Film Review: The Thief Who Came To Dinner (1973, directed by Bud Yorkin)

0033bee5_mediumIn The Thief Who Came To Dinner, Ryan O’Neal plays Webster McGee, a Houston-based computer programmer.  After deciding that living in a capitalist society means that everyone steals from everyone else, Webster quits his boring job and decides to become a real thief.  Figuring that they can afford to lose a little wealth, Webster only targets the rich and powerful.  After he steals some incriminating documents from a crooked businessman (Charles Cioffi), Webster uses those documents to blackmail his way into high society.  Soon, Webster owns a mansion of his own and is living with a gorgeous heiress (Jacqueline Bisset, who played a lot of gorgeous heiresses back in the day).  Webster also has an insurance investigator after him.  Dave Reilly (Warren Oates) knows that Webster is a thief but he also can not prove it.  As Dave obsessively stalks him, Webster plots one final heist.

Until I saw it on TCM on Monday, I had never heard of The Thief Who Came To Dinner.  Directed in a breezy style by Bud Yorkin, The Thief Who Came To Dinner was an early script from Walter Hill.  Though the film is much more comedic than his best known work, it’s still easily recognizable as coming from Hill’s imagination.  The obsessive Dave and the coolly professional Webster are both prototypical Hill characters and their adversarial yet friendly rivalry would be duplicated in several subsequent Hill films.

The Thief Who Came To Dinner is an engaging movie that doesn’t add up to much.  The normally stiff Ryan O’Neal gives one of his better performances, though he struggles to hold his own whenever he has to act opposite the far more energetic Warren Oates.  Ned Beatty, Gregory Sierra, John Hillerman, Michael Murphy, and Austin Pendleton all appear in minor roles, making the film’s cast a veritable who’s who of 70s character actors.  And, of course, the film features Jacqueline Bisset at her loveliest.

The Thief Who Came To Dinner may not be well-known but it is an enjoyable and satisfying piece of 70s entertainment.

Film Review: The Split (1968, directed by Gordon Flemyng)

The Split2The Split is one of the many films to be based on one of Donald Westlake’s Parker novels.  A classic antihero, Parker was a ruthless professional criminal who was only partially redeemed by being so much better at his job than all the other lowlifes around him.  In the movies, Parker has been played by everyone from Lee Marvin to Robert Duvall to Mel Gibson to Jason Statham.  In The Split, Parker is renamed McClain and he is played by Jim Brown.

McClain and his partner, Gladys (Julie Harris), have a plan to rob the Los Angeles Coliseum during a football game.  (Actual footage of the Rams playing the Falcons was used.)  McClain personally recruits a crew of criminals to help him pull off the heist.  Harry Kifka (Jack Klugman) is the getaway driver.  Bert Clinger (Ernest Borgnine) is the muscle.  Marty Gough (Warren Oates) is the electronic expert.  Dave Negli (Donald Sutherland) is the sharpshooter.

After pulling off the robbery, McClain stashes the money with his ex-girlfriend, Ellie (Diahann Carroll).  When her landlord, Herb Sutro (James Whitmore), finds out that Ellie has the money, he murders her and steals it.  When homicide detective Walter Brill (Gene Hackman) solves Ellie’s murder, he kills Herb and takes the money for himself.  Meanwhile, Gladys and the crew are convinced that McClain knows where the money is.  With everyone out to kill him, McClain tries to find the money.

The Split is mostly interesting because of its cast.  For all of his physical presence, Jim Brown was never much of an actor but the large supporting cast more than makes up for his limitations.  It’s fun to watch Sutherland, Borgnine, Harris, and Klugman compete to see who can steal the most scenes.  Meanwhile, a youngish Gene Hackman is as cantankerous as ever.  Then there’s the great Warren Oates.  Warren Oates was one of the greatest actors of all time and he spent his far too brief career stealing movies like The Split.

(The Split was released a year after Jim Brown, Ernest Borgnine, and Donald Sutherland had all appeared in The Dirty Dozen.  A year after The Split, Warren Oates and Ernest Borgnine would both be members of The Wild Bunch while Hackman and Brown would costar in Riot.)

The Split has some historical significance as the first film to ever be given an R rating.  Though tame by today’s standards, at the time of its release, The Split was considered to be extremely violent and audiences were also shocked by a brief flash of nudity.  Seen today, The Split is a conventional heist movie but it still shows what a group of good actors can do with so-so material.

The Split

Film Review: Welcome to Hard Times (1967, directed by Burt Kennedy)

220px-WelcomehardtimesWelcome to Hard Times is a western that used to frequently turn up on TV when I was a kid.  I remembered that I had always enjoyed it but otherwise, I had largely forgotten about it when I saw that it was airing on TCM earlier today.  I rewatched it to see if I would still enjoy it.  Welcome To Hard Times has its flaws but it is still an above average addition to the genre.

Based on a novel by E.L. Doctorow, Welcome to Hard Times takes place in the small western settlement of Hard Times, Nevada.  When the mysterious Man From Bodie (Aldo Ray) shows up, he terrorizes everyone in the town.  When the town founder, Mr. Fee (Paul Birch), attempts to stand up to him, the Man from Bodie shoots him dead.  When the local undertaker, Mr. Hansen (Elisha Cook, Jr.) tries to stop the Man from stealing one of his horses, the Man silently guns him down.  As the town’s mayor, Will Blue (Henry Fonda), stands by and helplessly watches, The Man rapes and murders Fee’s girlfriend and also kills the local saloonkeeper, Avery (Lon Chaney, Jr.).  The Man burns down the town and finally leaves.

Thought most of the surviving townspeople abandon Hard Times, Will Blue stays behind and tries to rebuild.  He adopts Fee’s son, Jimmy (Michael Shea).  Also staying behind is Jimmy’s mother, Molly Riordan (Janice Rule), a former saloon girl who was also raped by the Man and who constantly taunts Will for not being able to stand up to him.  New settlers arrive and the town starts to rebuild.  Zar (Kennan Wynn) and his four girls reopen the saloon and serve the workers at a nearby mine.  Isaac Maple (John Anderson) reopens the general store.  Under Will’s leadership, Hard Times starts to thrive.

A drifter named Leo Jenks (the great Warren Oates) also moves in.  When Molly discovers that Leo is a crack shot, she gets him to teach Jimmy how to handle a shotgun.  Both she and Will know that the Man is going to return in the spring.  Molly is obsessed with vengeance and Will fears that Jimmy is going to be consumed by her hatred.

Aldo Ray  Welcome to Hard Times (1967)Of course, the Man does eventually return.

Welcome to Hard Times works best at the beginning and the end, when Aldo Ray is on-screen.  As the sadistic Man from Bodie, Ray gives a classic western bad guy performance.  He’s intimidating, he’s violent, and he guns down the citizens of Hard Times with even more casual arrogance than Lee Marvin, Jack Palance, and Lee Van Cleef combined!  The middle section of the film drags and it is hard to ignore Jane Rule’s shaky Irish accent.  It is obvious that Welcome to Hard Times is trying to say something about Will Blue’s humanistic approach but it does not seem to know what.

Director Burt Kennedy was best known for directing comedic westerns.  Welcome to Hard Times was a rare dramatic film for him.  It’s not a great western but, thanks to Aldo Ray’s performance and the excellent work of cinematography Harry Stradling, Jr., it’s still a worthy addition to the genre.


Aldo Ray

Artist Profile: Raymond Johnson

The work below was all done by Raymond Johnson.  Other than that he was active in the 1950s and 60 and he painted the covers for several paperback publishers, I haven’t been able to find much biographical information about this artist.  His work will just have to speak for itself.

The Affairs of A Leading Lady

The Affairs of A Leading Lady

Adultress Cleopatra's Nights Diagnosis Homicide Hired Girl I'll Call Her Every Monday Love in Suburbia So Sweet So Wicked The Forsaken The Green Girl The Iron Mistress The Strong Don't Cry