Hail, Hero! (1969)

Hail, Hero! (1969)

“Long hair on boys is one of the things wrong with this country, if you ask me.”

Synopsis:
When a college dropout (Michael Douglas) returns home to share he’s enlisted in the army, his kind mother (Teresa Wright) is glad to see him, but his no-nonsense father (Arthur Kennedy) remains convinced that Douglas’s disabled brother (Peter Strauss) is the only brave child in the family.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Arthur Kennedy Films
  • Counterculture
  • Generation Gap
  • Michael Douglas Films
  • Teresa Wright Films

Review:
Michael Douglas made his cinematic debut in this low-key film about an artistic young man clashing with his ultra-patriotic father, who is fond of reminiscing about the “good old days” of his service in World War II.

There’s not much to this simple story other than Douglas interacting with various people in his hometown, including a couple of girls he meets while swimming out at the lake:

…. and a pot-smoking old woman (Amy Stuart) who for some reason gifts Douglas with a creepy mummified baby.

Wright doesn’t have much to do except look and act like the reasonable parent in the family (albeit with a secret of her own):

… and Virginia Christie (in her final role) comes and goes quickly as the wife of a senator.

Douglas does bring some needed energy to the film, but his enthusiasm is not enough to save this one from obscurity.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Michael Douglas as Carl

Must See?
No, unless you’re curious. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Soldier in the Rain (1963)

Soldier in the Rain (1963)

“Good boy, Eustis!”

Synopsis:
A country bumpkin (Steve McQueen) eager to finish his peacetime service tries to convince his enlisted friend (Jackie Gleason) to leave with him — including enticing Gleason with a beautiful but bubble-headed teen (Tuesday Weld).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Comedy
  • Friendship
  • Military
  • Steve McQueen Films
  • Tuesday Weld Films

Review:
Shortly on the heels of his notable performances in The Hustler (1961) and Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), Jackie Gleason was given another somber role in this military comedy based on a novel by William Goldman, co-written by Blake Edwards, with a score by Henry Mancini. Unfortunately, the nearly non-existent storyline has nowhere to go: McQueen’s pathetic Sergeant Eustis Clay (a caricature of a dumb hick) for some reason spends the first half-an-hour of the film trying to hustle a fan:

… and the rest either getting into hijinks with his moronic friend Jerry (Tony Bill):

… or for some reason trying to get Gleason to hook up with Weld.

None of these characters or relationships make much sense — and they’re certainly not compelling. While this film is purportedly about Gleason and McQueen’s enduring friendship, it’s challenging to see why we should care about them.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Jackie Gleason as Master Sergeant Maxwell Slaughter

Must See?
No; you can skip this one.

Links:

Love With the Proper Stranger (1963)

Love With the Proper Stranger (1963)

“I’m sick and tired of the kind of life I lead.”

Synopsis:
When a department store clerk (Natalie Wood) seeks out the musician (Steve McQueen) who got her pregnant, she’s disappointed to learn he doesn’t even remember her. Soon Angie (Wood) is considering marriage with an earnest restauranteur (Tom Bosley) who her mother (Penny Santon) and overprotective brothers (Herschel Bernardi, Harvey Lembeck, and E. Nick Alexander) want her to be with — but do Wood and McQueen actually have a chance at romance after all?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Character Arc
  • Musicians
  • Natalie Wood Films
  • Pregnancy
  • Robert Mulligan Films
  • Romantic Comedy
  • Steve McQueen Films

Review:
Director Robert Mulligan’s follow-up film after To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) was this romantic “dramedy” about a young Italian woman (Wood) who uses her unexpected pregnancy as a catalyst for moving away from her dominating family and living life on her own terms.

Indeed, both Wood and McQueen undergo significant character arcs in this film, with time and space given in the pacing of the screenplay to show the inner shifts occurring for each of them. McQueen is at first presented as a self-absorbed hustler living with an equally narcissistic showgirl (Edie Adams) whose apartment is littered with evidence of her love for herself (and her dogs):

… while Wood is literally smothered on all sides by her domineering Italian family, who want to monitor her every move.

It makes sense that both Wood and McQueen would gravitate towards a less extreme, more balanced existence of some kind — but meanwhile, Wood’s pregnancy needs taking care of, and we’re shown the extreme challenges of this situation in a pre-Roe v. Wade world. While the movie’s tone is a bit uneven — veering from more serious drama to slapstick (i.e., how clumsy both Bosley and Wood are during dinners with their respective families) — this remains overall a well-filmed drama with good use of authentic New York location shooting. It’s worth a one-time look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Natalie Wood as Angie
  • Steve McQueen as Rocky
  • Tom Bosley as Anthony
  • Edie Adams as Barbie
  • The daring abortion “clinic” sequence
  • Good use of NYC locales
  • Milton Krasner’s cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended for Wood’s performance and as an overall good show. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Merrill’s Marauders (1962)

Merrill’s Marauders (1962)

“What’s Merrill volunteering us for this time?”

Synopsis:
During a Burmese campaign of World War II, General Frank Merrill (Jeff Chandler) pushes his men to the brink of exhaustion, leading his second lieutenant (Ty Hardin) to question his leadership, and his doctor (Jack C. Williams) to worry about his health.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Jeff Chandler Films
  • Sam Fuller Films
  • World War II

Review:
Jeff Chandler’s final film (before dying prematurely at age 42) was this World War II-era drama based on a non-fiction book by Charlton Ogburn, about the heroic efforts of a volunteer “long-range penetration” patrol that culminated in the Siege of Myitkyina in Burma. Its primary focus is on Chandler’s (Merrill’s) relentless determination to push his men towards this final goal, despite their obvious exhaustion and his own ticking timebomb of a heart condition.

As noted by DVD Savant in his review, Fuller’s film — often referred to as a precursor to his dream personal project, The Big Red One (1980) — remains “a refreshingly straight combat film” with “war movie clichés [kept] to a minimum” and only one obvious instance of comedic relief, as Charlie Briggs adoringly cares for a hatted mule named Eleanor.

However, it will primarily appeal to fans of wartime flicks, since there is little else to hold our attention except the fighting (and preparation for fighting). The film’s most strikingly filmed scene occurs when “the troops take a railroad yard, engaging in a crazy-suicidal close combat in an Escher-like maze formed by concrete supports for oil tanks.”

William Clothier’s cinematography is also a plus.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • William Clothier’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though Fuller fans will of course want to check it out. Listed as a Cult Movie and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Loss of Innocence (1961)

Loss of Innocence (1961)

“He’s interested in that young girl, and there’s nothing you can do about it!”

Synopsis:
When their mother (Joy Shelton) suddenly falls ill while vacationing in France, a teenager (Susannah York) and her three younger siblings — Hester (Jane Asher), Wilmouse (Richard Williams), and Vicky (Elizabeth Dear) — stay in a hotel run by brusque Mademoiselle Zisi (Danielle Darrieux), whose lover (Kenneth More) quickly develops an attraction towards pubescent York.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Coming of Age
  • Love Triangle
  • May-December Romance
  • Susannah York Films

Review:
Susannah York’s breakthrough cinematic leading role was in this adaptation of a 1958 novel by Rumer Godden called The Greengage Summer, directed by Lewis Gilbert. Unfortunately, it comes across as melodramatic and not quite believable, thanks in part to the miscasting of Kenneth More as an avuncular presence who not only falls for an underage girl within his care, but for some reason has a shockingly shady past. While it’s easy to see why he would be attracted to beautiful York (actually 21 at the time of filming):

… the drama that plays out between all the various parties — including not just the triangle of York, More, and Darrieux, but Darrieux’s [coded] lesbian lover (Claude Nollier):

… as well as a resentful young teenager (David Saire) working at the hotel:

… comes across as too many subplots vying for space; and this doesn’t even account for the sudden appearance of a police inspector (Raymond Gérôme) who More is keenly interested in hiding from.

Poor Darrieux is relegated to playing a jealous middle-aged woman who deeply resents the children for intruding on her affair with More; many of her lines are quite laughable, as when she says to York: “I had not understood that any of you were so… so big!”

You can skip this one unless you’re curious.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Susannah York as Joss Grey

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

Links:

Eaten Alive (1976)

Eaten Alive (1976)

“That ain’t no common gator.”

Synopsis:
When a prostitute (Roberta Collins) refuses to service a man (Robert Englund), she runs away from her brothel’s owner (Carolyn Jones) and seeks refuge at a hotel run by a psychotic manager (Neville Brand) with a voracious “pet” crocodile.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Deep South
  • Horror Films
  • Mel Ferrer Films
  • Neville Brand Films
  • Psychopaths

Review:
Tobe Hooper’s follow-up to his breakthrough horror film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) was this over-the-top grindhouse flick centered on one basic premise: muttering Brand viciously attacking his guests with a scythe and tossing them to his pet crocodile.

It’s filled with “cameos” — for instance, by Carolyn Jones as brothel-owner “Miss Hattie”:

… Mel Ferrer as Collins’ father, who has come looking for her:

… Stuart Whitman as the sheriff attempting to help Ferrer and his other daughter (Crystin Sinclaire) in their search:

… and William Finley as a bizarre father whose young daughter (Kyle Richards) is traumatized by the loss of her pet dog ‘Snoopy’ to the crocodile:

… and whose wife (Marilyn Burns) spends most of the film tied up in a bed screaming for her life.

This gothic horror flick is really a mess, with odd (often red) lighting, a chaotic soundtrack, and poor-to-non-existent effects for the lethal crocodile, who’s barely seen. You can skip this one unless it sounds like your cup of tea.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Neville Brand’s unhinged (albeit often incomprehensible) performance

Must See?
No; skip this one unless you’re a diehard Hooper fan. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

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: