Built For Speed: Richard Pryor in GREASED LIGHTNING (Warner Brothers 1977)

cracked rear viewer

Richard Pryor  (1940-2005) has been hailed as a comedy genius, and rightly so. But Pryor could also more than hold his own in a dramatic role. Films like WILD IN THE STREETS, LADY SINGS THE BLUES, and BLUE COLLAR gave him the opportunity to strut his thespic stuff, and GREASED LIGHTNING gave him top billing as Wendell Scott, the first African-American NASCAR driver. Pryor plays it straight in this highly fictionalized biopic about a man determined to break the color barrier in the predominantly white sport of stock car racing.

We see Scott returning to his rural Danville, VA hometown after serving in WWII.  He tells everyone he wants to drive a cab and someday open a garage, but his secret wish is to become “a champion race car driver”. He meets and falls in love with Mary (Pam Grier, who’s never looked more beautiful), and they eventually marry…

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A Movie A Day #58: Seven Hours to Judgment (1988, directed by Beau Bridges)

7hrs_to_judgement-frntWhen I saw that Erin has picked Judge Not My Sins for her artwork of the day, I was reminded of Seven Hours to Judgment, a movie that used to occasionally show up on HBO.

David Reardon (Ron Liebman) owns an electronics store and is professionally known as “Crazy Dave.”  When three gang members, led by Chino (Reggie Johnson), are arrested for pushing Dave’s wife off of a subway platform, it looks like the legal system might let them go.  Because Dave’s wife is in a coma, she cannot testify that they pushed her.  However, Dave has tracked down a witness who saw what Chino did.  But the witness is not immediately available to testify.  Dave begs Judge John Eden (Beau Bridges) for an extension but the judge is one of those bleeding heart, by-the-book types.  Even though he believes Chino to be guilty, Judge Eden dismisses the case.  At the same time, Dave’s wife dies and Crazy Dave starts to live up to his nickname.

With the help of one of his employees, the hulking and child-like Ira (Tiny Ron), Dave kidnaps both Judge Eden and his wife (Julianne Phillips).  Dave tells Judge Eden that he has seven hours to track down the witness and get the evidence that would have convicted Chino.  If Eden doesn’t find the evidence, his wife will be blown up.  Judge Eden is dumped in the worst part of town, without any money, identification, or credit cards.  Dave tells him, “You helped create these streets!”

The rest of the movie is Eden running through the mean streets of wherever the movie is supposed to be taking place.  (It was filmed in Seattle but the city is never specifically named.)  Everyone who meets Eden tries to beat him up, which is one way to put a judge who is soft on crime in his place.  The only person who doesn’t beat up Eden is a homeless woman who licks his face.  Soon, Eden even has Chino after him.  The normally laid back and affable Beau Bridges isn’t usually thought of as being an action star and this movie shows why.  Judge Eden is such a wuss of a hero that it seems appropriate that he eventually has to hitch a ride in the back of a garbage truck.

Along with the miscasting of Beau Bridges, the other major problem with Seven Hours to Judgment is that it requires us to believe that Dave, even if he is “crazy,” could come up with such an intricate and elaborate plan and set it all up within just a few hours of his wife dying and Chino being released.  “Smug liberal get mugged by reality” was a successful theme for many low-budget action films in the 1980s but Seven Hours to Judgment is ultimately just as dumb and implausible as it sounds.

Seven Hours to Judgment was a reunion for Leibman and Bridges, who previously co-starred in an excellent and overlooked road movie called Your Three Minutes Are Up.  For some reason, Beau Bridges also directed Seven Hours to Judgment.

A Movie A Day #33: Two-Minute Warning (1976, directed by Larry Peerce)


For the longest time, I thought that Two-Minute Warning was a movie about a gang of art thieves who attempt to pull off a heist by hiring a sniper to shoot at empty seats at the Super Bowl.  As planned by a master criminal known as The Professor (Rossano Brazzi), the sniper will cause a riot and the police will be too busy trying to restore order to notice the robbery being committed at an art gallery that happens to be right next to the stadium.

I believed that because that was the version of Two-Minute Warning that would sometimes show up on television.  Whenever I saw the movie, I always through it was a strange plan, one that had too many obvious flaws for any halfway competent criminal mastermind to ignore them.  What if the sniper was captured before he got a chance to start shooting?  What if a riot didn’t break out?  The sniper spent the movie aiming at empty seats but, considering how many people were in the stadium, it was likely that he would accidentally shoot someone.  Were the paintings really worth the risk of a murder charge?

Even stranger was that Two-Minute Warning was not only a heist film but it was also a 1970s disaster film.  Spread out throughout the stadium were familiar character actors like Jack Klugman, John Cassevetes, David Janssen, Martin Balsam, Gena Rowlands, Walter Pidgeon, and Beau Bridges.  It seemed strange that, once the shots were fired and Brazzi’s men broke into the gallery, all of those familiar faces vanished.  When it comes to disaster movies, it is an ironclad rule that at least one B-list celebrity has to die.  It seemed strange that Two-Minute Warning, with all those characters, would feature a sniper shooting at only empty seats.  For that matter, why would there be empty seats at the Super Bowl?

That wasn’t the strangest thing about Two-Minute Warning, though.  The strangest thing was that Charlton Heston was in the film, playing a police captain.  In most of his scenes, he had dark hair.  But, in the scenes in which he talked about the art gallery, Heston’s hair was suddenly light brown.

Recently, I watched Two-Minute Warning on DVD and I was shocked to discover that the movie on the DVD had very little in common with the movie that I had seen on TV.  For instance, the television version started with the crooks discussing their plan to rob the gallery.  The DVD version opened with the sniper shooting at a couple in the park.  In the DVD version, there was no art heist.   The sniper had no motive and no personality.  He was just a random nut who opened fire on the Super Bowl.  And,  in the DVD version, he did not shoot at empty seats.  Several of the characters who survived in the version that I saw on TV did not survive in the version that I saw on DVD.

What happened?

The theatrical version of Two-Minute Warning was exactly what I saw on the DVD.  A nameless sniper opens fire and kills several people at the Super Bowl.  In 1978, when NBC purchased the television broadcast rights for Two-Minute Warning, they worried that it was too violent and too disturbing.  There was concern that, if the film was broadcast as it originally was, people would actually think there was a risk of some nut with a gun opening fire at a crowded event.  (In 1978, that was apparently considered to be implausible.)  So, 40 minutes of new footage was shot.  Charlton Heston even returned to film three new scenes, which explains his changing hair color.  The new version of Two-Minute Warning not only gave the sniper a motive (albeit one that did not make much sense) but it also took out all of the violent death scenes.

Having seen both versions of Two-Minute Warning, neither one is very good, though the theatrical version is at least more suspenseful than the television version.  (It turns out that it was better to give the sniper no motive than to saddle him with a completely implausible one.)  But, even in the theatrical version, the potential victims are too one-dimensional to really care about.  Ultimately, the most interesting thing about Two-Minute Warning is that, at one time, an art heist was considered more plausible than a mass shooting.


Hallmark Review: Flower Shop Mystery: Snipped in the Bud (2016, dir. Bradley Walsh)


Sure looks like the same place from On the Twelfth Day of Christmas and Murder, She Baked: A Plum Pudding Mystery. It may be the same place as in those movies, but I’m not sure. This is North Bay, Ontario you are looking, which is where the film was shot. That’s a step up here since last time they put the title card over a shot of Littleton, New Hampshire.

It looks like these Flower Shop Mystery movies are a thing now. I don’t mind. Especially not when they are written by good old Gary Goldstein. It seems you can always count on a Hallmark film written by Goldstein to have something odd in it. I would love to know if these things are in his scripts and if he does it on purpose, or if it is just a strange coincidence. Regardless, this one is no exception.


The Chicago Cafe has still been changed to the Chicago Bar. Although, you will see Marco (Brennan Elliott) walk around the kitchen of his “bar” carrying groceries. Not sure what that was about. Art On Main has also still been changed to Bloomers Flower Shop via a tarp. It looks fine on her shop, but I don’t get why they bothered with his place. Also, if you go to Google Maps, then you’ll find a Asian character next to the word “Chicago”. I’m guessing that was photoshopped out or the place changed between July 2015 and when they made this. That’s possible seeing as it changed drastically between September 2013 and 2015 according to photos on Google Maps. I lean towards photoshopping because of a scene later, but let’s move on and talk about the movie now.

The movie begins and we get three for the price of one with this screenshot.


First, Abby Knight (Brooke Shields) has been sent money anonymously to deliver black roses to someone. Second, Abby’s assistant Nikki Bender (Kate Drummond) was just reminded she truly works for a nutcase. Turns out Abby already compared the handwriting to signatures on old receipts. She also said she couldn’t get DNA off the envelope flap because it is self-adhesive. That is Nikki’s reaction. That was me when I saw a shot later in this film. Finally, they put the two prominent actors from Degrassi in the same cast listing. But that’s not all!


That’s right! Someone involved with these movies realized they accidentally called it Mills College in the first film. They make sure you know they fixed it. Yes, the plot does revolve around the college, but they show that name a lot. They also have a scene where the news gets the name of the flower shop wrong and they repeatedly yell at the screen to correct them.

We find out that the black roses are for a Bruce Barnes (Daniel Kash) who happens to be the pre-law professor for Abby’s daughter Sydney (Celeste Desjardins). Abby is apparently terrified of him. We also find out that Kenny (Ricardo Hoyos), her TA, is the only thing keeping her in the class. It is pretty cool when your TA is Zig Novak from Degrassi.

Marco now comes in to remind us he still exists. Normally that would be me trying to be funny and cynical, but he seriously only gets in a couple of words before Abby is off and running to the college. Abby runs into an old lawyer friend of hers who teaches at the college. I think this screenshot sums up how much she likes him.


They had some bad experiences in the past. Abby does bring up that up that he “dated and dumped half of [her] friends.” However, I don’t think it helps when one of your answers to that is “I showed every one of your girlfriends a great time, and I would’ve shown you the same, if you’d ever given me a chance.” So, it was all but her that he went out with rather than just half, and he would have shown all of them a “great time.” Good work, pal! No seriously, good job! You made sure no one will care when you are dead. A case they both once worked on that he won is also brought up here to give us information for the ending of the movie.

After talking with her daughter so Sydney can setup a red herring by telling us the guy getting the black roses has famous black pencils, she goes to his office. But first, we have to pass by his secretary to introduce her character and find out there is some obvious friction between her and the professor.


He likes black pencils, is being delivered black roses, and has a black secretary. I totally didn’t spot that while watching the movie. Then we meet Bruce. She winds up calling him a “tool” to Marco, but this site isn’t Hallmark. His character is an asshole. Plain and simple. That’s all you really need to know about him. This is just another setup for Abby to become the prime suspect in the murder that is about to happen. This happens because Abby doesn’t put up with assholes. She decides to turn around outside and go right back to his office after having initially left the building.


Actor Jeff Teravainen has part of a black pencil glued to his chest and isn’t moving. He’s dead. That’s when Abby runs out to get help and I realize just how obvious this film tried to make who the killer is so I’m skipping this part. All you need to know is that no one but Abby was in their with the body. I love how they have Brooke refer to the black roses as “theme roses.” It’s too bad he doesn’t ask what theme. This whole bit is the equivalent of an old murder mystery movie where the detective says the killer is somewhere in this room so nobody leave the house.

She returns to the shop where Marco and Abby have a little back and forth about Abby keeping a “low profile.” Then we find out that this must be the official news station of Hallmark movies…

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seeing as it’s the same one from A Christmas Detour.

A Christmas Detour (2015, dir. Ron Oliver)

A Christmas Detour (2015, dir. Ron Oliver)

Then we meet Connor McKay of the Illinois-Eagle Times.


Pat Mastroianni can call himself whatever he wants in this movie, but he will always be…

Degrassi Junior High

Degrassi Junior High

in my heart. By the way, between him and actor Ricardo Koyos, that means we have an actor from the first episode of Degrassi-discounting The Kids of Degrassi Street-and an actor from the most recent episode of Degrassi in the same movie together. That’s awesome! Sadly, he’s barely in the movie. Maybe he’ll be a recurring character seeing as the press is bound to keep popping up in these movies.

Now it’s time to vent to Beau Bridges, which also reminds us he exists because he’s gone as fast as Marco. This is followed by another fly over of the actual place they filmed this in. I can’t tell you how refreshing this is after that last few Hallmark movies I watched that pieced together stock footage from all over the place. Along those lines, I give them credit for this too.


Often when a Hallmark movie shows a newspaper or an article online then they just use someone else’s writing. Sometimes they slightly modify it. The first film did it. That’s probably here as well, but they made sure to put this wrapping on it so that I wasn’t able to notice. Good work!

The detective comes in to remind us that Abby had knocked over pencils in the professor’s office earlier so that her fingerprints would be on the one that killed the guy. With his lines done, actor Paulino Nunes makes his exit. He has to get back to beating out other actors for having the highest number of acting credits in a lifetime. He’s a busy man.

Now the suspects board comes out.


I hope you like that board because you will be looking at it and listening to a lot of conversations around it during this movie. Explaining all the info dropped at this board would be really boring. So, let’s laugh at this lady’s shocked look on her face when she sees Abby, who is now famous as a potential murderer, walking on the street.


On the upside for Abby, business has picked up since she has become a prime suspect in a murder. People all want those black “revenge roses”. Nikki says they are “for bad occasions. Arguments, divorces, breakups, just to say ‘I hate you’.” That part is immediately followed by a scene with the detective where Brooke Shields does this after venting about the dead man, which included calling him a “womanizer”.

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After Marco and Abby talk to each other, they go on a stakeout like they did in the first movie. This time it’s of the dead guy’s funeral on the ground floor of a building with windows. Marco heads in to scope things out while Abby uses her binoculars. Joey Jeremiah stops by her car to remind us he is still in the movie before leaving again. In here Marco gets in a conversation with the dead guy’s wife so I can be proven wrong part way through writing this review. Turns out it’s “Chicago Bar and Grill”. He even calls it a restaurant. This only leaves me more confused. We can clearly see neighboring businesses have their real names. Well, they did seem to remove where it says “Lingerie & Luxuries” on Cintra May’s, which is next door to his Bar and Grill, but still. I guess they thought it would constitute official endorsement, or maybe that’s what it was called in the book. I don’t know.

We are also reminded that Barnes is a jerk to his secretary. Kenny also shows up to the funeral to again remind us he is in the movie still. I really think this movie wanted you to constantly think that it had to be one of the actors from Degrassi since they are kind of on the periphery of all the action. Heck, Joey is actually seen in the background looking in Abby’s flower shop in the dark at one point. We also learn that Kenny was real friendly with a guy who was involved in a case awhile back.

Board time!

Abby goes and talks with Kenny who mentions some internship that the dead guy supposedly secured him. He also mentions that the dead guy had just split up with a woman so that we suspect the secretary.

This is when Kelly Taylor popped up to tell me it’s time to dance.


I will not! I looked through a bunch of episodes of Beverly Hills, 90210 to find an onscreen writing credit for Gary Goldstein to include here, but failed. I’m not happy. Help me, Beau!


Yeah, but I’m not supposed to eat ice cream anymore. However, we’ve now reached the point where you have the setup of this film. I could take you through the rest, but it would be me regurgitating their mulling over the board and getting information to add to that board by talking to people. It’s as boring as it sounds.

My final thoughts are these. They dropped the extra guy who was in the first one. That’s a plus. Another plus is that they didn’t have to do any setup so we could cut right to Marco and Abby solving a mystery. However, I swear I remember more snappy screwball comedy back and forth between them in the first film, and it just isn’t here. Luckily, we do have another one of these films coming in June. Gary seemed to try to improve between the first and second, so maybe the third one will bring in more of that kind of dialogue. Also, the board thing really gets annoying. It didn’t help to organize the facts, but seemed to just confuse me more. Maybe that was the intention. Regardless, I can’t recommend this one even if it did have Pat Mastroianni in it who I really hope will be playing a recurring character.

Now, if you want to know who did it, then scroll past this picture of another fine moment of Joey Jeremiah from Degrassi Junior High. This was back when he was probably small enough that Brooke Shields could have easily broken him in half. He’s really tiny in that first episode.

There are no songs to include this time so you can stop here.


Okay, here you go. Kenny did it. He had worked on a case with the guy who was killed. A case Abby was on back when she worked as a lawyer. He wasn’t given the credit for his work. Kenny wanted to get away from his father. His father bribed the dead guy to not give Kenny a clerkship far away since he wanted him to take over the family business. Kenny saw an opportunity to kill the professor and blame it on Abby. He made sure to do it before the dead professor sent out any of the letters about the job. That way he could arrange to get it himself. Thus, he would escape his father.

Not too satisfying of an ending. Not too satisfying of a mystery. Not too satisfying of a movie. Skip this one.

Hallmark Review: Flower Shop Mystery: Mum’s the Word (2016, dir. Bradley Walsh)


And look at all those American flags!!! Wow! I had no idea that North Bay, Ontario, Canada had a United States appreciation day where they take down all the Canadian flags that normally line the street to put up Old Glory. Actually, the city behind the title card is Littleton, New Hampshire, but the movie was done in North Bay, Ontario, Canada. However, they did take down the Canadian flags that normally line that city’s Main Street. Unfortunately, I don’t know the city they show just before the title card. Only so much I can do.

This time it was really easy to figure out. While they do make sure the license plates are Illinois…


and American flags are even in the windows of motels…


they left plenty of local business names just lying around.

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They even directly reference this coffee house and it really exists on 473 Fraser Street North Bay, Ontario.


Figuring out Littleton, New Hampshire goes to the Hunkins & Eaton Insurance Agency, Inc. sign that just barely shows for a second before the camera pans up to the shot at the beginning of this review.

With that out of the way for now. This is Hallmark’s new mystery series. It takes place in the small town of New Chapel, Illinois, which is only about 4,000 km by car from Eden Lake, Minnesota where Hannah Swenson runs her bakery.

It starts off by introducing us to a dead man walking named Elvis. Abby Knight, played by Brooke Shields, once knew the man who has since run on hard times.


After speaking in exposition dialog to introduce us to her, the flower shop called Bloomers, and her employee, Brooke sits down to have a talk with her daughter. A daughter who, I kid you not, is attending Mills College. Mills College which, according to Brooke’s flower shop friend, is “far enough away to live on campus, but close enough for Mom to drop in.” I had no idea Mills College had moved from the Bay Area to near Illinois, Ontario, Canada.


Oh, and just in case we thought she was on vacation and not in the middle of classes.


This scene only exists to tell us that Brooke used to be a lawyer, but stopped when her husband died and opened a flower shop instead because “none of it just seemed as important.” In other words, her husband died so that the character will be able to be a detective and Beth Davenport from The Rockford Files at the same time. Works out because her neighbor Marco Salvare, played by Brennan Elliott, shows up next at the flower shop. He owns a bar and was a PI. Oh, and Brooke’s car got hit by another car that may have been involved with the murder that happens soon.

And by soon, I mean now. Someone turns up dead at the Canadian American flag waving motel, Elvis is a suspect, and Brooke and Brennan are on the case. Not for any real good reason. They are really just busy body snoops, which is one of the reasons I kind of like this series already. Normally that would drive me nuts, but it makes them made for each other in this series. I liked that.

With Brooke on the case, she goes on her iPad to read a screenshot of a newspaper article about the murder, which apparently took place on November 2nd, 2016.


Then she goes to the family album of her photos on the iPad where we see a picture of her husband who may have died the day before during a fishing trip. Either that or she only got around to importing her family photos onto her tablet the day before on November 1st, 2016.


Next we are introduced to this series’ version of Norman from Murder, She Baked, but he barely exists in this movie. Then there’s a little girl talk back at the flower shop that I’m pretty sure has no customers that come into it. This is followed by a scene where Brooke sits down with a woman who wants a divorce so that we make sure we still remember she was a lawyer. Oh, and something plot related about a Green Thumb Nursery. I couldn’t care less about the plot because just like watching The Big Sleep (1946), you are watching for the Brooke and Brennan back and forth, not the plot. Also, Beau Bridges is in this as a sounding board and in case we need more exposition. Whatever is needed, you can count on Beau. I mean the man got the scroll weapon and he almost beat mega turtle at the end of level three in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the NES back in 1989. He can do anything.

Time to hit the “Internet” running locally at file:///C:/Users/Mike/Desktop/sc20-Chicago-GreenTumb/results1.html AKA ExploreNet to look up the Green Thumb Nursery.


The local URL’s keep popping up in the lower left hand corner as a tooltip while she continues to browse the local filesystem for info on the nursery. I wonder who this Mike is? Did she take actor Michael Vincent Dagostino’s laptop? He plays a detective in the movie.

Anyhow, after Brooke reminds us again she was once a lawyer, she walks pass some street signs to make sure we know this shot took place at the intersection of McIntyre Street and Plouffle Street.

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Then Brooke and Brennan visit the Green Thumb Nursery to forward the plot and have some more back and forth. Might as well mention now that Brooke has some weird pseudo-feminist lines in this. You know those lines somebody who thinks they are a feminist, but really are just looking for any excuse to pick a fight over say. There’s only a couple of them, but it’s kind of weird. Maybe she can argue with Calista Flockhart about the semantics of calling her Supergirl.

Now they go on a stakeout! By that I mean they have some humorous lines and talk in exposition dialog. Who cares! All you need to know is that with a little more work they could be fun as a mystery solving couple in this franchise. And no, despite being written by Gary Goldstein, there will be no mention of Brooke’s feet. More plot and dead flowers left for Brooke, then finally Elvis is charged with second degree murder.

Plot, plot, plot. Nursery looks awfully shady and we know that’s where the mystery is going to lead us. Now Brooke and Flower Shop Norman take a trip to Partners Billards & Bowling Center on 361 Main St East.

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After more talking between characters, an inspector shows up and shuts down Brooke’s flower shop. Now it’s personal! I know this because I have almost run out of screenshots. Luckily, I have two more funny things to show before I close up this review. Also, Elvis is found hung dead in his cell. Winding down now.

At the nursery, Brooke noticed that one of the guys carried a gun. She asked him why and he gave a lame answer. No joke, I immediately said to my Dad that he should have said that they carry rare orchids and people try to steal them. So of course she figures out that an orchid bulb is hidden inside a pot of Mum flowers. Yep. This is also when Hallmark popped up to tell us that if we don’t like this series then not to worry cause it can go the way of Wedding Planner Mystery if necessary.


And now the final goof, and it’s a whopper. She goes online to read an article about expensive orchids. Take a good look.

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And here are the excerpts taken to make that article from an SF Gate article from 1995 by staff writer Jim Doyle:

“U.S. inspectors broke the Kolopaking case in 1993, when they discovered he had sent 60 boxes of rare orchids into the United States via the West Coast clearinghouse for international mail in Oakland.”

“Fisher said the biggest threat to orchids is loss of habitat: Each year, millions of acres of rain forest, where billions of orchids live, are cut or burned down for mining, timber, farming and development.

He added that orchids taken from the wild are now growing in greenhouses and new plants including hybrids are made from them. ‘There are a lot of species in greenhouses that don’t exist in the wild any more due to habitat loss.’

Law enforcement officials insist that smuggling can hasten the death of a species. They contend that over-collection often takes place when a rare orchid’s habitat is nearly destroyed.”

I think Brooke Shields should contact Brooke Burns of the SFPD. Her and The Gourmet Detective should get right on this. This clearly means that Darcy from A Gift Of Miracles who plagiarized her PhD research pitch from an actual WWF report was writing under the pseudonym of Samson O’Doyle three years before the events of that film.

Obviously Brooke does figure it all out and brings the criminals to justice. The mystery is okay at best. It’s not too difficult to follow. Take the fact that the majority of this review is made up of jokes to tell you how enthralling the plot is. There’s a fair amount of setup here so don’t expect to escape a lot of those types of scenes and the exposition dialog that comes with them. The promise here is the stuff between Brooke Shields and Brennan Elliott. I really have a feeling this one is heading for the same bin as My Gal Sunday, Wedding Planner Mystery, and The Mystery Cruise, but if not, then I hope they really polish up the dialog and just drop the unnecessary extra guy. That kind of works on Murder, She Baked, but here I didn’t feel it added anything. Just have Abby and Marco hook up so we can enjoy them being screwball comedy murder mystery solvers. Otherwise, I am not looking forward to a poor man’s Murder, She Baked with touches of The Gourmet Detective.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee For Labor Day: Norma Rae (directed by Martin Ritt)

Earlier, in honor of Labor Day, I reviewed one of the most anti-labor union films ever made, the 1954 Oscar winner On The Waterfront.  In the interest of fairness, it only seems right to now take a look at one of the most pro-union films ever made, the 1979 best picture nominee Norma Rae.

Norma Rae takes place in one of those small Southern towns that is defined by just one industry.  In this case, almost everyone in town works for minimum wage at the local textile mill.  Conditions are terrible, with the employees working long and brutal shifts in a hot and poorly ventilated factory.  The overwhelming roar of the machines have left the majority of the workers deaf to reality, both figuratively and literally.  The mill is run by the usual collection of slow-talking, tie-wearing rednecks who always seem to show up in movies like this.

One day, a union organizer from New York shows up in town.  Brash and cocky, Ruben Warshowsky (Ron Leibman) is determined to unionize the mill but, at first, he struggles.  Nobody wants to risk their job by being seen with him and his Yankee manners rub many of the townspeople the wrong way.

Eventually, Ruben does find one ally.  Norma Rae (Sally Field) has worked at the mill her entire life.  She’s tough and determined but she’s also regularly shunned because of her past.  A widow who has three children (“She’s had a child out of wedlock!” a judgmental union organizer tells Ruben in a near panic), Norma channels her frustration into drinking too much and having an affair with a married (and abusive) salesman.

Two things happen that give Norma Rae a new purpose in life.  First off, she meets and marries the well-meaning but chauvinistic Sonny (Beau Bridges).  Secondly, she helps Ruben in his efforts to unionize the plant, even at the risk of going to jail and losing her job.   With the mill’s management spreading untrue rumors about Norma’s relationship with Ruben, her dedication to the union soon starts to threaten her marriage to Sonny.

I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about Norma Rae.  In many ways, Ruben is an annoying character.  He’s so brash and so smugly out-of-place that I actually found it difficult to consider any of the points that he was making.  I suppose that was partly intentional.  Ruben can’t accomplish anything until he gets Norma Rae on his side.  But, at the same time, there was something very condescending about Ruben as a character.  Much like the villainous rednecks in charge of the mill, Ruben felt like a stock character.  He was Super Yankee, bravely venturing below the Mason-Dixon Line to bring the truth to all of us stupid Southerners.  Whenever Ruben smirked and started to complain about how dumb everyone else was, I was reminded of why I never wanted much to do with the whole Occupy Movement.

As well, Norma Rae is one of those films that technically takes place in the South but it’s the South of the Northern imagination.  The accents were inconsistent and the dialogue often tried way too hard to sound “authentic.”  Ultimately, Norma Rae lacked the artistry necessary to disguise its more heavy-handed moments.

And yet, I still liked Norma Rae.  It had nothing to do with the film’s political message and everything to do with the character of Norma Rae.  Sally Field gives such a good performance as Norma, making her both strong and vulnerable.  The film’s best moments are the ones where Norma stands up for herself and does what she feels is right, despite the opposition from the mill’s management, Sonny, and her father (Pat Hingle).  Towards the end of the film, there’s a simply incredible scene where Norma finally tells her children about her past and, at that moment, Norma Rae reveals itself to be a great and heartfelt tribute to the strength and resilience of women everywhere.  At that moment, Norma’s strength reminded me of the greatest woman that I’ve ever known, my mom.  It made me appreciate the struggles that my mom went through as she raised four strong-willed daughters on her own, while working crappy jobs and dealing with a society that is always threatened by and cruelly judges a woman who refuses to settle.  Personally, I think Norma could have done better than Sonny and that Ruben should have been called out for constantly talking to down to her but what’s important, in the end, is that Norma never stopped standing up for what she believed.  By the end of the film, Norma is standing in for every woman who has ever been underestimated or judged or told that her opinions didn’t matter.  Norma is standing up for all of us.

Sally Field won an Oscar for her role in Norma Rae.  Off the top of my head, I have no idea who she defeated for the award.  (Yes, I know that I could just look it up on wikipedia but that’s not the point.)  But, regardless of her competition, it’s an honor that she definitely deserved.

Norma Rae

Embracing The Melodrama #22: The Incident (dir by Larry Peerce)

The Incident

The 1967 film The Incident could just as easily have been called Train of Fools.  Much like Ship of Fools, it’s an ensemble piece in which a group of people — all of whom represent different aspect of modern society — find themselves trapped in their chosen mode of transportation and forced to deal with intrusions from the outside world.

That intrusion comes in the form of two sociopaths who have decided to spend the entire ride tormenting their fellow passengers.  The more dominant of the two is Joe (played by Tony Musante, who would later star in Dario Argento’s Bird With The Crystal Plumage), who the film hints might also be a pedophile.  His partner is Artie (Martin Sheen), who is less intelligent than Joe but just as viscous.  (And yes,even though he does a good job in the role,  it is odd to see an intelligent and reportedly very nice actor like Martin Sheen playing a character who is both so evil and so stupid.)

Among the passengers:

Bill (Ed McMahon) and Helen (Diana Van Der Vills) are only on the train because Bill refused to pay the extra money to take a taxi back home. Now, they’re stuck on the train with their young daughter who, in one of the film’s more disturbing scenes, Joe starts to show an interest in.

Teenage Alice (Donna Mills) is on a date with the far more sexually experienced Tony (Victor Arnold).  When Joe and Artie start to harass her, her date proves himself to be pretty much useless.

Douglas McCann (Gary Merrill) is a recovering alcoholic who, before Artie and Joe got on the train, was spending most of his time scornfully watching Kenneth (Robert Otis), a gay man who previously attempted to pick Doug up at the train station and who will eventually fall victim to one of Artie’s crueler jokes.

Muriel Purvis (Jan Sterling) resents her meek husband, Harry (Mike Kellin) and see the entire incident as another excuse to cast doubts upon his manhood.

Sam and Bertha Beckerman (played by Jack Gilford and Thelma Ritter) are an elderly Jewish couple who, over the course of a lifetime, have already had to deal with far too many bullies.  Sam’s attempt to stand up to Joe and Artie results in both he and his wife being trapped on the train.

Arnold (Brock Peters) and Joan (Ruby Dee) are the only black people on the train.  Arnold, at first, enjoys watching the white people fight among each other and even turns down a chance to get off the train because he finds it to be so entertaining.  But finally, Joe turns on him as well.

And then there’s the two soldiers, streetwise Phil (Robert Bannard) and his best friend, Felix (Beau Bridges).  Felix speaks with a soft Southern accent and has a broken arm.

And finally, there’s the bum.  When we first see the bum (Henry Proach) he is asleep.  He doesn’t even wake up when Joe and Artie attempt to set him on fire.

One-by-one, Joe and Artie attack and humiliate every single person on the train.  The other passengers, for the most part, remain passive.  Even when some try to stand up to Joe and Artie, their fellow passengers don’t offer to help.  It’s only when one last passenger finally stands up to the two that the rest of them show any reaction at all and even then, it’s not necessarily the reaction that anyone was hoping for.

The Incident, which shows up on TCM occasionally, is a heavy-handed but effective look at what happens when good people choose to do nothing in the face of evil.  Joe and Artie can be viewed as stand-ins for any number of distasteful groups or ideologies and both Tony Musante and Martin Sheen are believable as dangerous (if occasionally moronic) petty criminals.  For that matter, the entire film is well-acted with the entire cast managing to bring life to characters that, in lesser hands, could have come across as being one-dimensional.  The entire film basically takes place in that one subway car but fortunately, the harsh black-and-white cinematography and the continually roaming camera all come together to keep things visually interesting.

The Incident may not be a great film (it’s occasionally bit too stagey and, after watching the first 30 minutes, you’ll be able to guess how the movie is going to end) but it’s still one to keep an eye out for.

Martin Sheen in The Incident