The Strangers in 7A (1972, directed by Paul Wendkos)


Artie Sawyer (Andy Griffith) is a man who no one respects.  Having recently been fired from his long-time job, he’s forced to take a job as a superintendent for an apartment building in New York.  The tenants don’t think much of him.  His wife, Iris (Ida Lupino), is getting tired of his self-pity.  The only person who seems to like Artie is Claudine (Susanne Benton).  The young and beautiful Claudine approaches Artie in a bar and, after flirting with him, reveals that she needs a place to stay.  Artie agrees to let Claudine check out Apartment 7A.  At the apartment, Claudine rolls around in the bed, dances seductively, and then reveals that she has three male friends who are going to be staying in the apartment with her.  Billy (Michael Brandon), Virgil (Tim McIntire), and Riff (James A. Watson, Jr.) all served in Vietnam together and now they need to crash at the apartment for a while.  Artie can either let them stay or they can reveal to his wife that he was at a bar, trying to pick up young women.

Led by the psychotic Billy, the three men are planning on robbing the bank next door.  When Artie, who is having doubts about whether or not it was a good idea to let four obviously unstable people live rent-free in his building, discovers their plans, he and Ida are taken hostage.  When the bank robbery goes wrong, Billy tries to use the hostages and a bomb as leverage for his escape from the police.

As far as films about bank robberies goes, The Strangers in 7A is no Dog Day Afternoon.  While it’s interesting to see the usually confident Andy Griffith play a loser, he never seems like enough of a loser that he would actually risk a job that he clearly needs just because Claudine flashed a little leg at him.  Even when he’s playing a character who is down on his luck, he’s still Andy Griffith.  Along with the lead role being miscast, the bank robbers are too generic to really be credible or threatening.  Susanne Benton is sexy as the femme fatale and Ida Lupino is sympathetic as Artie’s wife but otherwise, The Strangers in 7A is forgettable.

The Strangers in 7A was made for television.  At the time, Andy Griffith was still trying to escape being typecast as Mayberry’s amiable Sheriff Taylor.  Griffith was a convincing villain in movies like Pray For The Wildcats and Savages but he’s just not believable as a loser in this film.

18 Days of Paranoia #14: The Organization (dir by Don Medford)


Sidney Poitier played Detective Virgil Tibbs for the third and final time in the 1970 film, The Organization.

This time, Virgil is investigating a murder at an office building in San Francisco.  It’s a very odd murder, in that an executive was shot, a security guard was bludgeoned, and even though it looks like there was a robbery taking place, nothing appears to have actually been stolen.  Since neither the company nor the executive were believed to be involved in anything shady, Virgil finds himself perplexed as to why any of this has happened at all.

Fortunately, the local urban revolutionaries are here to help!  They contact Virgil and Virgil reluctantly agrees to meet with the group, which is made up of the usual collection of angry 1970s activists — i.e., a dissident preacher, a reformed drug dealer, a guy who won’t stop yelling, and a woman who is obviously going to be killed before the movie is over.  The revolutionaries explain that they were the ones who broke into the office but they also say that they didn’t kill anyone.  Instead, they broke into the office because they wanted the police to investigate the break-in and discover that the company was a front for a bunch of drug dealers.  “The Organization” is flooding poor and minority neighborhoods with heroin and the revolutionaries want to stop them.  In fact, the revolutionaries have stolen four million dollars worth of heroin.  Now, they want Virgil to help them.

Even though Virgil is sympathetic to the revolutionaries, he’s still a cop and he can’t get directly involved with illegal activities.  Instead, he agrees to not arrest the revolutionaries and to continue his investigation, in the hope of bringing down the Organization.  It’s not going to be easy, of course.  There’s evidence that the Organization may even have agents inside the San Francisco police department.

As far as the Virgil Tibbs movies are concerned, The Organization is slightly better than They Call Me Mister Tibbs! but it’s nowhere near as good as the one that started it all, In The Heat of the Night.  Probably the biggest flaw with The Organization is that Virgil has to share the spotlight with the revolutionaries.  With the exception of Raul Julia (who plays a former drug dealer named Juan), none of the revolutionaries are particularly memorable characters and their plan for taking down The Organization is so unnecessarily convoluted that it’s hard to believe that Virgil would go along with it.

On the plus side, The Organization works fairly well as a conspiracy thriller.  It does manage to create a consistent atmosphere of unease and mistrust.  This is one of those films where people are constantly getting shot by unseen gunmen mere minutes after getting arrested and the fact that even cool and in-control Virgil Tibbs can’t save them does a lot towards creating a nice sense of paranoia.  The films end on perhaps the most downbeat note of all of the Virgil Tibbs movies, suggesting that, in the end, everything we’ve just watched was for nothing.


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
  8. The French Connection II
  9. Blunt: The Fourth Man 
  10. The Quiller Memorandum
  11. Betrayed
  12. Best Seller
  13. They Call Me Mister Tibbs

 

An Olympic Film Review: Goldengirl (dir by Joseph Sargent)


The 1979 film Goldengirl is a film that I had wanted to see ever since I first came across this trailer on one of the 42nd Street Forever compilation DVDs:

Wow, I wondered.  What was Goldengirl’s secret and why was she ordering James Coburn to kiss her feet?  For that matter, why did James Coburn have a haircut that made him look exactly like this old lady who used to live next door to my grandma in Fort Smith?  What did it all have to do with the villain from The Spy Who Loved Me and just how drunk was Robert Culp when he shot his scenes?  Even more importantly, why did Goldengirl keep running into that wall?  That looked painful!

I did some research.  (That’s a fancy way of saying that I looked the movie up on Wikipedia.)  I discovered that Goldengirl was made in 1979.  It was originally meant to be a television miniseries that would not only air during the 1980 Summer Olympics but which would feature Goldengirl competing at those Olympics!  However, during production, it was decided to just use the material for a feature film instead. (Hmmmm, I thought, behind-the-scenes drama!  Intriguing!)  The film was released in June of ’79 and, despite one rave review from Vincent Canby in the New York Times, the film failed at the box office.  Add to that, the U.S. ultimately boycotted the 1980 summer games, which made Goldengirl‘s Olympic-set climax a bit awkward.

I also discovered that Goldengirl is nearly impossible to see.  It’s never been released on DVD or Blu-ray or any digital or streaming service.  So, I resigned myself to the fact that I’d probably never see Goldengirl and, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I really didn’t care that much.

However, for the past few days, I have been absolutely obsessed with the Winter Olympics.  Even though it was a Summer Olympic movie, I decided to go on YouTube and see if anyone had uploaded Goldengirl since I last checked.

And guess what?

They had!

Now, here’s the problem.  The two guys who uploaded Goldengirl also talked over the entire movie.  Don’t get me wrong.  The movie looked about as good as a VHS copy of a movie from 1979 is ever going to look.  And I could still follow Goldengirl‘s story, even if I sometimes had to really strain to hear the dialogue over the two guys “commenting” on it.  Still, it meant that I had to put a bit more effort into watching this movie than it perhaps deserved.  It was kinda hard not to resent that.

Anyway, I have finally seen Goldengirl and I can now tell you that it’s a pretty lousy movie.  Goldengirl is Goldine (Susan Anton).  Her father is a German scientist who used to work for the Nazis.  When he came to the United States, he decided to prove that his theories of eugenics were correct by adopting a daughter and breeding her to be the world’s greatest athlete.  Working with a psychiatrist named Dr. Lee (Leslie Caron, for some reason), they have not only turned Goldine into the world’s greatest athlete but they’ve also turned her into a bright, smiling media personality.  (Dr. Lee has trained Goldine, through the use of a vibrator, to always give the right answer when she’s asked a question.)  Now, they just need Goldine to win three gold medals at the Summer Olympics and for PR agent Jack Dryden (James Coburn) to make Goldine into a star.  Dryden is the only person who really cares about Goldine as something other than an experiment or a way to make money.

Goldine spends almost the entire movie running.  There’s one running montage that seems to go on forever.  Susan Anton was a model when she was cast as Goldine.  She’s got the right look to be a celebrity but she’s never convincing as an Olympic-class athlete.  Whenever Goldine competes, we either get a close-up of Anton running in slow-motion with no other runners around her or else a long-shot that’s designed to keep us from noticing that Anton isn’t really on the track.

Really, that’s entire film.  On the basis of the trailer, I was expecting that Goldengirl would turn out to be a robot or something like that.  Instead, it just turns out that her stepfather has spent years injecting her with vitamins and hormones and now, as a result, she has diabetes.  Seriously, that’s it.  She gets pretty mad when she finds out that her handlers have put her health at risk just so she could win a race.  But then she goes ahead and runs the race anyway so I guess it was all for the best.  Seriously, that’s the entire freaking movie.  It doesn’t help that Anton’s acting is amateurish and the rest of the cast seems bored.  Only Curt Jurgens really makes much of an impression, mostly because he’s too sinister not to be memorable.

The trailer is better than the movie.  That’s the secret of Goldengirl.

A Movie A Day #83: Shattered: If Your Kid’s On Drugs (1986, directed by Burr Smidt)


Shattered: If Your Kid’s On Drugs is a typical anti-drug video from the 1980s.  The story is familiar after school special material.  Kim (Megan Follows) and Rick (Rick Segall) are upper middle class kids who live in the suburbs.  Rick is a track star.  Kim is at the top of her class.  That all changes when they start hanging out with the local drug dealer (Dermot Mulroney), who gets Rick hooked on marijuana and Kim hooked on cocaine.  Kim gets an F on her report card.  Rick can no longer jump the hurdles.  Eventually, their parents stop drinking and taking valium long enough to force them into rehab.  The message is that tough love is the only solution.

The only thing that makes Shattered: If Your Kid’s On Drugs noteworthy is the strange and unexpected presence of Burt Reynolds and Judd Nelson, playing themselves and commenting on the action.  The first scene in the video is Burt and Judd driving their pickup truck through the suburbs, talking about how nice it is.  “Lot of nice restaurants,” Burt says.  “Are you going to buy me lunch?” Judd asks.  “Lot of nice restaurants,” Burt replies.  “This town is the American Dream,” Judd says.  “Or the American nightmare,” Burt adds.  When Kim and Rick are getting high in Dermot Mulroney’s chartreuse microbus, Burt and Judd sit on a picket fence and shoot the crap.  Burt can’t understand why teens would use drugs and Judd reminds him that it has been a while since he was a teenager. Rumor has it that both Burt and Judd appeared in this video to fulfill court-ordered community service.

Everything works out in the end.  If you have any doubt, just look at Burt giving us a thumbs up before the final credits roll.

What Lisa Watched Last Night #110: Whitney (dir by Angela Bassett)


Last night, I watched the latest Lifetime biopic, Whitney.

Why Was I Watching It?

A movie about Whitney Cummings!?  How could I not watch…

Okay, okay — I knew, before I started watching, that it was a movie about Whitney Houston.  But I have to admit that my motives for watching were not exactly pure.  You see, after watching the Saved By The Bell movie, the Aaliyah movie, and the Brittany Murphy movie, I had every reason to believe that Whitney would be another unfortunate Lifetime biopic.  I was watching expecting the film to be a snarkfest, the type of thing that I could write a really sassy review about.

But — no.  Actually, it turned out to be pretty good.

What Was It About?

Whitney Houston (Yaya DaCosta) meets, falls in love with, and marries Bobby Brown (Arlen Escarpeta).  Many drugs are done and many songs are sung.

What Worked?

Whitney was probably a hundred times better than anyone was expecting.  Angela Bassett kept the story moving, Yaya DaCosta and Arlen Escarpeta both gave good performances as Whitney and Bobby respectively, and Deborah Cox — who provided Whitney’s singing voice — sounded great.  The final scene of Whitney singing while Bobby watched was surprisingly moving.

One thing that I did like was that Whitney did not indulge in any sort of tawdry or melodramatic speculation about Whitney’s death.  Even the film’s postscript stated that, even after her death, Whitney Houston continues to inspire new artists but it didn’t go into the details of her final days.  And why should it?  This film was about talent, music, and love.  It wasn’t about tabloid rumors.

What Did Not Work?

I’m sure some people were probably frustrated by the fact that Whitney did turn out to be a good, competently directed and acted film.  All the people who were watching specifically because they wanted to see an Aaliyah-style fiasco (and there were quite a few of them) were undoubtedly left disappointed.

And, of course, I’m sure some people really were hoping for a Whitney Cummings biopic…

On a more serious note, I did bother me a little that, though the movie was called Whitney, it actually seemed to be more about Bobby Brown than her.  Considering that the film basically presented Bobby as being a drug-free saint before he met Whitney and that it was followed by an hour-long interview with Bobby Brown, it was hard not to feel that Lifetime was basically presenting only one side of the story.

(Then again, Whitney Houston’s family refused to have anything to do with the movie so it’s possible nobody was around to present the other side.)

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

Well, unless I’m drunk and there’s a karaoke machine nearby, I can’t sing to save my life so I can’t really claim to be able to relate to Whitney’s talent.  However, I do have a weakness for guys who share my taste in movies.  For Whitney, it was Sparkle.  For me, it’s Suspiria.  So, I was able to watch that part of the movie and go, “Oh my God!  Just like me!”

Lessons Learned

Despite snarky rumors to the contrary, Lifetime can make good biopics.  (Of course, you and I already knew that, right?)