Thursday, May 2, 2024

Bog (1979)


I’ve long wondered why so many zero-budget filmmakers botch their attempts at creature features, given that the formula for these pictures is so well-established. Sure, lack of production resources makes it challenging to build convincing onscreen monsters, but inventive people have found ways to convey diverting narratives while minimizing critter footage. But I suppose the answer to this conundrum is obvious—filmmakers with greater aptitude also have greater ambition, meaning the folks who make anemic monster movies often lack the drive to attempt anything else. All of which is a lugubrious path toward discussing Bog, a thoroughly uninteresting horror flick about a supernatural creature issuing from a murky lake to bedevil locals and tourists. Think Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) except set in America and bereft of everything that made Creature from the Black Lagoon exciting. Bog begins with a rural dimwit using dynamite to fish in a remote lake. Naturally, this activity rouses something deadly from down below. As the movie progresses, more people fall victim to the monster until the requisite duo of a policeman and a scientist join forces to tackle the crisis. These drab characters are played by actors late in their long careers, Gloria DeHaven and Aldo Ray, though it’s a stretch to say their participation gives Bog any patina of Hollywood gloss. While the narrative is coherent in an idiotic sort of way, everything about the movie is depressingly awful. The production values are weak, the thrills are nonexistent, and the monster suit is a joke—the costume is crowned by a giant fish head. The only novelty in Bog arises from DeHaven’s presence. Not only does she spew pseudoscientific gobbledygook about the creature’s reproductive habits, but she plays the second role of an aging backwoods mystic who may or may not have enjoyed relations with the creature. I suppose if you’re going to appear in a terrible movie, you might as well commit to the endeavor.

Bog: LAME

Friday, April 26, 2024

Blood Voyage (1976)



Mindless horror/thriller schlock that may or may not have slithered through theaters on its way to an ‘80s video release, Blood Voyage tells the dull story of a sailboat cruise during which crew members and passengers get murdered one by one. At no point do any survivors consider calling for help or turning the boat around, and for that matter nobody seems particularly concerned about what’s happening until the requisite climax during which the killer stalks the final victim. Yawn. If you must know the specifics, middle-aged shrink Dr. Craig (John Hart) sets out from LA for Hawaii accompanied by his decades-younger fiancée (Laurie Rose), his buxom daughter (Mara Modair), and a sexy patient with severe mental illness (Midori). The narrative function of these ladies is to model swimsuits, participate in nude scenes, and shriek when attacked. Three macho seamen run the ship for Dr. Craig, and the one who gets the most screen time is Andy (Jonathan Goldsmith), a Vietnam vet tormented by PTSD. Andy, by the way, is sleeping with Dr. Craig’s daughter, who wants him to kill Dad so she can inherit wealth. Listing the reasons why Blood Voyage is awful would be exhausting, but to name just one, a sailboat is an iffy setting for this sort of whodunnit—if you want to determine the killer’s identity, maybe just congregate on deck and wait for someone to reach for a knife? Although the acting in Blood Voyage is as bad as the storytelling, two players are somewhat notable—Hart briefly played the Lone Ranger on TV, and Goldsmith later portrayed “The Most Interesting Man in the World” in beer commercials.


Blood Voyage: LAME


Wednesday, April 17, 2024

7.5 Million Views!


Hey there, groovy people! Last time I posted one of these updates about viewership milestones, I offered my hope that readers had not grown bored with reports of this nature. And while I still hope that’s true, the process of watching the numbers increase over time has not lost its novelty for me, hence this message of gratitude for everyone out there diggin’ on the signals I’m sendin’. Of late, I’ve taken some time to revisit movies that were reviewed for this blog years ago as a means of reconnecting with reasons why the cinema of the ’70s is so endlessly fascinating. Whether I’m taking a fresh look at a stone classic (how’s it hangin’, The Exorcist), a minor hit from back in the day (lay it on me, Jesus Christ Superstar), or a cult favorite (gimme five, Time After Time), it’s been a kick to remind myself of the wonders associated with the New Hollywood era. Notwithstanding the much-discussed consideration of how tricky it is to lay my retinas on 70s movies I haven’t yet reviewed, I feel like I’ve got a fresh tank of gas in the engine for the next leg of this trippiest of trips. So hang loose, because there’s more to come—and, as always, hope endures that I’ll discover some masterpiece that’s been unfairly overlooked since the ’70s. Until next time, thanks for reading, and keep on keepin’ on!

Friday, March 22, 2024

Lapin 360 (1972)



Watching a movie as muddled as Lapin 360, one can only marvel that anyone ever thought the piece would hold together. After all, it’s not as if Lapin 360 is some no-budget experiment by counterculture outsiders—this was rendered by experienced Hollywood professionals including a director with legit TV credits and a supporting actor with an Oscar on her mantlepiece. Here’s the head-scratcher of a story. Young rocket scientist Bernard Lapin (Terry Kiser) works for a military contractor. Returning home after a business trip, he discovers that attractive stranger Delia (Peggy Walton-Walker) broke into and stayed at his place while he was away. They become romantically involved. Bernard soon learns that Delia and a group of nefarious men are plotting some sort of illegal activity. Before the nature of that scheme is revealed, viewers learn that Bernard is the key man for a nuclear-missile project at work and that recurring migraines are driving him mad. Neither of those subplots goes anywhere. As for the mysterious scheme, the gist is that Delia carried a baby for a rich benefactor, and now she’s enlisted thugs to kidnap the baby—the thugs expect to collect ransom, but Delia wants to keep the kid. What does Bernard have to do with any of this? You guessed it—nothing! Aside from providing assistance during the climax, Bernard doesn’t matter to Delia’s narrative, and Bernard’s narrative is so underdeveloped that his positioning as the main protagonist feels arbitrary. Sure, the idea of Delia using a dude to get her baby could have made for an interesting-ish noir, but as executed, Lapin 360 is confounding and frustrating—or at least it would be if it elicited strong enough reactions for viewers to feel confounded or frustrated. Kiser, later to achieve notoriety playing a corpse in Weekend at Bernie’s (1989), gives an overly earnest performance while Walton-Walker bangs against the limitations of her skill set. As for the aforementioned Oscar winner, she’s Anne Baxter of All About Eve (1950) fame, and, wow, is she terrible in her scant screen time—by comparison, Norma Desmond seemed less desperate for attention. Lastly, details are murky on whether Lapin 360 played theatrically in the ‘70s, though the film’s final resting place (as of this writing) was a VHS release with the new title Always the Innocent.

Lapin 360: LAME

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Pets (1973)



          Not too many T&A-driven grindhouse flicks stem from legit theater, but Pets has exactly that pedigree. However, it’s useful to note that the stage experience upon which Pets is based premiered in 1969—if not the white-hot center of the Sexual Revolution, then close enough—and that “legit” had an expansive meaning at the time. After playwright Richard Reich debuted an evening of three one-act plays called Pets at the Provincetown Playhouse, filmmaker Raphael Nussbaum directed (and co-wrote with Reich) a film adaptation converting the stage show’s thematically linked stories into a contiguous narrative. All of this is somewhat novel, but the movie of Pets suggests the source material was titillating at best, trashy at worst. The film’s first vignette concerns sexy hitchhikers robbing a dude with a little dog; the second vignette depicts a lesbian artist who becomes jealous when her female model gets hot for a man who breaks into the artist’s house; and the third vignette centers an art collector who lures women into his basement and keeps them as, you guessed it, “pets.” The connection between the first two sections is tenuous. Worse, because the third section is the most unusual, the movie should have gotten to the spicy stuff faster—and gotten more out of it than one extended scene.

          Pets is neither admirable nor awful. The scenarios mostly hinge on lengthy scenes of leading lady Candice Rialson displaying her breasts, so it’s difficult to perceive higher aspirations beyond the leering. Concurrently, the dialogue (credited to three writers!) is so arch and obvious and stilted that that the film’s sociocultural elements receive clumsy treatment. The movie primarily expresses a theme of people trying to possess other people, and only the first vignette—with the hitchhikers and the little dog—has anything resembling surprises and subtext. Adding to the general blandness of Pets is lethargic pacing, which makes the movie feel much, much longer than its 103-minute running time. Still, those who can’t resist should be advised what awaits them. Rialson, though charming in other B-movies (such as 1977’s outrageous Chatterbox!) is largely decorative here, while swaggering costar Teri Guzman flits in and out of the picture too quickly. Occupying the showiest role is prolific film/TV actor Ed Bishop, who plays the perverse collector—his performance approaches camp but always seems a bit too reticent, even when he’s abusing Rialson’s character with a whip.


Pets: FUNKY 


Wednesday, January 10, 2024

The Daredevil (1972)



          Watching The Daredevil, it’s tricky to parse whether the people involved with the project thought they were making a real movie. On the surface, the story of a stock-car racer whose life unravels after his involvement with a crash that kills another racer is a compendium of high-velocity episodes, from daytime races to nighttime chases. Yet the picture also tries, weakly, to present a character study of its self-destructive protagonist, a nasty jerk who treats everyone he meets with contempt. As a result, it’s hard to determine the intended audience for this thing. By the time this picture was made, the drive-in demographic’s appetite for stories about hard-charging rebels sticking it to the man was well-established, and The Daredevil does not scratch that itch. Similarly, downbeat tales of everyday people meeting grim fates for the temerity of expressing individualism were familiar to devotees of arty counterculture cinema, but The Daredevil lacks the sophistication needed to satiate that appetite. And while some distinctive flicks found a sweet spot between these extremes—the previous year’s Vanishing Point comes to mind—that’s yet another niche into which The Daredevil does not fit. For all these reasons and more, The Daredevil deserves its obscurity. Bad ’70s cinema gets much worse than this, but The Daredevil neither tries to do enough nor excels at what it actually attempts.
          Faded ’40s/’50s he-man actor George Montgomery plays Paul Tunney, an asshole with a winning record on the Southern stock-car circuit. Returning to his home track, he faces off for the first time against a Black racer, who dies during the event. (Adding to his charm, Paul is casually racist.) The dead man’s sister, Carol (Gay Perkins), puts a sort of hex on Paul, who starts losing races not long after the fatality. Then Paul starts a distasteful involvement with Julie (played by ’50s pinup Terry Moore) even though Julie is dating Paul’s friend Huck (Bill Kelly), a one-armed mechanic. Once Paul’s racing career hits the skids, he takes a gig running drugs for a local crime boss. These slender threads intertwine predictably as the picture zooms toward its bummer climax. Had the premise of Robert Walsh’s script found its way to a more adept filmmaking team and stronger actors, The Daredevil could have become something interesting—not only is the downward spiral of the leading character a serviceable plot device, but developing the idea of Carol employing supernatural means to exact revenge could have lent novelty to the endeavor. As is, the picture is a cheap-looking affair riddled with flat dialogue, stilted performances, unpleasant characters, and way too much stock footage.

The Daredevil: FUNKY

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Hollywood 90028 (1973)



          Some grungy movies are such prime fodder for cultural analysis that their actual cinematic merits (or lack thereof) are inconsequential—the serious-minded viewer consumes the film as an appetizer for the rhetorical feast. So it is with Hollywood 90028, which at various times has been called The Hollywood Hillside Strangler, Insanity, and Twisted Throats. As those lurid monikers suggest, the folks responsible for selling this picture to an unsuspecting public attempted to brand it a straightforward shocker, when in fact Hollywood 90028 is something very different. At the risk of making this crudely rendered flick sound too grand, Hollywood 90028 is partially the character study of a sociopath and partially a rumination on the link between voyeurism and violence. On good days, Mark (Christopher Augustine) is a soft-spoken cameraman paying his dues by shooting stag films while he dreams of going legit. On bad days, Mark picks up women and strangles them to death. Writer-director Christina Hornisher lacks the skill to properly realize this premise, so most of the film comprises dull passages of Mark wandering around Los Angeles, visiting porn stores, and trying to develop a relationship with Michele (Jeannette Dilger), a stag-film performer who has issues of her own. (Sidenote: The picture’s most believably human moment is the vignette of Mark listening to a phone message from Michele in which she explains her reasons for ending their relationship and then presents music by her sensitive new boyfriend—ouch.)
          To get a sense of how little happens in Hollywood 90028, more than 45 minutes elapse between the first and second kills, and the movie is only 76 minutes long. Yet the picture has four noteworthy elements. First, it’s somewhat rare as a female-directed psychosexual story from the early ‘70s. Second, the leisurely pacing allows viewers to luxuriate in shots of sleazy vintage LA. Third, all that moody piano music on the soundtrack is courtesy of Basil Poledouris, who became a major Hollywood composer in the ’80s and ’90s. Fourth, the final scene of Hollywood 90028 is genuinely arresting, a nasty distillation of metaphorical and thematical concepts the rest of the film struggles to articulate. The content of the final scene won’t be spoiled here, but for those willing to slog through the film’s grimy tedium (ogling nude scenes, meandering dialogue, questionable editing), there are conversations to be had about Hollywood 90028, even though similar chats could just as easily get prompted by better movies exploring related subject matter, from Peeping Tom (1960) to Body Double (1984) to 8mm (1999) and beyond. There is something to be said, however, about using a film from the cinematic gutter as a means of considering the medium’s darker aspects.

Hollywood 90028: FUNKY


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.

Hail: FUNKY

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
: LAME

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 www.GrandRiverFilms.com.
          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.

Why: FUNKY