Hitchhikers, The (1972)

Hitchhikers, The (1972)

“You’re gonna do okay in L.A.”

Synopsis:
A pregnant teenager (Misty Rowe) leaves home and is quickly caught up with a criminal group of female hippies led by a charismatic man named Benson (Nick Klar).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Counterculture
  • Thieves and Criminals

Review:
Husband-and-wife team Beverly and Ferd Sebastian co-helmed this exploitation flick about beautiful young women who pretend to be hitch-hikers in order to rob gullible male drivers of everything in their possession.

The film starts off as more of a feminist flick, with Rowe impregnated against her will and abandoned by her uncaring boyfriend, then raped by a man who’s bought her a burger and promises to take her to California.

When Rowe finds Benson’s Manson-esque “family”, hanging with them actually seems like the best (or perhaps the only) option left for her — and we root for her romance with Benson simply given how evil her rival (Linda Avery) is.

Regardless, the wanton actions of Rowe’s violent crew become increasingly distasteful — and by the time they’re partying and trashing their own vehicle, there’s little left to watch or appreciate. This one will strictly be of interest to fans of exploitation flicks from the ’70s.

Note: One morbidly fascinating scene shows an illegal abortion (actually, a response to a miscarriage) playing out on screen in graphic detail; knowing this film was released a year before Roe v. Wade brings added poignancy to the scene, especially considering that our nation may be headed in this direction again soon.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:
Not much.

Must See?
Nope; skip it. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Goodbye, Columbus (1969)

Goodbye, Columbus (1969)

“If I let you kiss me, would you stop being so nasty?”

Synopsis:
When a library clerk (Richard Benjamin) falls in love with the pampered daughter (Ali MacGraw) of a plumbing store owner (Jack Klugman), their romance is tested by class differences.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Ali MacGraw Films
  • Cross-Class Romance

Review:
Ali MacGraw made her starring debut in this well-received adaptation of Phillip Roth’s novella of the same name (his first published work). Unfortunately, those unfamiliar with Roth and/or this book (like me) may struggle to understand what was so appealing to audiences at the time about this tale, other than perhaps the frank depiction of an inter-class romance between individuals from two socio-economically diverse mid-century Jewish households.

We see plenty of romantic montage sequences set to a jazzy score; watch MacGraw’s family casually mistreating their Black housemaid (Royce Wallace):

… see MacGraw’s younger sister Julie (Lori Shell) spoiled like crazy; observe how odd MacGraw’s soon-to-be-married brother Ron (Michael Meyers) is:

… and get just a few glimpses of Benjamin’s chaotic lower-class life with his Aunt Gladys (Sylvia Strause). There’s not much else to it. This one is only must-see for fans of the book who are curious to see its (apparently quite faithful) transfer to the big screen.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Fine cinematography

Must See?
No; skip this one.

Links:

Girl On a Motorcycle / Naked Under Leather (1968)

Girl On a Motorcycle / Naked Under Leather (1968)

“Sometimes it’s an instinct to fly; I’m not going to feel guilty.”

Synopsis:
A recently married young woman named Rebecca (Marianne Faithfull) hops on her motorcycle in a leather catsuit and leaves behind her husband (Roger Mutton) to go visit her lover (Alain Delon), all while reflecting back on their previous encounters together.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Flashback Films
  • Infidelity
  • Motorcyclists
  • Road Trip

Review:
Cinematographer Jack Cardiff helmed this adaptation of a French novel by André Pieyre de Mandiargues, which was “the first film to receive an ‘X’ rating from the MPAA in the United States.” There is very little to the storyline other than what’s described above; according to DVD Savant, Cardiff’s “aim was to express psychological sexual states in cinematic terms,” and that’s pretty much what you get here.

Rebecca’s boredom with her husband and fantasies about Delon are standard “liberated woman” fare, but with the twist of watching her experience true freedom on the road through learning to ride, and then taking off on her own.

This is probably the “best” female biker flick I’ve seen so far — which is drawing from a limited and low-quality pool, but speaks to the power of seeing an independent woman making her way across cities and countryside without being molested by thugs.

Otherwise, however, this one is strictly for diehard Cardiff fans (and yes, the cinematography is lovely).

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Jack Cardiff’s cinematography

  • Fine location shooting in France, Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium

Must See?
No. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book, which makes sense for the time.

Links:

Night of the Following Day, The (1969)

Night of the Following Day, The (1969)

“This guy is not responsible. He’s crazy; he’s psycho.”

Synopsis:
Upon landing in Paris, the grown daughter (Pamela Franklin) of a wealthy businessman (Hugues Wanner) is kidnapped by a chauffeur (Marlon Brando) who quickly meets up with his girlfriend (Rita Moreno) and her brother (Jess Hahn) at a beachside house where a psychopathic henchman (Richard Boone) is ready to “watch over” Franklin until her father pays ransom; meanwhile, a curious local fishing policeman (Gérard Buhr) wonders what is going on at the house.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Hostages
  • Kidnapping
  • Marlon Brando Films
  • Rita Moreno Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, this “minor cult film” featuring “blond Marlon Brando” alongside “Rita Moreno (also a blonde)” centers on Brando’s concerns “that the [kidnapping] plan is doomed to fail” given “that Moreno is cracking up” and “Boone is a psycho who wants to kill his accomplices and Franklin and run off with all the ransom money.”

Peary notes that “after a couple of sloppy scenes” (I’m not sure what he’s referring to), “you’ll worry that the entire film is going to be a mess, but you are swiftly drawn into the cleverly plotted story and become intrigued with the offbeat characters.” He argues that “director-co-writer Hubert Cornfield does quite well on a slim budget,” using “a series of two-character scenes to build tension”:

… allowing “the pent-up violence to explode in a burst of deadly gunfire,” and capping “it off with an exciting scene.”

I’m essentially in agreement with Peary’s review of this non-essential but reasonably well-crafted caper flick, which features a truly menacing Richard Boone (some of his lines will cause you to gasp):

… and an authentically vulnerable Rita Moreno as a drug-addicted, highly insecure woman who becomes increasingly paranoid as the film progresses:

SPOILERS

Peary concludes his review by noting that “viewers will have mixed reactions to the ending, a horror-movie cliche,” but I view the “flashback” structure as simply a representation of Franklin’s final thoughts as she dies: she is reflecting back on the moments when she met the undercover criminals who would change (and ultimately end) her life.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Fine performances by the ensemble cast

  • Good use of windswept locales

Must See?
No, though Brando fans will want to give it a look.

Links:

Deadly Companions, The (1961)

Deadly Companions, The (1961)

“You don’t know me well enough to hate me that much.”

Synopsis:
A wounded Union soldier (Brian Keith) on a mission to find the man (Chill Wills) who tried to scalp him during the war finally discovers Wills with a gambling partner (Steve Cochran), and convinces the pair to rob a bank with him — but soon the trio are accompanying a grieving mother (Maureen O’Hara) on her journey to bury her young son across Apache territory.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Brian Keith Films
  • Maureen O’Hara Films
  • Revenge
  • Sam Peckinpah Films
  • Westerns
  • Widows and Widowers

Review:
Sam Peckinpah’s first cinematic outing was this quirky western which Peary refers to in his Cult Movies review of Ride the High Country (1962) as an “impressive” and “rarely screened” debut film. It was panned by Bosley Crowther upon release, who referred to it as burdened by a “tasteless plot” that is only “partly relieved by scenic color photography and a capable cast”, and moves “at the pace of a hearse”. While it’s no masterpiece — and does feel a tad slow-moving at only 93 minutes long — it’s a distinctively quirky film with an unusual premise, one that shows Peckinpah’s nascent talents (and would likely have been better if he’d been allowed to tinker with the script as he desired).

Keith, Wills, and Cochran all give convincing performances (with Cochran especially slimy):

… and William Clothier’s PanaVision cinematography is effectively colorful.

Meanwhile, seeing the treatment of O’Hara’s “Kit Tildon” — nobody in town believes her story that she was married for a few weeks to her son’s deceased father — is heartbreaking, and paints a sobering portrait of social norms at the time; O’Hara is so determined to give her son a “proper” burial next to his father that she risks her life to achieve this goal, all because she’s been so unwelcomed and ridiculed in her new town. It was a rough time for women, indeed.

Note: The unusual soundtrack by Marlin Skiles doesn’t always “work”, but is unique and distinctive.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • William Clothier’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though of course Peckinpah fans will be curious to check it out. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book, which makes sense.

Links:

Love Bug, The (1968)

Love Bug, The (1968)

“If I’d wanted a trick car, I’d have bought one in a joke shop!”

Synopsis:
When a down-on-his-luck race car driver (Dean Jones) and his roommate (Buddy Hackett) “inherit” a sentient Volkswagen Beetle which Hackett names “Herbie,” they find themselves embroiled in a bitter rivalry with the a luxury car shop owner and racer (David Tomlinson) whose personal assistant (Michele Lee) grows increasingly fond of both Jones and “Herbie”.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Car Racing
  • Comedy
  • Fantasy
  • Rivalry

Review:
This beloved Disney live-action film about an anthropomorphic VW Beetle spawned an entire franchise of sequels, as well as a 1997 remake. It’s a surprisingly amiable comedic-adventure flick centering on a dastardly villain (Tomlinson, best known as the father in Mary Poppins) who will stop at nothing to win races:

The first portion of the film focuses on “Herbie” making himself known as a sentient presence in the lives of dense Jones and the unexpectedly-wise Hackett, who has done some soul searching in Tibet and “gets” what the little car is trying to say.

Indeed, it’s Hackett’s special bond with “Herbie” that drives the film’s narrative throughout, as we hope the others will finally get a clue and stop treating the car like simply a hunk of machinery. Unfortunately, Jones is a pretty dull protagonist:

… but at least Lee has more spunk:

… and the car race sequences are reasonably exciting.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Good use of authentic San Francisco locales

Must See?
No, though of course live-action Disney fans will be curious to check it out.

Links:

Crimes of the Future (1970)

Crimes of the Future (1970)

“His body, he insists, is a galaxy — and the creatures are solar systems.”

Synopsis:
In a dystopian future wherein all adult women have died from chemicals used in make-up, the disciple (Ronald Mlodzik) of a renowned dermatologist goes in search of his missing mentor.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Canadian Films
  • David Cronenberg Films
  • Dystopia
  • Science Fiction

Review:
David Cronenberg’s second feature film — following his highly experimental debut flick, Stereo (1969) — was this equally perplexing art film with a “storyline” so bizarre I didn’t even try to fully explain or describe it in my synopsis above. Suffice it to say it follows around the narrator — creepy Mlodzik as “Adrian Tripod” — as he wanders through various buildings and compounds engaging in a form of foot fetishism:

… and interacting with random gender-fluid individuals in bizarre rituals seemingly meant to memorialize or evoke women, including using nail polish:

… and carefully laying out feminine undergarments.

Even at just an hour long, this silently filmed movie with post-dubbed voiceover and sound effects feels somewhat interminable — and by the final (controversial) sequences, you will simply be grateful for the ability to exit this bleak cinematic universe. As Neil Young writes in his review for Jigsaw Lounge, “Well, we all have to start somewhere” — including Cronenberg. This one is strictly a curiosity for his die-hard fans.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Stark sets

Must See?
Nope. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Drive-In (1976)

Drive-In (1976)

“What do you mean, better? He’s got a van!”

Synopsis:
A group of teens — including a young woman (Lisa Oz) trying to break up with her abusive boyfriend (Billy Milliken) and a date a shy redhead (Glenn Morshower) — hang out and wreak havoc at first a roller rink, then a local drive-in theater while a movie called “Disaster ’76” is playing in the background.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Comedy
  • Small Town America
  • Teenagers

Review:
This hectic ensemble comedy about hijinks at a roller rink and drive-in is pure nostalgia fodder for those wanting a glimpse back at mass entertainment in the 1970s.

Unfortunately, it’s undone by a script that is no longer nearly so funny as it presumably once was — including countless wince-inducing lines by thuggish Milliken (“I’m gonna kick your lying ass until you look like the leftovers from Jaws.”), gross treatment of a black doctor (Bill McGhee) and his wife (Gloria Shaw):

… and the dumb antics of a moronic pair of crooks (Trey Wilson and Gordon Hurst). As described in the New York Times’ review, this film “possesses the virtue of fresh faces, the drawback of uneven acting, the irritation of occasional overwriting and the limited appeal of what is basically a juvenile story.”

Its primary interest (though limited) is in seeing how the faux disaster flick in the background — a mash-up of Airport (1970), The Towering Inferno (1974), and Jaws (1975) — plays out.

Be forewarned that the annoyingly catchy soundtrack — including the Statler Brothers singing “What Ever Happened to Randolph Scott?” and George Jones and Tammy Wynette singing “God’s Gonna Get You For That” — may become an earworm.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Authentic glimpses of the drive-in phenomenon

Must See?
No. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book, but it surely no longer has that status.

Links:

Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961)

Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961)

“We must understand what is happening to this man — how he lived through such intense radiation, how others can survive!”

Synopsis:
When a fugitive (Ron Randell) is accidentally trapped in a nuclear test site, he becomes irradiated and turns into a metal-absorbing mutant. Meanwhile, the crime boss (Anthony Caruso) who initially framed Randell tries to capture him and gets his frightened moll (Debra Paget) to attempt seduction — but Randell turns instead to a loyal girlfriend (Elaine Stewart) hoping to shelter him, and wonders whether to trust a kind doctor (Tudor Owen) who wants to study him.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Allan Dwan Films
  • Atomic Energy
  • Debra Paget Films
  • Fugitives
  • Gangsters
  • Science Fiction

Review:
Canadian-born director Allan Dwan’s final film was this unconvincing gangster/sci-fi mish-mosh featuring highly atmospheric cinematography overlaid onto a silly atomic mutation storyline.

Paget and Stewart are conveniently posited as flip sides of female loyalty (Paget is deceptive, Stewart is eternally nurturing):

… while “good guy” gangster Randell (he was framed, after all) becomes increasingly harder to sympathize with as the film progresses:

… and Caruso simply oozes slime.

Check out DVD Savant’s review for an interesting overview of this film’s production history, where he notes that it “certainly looks like it was filmed by a crew just going through the motions, doing every scene with a minimum of lighting and as few camera setups as possible.” Feel free to skip this one unless you’re curious.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Highly atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
No; this one isn’t must-see.

Links:

Splendor in the Grass (1961)

Splendor in the Grass (1961)

“That’s what happens to girls who go wild and boy crazy.”

Synopsis:
In 1920s Kansas, a teenager (Natalie Wood) and her boyfriend (Warren Beatty) struggle with managing their sexual urges while listening to confusing advice given by the adults around them — including Beatty’s dad (Pat Hingle) and Wood’s mom (Audrey Christie).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Coming-of-Age
  • Cross-Class Romance
  • Elia Kazan Films
  • First Love
  • Historical Drama
  • Mental Breakdown
  • Natalie Wood Films
  • Pat Hingle Films
  • Sandy Dennis Films
  • Sexual Repression
  • Warren Beatty Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “William Inge scripted and Elia Kazan directed what is still the quintessential film about young love — first love, true love, eternal love — which is wonderful but terribly confusing while it lasts, [and] mercilessly cruel when it ends.” He points out that “this [was] also the first film that dared emphasize that teenagers are ruled by their sexual drives and that, because of their immaturity and inability to get practical information and advice from their parents, doctors, ministers, etc., they are unable to cope with their feelings.”

He argues that “Kazan has tremendous sympathy for [the] lovers and beautifully conveys their painful sexual frustration and confusion,” and notes that the film “perfectly captures feelings of most who have met former lovers years later and have been disappointed… by [the] person whom you once were obsessed with.”

He writes that “throughout [the] film, Kazan’s direction of actors is superlative,” with Beatty “very controlled and sympathetic in his screen debut,” but the film ultimately belonging to “Wood, who has never been more ravishing, sexy, energetic, or revealing of her own personality.”

In Alternate Oscars, Peary names Wood Best Actress of the Year for her performance here as “Deanie” Loomis. While conceding that “Natalie Wood was an inconsistent actress whose bad performances were deserving of the Harvard Lampoon awards given her,” he asserts that “on those rare occasions when she played characters with problems to which she could relate, she opened up as few actresses could, stripped off all her protective pretenses, revealed herself completely, and turned in portraits that were emotionally shattering.”

Although Wood and Beatty dominate our attention in the lead roles, strong performances are given by other members of the cast as well — including Hingle as Beatty’s overbearing father:

… Christie as Wood’s over-protective, misguided mother:

… Barbara Loden as Beatty’s alcoholic sister:

… and Zohra Lampert — star of Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971) — as a kind young woman who takes an interest in Beatty when he’s away at college.

Also watch for Sandy Dennis in her film debut as one of Wood’s circle of friends:

… and Phyllis Diller in her film debut as a performer named “Texas Guinan”.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Natalie Wood as Deanie Loomis
  • Warren Beatty as Bud Stamper
  • Audrey Christie as Mrs. Loomis
  • Pat Hingle as Ace Stamper
  • Vibrant cinematography

Must See?
Yes, primarily for Wood’s performance but also as an overall powerful show.

Categories

  • Important Director
  • Noteworthy Performance(s)

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links: