Film Review: King Kong (dir by John Guillermin)


The 1976 remake of King Kong is the version of the great ape’s story that no one ever seems to want to talk about.

Everyone, of course, continues to appreciate the original King Kong from 1933, with its charmingly dated but still somewhat effective special effects. The Japanese King Kong films have their fans, even if it still annoys me that two endings were made for the original King Kong vs. Godzilla. The Peter Jackson-directed remake from 2005 had many admirers, including me. The monsterverse Kong certainly has many fans, as is indicated by the fact that Godzilla vs Kong is the first box office hit of the post-pandemic era. King Kong is a beloved character and yet the 1976 version of his story never seem to get as much attention as all the others.

Some of that, of course, is because the 1976 version of King Kong is often described as not being very good. It tells the same basic story as the first King Kong but there’s a few key differences. The expedition to the hidden island is no longer made up of a film crew. Instead, everyone has a separate backstory that doesn’t really make much sense. Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin) is an energy company executive who is looking for a new source of oil. Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges) is a long-haired hippie environmentalist type who stows away on Wilson’s ship. Prescott apparently thinks that there’s some sort of ancient primate living on the island. Meanwhile, Dwan (future great actress Jessica Lange, making her film debut) is an aspiring actress who is discovered in a life raft, floating out in the middle of the ocean. It turns out that Dwan (that’s not a typo, that’s her name) has escaped from the yacht of a sleazy film producer. Nobody on the ship seems to be surprised when Dwan suddenly shows up in her life raft and Dwan doesn’t seem to have any hesitation about accompanying a bunch of strangers to previously unexplored island. That’s the type of film this is.

After a considerable amount of time, during which Dwan falls in love with Jack and Fred spends a lot of time looking generally annoyed, the island is discovered. As you can already guess, Dwan is kidnapped by the island’s natives, and she’s rescued by a giant ape who falls in love with her after she punches him in the nose and says, “Put me down, you male chauvinist pig ape!” In some shots, Kong is obviously a man in a rubber suit. In others, he’s just as obviously an animatronic model. Unfortunately, the animatronic version of Kong sometimes appears to kind of be leering whenever he looks down at Dwan in the palm of his hand, which bring a definite element of ickiness to a few of the scenes in which Kong carries Dwan across the island.

I would have started praying too.

Eventually, just as in the original film, Kong ends up a prisoner in New York. This time, when he escapes, grabs Dwan, and goes on a rampage, he ends up climbing the Two Towers. This leads to scenes of helicopters and fighter planes all firing at the Two Towers, which is a bit difficult to watch today. I remember a few years ago, one of our local stations actually broadcast this version of King Kong on September 11th and it definitely did not feel right.

The 1976 version of King Kong was a hit at the box office and was nominated for three Academy Awards. It won the the award for Best Visual Effects, sharing the Oscar with Logan’s Run. That said, King Kong wasn’t exactly popular with critics, either at the time of its release or today. To a certain extent, it’s understandable why this version of King Kong is so frequently criticized. The script takes a deliberately campy approach to material that, in order to have any real emotional impact, needs to be played straight regardless of how silly the story might seem. Charles Grodin never seems to be sure whether the film is a drama or a comedy. Jeff Bridges is likable but a bit too naturally mellow for his role. Jessica Lange made her film debut in King Kong, famously beating out Meryl Streep for the role. Despite the fact that the film was a box office hit, the reviews of Lange’s performance were so negative that she didn’t work for three years after appearing in the film. (She spent that time studying acting. She went on to win a Tony, two Oscars, and three Emmys so take that, critics.)

And yet, I kind of like this version of King Kong. When taken on its own very silly terms (and not as a remake of a legitimate classic), it’s definitely entertaining. Even the fact that Grodin, Bridges, and Lange are all miscast kind of works to the film’s advantage. You can’t help but appreciate that all three of them are trying so hard to be convincing in roles that they shouldn’t have been playing. For all the criticism of Jessica Lange’s performance, she actually does as well as anyone could with some of the dialogue that she gets stuck with. It’s not easy to pull off a scene where you explain to a giant ape that the relationship is never going to work because you’re a city girl and he’s a …. well, he’s a giant ape. But Lange manages to deliver the lines without laughing and that couldn’t have been easy. Lange’s then-inexperience is obvious whenever she’s having to react to or interact with the other actors but she does fine when she’s having to talk to a guy in a rubber suit or a big animatronic head. (Let’s see Meryl Streep pull that off.) Though it seems to take forever for Kong to actually get captured, the film picks up once he’s transported to New York. If you can look past the awkwardness of how the film uses the Twin Towers, the scenes of Kong rampaging through the city have an over-the-top grandeur that’s both ludicrous and compelling. By the time he reaches the top of the World Trade Center, you will totally be on his side. That’s the way it should be.

This remake of King Kong is deeply, deeply silly but, sometimes, that’s exactly what you’re looking for.

Spring Breakdown: Eureka (dir by Nicolas Roeg)


 

In this 1983 film, Gene Hackman plays Jack McCann, a prospector who is determined to either get rich or freeze to death as he wanders around Alaska in the 1920s.  When he’s not having sex and philosophical discussions with the local witch, Freida (Helena Kallianiotes), Jack desperately searches for gold.  Jack is convinced that gold is all that he needs to be happy, though Freida counsels him that it’s also important to pursue more Earthly delights.  Everywhere Jack looks, he sees people dying in the snow.  In fact, Jack nearly dies himself until he stumbles across a mountain full of gold.  As gold dust pours down on him, he celebrates while having flashbacks to Freida writhing in ecstasy.  It’s just that type of film.  When Jack tells Freida about his claim, he asks what’s going to happen next.  Freida tells him that it’s both the end and the beginning.  Once again, it’s just that type of film.

At this point, Eureka jumps ahead 20 years.  The year is 1945.  World War II is coming to an end.  Jack is no longer freezing and starving to death in Alaska.  Now, he is one of the world’s richest men.  He even owns his own island in the Caribbean.  Jack has a huge house, a beautiful view of the ocean, and all the money in the world.  One could even say that his life has become an exclusive beach vacation, an eternal Spring Break, if you will.  And yet, even with all of his money, Jack has fallen victim to ennui.  He was happier when he was poor and starving and seeking warmth from Freida.  Now, he’s got an alcoholic wife (Jane LaPotaire) and his daughter, Tracy (Theresa Russell), is in love with a dissolute aristocrat named Claude (Rutger Hauer), to whom Jack takes an instant dislike.  Claude claims that Jack has stolen his wealth from the Earth.  Claude is the type who eats gold and then promises to return it to Jack as soon as he can.  That’s something that actually happens.  It’s kind of silly but Rutger Hauer is such a charmer that he nearly pulls it off.

Claude and Tracy aren’t the only thing that Jack has to worry about.  An American gangster named Mayakofsky (Joe Pesci) wants to take over Jack’s island so that he can build a casino on it.  However, despite the best efforts of Mayakofsky’s attorney (Mickey Rourke), Jack is still not willing to sell.  When hitman Joe Spinell shows up outside the estate, are Jack’s days of ennui numbered?

Of course, they are!  That’s not really a spoiler.  Eureka is (loosely) based on the real-life murder of Sir Harry Oakes, an American-born prospector who was thought to be one of the world’s richest men when he was brutally murdered in the 40s.  Jack is, of course, a stand-in for Oakes while Mayakofsky is based on Meyer Lansky, the mobster who many people suspect ordered Oakes’s murder.  Lansky was never charged with the crime.  Instead, Oakes’s son-in-law, Count Alfred de Marigny, was arrested and charged with the crime.  After a trial that made international news and was described as being “the trial of the century,” de Marigny was acquitted and the murder of Harry Oakes remains officially unsolved.

It’s an interesting story and it seems like one that should perfectly translate to film.  Surprisingly though, Eureka doesn’t really do it justice.  The film was directed by one of the masters of cinematic surrealism, Nicolas Roeg.  Roeg, of course, is probably best remembered for films like Performance, Don’t Look Now, Walkabout, and The Man Who Fell To Earth.  As one might expect from a Roeg film, Eureka is visually stunning but, as a director, Roeg can’t seem to decide whether he’s more interested in Jack’s ennui or in all the soapy melodrama surrounding Jack’s murder.  As such, neither element of the film gets explored with any particular depth and the resulting film, while always watchable, still feels rather shallow and disjointed.  (After taking forever to reach the end of Jack’s story, Eureka then turns into a rather conventional courtroom drama.  Theresa Russell does get to utter the immortal line, “Did you cut off my father’s head?” but otherwise, it’s kind of dry.)  The film is at its strongest when Jack is just a prospector in Alaska.  The harsh landscape and the crazed dialogue is perfect for Roeg’s dream-like style.  Once the film moves to the Caribbean, it suffers the same fate that befell Jack when he become rich.  It loses its spark.

That said, Eureka has its moments.  Any film that features Gene Hackman, Mickey Rourke, Joe Pesci, Rutger Hauer, and Joe Spinell all acting opposite of each other is going to have at least a few scenes worth watching.  I particularly liked Pesci’s surprisingly subdued performance as Mayakofsky.  With everyone else in the film chewing every piece of scenery on the island, Pesci wisely underplays and is all the more menacing for it.  While Eureka ultimately doesn’t add up too much, it’s worth watching at least once for the cast.

Finally, my personal theory is that Harry Oakes’s murder had more to do with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (formerly King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson) than it did with Meyer Lansky.  (The Duke was the governor of the Bahamas at the time of Oakes’s murder.)  But that’s just my opinion.

Hickey & Boggs (1972, directed by Robert Culp)


Frank Boggs (Robert Culp) and Al Hickey (Bill Cosby) are two private investigators who are constantly in danger of losing their licenses and going out of business.  Hickey is the responsible one.  Boggs is the seedy alcoholic.  When Hickey and Boggs are hired to track down a missing woman, their investigation lands them in the middle of a war between the mob and a group of political activists who are fighting over who is going to get the loot from a recent robbery.  Hickey and Boggs are targeted by the mob and soon, everyone is dying around them.

With its cynical themes and downbeat ending, Hickey & Boggs is very much a 70s film.  The script was written by future director Walter Hill and when it was eventually offered to Bill Cosby, Cosby agreed to star on the condition that his I Spy co-star, Robert Culp, be hired to direct.  Producer John Calley hired Culp but after Calley refused to provide the budget that Culp requested, Culp bought the script and raised the money himself.

There are a few problems with Hickey & Boggs, the main one being that the plot is next to impossible to follow.  As a director, Robert Culp apparently didn’t believe in either filming coverage or providing establishment shots so, especially early on, it is often impossible to tell how one scene is connected to another or even how much time has passed between scenes.  I don’t know if this was an intentional aesthetic decision or if the production just ran out of money before everything could be shot but it makes it difficult to get into the film’s already complicated story.  On a positive note, Culp did have a flair for staging action scenes.  The film ends with a shoot out on the beach that’s is handled with such skill that it almost makes up for what came before it.  Also, like many actors-turned-director, Culp proved himself capable of spotting talent.  Along with giving early roles to Vincent Gardenia, James Woods and Michael Moriarty, Culp also took the chance of casting sitcom mainstay Robert Mandan as a villain.  It was a risk but it worked as Mandan convincingly portrays the banality of evil.

Of course, the biggest problem with Hickey & Boggs is that it stars Bill Cosby as a straight-laced hero and that’s no longer a role that anyone’s willing to believe him in.  Cosby actually does give a convincing dramatic performance in Hickey & Boggs.  Just look at the final scene on the beach where Hickey has his “what have we done” moment and shows the type of regret that Cosby has never shown in real life.  The problem is that to really appreciate Cosby’s performance, you have to find a way to overlook the fact that he’s Bill Cosby and that something that I found impossible to do while watching Hickey & Boggs.  When you should be getting into the movie, you’re thinking about how many decades Bill Cosby was able to get away with drugging and assaulting women.  If not for a comment from Hannibal Buress that led to a social media uproar, Cosby would probably still be getting away with it.  If Buress’s anti-Cosby comments hadn’t been recorded and hadn’t gone viral, Bill Cosby would still be free and the media would probably still be holding him up as some sort of role model.

At the time Hickey & Boggs was made, both Bill Cosby and Robert Culp were at a career crossroads.  Cosby was hoping to transform himself into a film star.  Culp was hoping to become a director.  Hickey & Boggs, however, was disliked by critics and flopped at the box office.  Culp never directed another film and we all know what happened with Bill Cosby.  (Of course, it wasn’t just the box office failure of Hickey & Boggs that kept Cosby from becoming a movie star.  Say what you will about Robert Culp as a director, he had nothing to do with Leonard Part 6.)  Hickey  & Boggs is too disjointed to really work but Robert Culp and Bill Cosby were convincing action stars and the film’s downbeat style and cynical worldview is sometimes interesting.

Horror on the Lens: Satan’s Triangle (dir by Sutton Roley)


Hi there and welcome to October!  This is our favorite time of the year here at the Shattered Lens because October is horror month.  For the past three years, we have celebrated every October by reviewing and showing some of our favorite horror movies, shows, books, and music.  That’s a tradition that I’m looking forward to helping to continue this year.

Let’s start things off with the 1975 film. Satan’s Triangle!  Satan’s Triangle tells the story of what happens when a derelict boat is spotted floating in the middle of the ocean.  An attempt to rescue the boat leads to mystery, tragedy, horror, and …. well, let’s just say that there’s a reason why this stretch of ocean belongs to Satan.

Featuring atmospheric direction from Sutton Roley and a great performance from none other than Kim Novak, Satan’s Triangle is one of the best made-for-TV horror films that I’ve ever seen and I think it’s the perfect way to start off this year’s horrorthon!

Enjoy!

18 Days of Paranoia #8: The French Connection II (dir by John Frankenheimer)


The 1975 film, The French Connection II, opens up three years after the downbeat conclusion of the first French Connection.

Having escaped from the police at the end of the first film, the wealthy and suave Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) is still smuggling drugs and living his best life.  He goes to parties with wealthy people.  He has lunch dates with important businessman.  Even though the French police are keeping an eye on him, Charnier seems to be virtually untouchable and he knows it.  If Charnier seemed impossibly smug in the first French Connection, he’s even worse in the second one.

Charnier may be enjoying himself in Marseille but what he doesn’t know is that there’s an American tourist in town.  He’s a very loud American, one who insists on trying to speak to everyone in English and is shocked to discover that most of the French natives don’t have the slightest clue as to what he’s talking about.  He’s shocked when he goes into a bar and fails to impress two young French women.  He also doesn’t seem to understand that even French people who speak English are not going to appreciate being called a “frogs.”  He wanders around town in loud shirts and with a fedora sitting rakishly on his balding head.

Yep, it’s Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman).  The anti-hero from the first French Connection is still on the case and he’s now come all the way to France to help track down Charnier.  The last time we saw Doyle, he had just accidentally killed a cop and was running through a dark warehouse, firing his gun.  In fact, the first film ended with the suggestion that Doyle was such a loose cannon that his career as a narcotics detective was probably over.  Instead, in the sequel, we learn that Popeye is still working in narcotics and he’s still just as much of a loose cannon as he ever was.  If you thought people in New York found Popeye to be obnoxious, just you wait to see how the French react to him!

What Popeye doesn’t know is that his superiors in New York have only sent him to Marsielle so that he can be a target.  They know that Popeye will never be able to blend in.  Charnier will spot him and, hopefully, Charnier will panic and make some sort of mistake that will finally allow the police to capture him.  French detective Henri (Bernard Fresson) goes along with the plan, despite his own moral objections.  Henri can’t stand Popeye but he doesn’t want to see him killed either.

It doesn’t take long for Charnier to notice Popeye.  After Popeye is captured by Charnier’s man, they inject him with heroin until soon, Popeye is an addict.  Before Popeye can finally get his shot at Charnier, he’s going to have to overcome his own drug addiction….

The French Connection II starts out well, with Gene Hackman wandering around Marsielle and acting like a stereotypical ugly American.  Director John Frankenheimer does a good job of keeping the action moving at a steady pace during the first half of the film and there’s a lot of great scenes involving Popeye being followed around town by not just the police but also Charnier’s men.  The first half of the film does a great job of establishing an atmosphere of paranoia, which is not surprising when you consider that Frankenheimer’s other credits included The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days In May, and Seconds.

Unfortunately, once Popeye is captured and gets hooked on heroin, the action not only comes to a halt but the normally reliable Gene Hackman starts to act up a storm.  When Popeye, while going through withdrawal, starts talking about how he used to play baseball and how he once has a try-out with the New York Yankees, the scene seems to go on forever and Hackman’s performance becomes so histrionic that you basically just end up feeling like you’re watching someone auditioning his heart out for a spot in the Actor’s Studio.  Gene Hackman was one of the world’s great actors and Popeye Doyle was a great role but, in The French Connection II, we’re reminded that even a great actor occasionally needs to have his performance reined in.

Eventually, after Hackman’s had his big Oscar moment, the action kicks back in and the film kind of regains its momentum.  There’s a big action scene towards the end of the film.  (Ironically, it’s the type of big, good guys vs. bad guys shoot out that the first film deliberately avoided.)  The film ends with a literal bang that’s abrupt yet undeniably effective.

As far as sequels go, The French Connection II is good.  It’s not great and, not surprisingly, it doesn’t come anywhere close to matching the power of the first film.  But it still has enough effective scenes to make it worth watching.  You just might want to hit fast forward whenever Popeye starts talking about baseball…..

Other Entries In The 18 Days Of Paranoia:

  1. The Flight That Disappeared
  2. The Humanity Bureau
  3. The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover
  4. The Falcon and the Snowman
  5. New World Order
  6. Scandal Sheet
  7. Cuban Rebel Girls

Horror Film Review: Cujo (dir by Lewis Teague)


Cujo is a such a depressing movie that I can barely stand to watch it.

Cujo, of course, is the 1983 film adaptation of the book by Stephen King.  The book is about a dog that not only gets bit by a rabid bat but also gets possessed by the spirit of Frank Dodd, the serial killer who played a major role in The Dead Zone.  The film abandons the subplot about Frank Dodd and, instead, it just deals with a rabid dog that kills a lot of people and who eventually traps Donna Trentonn (Dee Wallace) and her young son, Tad (Danny Pintauro), is a car for several days.

I have to admit that I’m really not the sort of person who should be watching a film like Cujo in the first place.  When I was growing up, I was terrified of dogs.  According to my family, I was bitten by one when I was just three years old, not that I have any memory of that actually happening.  So, up until I was 18, I couldn’t handle being around them.  Whenever I would walk home from school, I would run across the street if I heard a dog barking at me from behind a fence.  If I was out with my family and I saw a dog approaching, I would hide behind the nearest big person.

I did have one good experience with a big dog when I was about ten years old.  My family was up at the lake and this big, black dog started following us around and it was so friendly that I couldn’t help but relax around it.  My mom was like, “See, Lisa Marie, not all dogs are bad.”  We went to get lunch, leaving the dog behind.  When we returned, the dog was there.  He was excited to see my mom.  He was excited to my aunt.  He was excited to see my sisters.  Then, he took one look at me and started to growl.  I was frozen in fear, just standing there as the dog slowly stood up.  My mom immediately stood in front of me, trying to block the dog’s view while I ran back to car.  Of course, that didn’t work.  The dog started barking and then took off running after me.  His owners then showed up and grabbed the dog just as it was about to lunge at me and then they didn’t even bother to apologize!  Instead, they told some story about how some other girl had thrown a rock at the dog and, as a result, the dog always growled at “little girls.”  They acted like it was no big deal.  (My aunt later told me that she had to grab my mom’s hand to keep her from slapping the dog’s owner when they tried to blame me for what happened.)  For months afterwards, I had nightmares about that dog.

Fortunately, enough time has passed that I’m no longer petrified in fear of dogs though they still make pretty damn nervous.  That said, Cujo, with its growling and killer dog, is exactly the type of film that’s designed to prey on my deepest fears.  And yes, the movie does scare me but I have to admit that I don’t really care much about the people who get killed by Cujo.  Instead …. I feel bad for Cujo.  Yes, even though Cujo scares me to death and I’m not a dog person in general, this movie depresses me specifically because of what happens to the dog.

When we first see him, Cujo is happily chasing a rabbit.  When he gets bitten by a rabid bat, he whimpers a little and I have to say that it breaks my heart to hear it.  I mean, Cujo is just such a cute dog!  And, to be honest, he seems like the type of big dog who maybe could have convinced me that not all dogs are bad.  (There’s a part of me that really wishes that I could relax and love dogs as much as everyone else does.)  But then he gets bitten by that bat and poor Cujo!  Rabies is a terrible disease.

Cujo is a good, straight-forward horror film, one that gets the job done without all of the padding and blather that you sometimes have to deal with when it comes to Stephen King film adaptations.   (Thankfully, nobody casually talks about Shawshank Prison or taking a trip to Derry or any of that other nonsense that seems to come up in most King films.)  Dee Wallace gives a good performance as Donna Trenton, who is trapped in the car and desperate to save her child.  King has said that he felt Wallace deserved an Oscar nomination for her performance and he’s probably right

But my God, I just cannot watch this movie without crying afterwards.  I just feel so bad for that dog.

Smashmouth Football: Burt Reynolds in THE LONGEST YARD (Paramount 1974)


cracked rear viewer

Dedicated to the memory of Burt Reynolds (2/11/1936-9/6/2018)

If it was producer Albert Ruddy’s idea to team macho actor Burt Reynolds with macho director Robert Aldrich for THE LONGEST YARD, then the man’s a bloody genius (Ruddy was no stranger to machismo himself, having previously produced THE GODFATHER)! This testosterone-fueled tale of an ex-NFL star turned convict, forced to assemble a football team of hardened criminals to take on the sports-mad warden’s goon squad of guards, is one of Burt’s best vehicles, and a comeback of sorts for Aldrich, who hadn’t scored a hit since 1967’s THE DIRTY DOZEN . Both men hit the end zone with this sports-themed film, and led the way for an onslaught of football films to come.

Former star quarterback Paul Crewe (Reynolds), who was thrown out of the NFL in a points shaving scandal, finds himself under arrest after fighting with his girlfriend, stealing…

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Bronson’s Old: Death Wish 3 (1985, directed by Michael Winner)


To quote Roger Murtaugh, “I’m too old for this shit.”

It has been ten years since Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) left New York City and the place has gone to Hell.  It’s no longer just muggers that you have look out for.  Now, there are roving street gangs of directionless teenagers, terrorizing the elderly and forcing them to live like prisoners in their own apartment building.

One street corner now looks like a war zone, controlled by spiky-haired, face-painting punks who look like something from a Mad Max movie.  Manny Fraker (Gavan O’Herlihy) rules this street corner, supported by a gang that worships him as if he was some sort of god.  Manny thinks that he is immortal but he’s just targeted the wrong person.  The gang may think that Charley (Francis Drake) is just a defenseless old man but what they don’t know is that, when Charley served in Korea, his best friend was Paul Kersey.

The past few years have been busy for Paul.  He’s killed muggers and rapists in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Kansas City and now he’s returned to New York City, to visit his old friend Charley.  Paul arrives at Charley’s apartment just in time to witness Fraker’s gang murdering him.  The gang flees and when the police arrive, they take Paul into custody.

While public defender Kathryn Davis (Deborah Raffin) tries to figure out why Paul is being held in jail, Paul has a conversation with Lt. Shriker (Ed Lauter).  Shriker remembers Paul as being the New York vigilante and he has a proposition for him.  Paul can kill as many members of Fraker’s gang as he wants, as long as he allows the police to take the credit and reports everything that he discovers to Shriker.  Paul agrees.

In the neighborhood, Paul starts to put Fraker and his gang (one of whom is played by pre-Bill and Ted Alex Winter) in their place.  In a scene borrowed from Brian Garfield’s original Death Wish novel, he uses a used car as bait to gun down two aspiring car thieves.  When Paul gets a new gun, he tests it out on a depraved mugger known as the Giggler.  Though some might call him a serial killer, Paul is soon a hero to the entire neighborhood.  Though Charley may be gone, Paul befriends the other residents of the apartment.  He shows the elderly Kaprovs how to catch anyone trying to climb through their window.  He protects Maria Rodriguez (Marina Sirtis) from the gang.  Best of all, he befriend Bennett Miller (Martin Balsam), a World War II vet who still remembers how to load a machine gun.

(Balsam and Bronson previously co-starred in The Stone Killer, though in that one Bronson was a cop and Balsam was on the other side of the law.)

He also finds time to pursue a relationship with Kathryn Davis.  This is one recurring element in the Death Wish franchise that has never made sense to me.  Paul always has a new girlfriend, despite the fact that almost every woman that he ever gets involved with ends up getting killed.  Paul also only seems to go out with women who would be upset to discover that they were dating a notorious vigilante.  In Death Wish II, he went out with a crusading journalist who was against the death penalty.  In Death Wish 3, he falls for a public defender whose job is to provide legal counsel to the very people that Paul is trying to kill.  After Death Wish 3, Paul would date yet another crusading journalist and, finally, the ex-wife of a notorious mobster.  Maybe Paul should just give up and concentrate on mourning his wife.

Michael Winner returned to direct Death Wish 3 and, this time around, he imagines New York City as being a post-apocalyptic wasteland, full of abandoned buildings and murderous scavengers.  Imagine A Clockwork Orange if Charles Bronson suddenly showed up to shoot Alex and the Droogs.  As played by Gavan O’Herlihy, Manny Fraker is the type of seemingly indestructible bad guy who can actually give Paul Kersey a challenge, something that was missing from the previous films.

The other thing that distinguishes Death Wish 3 is that it was one the only film in the franchise to directly confront an obvious truth.  Charles Bronson was 53 when the first Death Wish was released.  By the time he made Death Wish 3, he was 64 and decades older than the typical action star.  (As way of comparison, Clint Eastwood was 55 when Death Wish 3 was released and was already experimenting with less action-orientated roles.)  By partnering him with Martin Balsam and the other elderly residents of the neighborhood, Death Wish 3 not only acknowledged Bronson’s advanced age but also took advantage of it.  Death Wish 3 is a film where the old folks finally get to teach the young punks a thing or two.  If the other Death Wish films were about one man fighting a lonely war, Death Wish 3 is about a community refusing to be silenced.  The chance to put those kids in their place even seems to perk up Charles Bronson, who gives one of his best performances in Death Wish 3.

Death Wish 3 may have been roundly despised by the critics but it’s the best of the Death Wish sequels.  It made a fortune at the box office so naturally, another sequel would follow.

Tomorrow: Death Wish 4: The Crackdown!

A Movie A Day #354: Lolly-Madonna XXX (1973, directed by Richard C. Sarafian)


In the backwoods of Hicksville, USA, two families are feuding.  Laban Feather (Rod Steiger, bellowing even more than usual) and Pap Gutshall (Robert Ryan) were once friends but now they are committed rivals.  They claim that the fight started when Pap bought land that once belonged to Laban but it actually goes back farther than that.  Laban and Pap both have a handful of children, all of whom have names like Thrush and Zeb and Ludie and who are all as obsessed with the feud as their parents.  When the Gutshall boys decide to pull a prank on the Feather boys, it leads to the Feathers kidnapping the innocent Roonie (Season Hubley) from a bus stop.  They believe that Roonie is Lolly Madonna, the fictional fiancée of Ludie Gutshall (Kiel Martin).  Zack Feather (Jeff Bridges), who comes the closest of any Feather to actually having common sense, is ordered to watch her while the two families prepare for all-out war.  Zack and Roonie fall in love, though they do not know that another Feather brother has also fallen in love with Gutshall daughter.  It all leads to death, destruction, and freeze frames.

Lolly-Madonna XXX is a strange film.  It starts out as a typical hicksploitation flick before briefly becoming a backwoods Romeo and Juliet and finally ending up as a heavy-handed metaphor for both the Vietnam War and the social upheaval at home.  Along with all the backwoods drama, there is a fantasy sequence where Hawk Feather (Ed Lauter) briefly imagines himself as an Elvis-style performer.  (Hawk also dresses up in Roonie’s underwear.)  Probably the most interesting thing about Lolly-Madonna XXX is the collection of actors who show up playing Feathers and Gutshalls.  Along with Steiger, Ryan, Martin, Bridges, and Lauter, everyone from Randy Quaid to Paul Koslo to Scott Wilson to Gary Busey has a role to play in the feud.  Lolly-Madonna XXX is too uneven and disjointed to really be considered a good movie but I can say that I have never seen anything else like it.

One final note: Lolly-Madonna XXX was directed by Richard Sarafian, who is best known for another early 70s cult classic, Vanishing Point.

A Movie A Day #257: Gleaming the Cube (1989, directed by Graeme Clifford)


Brian Kelly (Christian Slater) is a California skater with a rebellious attitude and an adopted Vietnamese brother named Vinh (Art Chudabala).  When the movie starts, all Brian cares about is not selling out and finding empty pools to skate.  He even hires an airplane to fly him and his friends over Orange County so they can get a bird’s-eye view of the layout.  Vinh is more worried about his job with the Vietnamese Anti-Community Relief Fund.  The fund has been set up to send medical supplies to Vietnam but, when Vinh comes across a discrepancy in the shipping records, he realizes that something else is going on.  When Vinh turns up dead in a hotel room, everyone else may believe that it is suicide but Brian knows that his brother was murdered.  With the help of his fellow skaters and a sympathetic cop (Steven Bauer), Brian sets out to bring his brother’s killers to justice.

I was surprised when I watched Gleaming the Cube because it turned out to be much better than I was expecting.  The movie is justifiably best known for its skating sequences, which were shot by Stacy Peralta and which featured pro-skaters Mike McGill, Rodney Mullen, and Gator Rogowski doubling for Slater in some of the film’s more spectacular stunts.  (Tony Hawk plays one of Slater’s friends.)  Slater, himself, learned how to skate for the movie and looks far more comfortable and natural on his board than Josh Brolin did in Thrashin’.  Beyond the spectacular skating, Gleaming the Cube is energetically directed and surprisingly well-acted.  A pre-stardom Christian Slater gives one of his best and most natural performances as Brian, playing the role without any of the tics or affectations that later came to define his career.  Of its type, Gleaming the Cube is a classic.