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Month: August 2022

Wanderers, The (1979)

Wanderers, The (1979)

“Sometimes all you got is pride. You gotta hold your head up high.”

Synopsis:
In the early ’60s, a member (Ken Wahl) of the Wanderers gang in the Bronx hangs out with his girlfriend (Toni Kalem) and fellow Italian-American Wanderers Joey (John Friedrich), Turkey (Alan Rosenberg), Buddy (Jim Youngs), and Perry (Tony Ganios) while they negotiate tensions with other gangs, including the skinhead Fordham Baldies, the African-American Del Bombers, the Asian-American Wongs, and the menacing Irish-American Duckys; meanwhile, Wahl falls for a beautiful non-Italian girl (Karen Allen) he sees while walking down the street, which leads to tensions with his girlfriend.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Coming-of-Age
  • Gangs
  • Karen Allen Films
  • Rivalry
  • Teenagers

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, “Philip Kaufman directed this cult favorite” — based on a “fine novel by Richard Price” — which “has individual scenes that flirt with greatness,” but also includes “changes in tone… so drastic that it lacks cohesion.” He notes that the movie “deals with gang rivalries, copping feels, Italian brotherhood (which has good and bad points), macho fathers, how music reflects the energy and rebellious spirit of youth, loyalty, and growing up.”

He points out that while “there is much brutality,” “this past is shown to be a time of innocence because it doesn’t compare to the Vietnam years ahead” — though we do also see the “end of innocence [as] reflected by Kennedy’s assassination, the recruitment of the Fordham Baldies into the military, graduation, [and] boys running away to California.” Peary writes that the “picture has drive, humor, much nostalgia, erotic moments (e.g., Allen suggests a strip-poker game)”:

… “an epic battle of the gangs, and terrifying scenes in which our heroes wander into a weird gang’s section of town.”

Peary elaborates on his assessment of this film in his Cult Movies 3 book, where he points out that it “had the misfortune to be released after violence at theaters showing The Warriors (1979) and [the non-GFTFF-listed] Boulevard Nights (1979) made theater owners afraid to book gang pictures and patrons reluctant to attend them.” He argues that it’s “a shame” this flick “was pigeonholed as nothing more than a ‘gang picture’ when in fact it touches on the universal experiences of the average American teenager,” and “might easily have been promoted as an American Graffiti with slick pompadours and teased hairdos, tight sweaters and push-up bras, and gold-on-maroon satin jackets.”

As Peary notes, the film’s “appeal is based less on violence than early-sixties nostalgia for friends, foes, make-out parties, romance, copping feels, great rock ‘n’ roll, bowling, football, school, hairstyles, [and] clothes.” As such, its appeal to film fanatics these days may be more limited than when it was released, though it remains a solidly filmed period piece.

Peary also discusses some of the film’s shortcomings in his Cult Movies 3 review — noting, for instance, that “surely the film would have benefited from a scene or two in which Richie and Joey, or Joey and Perry, open up to each other, so we can get more insight into their fears, their goals, [and] their dreams” (I agree). He points out that “there is room for such quiet moments, because there are superfluous scenes that should have been discarded.” While Peary happens to “like the classroom scene in which the liberal Mr. Sharp (Val Avery) attempts to be Glenn Ford in The Blackboard Jungle (1955) and teach ‘brotherhood’ to his class, only to have tensions increase between the Italians and blacks,” I find it cringeworthy. (Was it really a good pedagogical idea to have the kids throw out all the slurs they could think of for the other primary ethnic group in the room?)

Meanwhile, Peary refers to the culminating football game, though “based on a real event,” as “an awkwardly filmed cliche, not as funny as the Marx Brothers’ football romp in Horse Feathers (1932), [and] not as raucous as the game in M*A*S*H (1970)” — and he argues that the attack sequence “is quite ludicrous.”

With all that said, I agree with Peary that “the earlier, equally surreal scenes with the Ducky Boys” are “among the best moments in the film, and” — contrary to much critical opinion — “quite appropriate” given that “they properly convey the terror every gang member must have felt back then when he found himself stranded in strange, hostile territory” with “anyone who emerged from the shadows [taking] on monstrous proportions.”

This film has quite a few subplots to follow, and those who are interested in the time period and topic should give it a look — but it’s no longer must-see viewing for all film fanatics.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Ken Wahl as Richie
  • Karen Allen as Nina
  • Dolph Sweet as Mr. Galasso
  • Michael Chapman’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look for its cult status.

Links:

Black Stallion, The (1979)

Black Stallion, The (1979)

“Alec, that Black is a desert horse. He’s fast, alright.”

Synopsis:
After his father (Hoyt Axton) is killed during a shipwreck fire, a young boy (Kelly Reno) and a black stallion survive on a deserted island together. Once Alec (Reno) returns home to his widowed mother (Teri Garr), he befriends a retired horse trainer (Mickey Rooney) who agrees to help Alec prepare “The Black” for a race.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Deserted Island
  • Friendship
  • Horses
  • Mickey Rooney Films
  • Pets
  • Teri Garr Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, this “Carroll Ballard film, co-produced by Francis Ford Coppola,” is “actually two stories: the first is magical and mystical and the second is familiar but lyrical.” He notes that the first “deals with the boy’s courtship of the stallion, beginning on the ship and continuing on the island,” with the boy having “gained the horse’s trust and affection” by “the time they are rescued.”

He adds, “In Story Two, which is filmed entirely differently, the boy returns to small-town America, and, with the help of trainer Mickey Rooney” — giving “a sincere, offbeat performance” — “prepares the black stallion for a long race in which he’ll be the jockey.”

Peary notes that he “much prefer[s] the island scenes,” though he concedes “the slow pace may put some kids to sleep.” He concludes his review by writing that this movie “has some of the most beautiful outdoor photography in film history,” with “scenes of the boy learning to ride the horse on sand and on water linger[ing] in [one’s] memory.”

I’m in agreement with Peary’s assessment. This film is indeed gorgeously shot (by DP Caleb Deschanel) and contains some truly memorable imagery; and while the second half isn’t quite as engaging, it does provide a happy “resolution” of sorts. Viewers of all ages — and especially horse lovers — will find something to enjoy in this classic flick, which was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2002 as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

Note: As Peary points out, the “horse is gorgeous.”

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography
  • Mickey Rooney as Henry Dailey
  • Reno’s natural performance as Alec
  • Fine period detail
  • Carmine Coppola’s score

Must See?
Yes, as a beloved classic.

Categories

  • Genuine Classic

Links:

Local Hero (1983)

Local Hero (1983)

“I could grow to love this place.”

Synopsis:
When an American oil company representative (Peter Riegert) is sent by his astronomy-loving boss (Burt Lancaster) to negotiate the sale of coastal land in Ferness, Scotland, he is surprised to find that most of the villagers — with the exception of a beach-owning hermit (Fulton MacKay) — are eager to sell; meanwhile, he quickly finds himself enchanted by their quirky way of life.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Burt Lancaster Films
  • Comedy
  • Scottish Films
  • Village Life

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, this “whimsical, enchanting comedy by Bill Forsyth” is thematically comparable to “Frank Capra’s films” in that “innocence is restored to corrupted city-dwellers through contact with small-town folk” as “money, power, and work suddenly seem unimportant.” Indeed, protagonist “Riegert finds peace and happiness among the relaxed, friendly oddballs who inhabit this town”, and “is soon under the warm spell of the glorious, magical night sky.”

Peary notes that “it is as much a joy for us as it is for Riegert to meet the villagers, especially Denis Lawson, who wears numerous hats — including innkeeper, philosophical bartender, unofficial mayor, accountant — yet always has time for a roll in the sack with his wife (Jennifer Black).”

Peary adds that “then there’s the pretty marine biologist (Jenny Seagrove) with webbed toes” who “may live in the sea”, who Riegert’s business companion (Peter Capaldi) instantly falls for.

Peary points out that “the characters [in this film] are never predictable”, and the fact that “Riegert also soon acts out of character is [an] indication of their ingratiating charm.” He concludes his review by noting that he finds “it hard to believe that this town with these people doesn’t exist.”

I agree with Peary’s positive assessment of this film, and will simply add that also of note (though unmentioned by Peary) is Burt Lancaster giving a solid performance in one of his quirky later-life roles.

Note: Watch for John Gordon Sinclair — star of Forsyth’s Gregory’s Girl (1980) — in a cameo as the boyfriend of a punk rocker.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Chris Menges’ cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as an enjoyable slice-of-life comedy.

Categories

  • Foreign Gem

Links:

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)

“You talked of a spell — or has he fallen victim to the plague?”

Synopsis:
Just as Prince Kassim (Damien Thomas) is about to be crowned caliph in the kingdom of Charak, his evil stepmother Zenobia (Margaret Whiting) — wanting her son (Kurt Christian) to be ruler instead — casts a spell on him, turning him into a baboon. When the sailor Sinbad (Patrick Wayne) arrives in Charak hoping to request the hand of Kassim’s sister (Jane Seymour) in marriage, he becomes involved in a quest to seek help from a wise alchemist (Patrick Troughton) and his daughter (Taryn Power), who may be able to reverse Zenobia’s spell.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Fantasy
  • Ray Harryhausen Films
  • Royalty and Nobility
  • Witches and Wizards

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “third installment of special-effects expert Ray Harryhausen’s Sinbad series” — following The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) — is a “disappointing fantasy-adventure, lacking the imagination of the two earlier Sinbad films.” He notes that “Harryhausen’s creatures are derivative of his earlier work”:

… “or are just plain dull (basketball-sized bee, a giant walrus).”


He adds that “the script is too long and lacks excitement,” with “Sinbad himself spend[ing] most of the film as a bystander.”

With that said, there’s plenty of eye candy here for those interested in seeing beautiful Seymour in one of her earlier films, and Tyrone Power, Jr.’s daughter Taryn in one of her few leading roles — and Harryhausen’s animation of the baboon is impressively realistic.

Unfortunately, British theatrical actress Margaret Whiting (who Peary weirdly asserts “sounds like a foreigner!”) is over-the-top as wicked Zenobia.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the 1939 film starring an elephant with her name (alongside Oliver Hardy and Harry Langdon) — though apparently Zenobia was an actual female leader in 3rd-century Syria.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Colorful sets and costumes
  • Harryhausen’s effects

Must See?
No; this one is only must see if you’re a Harryhausen or Sinbad completist.

Links:

Big Bad Mama (1974)

Big Bad Mama (1974)

“In business, you’ve gotta think big or think fast.”

Synopsis:
After preventing one of her daughters (Robbie Lee) from getting married, a Depression-era mother (Angie Dickinson) goes on the run with her and her other daughter (Susan Sennett), eventually joining forces with a bank robber (Tom Skerritt) and a Southern con-man (William Shatner) who vie for all three women’s affections.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Angie Dickinson Films
  • Depression Era
  • Outlaws
  • Roger Corman Films
  • Single Mothers
  • Strong Females

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary isn’t a fan of this exploitation film about a woman “and her two sluttish teenage daughters” who “become bank robbers and kidnappers so they can someday reach the criminal-rich level of ‘Ford, Rockefeller, Capone, and all the rest of them.'”

He notes that “in between the frequent sex scenes… there is much gunplay and many car chases,” not to mention “too much rude language and fake feminism” — and he points out that while this New World Productions flick was made as a “throwback to… Corman-directed fifties gangster films” such as The Bonnie Parker Story and Machine Gun Kelly,” “those pictures had an innocent quality” while this film is simply “embarrassingly vulgar.”

I’m essentially in agreement with Peary’s assessment — though I don’t take quite as much offense at it. As critic Richard Harlan Smith writes in his review for TCM, “the film’s capital asset is its sense of the absurd”: it’s “only superficially a gangster tale” given that it also maintains “one foot in the exploitation subgenres of Southern farce and rural revenge”. Fans of such films will want to give it a look, but others can feel free to skip it. Watch for Dick Miller (naturally!) in a bit role.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Fine period detail

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

Links:

Underground U.S.A. (1980)

Underground U.S.A. (1980)

“This whole set-up is a mess.”

Synopsis:
In New York City, a penniless actress (Patti Astor) living with a younger man (Rene Ricard) and a chauffeur (Tom Wright) begins an affair with a drifter (Eric Mitchell) who moves in with them, and tries to revive her career.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Actors and Actresses
  • Has-Beens
  • New York City

Response to Peary’s Review:
The opening sentence of Peary’s review for this “cult film by Eric Mitchell” — about “a bisexual Greenwich Village street hustler” (played by Mitchell himself) “who latches on to a former movie actress… only to discover that she has no money or friends and is weirded out from taking drugs to relieve her depression”:

— dates his book in ways that the majority of his writing doesn’t, given that he notes it “has had some success as a midnight movie (particularly in New York) and has played on PBS as an example of arty/avant-garde independent films currently being made.” He writes that he wishes writer-director “Mitchell hadn’t decided to make another variation on Sunset Boulevard, especially since Andy Warhol had already made a pretty good counterculture version in 1972, Heat” — and “at this point the story hasn’t many surprises left.” *

Peary points out that “from this film it’s hard to tell how talented or original Mitchell is” — and while “there are some interesting scenes, use of color, and camera angles,” “in general [he finds] the characters uninvolving, the dialogue trite, and the pacing too slow.”

I’ll say! Even at just 85 minutes long, this movie feels positively glacial. I was only able to start understanding the “plot” about a third of the way through, and the uniformly amateur acting didn’t help matters any. These days, this arthouse film is incredibly challenging to find, with zero user reviews on IMDb; it will primarily (perhaps exclusively) be of interest to devotees of this particular time and place in cultural history.

* Spoiler alert: things end badly for Astor’s character.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • A time capsule glimpse at a particular moment in the NY art scene

Must See?
Nope; skip this one unless it’s exactly your cup of tea.

Links:

Hollywood Knights, The (1980)

Hollywood Knights, The (1980)

“Everything changes — remember that; nothing stays the same.”

Synopsis:
In 1965 Los Angeles on Halloween night, the leader (Robert Wuhl) of a car club and his fellow members wreak as much havoc as possible on a pair of bumbling cops (Sandy Helberg and Gailard Sartain) and an overweight Mama’s boy (Stuart Pankin) while overseeing the initiation of four new recruits. Meanwhile, Wuhl attempt to bed a sexy high school student (Fran Drescher); an uptight pair of adulterers (Leigh French and Randy Gornel) are interrupted at every possible lovemaking turn; and a mechanic (Tony Danza) is both frustrated about his girlfriend (Michelle Pfeiffer) wanting an acting career, and sad that his friend (Gary Graham) is leaving for Vietnam.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Comedy
  • Juvenile Delinquents

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that despite being “ignored during its release,” this comedy by Floyd Mutrux “has become a cult favorite because of screenings on cable.” (Updated note: It seems to still have a minor following today.) He notes that while “there are a couple of serious storylines,” the picture mostly “centers on the pranks” that are “instigated by the insolent Robert Wuhl”.

Peary asserts that while Mutrux — who also directed Dusty and Sweets McGee (1971) and American Hot Wax (1978) — tries to combine elements from Animal House and American Graffiti,” he “only manages to show how much better those films are in comparison to their imitators”; and he notes that while “the film does have some funny shots,” the “tastelessness wears thin.” With that said, he points out some of the film’s highlights, which include the “interplay between adulterous Leigh French and lover Richard Schaal, who can’t keep their hands off each other”:

… “the two cops — one who sings the fabricated lyrics to ‘Lawrence of Arabia'”:

… and a scene between Wuhl and Drescher in which Wuhl “loses his ‘lover’ image.”

Less successful than the sporadically amusing juvenile humor are the “serious storylines”, in which “one guy has joined the army”:

… and “Tony Danza worries that girlfriend Michelle Pfeiffer will forget him if her upcoming screen test is successful.”

Nothing with Danza in it seems to suit the overall tone of the film. However, Pfeiffer fans will surely appreciate seeing her here in her first cinematic role; she’s quite luminous.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Some amusing sequences

Must See?
No, unless it’s a personal or nostalgic favorite.

Links:

Gregory’s Girl (1980)

Gregory’s Girl (1980)

“She’s got teeth — lovely white teeth. White, white teeth.”

Synopsis:
When a gangly Scottish adolescent (John Gordon Sinclair) falls instantly in love with a new female soccer player (Dee Hepburn) at his school, he seeks advice from his equally clueless friends and his wise younger sister (Allison Forster).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Coming of Age
  • First Love
  • Scottish Films
  • Teenagers

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary begins his review of this “offbeat comedy about teenage puppy love” — a “sweet, extremely amusing film” that “is like nothing made in the U.S.” — by noting that it was made “by Scotland’s inimitable Bill Forsyth” while “American directors were churning out vile sex comedies about teenagers.” He notes that “in some truly marvelous scenes,” Sinclair’s “shy boy gets advice about girls from his younger sister so he can plan how to win Hepburn.”

However, he points out that Forsyth “uses Hepburn not so much as a real girl as a kind of angel, who appears out of nowhere” and “orchestrates matters so that Sinclair ends up” in an unexpectedly happy space.

To say much more about the plotline would spoil this whimsical flick, which wanders about while painting a gentle picture of a specific time and place in which quirky people help each other out and (mostly) do the right thing. Frankly, it comes across as far too perfect to ring true — however, as a nostalgic remembrance of the way we wish things were, this one hits it right on the mark.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Strong performances by the amateur cast
  • Michael Coulter’s cinematography
  • Fine location shooting

Must See?
Yes, as a charming Scottish flick.

Categories

  • Foreign Gem

Links:

Brimstone and Treacle (1982)

Brimstone and Treacle (1982)

“I no longer accept there’s such a thing as a loving God, Norma.”

Synopsis:
When a handsome young stranger (Sting) manipulates himself into the house of an atheist (Denholm Elliott) and his religious wife (Joan Plowright), he soon takes advantage of their disabled daughter (Suzanna Hamilton), all the while pretending to be her former lover.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Con-Artists
  • Disabilities
  • Grown Children
  • Marital Problems
  • Psychopaths

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary refers to this odd flick — a cinematic adaptation of what was originally a 1976 BBC television play by Dennis Potter — as an “unusual, often unpleasant film” filled with “first-rate” acting (including “Sting’s best performance”), and “a good script, full of intriguing scenes.” He points out that the “most intriguing aspect of [the] film is that we can’t figure out Sting’s motives.”

As Peary asks, “Is he truly religious? Has he been dispatched by God or the devil? Is he trying to help the girl? Is he trying to destroy the family? Or is he trying to put the house in order? Is he trying to become master of the house?” All are reasonable hypotheses, and one is left truly uncertain throughout — especially given “interesting direction by Richard Loncraine” which occasionally turns experimental for no apparent reason other than to remind us we really don’t know what’s going on, or why.

Oddly enough, it’s this ambiguity which keeps us watching, as we wonder whether the film will turn out to be fantastical or simply a tale of a sinister sociopath wreaking havoc on a broken family. The fine performances and unusual storyline make this unnerving film worth at least a one-time look — but be prepared to get creeped out.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Sting as Martin Taylor
  • Denholm Elliott as Tom Bates
  • Joan Plowright as Normal Bates
  • Peter Hannan’s cinematography
  • Michael Nyman’s score (along with music by The Police)

Must See?
Yes, as an intriguing outing and for the fine performances.

Categories

  • Good Show

Links:

Fedora (1978)

Fedora (1978)

“I guess time catches up with all of us.”

Synopsis:
When an independent producer (William Holden) arrives in Greece hoping to lure a reclusive movie star named Fedora (Marthe Keller) into his latest film, he quickly finds himself caught up in a complicated scenario involving Fedora’s personal youth-giving physician (Jose Ferrer), Fedora’s maid (France Sternhagen), and an elderly woman known simply as “The Countess” (Hildegard Knef).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Actors and Actresses
  • Billy Wilder Films
  • Flashback Films
  • Jose Ferrer Films
  • Michael York Films
  • William Holden Films

Review:
Billy Wilder’s penultimate movie — co-written once again with his longtime collaborator, I.A.L. Diamond — was this gothic Hollywood tale set abroad in Europe and filled with flashbacks, mistaken identities, drug addiction, mother-daughter dynamics, and plenty of dubbing. The film evokes immediate parallels with Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard given the (re)casting of Holden, and the centrality of an aging diva holding reign over her household while her loyal servants wait nearby.

Quickly, however, the movie takes all sorts of unusual twists and turns, with many other movies (and big-name actors) referenced in some way; I’ll quote from DVD Savant’s review since he so succinctly names many of them:

Fedora seems to be taking a tour through all of Wilder’s work, and the work of others as well. It begins with a Hollywood insider who has a flashback at the funeral of a great star (The Barefoot Contessa).

It then journeys to a romantic Mediterranean setting with an amusing hotelier (Avanti!).

The idea of a perhaps-mad star undergoing radical plastic surgery seems a melding of Sunset Blvd. and Les yeux sans visage, with mirrors removed from the house…

The ‘plastic surgery madness’ also evokes images and ideas about disfigurement from A Woman’s Face… Finally, a major make-over/identity transformation seems patterned after scenes in Vertigo and also the “Vertigo” pretender The Legend of Lylah Clare.

The inclusion of cameos by Henry Fonda and Michael York (playing themselves) simply adds to the surreality of what we’re watching: Fedora is a fictional movie star who nonetheless has a very-real crush on Michael York-the-actor:

… and who receives an honorary Oscar from Henry Fonda as “President of the Academy”.

One also can’t help thinking of Mommie Dearest (1981) at certain points (though that film and its influence wouldn’t appear until a few years later).

Indeed, it’s the mother-daughter element of the storyline that most directly turns it into an unexpectedly dark gothic horror flick; Wilder and Diamond don’t shy away from cynically representing the depths of life-altering narcissism at play in Hollywood. While Fedora isn’t a must-see entry in Wilder’s oeuvre, it will certainly be of interest to his fans, and remains well worth a look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • A truly bizarre storyline
  • Gerry Fisher’s cinematography
  • Fine use of location shooting in Greece and France

Must See?
No, but surprisingly enough, it’s recommended.

Links: