Where’s Poppa? (1970)

Where’s Poppa? (1970)

“You don’t put your mother in a home: she’s got a home; this is her home.”

Synopsis:
When a lawyer (George Segal) living with his senile mother (Ruth Gordon) falls in love with a beautiful young nurse (Trish Van Devere), he tells his married brother (Ron Leibman) he’s determined not to let anything get in the way of his new romance — including their troublesome mother.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Black Comedy
  • Elderly People
  • George Segal Films
  • Grown Children
  • Living Nightmare
  • Ruth Gordon Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this black comedy by “director Carl Reiner and screenwriter Robert Klane (working from his own novel)” is “a litmus test for viewers that will expose one’s taste for comedy and tolerance for tastelessness.” He suggests you see this film “with an audience rather than alone at home on a cassette” (ah, the ’80s!) given that “one’s laughter is enhanced by the realization that all those around you… are being subjected to the same embarrassing material” (“collective embarrassment can be fun”). He notes that this “haywire world we are presented is unforgettable: Cabbies pick up men in gorilla suits rather than perfectly dressed black ladies. Coaches snatch 10-year-old kids without their parents’ permission… Female prostitutes turn out to be male cops in drag — [and] the one on whom Leibman is forced by a gang to perform a deviant act gets a crush on him (which is reason enough for viewers to have a negative response).” Indeed, “the craziness in the apartment Segal and Gordon share is merely a reflection on the surrounding world.”

Peary points out that “even those turned off by the humor will enjoy the standout performances” by Gordon — who plays Mrs. Hocheiser as someone with “no redeeming qualities” — and Segal, who “gives a remarkable impression of a man who is on his last legs.” He notes that because “both Gordon and Segal were given much freedom”, they “gave performances that are comedic gems”, and he argues that “for them alone, this film is worth seeing.” Equally memorable, however, are Leibman as Segal’s impossibly put-upon brother, and Van Devere (in her film debut) as a traumatized young divorcee clearly willing to wear her heart on her sleeve. I was both deeply discomfited and pleasantly surprised by how boldly this (highly politically incorrect) film stays its course as a movie determined to offend in as many ways as possible — while also providing plenty of uncomfortable laughter. The most distressing sequences involve the depiction of Central Park as “a veritable jungle… ruled by uncivilized ‘tribes’ (black gangs)”; while meant to simply be part of the collective satire, these hit especially hard and may stretch your tolerance.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • George Segal as Gordon
  • Ruth Gordon as Mrs. Hocheiser
  • Ron Leibman as Sidney
  • Trish Van Devere as Louise
  • Many darkly amusing sequences

Must See?
Yes, as a cult favorite.

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Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964)

Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964)

“We have borrowed a child, Billy — borrowed; borrowed.”

Synopsis:
A mentally disturbed medium (Kim Stanley) conspires with her husband (Richard Attenborough) to kidnap a wealthy child (Judith Donner) in order to bring fame to her psychic abilities by sharing where the girl is hidden.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Henpecked Husbands
  • Hostages
  • Kidnapping
  • Kim Stanley Films
  • Mental Illness
  • Psychic Powers
  • Richard Attenborough Films

Review:
Other than playing a Marilyn Monroe-esque actress in The Goddess (1958), Kim Stanley’s best-known cinematic role was in this film by director Bryan Forbes, playing a deeply disturbed “psychic” whose delusional mental illness causes not only distress but serious harm to those around her. The atmospheric film gets off to a somewhat slow and talky start, but then shifts into gear as the kidnapping proceeds, and we’re kept on tenterhooks wondering what in the world will happen next. Our primary focus is on Attenborough, playing the epitome of a co-dependent spouse whose sympathy for his wife’s grief upends all logic; he’s highly effective in the role and compulsively watchable. Stanley’s performance is equally convincing, but evokes horror more than sympathy; this is a woman willing to take the world down with her as she enacts what she believes to be the warped “truth”.

Note: The girl (Judith Donner) chosen to play the hostage only has this one film to her name in IMDb, but she’s suitably realistic.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Kim Stanley as Myra
  • Richard Attenborough as Billy
  • Atmospheric cinematography and direction


  • Effective use of real-life locales

Must See?
Yes, as an unusual and powerful film, and for the performances.

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Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959)

Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959)

“Death is never a pretty sight — and you’ll see it again before the hunt is over.”

Synopsis:
Accompanied by a local pilot (Eve Brent), Tarzan (Gordon Scott) pursues a group of four British criminals — Slade (Anthony Quayle), O’Bannion (Sean Connery), Kruger (Niall MacGinnis), and Dino (Al Mulock) — who, with support from Slade’s girlfriend (Scilla Gabel), have stolen explosives in order to raid a diamond mine.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Africa
  • Anthony Quayle Films
  • Cat-and-Mouse
  • Jungles
  • Sean Connery Films
  • Tarzan Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that while he’s “partial to the Johnny Weissmuller-Maureen O’Sullivan films”, this “colorful, action-packed adventure picture” — “produced on a fair-sized budget”, “filmed in CinemaScope, and made on location in Kenya by a talented British crew” — is “usually regarded as the best of the entire Tarzan series”. He notes that “Gordon Scott, who had played the jungle hero in several low-budgeted, studio-shot films in the early and mid-fifties, returned as the more introspective, human, mature… , and articulate Tarzan than he had played before”, adding that “the villains he confronts aren’t cartoon characters, but complex men with singular motivations for committing crimes”.

While I haven’t see any Tarzan films outside of those listed in GFTFF, I’m in agreement that this is surely among the best. We get authentically caught up in the drama, which features realistic (and scary) settings, plenty of tension, well-filmed action scenes, and memorable supporting roles (including Connery as a naughty villain). We’re never sure what will happen next, who will die next (or how), and — in particular — what will conspire between scar-faced Quayle and McGinnis (playing a greedy, cunning, bespectacled German completely obsessed with diamonds). While I’m not a fan of Shane’s sexually aggressive American pilot, she shows impressive growth throughout the film and “deserves” her ultimate dalliance with Tarzan. This one remains well worth a look — as does its follow-up, Tarzan the Magnificent (1960).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Anthony Quayle as Slade
  • Niall MacGinnis as Kruger
  • Fine location shooting
  • Many well-filmed, exciting scenes

Must See?
Yes, as a fine example of what the Tarzan films were able to transform into in later years.

Categories

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Wild in the Country (1961)

Wild in the Country (1961)

“It’s like I’m always walking around with a full cup of anger, trying not to spill it.”

Synopsis:
After nearly killing his brother in a provoked fist fight, a talented but troubled young writer (Elvis Presley) is sent by a judge (Jason Robards, Sr.) to live with his uncle (William Mims) and Mims’ daughter (Tuesday Weld), who has a baby, while also attending therapy sessions with a beautiful widowed psychologist (Hope Lange). Mims hopes to “catch” Presley and Weld together so they’ll get married, but Presley — who already has a girlfriend (Millie Perkins) — slowly starts falling for Lange, who is meanwhile resisting engagement to a lawyer (John Ireland) with a hot-headed son (Gary Lockwood).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Elvis Presley Films
  • Hope Lange Films
  • John Ireland Films
  • Juvenile Delinquents
  • Love Triangle
  • Millie Perkins Films
  • Psychotherapy
  • Tuesday Weld Films

Review:
In addition to two concert films, Peary lists “just” nine Elvis Presley movies (out of a total of 31) in his GFTFF. This adaptation of a debut novel by J.R. Salamanca — probably best known as author of the source-novel for Lilith (1964) — is a reasonably well-scripted (by Clifford Odets) melodrama about a gifted young man born into a society that doesn’t really have space or patience for him. Weld seems to be enjoying her role as a “wild” single mom eager for some fun, and Presley’s performance isn’t bad — but it’s somewhat laughable to see 26-year-old Presley referring to 28-year-old Lange with deference as “ma’am”, given how much chemistry they clearly have together (casting 40-year-old Simone Signoret in the role, as originally intended, would probably have worked better). A whole lot of melodrama ensues in this story, which is certainly worth a look by Presley fans but not must-see viewing.

Note: According to TCM’s article, “Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’s manager, insisted that the studio insert several songs into the film or it wouldn’t be an Elvis Presley picture”; the songs aren’t bad but don’t quite seem to fit.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Hope Lange as Mrs. Sperry
  • Tuesday Weld as Noreen Braxton
  • Some well-crafted dialogue:
    “You’re wild and unsettled, like a porcupine that can’t be held.”
    “Life’s got its shadows enough… Live and let live.”

Must See?
No, though it’s certainly worth a look.

Links:

Micki + Maude (1984)

Micki + Maude (1984)

“Come on, Micki – just one child? A small one?”

Synopsis:
A TV reporter (Dudley Moore) married to an overly busy lawyer (Ann Reinking) has an affair with a cellist (Amy Irving) and soon finds himself about to become a father with both women.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Amy Irving Films
  • Blake Edwards Films
  • Dudley Moore Films
  • Feminism and Women’s Issues
  • Infidelity
  • Love Triangle
  • Pregnancy
  • Romantic Comedy

Review:
Blake Edwards directed this enjoyable if too-far-fetched romantic comedy about a “nice guy” who manages to juggle two marriages (and pregnancies) at once. Having just written a post on accepting the wild narrative logistics of Back to the Future (1985), it may sound odd to hear that the most challenging aspect of Micki + Maude for me — and ultimately its undoing — is its improbability. There is no way a man can shift from one household to another, with a job in between, and simply suffer from “too much sleep” (?!?!). The fact that the only give-away clue to bed-ridden Reinking that her husband is a bigamist is a green sweater (gifted by Irving) which has “I Heart You” hand-written on the label is meant to be amusing, but belies her intelligence.

With that enormous (and critical) caveat aside, the screenplay is delightfully wacky and clever. It’s to Edwards’ and screenwriter Jonathan Reynolds’ credit that we maintain an interest and investment in these characters, all of whom are well-written and sympathetic. Meanwhile, fans of farcical comedy sketches will surely enjoy the extended sequences in which Moore must deftly shift between caring for one woman, then the other (in the OB-GYN’s office, and then at the hospital). The ending is reasonable, if a bit of a let-down — but then again, what other way could this type of situation be resolved?

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Ann Reinking as Micki

Must See?
No, but I do think it’s worth a look if you enjoy this type of movie.

Links:

Back to the Future (1985)

Back to the Future (1985)

“Maybe you were adopted.”

Synopsis:
With help from his eccentric scientist-friend (Christopher Lloyd), a teenager (Michael J. Fox) accidentally travels back to the 1950s, where he meets his mom (Lea Thompson) and dad (Crispin Glover) before they’ve become a couple. Complications ensue when Thompson develops a crush on her own son, and Fox wonders how he will ever get his parents to fall in love — and thus save his own future existence.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Inventors
  • Mad Doctors and Scientists
  • Science Fiction
  • Time Travel

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “oedipal comedy” (!) — “directed by Robert Zemeckis, written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale, and produced by Steven Spielberg” — is a “sweet and highly imaginative” “crowd pleaser”. He notes that it “manages to avoid vulgarity”, instead providing “much healthy humor that would have been appreciated back in the innocent fifties” — primarily having to do with “the cultural gap between the fifties and the eighties”. Peary highlights the “excellent” acting, but complains that “only Fox and Thompson play real people”, arguing that “the rest are caricatures, mere pawns for the filmmaker’ gags.” He also shares his unease about the ending, noting that “instead of returning to the future, I’d prefer sticking around in the much more lively, inviting past to watch the revolution in television, rock ‘n’ roll, etc., and see how Thompson and Glover progress.” Further, he’s “a little uneasy seeing the present so altered by Marty’s trip to the past”.

Peary’s review is an interesting one to read so many years later, after two sequels have been released (the trilogy is now firmly entrenched as a cult favorite) and we’re living in yet another era that would feel somewhat foreign to inhabitants of just a few decades ago. As a time travel flick, Back to the Future holds up really well, despite Peary’s concerns: as many questions as we may have about the ethics and viability of changing our current reality by retroactively impacting the past, it’s easy enough to accept the film on its own narrative terms and simply enjoy the ride. I don’t quite agree with Peary that Glover is merely “the definitive nerd”; in fact, he’s quite convincing and sympathetic as a smart, talented, geeky young sci-fi fan who simply wants to be left alone. And while Lloyd does make “all previous wild-eyed, wild-haired wacko scientists look second-rate”, his over-the-top enthusiasm actually serves as a critical reminder that he’s co-existing in multiple time-spaces and has a different take on the entire situation.

Note: I was pleasantly surprised to find and enjoy About Time (2013), a more recent time travel flick that handles its logistics and narrative threads with equal aplomb. It’s well worth a look as well.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly
  • Crispin Glover as George McFly
  • Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown
  • Authentic, colorful sets
  • Many memorable scenes


Must See?
Yes, as a cult favorite and modern classic.

Categories

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

Links:

Morgan!/Morgan (A Suitable Case for Treatment) (1966)

Morgan!/Morgan (A Suitable Case for Treatment) (1966)

“One of these days they’ll be coming for me with a straight jacket.”

Synopsis:
A mentally unstable Marxist named Morgan (David Warner) tries to woo his ex-wife Leonie (Lynn Redgrave) away from her stuffy new fiance Charles (Robert Stephens) by using increasingly extreme and outlandish tactics.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • David Warner Films
  • Kidnapping
  • Mental Illness
  • Nonconformists
  • Vanessa Redgrave Films
  • Winning Him/Her Back

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “seriocomedy” about a “nonconformist lead character” was “one of the major pre-Midnight Movie cult films” and discusses it at greater length in his Cult Movies 2 book. He’s not a big fan of the movie, and neither am I: as he writes, it “fits into the irritating it’s-okay-to-be-crazy-in-our-insane-world subgroup” — like King of Hearts from the same year — “which perpetuates the notion that a character’s irresponsible actions can be condoned if he’s certifiably nuts.” It’s not very hard to look “past director Karel Reisz’s deceptively charming veneer” and “see that Morgan’s fantasies and wild antics are symptomatic of impending personal disaster” — and I’m not someone who will simply “cheer Morgan’s devil-may-care behavior”, or “laugh when Morgan threatens Charles”, or “ignore Leonie’s protests”. As Peary writes, “the most important aspect of this film is not how Morgan tries to win back the woman he loved and lost, but how Leonie deals with the often pathetic advances of a man she loves but can’t be with without destroying herself.”

Peary goes on to state that the “picture has lost much of its following because stylistically it is extremely dated”; he argues we’ve “long overdosed on freeze frames, fast-speed photography, insertions of old movies, and juxtaposition of images signifying ‘illusion’ and ‘reality’.” I’m not sure that still holds true; but the repeated insertion of clips from Tarzan Triumphs (1943) and King Kong (1933) — as well as Morgan’s imagining the world around him as a jungle — feel forced. By the time things get fully (and tragically) ridiculous near the end of the movie, and Morgan puts on his full-body gorilla suit, it’s clear the film has gone in directions that will either resonate with viewers or not. It’s possible that this all played much fresher in the 1960s; but nowadays, one simply feels sad about Morgan’s untreated illness and frustrated at Redgrave for giving him such a long leash.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine b&w cinematography

Must See?
No; you can skip this one unless you’re curious.

Links:

Elvis: That’s the Way It Is (1970)

Elvis: That’s the Way It Is (1970)

“It starts to get tense about this time…”

Synopsis:
Elvis Presley rehearses in Culver City for upcoming performances in Las Vegas.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Concert Films
  • Elvis Presley Films

Review:
Elvis Presley’s first non-dramatic movie since starting his Hollywood career in 1956 with Love Me Tender was this highly enjoyable concert film, directed by Denis Sanders and shot by DP Lucien Ballard. It offers an invaluable glimpse into Elvis-behind-the-scenes — messing around with his songs (he knew what he wanted, musically speaking); making people (and himself) laugh; yodeling just for yuks; chatting; and revealing both charm and humanity in spades. Once the film finally shifts to his vigorous performances (cut from six nights) in Las Vegas, it’s a little sad to leave the backstage Presley behind — though he more than delights with each song and audience interaction. It seems he was at his peak here, relaxed and fit and not-at-all callow, making it especially tragic to know what was to come. Indeed, it’s made pretty clear here how and why Presley died at the (relatively) young age of 42: he’s giving everything he has and more; one imagines a performer only has so much of that kind of authenticity to spend before it runs out.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • So many memorable moments and songs


  • Lucien Ballard’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a most enjoyable concert film/documentary.

Categories

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Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Destroy All Monsters (1968)

“Unless we agree to these terms, the monsters will destroy all of us… Why, this is just like — blackmail!”

Synopsis:
In futuristic Japan, an astronaut (Akira Kubo) on the moon contacts a scientist (Yukiko Kobayashi) in “Monsterland” — an island where all the world’s giant monsters co-exist safely — just as a toxic gas covers the island. The astronauts soon learn that the monsters have been set loose to attack various big cities, and the scientists have been brainwashed by a race of female aliens determined to take over the world. Can their civilization be saved?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Aliens
  • Japanese Films
  • Mutant Monsters
  • Science Fiction
  • Space Opera
  • World Domination

Review:
This Toho Studios productions brings together all the monsters it can possibly find from previous films — including Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956), Rodan (1957), and Mothra (1962), and more — into an epic futuristic battle against world-dominating aliens. It’s earnest as all get out, with hilarious dubbing (at least in the version I saw), colorful sets and costumes, diabolical mind control, and plenty of monster-fight action. As noted in Spinning Image’s review, it makes for “entertainingly ridiculous enjoyment, all performed with a straight face and commendable vigour”. With that said, it’s not must-see for all film fanatics — simply those who appreciate the unique joys of this particular genre.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Colorful cinematography, costumes, and sets

  • The exciting monster fight-out at the end

  • Laughable (dubbed) dialogue: “Is it a failure then? Are we all… doomed?”

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended for its sheer cult enthusiasm. Listed as a Camp Classic in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Mask, The / Eyes of Hell, The (1961)

Mask, The / Eyes of Hell, The (1961)

“I’ve tried to stop, but I can’t — I don’t want to!”

Synopsis:
Shortly after his client (Martin Lavut) commits suicide, Dr. Barnes (Paul Stevens) receives an ancient mask in the mail — one Lavut complained had been tormenting him. Soon Stevens — despite warnings from his kind girlfriend (Claudette Nivens) — is unable to resist the lure of wearing the mask himself, and begins to hallucinate incredibly frightening scenes.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Horror Films
  • Mind Control and Hypnosis

Review:
The storyline of this low-budget Canadian horror film is fairly straightforward, and clearly designed to center around the 3D hallucination sequences, in which characters are enjoined to “Put on the mask!” and audience members to put on their “Miracle Movie Fright Mask” — a.k.a. 3D glasses. These sequences are remarkably well-done given the low budget, and effectively freaky; I can imagine accidentally catching a glimpse of this on TV as a kid and being scared for days or weeks afterwards. With that said, there really isn’t much more to the narrative than waiting for the next moment we hear “Put on the mask!” According to Joe Dante in his Trailers From Hell review, it did reasonably well at the box office, especially when it was re-released (newly entitled “The Eyes of Hell”) as a midnight drive-thru flick — which makes complete sense.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Creepy, well-filmed 3D sequences (created by Slavko Vorkapich)


Must See?
No, though the 3D sequences are worth a look. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

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