolenz, of the Monkees, and Scatman Crothers.) FYI, this movie was released in X- and R-rated versions, but both are softcore.

Linda Lovelace for President: LAME

Monday, January 3, 2022

Another Blog? Yes, Another Blog!

Taking advantage of the unexpected downtime we’ve all had in the last couple of years, I recently completed a musical adventure by revisiting the catalog of my favorite band, the Eagles. As the blog you’re reading right now demonstrates, my investigation of random subjects that that I find engaging often enters the realm of OCD excess, so listening to the Eagles prompted me to write about them—hence my new blog, Every Eagles Songwhich I’m publishing this year to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the band’s first album. (Visit the blog here.) If you’re also a fan, head over to the new blog to read my musical musings, then feel free to share your reactions via the comments. (If you dig what you find over there, spread the word!) The new blog won’t have anywhere near the scope of this one; all the currently planned posts will publish within two months. Nonetheless, this project should be a fun ride for like-minded souls. And with that, it’s back to our regularly scheduled Every ’70s Movie programming. As always, keep on keepin’ on!

Monday, December 27, 2021

The Adventures of Frontier Fremont (1975)

          A year after they scored a box-office hit with The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, star Dan Haggerty and the same behind-the-scenes team reconvened for The Adventures of Frontier Fremont, which rehashes elements from the previous film. Once again, the story concerns a man who ventures into the wilderness of the American West circa the mid-1800s, and once again, the narrative focuses on the main character’s special relationships with animals. As always, Haggerty seems as if he was born for playing this type of role, not only because he cuts a formidable figure with his bulky frame and glorious mane of golden hair, but because he began his film career as an animal handler. Few actors look as comfortable interacting with frontier critters as Haggerty did. Where Frontier Fremont differs from Grizzly Adams is that it’s closer to being a proper movie. Grizzly Adams didn’t feature synchronized dialogue, so the piece was awkwardly smothered with folksy voiceover. In Frontier Fremont, viewers actually get to hear Haggerty and his fellow cast members speak. The presentation of conventional scenes makes Frontier Fremont flow more smoothly than its predecessor, even though the filmmakers can’t help but include folksy voiceover here and there.
         To call the movie’s story slight would require exaggeration. Jacob Fremont (Haggerty) departs civilization because living in the wilderness promises new experiences. On his way to the frontier, he meets a grumpy mountain man (Denver Pyle), who subsequently becomes a minor recurring character and also provides the aforementioned narration. Jacob’s odyssey follows a predictable course. He loses his supplies in an accident, so he must learn to live off the land. He befriends various animals, including a bear cub and a wolf cub, thus becoming a surrogate parent to furry foundlings. He clashes with hunters who encroach upon terrain that Jacob becomes determined to protect. Over time, Jacob evolves from an adventurer to a woodland messiah, inspiring awed reactions from white men and Native Americans alike.
          All of this is cloying hogwash, of course. Pyle’s character says things like “Holy jumpin’ squirrel fish!” and “Well, I’ll be kicked and dragged through a bucket of lard!” Haggerty and Pyle sing a cutesy song during a cabin-building montage. Adorable baby animals frolic. Panoramic shots capture magnificent scenery. It’s the same formula that made the Grizzly Adams movie a hit, and it’s the same formula that permeated the ensuing Grizzly Adams TV series (again starring Haggerty), which ran from early 1977 to late 1978. If you like ogling nature and don’t mind cornpone sentimentality, all of this stuff works for you. If not, none of it does.

The Adventures of Frontier Fremont: FUNKY

Monday, December 20, 2021

Memory of Us (1974)

          The quintessential figure of a woman who has everything and yet has nothing, Betty (Ellen Geer) is a housewife with a successful husband, Brad (Jon Cypher), healthy kids, and a spacious home. Alas, Betty knows that Brad has a mistress, which makes Betty feel so unmoored that she rents a hotel room in which she can privately explore hobbies, such as photography. It’s Betty’s way of starting a new life without destroying her old one. Meanwhile, voicever reveals what’s going through Betty’s mind, such as questions she wishes she could ask her husband: “Why can’t we look at each other anymore? Why can’t we be tender? Do you tell as many lies to me as I do to you?” All of this should indicate the overly earnest vibe of Memory of Us, a low-budget character study starring and written by Ellen Geer, daughter of familiar movie/TV actor Will Geer. Although Memory of Us speaks to issues that were important in the mid-’70s zeitgeist, such as shifting family dynamics during the time of the sexual revolution and the women’s movement, the movie is so plainspoken and unambitious that it feels like a slight telefilm rather than a theatrical feature.

          One problem is that while Ellen Geer is unquestionably a serious actress, she lacks magnetism. Another problem is the aforementioned voiceover, which functions as a narrative crutch—rather than providing insights that viewers wouldn’t be able to glean from dramatic context, the voiceover affirms things viewers already know, thereby giving the whole enterprise a plodding quality. Only two elements of the storyline have any real inventiveness. The business of renting a hotel room as a private getaway lends metaphorical interest, and a sequence in which Betty hires a hitchhiker to pose as her lover suggests dangerous possibilities. Predictably, however, those possibilities never lead to anything. And that’s the biggest problem with this well-meaning but wholly forgettable movie—the storyline is forever on the verge of going somewhere powerful, but it always pumps the brakes before things get heavy. To paraphrase the title of another women’s picture released the same year, Memory of Us might as well have been titled Betty Is Thinking of Not Living Here Anymore.

          Incidentally, Memory of Us was the second Ellen Geer-scripted feature issued by small-time distributor Cinema Financial in 1974—the family film Silence, with Will Geer in the leading role, came out a month earlier. To date, these are the only two films Ellen Geer has written.

Memory of Us: FUNKY

Monday, December 13, 2021

Delirium (1979)

Is Delirium a conspiracy thriller disguished as a slasher flick? Or is it a provocative story about PTSD and vigilante justice rendered inert by clumsy execution? Or is it just a hot mess resulting from filmmakers jamming as many genre-movie signifiers as possible into one production? The answer to each of these questions is “yes,” but Delirium is less than the sum of its parts. An amateurish low-budget endeavor filmed in St. Louis, Delirium toggles between craven exploitation-flick sleaze and laughable attempts at thematic heaviosity. It’s possible to follow what’s happening, and the picture rarely wants for narrative events, so it’s not unwatchable. However there’s no good reason for most viewers to endure the movie’s 85 minutes—those eager to find hidden pulp-fiction gems should try digging elsewhere. Nonetheless, here are the details for bold souls who can’t be dissuaded. After a young woman is impaled in her apartment, stalwart policeman Larry (Terry TenBroek) questions the victim’s pretty roommate, Susan (Debi Chaney), for clues about the killer’s identity. Concurrently, the film tracks the killer, Charlie (Nick Panouzis), as his rampage continues. Viewers learn that Charlie is an unhinged Vietnam vet associated with a cabal that kills criminals who get off on technicalities. Realizing that Charlie has gone rogue by murdering innocents, the conspriators try to neutralize him before he leads cops to their lair. In competent hands, some of this material might have worked (see 1983’s The Star Chamber), but everything about Delirium is rushed and sloppy, from the anemic acting to the ridiculous use of St. Louis as stand-in for Vietnam during flashbacks. Worse, the presence of grindhouse extremes—unpleasnant scenes of women getting slaughtered—makes the movie’s nods to postwar anguish feel like crass add-ons.

Delirium: LAME

Monday, December 6, 2021

The Astrologer (1975)

          It’s time to leave the real world behind and venture into the alternate universe created by a gentleman named Craig Denney, whose single contribution to the history of cinema is a mesmerizingly terrible paranormal parable called The Astrologer, of which he was both director and star. In this movie, Denney—perhaps best described as George Hamilton’s doughy little brother—plays a man whose adventures captivate the entire world, and whose mystical abilities far surpass those of normal people. Yes, The Astrologer is a cinematic ego trip of spectacular proportions. Denney’s moviemaking suggests the desperate groping of a film student who thinks he’s a once-in-a-lifetime genius even though he has trouble grasping fundamentals. Yet what really distinguishes The Astrologer is the insane ambition of the narrative, credited to screenwriter Dorothy June Pidgeon. (Like Denney, she never did anything else in the picture business.) Despite running less than 90 minutes, The Astrologer packs enough plot for a David Lean epic.
          This movie goes terribly wrong right from the start, after which problems metastasize at a staggering pace. Running through some high points should give a sense of The Astrologer’s deep weirdness. In a prologue, we meet the title character as a youth picking pockets in Long Beach, California, until he’s jailed for vandalizing police cars. (Establishing the movie’s nonsensical pattern, no reason is ever given for why he committed the crime.) Cut to a few years later, when grown-up Craig (Denney) has become as a bogus psychic. He gives a Zodiacal reading to a woman named Darrien (Darrien Earle), during which he pronounces “Libra” as lie-bra, not lee-bra. (Apparently referencing a dictionary was beyond Denney’s powers.) Craig shacks up with Darrien, but she leaves because he can’t generate steady income, so, naturally, Craig befriends an oil executive who wants to get into the diamond-smuggling business. Cut to Craig in a Kenyan prison after getting caught smuggling. Random violence ensues—such as a shooting punctuated by cartoon blood dripping down the screen—before viewers get treated to a snake-attack sequence set to thundering classical music by Gustav Holst.
         Next comes a vignette of someone drowning in quicksand, followed by a lengthy sequence of Craig working on a sailing vessel to the accompaniment of the Moody Blues’ “Tuesday Afternoon.” (As in nearly the whole eight-minute song.) Craig lands in the tropics, where he arranges to sell diamonds to Dietrich (Joe Kaye). Who’s Dietrich, you ask? He’s the corrupt cop who abused Craig in Kenya, obviously. Stop asking silly questions! (Important sidenote: Kaye’s performance is endearingly terrible, especially when he describes a nettlesome female character by saying, “Basically she’s just another guttersnipe—I’ll deal with her accordingly.”) Enriched with $2 million from the diamond sale, Craig returns to California and makes a film titled The Astrologer starring himself. It’s at this point Denney’s movie enters metatextual-freakout territory. The film-within-a-film is a huge success, turning Craig into both a media mogul and a celebrity spiritualist, so he simultaneously produces TV shows and helps the U.S. military by making psychic predictions. In his spare time, Craig tracks down his old girlfriend Darrien, which triggers florid melodrama straight out of a daytime soap.
          Appraised conventionally, The Astrologer is such an amateurish endeavor that it doesn’t merit a moment’s thought. Viewed through the proper psychotronic prism, however, The Astrologer is ceaselessly delightful. The acting is wooden. The writing is clueless. The directing is even more so. The production values are hilariously cheap. And in scene after scene, storytelling choices are totally confounding. During a trippy sex-club vignette, the camera repeatedly cuts to a shot of a urinal. During a crucial conversation sequence, the soundtrack omits dialogue in favor of a bombastic Procul Harum song. And in a final grace note, the credits announce that The Astrologer was filmed in—wait for it—Astravision. Perhaps that’s as good a word as any for how disoriented you’ll feel after absorbing the singular experience that is The Astrologer.
          It’s not a movie, man. It’s a vision. An astravision.

The Astrologer: FREAKY

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Mon oncle Antoine (1971)

          Set in rural Quebec during the 1940s, Mon oncle Antoine is mostly the intimate character study of a teenager experiencing formative experiences over a Christmas holiday. Strongly evoking the work of François Truffaut (albeit without the master’s discipline or whimsy), Mon oncle Antoine explores several major themes simultaneously. Most effective is the coming-of-age material. Nearly as potent are scenes investigating the dynamics of a group that functions like a family. Least impactful, alas, are efforts at tethering this small story to a larger narrative about looming social change in French-speaking Canada. That said, one must admire the ambition of the piece, especially because the notion of world-class indigenous Canadian cinema barely existed at the time Mon oncle Antoine was made. (There’s a reason why this movie has for decades been prominent on lists of the best Canadian movies ever made.)

          The picture gets off to an odd start, because cryptic early scenes depict the bleak life of Jos Poulin (Lionel Villeneuve), a French-speaking laborer. Then the movie awkwardly shifts from Jos’s remote milieu to the streets of a tiny town, where middle-aged Antoine (Jean Duceppe) operates a general store that doubles as a community hub. Antoine also serves as the local undertaker. Eventually, the filmmakers settle into the viewpoint of Antoine’s nephew, Benoit (Jacques Gagnon), who works in the store alongside Antoine’s wife, Cécile (Olivette Thibault); another teenager, Carmen (Lyne Champagne); and an adult clerk, Fernand (played by the film’s director, Claude Jutra). Antoine drinks, delegates, and vacillates between ignoring and seducing his wife, who seems a bit too receptive to Fernand’s flirtations. Meanwhile, Benoit endures the disorienting phase of learning how to critically appraise grownups—and how to manage growing awareness of Carmen’s sexuality. The main narrative begins about halfway through the movie, when Antoine gets the call to collect a body from a home in the countryside. Benoit tags along, but the journey becomes a test that everyone involved fails.

          Notwithstanding a few moments of levity, Mon oncle Antoine is largely clinical and downbeat. Through Antoine’s eyes, we see how some lives fall into downward spirals, how other lives get stuck in empty routines, and how still more lives encompass only disappointment and regret. Left to the audience’s imagination, of course, is how Antoine might respond to these lessons. Co-written and directed by Jutra, a major pioneer in Canadian narrative film, Mon oncle Antoine boasts engrossing location work and persuasively naturalistic performances. Events feel authentic, as well, perhaps because the storyline was inspired by the youthful experiences of co-writer Clément Perron. Whether it’s accurate to call their film uniquely Canadian is best left to those born in the Great White North, but beyond dispute is the assertion that Mon oncle Antoine is thoroughly empathetic—perhaps to a fault. One can’t help but wonder how a more surgical edit of the same footage might have come across. 

Mon oncle Antoine: GROOVY

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Smile Jenny, You're Dead (1974)


          Offering a thoughtful spin on the TV-detective genre, Smile, Jenny, You’re Dead is a reboot of sorts, serving as the second pilot attempt for a series starring small-screen veteran David Janssen as sensitive private eye Harry Orwell. (A few months after this telefilm was broadcast, hourlong series Harry O began its two-year run.) What distinguishes Smile Jenny, You’re Dead from other TV mystery fare of the same era is a focus on emotions and psychology, rather than action and plot twists. The effort to render a serious crime drama for grown-up viewers is bolstered by imaginative cinematography and moody scoring. Alas, the acting is not universally outstanding, and the suspense quotient is low, an unavoidable repercussion of avoiding the standard whodunnit route. Nonetheless, the movie is in many ways refreshingly humane.

          Harry (Janssen) is a cop on disability following an on-the-job shooting, so he picks up extra cash working as a private investigator. Living alone on a Southern California beach, he’s forever toiling on a boat that seems years away from seaworthiness, and his most perverse characteristic—by Los Angeles standards, anyway—is that he doesn’t drive. Another quirk? No gun. When a friend’s adult daughter gets harassed by a stalker, Harry takes the job of protecting her. She’s Jenny (Andrea Marcovicci), a model trying to divorce an overbearing man while taking comfort in the arms of a much older lover; Harry also finds himself attracted to her. Things get dangerous once Jenny’s stalker decides the men in Jenny’s life are better off dead.

          Writer Howard Rodman provides nuanced characterizations and slick dialogue, while director Jerry Thorpe periodically uses offbeat camera positions to give the movie an idiosyncratic quality. Accordingly, there are compensations in place of the thrills one might normally expect to encounter in such a piece. Janssen excels in the lead role, channeling his signature grumpiness into something complicated, so he’s at once appealing and harsh. Marcovicci does not leave a lasting impression, but Clu Gulager and Tim McIntire lend twitchy specificity to supporting roles, and Jodie Foster contributes her impressive poise to a small role as a youth separated from her mother. As for Jenny’s twisted tormentor, he’s portrayed by future softcore producer Zalman King, and his onscreen behavior is weirdly fascinating because he manages to simultaneously overact and underact.

Smile, Jenny, You’re Dead: FUNKY

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

The Girl in the Empty Grave (1977) & Deadly Game (1977)

The notion of playing a resort town’s top lawman must have lodged in Andy Griffith’s imagination after starring in the respectable made-for-TV thriller Winter Kill (1974), because he mined similar material for two attempts at launching a series. First came Adams of Eagle Lake (1975), an hourlong show that lasted only two episodes. Then came The Girl in the Empty Grave and Deadly Game, telefilms that aired in late 1977. Both were written by Lane Slate, who also created Adams of Eagle Lake, and it’s remarkable how consistently the strengths and weaknesses of Slate’s approach simultaneously enrich and flatten these flicks. Slate has fun surrounding Griffith’s protagonist with idiosyncratic townies, some of whom repeat in both movies, such as the earnest deputy played by James Cromwell. Slate’s pithy dialogue is at worst vacuously entertaining and at best genuinely delightful, so the details garnishing these films are tasty—especially because the discursive nature of Slate’s scripting suits Griffith’s avuncular performance style. Alas, the movie’s central mysteries are trifling, and Slate has a turgid way of resolving narratives.

In both pieces, Griffith plays Abel Marsh, the unflappable sheriff of Jasper Lake, a stand-in for the real Southern California city of Big Bear Lake,  where these movies were filmed. (Quick sidenote to make things even more complicated—Slate first introduced a version of Sheriff Abel Marsh, as portrayed by James Garner, in the 1972 theatrical feature They Only Kill Their Masters.) The Girl in the Empty Grave, as the title suggests, kicks off when Abel spots a young woman driving through town and recognizes her as the victim of a fatal car crash that occurred some time back. Deadly Game begins with a U.S. Army truck crashing outside Jasper Lake and thereby exposing the whole town to the dangerous chemical agent the truck was transporting. In both movies, determined and intuitive Abel won’t rest until he finds out what’s really happening—and then, inevitably, whodunnit. Even though both stories drag and meander, there’s almost always something of passing interest happening, whether it’s Griffith solving some logical puzzle or an offbeat supporting character lending comic relief.

While they’re largely interchangeable as far as quality goes, Deadly Game is incrementally more satisfying to watch than The Girl in the Empty Grave because one gets the sense that Slate, Griffith, and their collaborators were starting to figure out what worked and what didn’t for this would-be franchise. Deadly Game also benefits from the presence of the regal Dan O’Herlihy in the main guest-starring role, whereas The Girl in the Empty Grave features a host of rank-and-file character players. Naturally, both movies thrive on the novelty of Griffith channeling Andy Taylor while investigating cold-blooded felonies instead of no-harm-done misdemeanors. And perhaps that’s why these resort-town projects never captured the public’s imagination. Both telefilms are sufficiently gentle to seem like cousins to The Andy Griffith Show, but they integrate mature-audience elements that don’t square with The Andy Griffith Show’s vision of unthreatening Anytown U.S.A.

The Girl in the Empty Grave: FUNKY

Deadly Game: FUNKY

Monday, August 16, 2021

The Road to Salina (1970)

          This sultry European melodrama/thriller exists somewhere between classic film noir and the psychosexual explorations of Nicolas Roeg and David Lynch. Like classic film noir, The Road to Salina concerns an everyman who drifts into trouble because of an irresistible woman. And like many deliberately perverse movies perpetrated by Roeg and Lynch, The Road to Salina plays wicked games with chronology and morality. Also adding to the film’s allure is an offbeat cast and a potent musical score. In fact, the score has undoubtedly led many curious viewers to this picture, because Quentin Tarantino repurposed some music from The Road to Salina for Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004). Yet unlike grungier offerings to which QT often leads his acolytes, The Road to Salina has a somewhat elegant quality even though the subject matter is sordid.

          Per the noir playbook, the movie opens in media res, with a young man fleeing a remote location while a middle-aged woman screams for him to stay. The young man makes his way to a police station, reveals to the authorities (but not the audience) that something awful has happened, then reluctantly agrees to head back where it all went down. The remainder of the movie comprises the young man’s return trip, intercut with flashbacks while he explains past events to a cop. Via the flashbacks, we learn that Jonas (Robert Walker Jr.), an American drifting through Mexico, happened upon a gas station operated by Mara (Rita Hayworth). Mara mistook Jonas for her long-missing son. Upon determining that his hostess seemed harmlessly delusional, Jonas decided to indulge her fantasy for a few days. Then a neighbor named Warren (Ed Begley) showed up and he, too, mistook Jonas for Mara’s missing son. Things got really weird when Mara’s sexy daughter, Billie (Mimsy Farmer), became the third person to believe Jonas was someone else. This juncture shifts the movie into Roeg/Lynch territory, because Jonas learns that Billie was unusually intimate with her brother. It should come as no surprise to hint that Jonas’ strange erotic idyll eventually takes some dark turns.

          Given the twisted interpersonal dynamics of The Road to Salina, it’s a wonder the movie never becomes confusing. Director/co-writer George Lautner keeps the plotting as simple as possible, allowing viewers to marinate in bizarre moments—and to gradually unravel the film’s many mysteries. This streamlined narrative approach gives Lautner room for extended carnal vignettes, which Farmer and Walker perform without inhibition. Both actors essay familiar types well; Farmer’s dangerous impetuousness strikes believable sparks against Walker’s dopey recklessness. Meanwhile, the impact of watching faded screen icon Hayworth in a poignant role compensates for the shortcomings of her passable performance—the sense of a woman failing to reconcile comforting fantasies with intolerable reality is palpable. The Road to Salina is not for every taste, to be sure. The pacing can be leisurely, the plot requires suspension of disbelief, and the ending doesn’t quite achieve the impact it should. Nonetheless, there’s a lot to admire here in terms of boldness, heat, and style, so it’s heartening that the film eventually found a second life after briefly passing through American theaters back in the day.

The Road to Salina: GROOVY

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

5.5 Million Views!

What it is, people of the Interwebs! Touching base with a quick update on the blog’s continued growth, because the number of lifetime views received by Every ’70s Movie recently topped 5.5 million. Each of these milestones represents a far broader reach than I imagined when I started this project more than a decade (!) ago, so I remain immeasurably grateful to all of the readers who have supported this adventure, whether that’s someone who has been here since the beginning or someone who only recently discovered the blog. As for the ongoing life of this project, occasional posts continue whenever I’m able to point my retinas at something relevant that I hadn’t seen before. Concurrently, I post every day to the blog’s Instagram feed, so follow @every70smovie and share the feed with anyone who might dig the content. The Instagram feed features one movie per day in alphabetical order, accompanied by a link to the appropriate review. That’s what I’ve got for today, so until next time, keep on keepin’ on!

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Slow Dancing in the Big City (1978)

          If not for its posh production values and the pedigree of its director, the cutesy romance Slow Dancing in the Big City would come across like a mildly diverting but altogether forgettable TV movie. The narrative is slight in the extreme, blending an unpersuasive love story with melodramatic subplots, and if the filmmakers imagined they were rendering some sort of intoxicating modern-day fairy tale, they fell short of that goal. Nonetheless, Paul Sorvino’s affable leading performance goes a long way toward making the picture watchable, because he’s wonderfully cast as a rough-hewn but kindhearted New York City columnist sorta-kinda modeled after the inimitable Jimmy Breslin. In fact, it’s easy to imagine that playing the same character in a more consequential story, such as a political drama or better still a whimsical comedy, could have provided a star-making moment for Sorvino. Instead, Slow Dancing in the Big City flopped in theaters just a month after a better film costarring Sorvino, Bloodbrothers, suffered a similar fate. Thereafter, it was back to the character-actor grind.
          Lou Friedlander (Sorvino) enjoys a pleasant life as a minor New York celebrity thanks to his column featuring stories of everyday city people, but he’s bored in his casual relationship with a dowdy waitress. When he meets a dancer named Sarah (Anne Ditchburn), Lou becomes infatuated. Meanwhile, Lou writes stories about Marty (Hector Mercado), a preteen Latino who may be a musical prodigy but lives in a rough ghetto. Lou dumps the waitress so he can woo the years-younger Sarah, who subsequently experiences a serious medical crisis. And so it goes from there. Filmed in slick but uninspired fashion by John G. Avildsen, notching his first movie since winning an Oscar for Rocky (1976), Slow Dancing in the Big City has intermittent credibility. Since Ditchburn was a professional dancer, she’s impressive whenever she’s moving, less so whenever she’s acting. Yet Sorvino fits comfortably into his role, infusing an uncomplicated character with sweetness and warmth while avoiding mawkishness. The main problem, of course, is that it’s impossible to believe Sarah returns Lou’s affections, so the romantic stuff—which is the heart of the movie—rings false. Lesser problems include dreary pacing and a failure to flesh out supporting characters.

Slow Dancing in the Big City: FUNKY

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Sunnyside (1979)

          The bankable surname of of this obscure melodrama’s leading actor explains why he got above-the-title billing in his first movie, and the fact that you’ve probably never seen Joey Travolta in anything else explains why Sunnyside did not provide a career springboard. Yes, Sunnyside features a performance by John Travolta’s older brother—and, yes, he’s nearly as amateurish as you might imagine. The fact that his work is not outright embarrassing provides one reason why Sunnyside can’t be dismissed completely. This is the sort of bad movie that’s always just a few steps away from respectability. Some major elements are abysmal, particularly the storytelling, while others are just fine, such as the extensive location shooting in New York City. Additionally, several supporting performances are solid, with actors including Talisa Balsam and Chris Mulkey notching minor credits in the early days of their long careers. So even though it’s tempting to turn “the movie starring John Travolta’s brother” into a punchline, Sunnyside doesn’t invite scorn so much as it invites indifference. Having said that, was it really a great idea to feature Joey Travolta dancing in the first scene, thereby revealing yet another thing his famous sibling does better than Joey?
      Easygoing meathead Nick (Travolta) leads a street gang called the Nightcrawlers. After one too many humiliating run-ins with the carnies who operate an amusement park in Nick’s impoverished neighborhood, Nick allies with Reaper (Andrew Rubin), leader of a vicious gang called the Warlocks, to scare the carnies into better behavior. The plan backfires because the carnies beat the crap out of the Nightcrawlers—and because the Warlocks kill one of the carnies. Appalled by the Warlocks’ escalation, Nick musters his troops for a turf war. The movie also incorporates two love stories plus a subplot about Nick’s older brother, Denny (John Lansing), whom Nick hopes will steer clear of gang activities. Guess how that goes. Buried somewhere in this sloppy narrative is a trite but effective parable about the different ways people respond to the indignities of poverty, and it’s possible to see flashes of higher thematic aspirations amid the schlocky fight scenes and turgid romantic interludes. Two vignettes capture the extremes of Sunnyside. In one, Nick whines to his girlfriend (“I need you very much, but I gotta do what I gotta do”) before they make out to the accompaniment of bland disco balladry. Ugh. In the other vignette, the Warlocks commit shocking violence against the weakest of the Nightcrawlers to make a memorable statement. These extremes illustrate how Sunnyside toggles between two identities—a doomed star vehicle and a nasty inner-city potboiler.

Sunnyside: FUNKY

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Treasure Island (1972)

          As is true of most films with which Orson Welles was associated, this European adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 adventure novel boasts a behind-the-scenes saga that’s more interesting than the film itself. As for the movie, it’s a mostly adequate treatment of Stevenson’s tale, albeit one hampered by bland direction, forgettable supporting performances, sluggish pacing, and wretched dubbing. Yet even with these massive shortcomings, Treasure Island is not unpleasant to watch. The story is full of exotic locations, larger-than-life characters, plentiful violence, and tantalizing mysteries. In 18th-century England, young Jim Hawkins (Kim Burfield) helps his mother run a pub. One day, a crude old sailor named Billy Bones (Lionel Stander) shows up with grand talk of nautical adventures and grave warnings about a nefarious man with one leg. Before dying, Billy gives Jim a treasure map, so Jim signs on with local officials for a sea voyage to seek the treasure. Among the crew hired for the trek is a rascal named Long John Silver (Welles), who just happens to have only one leg. Inevitably, Silver leads a mutiny because he wants to steal the treasure for himself. And so it goes from there. Stevenson’s narrative holds up as well here as it does in myriad other screen adaptations, so there’s no disputing the innate allure of the material.
         Nonetheless, while watching this version of Treasure Island, one constantly feels the impact of behind-the-scenes shenanigans. Welles tried for years to mount the film as writer, director, and star, but by the time the financing came together, Welles had botched so many projects that he was unemployable as a filmmaker. Despite this disappointment, he remained involved as the project’s top-billed actor, and his long-shelved screenplay was used as the basis for the heavily rewritten final script—note the pseudonym “O.W. Jeeves” in the credits. The project’s money people assembled passable production values but skimped on casting, so the movie’s energy drains whenever Welles is offscreen. Worse, the energy often drains even when Welles is onscreen, because while dubbing his lines during post-production, Welles provided line readings so garbled and quiet that his dialogue is frequently incomprehensible. Sadly, Treasure Island provides yet another reminder that few people surpassed the former boy wonder in the fine art of self-destructive behavior. As a result, one can’t help but imagine what a full-blooded Welles interpretation of Silver might have been like—just as one can’t help but imagine how much more vibrant the picture would have been with Welles in the director’s chair.

Treasure Island: FUNKY

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Assault on the Wayne (1971)

          Mostly of interest for Leonard Nimoy fans curious to see how the beloved actor handles one of his rare leading-man roles, Assault on the Wayne is a brisk made-for-TV thriller that crams a respectable amount of plot into its fleeting runtime of 74 minutes. Nimoy plays uptight Cdr. Phil Kettenring, the skipper of a nuclear submarine carrying material related to an experimental program testing the ability of subs to launch counter-strikes against ICBMs. Naturally, bad guys conspire to steal the valuable material, so the fun is seeing how the villains try to engineer a high-seas heist.  In classic potboiler fashion, every featured member of the vessel’s passenger list has a corrupt agenda and/or a melodramatic backstory. For example, one of Ketternring’s trusted sidekicks is an aging sailor (Keenan Wynn) whose struggles with booze have kept him from rising in rank. Kettenring also tussles with a subordinate officer (Dewey Martin) who once overstepped his role by trying to referee Kettenring’s marital troubles. Is it even necessary to mention that most of the folks aboard the sub worry about the skipper’s wellness because he’s on the mend from a bad medical episode? You see, he’s got troubles, man, so the last thing he needs is attempted larceny while his boat is underwater.

          To some degree, describing Assault on the Wayne in such flip terms is fair because the picture was made in the days when networks cranked out disposable telefilms for the benefit of undemanding audiences—such was the nature of the marketplace during the heyday of three-network domination. Yet Assault on the Wayne, while hardly imaginative or lush or stylish, boasts a measure of professionalism. The script, by small-screen vet Jackson Gillis, delivers perfunctory elements of characterization and plot with slick efficiency, so what Assault on the Wayne lacks in depth, it makes up for in propulsion. Additionally, the combination of decent production values and a proficient cast yields a palatable experience. (Beyond Nimoy and Wynn, the picture also features Joseph Cotten, William Windom, Malachi Throne, and a pre-moustache Sam Elliott.) As for the main attraction, Nimoy’s just fine here—expressing everything from anguish to desperation to rage, he proves once more that he was a nimble performer capable of doing many things credibly.

Assault on the Wayne: FUNKY

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Deliver Us from Evil (1975)

          The last of three well-intentioned but hopelessly amateurish melodramas that writer/producer/director Horace Jackson made about the African-American experience, Deliver Us from Evil (later reissued as Joey) crams a hell of a lot of story into 96 minutes. Very broadly, the picture concerns the fateful intersection of a tormented man, a disabled child, a socially conscious grade-school recreation director, and a gang of drug-dealing thugs. There’s also a subplot about a young woman who appears in stage shows that dramatize troubles bedeviling her community, plus another subplot about a white cop struggling to understand systemic racism. Even a filmmaker of sublime storytelling ability would have difficulty balancing this many disparate elements. Jackson, despite his obvious desire to edify audiences, is not a filmmaker of sublime storytelling ability. Quite the opposite. Deliver Us from Evil sloppily connects badly constructed scenes, so not only is it difficult to track the narrative, it’s hard to take any single moment seriously because the writing, directing, and acting are substandard.

          After Chris (Renny Roker) is released from a mental institution, he encounters awful racists everywhere, so he’s understandably edgy. One day while driving, he spots a woman named Mindy (Marie O’Henry), who is stranded with car trouble, so he offers her a ride. Yet because Chris drives like a maniac, Mindy demands to leave his car. Upon doing so, she slaps Chris, so he chases her to a house where she visits wheelchair-bound Little Joe (Danny Martin), one of the students at the school where she works. Subsequently, Chris befriends Little Joe and starts dating a friend of Mindy’s. Meanwhile, a local street gang begins selling drugs at Mindy’s school, so she stands up to them, causing gang members beat Mindy and Little Joe. You get the idea. In trying to address a laundry list of social issues, Jackson creates an experience that’s confusing, grim, and preachy. (In one scene, Little Joe demonstrates his newfound ability to recite the Lord’s Prayer.)

          By the time Deliver Us from Evil climaxes with a nonsensical act of violence and a direct-to-camera speech about the futility of black-on-black violence, Jackson has fully succumbed to his worst inclinations, sacrificing narrative cohesion for ungainly rhetoric. It’s a pity, because while Jackson had many worthwhile things to say, he never found effective ways of saying them.

Deliver Us from Evil: FUNKY