Baby Maker, The (1970)

Baby Maker, The (1970)

“If we do decide to go ahead, there are certain things we’d insist upon.”

Synopsis:
A free-spirited young woman (Barbara Hershey) offers to serve as a surrogate for an infertile woman (Collin Wilcox Paxton) and her husband (Sam Groom), but soon finds that her boyfriend (Scott Glenn) isn’t happy with all the changes this brings to their lives.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Barbara Hershey Films
  • Counterculture
  • James Bridges Films
  • Pregnancy
  • Scott Glenn Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, “James Bridges’s directorial debut features a fine, heartfelt performance by Barbara Hershey as a hippie who is hired by a straight-laced, well-to-do couple… to be a surrogate mother.” He notes that the “story emphasizes the awkward relationship between the three characters, beginning with the day Groom first has sex with Hershey, through her pregnancy, to after the birth of the child.”

He argues that while the “dialogue, as well as the look of the film, is dated,” the “premise is still timely,” and points out that Hershey “gives a believable, sensitive characterization playing a young woman who very much fit her own early free-spirit image.”

What Peary doesn’t mention is the equally important emphasis on how Hershey’s decision impacts her relationship with Glenn. At first he’s fine with the idea of his girlfriend making money in this way (and it’s her choice, anyway) — but he soon realizes what a (legitimate) imposition it is on their lives, and thankfully, he isn’t villainized for making a tough call at a certain point.

Indeed, to the film’s credit, it doesn’t shy away from any of the many challenging dilemmas this type of arrangement evokes — starting with the negotiated logistics, handled under-the-radar by a mysterious woman (Lili Valenty) whose house in the hills of Malibu is only accessible through a funicular.

A contract is drawn up and signed, but that doesn’t prevent emotions from running high all around — as they would. While it’s far from perfect, I’m recommending this film as must-see viewing simply for its bold willingness to handle such a sticky topic.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Barbara Hershey as Tish
  • Fine supporting performances
  • A bold exploration of a challenging social dilemma

Must See?
Yes, for its historical relevance as the first (American) film to deal with this topic — and for Hershey’s performance.

Categories

  • Historically Relevant
  • Noteworthy Performance(s)

Links:

Professionals, The (1966)

Professionals, The (1966)

“Maybe there’s only one revolution since the beginning: the good guys against the bad guys. The question is, who are the good guys?”

Synopsis:
A wealthy rancher (Ralph Bellamy) hires an explosives expert (Burt Lancaster), a weapons specialist (Lee Marvin), a horse wrangler (Robert Ryan), and an Apache scout (Woody Strode) to find and return his wife (Claudia Cardinale), who has been kidnapped by the leader (Jack Palance) of a group of Mexican Revolutionaries — but the men soon find their job more complicated when they learn details about Cardinale’s situation.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Burt Lancaster Films
  • Claudia Cardinale Films
  • Jack Palance Films
  • Kidnapping
  • Lee Marvin Films
  • Ralph Bellamy Films
  • Revolutionaries
  • Richard Brooks Films
  • Robert Ryan Films
  • Westerns
  • Woody Strode Films

Review:
Richard Brooks directed this action-packed western about a complicated kidnap-recovery effort featuring a significant plot twist midway through. The cast is rock-solid, with Marvin and Lancaster believable as former revolutionary buddies:

… Ryan and Strode quietly convincing as crucial backup support:

… Bellamy appropriately slimy and determined as a not-entirely-truthful older husband:

… and sexy Cardinale ready to fight at all costs for what she believes in.

Palance doesn’t play much of a role, but he’s effective enough as the revolutionary “baddie.”

This film is primarily about the action, though — and there’s plenty of it, from beginning to end, beautifully shot on location in California and Nevada. We’re kept in suspense from one scene to the next in terms of how or whether the various protagonists will survive — and are not entirely sure what we hope for, anyway.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Conrad Hall’s cinematography
  • Maurice Jarre’s score

Must See?
Yes, as a fine western.

Categories

  • Good Show

Links:

Stardust (1974)

Stardust (1974)

“I’m an artist, not a bloody jukebox!”

Synopsis:
An aspiring rock musician (David Essex) and his band receive support from their manager (Adam Faith) and a wealthy funder (Larry Hagman) in rocketing to fame — but will success lead to happiness or isolation for Essex?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Michael Apted Films
  • Musicians
  • Rise and Fall
  • Rock ‘n Roll

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, this “cult film is an ambitious sequel to That’ll Be the Day, with Michael Apted replacing Claude Watham as director” and Adam Faith playing the role of carnie “Mike” (previously inhabited by Ringo Starr).

The film is primarily concerned with showing what happens when an obsessive following develops around a single star; in this case, “as his fame increases, Essex begins to feel increasingly that he’s a product” and “he learns not to trust anyone but the band members,” who in turn become increasingly resentful of their more peripheral roles. Meanwhile, as “Essex goes on to superstardom,” “he is alone, confused, [and] corrupted,” and “there is isolation, drugs, [and] tragedy.”

Peary points out that this film offers “a vivid, cynical look at the rock business and a Beatles-like group” — and while “there are few surprises in the film,” “it is extremely well done, compelling, and has credibility because real rock stars Essex (who does a solid job), Faith, Dave Edmunds, and Keith Moon play major roles.”

Peary adds that “everything has a nostalgic ring,” and he “particularly likes the early scenes when the group is playing other people’s music and is zipping around, feeling excited about having waxed its first record;” however, the “innocence of the era” is “shattered in America.”

I’m in agreement with Peary’s review. This movie is depressing but well-filmed, and features “a good score.” Watching Essex’s tragic trajectory here makes one grateful for all the talented superstars who have managed to find a way out of the trap of fame, and to craft a reasonable existence for themselves outside of the industry.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • David Essex as Jim MacLaine
  • Fine production design

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a look.

Links:

That’ll Be the Day (1973)

That’ll Be the Day (1973)

“It’s no good telling me he’s changed; he’ll never change!”

Synopsis:
A young man (David Essex) whose single mother (Rosemary Leach) runs a small grocery store runs away to work at a carnival, where he meets an orphan (Ringo Starr) who introduces him to a world of petty crime and sex — but when Essex eventually reconnects with his old schoolmate (Robert Lindsay) and starts dating Lindsay’s sister (Rosalind Ayres), he seems to be heading towards a more stable lifestyle.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Carnivals and Circuses
  • Coming of Age
  • Ringo Starr Films
  • Womanizers

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, this “somber drama” about a “working class youth in 1959-60” who “feels little attachment to anyone… and avoids commitment” is “the type of kitchen-sink drama Alan Sillitoe or John Osborne might have come up with if they’d been writing for the younger 1974 British audience.”

Peary points out that real-life rock star David “Essex doesn’t sing, as he [would] in the better, more flamboyant sequel, Stardust,” but “there’s a great rock sound track” and he personally relates to a scene in which Essex “has a friend bringing over a Ritchie Valens album that Essex has been dying to hear.”

He notes that Starr (in one of his best film roles) “does a good job as Essex’s pal” (not to mention having “an interesting haircut”):

… and adds that “Essex turns in a strong performance, playing someone audiences will feel ambivalent about” given that “he looks for one-night stands” and “he won’t put himself on the line for a friend [Starr] who’s getting beaten up.”

Indeed, Essex’s character — someone who “girls flock around” given “he’s cute and shy” — is surprisingly complex: the opening scenes show him as a young child running to meet his long-gone dad (James Booth), and spending only a short time with him before he disappears once again (for good).

This abandonment inevitably influences Essex himself once he comes of age — and while we sympathize with his beleaguered mother, who assumes her bright son will go to college and find security:

… it’s also entirely believable that he would rebel and seek out new adventures (including losing his virginity).

The problem is how badly Essex acts during key decision-making moments of his life, such as whether to force himself on a teenage girl at the carnival; whether to help Starr during a potentially fatal fight; whether to pursue a “final fling” before his marriage night; etc. His worst decision comes near the very end — and given that this film ends on a freeze-frame, it inevitably leaves one feeling like the story is unfinished (which it is); I’ll return with my assessment of Stardust shortly.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • David Essex as Jim
  • Ringo Starr as Mike
  • Rosemary Leach as Mrs. MacLaine
  • Fine use of location shooting

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

Links:

Rust Never Sleeps (1979)

Rust Never Sleeps (1979)

“About 9 or 10 years ago Neil raised the question: has your band begun to rust? Well, after 9 years of research and rust development, we — Dr. Decibel and his grandfather here — we’ve discovered that ALL bands rust!”

Synopsis:
Neil Young performs with the band Crazy Horse at the Cow Palace in 1978.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Concert Films
  • Rock ‘n Roll

Review:
Neil Young — using his usual pseudonym “Bernard Shakey” — helmed this documentary of his own concept album tour in the late 1970s, featuring Jawa-esque stage hands called Road Eyes who (along with scientists in lab coats and cone-headed religious figures) run around behind and on stage for no apparent reason other than sheer quirkiness, and presumably to bank on the success and popularity of Star Wars (1977) (?).

The musical set is structured to start with Young playing some of his earlier acoustical songs, accompanying himself on harmonica:

… and then gradually shifts towards a much stronger electrical sound with his bandmates; indeed, the film opens and closes on similar tunes — “My, My, Hey, Hey (Out of the Blue)” and “Hey, Hey, My, My (Into the Black)” — played in radically different styles.

We don’t see much (anything, really) of the audience, so this really is a straight-up, relatively non-experimentally-filmed rendering of a concert rather than any type of insightful documentary. To that end, your enjoyment of it will rest exclusively on how much you enjoy Young’s music.

NB: The weirdest song here has got to be “Welfare Mothers” (?!).

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Several enjoyable musical acts

Must See?
No, unless you’re a diehard Neil Young fan. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Richard Pryor… Here and Now (1983)

Richard Pryor… Here and Now (1983)

“It’s a great gift, being alive.”

Synopsis:
In his final live performance film, Richard Pryor directs himself in New Orleans as he reflects on his new life of sobriety.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Richard Pryor Films
  • Stand-Up Comedy

Review:
Richard Pryor starred in four performance films: Richard Pryor: Live and Smokin’ (1971/1985) (non-GFTFF; skip it); Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979) (must-see); Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip (1982); and this intimate, semi-improvised glimpse into his perspectives on life while 7 months clean and sober (for the first time since he was 14). Pryor is impressively relaxed on stage, interacting with audience members, dealing with hecklers, and improvising numerous times — such as when he’s given a live “pet” crab (right after completing a bit on genital crabs).

We also see him inhabiting his fictional elderly character of “Mudbone”, and, in a sad extended bit, simulating a junkie (i.e., himself) hitting up.

Fans won’t want to miss this one, though it’s not must-see viewing for all film fanatics.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Many humorous, memorable moments

Must See?
No, but of course it’s must-see for Pryor fans.

Links:

Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip (1982)

Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip (1982)

“You know somethin’ I found out? When you on fire and runnin’ down the street, people will get out of your way.”

Synopsis:
Richard Pryor performs in front of a live audience in Hollywood, sharing how he nearly burned to death in 1980.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Richard Pryor Films
  • Stand-Up Comedy

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary argues that while Richard “Pryor’s return to the concert scene after nearly being burned to death while freebasing cocaine” includes much “sidesplitting” humor, it is “overall… not as sharp-edged, wild, ’embarrassing,’ or sustained as in 1979’s Richard Pryor Live in Concert.” He adds that Pryor “doesn’t rely on mobility or his mime talents as much,” and “most irritating is that director Joe Layton keeps cutting to audience members cracking up.” (This didn’t bother me at all.)

Peary writes that “a highlight has Pryor showing his painful reaction to being bathed for the first time following his accident,” and that other stand-out moments include Pryor’s “recollections of a night with a Playboy bunny who gets turned on when he uses a little-boy voice, and his meetings with black murderers at an Arizona penitentiary.”

It’s been enough years since I watched any of Pryor’s routines that I found it enjoyable to spend time with him again — and it was especially poignant hearing him address his near-fatal addiction with humor and humility. However, if film fanatics choose just one filmed Pryor show to watch, it should probably be his earlier “Live in Concert”, thus making this recommended rather than must-see.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Haskell Wexler’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s must-see for Pryor fans, and well worth a look.

Links:

D.O.A. (1980)

D.O.A. (1980)

“I’m not shocked by punk — I’m shamed by it.”

Synopsis:
The Sex Pistols and other punk bands perform and are interviewed by documentarian Lech Kowalski in the late 1970s.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Documentary
  • Rock ‘N Roll

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “haphazardly constructed” documentary of the “seminal English punk group, The Sex Pistols, with extensive footage of their 1978 U.S. tour” is “nevertheless an arresting, upsetting social document about the punk scene at its peak.”

He notes that “the young fans who show up for Sex Pistols concerts are society’s and mothers’ worst nightmare” — and while “their make-up and wild clothing won’t bother anyone who has been to The Rocky Horror Picture Show… it’s disturbing to witness the pins through their cheeks, their mindless f**k-the-world hostility and rudeness (especially toward the cameraman), and their violence.”

He adds that the “music by the Sex Pistols (Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, Steve Jones, Paul Cook) and other famous punk groups should please fans and, for those like [him – i.e., non-fans], satisfy curiosity,” and he concludes his review by noting that “surely the film’s most famous, most depraved scene is an interview with catatonic Vicious (wearing a swastika T-shirt) and spaced-out girlfriend Nancy Spungen” before they both died shortly thereafter.

This film also offers some drolly amusing commentary from various folks who are, shall we say, not especially pleased about the impact of punk music on society.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • A time capsule glimpse at a unique period in music history

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look as a cultural document.

Links:

Golden Voyage of Sinbad, The (1973)

Golden Voyage of Sinbad, The (1973)

“There is a third part still to be found; it must be found!”

Synopsis:
Shortly after finding a mysterious gold amulet, Sinbad (John Phillip Law) encounters an evil magician (Tom Baker) desperate for the amulet, and is launched on an adventure involving a beautiful slave girl (Caroline Munro), a disfigured Vizier (Douglas Wilmer), and several magical creatures.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Fantasy
  • Ray Harryhausen Films
  • Search
  • Witches and Wizards

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, this “tenth collaboration of Charles H. Schneer and model-animation genius Ray Harryhausen” — “the second of three Sinbad movies” — was made “17 years after The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” and while it’s “not as enjoyable as that classic, it still is quite entertaining.” He points out that although the “picture is a bit slow,” “it contains five excellent Harryhausen creations: a six-armed, dancing, sword-wielding statue”:

… “the Siren figurehead on Sinbad’s ship that Koura [the magician] brings to life”:

… “a tiny, ugly, winged Homunculus that serves as Koura’s spy”:

… “and a centaur and griffin, whose battle is a highlight.”

The final sword battle between Sinbad and his nemesis Koura — involving a “shield of darkness” — is also nicely handled.

I’m essentially in agreement with Peary’s assessment. This escapist fantasy is a little slow at times, but it’s creatively filmed, and Harryhausen’s unique creations are always worth watching. Meanwhile, Munro is gorgeous eye candy:

… and Baker is effectively evil as a magician whose very life is predicated upon locating the mythical fountain of youth.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Fine performances by the cast
  • Ray Harryhausen’s creature effects
  • Magical sets
  • Ted Moore’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, for Harryhausen’s effects, and as an overall good show.

Categories

  • Good Show

Links:

Purple Noon (1960)

Purple Noon (1960)

“All is vanity; nothing exists.”

Synopsis:
When conman Tom Ripley (Alain Delon) is hired to bring his acquaintance (Maurice Ronet) back home to his father in America, Ripley finds himself caught up in a sticky triangle with Ronet’s dissatisfied girlfriend (Marie Laforet), and soon moves into even more dangerous territory involving murder and identity theft.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Con-Artists
  • French Films
  • Mistaken or Hidden Identities
  • Psychopaths
  • Rene Clement Films

Review:
Nearly 40 years before Anthony Minghella gave us The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), French director Rene Clement helmed this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel of the same name, albeit with a new title. (It was released as Plein Soleil — or Full Sun — in French, which seems to make a bit more sense than the inscrutable English translation; what is a “purple noon”?) Regardless of what it’s called, this early version remains a top-notch thriller in every way, with the cast, sets (in Italy), cinematography, and storyline all coming together to provide the type of classy suspense entertainment one expects from Highsmith (author of the novel upon which Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train was based).

It was interesting watching this movie shortly after revisiting Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960), given that they were released the same year, and both begin by showing privileged individuals out on a recreational boating trip in Italy that turns tragic — though the two storylines take completely different trajectories from there. Unlike L’Avventura, Purple Noon is heavily plot-driven, showing us the various steps Tom Ripley — one of literature’s best-known sociopaths — takes to try to secure his own fortunes at the ruthless expense of others.

Ripley (Delon is perfectly cast) may think he has a full-proof plan, but naturally, there are hiccups — including the inconvenient re-emergence of an American friend (Bill Kearns) first introduced to us in opening scenes.


Saying more about the details of this film may take away from the enjoyment of simply watching it, so I’ll leave my analysis somewhat succinct. Suffice it to say that this film remains gripping from beginning to end — and be prepared for a final surprise once you think all has resolved.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Alain Delon as Tom Ripley
  • Marie Laforet as Marge
  • Maurice Ronet as Philippe Greenleaf
  • Henri Decaë’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a foreign gem.

Categories

  • Foreign Gem
  • Important Director

Links: